One of 'The Boys of Wexford' Returns: JFK in Ireland

On June 23, 1963 the people of Ireland fell in love with a member of “The Wild Geese” who had less than five months to live. If ever an American politician had a style and ease that allowed the people of Ireland to see the “Irish” in him, it was John Fitzgerald Kennedy. By the summer of 1963 he had become the embodiment of the pride many Irish felt in the success of the descendants of their countrymen around the world. Here was a man who had succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of his poor immigrant ancestors, and he had done it with style and panache.

(Below: New Ross Quay in New Ross, County Wexford during a welcoming ceremony in JFK's honor. JFK delivered an address at the quay from which his great-grandfather, Patrick Kennedy, emigrated to the United States.)

John Kennedy’s great-grandfather, Patrick Kennedy left Dunganstown, County Wexford during the Great Hunger and became a cooper in Boston. The Kennedy home there was turned into a museum in 1999. Another branch of JFK’s family, the Fitzgeralds, came from County Limerick village of Bruff and carried with them a family bible. Over a century later John Kennedy would lay his hand on that same bible as he took the oath of office of the nation that took in his poor immigrant ancestors. One can only imagine the reaction of the Fitzgerald’s on the way to “the land of the free” had someone predicted the future purpose to which that bible would be applied.

Surely no conquering hero of ancient times ever received a more joyous welcome “home” than the one JFK was given by the Irish. Throngs of people choked the streets everywhere he went. From that day forward many homes in Ireland would hang his photo on the wall next to that of the Pope.

On the dock where his great-grandfather had set sail for America JFK told the Irish people, "When my great-grandfather left here to become a cooper in East Boston he carried nothing with him except two things - a strong religious faith and a strong desire for liberty. I am glad to say that all of his grandchildren have valued that inheritance." In Wexford he joined in with a boys choir in the singing of "The Boys of Wexford.”

In dying a martyr’s death only a few months later, like so many Irish heroes, real and mythical, his place in the hearts of the Irish was perhaps burned even more deeply.

Related Links: 

1963: Warm welcome for JFK in Ireland

John F. Kennedy and Ireland

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

President Kennedy In Ireland – Céad Míle Fáilte! (Documentary - video)

More on JFK from TWG

What JFK Meant to the Irish ... Worldwide

Bruton: JFK's Visit a Dramatic Turning Point for Ireland

Remembering JFK's Funeral Fifty Years On

Respect for JFK's Legacy an Enduring Part of This Family

Jacqueline Kennedy's Handwritten Letter to De Valera

Forged in Fire: JFK and PT 109

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Tags: Kennedys, Politics, Presidents, War, Wexford

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