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Friday, 26 June 2015

Anniversary of JFK visit

This week marks the anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s visitto Ireland in 1963. It was the first state visit to Ireland of a US president during his first term in office, by the first solidly Irish-American and first Catholic president of the USA, so Ireland wanted to make her visitor proud of his heritage.

The Irish Photo Archive released a digital book on the Kennedy visit entitled President John F. Kennedy Visits in 1963, featuring all our special and unique photographs of the occasion. It is available on the iTunes Store, and can be downloaded or gifted to somebody on the opposite side of the planet within seconds. To access the digital book, click here.

Kennedy came straight to Dublin from Berlin, where he had addressed the crowds at the Berlin wall, making his famous ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ speech. The visit to Ireland, in contrast, would be an occasion of mostly pleasure for the president, relatively free of political engagements but packed full of opportunities for his legendary charm to shine through.

As the Kennedy motorcade wound through Dublin’s city centre on the way to the Áras from the airport, the affection the Irish people had for their visitor was obvious to all. Over 80,000 people were estimated to have gathered on O’Connell Street alone, with more lining the streets along Westmoreland Street, Dame Street, and down along the quays to the Phoenix Park.

Kennedy made a call down to the homestead of his ancestorsin Dunganstown, Co. Wexford, where his aunt Mary Ryan greeted him with a kiss on the cheek. The Ryan family had laid on afternoon tea for Kennedy, who had brought his sisters Jean and Eunice with him, as well as his bodyguards, advisors, the ambassador to Ireland and a pack of reporters and cameramen (and it was virtually all men in those days). But, despite the scrum surrounding Kennedy, only the Lensmen photographer managed to get inside the cottage for the more intimate family reunion.

Another poignant occasion during the Kennedy visit occurred when he paid homage to the executed 1916 leaders at Arbour Hill. This was another first achieved by Kennedy, as he was the first foreign head of state to pay his respects at this memorial garden and therefore the first to acknowledge their role in establishing an independent republic. It was also where Kennedy saw the 36th Cadet Class under Lt Frank Colclough performed the Queen Anne Drill, or the Funeral Drill, intended to honour the dead.

Kennedy seemed spellbound while the drill was going one, and later commentated on their performance. Later, when back in the US and reminiscing about the trip, he said his highlight was the ceremony at Arbour Hill and that “those cadets were terrific”. He asked for a film of the drill be made, so that it could be performed by the US ceremonial guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The cadets were to perform the drill once more for Kennedy, and far sooner than anybody had anticipated, when Jackie requested that the cadets be flown to Washington to perform at Kennedy’s funeral.

After the Arbour Hill ceremony, Kennedy was taken to Leinster House where he would address both houses of the Oireachtas. After Kennedy had signed the visitor’s book – a new Heads of State visitor’s book - he entered the Dáil Chamber with Seán Lemass, James Dillon and Brendan Corish, the leaders of the three main political parties in Ireland: Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour. This was the first time a foreign leader would address both Houses of the Oireachtas, and also the first time television cameras were allowed inside the chamber.

On Kennedy’s return to the States, he spoke often about his time in Ireland and how much he had enjoyed his visit. He had planned to come back on a private holiday with his family, but was killed in Dallas five months later. His death sent shockwaves throughout the world, but was particularly devastating to the Irish, who still had precious memories of the young, vibrant man that had charmed the population during his three days here.

All photos available @ Irish Photo Archive.

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