Bruff emerged in brilliant sunshine yesterday to stake its rightful place in the heritage of the Kennedy clan.
While it might not have competed with Knocknagoshel for a “place among the nations of the earth”, for a few hours the small Co Limerick town nudged Wexford from the JFK limelight.
After all, it was from Bruff, it is claimed, that JFK inherited his political gene. His grandfather, John ‘Honey Fitz’ Fitzgerald was son of Thomas Fitzgerald, who left Bruff in 1852.
‘Honey Fitz’ became the first son of an Irish emigrant to crack Boston politics when he was elected mayor of the city.
In an address outside the new Thomas Fitzgerald Centre, Caroline Kennedy said the welcome in Bruff was “most amazing”.
She recalled that her grandmother, Rose Kennedy, and her grandmother’s father, ‘Honey Fitz’, visited Bruff when her grandmother was a young woman.
She said: “Grandma always told us the Fitzgeralds were the better half of the family and the ones with the brains. And everybody knew Grandma was the best politician of all.”
Michael Fitzgerald, a distant cousin of the Kennedy family who lives at Caherguillamore, Bruff, was one of the first to greet Caroline Kennedy on her visit, with her son Jack and daughters Rose and Tatiana.
Michael, 74, was in no doubt that the Kennedys’ political blood came from the Fitzgerald side.
He said: “We were always mad into politics.”
And, recalling JFK’s remarks in the Dáil in 1963, when he speculated that if his forebears had not departed for America, he might be sitting in Leinster House, Michael said: “I have no doubt had that been the case he’d have been a Fianna Fáil TD. We were always Fianna Fáil.”
The last vestige of the Fitzgerald home is an iron skillet pot, displayed in the old courthouse, which was yesterday renamed the Thomas Fitzgerald Centre by Caroline Kennedy.
And, in an address, Attorney General Máire Whelan recalled that a Cork barrister named Croke opened the way for people to have legal representation, due to a case he took in the same building on Aug 26, 1829.
During a brief ceremony at the St Peter and Paul parish church, Caroline Kennedy’s daughter Rose offered a prayer for the Kennedy and Fitzgerald families and Tatiana asked the congregation to pray and remember “the young men and women who have recently emigrated in search of employment”.
Canon James Costello looked towards Caroline Kennedy and remarked: “You were the apple of President Kennedy’s eye. I still remember you as a tiny tot at his funeral and wondered what this little girl was thinking about.
“We are all so glad you have made Bruff a station for your Irish visit.”
After a tree-planting in the town park, the Kennedys went to the Old Church of Ireland for a lunch prepared by another Fitzgerald — David Fitzgerald, whose family run the Woodlands Hotel in Adare.
With the main street wreathed in stars and stripes, publican Jack Clancy hoisted a special US flag at his premises.
Jack said: “I got this flag from Mike Kenny in Athlacca. He got it when he went to the World Cup in the US in 1994. He met a former US Vietnam war hero, John McAuliffe, whose great, great grandfather came from Athlacca. He gave Mike the flag he got for his service in Vietnam. That flag flies in Bruff today.”
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