Caroline Kennedy was just 5 when her father kissed her goodbye and left the US for his visit to Ireland, but she has made that journey in her imagination many times since.
Now, 50 years on, she’s making it for real as she retraces the steps taken by her father, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
Caroline, the only surviving child of John and Jacqueline Kennedy, yesterday officially opened the National Library’s exhibition commemorating the four days in Ireland that JFK described as the best of his life.
Among the witnesses in 1963 was De Dannan fiddler Frankie Gavin, who was only 6 when he played for JFK on the Galway leg of the trip. He repeated the feat yesterday.
Caroline, 55, briefly addressed the gathering, expressing gratitude not only for this exhibition but for Irish support of the John F Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston where the collections are being digitised for online viewing. “My father was a student of history. He would be proud that he has become part of Ireland’s history as well as America’s,” she said.
Caroline was accompanied by husband Edwin Schlossberg and their children, Rose, 24; Tatiana, 22; and Jack, 20.
Tatiana said she and her entire family loved their Irish roots: “It’s where we get our good looks, our humour, our intelligence and, of course, our humility.”
Jimmy Deenihan, the heritage minister, presented the family with a certificate of Irish heri-tage, illustrated with a drawing of the kind of emigrant ship that brought JFK’s great-grandfather Patrick Kennedy from Wexford to the US in the 1840s.
Mr Deenihan described the impact of the Kennedy visit as “seismic”. “This visit left an indelible mark on Ireland and still remains in the consciousness of those who were there to experience it,” he said.
That’s certainly true for the Barry family, whose mother, Imelda Hogan, is a cousin on the Fitzgerald side of the Fitzgerald-Kennedy clan and has long treasured memories of hosting young widow Jacqueline when she visited Ireland with Caroline and John Jr in 1967.
Kevin Barry held tight to photographs from that trip, showing the children playing with Shannon, a cocker spaniel that Imelda had sent them, and Kevin’s pony, Danny Boy, whom Caroline rode to victory at a local gymkhana during her stay here.
“They’ve never been shown publicly here. They’re very personal to my mother because Jackie took them herself and posted them to her so they’re very special memories for her.”
The Barrys will be among those attending the main JFK Homecoming commemoration events in Wexford this weekend. Early yesterday, a torch lit from the eternal flame at JFK’s grave in Arlington Cemetery, Washington, DC, arrived at Dublin Airport.
It is travelling to Wexford on board the Irish naval ship the LÉ Orla, and will light a new emigrant flame memorial on the New Ross quayside tomorrow.
*Friday: Caroline Kennedy, her immediate family, and other relatives visit Bruff, Co Limerick, from noon. Events include dedication of the local courthouse in memory of her great, great grandfather Thomas Fitzgerald.
*Saturday: Almost 40 members of the Kennedy family gather in New Ross, Co Wexford, for a homecoming parade through the town, starting at 3.15pm. Public ceremonies continue on the quayside from 6pm with the lighting of the emigrant flame and speeches and performances from guests including Michael Flatley, Colm Tóibín, Michael Londra, and Judy Collins. Taoiseach Enda Kenny and members of the Kennedy family will also speak.
Earlier, the family and the Taoiseach will make a private visit and officially open the re-developed Kennedy Homestead and plant a tree at the JFK Arboretum.
*Sunday: The new Kennedy Homestead Visitor Centre at Dunganstown, New Ross, opens to the public from 9.30am.
*Were you in Cork when Kennedy visited, or know somebody who was? Get in touch or have your say below.
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