Obama urged to visit Wexford for JFK celebrations

The people behind an event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s visit to Ireland said they are “cautiously optimistic” that president Barack Obama will take part in the celebrations in Wexford this June.

Obama urged to visit Wexford for JFK celebrations

Organisers have returned from a visit to Washington DC, where they held meetings with representatives from Congress and the Kennedy family, as well as close aides to the president.

They have secured agreement on a format whereby they will take part of the John F Kennedy eternal flame at his grave in Arlington Cemetery and transport it back to Wexford to light at the quay front wall in New Ross where Kennedy’s ancestors emigrated from in the 1850s.

The flame will follow the route that the most prominent Irish-American family took when they departed Irish shores for the US — travelling from Arlington to Boston, through Liverpool, and across to Ireland.

Organisers have extended an invitation to Barack Obama to take part in events to mark the JFK50 celebrationsm which will coincide with Mr Obama’s visit to Co Fermanagh for the G8 summit.

There are also high-level talks between the Government and US officials to secure such a visit, but sources said a sense of realism was needed because it is less than two years since Mr Obama visited Dublin with his wife, Michelle.

If a visit is to take place, it will be announced around St Patrick’s Day, when Taoiseach Enda Kenny is due to visit the White House. The lighting of the flame in Arlington is also likely to coincide with the Taoiseach’s visit.

JFK’s sister, Jean Kennedy Smith, and his only living child, Caroline Kennedy, have committed to taking part in the New Ross commemorations. Organisers are also hopeful that his nephew, Congressman Joe Kennedy, will be involved.

Martin O’Malley, the governor of Maryland, will take part in the events in Wexford as part of his longer visit to Ireland, which will include an address to the third Global Irish Economic Forum in Farmleigh House, Dublin.

Mr O’Malley, who has family connections in Connemara, is widely tipped to be the Democrat’s nominee for the 2016 presidential election should Hillary Clinton decide not to contest it.

When JFK visited Wexford in 1963 he promised to come back, but that was a promise he never got to fulfil. Wexford councillor Michael Sheehan, who was part of the three-man delegation to Washington last week, said a visit by Mr Obama would represent the JFK visit coming full circle.

“Obama embodies the politics of President Kennedy in terms of civil rights, healthcare, social justice and peace,” said Mr Sheehan. “He epitomises the legacy of JFK and we would love if he could take up President Kennedy’s promise to return.”

Mr Sheehan said the celebration has been a “phenomenal undertaking” for a small town and has great potential in terms of trade and tourism for the town.

Support for the event from Americans has been very strong,” he said. “Americans really love this relationship,” said Mr Sheehan. “They love an underdog and the fact that the last few years have knocked a lot out of us; there’s huge support in terms of getting back on our feet.”

A series of events are planned in Wexford to mark the anniversary, including an exhibition of photos from his visit to Ireland and Berlin and the JKF summer school.

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