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JFK-Places in Ireland

Visiting Ireland in the Footsteps of US President John F. Kennedy


Just a short time before his death, US President John F. Kennedy paid Ireland a visit - which was hailed as the "homecoming" of the first Catholic Irish-American in the Oval Office. Some writers even see 1963 as a year that changed Ireland, mainly due to the few days JFK spent here.

Today, the legacy of the Kennedy visit is still traceable - from the obvious through the less unusual to the really obscure.

The Kennedy Homestead - County Wexford

Kennedy Homestead
© Janet Barth 2012 - used with permission
When famine struck, a poor man from Wexford boarded a ship, heading for "Americay". In a story that epitomizes the American Dream (and that is peppered with a bit of controversy) his family amassed riches and influence, culminating in his great-grandson being elected the first Irish-Catholic President of the United States. E pluribus unum indeed ... and the humble abode, where JFK's great-grandfather lived, is now a visitor attraction - the Kennedy Homestead.

The "Dunbrody" - New Ross

Dunbrody - a Typical Emigrant Ship of the Famine Period (River Suir)
© 2005 Bernd Biege licensed to About.com, Inc.
When you pass through New Ross in County Wexford, you may notice the masts and riggings of a tall ship in the harbour area. You are not mistaken - you have spotted the Dunbrody, a "coffin ship" from the famine era. Built in the late 20th century with financial assistance from the JFK Foundation. It is a replica of the sort of ship that JFK's ancestor would have used to make his way from Wexford to "Americay". Fittingly enough, a (rather unexciting) statue of JFK himself stands nearby.

The John F. Kennedy Arboretum - County Wexford

JFK Arboretum - Blossoms on the Wood Floor
© Janet Barth 2012 - used with permission
The John F. Kennedy Arboretum in County Wexford is a slightly puzzling attraction to me - basically I fail to see the connection between JFK and dendrology (which, for the uninitiated amongst us, is the science of trees). The Wexford connection is better defined, as the ancestors of the first Catholic Irish-American President of the USA came from here. Still - a great place for a walk and maybe a better monument to JFK than many a statue.

John Barry Statue - Wexford Harbour

John Barry Memorial
© Janet Barth 2012 - used with permission
The JFK-connection might not be obvious, but if you are touring County Wexford, make sure you swing by Wexford Harbour and take a look at the statue of John Barry. This remembers the "Father of the US Navy", born nearby and commander of the first true US warship. A small plaque on the back of the plinth remembers JFK's visit here. It is not the common Wexford ancestry that connected the two men - remember that Kennedy was a serving officer in the US Navy during World War Two.

Eyre Square - Galway City

Kennedy Memorial in Eyre Square
© Janet Barth 2012 - used with permission
To be quite honest ... JFK spent a very short time in Galway City and held a very short speech. This was part of the ceremony to make him a Freeman of the City. In Eyre Square, a recently renovated, but still somewhat uninspiring common area that tends to become most lively when students use it as a meeting point. Almost tucked away in the corner is a memorial to JFK. Who in this place gave the sweeping invitation "If you ever come to America, come to Washington and tell them, if they wonder who you are at the gate, that you come from Galway." Implying that you would be most welcome. Anyone ever tried, I wonder?

Galway Cathedral

Saint JFK?
© Janet Barth 2012 - used with permission
In my opinion the most obscure (and curious) JFK memorial can be found in Galway Cathedral (or officially "Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St. Nicholas"), which was still under construction during the JFK visit and only dedicated in 1965 (making it one of the youngest cathedrals in Europe). In a side chapel, round mosaics show both Patrick Pearse and John F. Kennedy in prayer, suggesting an almost saint-like status for both.

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