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John F Kennedy greeting the crowds in Wexford Photo by: Google Images

Kennedy clan set to gather for JFK 50th anniversary celebrations

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John F Kennedy greeting the crowds in Wexford Photo by: Google Images

The people of Wexford are putting the finishing touches to plans for the celebrations surrounding the 50th visit to Ireland of their own President John F. Kennedy.

And the Irish Times reports, in a fascinating article, on the final touches being put to a Kennedy visitor centre at the old family homestead in Dunganstown, just outside the town of New Ross.

The paper reports that the Kennedy Homecoming, one of the more prominent of this year’s Gathering events, promises to be quite an occasion.

Next Saturday, some 30 members of the Kennedy clan, will arrive in New Ross to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the President’s visit in 1963.

The visiting party will be led by Caroline, Jacqueline and Jean Kennedy Smith, JFK’s sister and former US ambassador to Ireland, plus a host of Kennedy cousins, children and grandchildren.

Pat Kennedy, a third cousin of JFK and the last direct male descendant of the Patrick Kennedy who left Ireland in the 1840s, unveiled a large photograph from a tube to the Irish Times team.

The report says it shows a crowd of perhaps 20 people standing in the homestead farmyard in 1963 around a smiling JFK, great grandson of the emigrant Patrick who founded the dynasty in Boston.

Pointing to one of the figures, Pat outlined: “He’s gone, he’s gone, him too, and her. She’s gone as well.”

Pat estimates that almost everyone in the photograph has long since died, not least, of course, the president himself.

A 21-year-old when the President visited, Pat will be on hand to welcome the Kennedy clan on Saturday.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny and a host of local and national dignitaries will also be there to officially open the Kennedy Homestead Visitor Centre.

Two of the Kennedy children will unveil a bust of their grandfather, the late senator Ted Kennedy, in whose memory the impressive exhibition building is nearing completion.

Pat Grennan, a third cousin once removed to JFK, owns the homestead and will be curator of the centre which will be run by the JFK Trust.

The Trust also runs the Dunbrody emigrant ship at the quay with its own visitor and exhibition centre.

A rectangular space, designed by Jack Harrison of the OPW, the visitor centre will tell the story of emigration and the Kennedy family through attractively designed and engaging display panels of photographs, text and quotations.

The report says the centre will have plenty of audiovisual material telling the story of Joe and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy’s extraordinary children and their impact on the world.

The writer adds that the lump-in-the-throat poignancy of that story is writ large in the final display, which shows part of the undelivered speech JFK was to make that day in Dallas, plus his commander-in-chief’s dog tags and the rosary beads he had in his pocket when he was shot dead.

An Irish Defence Forces colour party will light a torch at the Kennedy grave in Arlington Cemetery in Virginia next Tuesday. From there, they will take the flame by road to New York and onto an Aer Lingus flight to Dublin.

The Irish Naval Service will then ferry the flame down the coast to the southeast on board the LE Orla.

Jean Kennedy Smith will board the ship near New Ross and, when it has docked at New Ross at 6pm next Saturday, she will carry the flame on to the quayside and give it to PM Kenny.

Sean Reidy, chief executive of the JFK Trust, can’t wait for the visit. He told the Irish Times: “He told us in 1963 that he’d be back in the springtime. Well, instead of that, a bit like Mary Robinson’s light in the Áras window, our eternal flame here in New Ross can be an inspiration to all emigrants to come home.”

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