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The late President John F. Kennedy of the United States of America acknowledges the cheers of the crowd when he visits New Ross, Co. Wexford, Ireland Photo by: PA

The Irish Kennedys

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The late President John F. Kennedy of the United States of America acknowledges the cheers of the crowd when he visits New Ross, Co. Wexford, Ireland Photo by: PA

The Kennedy political dynasty can trace their Irish roots to Dunganstown in Wexford.

Patrick Kennedy, the great-grandfather of John, Bobby and Teddy, left Ireland in 1848 to escape the grinding poverty and make a life for himself.

Patrick probably left for the same reason so many millions of Irish left; to escape the grinding poverty and seek a better life for himself in the “New World."

It is believed that Patrick had already met his future wife Bridget Murphy before he left for America. She followed him over and they married in 1849, in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, known as "the grandest Catholic Church in Boston."

The story of the Kennedy family is of course the classic Irish-American immigrant tale – if not indeed the classic American immigrant tale.

As each generation of Kennedys was born, the family moved up in the world. Bridget took over their successful stationary store after her husband, Patrick, died from cholera.

Their youngest son, Patrick J. Kennedy, went on to become a successful Boston politician, winning five consecutive one-year terms in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and then three two-year terms in the state senate.

Then his son, Joseph P. Kennedy became a leading member of the Democratic Party, and the U.S ambassador to the U.K. And everyone knows the stories of Joseph’s sons, John, Bobby and Teddy.

JFK’s visit to Ireland as president in June 1963 was a famous moment in Irish history. While there, he visited Dunganstown, to see the family farm and visit relatives. He also saw the docks of the town of New Ross, from where his great-grandfather boarded a ship called the Washington Irving for the New World.

Speaking at a ceremony in New Ross, JFK paid tribute to his Irish heritage. “When my great grandfather left here to become a cooper in East Boston, he carried nothing with him except two things: a strong religious faith and a strong desire for liberty. I am glad to say that all his grandchildren have valued that inheritance.”

Historian Jay P. Dolan, who was working as an advisor to Kennedy at the time said that the president was “getting so Irish, the next thing you know he’ll be speaking with a brogue." JFK later said that the Irish trip was “one of the most moving experiences” of his life.

Poignantly, JFK promised an audience in Limerick that he would return in the springtime. He said Ireland “is not the land of my birth, but it the land for which I hold the greatest affection, and I will certainly come back in the springtime.”

Of course, JFK never did make that return trip. But over the years, plenty of other Kennedys did, each time reinforcing their Irish heritage.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver had traveled to Ireland with JFK in 1963 and she returned in 2003 to attend the Special Olympics. Shriver, 82, who was a founder of the Special Olympics, said her brother had been proud to be the first American president to visit Ireland. "Of all the countries he visited none equaled Ireland."

Another sister, Jean Kennedy Smith, also went on the 1963 trip. In 1993 she was appointed U.S Ambassador to Ireland by Bill Clinton 1993 and played a crucial role in the Northern Ireland peace process.

She visited Ireland last year, to attend the unveiling of a bronze statute commemorating her brother at New Ross. "It brings back wonderful memories for me,"  she said, speaking about that famous trip. "It was a time I have cherished ever since, and I know that my brother felt the same way."

Caroline Kennedy, JFK's daughter, who this year pulled out of the running for the New York Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton, is reportedly being considered as a possible U.S Ambassador to Ireland.

It seems that the Kennedy family has lost little of its Irish touch, even though the patriarch, Patrick Kennedy, left Ireland more than 160 years ago.

Wexford has done its best to honor its most famous family. Patrick Grennan, a member of the Kennedy clan, opened a visitors' center at the Kennedy home in Dunganstown in 1999. The center houses an extensive collection of photographs from President Kennedy's Irish trip, with his wife Jacqueline and children John and Caroline.

Irish America’s first family is also commemorated by the JKF Trust, a charitable organization based in Wexford that aims to preserve the legacy of JFK.

The trust has also set up a comprehensive database of Irish emigration to the U.S and built a famine memorial wall to the Irish Diaspora. 

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