Members of the choir who stood as school children in the GAA field in New Ross and welcomed US President John F. Kennedy to his ancestral home and later traveled to the US to sing on The Ed Sullivan Show gathered in New Ross town for a reunion.
Hundreds of well wishers cheered and waved flags on the President's arrival at Wexford town and a choir of 300 greeted him singing "The Boys of Wexford". The president left his bodyguards to join them in the second chorus, prompting one American photographer to burst into tears. Once the singing was over, Mr Kennedy shook hands with as many schoolchildren as he could reach.
In 1964, the same year as The Beatles first performed on The Ed Sullivan Show, a group of the children from the choir were invited to sing on the famous American TV variety show that ran on CBS from 1948 to 1971, and was hosted by New York entertainment columnist and Irish American Ed Sullivan.
Commenting at their reunion in New Ross member of the choir Victor Furnace aged 14 years at the time was one of just 21 boys and girls who were picked from New Ross schools to travel to America in 1964 to pay tribute to the late President John F. Kennedy to mark the first anniversary of his untimely death.
He recalls the occasion; “It was a very sad but very memorable occasion for all of us. We did have a fantastic time; it’s something you would never have dreamed of. At that time I hadn’t seen Dublin before, we hadn’t even seen outside of New Ross, it is a trip that I treasure and I can still remember every minute of the trip, we went to the Empire state building and Macy’s and saw all of the sights.”
The young teenagers proudly sang a famous Wexford ballad under the musical direction of Fr. Jackie Power OSA, on the Show, they also visited Senator Ted Kennedy while he was in a hospital in Boston after breaking his leg and they stood by his beside and delivered their best rendition of the 'Boys of Wexford'.
“I shook his hand and he got up in the bed and he talked to us,' said Victor, who was a pupil in Good Counsel College at the time. We also met Bobby Kennedy in Baltimore, we sang Kelly ‘The Boy from Kilanne’. “ Victor recalls.
Maureen Doyle, who was aged just 13 at the time and a pupil at St Mary’s Secondary School New Ross. Maureen recalled the events of the time, “I was chosen from our school to go on the trip as my name was drawn out of a hat.
It was so long ago but I still can recall it all, I was so excited. Things were very different in those days you didn’t travel very far usually and to go to America was unbelievable, I hadn’t been on an aeroplane before. We met Tony Bennett while we were all waiting to perform on The Ed Sullivan Show. I remember going into Macy’s the day after singing on the show and people recognizing us from being and coming up to us and taking about the performance, it was really lovely. I still have my love for singing to this day, I’m a member of the New Ross singers choir.”
This weekend the choir gathered ahead of the towns planned celebrations for the JFK50, which will take place on June 22 marking the memory and visit of President John F. Kennedy to his ancestral hometown.
The town recently announced the stage line-up for celebrations in New Ross for ‘The Homecoming’ on June 22, this features Wexford ambassador, journalist, presenter and former RTE news reader Anne Doyle who will take to the stage on New Ross Quayside and welcome visitors to Wexford as well as introduce the formidable line-up, which will include the critically acclaimed award winning author and Wexford ambassador Colm Toibin who will recite from the stage. George Hook, well-known broadcaster, TV critic and Kennedy fan will assist Anne.
International singer and Wexford ambassador Michael Londra who will perform a song he has written especially for the event with Grammy award winning songwriter Marcus Hummon.
World-renowned dancer, musician and performer Michael Flatley, who will narrate the journey and significance of the Emigrant Flame before it’s symbolic lighting on the quayside, evoking the spirit and inspiration of the Kennedys and the entire Irish emigrant family. And American Grammy award winning singer and songwriter Judy Collins, one of the great icons of American music, will also entertain visitors from the stage with some wonderful pieces from her vast songbook. Extreme Rhythm, the most highly acclaimed percussion group in Europe, led by Wexford Town man Nicky Bailey, will also perform in honor of JFK and the Kennedy Family and World pipe band champions, New Ross and District Pipe Band will also entertain the special guests and viewing public.
For further details on all of the events taking place throughout the year for the JFK50 see www.jfk50ireland.com.