JFK’s 1963 trip to Ireland is far and above the most famous. It was summer, he was President of the Unites States of America, and Ireland threw him a massive homecoming celebration.
Though that visit was the most momentous and well documented, it was not the first time John F. Kennedy had stayed in Ireland.
His first stay began 70 years ago today, on July 24, 1945.
The then-28-year-old Jack was preparing to begin his first political campaign, for Congress, the following year and he was traveling throughout Europe, writing articles for Hearst in an effort to establish a public presence before campaigning in earnest.
Less than 10 years earlier, his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, then the US Ambassador to Britain, had established the Kennedy presence in Ireland when he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the National University of Ireland by Eamon de Valera as thanks for his aid in Anglo-Irish negotiations.
During his 1945 visit, JFK stayed at the residence of the US Ambassador David Gray.
As Ryle Dwyer recently wrote in the Irish Examiner, the young Kennedy was determined not to let Gray influence his impressions.
“Mr. Gray’s opinion of de Valera was that he was sincere, incorruptible, also a paranoiac and a lunatic,” Kennedy wrote in his diary. According to Gray, de Valera “believed Germany was going to win. He kept strict neutrality even towards the simplest United States demand.”
During the future president’s time in Dublin, news broke that Winston Churchill had lost the British general election. Kennedy expressed surprise at this, but, as Dwyer notes, had raised this possibility in one of his articles a few months prior.
“There are millions of young voters who will be voting for the first time and no one is sure which way they’ll go,” Kennedy reported on May 28, 1945. “While Churchill’s strength is undisputed, it is not certain he can buck the recent surge to the left.”
JFK was elected to Congress in 1946, and the following year, during his first term, he again visited Ireland, this time staying at Lismore Castle with his sister, Kick (Kathleen).
In what was possibly one of the first cars seen in the area since WWII, the Kennedys drove to Dunganstown, outside of New Ross, in Co. Wexford, where the Kennedy ancestors had lived.
JFK called the trip, and the search for living relatives with whom they would indeed connect, as “a flow of nostalgia and sentiment.”