On Nov 25, 1963, 26 Irish Army Cadets performed "the Funeral Drill" at the graveside of President John F. Kennedy. Sixty years later five of those Irish cadets attended the launch of EPIC Musuem's exhibition "Homecoming" to recall their experience.
To mark the 60th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's visit to Ireland EPIC Museum in Dublin, in association with the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, launched a temporary exhibition "Homecoming: JFK in Ireland" in Dublin. Present at the launch were dignitaries, including Táinaiste Micheál Martin and the US Ambassador Claire Cronin, along with five of the 26 Irish cadets who performed a guard of honor at JFK's funeral.
Sadly, just five months after Kennedy's historic visit to Ireland, on Nov 22, 1963, JFK was assassinated. Three days later at his state funeral at Arlington Cemetery, in Virginia, 26 Irish cadets were the only Irish military present. The Irish Army cadets formed a guard of honor and the final salute for the president.
Speaking at EPIC, Colonel William Nott, one of these Irish cadets spoke about the privileged experience.
"At that stage, we had never been on a plane with no passport. We were training in the Curragh Camp, which is not the most exciting place to be," said Mott. "Next thing we were told you're on a plane tomorrow morning, and you're going to do an honor guard at President Kennedy's funeral so you can just imagine as young people how we felt.
"We flew with President DeValera to New York, and on to Washington, and we were very well received by the old guard, which is the unit that guards the Capitol of Washington."
These Irish cadets were brought to Arlington at the request of First Lady Jackie Kennedy and JFK's mother, Rose. The President had witnessed the Irish Army cadets performing the "Funeral Drill", during a tribute to the 1916 Easter Rising leaders, at Arbor Hill in Dublin, during his June visit. It was said that JFK was so impressed he'd requested footage of the drill when he returned home to America.
Col. Mott said "On the day, we were brought to the graveside early on. We stood there for a number of hours. We could hear the drums coming as the cortege crossed the Potomac River and found its way up to Arlington Cemetery."
He continued "One of my colleagues here said you could see Mrs. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy being very moved by the drill at the time because she had been listening to her husband's state and one-to-one to her what a wonderful guard of Ireland that they had seen in Ireland.
"It was a huge honor we were very conscious that we weren't representing our country. We are representing the Defence Forces in Ireland and Ireland wasn't a big player in the world then. And we were determined to do a good performance and I think, I think in the end, we probably did that."
Watch footage of President John F. Kennedy's funeral here: