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JFK – The Irish Connection

This week the Late Late Show has reached somewhat of a wider audience than usual. Presenter Ryan Tubridy agreed to sit on the other side of the table as he appeared on NBC’s The Today Show. Tubridy made his appearance on the popular US morning show on Wednesday to promote his book ‘JFK in Ireland: Four Days That Changed a President.’ “I am going to talk about Ireland, my book, JFK, and perhaps use it as an opportunity to wear the green jersey and get people to return to Ireland like JFK did. I’m going to be banging the drum for Ireland,” Tubridy told the Irish Independent.

Released in 2010, the book examines Kennedy’s 1963 visit to Ireland, a visit JFK himself described as “the best four days of my life,” and his last visit to the country before his assassination five months later. Kennedy, who was America’s first Irish-Catholic President, was a member of two families with a rich history stretching back to Ireland. The Fitzgerald family was from Bruff in County Limerick and in the famine years emigrated to the New World to escape the most devastating effects. The first Irish-American Fitzgerald was born John Francis Fitzgerald in Boston on February 11th 1863. It was through this line JFK’s mother came from; Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald, the daughter of John Francis and Mary Hannon of Acton, Massachusetts – herself of Irish descent. Meanwhile, another Irish family had also emigrated to America during the Great Famine; Patrick Kennedy left his home in Dunganstown, Co. Wexford and sailed for the States. There he married Bridget Murphy who would be eventually widowed and left to care for four sons, the youngest of whom was named Patrick Joseph, whose future grandson would become his country’s President.

Boston was the first port of settlement for both families, and became their home in this new country. They sought to take advantages of all the economic opportunities the US had to offer, although first they had to overcome a wave of discrimination against Irish-Catholic immigrants which was sweeping the country at that time. First they worked as peddlers and labourers, gradually moving up in the world to take positions as clerks and tavern owners. And, by the end of the 19th century, both of JFK’s grandfathers had become successful politicians in their own right; John Fitzgerald in particular served as Mayor of Boston and in the US Congress.

JFK was intensely proud of his Irish heritage and his family’s hardworking roots. During his visit to Ireland he remarked to the people of New Ross, Wexford – “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 of his great-grandchildren have valued that inheritance.”

The John F Kennedy library in Boston is a lasting reminder of the President’s link to the country of his ancestors. Amongst its treasures is a large Bible, brought over from Ireland by his great grandparents. An 1850 edition, it carries with it a record of the Fitzgerald family, including a marking of the birth of one John Fitzgerald Kennedy, born May 29th 1917, and was the Bible he placed one hand on when being sworn in as President of the United States almost 44 years later. Along with its other exhibits is a Waterford Crystal vase, etched into it is an Irish homestead, an immigrant ship followed by the White House, symbolising the journey of the Fitzgerald and Kennedy families.

During his four-day visit he made a stop at Limerick on the 29th of June. There he told the gathered crowd – “This is not the land of my birth, but it is the land for which I hold the greatest affection, and I certainly will come back in the springtime.” Five months later, Ireland’s only claim on an American President was dead, assassinated in Dallas while on a political trip to the state of Texas. The honour guard at his graveside in Arlington National Cemetery was the 37th Cadet Class of the Irish Army.

“I must say that though other days may not be so bright, as we look toward the future, that the brightest days will continue to be those we spent with you here in Ireland.”

-JFK, Eyre Square, Co. Galway, 29th June 1963

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  1. John Fitzgerald was more commonly known as ‘Honey Fitz’. The local theatre at Lough Gur (near Bruff) is called after him and was opened by sister of JFK Jeane Kennedy Smith (US Ambassador to Ireland at the time) a few years back. The referred Mary Hannon was descendant of the Lough Gur area or from LG (not sure which).

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