Kenneth (kensmind) wrote in potus_geeks,

Global Presidents: John F. Kennedy Goes to Ireland

President John F. Kennedy was the first Catholic president. He was not the first president of Irish descent, but in June of 1963 he paid a visit to his ancestral homeland. He arrived in Ireland on June 27th, after spending one of the most memorable days of his presidency in Berlin the day before. On June 26, President Kennedy gave a public speech in West Berlin reiterating the American commitment to Germany and criticizing communism. He was met with an warm and exuberant response from a huge audience. In his speech, Kennedy cited the construction of the Berlin Wall as an example of the failures of communism. He said, "Freedom has many difficulties, and democracy is not perfect. But we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us." The speech is known for its famous phrase "Ich bin ein Berliner" ("I am a citizen of Berlin"). A million people were on the street for the speech. He later told his aide Ted Sorensen, "We'll never have another day like this one, as long as we live." After Berlin, it was on to Dublin.

Kennedy spent four days in the land of his ancestry. On the second day of his trip the president travelled by helicopter to County Wexford where hundreds of well-wishers cheered and waved flags on his arrival. A choir of 300 boys greeted him singing "The Boys of Wexford", a ballad about an insurrection in 1798. The president left his bodyguards to join them in the second chorus. Once the singing was over, Kennedy shook hands with as many schoolchildren as he could reach. He was then driven to the nearby port of New Ross from where Patrick Kennedy, his great-grandfather, had set sail for America back in 1848 during the potato famine.

In a speech at the Wexford quayside, the President said "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 grandchildren have valued that inheritance."

At Dunganstown, President Kennedy visited his ancestral homestead, a small croft building and farm. The president and two of his sisters met 15 of their cousins, including the current owner of the homestead, Mary Ryan who welcomed him with a kiss on the cheek. Tea was served on trestle tables in the yard and a banner declared "Welcome home, Mr President". Kennedy spent about an hour chatting with his Irish family, cut a large cake and with teacup in hand said: "I want to drink a cup of tea to all those Kennedys who went and all those Kennedys who stayed." The next day, in Dublin, Kennedy spoke before the Irish parliament, where he openly condemned Britain's history of persecuting Irish Catholics. He was the first foreign leader to address the Houses of the Oireachtas (the Irish parliament).

Following is a YouTube clip of some newsreel footage of that visit:

Kennedy accepted a grant of armorial bearings from the Chief Herald of Ireland and received honorary degrees from the National University of Ireland and Trinity College, Dublin. Many years later, it was revealed in declassified police documents that security was heightened as Kennedy was the subject of three death threats during this visit. But by a large majority, John F. Kennedy was very popular in his visit to the land of his ancestors' birth.
Tags: john f. kennedy

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