Return to the Emerald Isle

Kennedy was greeted by ecstatic crowds in Ireland. Photo courtesy of JFK Library

Kennedy was greeted by ecstatic crowds in Ireland. Photo courtesy of JFK Library

Michael Hogan

From June 26-29, 1963, President John F. Kennedy made a historic visit to his ancestral homeland. When Irish President Eamon de Valera offered the invitation for Kennedy to visit, he jumped at the chance. For those four days, just five months before his shocking assassination, Kennedy was treated like a king, hailed everywhere he went. Our next door neighbor here on Columbia Point, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, documents this journey though artifacts in the exhibit A Journey Home: John F. Kennedy and Ireland.

Though focusing on the 1963 trip, the exhibit follows the Kennedy family legacy in Ireland through previous generations. All of President Kennedy’s eight great-grandparents traveled to America from Ireland during the Potato Famine in the 1840’s. The exhibit includes maps and photographs of the Kennedy family land as well as the family’s coat of arms. The bible from 1850, that the Kennedy clan brought with them to America, the same one on which the President took his oath of office, is here. Another early Kennedy artifact is the original Treaty of Ormonde, given to Kennedy by Prime Minister Sean LeMass and the People of Ireland. The Treaty of Ormonde, dated March 5, 1336, is the first mention of the Kennedy name in Irish history.

The exhibit also features items from the actual trip. From the original letter sent to Kennedy by De Valera inviting him to visit to the last minute telegram Kennedy received from De Valera on the tarmac of Shannon Airport as he was boarding his plane for home; the entire trip is documented. Visitors will find hand written notes made by Kennedy. There are his corrections to the speech he gave upon his landing in Dublin as well as a poem he jotted down after hearing De Valera’s wife Sinead recite it at dinner. There is a copy of The Irish Times from June 27, 1963 with the headline “Dublin Greets Kennedy”. Some of the most amazing things visitors find here are the gifts given to Kennedy by the people of Ireland. The Galway Great Mace and the Freedom of the City of Galway Casket are sterling examples of Connemara marble and precious metals. The sword of Commodore John Barry inscribed with the Latin words “Pro Gloria et Patria” (For Glory and Country) was another gift presented to Kennedy that can be found here. There are honorary degrees from The University of Ireland and Trinity College that Kennedy received on the trip.

So, with St. Patrick’s Day coming on Saturday why not check out some local history as well of some Irish history at the same time. Get in the Irish spirit and the Boston spirit at the same time. Before you drink your green beer and eat your corned beef, take the short walk across the street to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and check out Kennedy’s journey home. The JFK Library is free to UMass students with a valid student ID.