John F. Kennedy (born May 29, 1917) became the first sitting president to pay a state visit to Ireland. The four-day visit took place June 26-29, 1963. Kennedy referred to this visit as “the best ‘four days of his life'”.
In his message to the Dublin Parliament, he highlighted Irish emigration to the United States, Ireland’s support for American independence, and the Celtic nation’s long battle for independence from the British. Kennedy also recognized his own Irish lineage, envisioning what could have transpired had Ireland been independent when his great-grandfather immigrated to the United States. His eight great-grandparents all migrated to Boston, Massachusetts during the Great Famine.
During the speech, he lauded the Irish culture as one of “hope, confidence, and imagination” – attributes the young president deemed essential in a world where issues could be resolved, not by cynics nor pessimists, but rather by dreamers and visionaries.
In his address to the good people of New Ross, County Wexford on June 27, 1963, Kennedy revealed how much he treasured his Irish ancestry by stating, “When my great grandfather left here in 1848 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.”
He famously said, “We need men who can dream of things that never were.” John F Kennedy is my distant cousin, and I am a member of Clan Kennedy.
His visit occurred five months before his assassination November 22, 1963. He is often considered one of the greatest presidents in the history of The United States, and one of the greatest leaders in the world.
Further reading: JFK in Ireland: Four Days That Changed a President, book by Ryan Tubridy. Lyons Press 2010.
Photo courtesy John F Kennedy Presidential Library.