President Kennedy visited Ireland in June 1963 to see the home of his ancestors in Co Wexford. He was proud of his Irish heritage and received a warm and enthusiastic welcome as he toured the country meeting a range of people including relatives, leading Irish policitians, businessmen and thousands of well-wishers.
On June 28 he gave a speech to the Irish government at Leinster House, Dublin. It was the President’s second day of his four-day trip. This is an extract from the speech he made:
“I am deeply honoured to be your guest in the Free Parliament of a Free Ireland. If this nation had achieved its present political and economic stature a century or so ago, my great grandfather may never have left New Ross, and I might if fortunate be sitting down there with you. Of course, if your own President had never left Brooklyn, he might be standing up here instead of me.
“Yesterday was the 117th anniversary of the birth of Charles Steward Parnell – whose grandfather fought under Barry (John Barry, an Irish-born US Navy Captain during the American Revolutionary War) and whose mother was born in America – and who at the age of 34 was invited to address the American Congress on the cause of Irish freedom. ‘I have seen since I have been in this country,’ he said, ‘so many tokens of the good wishes of the American people toward Ireland….’ And today, 83 years later, I can say to you that I have seen in this country so many tokens of good wishes of the Irish people toward America.
“And so it is that our two nations, divided by distance have been united by history. No people ever believed more deeply in the cause of Irish freedom that the people of the United States. And no country contributed more to the building of my own than your sons and daughters. They came to our shores in a mixture of hope and agony, and I would not under-rate the difficulties of their course once they arrived in the United States. They left behind hearts, fields, and a nation yearning to be free. It is no wonder that James Joyce described the Atlantic as a bowl of bitter tears. And an earlier poet wrote, ‘They are going, going, going, and we cannot bid them stay.’”
“But today this is no longer the country of hunger and famine that those immigrants left behind. Nor is it any longer a country of persecution, political or religious. It is a free country, and that is why any American feels at home.
“And it is the present and the future of Ireland that today holds so much promise to my nation as well as to yours, and indeed to all of mankind. For the Ireland of 1963, one of the youngest of nations and the oldest of civilisations, has discovered that the achievement of nationhood is not an end, but a beginning.
“Other nations of the world in whom Ireland has long invested her people and her children are now investing their capital as well as their vacations here in Ireland. This revolution is not yet over, nor will it be I am sure, until a fully modern Irish economy fully shares the in world prosperity. But prosperity is not enough. Free Ireland will not be satisfied with anything less than liberty.”
President Kennedy drew huge crowds wherever he went in Ireland and his stay became a huge national celebration. As he left, he promised that he would return again soon. Tragically, he was assassinated four months later on November 22 in Dallas, Texas.
There is now a visitor centre at the Kennedy homestead in Co Wexford, which outlines the family story from emigration in the 19th century to the achievements of the extended family in America throughout the 20th century. There is also a memorial to President Kennedy at New Ross, the nearest town to his ancestral home.