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JFK In Ireland

Boston — In June 1963, President John F. Kennedy, America’s first Irish-Catholic president, journeyed to his ancestral homeland of Ireland, a homecoming he later described as “one of the most moving experiences” of his life.

On St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2006, the Museum at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library will open “A Journey Home – John F. Kennedy and Ireland,” a special, new exhibit that explores President Kennedy’s relationship to his ancestral homeland, featuring a large selection of never-before-seen materials from the Museum Collection including gifts presented to the president by the people of Ireland as well as other artifacts, documents, photographs and film footage relating to his Irish heritage and his June 26-29,1963 state visit to the country of his ancestors.

President Kennedy relished his Irish heritage, and during his historic visit to Ireland remarked to the people of Limerick, “This is not the land of my birth but it is the land for which I hold the greatest affection.”

The President’s eight great-grandparents all migrated to Boston, Massachusetts during the devastating Potato Famine of the late 1840’s, seeking to take advantage of the economic opportunity offered in America. By the end of the century, both of President Kennedy’s grandfathers had become successful Boston politicians. Patrick J. Kennedy was a tavern owner and later a banker who served in both Houses of the Massachusetts Legislature and was the political "boss” of a ward in Boston. John F. ("Honey Fitz") Fitzgerald, a colorful politician who served in the Massachusetts State Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, was also mayor of Boston for three terms.

In remarks to the people of New Ross, County Wexford on June 27, 1963, President Kennedy spoke of his treasured ancestry:

“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.”

So effusive was his reception by the people of Ireland that President Kennedy remarked before departing Galway, “You send us home covered with gifts, which we can barely carry, but most of all you send us home with the warmest memories of you and your country.”

The new exhibit will display for the first time many of these gifts bestowed on the President by the people of Ireland as well as personal items of the President relating to his Irish heritage. Among the items that will be displayed in the special exhibit and Museum are:

  • A silver goblet made in Dublin in 1805, given to the president by the people of New Ross, Ireland, home of his great-grandfather. JFK kept it displayed in the Oval Office and Jacqueline Kennedy instructed the White House gardener to place a fresh flower in it every day.
  • An 1850 edition of the Douay English translation of the Holy Bible brought to America from Ireland by John F. Kennedy’s forebears. It contains a handwritten chronicle of the Fitzgerald family from 1857, including a record of the birth of John F. Kennedy on May 29, 1917. John F. Kennedy took the presidential oath of office on the Fitzgerald Family Bible on January 20, 1961.
  • The sword of John Barry, a founder of the U.S. Navy and former commander of the USS Constitution. Barry, who served during the Revolutionary War as one of the first captains of the Constitutional Navy, was born in County Wexford, Ireland, the ancestral home of President Kennedy. President Kennedy displayed the sword in the White House Oval Office, and during his visit to Wexford, Ireland on June 27, 1963, placed a wreath at the statue of John Barry. This sword has never been publicly displayed before at the Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
  • The Freedom of Wexford Chest is a gilt silver chest naming President Kennedy an Honorary Freeman of Wexford. This chest, which has never been publicly displayed before at the Kennedy Presidential Library, shows the Kennedy coat of arms and the inscription: “Presented to Mr. John Fitzgerald Kennedy President of the United States of America on the occasion of his enrollment as an Honorary Freeman on the 27th day of June 1963.”
  • The original Treaty of Ormonde, a treaty between the Earle of Ormonde and John O. Kennedy and those of his nation, dated March 5, 1336. This document, the first known mention of the Kennedy name in recorded Irish history, was a gift to President Kennedy from Prime Minister Sean LeMass and the people of Ireland.

“A Journey Home – John F. Kennedy and Ireland,” is sponsored by Jurys Boston Hotel, Jurys Washington Hotel and American Airlines. The media sponsor is WCVB-TV 5.

“A Journey Home – John F. Kennedy and Ireland” is just one of the many exciting and inspiring exhibits visitors will find in the Museum at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. The Museum’s 25 multimedia exhibits and period settings from the White House offer an exciting “you are there” experience, and create a stirring account of President Kennedy’s thousand days in office. Beginning with 17-minute film narrated by President Kennedy, visitors step back into the recreated world of the early 1960s and witness the first televised presidential debate; accompany first lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy on her televised tour of the White House; sit in on press conferences with the President; relive the thrill of Col. John Glenn’s first orbital mission; stroll through White House corridors; witness Cabinet meetings during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and observe the president’s televised address from the Oval Office on the Civil Rights crisis.

One of Boston’s most popular destinations for visitors from all nations, the architectural masterpiece designed by I.M. Pei sits on a 10-acre waterfront site on Columbia Point offering panoramic views of Boston’s skyline and Harbor Islands.

General admission to the Museum at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library is $10.00. Admission for seniors over the age of 62 and college students with appropriate identification is $8.00, and for children ages 13-17, $7.00. Children ages 12 and under are admitted for free.

The Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with the exceptions of Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. The Library is located in the Dorchester section of Boston, off Morrissey Boulevard, next to the campus of the University of Massachusetts/Boston. Parking is free. There is free shuttle-service from the JFK/UMass T Stop on the Red Line. The Museum is fully handicapped accessible. For more information, call (866) JFK-1960 or access on the Internet.

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is a presidential library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and supported, in part, by the Kennedy Library Foundation, a non-profit organization. 


by Michael P. Quinlin

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