Fifty years ago, in June 1963, President Kennedy came to Ireland on a state visit.
It is difficult for people who weren’t around then to realise why it was all such a big deal, but a big deal it certainly was.
Not since FDR and his New Deal government of the 1930s had there been such a charismatic American President.
Just seven months before Kennedy’s visit, during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, the world had been on the brink of nuclear war.
For thirteen days everybody on the planet held their breaths.
Kennedy came to Ireland for a four-day visit straight from Berlin where he delivered his famous Ich bin Ein Berliner speech. It was just 18 years after the war ended, a war that had seen six million men, women and children burned to death because of their faith and origin.
That was a war Ireland had stayed out of, but now we were centre of the world stage. The most popular leader in the world had come home.
People watched him on their new television sets. Tea with his cousins in Wexford. Meeting mayors in New Ross, Cork, Limerick. That extraordinary speech in the Dail. Old Dev. Young Kennedy. In Galway he sat with silk-hatted clergy while his foot tapped to the Irish music. At Shannon he read a poem given to him by Sinead de Valera:
Tis it is the Shannon brightly glancing stream, brightly gleaming
Silent in the morning beam, O the sight is trancing.
Thus return from travels long, years of exile, years of pain
To see O Shannon’s face again ore the waters glancing.
He said he would be back in the spring time to see the Shannon and us all.
Then came that day in November: Shots have been heard in the vicinity of President Kennedy’s motorcade in Dallas Texas.
The Greek tragedy
unfolded. The movie-star President was dead.