Caroline Kennedy, daughter of American president John F. Kennedy, carried an eternal flame from her father’s gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery in the United States, all the way to Dunganstown in County Wexford, Ireland. There she used that flame this past Saturday to light another in commemoration of the president’s historic visit there fifty years earlier.
While JFK’s visit to Berlin – and his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” quote – is familiar to most Americans, it was his stop at his family’s ancestral homeplace in Ireland on that same trip that was being commemorated on Saturday.
Caroline Kennedy spoke outside a cabin where her great-great-grandfather was born. At that very cabin, her father as president had visited with relatives during his stop fifty years before. Caroline Kennedy’s speech to those gathered, including Irish premiere Enda Kenny, assured the Irish that, “There was no visit that my father made as president that meant more to him that his visit to Ireland.”
It was a significant stop for an American president in 1963. It was not just the return of America’s first Irish-Catholic president to the land of his heritage. Ireland had not yet had a visit from an American president since gaining its independence from England in 1921. Kennedy’s stop there signaled America’s recognition of that independence, as well as the success that the Irish could now claim as having one of their own as Leader of the Free World. It was a far cry from the discrimination that had long been their lot in America’s young history. That history was filled with signs that “no Irish need apply” for jobs in America’s cities.
And it was significant in that, five months later, President John F. Kennedy, Ireland’s pride in the U.S., would be dead. Kennedy was cut down by an assassin’s bullets in November of that year.