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“The Kennedys were more than emigrants” – 50 years on, Wexford remembers JFK

Thousands of people are attending events in New Ross today to mark JFK’s visit to the town half a century ago.
Jun 22nd 2013, 9:20 PM 12,954 88

People gather to see the eternal flame delivered to the port of New Ross. (Niall Carson/PA Wire)

IT MAY HAVE been 50 years ago, but the people of Wexford have not forgotten.

Thousands of people have turned out in New Ross today to mark the visit of US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy to the town half a century ago this week.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny described today’s events as “the Gathering of The Gathering.”

A number of events have been taking place in the town all day, including an American-theme homecoming parade through the streets of New Ross.

Anna Rowe (nee Kennedy), a distant relation of the Kenndys, pictured with Caroline Kennedy and Taoiseach Enda Kenny (Photo: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland)

A new visitor centre at the Kennedy Homestead – the birthplace of John F Kennedy’s great-grandfather Patrick Kennedy – was opened by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and junior Minister Brian Hayes this afternoon.

Caroline Kennedy, JFK’s daughter, and Jean Kennedy-Smith, JFK’s sister and a former ambassador to Ireland, attended the ceremony, which also served as the launch of a major new permanent exhibition on Kennedy’s presidency.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny hands Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin a giant pair of scissors before the opening of the visitor centre in Dunganstown. (Niall Carson/PA Wire)

Speaking at the opening of the visitor centre, Taoiseach Enda Kenny paid tribute to the legacy of the Irish-American family.

“The Kennedys were and are more than emigrants, politicians, an Irish-American family,” he said. “They are an idea that endures and fascinates.”

Enda Kenny speaking at the Kennedy family homestead in Dunganstown (Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire)

The Taoiseach described the relationship between Ireland and America as being one of “hope and history”.

Today, the Irish story is writ large across America. Now the torch is passed to a new generation. I ask the young Kennedys to keep that ancestral flame alive and in all they do to honour and deepen the Irish-American connection.

The Taoiseach also spoke about how Ireland has changed over the past half century.

Caroline Kennedy addresses the crowd at the Kennedy homestead. (Photo: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland)

“The Ireland you visit today is a very different Ireland to that of 1963,” he told the audience.

“On this anniversary we are emerging, slowly but certainly from difficulty. Just as President Kennedy wanted ‘to show the world what a free economy can do’, we want to show the world what a recovering economy can do.”

Max Kennedy, grandson of Bobby Kennedy, meets people who have turned out for the event in New Ross (Niall Carson/PA Wire)

A bust of Senator Ted Kennedy who died in August 2009, was unveiled in the town as part of the commemorations. Ted Kennedy was the third longest-serving member of the US Senate in American history, representing the state of Massachusetts for almost 50 years.

Seamus Heaney kisses Jean Kennedy Smith in front of the bust of Senator Ted Kennedy unveiled today. (Niall Carson/PA Wire)

The main event of today’s ceremonies has been the flame lighting ceremony this evening.   The ‘emigrant flame’, the only flame to be taken from JFK’s grave at Arlington National Cemetry in Virginia, arrived in Ireland on Thursday morning on board a flight from New York.  The flame was given to the Irish Naval Services who transported it to New Ross on board the naval vessel LE Orla.

The flame on board the LE Orla earlier today. (Photos: Stuart Donaldson/@discostubugaloo/Twitter)

This evening the flame was carried along a specially constructed boardwalk in New Ross and lit by the Taoiseach and members of the Kennedy family. Irish dancer Michael Flatley narrated the story of the flame as it was lit.

The Emigrant Flame can be seen alight after the ceremony. (Image: JFK50yrs/Twitter)

Speaking at the opening  of the visitor centre, Minister Brian Hayes paid tribute to the staff at the Office of Public works for their “sterling work in ensuring that generations to come can experience the many achievements of the Kennedy family.”

A bronze monument at the spot where John F Kennedy spoke in 1963 in New Ross. (Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire)

Read: Will you have a cup of tea, Taoiseach? Caroline Kennedy reenacts famous tea scene >

Read: Thousands join Kennedy’s relations in New Ross for JFK 50 celebrations >

Read: We found the boy smiling up at JFK during his visit to Ireland in 1963 >

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Christine Bohan

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