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50th Anniversary of President Kennedy's last moments on Irish soil marked at Shannon Airport

28 June 2013

The full circle on the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s visit to Ireland was closed today at Shannon Airport as the late President’s sister and former US Ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith marked the last time her brother spoke and set foot on Irish soil. 

Ms Kennedy Smith was in Shannon for her flight back to the US following the two week celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the President’s State visit to Ireland. 

Her flight today was on the eve of the actual 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s own departure from Shannon following a civic reception at the airport from Clare County Council in front of thousands of onlookers. 

Ms Kennedy Smith today signed a hand-printed copy of her brother’s famous speech at Shannon, which will be framed and sit in perpetuity in the airport beside the famous JFK Portrait. The portrait was commissioned and hung at Shannon 48 years ago tomorrow to commemorate President’s Kennedy’s tragic death just months after he departed Irish shores. 

Asked if the two-week visit was emotional, Ms Kennedy Smith said:  “Yes, in a nice way, in a good way.  He is very much loved in very many different places, because he was so young and a very vibrant person and people remember him that way.

“I think it has been a sad but happy time and I think being followed by the younger generation…..the beat goes on doesn’t it and a lot of them are interested in politics and I think that is wonderful.

“He (President Kennedy) loved his time here, he said it was the best time of his life and I believe it.”

Reflecting on the past two weeks, she said: “It was a wonderful time because all of my little nephews and nieces came – they are not little anymore.  Most of them haven’t been to Ireland before.  They were thrilled at the whole reception.

“They were speaking non-stop, as some people may have heard, and they were really, really happy to be here.  My niece Caroline and her children; she hadn’t come in a long time so she was having a great time, everyone was very happy here.

“My mother, whom I haven’t had much of a chance to talk about as the male members of the family, she knew a lot of history of Ireland and she had a father who was called ‘Honey Fitz’ and he was responsible for the boys having this tremendous love for Ireland.

“……He used to take them around Boston and explain all of the history. He was very proud of being Irish – he was a great conveyor of this, so I remembered him to on my mother’s side.”

Departing the Airport, Ms Kennedy Smith promised it would not be long before she comes back again.  “I come to Ireland quite a lot and since I was Ambassador I have a lot of friends here and I come here quite a lot.

“We had this glorious two weeks so I intend to come back and I’m afraid you will have an awful lot of small Kennedy's running around here for the next 100 years.”

Among those present at this morning’s event was Joe Boland, former Clare County Manager who led the organisation of the civic reception for President Kennedy 50 years ago and who is the only person in the JFK painting living today. 

Commenting at the event, Mr Boland, from Station Road, Ennis, said he was honoured to be back at Shannon Airport to meet the former Ambassador 50 years after he welcomed her late brother to the airport and Co. Clare.  “Short of marrying my wife Catherine and the birth of our children, meeting President Kennedy was the greatest moment in my life and I am honoured to be here today, all those years later, to meet his sister. 

“The timing is remarkable given that 50 years ago tomorrow this airport was thronged with people trying to get a look at President Kennedy before he departed.

“It was an incredible day and I remember it so vividly.  He had such charisma; like no one I ever met.  It is appropriate that Shannon Airport marked the moment in the way it did today and I’m delighted to be here.”

Said Airport Chairman Rose Hynes:  “This airport has hosted many hugely significant moments over the years and there was none greater than the departure of President Kennedy from Shannon 50 years ago tomorrow.

“No other Irish family name resonates across the globe like the Kennedy's and it was a privilege for us today to be able to mark the anniversary of President Kennedy’s departure from Shannon with his sister, the former US Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith.  Her brother left here promising to return to Shannon but the tragic events that unfolded shortly after denied us that honour.  It was so important for us today to be able to mark this occasion with her.”

Pictured above at Shannon Airport today are Mrs Catherine Boland, former Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith, former Clare Co Manager Joe Boland who met President Kennedy on his departure from Shannon Airport on 29th June 1963 and Neil Pakey, Chief Executive - Shannon Airport Authority plc. 

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