The History Show, Sunday 19 May – JFK and the Irish visit – the 50th anniversary

JFK in Ireland Wide Shot

When I was nine years old an uncle and aunt descended on the family homestead in Kells and kidnapped me for a few hours. They brought me to Dublin to see John F.Kennedy parade through the streets of the capital city. I was brought along because, even then I was a nerdy little swine who was interested in these things. I probably had a JFK scrapbook or the like, at the time.

We stood in Cathal Brugha street waiting for the cavalcade. It turned out to be an ideal position because the vehicle carrying JFK and Dev had to slow down at the corner of O’Connell street and CB street to make the right turn (the traffic flow was different in those days). Both men were standing in the vehicle clutching a steel railing of some kind and waving to the crowd. Or at least JFK was, I think Dev was spending more time concentrating on his grip on the rail. In fairness he was 80 years old after all.

And that was just one of the contrasts between the two men. JFK looked young, engaged and vibrant. He, like Bill Clinton many years later, was lapping up the blatant adulation. He was incredibly bronzed, with those perfect white teeth we were just beginning to get used to from American TV programmes on RTE. Beside him de Valera looked pale and old. The image was maintained for all of ten seconds but it has stuck with me since then. The irony? A few months later Kennedy was dead while de Valera lived on for another dozen years.

All of which is by way of introduction to a new project to mark the 50th anniversary of that visit, shared by The National Library of Ireland, the US Embassy, the National Archives and the JFK Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.

Together, they  will be launching an interactive website and app where people can share their memories of the visit and this will be linked to a multimedia exhibition, JFK: Homecoming, which will be opening at the National Library on 21 June.

And to give us all the details, I’ll be joined by Katherine McSharry from the National Library and Susan Cleary from the US embassy.