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A Smile I will never forget

jean byrne

I was 9 when President Kennedy came to New Ross and I lived at 37 South St with my parents Dr. Garrett and Terry Hickey and my four sisters and Vera Rochford who lived with us and helped to look after us. I remember his visit as though it was yesterday. At that time there were not many B & B’s or hotels in New Ross and my parents had been asked if they could accomodate Michael O’Hehir who was going to be doing the commentary for the TV for the President’s visit. I had my autograph book ready for Michael O’Hehir to sign and Vera had been given lots of books by others for him to sign. We had a balcony on our house and we were forbidden to stand on it (as it was deemed to be dangerous for kids) but on the occasion of President Kennedy;s visit we were allowed stand on it and watch my parents put out two flag poles, one for the Irish flag and one for the American flag.

I had never seen a flag and thought it was such a wonderful thing to see these two colourful flags unfurl on our balcony! The excitement in the house was huge and my Mum and Dad had been invited to be on the platform on the Quay the following day. My parents had decided that we were too small to go to the Quay but that we could go to my Auntie Sheila’s house at Victoria Place and watch the cavalcade go by there on its way to Dunganstown. I thought this was unfair as I wanted to see him at the Quay! On the morning the President arrived I was disgusted to discover that Michael O’Hehir had come and gone and that I had not met him! Vera told me that he did not arrive until 11.30pm and that she was up to give him breakfast before he left at 5.30am to prepare for the broadcast! She did at least get his autograph for me! I have no recollection of my parents that day as they too must have left early to be in situ. { By extraordinary coincidence one of my sister’s was in Boston and at the Kennedy library some years ago and she saw footage of his visit to New Ross and in it was my Mum looking absolutely beautiful, smiling and giggling with excitement. I had the thrill of seeing this footage on a programme that Ryan Tubridy did last year on RTE). Myself and my sisters arrived at my aunts house and watched on TV the President as he gave his speech on the Quay. I remember the big Cead Mile Failte signs on the Oil tanks on the Quay. My aunt gave me a small American flag to wave. I can still remember the thrill of having a flag to wave…..I had never seen such a thing before! Then as soon as the President finished his speech on the Quay we ran outside my aunt’s house to watch the President drive by. I was standing outside her hall door when I saw the car appearing. I can remember running across the road to get a better look at the President and being the only person on that side of the road and the President turned his head , gave me a beaming smile and waved at me! I still remember it, he was so handsome, tanned and I tingled all over with delight.

I had become a JFK junkie!

From that day to this, I read everything I can find to read about him. Of all the speeches he made, I can still hear the sound of his voice on TV when he said “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country?” His words sowed the seed within me to try in some small way to be of service to my country. What I remember most about him as a nine year child was that he made me feel so good when he gave me that winning smile and he truly inspired me and I know he did many others. We were all glued to the TV throughout his visit and I remember my father leaving the surgery during surgery hours to watch the President on TV give his speech in Leinster House (the only time I ever saw my father do so) and it was the first time I became aware of the fact that there was such a thing as a government in a country.His visit sowed a seed of political curiosity within me and helped me to develop the capacity to dream dreams that have not yet perhaps been dreamt and to believe that dreams can come true if you apply the necessary commitment to them…..man did land on the moon!

- in New Ross