Dublin exhibition to mark 60th anniversary of JFK's 'transformational' Irish visit

Dublin Exhibition To Mark 60Th Anniversary Of Jfk's 'Transformational' Irish Visit
The exhibition was designed in collaboration with the JFK Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.
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James Cox

An exhibition marking the 60th anniversary of former US president John F Kennedy's visit to Ireland opened in the Epic, Irish Emigration Museum in Dublin on Wednesday.

Homecoming: JFK in Ireland will run until September.


The exhibition was designed in collaboration with the JFK Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.

Nathan Mannion, head of exhibitions and programmes at Epic, told BreakingNews.ie: "The collaboration helped us to develop the exhibition in terms of gaining access to their research collections, and working with them to develop the direction and focus of the exhibition. We were very lucky to have the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs to contribute towards the funding of the exhibition.

"Obviously the presidential library and museum holds a vast collection of archival material, of photographic collections, all of which we’ve been able to gain access to incorporate into the exhibition."

JFK visiting distant relatives in New Ross, Co Wexford.

He added: "In Boston they're dedicated to telling the story of president Kennedy and his family exclusively so his trip to Ireland... while those four days were extremely significant to everybody on this side of the Atlantic... they’re looking at a broader picture as well.

"For them 1963 is also the tragic anniversary of his death, so they’ll be looking at that part of history as well towards the end of the year.  They are coming over to Ireland at the end of June for the anniversary of the visit to run a short programme here, so we’ll be participating in that as well."

Mr Mannion pointed to the visit's "core place" in Irish history, adding that some people who were children during the visit will remember seeing Kennedy.

While the finer details of the visit will be a focus of the exhibition, Mr Mannion explained that its wider impact for Ireland will also be explored.


"We’re looking at what it meant geopolitically for Ireland as well, Kennedy was the first foreign head of state to address a joint sitting of the Houses of the Oireachtas, he was the first serving US president to visit Ireland. In many ways his visit helped to shape the visits of his successors in terms of the format, what they might do, the Irish ancestral connections, public speeches, etc.

"There’s been many since, leading up to president Biden this year. There’s been a change in Ireland’s position too. It was right in the middle of the Cold War and post World War Two and around the time of the formation of the UN Ireland wasn’t seen to be particularly close to the US because it had remained neutral during that conflict.

"His visit helped to kind of thaw relations in that sense. It came at a time of optimism in Ireland as well… you were starting to see the rate of emigration come down, you were starting to see economic prosperity on the rise. It was a key moment in Irish history in that sense, it was quite transformational and Kennedy’s visit helped to shine the light of the global media on Ireland as well."

JFK greets people in Co Cork during his visit to Ireland.

Mr Mannion said the exhibition will be enjoyable for history buffs and those who don't know much about Kennedy's visit.

He cited extracts from Kennedy's private secretary as one interesting element.

While much was made of the preparation for Joe Biden's recent visit, Mr Mannion said people will be interested in the huge preparation and detail that went into a presidential visit 60 years ago.

This includes information on Kennedy's visit to Limerick, which was not on the original itinerary.


"We’re looking at things like his death and legacy as well... his ties to Northern Ireland and the participation of Irish cadets at his funeral at the end of 1963 which was considered quite an honour.

"There are a lot of different directions the exhibition is going in, but we’re very happy to have it on display.

"We cover the day-to-day of it, the visits to Cork, Dublin, Galway, Limerick, Wexford, over the four days. But we’re taking a broader look, it’s quite thematic.

"We’re looking at the cultural and political significance of the visit. Even for people who may be familiar with Kennedy and the visit to Ireland itself, we look at the work behind the scenes from planning the visit, setting up media centres, Secret Service debriefs, getting the presidential car over, plus the broader diplomatic back and forths happening in advance.

"We’ve got extracts from Kennedy’s private secretary for example. Even post-visit, who was receiving thank you letters and why, what last-minute things weren’t going to plan, little changes to the schedule. The entire visit to Limerick wasn’t on the original itinerary, it was a last minute decision, so there are lots of little bits around that, but also the broader impact for Ireland, Ireland-US relations, the Kennedys’ links to Ireland and Ireland’s link to its Diaspora around the world."

Mr Mannion said Epic hopes to bring the exhibition on tour around the US when it finishes in Dublin in September.

Homecoming: JFK in Ireland is on display at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum from Wednesday, June 7th until September 2023

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