Kennedy Visit Remembered As Touchpoint In Ireland

Gov. Maura Healey, U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Claire Cronin, and Tánaiste Micheál Martin participate in a "Homecoming: JFK In Ireland" panel Wednesday at the Irish Emigration Museum in Dublin. [Aoife Moore/SHNS]

DUBLIN, JUNE 28, 2023.....The link between Ireland and Massachusetts has been proclaimed as "stronger than ever" on the sixtieth anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's visit to Ireland.

Gov. Maura Healey was joined on stage for a special event on Wednesday here alongside U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Claire Cronin, Ireland's deputy leader Micheál Martin, and the former president's nephew Stephen Kennedy Smith.

President Kennedy once referred to his visit as "the best four days" of his life. And almost six decades to the day since Kennedy did the same, Gov. Healey addressed the Irish Senate on Tuesday, describing the experience as "incredibly moving ... really, really poignant."

"To be in that chamber and have the opportunity to speak there, to think about the anniversary of President Kennedy's visit," she said. "When President Kennedy spoke, he spoke about freedom and making the case for democracy. That was in the time of Cold War and the threats of totalitarianism. We're still confronted with some of that. Making the case for freedom and democracy is something that the Irish and America have always had as a shared value and commitment, it was incredibly moving."

Wednesday's event was marked by an emotional speech by an Irish Defence Force ranger who at the age of 18 took part in the guard of honour at President Kennedy's funeral. The president had been moved by the Irish guard while visiting Dublin and his wife Jacqueline Kennedy had requested they participate in her husband's funeral just five months later.

The Irish deputy leader (Tánaiste) said that Kennedy's visit came at a pivotal time for Ireland, the then-leader Sean Lemass making the country a more outward looking place, seeking to join the European Union and install an export-oriented economy.

"John F. Kennedy at the time, in his wildest dreams didn't probably anticipate the island that was to come in terms of the country embedded in the multilateral framework," Micheál Martin said. "The Biden administration actually reflects a very modern politics, in terms of the Irish-American relationship, that has manifested that in the navigating of Brexit. The protocol for the defense of the Good Friday Agreement, and right through to the work we're doing now with Samantha Power, in terms of USAID, in terms of food insecurity in Mali, and in Africa.

"It's on many strands through the relationship that clearly John F. Kennedy's visit is the starting point," he added.

These days, Massachusetts and Ireland's trading relationship is valued at around $27 billion a year, something Martin is keen to continue and grow.

"There's a fantastic relationship, particularly in the life sciences, in which we (Ireland) are very close to Massachusetts. A strong relationship in the technology to digital world too. It's all down to talent and to be open to talent, about the migration experience of the last 40 years and that is truly the game changer," he said. "It's that sense of openness that people can come here realize their potential but your skills add value to our economy and to our society too."

Stephen Kennedy Smith, whose mother Jean Kennedy Smith was once the U.S. ambassador to Ireland, said the role she took on in diplomacy in Dublin was "a dream come true for her."

"To be able to make a contribution to the peace process was really a great honor for her," Kennedy Smith added.

In President Kennedy's speech 60 years ago, he predicted that Ireland would be a maker and shaper of global peace and that Ireland would have an impact on the entire world. Stephen Kennedy Smith said that has been borne out.

"I don't think our family would have been surprised at what Ireland was capable of," he said. "When I look at Ireland today, I see a lot that America can learn in terms of police reform, in terms of skillful management of immigration policy, while maintaining a culture that has coherence in terms of economic policies that are open and smart. We're all really looking forward to what is to come between our countries and what is to come for Ireland."

Kennedy Smith said Ireland "is now an intellectual thought leader in the world" and said his family "has continued to feel this incredible sense of connection and I hope that goes on forever."

Likewise, the nephew of JFK, former Congressman Joseph Kennedy III, now serving as the special envoy to Northern Ireland, was hailed as a further sign that the legacy of the link between Ireland and Massachusetts lives on.

"When the news first broke that Joe Kennedy was going to be appointed as a special envoy to Northern Ireland, we cheered in the embassy," said Ambassador Cronin, a former state representative from Easton. "I was particularly happy because I had had the great fortune as an elected official in Massachusetts to share a district with Joe Kennedy. So he's not just a colleague in the district but we were friends as well."

"I knew the work ethic he would bring to this, and the passion," Cronin said. "Certainly the Kennedy name is worth something, that is an intangible almost, but it's a name that is associated with hard work, trust, passion service, so I knew it would be great. Joe's one of the smartest people I know and the thought of him coming to Northern Ireland and being able to bring his depth of knowledge [to] things on the economic front will be very successful for the North, and in doing so, that will be successful for the whole island of Ireland."

Wednesday's event marks the last scheduled stop on the governor's first foreign trip since taking office six months ago.

In her final speech, Healey called the visit "remarkable."

"I'm leaving here just fueled with the warmth and the generosity of spirit of the Irish people," she said. "The goodwill, respecting one another and the fundamental decency of the Irish people has not changed. But to see what's happened in terms of development, in terms of the economic engine and growth and opportunity, all the while not for closing opportunity for others, is really inspiring and something I take back with me."

Aoife Moore is a political correspondent based in Dublin. She was named Irish Journalist of the Year in 2021 for her investigative work.