JFK 'was planning Ireland visit'
John F Kennedy was planning to make a private family visit to his cousins in Ireland before he was assassinated, his relatives have revealed.
The US president made a much-publicised trip in 1963 to his ancestral homestead in Dunganstown, near New Ross, Co Wexford, five months before he was murdered in Dallas, Texas.
His great-grandfather Patrick Kennedy had fled the farm and the devastating Irish famine just three generations beforehand to start a new life in Boston and forge the beginning of a world-famous dynasty.
During the emotional emigrant-to-president return, JFK repeatedly apologised to his cousin Mary Ryan for the massive security entourage, media circus and throngs of onlookers who had descended on the humble homestead.
Mary's grandson Patrick Grennan, who now runs the farm, said while the pair were sitting together drinking tea by the fireside - on an old car seat - the president turned to her and asked could he come back privately.
"The president seemed to be blown away and he kept apologising for bringing the big crowd here," said Patrick, 38, the eighth generation to inherit the farm.
"He actually asked my grandmother could he come back the next year with his wife and the kids on a private visit, without the media intrusion.
"Of course, that didn't happen."
Jacqueline Kennedy fulfilled the wish of her husband in 1967 by returning to the homestead with their children Caroline and John.
The family stayed at nearby Woodstown House in Co Waterford during the trip.
JFK's visit to the ancestral homestead in June 1963 led to tens of thousands of people flocking there every year afterwards.
Constantly distracted from his farming by tourists, Mr Grennan - a third cousin once removed of the US president - decided to open a makeshift visitor centre in one of the old farm buildings.
That has since been transformed into a purpose-built museum which this year became home to JFK's rosary beads and his Commander-in-Chief dog tag which he was wearing at the time of his assassination.
Jacqueline Kennedy personally gave the precious keepsakes to Mrs Ryan's daughter during her husband's funeral at Arlington Cemetery and told her to bring them back to Dunganstown.
"Jackie brought her aside at the funeral and said 'bring these two personal belongings back to Mrs Ryan - I would love her to have them'," said Mr Grennan.
They were kept in a simple drawer in the farmhouse for years - taken out now and again, once by Mr Grennan as a boy to show his school class - and only this year were put on display.
He said the mementos were a mark of the impact the visit to Dunganstown had on the president.
"When he came into our farmyard in 1963, my grandmother gave him a big hug and it was very unusual that JFK got this big hug," he said.
"Then when he left here, he gave her a big hug. His sisters were amazed that the president was becoming so personal."
Fifty years on the Irish relations of John F Kennedy are preparing to mark his passing with a private gathering at the place where his remarkable story began.
"He's the man who said he was going to put a man on the moon... he wasn't your typical politician, he nearly brought Hollywood to politics. He brought new hope to the world in the 1960s," said Mr Grennan.
"Obviously you would be very proud that you have one of the most iconic figures of the 20th century, that his ancestor left from here and that he visited here in public office to acknowledge who he was, a descendant of Patrick who emigrated from Ireland during the famine.
"He stood in this farmyard in 1963 to acknowledge who he was."