Hello and welcome to this weekend’s virtual walk.
Today I’m going to bring you to the tiny townland of Dunganstown , near New Ross in County Wexford .
Now, you will ask why Stephen is taking me off the main road, along windy byways so narrow that we have to practically dive into the hedge to let an oncoming car pass! Here’s why, we are off to visit the Kennedy family Homestead.
Finally, we arrive- this place is not even a crossroads, it’s a collection of a few farm buildings where the Kennedy clan have their roots. The descendants have done a wonderful job, with the help of the presidential museum to re-create the story of the Kennedy’s, so let’s take a look. Having squeezed our way down the narrow roads , there is a little car park and a visitor centre. Let’s park and go on in .
What we are visiting is the is the birthplace of JFK’s great grandfather, Patrick Kennedy who lived from 1823 to 1858. By the time Patrick reached adulthood, both his parents were dead and the family homestead was controlled by his older brother John. The eldest son normally inherited the farmstead and the rest of the children would have normally emigrated to England or the New World.
In 1849, right after the Potato famine, Patrick left the homestead and emigrated to the United States and settled in East Boston, Massachusetts. The Kennedys set about building a new life in the United States and ultimately his great-grandson John F. Kennedy became the first Irish-American Catholic President of the United States of America.
In June 1963, John F. Kennedy made a state visit to Ireland and he visited Dunganstown in what was seen as a personal tribute to his ancestry. We can see photographs of his arrival and the tea party that was held in the family farmyard. There is a famous picture of him seated by the fireside on a sofa , chatting with his cousins.
During my visit I bumped into Patrick Grennan who is the owner of the property and works the land as a working farm. He is a direct relation of the Kennedy’s, his mother is a third Cousin of J.F.K. and he showed me many interesting features of the homestead and the visitor centre.
One of the interesting things was the sofa that J.F.K. was seated on. I was told that the sofa was in fact a back seat from an old Morris motor car !!! A reproduction of the sofa is now on display, but John showed us the original one – hidden in plain sight ! At the time of the visit a special hot line telephone was connected to the house, just in case the president had to be reached .
As we browse through the adjoining visitor centre we can admire a wonderful collection of family trees, photographs and artefacts – we could spend hours looking at them .
Let’s take one more look around the farmyard and imagine the fateful day that Patrick Kennedy opened the gate of the homestead one last time as he set out to begin a new life in America. If only the cobble stones could talk !!
As a small child I can vividly remember the state visit of J.F.K. to Ireland. I can recall seeing him passing down O’ Connell Street in his motorcade and the excitement and the warm welcome that the Irish people gave to him . The newsreel pictures of his going back to his roots still sticks in my mind.
Since that time the Kennedy family have made many private visits to Dunganstown and it’s wonderful that the extended family still keep in touch with their Irish roots, and their cousins.
Time to go, before the rain arrives. I do hope that you enjoyed coming with me today to enjoy this particular slice of Irish – American history and to appreciate a true emigrant’s story.
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