It only took about a hundred years, unfortunately, for the luck of the Irish to take hold on American soil. The first Irish arrived in the 1580’s with Sir Walter Raleigh – and from there, it was downhill all the way. By 1704, Maryland had imposed a head tax on indentured Irish servants, the better to prevent their mass immigration. The Know-Nothing party was founded in the mid-19th century to revile and restrict them, and it wasn’t until John Fitzgerald Kennedy won the presidency in the mid-20th, really, that being an Irish Catholic was no longer deemed a liability. But Kennedy’s Irish heritage was, to him, no small thing. Ireland, he famously said, visiting there in 1963, “is not the land of my birth, but it is the land for which I hold the greatest affection.” This buoyant letter, written just a week after his return, is about that trip to his homeland…
President Kennedy’s trip to Ireland was notable, publicly, in that it marked the first visit of an Irish-American President, the first of a Catholic President, and the first of a sitting President. It was notable, privately, in that no one traveling with him – including all his staff of Irish descent, two of his sisters, and his sister-in-law – had ever seen him happier. Historian Arthur Schlesinger wrote that Kennedy was “never easier… more completely himself” than during this “blissful interlude of homecoming.” Visiting his relatives in New Ross, touring the modest ancestral homestead in Dunganstown, climbing out of his car, unprotected, into adoring mobs of people – Jack Kennedy was ecstatic. A press aide recalled seeing him running – running! – up the stairs of the American Embassy in Dublin to greet Lee Radziwell. “They love me in Ireland!” he exclaimed. This letter, written less than a week after his return home from Europe, recaps his excitement:
Now that I have returned to the United States and I look back on my visit to Ireland I find that I have nothing but pleasant memories. My visit there was definitely the highlight of my trip. I enjoyed seeing you and I want to thank you for your kindnesses not only during my stay, but previous to my arrival. I also appreciate your sending me a copy of “The Irish Times” – it helped me relive my visit to the homestead, as well [as] give me a pictorial review for my files… Dot: It couldn’t have been better. We loved it – All of your countrymen were wonderful to us and so were you. I hope you get better soon and that you will come and see us here…
Kennedy signed his long autograph postscript, “Love, Jack” and added, as if not wanting to end the conversation, “How did they like us?
Dot Tubridy, to whom JFK writes here, was a close friend of the entire Kennedy family. The young Irish widow of a riding champion – Captain Michael Tubridy, who died of injuries sustained in a riding accident in April 1954 – she had spent time visiting them in Palm Beach in 1955. She became, it was said, like an Irish cousin to the family – and when President Kennedy traveled to Ireland in 1963, she was with his party every step of the way.
Three years after his visit – and his death, five months later – Dot Tubridy recalled not only how happy Kennedy’s visit made him, but what it meant to the Irish. “His coming – we felt he was Irish,” she said “and he had been so successful against all odds. He had fought so hard as a Catholic, as everything, to get there. I think this gave the Irish people a feeling, ‘Well, we can do it, too.’ I think all his speeches here, of course, referred to various parts in our history which also made us see that, well, we had contributed something. He pointed out that the Irish had given their people everywhere. And this was the way we had contributed. So I think we got very proud of ourselves, and he gave an inspiration to the people.”
JOHN F. KENNEDY. 1917 – 1963. The 35th President of the United States.
Typed Letter Signed (“Jack”, twice) with a rare full page autograph postscript signed “Love, Jack”, as president, 2 pages, recto and verso, The White House,Washington, D.C., July 9, 1963. To Dot Tubridy in County Galway, Ireland.