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The Love Story Before Love Story

 On September 12, 2008 Taylor Swift’s rose to fame with her debut single ‘Love Story’. This was her first foray into exploring the themes of romance, personal growth, and in some respects, heartbreak and tragedy. However this wasn’t the beginning of her relationship with these themes. There was a love story before Love Story.

172 years before the hit single, on Saturday 11th of June 1836, two young people emigrated from Ireland to the USA, aboard the AMY from Derry. Along with some friends, they sought their fortunes in Philadelphia. Susan Davis was a 21-year-old dressmaker, Francis Gwynn a 21-year-old weaver.

Their chance encounter sewed the seams of a tale that would transcend generations, and create a global impact far greater than either could have ever imagined.

Their two-month-long voyage culminated in the ship docking in Philadelphia on August 20th. It’s unclear if Susan and Francis departed together and went their separate ways, or if they stayed in touch. What is clear is that 3 years later, the pair married.

Their love burned bright, and delivered them six children; Ann, John, William, Francis, Joseph, and Mary. Although sadly, five of those children predeceased Susan and Francis, they were survived by daughter Mary Gwynn. Taylor Swift’s great-great-grandmother, laid the loving couple to rest, a mere two months apart. Some might speculate the latter died of a broken heart, or that might just be folklore.

Susan and Francis’ story serves as a wonderful reminder that love can help us endure the toughest journeys, a theme so often encapsulated in Taylor’s lyrics. What would that young couple, who traversed the Atlantic in the 1800s, think of their great-great-great-granddaughter’s stratospheric rise to fame? Immense pride, no doubt.

Visit EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum to discover the impact Irish emigrants have had on music, film, politics and culture, in recent memory, and almost forgotten history. Book your tickets now at www.EPICchq.com

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EXHIBITION THEMES

A CHANGING NATION

By 1963, Ireland was a country in transition. After many years of economic stagnation, a new generation of Irish politicians had committed to an ambitious regeneration plan, abandoning protectionism in favour of free trade and the courting of foreign investment. Factories and office buildings were opening in towns and cities across the country, and more and more cars filled the roads around them.  

[JFK’s visit is] the most important visit to this country since the establishment of the state, with worldwide publicity. British journalists are likely to be ready to criticise any fault in arrangements.”

Daniel Costigan, commissioner of the Garda Síochána (Irish police force)  

LEGACY

Kennedy’s visit was widely said to have raised national confidence, affirming the image of a modern Irish state entering its prime. In his speeches and appearances, he recognised Irish achievement both at home and abroad, and described Ireland as an inspiration to small nations across the world. The trip also had a personal impact on the president, bolstering his sense of Irishness. 

POLITICS & DIPLOMACY

JFK’s address to the joint houses of the Oireachtas (Irish parliament) was the first by a foreign head of state. Speaking to a packed chamber at Leinster House, Kennedy commended Ireland’s increased role on the world stage, particularly its outsized influence in the UN. Irish neutrality remained a bone of contention, but the president was careful to avoid a diplomatic confrontation. 

POMP &
PAGEANTRY

Kennedy received a rapturous reception from the moment Air Force One touched down in Dublin. Hundreds of thousands turned out to cheer the president as he travelled through the capital and on to Wexford, Cork, Galway and Limerick. Others congregated in pubs and in neighbours’ houses to follow the visit on television. It was an occasion like no other witnessed in Ireland, bringing a welcome injection of glamour and novelty. 

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A Word from Our Curator

“We are delighted to be hosting this exhibition in collaboration with the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. JFK’s visit to Ireland brought international attention to the progress made by the independent Irish state, but it also served as a celebration of Irish diaspora success. The first Catholic to be elected to the White House, he was a powerful emblem of Irish America’s transition from tenement poverty to middle-class respectability. We hope that visitors young and old will enjoy this retrospective look at his time in Ireland.”

Catherine Healy, Historian-in-Residence at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum

Visit the exhibition at EPIC

This exhibition will be on display at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum from June until September 3rd – general museum admission tickets required.