Discover the cultural and political significance of JFK’s 1963 visit to Ireland
2023 marks the 60th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s visit to Ireland, the first by a serving US president. To commemorate this pivotal moment in Irish-American relations, EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum, in collaboration with the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, are proud to present Homecoming: JFK in Ireland. This temporary exhibition invites visitors to step back in time to 1963 and reflect on the atmosphere and impact of a momentous journey. JFK’s four-day visit strengthened ties between two nations and ushered in a new era of optimism in a changing Ireland. Archival material including photographs and film footage will allow visitors to revisit the past through the eyes of the many thousands of people who lined the streets of Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Wexford, welcoming home a descendant of Famine emigrants whose story defied all odds.
DATE: 7th June – 3rd September 2023
TIME: 10am – 5pm
WHERE: EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum
COST: Included with ticket entry
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)
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.
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.
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