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President Kennedy

From 22 June to 2 July 1963, President John F Kennedy made a tour of Europe at the height of the Cold War, the most famous episode of which was his famous 'Ich bein ein Berliner' speech in West Berlin on 26 June. On the same day, he arrived in Dublin at the beginning of a three-day visit to Ireland, the first ever made to this country by a serving U.S. President. Mrs Kennedy did not accompany him as she was expecting a baby.

Originally, Limerick was not on President Kennedy's itinerary but representations for its inclusion were made by Steve Coughlan TD and Mayor of Limerick Frances Condell. One of the most remarkable Irish women of her time, Mrs Condell was the first female Mayor of Limerick, a member of the Church of Ireland and a cultured, distinguished lady. On 20 May 1963, she wrote to the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland lobbying for Limerick's inclusion and outlining how 'arrangements for a visit to Limerick can be speedily made.' In the company of future Minister for Education, Donogh O'Malley TD, she also called in person to the Ambassador as well as Frank Aiken, TD, Minister for External Affairs, and President de Valera to make the case for Limerick. The campaign paid off and Limerick was slotted into the President's itinerary, which explains why his stay in Limerick was so short.

Having spent the night of 28-29 June in Dublin, President Kennedy travelled to Galway on the morning of Saturday 29 June and having delivered a speech in Eyre Square, set off for Limerick in a U.S. Army helicopter. For such a momentous occasion, President Kennedy's visit to Limerick was remarkably brief and lasted for only half an hour. He arrived in Greenpark Racecourse Limerick at around 1.00 in the afternoon accompanied by some of his entourage and Taoiseach Sean Lemass, and was greeted by Mayor Condell. He received a warm welcome from the large and ecstatic crowd waiting to greet the first American President to visit Limerick.

Then a special meeting of Limerick City Council was convened at the Racecourse at which he was to be conferred with the Honorary Freedom of Limerick. After a silent prayer, roll call and reading of the minutes of the meeting at which it had been decided to confer the Freedom, Mrs Condell greeted the President in a celebrated address that Kennedy described as 'the best speech that I have heard since I came to Europe.' Then Mr T P McDermott, Limerick City Manager read the Certificate of Freedom, which Mayor Condell handed the President, declaring him to be a Freeman of Limerick.. After the President and Mayor signed the Roll of Freemen, President Kennedy made a short speech and Mrs Condell presented him with a christening robe of Limerick lace for his unborn child (sadly the baby named Patrick was to die on 9 August only two days after his birth). At 1.30, the President left Limerick for Shannon Airport form where he flew to London to continue his European tour. He promised to return to Ireland but was assassinated five months later in Dallas.

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