JFK WE HARDLY KNEW YE SIGN
To Orwell Today,
re: POEMS FOR JFK & JOHN-JOHN
Attention Jackie Jura,
I was reminded of the JFK visit to New Ross today because the Irish Times of last Saturday included a free DVD of President Kennedy's visit to Ireland.
A browse of the web led me to your writing about poems for JFK and John-John.
I was the person who held up the placard "Johnny I hardly knew ye" at New Ross in 1963 - see photos attached. Sorry the quality is not better.
That's me on the right of the first photo with my sister Ann, brother Michael and my mother. My father took the photo. He is the person who did the script on the placard and Ann did the caricature of JFK (she is a trained artist from the Irish National College of Art & Design).
I had just graduated from University with an honours degree and I was feeling good. My father owned a bakery in Graignamanagh where I was born. He was also a very good calligrapher and he did posters for local events – generally for free. We jointly hit on the idea of displaying a humorous placard for the visit of JFK to New Ross, 12 miles south of our home town. Following a bit of a brainstorm we came up with the idea of using the words of the Irish ballad 'Johnny we hardly knew ye' and the die was cast. I had the job of displaying the placard, using chimney rods which screwed together to hoist it up high in the air. It was intended as a good bit of fun which we felt would be appreciated by JFK, for whom we had the greatest respect.
Unfortunately I ran foul of members of the Irish Police Special Branch as someone from the platform had objected to the placard, claiming that it was offensive. A Special Branch policeman, flashing his badge which was hidden on the reverse side of his coat lapel, forced me to take it down. I moved away and raised it again. He followed me and as a result of his threats I decided not to push my luck any further.
My brother, Michael shook hands with JFK and he swore he'd never wash his right hand again.
My father took the close-up photo of Kennedy.
It was many years later that I learned of the book and the film. I have copies of both. I never met Kenny O'Donnell or Dave Powers as they had both passed on before I discovered that they had used the caption from the placard as the title for their book. They erred in that the book states that the placard was seen at Shannon. It wasn't. It was New Ross and it was me. I still have the placard here, stored away safely!
I was in Utica, New York working for General Electric on that sad day Friday November 22, 1963 when the tragic news came across the various radios we had playing in the Radio Receiver Design Lab on Broad Street. The place closed early and we all went home devastated.
Next morning I was having a haircut in a Polish barber’s shop when I saw TV shots of the old zig-zag bridge in New Ross and Kennedy's visit there. I decided then and there that I would travel the 700 miles south by Greyhound bus to pay my respects at Kennedy's funeral in Washington.
It was a sad time but I was glad to have been there to mourn the passing of a great man. The future never looked quite as bright afterwards, following his loss. He had been a source of inspiration to me and to many others. The harsh, cruel and nasty side of life became more apparent from then on, unfortunately.
Menander: 'Whom the Gods love die young'
Wow, it's godcidental (or as JFK would say, a "magic moment") that you discovered that you're the person who inspired the title of the book JOHNNY WE HARDLY KNEW YE, published in 1970 by two of JFK's closest friends, Kenny O'Donnell and Dave Powers (shown below with JFK on the back cover of their book):
And it's godcidental as well that you discovered my POEMS FOR JFK & JOHN-JOHN article where I describe how O'Donnell and Powers named their book after that sign they saw in Ireland. Below is a scan of the exact page (422) with the pertinent passage underlined:
"I saw somebody in the crowd holding up a sign scrawled with the title of another old song popular in Ireland....Four months later when we were bringing President Kennedy's body back from Dallas, I thought of that sign at Shannon airport [New Ross] and I think of it often now. It said, "Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye."
What a bolt-of-lightning it must have been for you when you discovered that your sign for JFK had been immortalized in the history books. JFK himself no doubt saw your sign too because he was one of those very observant people who notice details of what goes on around them - especially kindnesses from the people.
Wow, what an incredible magic moment as well that your brother actually shook his hand - that is like a blessing in itself.
And look how close your father must have been to get that incredible photo of JFK's face looking his way. JFK is directly under the Stars & Stripes and the Irish flag is on the far left. The photo you sent is pretty dark but hopefully people can see JFK there in the middle.
And what an honour too for your sister for being the one who sketched the image of JFK on your placard.
And congratulations to you for literally and figuratively holding the sign high for JFK then, and for all these decades since, like "passing the torch to a new generation".
And what a miracle (or magic moment or godcidence) that you were sitting in that barber shop that day and saw the news coverage of JFK's visit to Ireland five months previously and YOUR sign being held up above the crowd (meaning your arm must have been stretched to the max - and those chimney rods were given their ultimate test of strength).
And that inspired you to attend JFK's funeral which in itself is a blessing of monumental proportions. It brought the creator of the sign (you) together with the creators of the book (who were inspired by the sign) to the same place at the same moment in time - four months and thousands of miles later.
I was just saying the other day, to someone, that I've never been to any of the JFK landmarks, ie Washington DC, or his grave, or Boston, or Dallas, and that maybe I never will, for one reason or another.
But I have lots of connections to JFK through things about him that surround my world, like books, pictures etc, and they are tangible things.
And we all have the spiritual connections to JFK - every time we think or talk about him.
I'd been thinking about JFK alot when your email arrived yesterday. It was the day after the presidential election in the USA [November 9, 2008] and I was feeling the loneliest of all for JFK - wishing the world was like it was before he was assassinated, and remembering that it was November and soon it would be the 22nd and I'd be crying again. I was feeling despair from, as you say "the harsh, cruel and nasty side of life" that has become our world these past 44 years (just like now it's the 44th president sitting in office).
So your message came at a godcidental time and perked up my spirits, providing, as it does, a magic moment with JFK.
All the best,
PS - I looked up that old Irish ballad that inspired your JOHNNY I HARDLY KNEW YE quote and which O'Donnell and Powers describe as "another old song popular in Ireland, a sad ballad about a young man who left his girl to go off to fight and die in the war against the British".
I found it at the Irish Ballads Lyrics Page. While there I also listened to a plaintive rendition of DANNY BOY, JFK's favourite (and which was being sung to him while O'Donnell and Powers were looking at your sign)
PPS - This past July there was news coverage of the unveiling and dedication of a statue of JFK at New Ross but none of the articles included a photo of the statue, and to this day I haven't seen one:
JFK remembered as statue. New Ross Standard, Jul 2, 2008 (...One of the most important milestones in New Ross' history was created on Sunday with the unveiling of a magnificent commemorative statue to mark the 45th anniversary of President Kennedy's visit to the town. Up to one thousand people gathered on the quayside on Sunday afternoon to witness the late President's sister, Jean Kennedy Smith, unveil a life-sized statue dedicated to the memory and legacy of her brother to mark the 1963 visit...)
No doubt you've seen the statue in person, living as you do just 12 miles north of New Ross, and I'm wondering what you think about it. Do you like it? It would be wonderful if some day you take a photo and send it along, and I'll share it with JFK adorers.
PPPS - It was a magic moment too that the Irish Times sent out that free DVD of JFK's visit to Ireland. I'd sure love a copy of that myself. I'll be trying to track one down.
PPPPS - News coverage just came in about JFK's White House photographer dying:
JFK photographer Cecil Stoughten dies at 88 (took only photo of LBJ swear-in on AF-1; filmed Bobby Kennedy funeral train). Florida/UPI, Nov 6, 2008. Go to LBJ'S FAMOUS PHOTO-OP & LBJ SWORE ON JFK'S BIBLE & LBJ AIR FORCE 2 TO 1
To Orwell Today,
I am glad that you found my email of interest. I have not as yet seen the statue of JFK as I now live in Malahide, which is north of Dublin. However a search of the web has brought up the Celtic Connection of July 1st and a photo of the statue with Jean Kennedy Smith:
Ireland Celebrates JFK's Legacy With Unveiling of Statue
I will contact the Irish Times and ask them if it is possible to obtain another copy of the DVD of JFK’s visit to Ireland. If I am successful I will let you know and I will make arrangements to mail it to you.
...The top o' the morning to ye for that.
All the best,
JFK'S PILOT PATRIOT SWINDAL
JFK WE HARDLY KNEW YE SIGN
LINCOLN DREAMS JFK FUNERAL
JFK TRUTHS & UNTRUTHS & JFK & RFK ASSASSINATION PUZZLE
4.Old World Destruction
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