Johnny Sign


"I was the person who held up the placard "Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye" at New Ross in 1963.
...I still have the placard here, stored away safely!"
~ Peter O'Leary, 2008

To Orwell Today,

A colleague of mine forwarded me the link to your article JFK WE HARDLY KNEW YE SIGN. It makes for fascinating reading.

New Ross Tidy Towns have initiated a community museum project to celebrate the 50th anniversary of JFK's visit to our town. This project is receiving considerable attention from various quarters and is acquiring numerous items that are linked to this historic occasion.

All of our items are loaned to us and they are carefully stored and displayed. Would it be possible for you to forward me Peter O'Leary's contact details so as to discuss the possibility of the 'JFK hardly knew ya sign' being involved in our event.

Thanking you in advance,
Ray Flynn

Greetings Ray,

As I answer your email today it's JFK's 96th birthday -- he was born on May 29, 1917 - and we're now at 2013.

So glad you enjoyed that story about the person -- Peter O'Leary -- who held up the "Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye" sign that JFK saw on his visit to his ancestral home at New Ross in 1963.

Johnny Sign Bridge

In 2005, in the article POEMS FOR JFK & JOHN-JOHN, I'd written about a "Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye" sign being the inspiration for the title of the book by JFK's closest aides, Kenny O'Donnell and Dave Powers.


In 2008 Peter O'Leary read the article on ORWELL TODAY and wrote in with his story behind the story. At that time -- the 45th anniversary of JFK's visit -- a statue had just been erected in New Ross where JFK had delivered his speech.


Here's a clip of JFK giving the speech that day in New Ross at the quay. As usual it's full of warmth and wit:


"...When my great-grandfather left here to become a cooper in East Boston, he carried nothing with him except two things: a strong religious faith and a strong desire for liberty. I am glad to say that all of his great-grandchildren have valued that inheritance. If he hadn't left, I would be working over at the Albatross Company, or perhaps for John V Kelly. In any case, we are happy to be back here. About 50 years ago, an Irishman from New Ross traveled down to Washington with his family, and in order to tell his neighbours how well he was doing, he had his picture taken in front of the White House and said, "This is our summer home. Come and see us." Well, it's our home also in the winter, and I hope you will come and see us. Thank you."


JFK's pride in making New Ross proud shines through in those words -- he truly DID live in the White House -- and people truly could come and see him there. It reminds me of a great picture of him as the 35th President of the United States, scanned above.

I think it's a great idea to display the "Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye" sign at the 50th anniversary of JFK's visit to New Ross. I don't have Peter O'Leary's email at my fingertips but perhaps he'll read our exchange and be in touch.

All the best,
Jackie Jura

To Orwell Today,

That's brilliant Jackie.

Thanks a million,

Greetings again Ray,

Since our email discussion yesterday I went searching for Peter O'Leary's email and found it in the files. So I sent him our email exchange and asked him to be in touch if it reaches him. It hasn't bounced back yet, so hopefully he's still at that email.

All the best,
Jackie Jura

To Orwell Today,

Hi Jackie,

Peter O Leary phoned me yesterday to make arrangements re: displaying his sign in our museum. Thanks for all your support and I will keep you up to date on developments.


Greetings again Ray,

It's good news that you and Peter O'Leary connected and the JFK WE HARDLY KNEW YE sign will be raised high in New Ross again -- just three weeks from now on the first day of summer.

Yes, please do keep ORWELL TODAY up to date on the 50th anniversary JFK Homecoming celebrations.

All the best,
Jackie Jura

PS - Peter says he took the "Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye" sign down from the attic to lend to New Ross

JFKRosesBirthday46 JFKFlowersVase FLOWERS FOR JFK (...On his trip to Ireland in June 1963 -- to which Jackie couldn't accompany him because she was pregnant with Patrick -- he was given a Waterford crystal vase which became his most precious souvenir. It was displayed on a table in the Oval Office and Jackie made arrangements with the White House florist to keep it filled with fresh flowers....Perhaps that's the Irish vase in the pic of JFK in his office -- and those are roses from his garden...)

Irish town set for 50th anniversary of John F Kennedy visit, BBC, Jun 6, 2013
As Northern Ireland prepares for the visit by President Obama and the G8 leaders later this month, a town in the Republic of Ireland is getting ready to commemorate another presidential visit. Fifty years ago this month, President Kennedy made a trip back to his ancestral home in New Ross, County Wexford. The tolling of the bell on the replica Dunbrody famine ship breaks the relative warm summer silence of New Ross harbour, as young French secondary students listen to a guide tell the story of the original Dunbrody. It would have been on a ship like this that a young Patrick Kennedy, the late president's great-grandfather, left famine-stricken Ireland for a new life. Sean Reidy, the chief executive of the JFK Trust, says the Kennedy story is remarkable. "People left under great hardship. They arrived in America. But the story we tell is not just of them leaving. It's the story of what happened when they arrived and the onward development and progression of the Irish in America to the ultimate success of a great-grandson of a famine emigrant becoming president," he says. All along the harbour front are reminders of JFK's visit 50 years ago. There is a life-size bronze statue of him and a short distance away a bronze sculpture of the podium from which he made a short speech. Eamonn Hore, the New Ross town manager, says that later this month an emigrant flame inside a large bronze globe will join the other pieces of sculpture. "The emigrant flame will be lit on 22 June from Arlington, President Kennedy's graveside, the eternal flame. And the journey back will mirror the journey of his great-grandfather. The flame symbolises all Irish emigrants including the Kennedys, which is, perhaps, the greatest emigrant story of all," he says. Up to 20,000 people are expected in New Ross on the day, including 31 of JFK's extended American family, at last count. The guests include his daughter, Caroline....

JFK daughter Caroline to visit County Limerick, Limerick Leader, Jun 1, 2013
Fifty years after the visit by President John F Kennedy to Limerick city, his daughter Caroline is to visit the ancestral family home in Bruff. President Kennedyís only surviving child will be in the town on June 21 as part of the its Gathering celebrations. Bruff Heritage Group invited Ms Kennedy to visit the town to trace the historic links to the Fitzgerald side of her fatherís family.... John F Kennedyís great-grandfather Thomas Fitzgerald left Bruff in 1847 for Boston taking with him the family bible. This was the same bible which President Kennedy later used when taking his oath of office in 1961. The family bible is now displayed in the John F Kennedy Library in Boston. During her visit to Ireland, Ms Kennedy is to attend a number of events with An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny TD, and a number of Kennedy family members to mark the 50th anniversary of her fatherís visit to Ireland in the summer of 1963. It is expected that she will lead a reunion of the Kennedy family in Wexford....

RescuerKumanaFlagUSA JFKCoconutDeskWH
(canoe paddled JFK coconut thru enemy waters)
BabyJFK6months JFK35thPresWH JohnnySign
New Ross JFK50 museum collecting memorabilia
(celebrating 50th anniversary of JFK homecoming)
JFK daughter Caroline to visit Ireland
Email, May 29, 1917-2013

New Ross museum celebrates 50th anniversary of John F Kennedyís visit (including memorabilia, artefacts and more)
by Jane Walsh, Irish Central, May 13, 2013
The community museum, which has been collecting memorabilia and artefacts from the original visit of President John F Kennedy to the town, and his ancestral home in 1963, will open to the public at Baileyís Shop on North Street in New Ross town. One of the curators of the community museum Ray Flynn commented, "Earlier this year we invited residents of New Ross and the region to loan to us any memorabilia they had in their possession, that was in anyway connected with the historic visit of President John F Kennedy to Ireland in the 1960s, we called out for photographs, flags, souvenirs, newspaper articles or even parts of the original podium, the response we have received has been phenomenal. We have had some really interesting pieces come into the museum -- some of which include a letter to the Hickey Family in New Ross -- the Hicky family owned a blanket factory in the town and presented President Kennedy with a specially made blanket during his visit, sometime after he returned to the USA. they received a very nice thank you letter from the White house. We also have hundreds of fantastic photographs, many of these include children from the town at the time and it has been a fascinating experience to identify these children who are now grown adults and to hear their memories of the iconic day in '63. Another fascinating piece has been donated by Rita Malone from the town -- Rita was 12 years old during the visit and it clearly had a last impression on Rita as for years afterwards she collected every press clipping she could find on President Kennedy and she has presented the museum with five large scrapbooks. In general the feeling is that when Kennedy came to New Ross he had an amazing and a still lasting effect on the town and we feel that this museum really captured that feeling." Ray conculuded. All items included in the museum have been carefully catalogued and will be on display for the duration of the JFK50 celebrations, and local volunteers will staff the museum...

JFK50 'Homecoming' Celebrations, upcoming June 22, 2013 (This mid-Summer eve will see the town of New Ross celebrate the life, memory and visit to Ireland -- 50 years ago -- of one its most famous sons, President John F. Kennedy...)

JFK, JACKIE & BABY PATRICK (...In the early spring, Jackie's obstetrician, John Walsh, who had delivered John by cesarean surgery in 1960, advised her to cancel all her official activities in an attempt to remove any stress that might threaten the birth of her new child, due in September. This meant forgoing a trip with the president to Ireland, Italy, and Germany in June 1963.... Kennedy brought wool sweaters for Jackie and the children, but for him, the most precious gift was the silver goblet presented to him at New Ross. It seemed to be a tactile reminder, a touchstone of his very self, his roots. He cherished small souvenirs -- an Irish poem he scribbled on dinner place cards, a postcard of the Kennedy cottage he placed in his dresser mirror. "I imagine that he was never easier, happier, more involved and detached, more completely himself," offered Schlesinger of Kennedy's trip to Ireland. As he returned, Kennedy was hitting his stride. In June, 1963, he had an astounding 82 percent approval rating in a Gallup pole... Personally, he seemed more genuinely happy. He was no longer in severe physical pain, his back troubles reduced greatly by new treatment....)

JFK Memorial Statue in New Ross unveiled, June 29, 2008 (..Town Council commissioned the sculptor to produce a life size sculpture and commemorative wall for the Quays of New Ross.... The sculpture was unveiled by Jean Kennedy Smith, sister of John F. Kennedy and former ambassador to Ireland, on June 29th, 2008...)

listen Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye, Irish Ballads

JFK WE HARDLY KNEW YE SIGN (...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... 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 barberís 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 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.... I still have the placard here, stored away safely... I have not as yet seen the statue of JFK in New Ross as I now live in Malahide, which is north of Dublin...)

POEMS FOR JFK & JOHN-JOHN (...On this second visit to Ireland JFK met all his distant cousins at the farmhouse of his great-grandfather, Patrick Kennedy, who had emigrated to America in 1848 to escape the potato famine. The welcome and love JFK received from the Irish people lifted his spirits and warmed his heart and Dave Powers and Kenny O'Donnell chose the name of their book "Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye" from a sign somebody in the crowd held up, which was also the title of an old Irish ballad...)



Jackie Jura
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