THE DEATH of the last surviving member of the Kennedy family has evoked memories of the time she opened a well known cultural festival in Killaloe.
Jean Kennedy Smith, the last surviving sibling of President John F. Kennedy and a former United States of America ambassador to Ireland, who died last week, officially launched Féile Brian Ború in the mid nineties.
Ms Smith was the eighth of nine children born to Joseph P and Rose Kennedy, and she tragically outlived several of them by decades.
Her siblings included older brother Joseph Kennedy Junior, killed in action during the Second World War; Kathleen “Kick’ Kennedy, who died in a 1948 plane crash; the president, assassinated in 1963 and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, murdered in 1968.
Senator Edward Kennedy, the youngest of the Kennedy siblings, died of brain cancer in August 2009, the same month their sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver died.
Michael Durack, who was involved with the Killaloe Writers, presented the former US ambassador with a copy of The Creel Volume Three, which was published by this group when she dropped into their annual reading, The Muse, at Liam O’Riain’s bar, Ballina after completing the official opening at the Green Killaloe.
In an interview with the Clare Champion, Mr Durack believes that Ms Kennedy-Smith came in June or July of 1995 or possibly‘96.
The retired Nenagh CBS English and History teacher recalled the festival was normally launched on a Friday night and this coincided with the group’s reading of literature in Liam O’Riain’s bar for five or six years in a row.
“Somebody mentioned the US ambassador might drop in to us on the night of our reading. The front door of the bar opened, there was a bit of a kerfuffle and Jean Kennedy Smith was ushered in.
“I was introduced to her and I presented her with a copy of The Creel, an anthology of work from the writers’ group. It was nice recognition for the writers’ group.
“She was courteous and diplomatic. She seemed to enjoy the reading. She was a big name at the time because she was a Kennedy and was appointed ambassador when Bill Clinton was the President of America.
“I often thought about her afterwards about her upbringing, her father was a diplomat in London, her brothers were in the White House and then there was the drama of two assassinations,” he said.
He said the Kennedys had great charisma and were all very eloquent, citing the famous speech of John F Kennedy and his inauguration.
“Whatever about the faults and failings of the Kennedy’s, they had charisma, eloquence and style. If there is a dignity going with an office, they lived up to it,” he added.
The Killaloe Writers’ Group was set up in 1991 and remained active for about 20 years.
John Grimes of the Féile Brian Ború committee recalled Ms Kennedy-Smith opened the festival at the Green near the catholic church before she crossed the bridge to Ballina for a literary event in Liam O’Riain’s bar.
He recalled former Ireland ambassador Seán Donlon, who lives on the outskirts of Ballina, was asked if he would invite her to launch the festival and she duly accepted his invitation.
“Jean Kennedy-Smith was brilliant, she was absolutely fantastic on the night. It was a big coup for the festival at the time. Guinness were on of the main festival sponsors and they were delighted because they knew she was articulate and knew what to say.
“Jean was accompanied by her personal assistant and she delivered all the facts and figures about the festival perfectly. People were delighted to see her and meet her.
The only stipulation the deceased made at the time was she didn’t want to be seen with a pint of Guinness in her hand promoting this alcoholic drink.
The festival committee presented Ms Kennedy Smith with a painting of a local scene.