Sunday, October 24, 2010

JFK's joke upset Eamon De Vallera

The day the Long Fella cut legendary JFK down to size

IT is often said that an Irish president wields little real power. But not, it seems, when the one in question is Eamon de Valera.

A new book on John F Kennedy's visit to Ireland in 1963 reveals how an historic speech by the US President was censored by the Irish president.

While researching 'JFK in Ireland', author Ryan Tubridy discovered how a section of his address to the Dail was erased from the record following stringent criticism by Mr de Valera.

The offending section-- a little joke -- also vanished from the radio and television tapes of the speech, causing the then Taoiseach Sean Lemass to express his surprise at the "utter suppression" carried out by a man holding an office supposedly removed from politics and the media. And President Kennedy even received a dressing down a few days later..

The remark was one of several humorous passages in the speech.

Mr Kennedy simply referred to a previous occupant of Leinster House, Lord Edward FitzGerald, whose father, the first Duke of Leinster had built it in the 18th Century.

He mentioned that Lord Edward had written a letter to his mother in which he had noted, "Leinster House does not inspire the brightest ideas".

As Tubridy writes, Mr Kennedy meant this as a joke, a light-hearted moment in his half-hour speech to the Dail. But not everyone present appreciated it -- and certainly not Dev. Perhaps sensing a negative reaction, JFK added swiftly, "that was a long time ago, however".

But the damage was done. As Tubridy writes, Sean Lemass said that Mr de Valera had "flinched at the crack, and didn't think it was the slightest bit amusing".


The Taoiseach overheard the two presidents talking about it later that day at Aras an Uachtarain. Mr de Valera was giving out to the younger man, telling him "he had done no service to Irish politicians by this quotation".

What followed was remarkable, Tubridy writes. The offending line was expunged from all published versions of the speech, including the official Dail record. It never appeared anywhere, even vanishing from the radio and TV tapes.
Mr Lemass later expressed surprise at Mr de Valera's ability to order this "complete suppression", because, as president, he was supposedly removed from politics and the media.

The 300-page book on JFK's four-day visit will be launched at the Mansion House in Dublin next Wednesday, while two supplements based on Tubridy's research -- and including contributions by historians Tim Pat Coogan and Diarmaid Ferriter -- will be published in the Irish Independent on Wednesday and Thursday.

- John Spain Books Editor
Irish Independent

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