An tUachtarán, Eamon DeValera and President John F. Kennedy

President John F Kennedy and Ireland 1963

The election of John Fitzgerald Kennedy to the office of the President of the United States in 1960 was celebrated as a momentous occasion in Ireland. The great-grandson of Irish immigrants, he regularly acknowledged his Irish roots and in June 1963 he became the first serving American President to pay a visit to Ireland.

Military Archives holds a wealth of material relating to the Defence Forces’ role in the presidential visit and their participation later that same year in his funeral ceremonies at Arlington Cemetery, Virginia.

Scroll through our online exhibition by clicking on the links in the left-hand sidebar, or else follow the link at the bottom of the page, to find out more about the logistics of Kennedy’s visit to Ireland, the background to the Cadets’ ceremonial drill and more.

Military Archives gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the Cadet School in the production of this exhibition. The collections or recollections of Brigadier General Frank Colclough (retd), Col William Nott (retd), Cpl P Fogarty (retd) and Col Fergus Marshall (retd) were also invaluable for this project.

Visit Of President John F Kennedy

An tUachtarán Eamon DeValera and President John F. Kennedy Dublin Airport
An tUachtarán Eamon DeValera and President John F. Kennedy Dublin Airport

The memorable visit of the United States President John F Kennedy to Ireland took place 50 years ago this year from 26th June until 29th June 1963. This visit was described by the Irish President, Eamon De Valera, as a visit of special pride and one that connected the American President to the Irish public. It was also a visit that was to have a special effect on the American President who spoke of returning to Ireland in the spring, a visit he was not able to fulfil following his assassination in November 1963.

The visit of the President was also to place the Irish Defence Forces centre stage when the 36th Cadet Class under Lt Frank Colclough provided a Guard of Honour at Arbour hill. Following the Guard of Honour, the President remarked to Colclough that it was the best Honour Guard he had seen. To listen to the reminiscences of Frank Colclough, recalling that moment in an exclusive interview recorded by Military Archives in June 2013, please see below.

The President's compliment was reinforced when the President made a special request for a film of the Cadet's drill that day in Arbour hill. The Cadets had perfected their drill for the visit of the President and had followed on from a previous ceremonial occasion when the same Cadets attended the laying of a wreath on the tomb of Theobald Wolfe Tone at Bodenstown. Unfortunately, the video of the event was understandably focused on the Presidents attendance and lacked in any great detail the Cadet's drill which had touched the President so deeply. The video was reshot using members of the 37th Cadet Class due to the commissioning of the previous 36th Class.

The visit of the US President to Ireland involved a significant administrative and logistical operation to ensure the visit was conducted professionally and without any issues. This is evident from the Ceremonial Order which can be downloaded here. The visit in June 1963 saw President Kennedy arrive into Dublin Airport where he was received by An tUachtarán and An Taoiseach including the Defence Forces Chief of Staff, a Captain's Guard of Honour, a Military Band and a Gun Saluting Battery. On arrival, President Kennedy was greeted by an tUachtarán trumpeters and drummers where honours were presented followed by a 21 gun salute. The President then travelled with a ceremonial escort, with troops lining part of the route to Áras an Uachtáran. 

The Military Archives is pleased to make the link on this occasion, and with the permission of British Pathé, to KENNEDY IN IRELAND 

On Thursday 27th June 1963, President Kennedy travelled to Wexford in order to lay a wreath on the memorial of Commodore John Barry. The President was received by the Officer Commanding the Naval Service and a Lieutenant’s Guard of Honour comprising 107 personnel. The Presidential procession, accompanied by an escort of honour, then travelled to Áras an Uachtáran and Iveagh House.

Friday 28th June involved the memorable visit of the President to Arbour Hill to lay a wreath at the graves of the 1916 leaders. The President also paid visits to An tOireachtas and Dublin Castle. The Guard of Honour provided by the 36th Cadet Class under the charge of Lieutenant Frank Colclough in Arbour Hill was to have an effect on the President which remained with him following his visit to Ireland.

The Aide-de-camp during the visit of the President was Major General Maxwell who was to be the Head of Protocol for the funeral of John F Kennedy in Washington the following November.

Saturday 29th June 1963 was the final day of the visit which saw the President depart from Shannon Airport. The departure of President Kennedy was marked by a Captain's Guard of Honour and a Gun salute similar to the one he received on his arrival.

During the visit which lasted from 26th June until 29th June 1963, the Defence Forces provided four Captain's Guards of Honour (including a Guard of Honour under the command of a Naval Service Officer), two 21 Field Gun Salutes, one Cadet Guard of Honour, Presidential Escorts, Military bands and troops for route lining. Behind the scenes and in view of the logistics involved, extra administrative duties were carried out and extra security was detailed, in order to successfully manage the ceremonial and security cooperation aspects of a visit of this size and significance.

36th Cadet Class and President John F. Kennedy
36th Cadet Class and President John F. Kennedy

Cadet Guard of Honour

On Friday 22nd November 1963, just five months after his Irish visit, President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

At 9.30 the following evening Lt Col Cyril Mattimoe, Commandant of the Cadet School, Military College, Curragh Camp, received a phone call at his home from the Chief of Staff, Lt Gen Sean MacEoin to inform him that Irish Cadets were to provide a Guard of Honour at the funeral on Monday 25th November.

The Guard of Honour provided by the 36th Cadet Class at Arbour Hill in June 1963 had pleased President Kennedy to such an extent that he requested footage of the drill on his return to the United States. Unfortunately there was no suitable footage extant and the 36th Cadet Class had been commissioned in July 1963 and dispersed across the country. As a result the 37th Cadet Class began their ceremonial drill training prematurely to provide the footage required for a film of the President's tour of Ireland.

Soon afterwards 26 members of this class would, at the invitation of Jacqueline Kennedy, provide the same Guard of Honour at the late President's graveside.

Read Lt Col Mattimoe's personal recollections from the Cadets' trip by clicking on flipbook below. These reminiscences were published in a special edition of An Cosantóir in September 1979 which was issued to commemorate the Cadet School's 50th anniversary

The Cadets flew from Collinstown Airport (now Dublin Airport) to New York on board the same flight as President Éamon de Valera on Sunday 24th November.

From New York they flew to Washington where they were met by US Army transport and taken to Fort Meyer, Arlington. They were billeted with the 3rd Infantry 'The Old Guard' at Fort Meyer for the duration of their trip. View our photo gallery showing de Valera's inspection of Cadets, their HQ at Fort Meyer and their participation in the funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. PHOTO GALLERY

Photograph taken by battalion photographer, 1st Battalion 3rd Infantry (Old Guard), US Army on the day of Kennedy's funeral.
Photograph taken by battalion photographer, 1st Battalion 3rd Infantry (Old Guard), US Army on the day of Kennedy's funeral.

To see a short clip of the Cadets at Kennedy's graveside go to British Pathé's excellent online resource. The Cadets appear at 09.35 minutes.

Funeral Drill

All aspects of military life are regulated by an appropriate Defence Force Regulation (DFR) or Administrative Instruction.

The ceremonial drill to be used at funerals was committed to print in February 1943 when DFR A.6. Deaths and Funerals was first published. However the funeral exercises, including the reversed arms, had been in use since the early days of the Irish state. The article (pictured right) printed in October 1925 in the Army publication of the time, An tÓglách, refers to the symbolism of the funeral exercises.

  Search a complete set of An tÓglách 1918-1933

View this article in its original context (PDF link below)

DFR A.6. Deaths and Funerals was reviewed and reprinted in December 1962 but no changes were made to the drill. Flick through the interactive copy of the Defence Forces Regulation, right. Details of the funeral exercises start at page 17.

When revision of the drill was again considered in 1968 the Director of Training recommended against altering it. One of his recommendations was that the drill had been used at President Kennedy's funeral which gave it a greater historical significance.

Letter from D/Training outlining his recommendations for retaining the Defence Forces' Ceremonial Drill
Letter from D/Training outlining his recommendations for retaining the Defence Forces' Ceremonial Drill

Search through the images, below to see the Irish Army Funeral Drill demonstrated by Sgt Feeney, 2 Motor Squadron. This demonstration shows the newly introduced FN rifle rather than the Lee Enfield rifle used by the Cadets at Arlington.

The Lee Enfield rifle was issued to soldiers of the Permanent Defence Forces from the 1920s until the early 1960s. It continued in use with the FCÁ until the mid 1980s.

By November 1963 the FN had replaced the Lee Enfield No 4 Mk 2 as the standard issue rifle in the Defence Forces. However the Cadets were still using the Lee Enfield for ceremonial purposes.

Lee Enfield Rifle No 4 Mark II
Lee Enfield Rifle No 4 Mark II

The Aftermath

After the funeral the Cadets had some time for a whistle-stop tour of Washington D.C., visiting the Lincoln Memorial, Capitol Hill, The White House and the Washington Memorial. They also returned to Arlington National Cemetery with President de Valera, who laid a wreath at Kennedy's grave and viewed the eternal flame lit by Jackie Kennedy the previous day.

In some cases entrance fees were waived for the Cadets, at the airport in New York prices were reduced in shops, and two cadets reported that a stranger had asked for the honour of paying for their meal.

The Irish party flew home from New York on Tuesday evening 26th November.

On their arrival back in Ireland the 37th Cadet class returned to the Curragh Camp to resume their training. The impact that their Guard of Honour had became more apparent in the days and weeks that followed. Letters of congratulations and appreciation came from Irish men and women in Ireland and in America, from public bodies, private companies, former and serving military personnel and from young children.

Read through the correspondence, below, to gain an impression of the esteem in which the cadets were held. Samples of letters received by the Defence Forces, the Minister of Defence and the President in praise of the Cadets

Any reference to private addresses have been redacted to protect the identity of the correspondents. Letters were received from Ireland, England and across the United States: Arizona, California, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington.

Read more detailed correspondence, below, to find out about the Cadets' Christmas present from Colgate-Palmolive Ltd or the Irish visit of the Mayor of Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1964.

The Cadets were given a copy of the publication "Four Days: The Historical Record of the Death of President Kennedy". Colonel Fergus Marshall (retd.) kindly loaned his copy to Military Archives several years ago. The signatures of the members of the 37th Cadet Class are recorded inside the back cover of this book. Click on the image, below, to view the names of members of this historic class.