independent

Sunday 19 November 2017

'Security was far more lax'

SECURITY scenes from President Obama's visit may have had a 'Men in Black' vibe, but when Wexford played host to JFK it was a far more relaxed affair.

Eugene Byrne from Killeens was a garda on security detail for the visit of President John F. Kennedy back in June 1963.

'I had my first view of him as he left the airport, where he came off the old airport road onto the main road in Dublin,' said Eugene, who was normally stationed in Arklow at the time, but had been dispatched to Dublin and Wexford look after JFK for the duration of his visit.

'He came along in an open-top car. I was the only one in the place, and he gave me a wave,' recalls Eugene.

The following day it was on to Wexford for Eugene, along with several other colleagues.

'We all congregated in the Dun Mhuire. We shaved there. Got spruced up a bit. And then I went to the railway station where he made a speech,' he said.

Eugene recalls the crowds, jovial and good humoured.

'I remember one poor man got a bit too excited and came over the barriers. We had to manhandle him out of there. Secret service were right on to it,' he said, adding that it was 'nothing sinister', just an exhibition of over enthusiasm.

' There was a massive crowd. Redmond Square was full of people, and there were no buildings down there at the time,' he recalled, adding that President Kennedy came down from the podium and shook hands with the flag-waving crowd.

Compared to the security detail for President Obama, Eugene says it was 'much more lax' back then.

' There wouldn't have been the same threat there back then, it was much more lax,' he said.

Eugene has memories of also seeing Senator Robert Kennedy in Ireland as well as escorting his sister Eunice Shriver back in 1968 at the opening of the JFK Arboretum in New Ross.

'I walked down from the main building with her and we had a right chat,' he smiles.

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