Book Excerpt: The Kennedys

Some fifteen thousand people, many of them young schoolgirls holding American flags, cheered wildly as Kennedy slowly rode by in a limousine, standing and waving to the crowd from the car's half-opened bubble top. Despite a drizzle, the crowd roared its approval as the car moved into the heart of the town. "Kennedy … Kennedy," they chanted without pause as the presidential parade car arrived at the quay. Beside the ships docked along the harbor, a special speakers' platform had been constructed, but it had been built only after much bickering. At the heart of the dispute was New Ross's town board chairman, Andrew Minihan, a gruff, opinionated man who knew what he liked and spared no remark for that which he didn't. Minihan was, in the words of one writer, "a man whose integrity is as bristly as the whiskers and rough tweeds that cover him." The Secret Service and some of JFK's White House aides definitely rubbed him the wrong way.

Minihan first became annoyed with the endless debate about where to place the speaker's dais on the quay. "Every man must justify his own existence somehow," Minihan proclaimed to a group of reporters assembled in a bar before the president's arrival, "but I've better ways of justifying my own than standing around with your American G-men and arguing whether the northeast corner should be there, or there." And he moved his toes barely four inches to drive home the point. But Minihan's biggest gripe stemmed from the argument over a dung heap, a sizeable and fragrant pile of muck and animal excrement, often used as fertilizer, located within smelling distance of the speaker's dais. The Secret Service told Minihan, in no uncertain terms, that the pile of shit must go.

"Remove it?" he replied, indignantly. "I've no plan at all to remove it!"

Not one to be pushed around, Minihan staged his own rebellion by upping the ante. "As a matter of fact, we thought to add to it," he mused. "It would be good for the character of your mighty President to have to cross a veritable Alp of dung on his way to the New Ross speaker's stand."

Now that wasn't funny, not in the eyes of the sober-minded Secret Service men. The security detail argued that the dung heap posed a threat to the president. The agents insisted that the wives of the town council stay off the dais and banned a local marching band from appearing beside the platform. Their haughtiness only calcified Minihan's position. "I'll not live to see a sight more ridiculous," Minihan brayed to the press, "than your G-men combing out dung piles to see if we'd planted bombs and merciful God only knows what else in them." Eventually, the American ambassador, Matthew McCloskey, and some top brass at the foreign office in Dublin spoke privately with Minihan, telling him that his obstinacy would not do. Minihan let them know that he'd planned all along to have the dung carted away but objected to the airs put on by the Americans. As for the wives and the marching band, they got to stay.

When the big day arrived, Kennedy's aides feared that Minihan might be a wild card, a party pooper who could easily spoil the president's grand homecoming. He didn't disappoint. In introducing the president at the podium, the microphones suddenly went dead. "Can you hear me?" he asked. The crowd roared that they couldn't. Minihan, known for his hot temper, turned red and stewed. "We're in trouble right now," Minihan yelled. "Some pressman has walked on the communications."

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