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Kennedys, Irish mark 50th anniversary of JFK visit

‘Eternal flame’ from his grave passed to town

Caroline Kennedy and her son, Jack, participated in the ceremony in Ireland.

NIALL CARSON/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Caroline Kennedy and her son, Jack, participated in the ceremony in Ireland.

DUBLIN — The Irish government and the Kennedy clan celebrated the 50th anniversary of one of Ireland’s most fondly recalled moments, the visit of President Kennedy, with a daylong street party Saturday that was capped by the lighting of Ireland’s own ‘‘eternal flame.’’

‘‘JFK 50: The Homecoming’’ celebrations focused on the County Wexford town of New Ross, from where Patrick Kennedy departed in 1848 at the height of Ireland’s potato famine to resettle in Boston. In June 1963, his great-grandson John returned to the town as the United States’ first and only Irish Catholic president.

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During his four-day tour across Ireland, Kennedy so charmed the nation that, even decades later, his portrait adorns many living room walls as the ultimate symbol of Irish success in America.

Prime Minister Enda Kenny of Ireland joined Kennedy’s only surviving sibling, Jean Kennedy Smith, and his only surviving child, Caroline Kennedy, to hold three torches together that light a flame encased within an iron globe.

The flame had been carried Olympics-style from Kennedy’s plot in Arlington Cemetery by aircraft to Dublin, then by Irish Navy vessel up the River Barrow to the New Ross dockside. It was the first time the Kennedy eternal flame had been passed along in this fashion.

‘‘May it be a symbol of the fire in the Irish heart, imagination, and soul,’’ Kenny told more than 10,000 who had gathered along the river bank.

Several members of Ireland’s Special Olympics team helped carry the flame from the Irish naval vessel to the ceremony, a gesture to the memory of Kennedy’s sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics movement. She died in 2009.

And in a symbolic passing of the family political torch, Caroline Kennedy asked her 20-year-old son, Jack, to handle the main Kennedy part of the ceremony.

His polished and idealistic speech reflected his long-expressed hopes to follow his grandfather into US national politics after graduating from Yale.

‘‘We have been told over and over that America is no longer the great country that it was when my grandfather was president,’’ he said, noting that his generation would ‘‘inherit a series of problems that previous generations refused to address.’’

He listed rising sea levels, the US national debt, incessant Middle East conflicts, and declining US competitiveness as problems that ‘‘cynics and skeptics’’ could never solve.

But he said Ireland’s ability to rise from centuries of poverty, emigration, and social strife demonstrated that Kennedy-style ambition and optimism could find a home in the 21st century, too.

‘‘The glow from this flame can truly light the world,’’ he said.

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