Friday, 11 March 2011


It was just a little after six-thirty on a dark November evening in 1963 when TP arrived at the Stage Door of the Royal Court Theatre off Sloane Square where he was appearing in JP Donleavy's 'The Ginger Man'. 

Just inside the door  fellow cast member, Anna Gilchrist, was on a payphone.  As TP came in she cupped her hand over the mouthpiece and, across her shoulder, hissed, 'They've shot him'.  'Who?', TP asked, confused, but sensing the air of alarm.    'Kennedy! ... President Kennedy'.

TP reeled as he was hurled back six months in time and his ears filled with the cheers of the huge crowds gathered around him in Dublin's O'Connell Street, where just yards away the bronzed and handsome figure of the American President passed, standing in his limousine, waving and beaming his charismatic smile.

Kennedy's state visit to Ireland was the most anticipated and astonishing of homecomings.  Here was an Irish American whose great, great grandfather had set sale from New Ross in Co.Wexford on board an emigrant ship with nothing but a pack on his back and now his great, great grandson had reached the highest office in the land and probably of the free world.

TP knew all there was to know about Jack Kennedy and had followed his career from his days as a promising new, young member of the US Senate.  He followed  American politics and culture  closely and was teased by his colleagues at the Abbey for the copy of Time magazine he always seemed to have with him.  'Here he comes - Mr.Time!', they'd josh.

Now the news was breaking across a London tea-time and rush hour, first that Kennedy had been shot, and then a while later the terrible confirmation that his wounds had been fatal.

Millions lost a new found hero in that hour and none felt the blow more keenly than TP McKenna.

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