John F. Kennedy Trust
In 1988 the community of New Ross formed the John F. Kennedy Trust against a backdrop of deep recession and high unemployment.
We had realised that the decisive first steps to economic recovery would have to be inspired and initiated locally. The Trust was set up to commemorate John F. Kennedy by developing projects to enrich the lives of the people of his ancestral home area.
Involving the Kennedy Family and Local Officials
One of the first decisions of the Trust was to invite Mary Ann Ryan, cousin of the late President Kennedy, to join them. This established a Kennedy family link from the outset.
Another crucial early action was to involve elected public representatives and local government officials, to create a partnership between local community and local authority.
National Business Leaders
Other early additions to the Board of the Kennedy Trust were from the local business community. At a national level, outstanding figures in the business and academic worlds were invited to become patrons of the Trust. Among them were Dermot Desmond, Pat O’ Neill, Pat Murphy, Paddy Shaffrey, Noel Dillion, Louis M. Cullen, Prionsias Ui Cathain and Pat Craig.
1988: The Shaffrey Plan
The Trust first commissioned an environmental study of New Ross, which became known as the “Shaffrey Plan” after the architect and town planner Paddy Shaffrey. The plan was adopted by the local Urban District Council and led to a number of improvements to the streetscape and amenity infrastructure of the town.
The Beginning of Heritage Tourism in New Ross
The study clearly identified the untapped potential of the Kennedy connection with New Ross and the possibilities for Irish heritage tourism.
To do this, a full-time person would be needed to help develop the centre from concept to reality. With the help of FAS—the state backed training and employment authority—Sean Reidy was appointed as Project Manager in 1992. This marked the beginning of what would become a crucial relationship between FAS and the Kennedy Trust.
Identifying the Dunbrody Famine Ship
The idea of the ship, incorporating a floating Irish heritage centre, emerged over time. A passing mention of the idea in an interview given by Sean Reidy inspired local marine artist Garret Fallon to do some research. He identified the Dunbrody as the perfect representative of the local maritime history and of the Kennedy connection. Here was a way to celebrate the positive aspects of emigration in the achievements of those who had left Ireland for the US.
Renowned naval architect Colin Mudie was commissioned to do the initial design work. In the words of historian Kevin Whelan, ships such as the Dunbrody could—and should—be viewed as cradles of opportunity rather than as coffins.