Shortly after President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 a number of Irish associations and societies in the United States began working together to create a living memorial to him in Ireland. With the generous cooperation of the Irish government (which contributed 252 hectares of land) the plan to create an arboretum was born. An arboretum is a park that holds a collection of trees. In this case it was decided to request trees from all the countries in the world as a representation of the late president’s internationalist philosophy. Planting in the park began in 1968.
The arboretum is huge – 252 hectares is more than 625 acres – it covers the top of a high hill. A three-mile long circular path leads visitors through the park. A natural woods and a small stream are in the center of the circle; paths crisscross leading in several directions. A small lake has been created which has become a nesting place for great blue herons.
Probably the most spectacular show is put on by the rhododendrons which are blooming now. A large number of them has been collected and the color and size of the blooms is remarkable. Because there are so many specimens from many places the blooming period is very long. When I was here in January there was one beautiful bright red rhododendron in bloom. There are eucalyptus trees, sequoia redwood trees, giant spruces and firs now more than 50 years old.
There are specimens of hundreds of kinds of trees. Thousands of daffodils planted in great drifts bloom each spring as do wild cyclamin and primroses which grown at the base of huge trees. There are beech trees and larch trees and others that were growing here long before the 1960s scattered throughout the park.
The location of the arboretum is about two miles from the home of the president’s great-grandparents who are buried in a nearby church yard. (The Kennedy homestead is open to visitors.) One of the last trips President and Mrs. Kennedy made was to Ireland, and no town welcomed him with more love and enthusiasm than New Ross, the nearest town to the place where his ancestors lived. Recently, during the time of the 50th anniversary of the president’s death, Ireland created an audio-visual tour to honor him; it’s now permanently installed at the arboretum. Caroline Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, came here for the dedication and planted a young oak tree just outside the display’s location during her visit.
Today the Irish government maintains and grows the arboretum. Among their recent activities is participation in a European study of how global warming is affecting trees. Very nice people who are knowledgeable about the many trees are employed by the government to welcome visitors and provide two free guided tours each day. Many people are employed here to maintain the plants and grounds. A horse-drawn wagon is available at a small cost for those who want to make a full tour of the park but don’t want to walk three miles. A children’s play area and a tea house are located near the parking lot.
This fountain at the center of the arboretum buildings has carved into it in Irish “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
Southeast Ireland is a beautiful part of the country – it’s called the “sunny Southeast.” If you’re planning a trip to Ireland I recommend you spend some time here, and if you do, be sure to visit the John F. Kennedy Arboretum. And don’t miss a visit to the Dunbrody, a full-scale replica of the ship that carried the Kennedys and many other Irish emigrants to America in the time of the potato famine. It’s permanently docked on the riverside in nearby New Ross, a town founded by Vikings 800 years ago.