JFK Jnr remembered at Woodstown 1967

This months guest blog is by Joe Falvey another long time supporter of the blog and a writer of many excellent articles about our local history.  This months piece is a fine gathering of historical facts and anecdotes based around the visit of the Kennedys to Woodstown in 1967 and was written as a tribute originally on the death of JFK Jnr in 1999.  So journey back with us this morning to a rural Waterford of a very different era.  I’m sure you will enjoy it.
Like most of the world, I first heard of Woodstown, this quiet, quaint and charmingly beautiful place during the late spring and early Summer of 1967. I first visited Ardmore that same summer, careful not to stray too far from the Cork border. Apart from a vague knowledge of Tramore’s existence, I had no other knowledge of Waterford. Yet from the time it was first announced in mid-April of that year that Jackie Kennedy, then the most famous and glamorous woman in the world, was going to holiday there with her children, John-John and Caroline, the name and images of Woodstown became engraved in my memory. Little did I realise then that I would end up living just a few miles from there and that it would become one of our favourite family places in all of its seasonal phases-its sylvan dressed beauty and sea-kissed tranquility.
Jackie and children riding out, photo via Pat Coghlan

The place has thus quietly lured many to reside or visit there over the years. The tragic death of that fondly remembered young boy, who grew to be a handsome, much admired man of the world struck a particular heart-felt chord of anguish among Woodstown’s residents who so proudly welcomed this remarkable family into their midst. Memories came tumbling back for so many.

I went for a stroll there on the day of his funeral seeking to recall those days of innocence and hope and to remember also other tragedies that are strewn across life’s path but this family have had their share.
An example of the press coverage at the time.  Via Michael O’Sullivan Waterford History Group
As word spread that the Kennedy’s were coming on holidays to Woodstown for six weeks, a huge press corps descended on this quiet secluded resort and the views of the locals were canvassed and cast onto the world stage of the media. This was but three and a half years after the assassination of the President in Dallas, so a sense of poignancy was interwoven with a sense of local pride. This pride was matched by pragmatic optimism that such startling news would put the place on the map and that proper amenities, like public toilets, car parks and road access would be provided and indeed, great inroads were made in that direction.
The late and much respected William (Bill) Coghlan was chairman of the local Development Association at the time. The media coverage made much reference to the only local hostelry- The Saratoga – owned and run by Bill and his wife Adi. Jack Donnelly, the postman, echoed the sentiment of many at the time: “ Sure, isn’t it a pity that the great man himself isn’t coming.”
There was a gentle touch of clerical rivalry between the local churches with Fr. Phelan of Crooke quietly confident that the visitors would be attending his church, while Fr. Leahy of Killea was offering his Céad Míle Fáilte pointing out that his church was in fact closer.
The Kennedys visit to Ballyhack, Co Wexford, courtesy of Niamh Kehoe

The children of the area had simpler dreams and welcomed John-John and Caroline as playmates and cherished hopes that they would join in with their summer games of skipping and sandcastles. Ita and and Conor Coghlan, Grace and Judith Cooke were much photographed as likely playmates. Mrs Bridget Morrissey and her children were equally anticipating the great occasion. She had run a sweet shop opposite the main gates to Woodstown House, en route to the beach, for many years. She was adamant that John-John and Caroline would be most welcome like any other children who came to visit the safe and sandy beach at Woodstown. And indeed, when they came they proved to be just that, innocent, well-mannered charming children, despite the aura of wealth, beauty and glamour associated with their famous parents.

A telling anecdote recounted to me by Tony Walsh (Tap Room- Ballybricken) of the time he assisted his sister in the beach shop at the other end of Woodstown. (leased from Mrs Phelan). His special memory was of John-John coming up to him at the shop to buy sweets and things. On a few occasions he recalls the lad enquiring as to the price of a coveted choc-ice but reluctantly settling for an ordinary ice pop on realising that his pocket money wouldn’t stretch to such a luxury! Another day he bought after much consideration a cap gun but returning the following day with it as it was not working to his satisfaction and wondering if Tony could fix it and if not could he have his money back! Tony won’t sell you a choc-ice or cap gun today but you are guaranteed a great pint.
The weather was truly welcoming that June and hundreds of people flocked to greet and observe the famous visitors. The place was initially agog with excitement and the media (local, national and international) got their stories and pictures which bulked the Sunday editions in particular. The Saratoga was a gathering point for the media people but the fact it did not have a public telephone nor was there any elsewhere in the area presented a challenge to the men of the press, I’ve been told by a journalist who was assigned to that story, but nevertheless, obviously managed to get their stories out- ‘By Hook or by Crooke’. However, after a while people generally withdrew and gave the family the privacy they needed and deserved. People like the Russell family, Philip, Ken and Sandra have their own memories of playing with John-John and Caroline, has have others. Many of the press photographs showed Jackie and the children out riding and there was no shortage of equine offers.
Jackie’s horse, in particular, was lent by Mr. Don O’Neill-Flanagan for the duration of the holidays. Indeed, it was he who was involved in the family coming to the area. He was acquainted with Mr Murray McDonnell, a wealthy Irish-American, who had rented Woodstown House for the summer from its then owner, Major Cholmeley Harrison (a London stockbroker). Mr. Murray McDonnell then invited Jackie Kennedy and her children to join him, his wife and children on this holiday. The estate manager was Peter Cook and he, along with his wife quickly swung into action to make all the necessary preparations. Mrs. Kathleen Mahoney was the Housekeeper and along with Mrs. Alice Keane knew there was a big challenge ahead and were well equal to the task.

A boat trip at Dunmore.  Photo courtesy of blog regular David Carroll and via Michael Farrell BGHS

Apart from the many relaxing days, there were the usual outings- a highlight was a trip in a boat from Dunmore East, John Roche was the able skipper of the Misty Morning and the delights of the harbour were duly enjoyed.

Irish Derby Day was the first of July that year and Jackie was the star guest greeted there by the Taoiseach, Jack Lynch and his wife Maureen. Chief steward that day was Major Victor McCalmont (Mount Juliet).
Woodstown House was built for Sir Henry W. Barron, M.P. for Waterford, during the middle years of the 19th century on an estate of 240 acres. It was later sold to John Hearne, the Waterford builders and has had a variety of owners since including Roger Shipsey. Woodstown is also associated at this time with Richard Profumo, brother of British war Minister, John, who took refuge at Ballyglan House nearby, during the Christine Keeler scandal that rocked the Westminster Government.
One final memory of John-John is that of Waterford Crystal workers who recall this six year old wielding his camera with interest and dexterity to capture the seemingly magical craft of glassblowing. This is the boy who is so affectionately remembered by all who met him, who became the young man who charmed America, who like his father died in his prime and who may well have followed his father to the White House.
An ironic coincidence is that his ill-fated plane was a Piper Saratoga. The Woodstown hostelry’s name was in turn named after Saratoga Springs, upstate New York. It was so named by a retired parish priest (Fr. Fleming) who had spent a lifetime ministering there who settled in Woodstown with his sisters in his retirement. It’s a small world surely and diminished further by the death of this fine young man.
I wish to sincerely thank Joe for passing along his work for me to reproduce here.  Joe’s piece originally featured in the Munster Express on July 30th, 1999.  I’d also like to thank the many responses to my request for photographs.  I also received a number of anecdotes of the visit which I hope to combine into a subsequent account.  Any others that people would like to share, I would be happy to add them. If you would like to contribute a piece to any of my guest blog Friday’s (last Friday of each month) please get in touch to russianside@gmail.com.  All I ask is that the subject matter be linked in some way to the maritime heritage of the area, and 1200 words approx.

If you would like more information here’s a podcast of the story called “Beauty and the Beach” by Elaine Power and Nicola Beresford.  https://www.spreaker.com/user/9726109/beauty-and-the-beach

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Saratoga Bar, Woodstown

My first time in the Saratoga Bar in Woodstown was about this time of the year many years back when playing rubbers.  Whats a rubber you may well ask.  A rubber is a card game where two teams of three played thirties against each other. The winners progressed to another round, the ultimate aim to win a turkey or ham for Christmas.  
The pub at the time was run by Mrs Coughlan, but eventually it would be sold and eventually my cousin Bill Doherty ran it with great success until he returned Stateside to be close to his grandchildren. The name however was always a conundrum, and not just to me.  So as part of my guest blog series, this being the last Friday of the month, I asked Joe Falvey for his thoughts, and he kindly included extra information from Hilary Coughlan.
The Saratoga Bar and Post Office 1905.  National Library of Ireland

According to Joe “it’s named after Saratoga Springs in NY.  The building was in the ownership of the Coghlan family from 1825 or 1835 as part of Dromina House estate and was leased to two sisters who ran it as a hotel around 1900. Their brother a priest,( Father Fleming), returned home from Saratoga Springs around that time -hence the name”. 

Now Joe had this account from Hillary Coghlan and it coincides with what Addie Coghlan told him for an article he wrote in 1999 following the death of young John Kennedy in a tragic aircrash. “Strangely ironic that the plane he was flying was a Piper Saratoga II…given the local memories of that Summer 1967, fifty years ago”  Joe here is of course referring to the holiday of Jackie Kennedy with her young family at Woodstown following the tragic assassination of her husband President John F Kennedy four years previously in Dallas Texas (and a story he will share with us in the future). Joe goes on “My understanding is that the priest had leased it to provide a retirement income for himself and his two sisters who ran the business. So the name as opposed to the building itself dates from this time.”
Hillary Coghlan added the following “The Saratoga was owned by my Dads family since 1825 – at one stage it was a hotel until early 1900 when the licence lapsed. My aunt ran a post-office and shop until around 1951 when my parents took over. To make ends meet they grew and sold vegetables, had a shop & petrol pump and post office. They opened the Saratoga as a bar on 4th July 1962. At that time two bar licenses were needed (government policy to reduce the amount of pubs in Ireland) and one was bought from Powers in Dunhill and the other from Dunphys in Carrick. My Mam, Addie Coghlan ran the bar and loved every day until she retired & sold it to Andy & Margaret Torrie in Sept 1996.”

My first book on growing up in a fishing village is now published.  Its called Before the Tide Went Out            

Buy the book online if you live outside of Ireland.

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The Book is now available to buy off the shelf in the following shops

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                                              More outlets coming soon

Michael O’Sullivan from the Waterford History Group had the following to add: “In the 19th century the Saratoga was occupied by the Hurley family (John, Mary, Statia,and William).who also ran a farm”.(1) He also raised the point which I had heard before, that it may have been named after an American sailing ship wrecked in Waterford harbour in the early 19th century.  Hilary had also heard a ship wreck origin, that the timbers were used in the roof of the building and speculated that it may have been one of the ships carrying limestone for the lime kilns.

The foundered ship certainly has appeal, both in terms of my normal blog stories and the fact that the reusing of salvaged timbers occurs in stories around the harbour, indeed in harbours and coastlines across the world.  But evidence of such a ship is scarce.  For example the Irish wrecks data base give no mention of a ship called Saratoga.  Yet there are obvious gaps, for example my recent story story of the schooner Cintra is not listed.  As regards timber to be salvaged from ships, there is any number of likely candidates from the list.  The name Saratoga has featured on several ships.

Again from Joe: “There was a critical Battle of Saratoga in 1777 in the War of Independence. Hence there were several US Naval Ships of that name, including the best known of them, no. 5, an aircraft carrier which was heavily involved in Pearl Harbour and the war in the Pacific during WWII”. 

The Schooner Saratoga via http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/109977.html

There was also an American privateer of her name, a schooner that was involved in the 1812 war with the British and an American fishing vessel. How many others must have carried the name. I favour Joe’s theory the most.  And I imagine a shipwreck provided timber for construction, which led to this creating an extra frisson to the account. But even if we never know for certain, there is considerable enjoyment from discussing and sharing these theories and I sincerely thank Joe for arranging this for us, and to Michael and Hillary for their input.

The last Friday of each month is offered as a space for a guest blog. If you would be interested in submitting a piece I’d be delighted to hear from you at russianside@gmail.com. The only criteria is that the piece needs to be about our maritime heritage, about 1200 words and I can help in editing if required, source photos and add in links etc. I’d also welcome any contributions from younger readers including students. 

 (1) Information from “Waterford’s yesterdays and tomorrows 1967 by JJ Walsh page 29

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