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Bunratty Singer performance for President Kennedy

An encore for the president

A ballet injury resulted in a change of course and a chance to perform for Kennedy, recalls Joy O'Kane .

I was part of the Bunratty singers. My father saw the advertisement for singers in The Irish Times at the time and suggested I go for it. I was training to be a ballet dancer and my back had given up on me. I had a natural voice and I said: "Well, if I can't dance, maybe I can sing."

I was taking lessons and I talked to a great teacher of mine, Denis Noble, who told me there was nothing like experience and so off I went. The funny thing was when I went for the audition they didn't ask me to sing. They did it on personality and what you would be like.

Anyway, I got in and while I was still training, Shannon Development said a group of us were going to greet President Kennedy. I mean the excitement was unbelievable. We met him at the airport in Shannon and we were in our costumes. We were on the tarmac and we waved to him and he greeted us and shook hands. Then someone said we were the famous Bunratty singers. He said: "Oh, that's wonderful" and a picture was issued which he signed for everyone. Unfortunately, mine was stolen from the dressing room in Bunratty. Everyone else's was there except mine, which I always regretted.

As we met him, President Kennedy asked us to sing for him at the American embassy the next day. He said he'd give us one of his helicopters! We couldn't believe it and the next day we flew to Dublin to the American embassy. We shook hands with him and we sang The Minstrel Boy I think, and probably finished with Danny Boy. He then said he wanted us to perform at the White House. The sad thing was we did visit but he had already died by then. President Lyndon Johnson received us.

It is hard to explain what it was about him. He was a bit like Pope John Paul II in that he had magnetism when he looked at you. Even though loads of people were mingling around, when he shook your hand he smiled directly at you. If there was a glint in his eye, we didn't see it. We had a lovely lunch at the embassy and after they flew us back on the helicopter. He had lovely blue eyes. I'll always remember that. Even though we were very young, we just knew he was special.

(In conversation with Brian O'Connell)

Photo: L-R  Una Kelly,  Jackie Doyle , Bobby O’Brien, Joy De Burgh O’Brien, Breda O’Donovan, Bridget Fitzgerald,  Fionnuala O’Sullivan Harpist, Mr. Moore (US Ambassador to Ireland)


Irish Times - Supplement, page 19 Shannon Development