Courtney Kennedy, daughter of Ethel and the late Bobby Kennedy, is to visit Trim in County Meath in May to open an never-before seen exhibition of Kennedy family memorabilia.
The material is from the collection of the late Dot Tubridy, the Irishwoman who was a confidante of the Kennedy family for over 50 years, until her death in Dublin last May. She was Courtney Kennedy's Godmother.
Over her lifetime, Dot Tubridy maintained a correspondence with the Kennedys, and attended all their major family events, and now, these letters are to go on display in a major exhibition in Trim, as well as photographs and memorabilia in a never-before publicly seen exhibition.
Her nephew Eric Lawlor, in conjunction with Trim Tourism Network, is putting the material on public display “to remember this remarkable woman”. Dot Tubridy's husband, Captain Mick Tubridy, was an Irish international showjumper who died in a riding accident at Trimblestown Stud, outside Trim, in 1954, when managing it for the McGrath family of Irish Sweepstake fame.
The McGraths also were the principal shareholders in the Waterford Glass company, and Dot became their public relations representative in their most important market, the US.
She had become friendly with the Kennedys when she and Captain Tubridy, jumping for Ireland at an event in Madison Square Garden, New York, in the late 1950s, became acquainted with Ethel Sharkel, who was to become Mrs Robert Kennedy, and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, his sister.
A close friendship began that would see Ms Tubridy become a welcome member of the Kennedy family inner circle at their homes in Boston and later at the White House in Washington, where she was treated like a close Irish relative.
After spending some months recuperating from her husband’s death with Robert and Ethel Kennedy, she became a feature on US radio and television, appearing on popular shows promoting Waterford Glass and Donegal Carpets.
In 1961, having attended the US presidential inaugural ball after the election of John Kennedy to the presidency – where she showcased Irish fashion by wearing a gown designed by Dublin-based Danish designer Ib Jorgensen – she is credited with initiating the now traditional presentation of the Waterford Crystal bowl of shamrock in the Oval Office every St Patrick’s Day.
David Gorey of Trim Tourism Network with a Kennedy album.
The practice of presenting shamrock to the US president on Ireland’s national day began in modest fashion in 1952 when then Irish Ambassador to Washington John Hearne sent a box of it to President Harry S Truman.
The ceremony became more elaborate when the shamrock was presented, in a cut-glass bowl supplied free of charge by Waterford Glass, to newly elected president Dwight D Eisenhower.
Dot Tubridy continued to organise the presentation up until the time of President Ronald Reagan’s period in office, when he visited the Irish Embassy to receive a bowl from then Ambassador Sean Donlon.
As a result of her friendship with the Kennedys, Dot Tubridy had an influence on persuading John Fitzgerald Kennedy to come on his state visit to Ireland in June 1963 - there is ample evidence of this from letters sent by the former US leader to her subsequent to the visit.
She accompanied the president on the visit, along with his sister, Jean and Eunice, and Jackie Kennedy's sister, Princess Lee Radziwill, who died earlier this year.
Her work promoting Ireland, which included assignments for the State’s export board, Córas Tráchtála, and Bord Fáilte, brought her eventual recognition from the latter body as an “ambassador for Ireland”.
Eric Lawlor, nephew of Dot Tubridy
Ms Tubridy played a significant role in the Northern peace process, becoming a founder member of the Ireland Fund in the US, and also of the organisation that became Co-operation Ireland.
In 1990, she co-ordinated a meeting at the US Congress to support the attempts by the Birmingham Six for justice for their cause.
Very politically as well as socially committed to the Kennedy family, she travelled through 10 US states supporting Ted Kennedy’s unsuccessful bid to become the Democratic Party’s candidate for the US presidency in 1980.
The Trim exhibition came about when Dot's nephew, Eric Lawlor, who lives in Trim, suggested to her grandchildren that her life and connections with the Kennedys should be celebrated.
“She was very private during her lifetime, and when she died, we got notice of a very low key funeral in Dublin,” Eric explains.
“She was from a family of 11, so you didn't get to see her that often, but every St Stephen's Day after racing at Leopardstown, there would be a get together at my brother's house in Palmerstown, and Dot would always be there.”
“Dot kept everything,” he says. “From a book of matches from JFK's desk, books, photos, letters, so much. I said to her grandchildren that we really should celebrate this remarkable woman, and they agreed, and arrived with boxes of material.”
Historian Noel French is currently assessing what he calls a 'treasure trove' of material at Trim Heritage Centre.
Noel French, Rosaleen Moynihan, Helen Leddy, Geraldine Duignan, Mick Hughes, and David Gorey of Trim Tourism Network, with Eric Lawlor.
“There is a publication of John F Kennedy's speeches in Ireland in 1963, signed by Bobby, and invitation to the funeral, a signed book by Rose Kennedy, a letter from Queen Elizabeth to Eunice Shriver, lots of commemorative coins and medals, Ted Kennedy campaign material photographs. Boxes and boxes … each is a treasure.”
Dot Tubridy was an honorary pall bearer at the funeral on Eunice Shriver in August 2009. The death of Ted Kennedy the same month, as well as her daughter, Dr Aine Tubridy's death in 2011, and her nephew, actor Sean Lawlor's death in October 2009, were great blows to her, Eric Lawlor explained.
Waterford Crystal are presenting two crystal bowls fro the exhibition opening on 12th May, he added.