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Death threats preceded JFK's 1963 Ireland visit

John F. Kennedy was the subject of three death threats during the U.S. president's visit to Ireland in 1963, newly declassified police documents indicated Friday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

John F. Kennedy was the subject of three death threats during the U.S. president's visit to Ireland in 1963, newly declassified police documents indicated Friday.

The letters, released by the Irish Justice Department, said police received two anonymous telephone warnings in the weeks before the arrival of the United States' first Irish Catholic president. A third threat went to the newsroom of the Irish Independent newspaper.

Kennedy's June 26-29 visit, the first to Ireland by a serving U.S. president, went ahead without trouble amid universally adoring crowds in Dublin, Cork, Galway and his family homestead in County Wexford, southeast Ireland.

He was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, five months later.

One threat claimed Kennedy would be attacked on arrival at Dublin Airport. Another said a sniper would target Kennedy as his motorcade traveled from Dublin Airport to the residence of the Irish president. The third warned a bomb at Shannon Airport in southwest Ireland would detonate as Air Force One was about to depart.

The U.S. Embassy in Dublin also received a letter warning that someone planned to drop a bag of flour on Kennedy's head during an appearance, but the documents indicated that police did not take this threat seriously.

Citizenship offered
Separately, the government declassified documents on their aborted plans to grant Irish citizenship to Kennedy during his trip. The gesture was ruled out on myriad legal and political grounds, chiefly White House advice that a U.S. president could not be a citizen of any other country.

Irish Justice Department documents said the Irish ambassador to the United States, T.J. Kiernan, had received a 15-page legal opinion from the office of the U.S. attorney general and a face-to-face request from Kennedy's national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy, asking Ireland not to confer the honor.

Another 43-year-old letter declassified Friday detailed police security concerns, and reflected officials' desire to impress both U.S. visitors and onlookers in Britain, Ireland's colonial master until 1922.

In the letter, Commissioner Daniel Costigan, commander of Ireland's national police force in 1963, described the Kennedy tour as "the most important visit to this country since the establishment of the state, with worldwide publicity. British journalists are likely to be ready to criticize any fault in arrangements."

"While any attempt on the life of the President is most unlikely, we cannot overlook the possibility of some lunatic, fanatical, Communist, Puerto Rican or some other such like person coming here to try to assassinate the President," Costigan wrote.

The documents indicated that 6,404 police officers were on duty throughout Ireland the night Kennedy arrived, of whom 2,690 lined the U.S. president's route from Dublin airport to the Phoenix Park mansion of Irish President Eamon de Valera.

Costigan wrote that, although the death threats were considered likely to be hoaxes, his officers would use binoculars to monitor rooftops along the route of the presidential motorcade. He said some police would carry firearms, an exceptional measure in a country with a largely unarmed police force, to engage any would-be sniper.

"A rifle as well as Thompson guns and revolvers were carried for use against a possible sniper," Costigan wrote in a post-Kennedy visit memorandum released Friday.

'My deepest thanks'
Other documents reflected Irish government annoyance that Kennedy wrote directly to Costigan, rather than to government leaders, following his visit.

"Ireland will long remain a fond memory and you, as well as all the men of your command, have my deepest thanks for making this possible," Kennedy wrote in his letter to Costigan.

The police chief sought government permission to publish the letter in an internal police magazine. But the secretary of the Justice Department, Peter Barry, refused, arguing that Kennedy had "exalted" a public servant above the government and Ireland's ministers of justice and foreign affairs "might feel that protocol is being brushed aside too rudely."