In 2010, Ryan Tubridy’s JFK in Ireland: Four Days that Changed a President was published. The Late Late Show and radio host’s book teems with photographs while Tubridy provides an in-depth examination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s visit to Ireland in late June 1963 as well as its significance for Ireland and the doomed head of state.
Now, with Patrick and the President, Tubridy has partnered with award-winning artist and illustrator (and current Laureate na nOg) PJ Lynch to revisit that same historic trip, except this time as seen through the eyes of a Wexford schoolboy named Patrick.
The Candlewick/Walker picture book was officially launched in Ireland this past week on March 1st, while it has already been on sale in U.S. bookshops since February 14th.
The story takes place over a three-week period in Patrick’s life in the run-up to JFK’s June 27, 1963 visit to his ancestral home.
Soon after the upcoming trip is reported on the radio, Patrick learns his school will sing at the President’s arrival, and he’ll even have a chance for a closer encounter at the home of Mary Ryan, JFK’s cousin, when she hosts a small family reception at her Dunganstown home.
For this grown-up, reading Patrick and the President felt like holding a beautiful movie in my hands. Some pages are long shots, others zoom in for a close-up. For the most part, PJ Lynch’s watercolors are rendered with a muted palette of earth tones, and a predominance of tweedy, sylvan greens, interrupted in the second half of the book with bright flashes of the stars-and-stripes red, white and blue and some discreet, Easter egg-like appearances toward the end of book with the Wexford GAA’s purple and gold.
Interestingly, during Tubridy and Lynch’s day-long launch day tour of Dublin bookshops last Wednesday, the lanky radio and television star appeared for their first event – a noontime reading at Eason’s O’Connell street, with many school kids up front and center – wearing a navy blazer, grey sweater, white shirt, tie and khakis, no doubt to put the children at ease, his attire mirroring their own school uniforms. But for the official launch ceremony that evening at Dubray books at the top of Grafton Street, he had changed into a tweed suit that perfectly echoed the mossy greens of Lynch’s paintings.
Patrick and the President oozes with wonderful details. The scene is set with a multitude of touches of what an Irish home in the 1960s looked like, from the PYE-style radio on the kitchen table, the bone-handled butter knife, a little brown egg cup, and the lace caps on the sofa arms and back – and on to the historically accurate human touches: young Patrick’s short pants with his jacket and tie, the mother’s back-combed hairdo and chunky pearl choker (which gained great popularity after Jacqueline Kennedy was photographed wearing one). Even the elements on the endpapers inside the front and back covers – the commemorative pin from JFK’s trip, the sheet music for The Boys of Wexford – and even the Irish tricolor on the spine demonstrate the great care and attention taken in designing the book.
Tubridy and Lynch’s work reflects the comparatively outsize aura of confidence of the American President – the tan, the bright and toothy smile – as he reaches for a slice of Swiss roll “Is that for me?”
As I moved closer to the encounter Patrick has with JFK, I noticed I was feeling suspense build as I turned the pages, wondering how it would all play out, and when I reached that particular page, I felt a surge of emotion at seeing the child face-to-face with the young, vital man from Boston, who had less than five months left on earth.
I was struck by the scenes where Kennedy is present, as the crowds all face forward, focused him, only one or two personal cameras in hand. If that scene were repeated today, 50% of the audience would be holding up their phones to snap pictures or livestream it, while the other 50% would have their backs to JFK, as they wiggle into position to take selfies with the President as backdrop.
Tubridy’s likeness appears in a couple of pages and on the back cover, as a trench-coated reporter covering the historic landing, which seems quite apt – because decades later we are re-living this event through his eyes and imagination, together with PJ Lynch’s masterful hand and brushstrokes.
The book closes with a couple of pages that go into more depth about the entirety of JFK’s Irish visit, so parents or older siblings who might be curious can learn more.
Given the interest that both men have in historical subjects, one can only wonder if the Tubridy-Lynch partnership may continue with more books in the future…