Letters written by Jackie Kennedy describe her ‘fairytale visit’ to Ireland

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

The unearthed letters written by Jackie Kennedy have revealed she had a deep affection for Ireland.

The letters discovered recently, were sent to her long-time friend, Irish priest Father Leonard. In them, Mrs Kennedy describes her love for Ireland and also her experiences of being married to the world’s most powerful man, President Kennedy.

Mrs Kennedy first visited the Emerald Isle as a 21-year old, having just completed her studies in Paris. She decided to travel around Europe before returning to her homeland, and landed in Dublin in 1950. She immediately looked up an old family friend, Father Joseph Leonard.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

The pensioner Catholic priest and wealthy young student struck up an unusual friendship, which would last for years. Father Leonard was the perfect host, taking Miss Bouvier (Kennedy’s maiden name) to see a show at Abbey Theatre, accompanying her as she shopped for Waterford Glass and dining with her at the famous Jammet’s restaurant.

She was also invited to visit Taoiseach John A Costello, who later recalled the meeting: “Miss Bouvier who was full of youthful vivacity and charm, delighted with everything she found in Ireland, and expressed the hope of coming frequently again.”

Indeed, by now Ireland would always have a place in Miss Bouvier’s heart. She left shortly after that meeting but was soon pining for a return. Just days later she wrote to Father Leonard, telling him she was “miserable at leaving Ireland” and “homesick for it”.
Jackie Kennedy
The correspondence continued after she returned to America. Miss Bouvier even sought the advice of Father Leonard over any potential suitors for her. Declan Costello, the 24-year-old son of the Taoiseach was put forward as a suggestion, and Miss Bouvier replied that he “sounded like heaven”.

However, Costello married Joan Fitzsimmons and Jackie met and married the ambitious young politician John F Kennedy. She returned to Ireland in 1955 with her US Senator husband. She reveals the marriage could have ended before it had even began, when the couple attended a dinner hosted by her one-time suitor Declan Costello and his new wife.
John F Kennedy
Kennedy wrote: “That night we dined at Jammet’s and our happy marriage was nearly rent asunder because Jack was enchanted with Joan and I was enchanted with you – but somehow we patched it all up at the movies.”

After they returned to America, Mrs Kennedy continued to write to Father Leonard. In one letter she recalled her visit with her husband, and expressed their love for Ireland, and also her personal affection for her friend: “You will never know how much our visit meant to both of us – of all the places we’ve ever been together that was – always will be – the best . And why? All because of one person whom there is no one else like on this earth – you.

“A fairytale visit that was too perfect to be real – to walk back across the St Stephen’s Green with you, and throw coins into the fountain so that we would be sure to return to Dublin.”

Tragically President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, and the couple never did visit Ireland together again.

The letters provide a fascinating insight into the life of Jackie Kennedy, who was always guarded over her private life.

They are on sale at auction in Ireland next month.

More on the Kennedys
When the future President Kennedy made his first trip to Ireland
President Kennedy’s speech to the Irish government in 1963
Who Killed Dorothy Kilgallen – the reporter investigating President Kennedy assassination?

Written by Michael Kehoe @michaelcalling