By Andrew Bushe
The choice of a Waterford mansion as a vacation destination for Jackie Kennedy in 1967 caused security nightmares for gardai, who were concerned that an attempt might be made to “kidnap or molest” her two children, Caroline, 9, and John, 6.
Previously confidential files, published by the National Archives Office, reveal the government, gardai and civil servants were far from impressed by Woodstown House, where the U.S. president’s widow stayed with friends for six weeks.
Taoiseach Jack Lynch asked in a handwritten memo: “Do we know how this house was selected? It could hardly be less suitable.”
Justice Secretary Peter Berry told his colleague Hugh McCann in the Department of External Affairs that the holiday venue might result in the press — particularly the foreign press — giving Ireland “undesirable publicity.”
The estate was “unkempt” and had a “neglected appearance,” and there was a lack of privacy, Berry said.
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A Garda report said the house’s front lawn was “not enhanced by the presence of a ferocious-looking black Angus bull, chained there and rotating in circles.”
They were told it was there to frighten away trespassers from what their report describes as a “dull-looking house.”
The gardai concluded it was “a most difficult center to protect against intrusion.” To provide security 21 special branch detectives backed up by local uniformed and detective gardai were needed.
A base radio station was established in the grounds and all gardai were issued “walkie-talkies, beam torches and binoculars.”
The security report expresses concern about an “invasion of the grounds,” reporters and sightseers approaching by boat, and providing protection for Mrs. Kennedy if she were to go out riding. A U.S. Secret Service man would accompany her on horseback.
Woodstown House and the surrounding 241 acres were then owned by Major Cholmeley Harrison and had been rented by him to Broadway stockbroker Murray MacDonnell.
A brother-in-law of multi-millionaire Henry Ford II, MacDonnell, his wife and eight children were neighbors of the Kennedys in America.
Mrs. Kennedy requested privacy during her holiday. RTE and all the newspapers were asked by the government to respect her wishes, but there were concerns that foreign newsmen might not cooperate.