Ireland and the Kennedy family will long hold a special connection, but for one small Fermanagh community there will always be a special connection Jean Kennedy Smith, the last of the Kennedy siblings who passed away at the age of 92 recently.

Back in June 1998, Mrs. Kennedy Smith, the sister of assassinated American President J.F.K visited the Knocks to officially open the Knocks Cultural Centre while she was serving as the US Ambassador to Ireland.

During her time in Ireland she was an important figure in the ongoing peace process, and for the small community just outside Lisnaskea, the opening of the cultural centre will be an everlasting memory of one of the most famous American families.

Someone who was pivotal to the development of the centre and met Mrs. Kennedy Smith was Anne McElroy, who was secretary of the Knocks Community Association at the time. She remembers the day fondly and the woman she met over 20 years ago.

“We had a full community centre, the Primary School was there and we had the bunting out,” Anne remembers.

“She made a lovely speech. She was a lovely person and I didn’t even realise her age when she died. She was a woman who would have been around 70 at that stage and I can remember a lovely looking woman and really nice, friendly, down to earth person.”

The opening of the new cultural centre set amid the hills above Lisnaskea, and it was an afternoon which clearly made an impression on the visiting American dignitary on a rare visit to the Border. A guard of honour from the local primary school greeted the ambassador upon her arrival and it was a particularly memorable day for eight-year-old Joelene Feely who was chosen to present Mrs. Kennedy Smith with a bouquet of flowers before she was led by a lone piper to meet the large number of local people who gathered at the entrance to the community hall.

The Cultural Centre provided a unique location in Fermanagh to hosting activities such as traditional music, Irish dancing in a setting reminiscent of the old rambling house complete with turf fire and potin still. After cutting the tape to officially open the new cultural centre, Mrs. Kennedy Smith was to experience herself the kind of entertainment that is hoped will attract visitors to this isolated part of the county.

“You have made me feel happy and very much at home. This is a very attractive centre which will keep these traditions alive and I have no doubt you will see many Americans coming here to see these aspects of Irish life. I see nothing but success for this centre,” she said.

A plaque to memorialise the opening, bears Mrs. Kennedy Smith’s name and will always be a reminder of the connection the Knocks had with the Kennedy family.

Jean Kennedy Smith passed away on June 17, 2020.