Daniel Donoghue and Father William O’Keeffe witnessed the triumph of Duganstown; but they each died before the tragedy of Dallas.
The 99th anniversary of the birth of John Fitzgerald Kennedy (29 May 2016) begins a countdown to next year’s centennial celebration. Fishamble, an Irish theater company, recently debuted six “tiny plays” inspired by Kennedy’s life at the Washington, D.C. performing arts center named in his honor, part of a year-long series of tributes. More remembrances will surely be scheduled in other places, including Boston and in Ireland.
Born in Brookline, Massachusetts, the 35th president of the United States was the youngest man (43) and first Irish Catholic elected to the nation’s highest office. There are many aspects of Kennedy’s life worth exploring, but I’ve become interested in his last five months, the period from his triumphant “homecoming” to Ireland, 26-29 June 1963, the first visit by a U.S. president while in office, to his assassination in Dallas on 22 November 1963.
Donoghue, a retired Metropolitan (Washington) Police lieutenant, was typical of the people Kennedy was referring to in his greeting to Lemass, though he had recently departed from their ranks, dead of a heart attack at 65 on 18 September 1963. The County Kerry native immigrated to America in 1915, when he was 17, according to an obituary in The Washington Post. He served on the police force until 1953, then moved to the Maryland suburbs, where he remained active in the Retired Metropolitan Police Association. In the 1920s, Donoghue was a charter member of St. Gabriel’s Catholic Church in D.C.’s Petworth neighborhood. He belonged to the Holy Name Society.
Donoghue was a likely Kennedy voter in 1960 and certainly had paid close attention to the president’s visit to Ireland. It is unclear whether the former cop ever got himself back to Ireland. He left a year before the Rising, but was old enough to have followed Ireland’s struggle for independence, bloody civil war and partition as he established his life in America. He also would have lived through the humiliating defeat of Al Smith, the first Irish-Catholic presidential candidate, in 1928.
To me, Donoghue is part of a “greatest generation” of Irish and Irish Americans who lived through the country’s revolutionary period and transformation from Irish Free State to Republic of Ireland. In America, their adult lives spanned from Smith’s defeat to Kennedy’s election and trip to Ireland. They died before the tragedy in Dallas and outbreak of The Troubles.
As Irish Catholics, this generation witnessed the peak ascendance of their church and its schools, hospitals and other institutions in America and their own acceptance as adherents of the faith by nearly all aspects of U.S. society. They died before the changes of Vatican II, the decline of European ethnic-religious identity and the revelations of church scandals on both sides of the Atlantic.
Father O’Keeffe was another member of this cohort. Spiritual director at Clonliffe College in Dublin, he died 27 August 1963, at age 56, during an extended visit to America.
He was born in 1907 at Kanturk, County Cork, and ordained in 1932 from Maynooth College, a member of the Vincentian Fathers. He was a language expert who taught in Belgium and Italy, as well as in Ireland. His skills brought the attention of the British Government during World War II, according to his obituary in the Post.
“Working under complete secrecy, he spent the war years broadcasting coded messages to the anti-Nazi underground in occupied France, Denmark and the Low Countries,” the Post said. “It was reported that he had been in occupied Europe on missions with the various undergrounds.”
Fr. O’Keeffe “was visiting childhood friends” in Glen Cove, New York, on Long Island, when he was struck down by a cerebral hemorrhage, the obit said. Surely they had talked about Kennedy’s visit to Ireland earlier that summer, and may have heard about plans for Lemass’ trip to America.
I intend to pursue more such stories over the coming year and would welcome the input of my readers. The lives of people with direct connections to JFK would make for even better stories, but that’s not a requirement. Let me hear from you.