Tag Archives: John F. Kennedy

JFK, Ireland, and the Sixth Floor Museum

U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated 55 years ago 22 November. In May, I visited the scene of that historic crime, now The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas.

The scene of the crime. Assassin shot from far right window, square, not arched. Sixth floor is one floor below top row of windows.

A museum about any murder would be a sad place. This one is particularly depressing (though well designed), since it also represented a huge loss of American innocence and idealism. In my opinion, it also marked the end of an Irish-American century that began with massive immigration of the Great Famine.

The museum doesn’t display much about JFK’s Irish heritage or his June 1963 homecoming. One video display quickly flashes the day after the assassination front page of The Irish Press, which contained a statement from Irish President Éamon de Valera:

During his recent visit here we came to regard the President as one of ourselves … We were proud of him as being of our race.”

Four oral histories held by the museum do contain Irish connections in interviews with:

  • Peter Rice, an Army presidential helicopter pilot who accompanied Kennedy on the 1963 trip to Ireland.

  • Rosian Zerner, who was in Dublin, Ireland, at the time of the assassination.

  • Eamon Kennedy, an Ireland native and photographer at the Dallas Times Herald during the assassination.

  • Dr. Peadar Cremin, who as a 14-year-old boy witnessed JFK in Ireland.

Kennedy was flawed, I know, and it’s easy to slip into sentimentality about him. But my stop at the Dallas museum seemed inevitable and necessary, the completion of a history trail on both sides of the Atlantic.

I have visited the Kennedy Homestead in County Wexford, where JFK made his triumphant June 1963 homecoming, five months before the murder, and seen the Kennedy tributes in Galway, his last stop in Ireland. I have been inside the Dáil Éireann chamber, where he gave a memorable speech.

When I lived in Boston, I explored the JFK Presidential Library and Museum, but skipped the boyhood home tour.

I have attended Mass at Holy Trinity, St. Stephen Martyr, and St. Matthew’s churches in Washington, D.C., where he worshiped in the Roman Catholic faith. Kennedy’s former presence is recognized at all three churches, most notably St. Matthew’s Cathedral, where a marble plaque is imposed in the floor in front of the sanctuary. This is the spot where Kennedy’s casket was stationed during his funeral Mass.

Most movingly, I have stood at the eternal flame next JFK’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery. Now, too, the Philip Johnson-design cenotaph in Dallas.

John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza, Dallas.

Photo feature: John F. Kennedy in Galway, 1963

GALWAY ~  John F. Kennedy, great grandson of an Irish emigrant and America’s first Irish-Catholic president, 55 years ago made this West of Ireland city the last stop of his historic homecoming to Ireland.

“You send us home with the warmest memories of you and of your country,” Kennedy said during 29 June remarks in Eyre Square. “Though other days may not be so bright as we look toward the future, the brightest days will continue to be those in which we visited you here in Ireland.”

He spent about an hour in Galway. Less than five months later he was assassinated in Dallas.

Below is a video clip from the Galway event; two photos of the memorial bust in Eyre Square; and two photos of the mosaic of Kennedy, located inside the Galway Cathedral, which opened two years after his visit.

Earlier and coming posts:

Between Duganstown and DallasA unique cohort of Irish and Irish Americans lived through the triumph of Kennedy’s return to Ireland; but died before the tragedy in Dallas.

I’ll have a post on the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza later this month.

JFK assassination papers contain IRA reference

Nearly 3,000 more records related to the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy were released to the public 26 October. Almost 4,000 records became available in July under a 1992 law requiring the disclosure of U.S. government documentation of the event. A few thousand remaining files remain under review.

By coincidence, the releases come in the centenary of JFK’s birth. His death in Dallas was five months after his triumphal visit to Ireland.

My search of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration’s special Kennedy Assassination Records database found about two dozen documents with references to “Ireland” or “Irish.” The document images are not available online, but the result list provides some basic details.

The collection includes a 22 November 1963 condolence cable from Taoiseach Seán Francis Lemass to President Lyndon Johnson, and resolutions of sympathy from Dáil Éireann. Johnson replied to Lemass on 29 November.

The records include “Irish participation in JFK funeral,” “participation by the Irish Guards,” and “guidance on memorials to President Kennedy in Ireland.”

Most intriguing, however, is a one-page 29 November cable from the American Embassy in Dublin to the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. The description says:

Telegram reporting information from FBI informant claimed IRA in Ireland planned to “commit mayhem in Dallas.”

Without reading the cable, it is impossible to say whether this “mayhem” foretold the assassination, or retaliation on the city for the murder of the world’s most famous Catholic Irish-American.

In 1992, Oklahoma historian Kendrick Moore suggested the IRA may have killed Kennedy because he spoke out against isolationism from the Protestant north during his June 1963 visit. “It had to be the IRA; they are the last ones you would suspect,” he told The Oklahoman newspaper.

There are many conspiracy theories surrounding the Kennedy assassination. Here’s another: The index of the September 1964 Warren Commission report on the assassination is missing one letter, and only one letter: I for Ireland.

JFK in Dallas shortly before the 22 November 1963 assassination.

Yeats, Kennedy, ‘Vietnam’ and ‘The Second Coming’

William Butler Yeats’s 1919 poem “The Second Coming” is referenced in Episode 6 of “The Vietnam War,” the 18-hour documentary series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.

The series narrator mentions that Robert F. Kennedy cited the poem in a 1968 op-ed piece about the overseas war and domestic woes. But the voice-over transposes the poem’s third and fourth lines as viewers see Kennedy’s image, intoning “Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,” then “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold,” rather than the other way.

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold,” was the headline of Kennedy’s 10 February op-ed in The New York Times. The then-U.S. Senator from New York quoted the same two lines as above, but in the correct order.

Kennedy also quoted the lines in a 4 January 1968 speech at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. Watch a short video of the speech featuring this segment starting at 1:35.

Kennedy was not the first person to cite the poem in relation to the war. In a December 1967 New York Times wire service piece published in numerous U.S. newspapers, journalist James Reston reported “The Second Coming” was one of the favorite poems of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, a hold-over from the administration of the assassinated President John F. Kennedy. Like the Kennedy brothers, McNamara was the American-born grandson of Irish immigrants.

Yeats’s poem began getting fresh attention in 1965, the centenary of his birth. It surfaced later in 1968 in Joan Didion’s collection of essays, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” which takes its title from the final line of the poem.

“ ‘The Second Coming’ ” may well be the most thoroughly pillaged piece of literature in English,” Nick Tabor wrote in a 2015 piece for The Paris Review. He suggested “dozens if not hundreds” of writers and other artists have cribbed Yeats’s lines “in mediums ranging from CD-ROM games to heavy-metal albums to pornography. These references have created a feedback loop, leading ever more writers to draw from the poem for inspiration.”

It’s worth remembering that Yeats wrote the poem at the end of Word War I and the beginning of the Irish War of Independence. The violence and unrest of the 1960s was hardly new to the world.

Robert Kennedy was assassinated in June 1968. The Vietnam War dragged on until 1975.

Here’s my earlier post about Irish connections in the Vietnam documentary.

Celebrating the 100th anniversary of JFK’s birth

John Fitzgerald “Jack” Kennedy was born 29 May 1917 in Brookline, Massachusetts, near Boston, a year after the Easter Rising and a month after the U.S. entered World War I.

In 1960, Kennedy was elected president of the United States. He was not the first Irish American to win the nation’s highest office, but he was the first Catholic. Three years later, JFK made a triumphant return to Ireland, land of his ancestors. Five months after, he was assassinated in the U.S.

The end of May brings the official opening of numerous centennial celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of JFK’s birth.  The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, and the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C., have partnered for a series of events and initiatives, including the “JFK 100: Milestones & Mementos” exhibition.

Here are some other links to JFK-related content, starting with my own work on the blog:

Here are other external links of interest:

John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site, Boston (boyhood home)

The Kennedy Homestead,  Wexford, Ireland (ancestral home)

John F. Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C. (centennial celebration)

Official White House biography

University of Virginia Miller Center (essays, etc.)

RTÉ Archives and The Irish Times (coverage of the 1963 Ireland visit)

 

JFK’s triumphant return to County Wexford, Ireland, land of his ancestors.

Remembering JFK … 3 … Caps over walls

On Nov. 22, 1963, The Irish Press featured a front-page story about U.S. President John F. Kennedy … but not what you are thinking. Published before the assassination in Dallas, the story reported how JFK cited Irish writer Frank O’Connor the day before to promote the U.S. space program.

In his 1961 autobiography, “An Only Child,” O’Connor wrote of how, as a boy, he and his companions would toss their caps over orchard walls, leaving them with no alternative but to scale the barriers, no matter how high or formidable.

In his Nov. 21, 1963, speech in San Antonio, Texas, Kennedy said: “This nation has tossed its cap over the wall of space, and we have no choice but to follow it. Whatever the difficulties, they must be overcome.” Read and listen to the full speech.

The Press story quoted O’Connor as saying it was “a very brilliant use of the quotation.”

A week later, amid ongoing coverage of the assassination, the Press returned to JFK’s literary interests. A story headlined “Kennedy had library of Irish works” mentioned two titles from his personal collection at the White House: “The Great Hunger,” by Cecil Woodham-Smith, and “The Irish Republic” by Dorothy MacArdle.

Remembering JFK … 2 … Eternal flame(s)

Shortly after being assassinated on 22 November 1963, President John F. Kennedy was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with an eternal flame. A group of 26 Irish Defense Forces cadets, who traveled to America with Irish President Éamon de Valera, performed a silent drill at the grave site, part of a tribute to Kennedy’s Irish ancestry.

Three years later, in March 1967, Kennedy’s body was re-interred a few feet away with a new flame at the spot now visited by millions of tourists. In June 2013, during celebrations of JFK’s visit to Ireland 50 years earlier, a light from the Arlington flame was carried across the Atlantic and incorporated into the Emigrant Flame memorial a the New Ross quayside, County Wexford.

I was touched to visit both JFK’s grave and the Irish memorial this year.

jfkflamestone

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emigrantflame

Remembering JFK … 1 … St. Stephen church

The 53rd anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy is 22 November. I’m posting a few images and words to remember America’s first Irish-Catholic president over the next few days.

I walk past St. Stephen Martyr Catholic Church on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. on my way back and forth to work. JFK was a regular visitor to the church. The parish dates to 1866, the current building to 1961, during Kennedy’s brief administration.

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This memorial plaque is on a pew inside St. Stephen Martyr Catholic Church in Washington, D.C.

Undated photo of Kennedy leaving St. Stephen Martyr on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.

Undated photo of Kennedy leaving St. Stephen Martyr on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. The church opened in 1961, during his term as president.

JFK’s birth cenntennial: Between Duganstown and Dallas

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.

President John F. Kennedy, left, speaks at welcoming ceremony in Duganstown, New Ross, Ireland. Image from JFK Presidential Library & Museum.

Kennedy described the 1963 visit as “the best four days of my life.” It wasn’t his first trip to Ireland, but it was the most historic and symbolic, including his address to the Dail, and return to his ancestral homestead at Dunganstown, New Ross, County Wexford. Four months later, 15 October 1963, Kennedy welcomed Irish Taoiseach Sean Lemass to the White House. The host told his guest that in several days of traveling in America he would see “more Irish men and Irish woman who were either born in Ireland or bear Irish blood than you would see in several years in Ireland.”

I was intrigued by the interval between Kennedy’s visit and his death, so I went looking for Irish and Irish Americans who died between 30 June 1963 (after his trip) and 21 November 1963 (before his assassination.) It is a somewhat arbitrary way of selecting a cohort. Yet the magnitude of the two events, I believe, makes for interesting parameters to explore Kennedy, the Irish and Irish America. They are not “Kennedy’s Children,” but rather his big brothers and sisters, his cousins and colleagues. The first two people I found were Daniel Donoghue and Fr. William O’Keeffe.

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.

Kennedy Center “Celebrating a Century of Irish Arts & Culture”

The global celebration commemorating the centennial of the 1916 Easter Rising takes center stage (several stages, actually) at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. 17 May to 5 June. The “Ireland 100” festival includes dozens of performances from some of Ireland’s best contemporary musicians, dancers, and theater companies – along with other events ranging from a literature series, documentary screenings, installations and culinary arts.

1458168864-Ireland-100-tickets.jpg (288×192)

Fiona Shaw is Artist-in-Residence for the three-week festival, performing and conducting workshops with aspiring actors. Among the festival’s theater offerings are works by Irish playwrights Seán O’Casey (The Plough and the Stars) and Samuel Beckett (the radio play All That Fall), an adaptation from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake performed by Olwen Fouéré (Riverrun), and a performance installation by Enda Walsh (A Girl’s Bedroom).

“The United States and Ireland share a special relationship based on common ancestral ties and shared values,” Festival Curator Alicia Adams said. “The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts bears the name of our 35th President, who is especially revered by Ireland as a favorite son.”

See schedule details.

U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, who often boasts of his Irish-American heritage, and Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny are scheduled to attend the 17 May opening.