Tag Archives: John F. Kennedy

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.

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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.

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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.

U.S.-Irish relations at St. Patrick’s Day: 1916-2016 (P3)

This blog series focuses on U.S.- Irish relations at St. Patrick’s Day over the past 100 years. Since this is the centennial of the Easter Rising, I’m looking at 1916 and each 25 years afterward: 1941, 1966 and 1991. I’m also writing a post on St. Patrick’s Day 1976, the year of the American bicentennial.

Part 3: The Rising’s 50th anniversary & the bowl of shamrocks

The tradition of an Irish government official visiting the White House at St. Patrick’s Day to deliver shamrocks dates to 1952. President Harry Truman was out of town when Irish Ambassador John Joseph Hearne paid the call.

During the Eisenhower years, “the ceremony’s prominence waxed and waned,” according to this 2010 CNN story, “but the shamrock presentation became a full-blown media event when John F. Kennedy, himself an Irish-American, entered the White House.”

Less than three years after Kennedy’s triumphant return to Ireland and his assassination six months later, Lyndon B. Johnson was the U.S. president. According to president’s daily diary for March 17, 1966, LBJ received Ambassador of Ireland H.E. William Fay and Mrs. Fay in the Oval Office shortly after noon.

The president was presented with “fresh shamrocks [redacted] flown in from Ireland in an 18-inch tall Waterford crystal vase.” It appears that two words are redacted between “shamrocks” and “flown.”

What got blacked out? My guess: “and whiskey.”

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JFK and LBJ.

Earlier that St. Patrick’s Day, officials at the British Embassy discovered their gateposts and two plaster lions on a parapet in front of the building had been painted green. The Washington Post reported: “Painted in black letters upon the chests of the seated two-foot-high lions were the fighting words: ‘Up the rebels.’ ”

But the story does not mention the 50th anniversary of the Rising.

The Post’s St. Patrick’s Day roundup also reported that a small park at 24th Street and Massachusetts Avenue near the Irish Embassy would soon become the new home for a 7-foot-tall bronze statue of Robert Emmet. The statue of the early 19th century leader in the fight for independence was commissioned in 1917, the year after the Rising. It had been display the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History, but recently put into storage. An April story notes the statue and park were dedicated for “the 50th anniversary of Irish independence.”

The presidential diary for St. Patrick’s Day shows that Johnson left the Oval Office shortly before 8 p.m., telling aides he was returning to the private residence to change shirts “because I’m going to help the Irish celebrate.”

He was driven to the Statler Hilton Hotel a few blocks from the White House to visit the Washington Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick’s annual dinner. Chapter President Rev. C. Leslie Glenn of the Washington Cathedral draped an honorary membership medal with green ribbons around the president’s neck. Only Presidents George Washington and Theodore Roosevelt had received similar honorary membership, according to the diary notes.

“The president then walked the length of the head table and shook hands with those sitting there,” the diary says. He gave remarks, but the diary does not indicate what he said.

Johnson returned to the Oval Office about 30 minutes later.

Two opportunities to write about Ireland

I’ve recently come across two opportunities to write about Ireland and Irish America:

  • the Global Irish Media Fund, sponsored by the Republic’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; and
  • the Tiny Plays for Ireland and America Playwriting Challenge, a collaboration between the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and Fishamble, The New Play Company in Dublin.

The Global Irish Media Fund will provide grants to news organizations and journalists to tell stories from, and about, the Irish abroad and the impact of emigration on those at home.

“The successes and the challenges of our emigrants, both recent and distant, are of interest to Irish people and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade wishes to facilitate more reporting of these stories,” Minister for Diaspora Affairs, Jimmy Deenihan TD, said in a release.

The maximum amount of funding available to any applicant is €10,000. The deadline for applications is Jan. 15, 2016. Details and application.

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The Tiny Plays Challenge is part of the approaching 100th birthday celebration of President Kennedy, May 29, 2017, and IRELAND 100: Celebrating a Century of Irish Arts and Culture, a series of 2016 events at the Kennedy Center tied to the Easter Rising centennial. Kennedy was America’s first Irish-Catholic president from January 1961 until his assassination in November 1963.

Plays must demonstrate how Kennedy’s legacy lives on in America today, and responding to the call, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”  Submissions must be 500 words or less, in English, with no more than three actors.

Selected plays will be performed in May 2016 at the Kennedy Center and at the Irish Arts Center in New York. Winning playwrights also receive a $500 honorarium.

The deadline to apply is Feb. 19, 2016. Details and application.

A simpler St. Patrick’s Day wish, 1953

I want to get away from all the noise and nonsense that’s come to surround St. Patrick’s Day, the once reverent, if myth-filled, holy day turned raucous global celebration.

So here’s a reminder of a simpler St. Patrick’s Day, a 1953 letter from a sister in Kerry, Ireland to her brother in Pittsburgh, USA. It’s from a collection of letters I inherited from my aunt a few years ago. A few other letters from the 1950s also included sprigs of shamrock from the north Kerry countryside.

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Keep in mind that 1953 was seven years before the election of John F. Kennedy as president (a decade before his return to Ireland and assassination later the same year), and nine years before Chicago began to dye its river green. While the first St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin dates to 1931, it was nothing like today’s massive multi-day festivals.

JFK’s next to last resting place

There was plenty of attention last year about the 50th anniversaries of John F. Kennedy’s 1963 trip to Ireland and assassination in Dallas. Today I was abruptly reminded of the later event.

My wife (@AngieHolan) and I attended the Saturday vigil Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C. I was walking up the center aisle to receive Holy Communion when I noticed the marble plaque on the floor just before the sanctuary:

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“…People come to the cathedral from across the country and around the world, with many wanting to stand at that very spot,” Catholic News Service reported last year. I hope to visit the JFK gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery in the near future.

Also worth noting at the Cathedral in terms of Irish America is the lunette mural above the main entrance. It’s titled “Saintly and Eminent Personages of the Americas.”

Click here for key to figures on church website.

Click here for key to figures from the church website.

Among the figures depicted on the mural are The Most Reverend John Carroll, the first bishop and archbishop in the United States and the founder of nearby Georgetown University, the nation’s oldest Catholic university; and James Cardinal Gibbons, the first cardinal of Baltimore.

Carroll was from a prominent Irish-Catholic family with roots in counties Laois, Offaly and Tipperary, according to this story in Irish America. Gibbons parents were from Tourmackeady in County Mayo.

As chairman of the American Commission on Relief in Ireland, Gibbons helped lead efforts to aid Ireland during the Irish War of Independence. In this March 2, 1921, letter published in Catholic newspapers, he wrote:

I need not urge upon the Americans of Irish descent their special duty to their own flesh and blood; they have given generously to all other suffering people, they will not forget their own. … The whole Catholic church of America is most deeply indebted to the Irish people. It is not too much to expect that in every parish of our land effective means be taken to collect funds for the relief of the suffering in Ireland.

Gibbons died a few weeks later on March 24, 1921, before the end of the war and year of civil war that followed.