Tag Archives: John F. Kennedy

John Feerick on ‘Irish roots and American promise’

The dust jacket and marketing materials for John D. Feerick’s memoir, That Further Shore [Fordham University Press], say the author’s life “has all the elements of a modern Horatio Alger story: the poor boy who achieves success by dint of his hard work.” It’s also an Irish-American success story: the son of 1920s Co. Mayo immigrants who became the first in his family to attend college and law school.

Feerick was inspired by John F. Kennedy’s call to service in the 1960s. He helped frame the 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, in part because of Kennedy’s assassination. He became dean of Fordham University Law and president of the New York City Bar Association.

In 1995, Feerick joined the American delegation for Bill Clinton’s historic visit to Northern Ireland, which set the stage for the Good Friday Agreement. He was a founder of Fordham Law’s Belfast/Dublin Program, now in its 20th year.

John D. Feerick on Zoom, Sept. 23.

Ireland was always very present,” in songs, stories, and pictures on the wall of the small South Bronx apartment where he grew up, Feerick said during a Sept. 23 digital “fireside chat” hosted by Brehon Law Society. Like most Irish immigrants, his parents “never saw their parents again; they never saw their siblings again. They didn’t have any money to go back.”

Feerick has made numerous trips to both sides of the Irish border, including genealogical reasearch for his memoir, a labor of love some 18 years in the making. He enthused about meeting distant relations and finding records with small but dear details of information. He acknowledged the opportunites lost to question key people while they were alive: he doesn’t know for sure how his parents met in America.

“It means everything to me,” Feerick said of his Irish heritage. “It’s part of my roots.”

He has hesitated, however, to place his name on Ireland’s Foreign Birth Register, which confers citizenship and elegibilty for an Irish passport, as so many of us have done.

“I’ve wrestled with it, but haven’t done it,” he said. “I consider myself an American Irishman.”

Feerick was diplomatic in answering a question about the impact of Brexit on the Irish border, subject of my last post:

“I can’t imagine that responsible leadership would remove the open border between the north and south,” he said. “That was so integral to the Agreement.”

Feerick also briefly discussed his work with two recently deceased figures, one from each side of the Atlantic:

  • Irish nationalist politician John Hume of Derry, who died Aug. 3: They were introduced during a 1994 luncheon at Fordham. “I really didn’t appreciate how important he was,” Feerick said. “He said, ‘Great lunch, but I want more from you. Come to Northern Ireland.’ ” During the Clinton visit the following year, they laid the groundwork for the Fordham-Ulster Conflict Resolution Program, then the summer law program.
  • U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Sept. 18: They met in New York City law school circles. Feerick testified on Ginsburg’s behalf at her 1993 U.S. Senate confirmation hearing. “She was a person of fantastic commitment, especially on the issue of descrimiation against women,” he said. She became the outstanding lawyer in America in terms of gender descrimination.”

More of Feerick’s reflections about his life and writing his memoir are found in his Aug. 9 post for History News Network.

JFK’s 1960 presidential nomination at 60

Sixty years ago U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts became the second Irish-American Catholic nominated for president. New York Gov. Al Smith was the first in 1928. Both were Democrats. Smith lost to Herbert Hoover. Kennedy would go on to beat Richard Nixon.

The Democrat’s 1960 national convention was staged July 11-15 in Los Angeles. In an explanatory preview, The Irish Press of Dublin described the U.S. presidential nomination and party policy process, its ardfheis, as “the most spectacular free show on the American continent.” These conventions were “the nearest approach to a parliamentary type of government that the American political system allows.”1

Kennedy’s nomination was front-page news across the nation and around the world. The host city Los Angeles Times reported the next morning:

John Fitzgerald Kennedy of Massachusetts, who at 43 knew what he wanted and went after it, last night was acclaimed Democratic candidate for President of the United States. His self-predicted victory was clinched 45 minutes after the first balloting began … Kennedy is the second American of the Roman Catholic religion to win presidential nomination by a majority party, and, if the luck of the Irish that attended him July 13 continues through Nov. 8, he would be the youngest U.S. president ever elected.”2

John F. Kennedy delivers his July 1960 nomination acceptance speech. Watch the 22-minute speech.

A few days later in Ireland, the Sunday Independent published a front page “exclusive” on Kennedy’s reply to its request for a “special statement” about his nomination. Kennedy answered:

I am most grateful for the many messages of goodwill and friendship which I have received from Ireland since my nomination. … I am confident that a Democratic Party victory in November will offer us all an opportunity and occasion to break new ground in our common search for peace. In this effort Ireland will unquestionably play an important role … especially by its unique and influential place in the United Nations. … The association between Ireland and USA is an enduring one. In my own public career I have always been impressed by the many unities which exist between the living tradition of Ireland and the ideal of our own democracy. … I am heartened by the generous hope and high resolves which have been conveyed to me from Ireland.3

Liam Cosgrave, 1974

The Independent also featured a guest column by Liam Cosgrave, TD, who said he first met Kennedy in 1955 in Dublin, and again the following year in Washington, D.C. “He impressed me by his lack of pretense and by his direct approach,” Cosgrave wrote. He continued:

I was much taken by his easy, relaxed manner, which was devoid of showmanship of any kind, and also by his sense of humor, so characteristic of an American with Irish antecedents. … Kennedy is shrewd, capable and determined and has employed all these attributes in his carefully planned and efficiently conducted campaign for nomination. … [He] is a worthy inheritor of a great Catholic tradition brought to America by his Irish ancestors. … His achievements may yet add another page to the glorious history of America and to the distinguished part played in that history by men and women of Irish descent.4

Six years later — three years after Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas — Cosgrave was interviewed in Limerick for a John F. Kennedy Library oral history project. Read the transcript.

Previous posts about JFK:

Ruth Russell remembered in stone … 57 years later

On Oct. 2, 1961, former journalist and retired public school teacher Ruth Russell, “of sound and disposing mind and memory,” signed her Last Will and Testament in Chicago. Her first direction was to be buried in Fayetteville, Arkansas, “next to the grave of my sister, Cecilia Russell.” Her second direction called on the University of Arkansas to use the proceeds of the $10,000, 1960 U.S. Series H Bond she donated to establish a scholarship in Cecilia’s name to help “needy and worthwhile individuals” with the study of French.1

Ruth Russell, 1919 passport photo.

Ruth Russell, who reported from revolutionary Ireland in 1919 for the Chicago Daily News, died two years later, on Nov. 28, 1963, of heart disease.2 She was 74.

Headlines about the assassination and burial of U.S. President John F. Kennedy had dominated the news during the final week of her life. Irish President Éamon de Valera, 81, was among the international mourners who attended Kennedy’s funeral in Washington, D.C. Russell had interviewed de Valera 44 years earlier in Dublin. He provided a supportive letter that was published at the front of her 1920 book, What’s the matter with Ireland? “You succeeded in understanding Irish conditions and grasped the Irish viewpoint,” the revolutionary leader wrote.3

See my five-part monograph, “Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland

Russell’s body was conveyed to Fayetteville, a 650-mile journey mostly likely accomplished by rail. She had moved there in 1954 after retiring from the Chicago public school system to join Cecilia, a romance languages teacher at the University of Arkansas since 1942.4 Ruth remained in Fayetteville after her sister died in October 1959. In August 1963, nearly two years after signing her will, she returned to Chicago and entered the Rosary Hill Convalescent Home, 16 miles southwest of the Hyde Park neighborhood of her childhood.5 She died in the care of Dominican Sisters.

Mourners prayed the rosary for Russell the evening of Dec. 2, 1963, at Moore’s Chapel, Fayetteville; followed the next morning by the funeral Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church.6 Father Edward R. Maloy presided at the burial in the church cemetery on a clear, dry day as temperatures climbed to near 60.7 The priest prayed:

Eternal rest grant unto her, O’ Lord,
And let perpetual light shine upon her.
May her soul, and the soul of all the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen

Fr. Maloy and whatever number of mourners joined him at the graveside turned from the headstone Ruth Russell purchased after her sister’s death: the surname engraved slightly above center; Cecilia’s first name and birth and death years in the bottom left corner. The bottom right space for Ruth’s name and years to be similarly etched remained smooth that day … and for the next 57 years.

Russell grave, March 2019.

Like her sister, Ruth Russell never married or had children. Her will named two nephews, two young heirs of one of her late brothers, and a brother-in-law, as one-fifth beneficiaries to any funds that remained after her estate was settled, excluding the $10,000 bond for the university scholarship. None of these people, or her Fayetteville friends, engaged a monument company to inscribe Ruth’s name on the headstone. Such oversights are not unusual, as I detailed in a 2017 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story, “Life Without an End Date“.

I first learned that Ruth’s name was not on the gravestone through the Findagrave.com website, part of my research of Illinois and Arkansas newspaper obituaries that referenced her life in Chicago and Fayetteville. Paul A. Warren, operations director at St. Joseph’s, confirmed the oversight when he provided the photo above, and a copy of the church’s handwritten burial log that shows Ruth’s internment details.

With Paul’s help, and the excellent work of the Emerson Monument Company, Springdale, Ark., (Thank you Alison and Glenn), Ruth’s name was added to the gravestone in March 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across America. It is a fitting memorial at the 100th anniversary of her reporting from Ireland and activism on behalf of Irish independence. It is a lasting remembrance … at last … like the Cecilia Russell Memorial Scholarship that Ruth endowed and that remains active at the university.

Rest in peace, Ruth.

Russell grave, March 2020.

St. Patrick’s Day primary & JFK in 1960

UPDATE:

Here’s the headline I expected to see: Joe Biden Wins Big in St. Patrick’s Day Democratic Primaries. The former vice-president had convincing victories in Florida, Illinois, and Arizona.

ORIGINAL POST:

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Illinois, Florida, and Arizona will hold Democratic presidential primaries on St. Patrick’s Day, a rare political event now overshadowed by the global health crisis. Ohio, which also had a scheduled March 17 primary, has postponed until June 2.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who frequently boasts of his Irish heritage, is poised to gather more delegates in his march to the nomination. The remainder of the primary schedule, and both party’s national conventions this summer, now seem in jeopardy.

U.S. elections are held on Tuesdays based on 19th century reasoning to avoid the Sunday sabbath and Wednesday agricultural market days. The party primary system was created shortly before World War I. In presidential election years since then, St. Patrick’s Day first fell on a Tuesday in 1936, but there was no primary. Republicans and Democrats took a break between the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary earlier in March, and the Wisconsin primary in April.

The same happened in 1964, the next time St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Tuesday of a presidential election cycle. Four years earlier, Irish-American U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts won the New Hampshire primary on March 8, 1960,  with 85 percent of the vote, the balance split among three fringe or protest candidates. In the Republican primary, then-Vice President Richard Nixon won nearly 90 percent of the vote, with 3 percent writing in Kennedy’s name. The next primary was April 5, 1960, in Wisconsin.

Eight days after Kennedy’s New Hampshire victory, the Associated Press released a St. Patrick’s Day photo of him widely published in U.S. newspapers. JFK was not the first Irish American Catholic to run for the nation’s highest office, (Al Smith, 1928), but he became the first to win.

The first and only previous St. Patrick’s Day presidential primary was in 1992, when Illinois and Michigan each held nominating contests. President George H.W. Bush carried two thirds of the GOP vote in both states over former Nixon speech writer Pat Buchanan. For the Democrats, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton won slim majorities in a crowded field in both contests.

Clinton defeated the incumbent Bush in November 1992. The new president become a great friend of Ireland, contributing to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement during his second term.

Chicago magazine tells the story of the 1970 Illinois primary that forced bars and pubs to close on St. Patrick’s Day because of an early 20th century law–since repealed–designed to keep politicians from buying votes.

Did JFK want to ‘get even’ for Boston’s anti-Irish Catholic bias?

In February 1960, a month after John F. Kennedy announced for the U.S. presidency, a syndicated newspaper columnist suggested the campaign was prompted by his family’s desire to “get even” for decades of prejudice against them.

“Get even … is a hard phrase to explain,” Edwin A. Lahey, chief correspondent for Knight Newspapers, wrote in a dispatch from the campaign trail in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He continued:

But basically it means that any ambitious man from Boston with Irish forebears needs spiritual compensation for the humiliating experiences of his grandparents, who suffered social ostracism and economic discrimination at the hands of the Boston Brahmins.  … Unless you have an Irish Catholic background, and have seen the Boston mind in operation, you cannot understand the full nuances of the phrase which describes a Boston Irishman’s success and distinction as a means of ‘getting even.’

Lahey was no slapdash columnist. In 1939, he joined the inaugural class of the Neiman Fellows at Harvard University. He became Washington bureau chief for the Chicago Daily News, then moved over to a similar post with the Knight chain.1

Lahey based the “get even” notion in his column on a just-published book, The Remarkable Kennedys, by Boston journalist Joe McCarthy. The 190-page work is a profile of the family, especially the candidate and his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., a business tycoon and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom just before World War II. McCarthy wrote:

Where does the Kennedy drive come from? Most probably it stems originally from the chafing, frustrating atmosphere of anti-Irish and anti-Catholic prejudice in Boston fifty years ago that made the young Joe Kennedy determined to push himself and his children to a place at the top of the world where they would not have to take a back seat to anybody.2

McCarthy (1916-1980) was born to 1890s Irish immigrant parents3 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, across the Charles River from Boston, a year before JFK’s birth. After graduating from Boston College, McCarthy began a newspaper reporting and magazine editing career that included producing an overview of Ireland for Time-Life.4 

Book advert in The Boston Globe, Feb. 28, 1960.

A profile of McCarthy based on the release of The Remarkable Kennedys colorfully described him as “a tall, slightly stooped, gray-haired man in his middle 40’s” who “lumbered” across the room and “slowly rummaged through a tiny pile of rumpled newspapers, envelopes and magazines he had stuffed under his weather-beaten trenchcoat thrown carelessly over the back of a chair.”5

In the book, McCarthy quoted Joe Kennedy as saying he moved his young family from Boston proper to suburban Brookline (where JFK was born) and other homes in New York, Cape Cod, and Florida, because “it was no place to bring up Irish Catholic children. I didn’t want them to go through what I had to go through.”6

There are numerous similar passages, such as this one in McCarthy’s voice:

Resentment probably burned hotter in Joe Kennedy than in most of the Boston Irish of his generation because he associated more closely with the Yankee Brahmins than did most Irish of his time. Consequently, he was more exposed to slurs, more aware from first-hand experience of the cool condescension with which Beacon Hill looked down on people of his religion and racial background.7

The Kennedy family’s Irish-Catholic heritage and their national ambitions were well documented before 1960, including beyond Boston and Massachusetts political circles. But JFK’s run for the White House and the political journalism of Lahey and McCarthy magnified the anti-Irish Catholic narrative.

The Lahey column swept across the country: The Miami Herald, Feb. 12; The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, Feb. 18; Detroit Free Press, Feb. 18; Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller-Times, Feb. 19; The Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal, Feb. 19; Press and Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, N.Y.), Feb. 21; Oakland (California) Tribune, Feb. 24; The Herald-News (Passaic, N.J.), Feb. 25; and likely many others that did not appear in my searches of digital newspaper archives. McCarthy’s book was serialized in many newspapers later that autumn, publishing just before Election Day.

In a book review, The New York Times also noted that “Kennedy, père, second generation descendant of Irish Catholic immigrants, suffered all the slights and indignities Brahmin Boston could contrive for its despised minorities in the decades around the turn of the [20th] century.”8

Kennedy’s Catholicism remained a larger campaign issue than his Irish roots, since prejudice against the religion was hardly confined to Boston’s elites. In November, “Kennedy’s victory not only broke through the age-old American bigotry against Catholics, but it also overcame the prejudice against the Irish.”9

Sixty years later, what is probably most remembered from McCarthy’s book is the prophetic quote that he obtained from JFK: “Just as I went into politics because [older brother] Joe died, if anything happened to me tomorrow, my brother Bobby would run for my seat in the Senate. And if Bobby died, Teddy would take over for him.”10

Previous posts on JFK:

New year, election year(s): 20-60-20

Happy New Year! In 2020, I’ll continue to build on my American Reporting of Irish Independence centenary series, which focuses on how key people and events in the Irish revolutionary period were covered by U.S. mainstream papers and the Irish-American press. This year’s work will include the 1920 Irish bond drive in America, creation of the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, and escalating violence in Ireland. (See the 1920 Chicago Daily News movie poster below.)

“The year 1920 may see the Republic of Ireland officially recognized by the United States, and then final victory after 750 years,” Éamon de Valera said in a new year’s telegram message to the people of Ireland from New York City.1 He remained in America until December 1920.

This year also sets up well to explore historic and contemporary electoral politics on both sides of the Atlantic, as expressed in the numbers: 20-60-20, meaning:

  • 1920: In the first U.S. presidential election after the Great War, de Valera tried to influence the Democratic and Republican party conventions. U.S. Republican Warren G. Harding campaigned on a “return to normalcy”; that is, recapturing way of life before Word War I and the administration of the outgoing Woodrow Wilson, widely detested by Irish American voters for his deference to Britain. How did coverage of the war in Ireland and the Irish in America impact the U.S. election 100 years ago?
  • 1960: This is the 60th anniversary of the 1960 U.S. presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy, the second Irish-American-Catholic nominated by a major party. (Al Smith was first in 1928.) JFK’s victory was an historic and symbolic moment for Irish influence in American politics. Read his Jan. 2, 1960, campaign announcement speech.
  • 2020: By coincidence, there are also national elections this year in Ireland and America, as Leo Varadkar and Donald Trump seek re-election. We’re sure to hear about a “return to normalcy” in the latter race; and Ireland’s preparations for the “new normal” of the post-Brexit border in the former contest. What role will the Irish in America, or Americans in Ireland, have in each of these elections?

As always, I welcome reader comments, suggestions, and offers for guest posts about Irish history and contemporary issues. Best wishes for 2020.

December 1920 newspaper advert for the “motion picture scoop” Ireland in Revolt.

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 the letter “I” for Ireland, Irish, and IRA.

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 turmoil. 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 opposite order.

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold,” was the headline of Kennedy’s 10 February 1968 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.