Category Archives: Irish American

Where were you when President Kennedy was shot?

November 22 1963 was just another day – except that it was  a Friday. Friday was a  special day in our school. It was bath night and the following day being Saturday, there would be only a half day of classes, and we would have Tuckshop. With 11 weeks of the term already passed, we would  get home in another 4 weeks, so life was GOOD. Such were the thoughts of  a 15-year-old boarder in the St Louis Convent,Dún Lughaidh, Dundalk, Co Louth, Ireland on that day.

Three years earlier in November 1960, I had sat up all night with my father watching the results of the American Presidential Election. In a Donegal village, we sat into the small hours in front of our small black and white television watching what has turned out to be one of the most famous American election nights in history. It was the first presidential election in which Alaska and Hawaii  would participate, having become the 49th and 50th states the previous year. More importantly from our perspective, thousands of miles to the east of the USA, we were wondering if the charismatic, young , handsome Irish catholic could possibly be elected to the most powerful office in the world. It was riveting viewing with Kennedy’s initial commanding lead being hoovered up by Nixon as the hours passed. I will always remember that moment in the small hours when ‘Kennedy Wins’ came up  on the screen and my Dad’s total delight at the outcome. ‘ I don’t believe it ‘  I don’t believe it’  he exclaimed!  When he got over the initial excitement and disbelief, he explained to me how significant an event this was  – to have a Roman Catholic man, a man of Irish descent – elected to such high office was a great triumph for Catholics and for Ireland. That Kennedy’s paternal great grandfather had left Wexford in famine times and his maternal great grandfather had left Limerick in the 1850s, made the success even more significant. The Irish had ‘arrived’ and the sense of pride was palpable.

Jfk_inauguration

Inauguration of President John F Kennedy, January 1961. Image Wikimedia Commons

A few years later, in June 1963 President John F Kennedy made the first visit of an American President to Ireland. Thousands flocked to see him and his every move was televised (apparently at his own request, as later transpired).  His young age and his good looks made him an instant ‘pop star’ in Ireland where our own President was in his 80s and speaking of ‘maidens dancing at the crossroads’. This was the first time that many of us had actually heard and realized that an Irish person could be proud of their deprived origins and could succeed. As a consequence,and astonishing as this may seem nowadays, pictures of the revered  and very handsome President  John Fitzgerald Kennedy, sometimes with his wife Jacqueline, were placed on walls in Irish homes alongside religious pictures of The Sacred Heart or of  a favoured Pope.

The Snug, Bradley’s, Barrack Street, Cork. Image courtesy Brian Mac Domhnaill

In this image,  two  pictures  of  John F Kennedy hang on the walls of  The Snug in Bradley’s Bar, Barrack Street Cork. The ‘snug’ as seen here was once the living room of the Bradley home and has remained unchanged despite the change of use. There was once a Sacred Heart picture in this room but that was removed when it became a pub.

Frank O'Donoghues House (5)Another image from Brian MacDomhnaill, whose interest in photographing abandoned houses led to the discovery of this picture of the Kennedy ‘s in an abandoned house in County Carlow. Interestingly, the photograph was taken in the deserted home of a  catholic priest.

Five months after the momentous and triumphant visit to Ireland,on that November Friday, we boarders in Dundalk were enjoying our 7 pm supper. Supper was generally considered the most enjoyable meal of the day in our convent school, where we seemed to be in an almost permanent state of hunger. We probably had  a bowl of baked beans and lots of bread and not so much butter, but the beauty of beans lay in the fact that butter was not required. After supper, we followed our daily routine of filing out of the refectory in total silence and making our way to the convent chapel for rosary. Along the ‘route’ prefects stood to ensure that silence was maintained, with the head girl standing by the window at the entrance to the chapel. As I approached the chapel door, Hanna, the head girl, beckoned me over and whispered to me that President Kennedy had been shot. I was reeling and in disbelief as we filed into our chapel seats but thought it was probably not serious.

At the beginning of prayers, it was announced that President Kennedy had in fact been shot dead. Not only that, but the nun said the consequences were potentially catastrophic with the almost total certainty of World War 3. The inference was that President Kennedy was martyred because he was a Roman Catholic and who but Communists would do such a thing. This, we were told, meant that our brothers and male relations would be called upon to fight the Russians, Catholics against Communists.  The Bay of Pigs missile crisis was still fresh in memory and the Communist threat was never far from our thoughts – didn’t we pray several times a day for the ‘conversion of Russia’?

Our school had 90 boarders aged between 12 and 18 – all of us many miles from home, with the only communication being by letter and a weekly telephone call on the one telephone in the school – a treat for those whose family were fortunate enough to have a telephone at home- many did not. As the Rosary began, someone started to cry. Very quickly,another began sobbing and in a matter of minutes total hysteria had gripped the assembled throng. This was undoubtedly brought about by the shock of the terrible news, but in no small measure by the announcement that  we were at war and all our male relatives – fathers, brothers, uncles, would have to stand up and fight and in all probability be killed. I can still hear the shrieks of one or two girls who were totally traumatized, as we were urged to pray and pray and pray.

My memory of that fateful day is frozen in time in that chapel and it did take several days for us to be reassured that all was well  and that perhaps our male family members were safe. Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested shortly after the shooting and he himself was shot dead on Sunday November 24.  On the following Monday afternoon we  got to watch the funeral on the school black and white television.  Images that stand out from the event are of the elegant veiled figure of Mrs Kennedy, her two small children the other Kennedy brothers, and the black riderless horse , with boots reversed, signifying the fallen leader.

300px-JFK's_family_leaves_Capitol_after_his_funeral,_1963

President Kennedy’s Family. Image Wikimedia Commons

JFKRiderless Horse

The Riderless Horse Image Wikimedia Commons

 A Guard of Honour of Irish Cadets was in attendance from Ireland at the request of Mrs Kennedy.

Irish Cadets

Irish Cadets form a Guard of Honour at the graveside. Image Irish Examiner

Many years later I stood at the simple grave of President John F Kennedy at Arlington Cemetery, overlooking the vista of  Washington D.C.  A simple Eternal Flame burns at his final resting place as a lasting memorial.

jfk_grave

By this time  however questions were being posed about the nature of his Presidential Campaign and his personal behaviour Although  his personality has been diminished and his image no longer graces the walls of Irish homes, the myth lives on, frozen in time by an assassins bullet on that Friday, a half  a century ago in November 1963.

Do you remember where you were when you heard that news?

I am very grateful to Brian Mac Domhnaill for sending me his photographs of  the pictures of the Kennedys that hung in Irish homes.

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Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Ireland, Irish American, Irish Diaspora, Irish History, Irish Traditions, Life in the 1960s, My Oral History, Significant World Events

Postcards from Moneygall, Ancestral Home of Barack Obama

Barack Obama, President of the United States of America and his wife Michelle,  visited the village of Moneygall, Co. Offaly on a wild, windy day, 23 May 2011, retracing the steps of a relative from 6 generations before him, Fulmouth Kearney, a maternal g.g.g.grandfather, who left this tiny village in 1850 and  headed to U.S.A. Fulmouth Kearney’s father was a shoemaker in the area.  The small house is on the site where his relatives once lived. The President and Mrs  Obama sipped Guinness in Ollie Hayes Pub. I just love the image on the wall by the door of the pub (it’s not really George Bush standing there !)

Moneygall is a pretty little village carefully looked after by the residents – every house had window boxes and flowers in full bloom when I passed through  on Sunday on  my last stop for ‘Heritage Week. A few short years ago, thousands of vehicles passed through this  little village every day as it is situated on the busy main Limerick to Dublin road.  The village is now bypassed,allowing the villagers to reclaim their special place. Here you can stop and relax and enjoy a cup of coffee and catch up on the link with Barack Obama.  Papillion, the winner of the Aintree Grand National in 2000, was bred in this area, and was the most famous Moneygall personality before Barack Obama!

When Obama addressed the crowds in Dublin earlier in the visit,he used the Irish translation from his famous ‘Yes, we can! , which translates to ‘Is feidir linn’.  This can be seen on the  flower tubs in the village.   Well done, Moneygall!  Is feidir linn!

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Filed under Ancestry, Emigration from Ireland, Family History, Genealogy, Irish American, Irish Diaspora, Irish Heritage, Irish History, Irish_American

Heritage Week: Dear Father and Mother

There are so many aspects of Heritage to celebrate in Ireland during this Heritage Week August 17th to 25th. So, where to begin? We are surrounded by heritage in the form of ancient  buildings, historic sites, splendid gardens, magnificent scenery, an extraordinary literary and musical tradition, fascinating museums and monuments that commemorate major events in our history. All of these can be experienced, commemorated, celebrated  here in hundreds of locations throughout the country.

There is another part of our legacy, less obvious, less visible,  and most certainly less well-known than it deserves to be, and which may well be overlooked during this week of celebration of  the richness and diversity of our culture and inheritance. It is because the greatest memory and the main monuments are not in our country at all,but  thousands of miles offshore, and far removed from our consciousness. Emigration has been a fact of  Irish life  in one form or another  through the ages. Of the millions who have left these shores – many in tragic circumstances, many not – most have gone on to live relatively ordinary lives in their new countries. There is a substantial number however, who went on to lead extraordinary lives  by being significant participants in both sides of the conflict that shaped the ‘greatest nation on earth’ – America. During the American Civil War  170,000 of our  Irish-born  emigrants played a major role in this conflict – they suffered and they died in their tens of thousands. Their sacrifice goes largely unrecognised  in the country of their birth, and they certainly do not spring to mind in Heritage Week.

Clogheen, Co Tipperary. It was from countryside near here that William left home  for a new life in America. Image Wikimedia Commons

Clogheen, Co Tipperary. It was from countryside near here that William left home for a new life in America. Image Wikimedia Commons

This week when thinking about Heritage Week and how to mark it, I read an amazing story of an ordinary young  boy who left family and Ireland for America at 16 years of age.  Ed O’Riordan, a Tipperary Historian and Damian Shiels, author of Irish in the American Civil War have collaborated to bring the story of  a young emigrant William Hickey, to a wider audience, through a series of very moving letters that William wrote to his parents in Tipperary.  Imagine the feelings of the parents on seeing an envelope from America! William Hickey’s short life  in a foreign land  is very much a part of our legacy and this is an appropriate week  to acknowledge his life and the sacrifice of so many men, women and children who were born here and who changed the shape of the world often at a shocking  cost to themselves and their families. They surely are our ‘hidden heritage’.

A number of enthusiasts have set up a group to further the cause of  having a permanent memorial to these Irish emigrant. They hope too to develop  a tourist trail in Ireland of interest especially to overseas visitors, most especially those from USA who know more about these Irishmen that we do at home. To quote from their site, as President John F Kennedy said   ‘A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honours, the men it remembers’. In this Heritage Week, we remember them.

The full text of the very moving story of  William Hickey, who at age 16 emigrated to America from his Tipperary home, can be seen here. The post includes a number of  letters from William to his parents. A few short years after he emigrated he lay dead in a field at Shiloh in Tennessee.

More information on the Irish American Civil War Trail can be seen here.

With thanks to The Irish in the American Civil War blog which can be accessed here.

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Filed under American Civil War, Emigration from Ireland, Family History, Genealogy, Ireland, Irish American, Irish Culture, Irish Diaspora, Irish Heritage, Irish History

Irish Examiner Feature: Remembering the Irish Lost at Gettysburg

A voice for the Irish Diaspora , many of whom fled the suffering and dying in Famine ravaged Ireland only to find themselves suffering and dying in their adopted land. These emigrants  helped forge one of the most influential countries on earth.

The newspaper article can be read here

 

 

Irish in the American Civil War

As many regular readers of the site will know I have been campaigning for some time (along with colleagues) to see greater recognition in Ireland of the cost of the American Civil War to the Irish community. It was the second biggest conflict in terms of numbers in which Irishmen served in uniform, yet we have no memorial. Despite repeated efforts the State has failed to take any steps to acknowledge the 150th anniversary of this important event in Irish history. As I have said before, I find the official apathy with which we seem to regard the Irish role in this conflict at odds with the consistent promotion of ‘The Gathering‘, aimed at welcoming the diaspora home to Ireland. I strongly believe that more than simply inviting the diaspora home we have an obligation to embrace our diaspora’s history and acknowledge that it is a central part…

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Filed under American Civil War, Emigration from Ireland, Irish American, Irish Diaspora, Irish History, Irish_American, Social History Ireland

April 11 1912,Titanic sails from Ireland

On the afternoon of April 11 1912, the Titanic picks up her last 123 passengers at Queenstown County Cork, Ireland. Joining the 2,105 already on board are 113 who will travel in 3rd class, 7 for 2nd class, and 3 as 1st class passengers.

Addergoole 14

Waiting on the Queenstown quayside to join the RMS Titanic
Published with permission of artist.

For some on board, this was a great adventure, crossing the Atlantic on board a luxurious new ship. Many may have been excited by the prospect of a new life in the New World, while many more would be feeling great sorrow at leaving loved ones behind, not knowing when or where they will meet again.

Titanic last

The last known image of Titanic as she departs Queenstown.Image Wiki.Commons

And so the RMS Titanic steams out of Cork Harbour for a meeting with destiny no one on board could envisage.

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Filed under Emigrants from other countries, Emigration from Ireland, Ireland, Irish American, Irish Diaspora, Irish Heritage, Irish History, Mayo Emigrants, Titanic

Stamp Your Mark on Irish Commemoration of the American Civil War

As events commemorating the  150th Anniversary of the American Civil War continue  into 2015, there is still an opportunity for Ireland to recognize the enormous contribution of tens of thousands of Irishmen who gave their lives, limbs  hearts and minds in this conflict. A commemorative stamp would be a fitting tribute and as An Post are looking for suggestions for a commemorative issue, would you like to make this suggestion by filling in their form here ? It will only take a few minutes!

Read more on this in the repressed item from Irish in the  American Civil War blog

Stamp Your Mark on Irish Commemoration of the American Civil War.

 

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January 27, 2013 · 9:35 pm

Oh! Fr Hegarty there IS a Santa Claus…

he Irish Times today reports as follows:

Children at a north Kerry school who became upset after a visiting priest implied there was no Santa Claus have been reassured by parents and staff that the priest was mistaken, and Santa does indeed exist.

The priest who made the blunder while visiting the Scoil Mhuire gan Smal in Lixnaw last week believed he was speaking to mainly sixth class pupils.

Fr Martin Hegarty, a retired priest who was filling in for the parish priest, was visiting the school to explain the message of Christmas.

During an exchange with children in the 4th, 5th and 6th classes, Fr Hegarty implied Santa Claus did not exist. A number of children got upset and at least one 11-year-old child began crying.

A meeting of the board of management was called to discuss the matter.

Fr Hegarty, who is understood to be deeply embarrassed, told the Kerry’s Eye newspaper on Wednesday he did not realise the children were upset .

He also remarked to the newspaper that Irish children got more presents than other nationalities at Christmas time. “So they needn’t worry, the presents will come, whether Santy comes or not,” the priest said.

In a statement last night through the diocese of Kerry Fr Hegarty said the following:

“I regret any upset that I have caused to children and parents of Scoil Mhuire gan Smál. My intention was to talk about the birth of Jesus and the true meaning of Christmas. I must admit that Santa Claus is not my area of expertise.”

Some parents told their children “the priest was making it all up,” according to one parent who did not wish to be named.

santaSo, Santa Claus is not his area of expertise and it was a genuine mistake? BUT, Fr Hegarty, not only does Santa exist, he  epitomizes the very message of Christmas that you were trying to convey!

The most reprinted newspaper editorial of all time was on this very topic : Published in the The New York Sun in 1897, it was the response to the  question  Does Santa Exist? and was the work of  Francis  Pharcellus Church.

An 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon, whose family read and set great store by the New York Sun newspaper, wrote to ask this question in September 1897.  She wrote:

Dear Editor

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O’Hanlon

Virginia

This is Virginia O’Hanlon who posed the challenging question (Image Wikipedia Commons)

Francis Church a journalist,  was asked to reply and his response has appeared in many publications, in films, on stamps, on posters in about a dozen languages  for over a century.

His response was :

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Francis Pharcellus Church

Francis (1839 – 1906) whose words of wisdom have persevered for over a century.

The editorial was something of a sensation  and the New York Sun reprinted it every year for over 50 years until the newspaper closed down in 1949.

The article as it appeared in The New York Sun

The original article in the New York Sun

Fr Martin Hegarty will I am sure get inspiration from the story of Virginia and the wonderful response from Francis, a very devout Christian who gave Virginia  hope,  protection, reassurance and magic!

May the magic of Christmas never cease to captivate children of all ages everywhere for centuries to come!

References:

The Irish Times http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/breaking/2012/1213/breaking48.html

Newseuem.org

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Irish American, Irish Traditions, Oral History