You can’t grow up in the southeast of Ireland without knowing about the Kennedys from County Wexford. I was four years old and standing on a rocking chair in the corner of our living room in rural County Wexford the day they shot John F Kennedy. It’s among my earliest memories and it still feels personal. Although I had never set foot outside the Emerald Isle, Americans were familiar to my four-year old self. My granny’s two sisters – elderly, unmarried, rather well-off and decidedly exotic – lived with my granny, my parents, my siblings and myself. Having spent their working lives in New York and Boston, they had returned to see out their days back in the land of their birth. Through them, Manhattan and Quincy Market were as real to me as Dublin; the Empire State Building and Sachs on Fifth Avenue no more nor less exotic than Murphy Flood’s hotel in Enniscorthy.
My four year old head carried a lot of information about Americans – at least the kind that were part of our family and, of course, the Kennedys from County Wexford. Our American family travelled a lot – especially in the summer and at Christmas – they all knew my granny, and, for them, our house was ‘home’. They turned up – often without warning – usually in huge hired cars and they stayed for weeks at a time. Amazingly, from the perspective of these more regulated times, if it was term-time the children would go to school with us. Families arrived in hired cars, bearing fantastic gifts like Cindy dolls, Caspar the Friendly Ghost comic books, and jumping jacks. They brought with them the promise of picnics and days out. Glendalough, home of St Kevin, was a favourite destination. We would pile into the hired car and head for this famous historic site to see the round tower, Celtic high crosses, to walk through fantastic woodland (that later featured in Mel Gibson’s Braveheart) and wander amongst the ancient graves. As a Protestant child, for years the only place I’d ever seen Catholic graves – identifiably different from ‘ours’ by the RIP on the headstones – was at Glendalough.
More recently another Catholic grave has been on my mind – that of Senator Edward Kennedy whose recent passing marks the end of an era in Irish-American history. For a brief moment in time this autumn, Ted Kennedy’s memory provided a poignant link with a more innocent, happier Ireland when expectations were lower and the quality of life and lore was at its prime.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dilis.