John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, was assassinated 56 years ago today while travelling through Dallas, Texas, in an open-top convertible on the 22nd November 1963.
Nowhere was the sense of shock at his assassination felt more deeply than in Ireland. John Fitzgerald Kennedy, America’s first Irish-Catholic president, was a son of two families whose roots stretched back to Ireland. I still remember to this day the headmaster in our primary school in Dublin coming into the class to tell us the news. Even as a child we realised the world could never be the same again.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy relished his Irish heritage. During President Kennedy’s historic visit to Ireland in June 1963, he remarked to the people of New Ross, Ireland:
“When my great grandfather left here to become a cooper in East Boston, he carried nothing with him except two things: a strong religious faith and a strong desire for liberty. I am glad to say that all of his great-grandchildren have valued that inheritance.”
JFK’s name incorporated the two notable Irish Families – the FitzGeralds and the KEnnedy’s he was descended from. The Fitzgerald family was from the rural County Limerick village of Bruff in western Ireland. Between 1846 and 1855, some of the Fitzgeralds migrated to America to escape the devastating potato famine. Thomas Fitzgerald, born in Bruff in 1823, and Rose Anna Cox, born in County Cavan in 1835, were the parents of John Francis Fitzgerald, who was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on February 11, 1863.
The Fitzgeralds and Kennedys lived and worked in Boston, seeking to take advantage of the economic opportunity offered in America. But first, they had to overcome the harsh, widespread discrimination against Irish-Catholic immigrants at that time. The early Kennedys and Fitzgeralds worked as peddlers, coopers and common laborers; later they became clerks, tavern owners and retailers. By the end of the century, Patrick “PJ” Kennedy and John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, the president’s maternal grandfather, had become successful Boston politicians. Honey Fitz served twice as mayor of Boston and as a member of the US Congress.
On September 18, 1889, John Francis “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald married Mary Josephine Hannon of Acton, Massachusetts. She was the daughter of Michael Hannon and Mary Ann Fitzgerald, both born in Ireland. Their daughter, Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald, was born on July 22, 1890 in Boston. She was John F. Kennedy’s mother.
#OTD in 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Like all Navy veterans, #JFK was extremely proud of his service. He famously commanded PT 109 during WWII and was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroics in the rescue of the crew. #JFKAssassination pic.twitter.com/oiE09nbnEa
— U.S. Naval Institute (@NavalInstitute) November 22, 2019
During the same period that the Fitzgeralds migrated to America, Patrick Kennedy, a cooper, left his ancestral home in Dunganstown, County Wexford, and sailed for the United States. In 1849, he married Bridget Murphy, who was born about 1827 in Owenduff, County Wexford. Nine years later she was a widow with four small children, the youngest of whom, Patrick Joseph Kennedy, would become John F. Kennedy’s grandfather. In November 1887, Patrick Joseph “P.J.” Kennedy married Mary Augusta Hickey, daughter of James Hickey of Clonakilty, Co. Cork, Ireland, and Margaret M. Field, also of Ireland. Their son, Joseph Patrick Kennedy, was born on September 6, 1888 in East Boston. He was John F. Kennedy’s father.
For Irish people, Kennedy was a hero, an idol; he embodied the ultimate Irish success story – Famine emigrant to the most powerful man in the world, all in just three generations. John F Kennedy changed the face of emigration in Ireland, he changed how Irish people perceived themselves and his homecoming gave each and everyone a renewed sense of hope for the future. Kennedy himself referred to his Irish visit as “the best four days of my life”.
Remembering #JFK in New Ross today @IrelandXO @IrelandBoston @irishamerica @JFK_SS @DanMulhall @USAmbIreland @AileenDowling @LarryPDonnelly #heritage #emigrants #history @DunbrodyShip @theskibeagle @wexfordcoco pic.twitter.com/BmLgXnKlT0
— NewRossStreetFocus (@newrossstreetf1) November 22, 2019
First lady Jacqueline Kennedy rarely accompanied her husband on political outings, but she was beside him, along with Texas Governor John Connally and his wife, for a 10-mile motorcade through the streets of downtown Dallas on November 22. Sitting in a Lincoln convertible, the Kennedys and Connallys waved at the large and enthusiastic crowds gathered along the parade route. As their vehicle passed the Texas School Book Depository Building at 12:30 p.m., Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly fired three shots from the sixth floor, fatally wounding President Kennedy and seriously injuring Governor Connally. Kennedy was pronounced dead 30 minutes later at Dallas’ Parkland Hospital. He was 46.
— Rich Visotcky (@RichVisotcky) November 22, 2019
Vice President Lyndon Johnson, who was three cars behind President Kennedy in the motorcade, was sworn in as the 36th president of the United States at 2:39 p.m. He took the presidential oath of office aboard Air Force One as it sat on the runway at Dallas Love Field airport. The swearing in was witnessed by some 30 people, including Jacqueline Kennedy, who was still wearing clothes stained with her husband’s blood. Seven minutes later, the presidential jet took off for Washington.
The next day, November 23, President Johnson issued his first proclamation, declaring November 25 to be a day of national mourning for the slain president. On that Monday, hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets of Washington to watch a horse-drawn caisson bear Kennedy’s body from the Capitol Rotunda to St. Matthew’s Catholic Cathedral for a requiem Mass. The solemn procession then continued on to Arlington National Cemetery, where leaders of 99 nations gathered for the state funeral. Kennedy was buried with full military honours on a slope below Arlington House, where an eternal flame was lit by his widow to forever mark the grave.
Lee Harvey Oswald, born in New Orleans in 1939, joined the U.S. Marines in 1956. He was discharged in 1959 and nine days later left for the Soviet Union, where he tried unsuccessfully to become a citizen. He worked in Minsk and married a Soviet woman and in 1962 was allowed to return to the United States with his wife and infant daughter. In early 1963, he bought a .38 revolver and rifle with a telescopic sight by mail order, and on April 10 in Dallas he allegedly shot at and missed former U.S. Army general Edwin Walker, a figure known for his extreme right-wing views. Later that month, Oswald went to New Orleans and founded a branch of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, a pro-Castro organization. In September 1963, he went to Mexico City, where investigators allege that he attempted to secure a visa to travel to Cuba or return to the USSR. In October, he returned to Dallas and took a job at the Texas School Book Depository Building.
Less than an hour after Kennedy was shot, Oswald killed a policeman who questioned him on the street near his rooming house in Dallas. Thirty minutes later, Oswald was arrested in a movie theatre by police responding to reports of a suspect. He was formally arraigned on November 23 for the murders of President Kennedy and Officer J.D. Tippit.
On November 24, Oswald was brought to the basement of the Dallas police headquarters on his way to a more secure county jail. A crowd of police and press with live television cameras rolling gathered to witness his departure. As Oswald came into the room, Jack Ruby emerged from the crowd and fatally wounded him with a single shot from a concealed .38 revolver. Ruby, who was immediately detained, claimed that rage at Kennedy’s murder was the motive for his action. Some called him a hero, but he was nonetheless charged with first-degree murder.
Jack Ruby, originally known as Jacob Rubenstein, operated strip joints and dance halls in Dallas and had minor connections to organized crime. He features prominently in Kennedy-assassination theories, and many believe he killed Oswald to keep him from revealing a larger conspiracy. In his trial, Ruby denied the allegation and pleaded innocent on the grounds that his great grief over Kennedy’s murder had caused him to suffer “psychomotor epilepsy” and shoot Oswald unconsciously. The jury found Ruby guilty of “murder with malice” and sentenced him to die.
In October 1966, the Texas Court of Appeals reversed the decision on the grounds of improper admission of testimony and the fact that Ruby could not have received a fair trial in Dallas at the time. In January 1967, while awaiting a new trial, to be held in Wichita Falls, Ruby died of lung cancer in a Dallas hospital.
Democrats have been trying to address healthcare for decades. It is good to listen to JFK talk about it from way back in the 60s & see that he was faced w the same tired & nonsensical arguments we still face today. #FridayFeeling pic.twitter.com/2Vqe58CiyH
— Khary Penebaker, Fx (@kharyp) November 22, 2019
The official Warren Commission report of 1964 concluded that neither Oswald nor Ruby were part of a larger conspiracy, either domestic or international, to assassinate President Kennedy. Despite its seemingly firm conclusions, the report failed to silence conspiracy theories surrounding the event, and in 1978 the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded in a preliminary report that Kennedy was “probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy” that may have involved multiple shooters and organized crime. The committee’s findings, as with those of the Warren Commission, continue to be widely disputed.
Many years later in 1982 I was in Dallas, Texas and I could not be there and not go to Dealey Plaza and the Dallas Book Depository to pay my respects to this famous Irish-American who had been such an important part of my subconscious as a child. I found it a strange experience. Then it was just a traffic interchange with nothing to particularly mark what had happened there. Indeed at the top of the slip road were still the corrugated iron fence with a scrap yard behind as seen in the pictures of the assassination. I gather this has now changed and there is a museum in the Book Depository. Going to the Kennedy Memorial in the centre of Dallas it struck me as a curious memorial, concrete uprights and in the centre a black marble plinth which looked like it was awaiting a statue which never arrived. It was clear after all these years Dallas, Texas still did not think a great deal of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
Better to seek his memory in the places where he was truly loved. In the great city of Boston, Massachusetts, which he represented in the US Senate and where the locals joke there are only two political issues “Ireland must be united and Trieste is Italian.” And in Ireland who took this scion of famine emigrants to its heart and still feels a sense of loss that he was taken so violently at the age of 46 when he had much to achieve.
His memory and archives are kept alive at the JFK Library in Boston, Massachusetts
and in Ireland at the Kennedy Homestead Museum and the JFK Park and Arboretum outside New Ross, Co. Wexford.
President Kennedy relished his Irish heritage, and during his historic visit to Ireland remarked to the people of Limerick, “This is not the land of my birth but it is the land for which I hold the greatest affection.”
“It is that quality of the Irish–that remarkable combination of hope, confidence and imagination–that is needed more than ever today. The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by sceptics or cynics, whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were, and ask why not. It matters not how small a nation is that seeks world peace and freedom, for, to paraphrase a citizen of my country, ‘the humblest nation of all the world, when clad in the armour of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of Error.'”
– President Kennedy’s address to the Irish Parliament June 1963.
John Fitzgerald “Jack” Kennedy – Naval Officer, Author, Congressman, Senator, 35th President of the United States (May 29, 1917, Brookline, Massachusetts, – November 22, 1963, Dallas, Texas)
JFK’s famous inaugural address still has the power to inspire, as it has inspired other American Democratic politicians from Clinton to Obama who were inspired to follow in his footsteps and it still resonates in this uncertain and dangerous world.