Wednesday 22 October 2014

Immersed in the past but looking forward: young and hopeful Kennedys steal limelight

Published 24/06/2013 | 05:00

Caroline Kennedy pictured at celebrations in New Ross as part of the JFK 50th anniversary events
Jack Kennedy, with his siters, Tatiana, left, and Rose
Taoiseach Enda Kenny (right) hands Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin a giant pair of scissors before the opening of a new visitors centre at the Kennedy family homestead in Dunganstown, Co Wexford

JACK Schlossberg was a little nervous as he began his speech. And who could blame him, for this is a young man who has grown up with a heavy hand of history ever-present on his shoulder.

He was standing on the same spot where 50 years ago, his grandfather addressed a crowd who had flocked to New Ross to feast their eyes on a barely believable sight, an Irish-American US president, returned to reclaim his roots.

He had been introduced by his mother, Caroline, and began speaking of the entwined histories of Ireland and America.

But then, at the close of a day which had immersed itself in the past, Jack found fluency in speaking of his own generation. "When global warming or national debt or changing world order seem all too daunting, I remember the realities of starvation, oppression and persecution that those who left Ireland and other distant ports for America faced. And I remember that. I am here today because they succeeded against all odds," he said.

And then the words of JFK echoed down through the years as his grandson continued. "If we can learn this basic lesson from Ireland's history and recognise that in the words of President Kennedy, 'in the final analysis our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet, we all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children's future, and we are all mortal,' I believe the glow from this fire, this flame, can truly light the world."

There were two torches handed over and ignited on the quayside in New Ross on Saturday night. One contained the ceremonial Eternal Flame, taken from the graveside of John F Kennedy in Washington DC and reborn this side of the Atlantic as the Emigrant Flame.

The other torch was a ghostly one – the young generation sparking to life as the older heads pass quietly from the spotlight.

As well as the original Kennedy Homestead, now in situ is a brand new and very impressive visitors centre and Kennedy exhibition, packed with memorabilia and poignant photos of JFK's broad, handsome face wreathed in smiles, surrounded by his newfound kin.

This time around, JFK was represented by several generations of his sprawling clan, from his sister, former US ambassador to Ireland, Jean Kennedy-Smith, to his only surviving child, Caroline Kennedy, plus nieces, nephews and grandchildren.

Inside the Homestead grounds, a meticulously planned series of ceremonies unfolded. The Kennedy clan arrived, closely followed by the Taoiseach. There were speeches – a short one from Caroline Kennedy. There was a long speech from Enda (it's an undeniable fact that any Irish politician who gives a speech within earshot of a Kennedy feels obliged to turn up the rhetoric dial to 11).

"Your presence here proves the love, the respect, your family has for our people and our country."

The event ended with a tea party in the yard, echoing the cheerfully chaotic scene in the same spot five decades ago.

And here too, the younger Kennedys were centre-stage. Two of Bobby Kennedy's grandsons, 21-year-old Chris Kennedy Jnr and his cousin 19-year-old Max Kennedy Jnr, delivered a joint speech.

Chris explained how he and Max had come up with three main objectives for their trip to Ireland. "The first was to drink a real Irish drink in a real Irish pub; the second was that we wanted to give a speech, and the third was we wanted to get to know, to really know, an Irish girl," he explained.

He said they had achieved the first two, "but we still need help with the third," he admitted with a wide grin, as laughter rose to the tree-tops.

And overhead the leaves rustled. It was probably a passing breeze. Or maybe it was the wind of change. Or simply a contented sigh from brothers Jack and Bobby, torch passed safely onwards.

Irish Independent

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