Tuesday 16 January 2018

A Kennedy speaks

Joe Kennedy III: the Massachusetts Congressman is the only member of the family currently holding elected office
Joe Kennedy III: the Massachusetts Congressman is the only member of the family currently holding elected office
Mark Keenan

Mark Keenan

Joe Kennedy III: the Massachusetts Congressman is the only member of the family currently holding elected office.

Taking up public office for the first time this year at age 32, Joe Kennedy III carries the Kennedy family torch in politics as the only member of his family elected in America today. The son of Joe Kennedy and the grandson of Robert F Kennedy, he was elected late last year, to the 4th Massachusetts District as Congressman with 61pc of the vote.

Previously he was an assistant district attorney, and he has worked extensively in the international Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic. Here he talks to Mark Keenan about his grand-uncle's landmark visit to Ireland 50 years ago, its resonance with the Kennedy family today and his own political aspirations.

Are you the only Kennedy with red hair, it's a particularly Irish characteristic as you probably know?

Actually, cousin Patrick has red hair too. Yes, I've also been blessed with that particular type of paler complexion and freckles too. It used to get me nicknames when I was younger, all the usual stuff. Not so much lately (laughs).

So are you coming over for the 50th JFK Visit Commemoration?

Well, I really would have loved to get over there this summer. But having been elected, you can understand that I've got an intensive day-to-day congressional calendar which has filled up pretty quick and a list of obligations to keep, as well as some long-promised personal appointments which I can't change. So, sadly I won't make it. I am trying to get back again in the autumn with my wife. She's been to Ireland a couple of times and she uses just about any excuse to get over there.

I know a lot of the family are going to the commemoration. When they heard there was a plane going over for the event they were all jumping to get on it (laughs).

In fact, we were in Dublin a year-and-a-half ago visiting friends there and they showed us around the city. There's a great kinship between Boston and Dublin and we're lucky to have some great friends there.

I wanted to get out into the countryside and down to New Ross. We were trying to squeeze it in last time but in the end we just didn't have the time. So I hope to do that in the autumn too. And my cousin was over there on his honeymoon two weeks ago.

Has the JFK visit of 50 years ago resonated within your family?

Oh, for certain. The family always talks about when he came back from Ireland and he had that movie of his visit. He loved that movie so much. He would watch it over and over, dozens and dozens of times over and whenever the family got together he made them watch it too. The visit made a really big impression on him.

As a modern Irish American family are there everyday "Irish" influences we might find in Kennedy family life today?

"Well that has to be a love of song and singing – usually very bady (laughs). Whenever we get together in numbers things usually end up in a big singalong and we love the Irish airs. Uncle Teddy always loved to sing 'Galway Bay' in particular. There's also our Catholic faith, of course. Even despite being so many generations on, my family is very proud of its Irish heritage and that has been celebrated through generations for as long as I've been alive. In many ways, we see Ireland as a tremendous friend and as a family member.

Does the family have any mementos or keepsakes originally brought over from Ireland by your ancestors Patrick and Bridget?

I'm not sure about that one. Nothing came down through our particular branch of the family but I think there might be a few things all right. I'm certain Aunt Jean, who served as ambassador, might have some treasures which connect the family back to Ireland. And if she does, I know we'd have some trouble getting them off her (laughs).

What's the picture of Ireland you're getting over there at the moment?

I think we're seeing Ireland emerging stronger and more vibrant in business and that's a perception which is felt particularly in the technology community. I think The Gathering is a wonderful opportunity to showcase the incredible impact of Irish culture on the world of sport, song and music. It's really great how you can travel the world and you'll always find an Irish pub and in it you'll find that familiar hospitality and a smile. That's a particularly Irish contribution to the world. And as you probably know, the numbers of people over here who claim Irish descent always quadruple on St Patrick's Day (laughs).

What made you get into politics?

Well, I didn't actually intend to get into politics originally. But I've always been aware of being very blessed to grow up in a country where everyone has the opportunity to advance themselves no matter what background they come from. This has been a founding strength of our country. And when the times had come when those values didn't seem so certain, I really felt I wanted to be a part of that debate.

Somewhere down the road in your political career do you think you'd ever consider running for president?

I can tell you now that I've got no plans for anything like that.

Irish Independent

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