Tuesday 24 April 2018

The Irish president: JFK's deep bonds with his ancestry

The Legacy of JFK: In a special article for the Irish Independent, US Secretary of State JOHN F KERRY reflects on the 50th Anniversary of his visit to Ireland

JFK and (inset) US Secretary of State John Kerry
JFK and (inset) US Secretary of State John Kerry
Friends: John Kerry with the late Senator Edward Kennedy
A young John Kerry and his entourage in 1961 as they watched an America's Cup yacht race
John Kerry
President Kennedy greets people in New Ross (JFK Library)

THIS month marks the 50th anniversary of President John F Kennedy's historic visit to Ireland. None of us who were growing up during that time, but especially in New England, will ever forget the spirit and idealism of the Kennedy years, and I particularly remember watching the news on a little black and white television set as America's first Catholic president returned to the land of his heritage to celebrate a moment of pride on both sides of the Atlantic.

It was a remarkable reminder that the United States was a nation of immigrants focused on the future but deeply proud of its roots.

I am very pleased that the Irish government and its people have planned to mark the anniversary with events across the country: Dublin, Galway, Limerick, Cork and in New Ross - from where former President Kennedy's great grandfather left for America.

I am particularly proud that President Kennedy's daughter Caroline, my friend, and his grandson Jack, my former Senate intern, are among those representing the Kennedy family and the United States during this special period for both of our countries.

I was privileged to serve for 28 years as a US Senator from Massachusetts, most of those years serving right besides President Kennedy's incredible brother Ted, and I saw firsthand the deep bonds of kinship that our two countries share. The legacy of John F. Kennedy is a shared heritage, for both the Irish and for Americans. President Kennedy's vitality, vision, wit, courage and idealism are as relevant today as they were fifty years ago.

JFK remains a symbol of the success of the Irish Diaspora in the United States, and I was lucky to serve a state that boasted so many proud Irish Americans among its own.

As President, John F. Kennedy challenged the world to solve the conflicts of the moment in order to seize the possibility of a better future. He emphasized the importance of freedom and human rights for all people. He called on American citizens, particularly the young people of my generation, to give back to their communities, to volunteer and to work against injustice.

He had a great love and respect for both American and Irish culture and its ability to inspire, explain and illuminate the world around us. For all these reasons JFK has been a great inspiration to me and people all around the world.

When President Kennedy traveled to Ireland in 1963, he saw a country with a bright future in Europe. He saw Ireland as a country that had given much to the world and had an important role to play. During his visit, he highlighted our shared bond, saying, "Our two nations, divided by distance, have been united by history.

No people ever believed more deeply in the cause of Irish freedom than the people of the United States. And no country contributed more to building my own than your sons and daughters."

Today, President Kennedy's vision of what Ireland could be has come to pass in ways perhaps even he could not have imagined: Ireland today is a leader in the European Union: a high-tech hub, a center for biomedical and pharmaceutical research, and a leader in clean technology. Ireland faced down an economic crisis, took tough and necessary steps, and is now on the road to recovery.

And yes, a hard fought and harder negotiated peace endures. Make no doubt, challenges remain, but Ireland has changed profoundly over these past fifty years, and I am certain that together we will share a bright future.

If President Kennedy were here today, there can be no doubt that he would share in our great sense of satisfaction and pride in all that our two countries have accomplished - and all the more we can accomplish together. But for certain, he would look to his grandchildren and so many others' grandchildren to carry on for the future - because, as he said, "there is a new world to be won."

Irish Independent

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