The Day That’s In It
Deaglán de Bréadún
Listening to Sunday Miscellany this morning, I was reminded by contributor Kevin McAleer (the comedian, I take it) that this is the anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas on 22 November 1963.
Deciding to post some thoughts about it, I went looking for a suitable illustration. In the process I discovered a small treasure-trove of black-and-white pictures (never published in the print edition) on the Photo Sales section of the Irish Times website (click here.)
These appear to be all, or mostly, unattibuted and they cover JFK’s visit to Ireland in June, just a few months before he was killed in Dallas.
That visit was a fantastic occasion for this country. After the Famine and all our suffering, deprivation and second-class citizenship in the international community, at last we had arrived. One of our own was President of the United States.
Standing with one of my older brothers on St Stephen’s Green, I caught a glimpse of JFK on his way to a function. Possibly it was in Iveagh House at the then-Department of External Affairs.
I found a photograph which looks like it was taken as he arrived at Iveagh House. Unfortunately, due to some technical glitch, I can’t upload the picture but you should be able to view it by clicking here. One of the welcoming party looks distinctly like Frank Aiken, long-serving minister in the Department. And aren’t those the trees of Stephen’s Green in the background?
My sighting of the President was only an imperfect side-view and then he was gone. His head was turned towards the people on the other side of the street. I noticed how incredibly tanned he was but it seems the skin-colouring was due to Addison’s Disease, or so we were told later.
Some of Kennedy’s ideas are still relevant (click here.) Despite the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was essentially forced upon him by the adventurism of Castro and Khrushchev, he had a conciliatory approach to the the Soviet Union, similar to Obama’s largely non-confrontational diplomacy today (except for Afghanistan, but that’s another day’s work.) JFK made mistakes, of course. The Bay of Pigs was unfortunate, to say the least, and he should have been more wary about Vietnam. Nevertheless his speeches still give much food for thought. One suspects that, unlike his hapless succesor LBJ, he would have pulled back from the Vietnam quagmire.
I also have a very clear memory of sitting in our kitchen, five months later, listening to a sports programme on RTE radio (I suppose it was still Radio Eireann) when newsreader Charles Mitchell broke in with the news that President Kennedy had been shot. The shock still reverberates in my mind and memory.
That was about 7pm or so on a Friday evening. The following Monday, the teacher in our English class at CBS Synge Street asked me to read out Walt Whitman’s poem O Captain! My Captain! about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The words remain as moving as ever:
O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up-for you the flag is flung-for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths-for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.