Parnell and JFK had many parallels, summer school told

Exploration at Avondale of theme of two ‘mythologised’ leaders who died in their 40s

The provost of Trinity College Dublin, Dr Patrick Prendergast, who officially opened the Parnell Summer School at Avondale House yesterday. Photograph: Eric Luke

The provost of Trinity College Dublin, Dr Patrick Prendergast, who officially opened the Parnell Summer School at Avondale House yesterday. Photograph: Eric Luke

Sun, Aug 11, 2013, 22:02


Parallels between the lives of John F Kennedy, who died aged 46, and Charles Stewart Parnell, who died aged 45, are being drawn by the Parnell Summer School in Avondale, Co Wicklow, this week.

The school, which was officially opened yesterday by the provost of Trinity College Dublin, Dr Patrick Prendergast, will explore the theme Parnell and Kennedy: Lost Leaders. The discussion also marks both the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s visit to Ireland and his assassination in Texas later that year.

Academic director of the summer school Felix M Larkin said there were many parallels between the men, “most notably the fact that both were young leaders who died prematurely, and so both have been mythologised as lost leaders”.

Robert Schmuhl, professor of American studies and journalism at the University of Notre Dame, said the institution of the presidency was so traumatised by Kennedy’s assassination that it took a generation for stability to be restored.

In the 28 years before JFK’s inauguration, there were just three US presidents (Franklin D Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower).

In a similar period after Kennedy’s assassination there were six (Lyndon Johnson, Ricard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George Bush snr).

He said similar uncertainty was witnessed after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, including the impeachment of his successor, Andrew Johnson. The professor wondered “had the torch been passed or was it a poisoned chalice?”

He said it took until the emergence of a new generation of presidents – Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama – for stability to return to the institution.