Ted and Rory Kennedy among speakers at New Ross summer school

Festival of Irish and American history and culture about more than JFK, organisers say

Pictured at the launch of the Kennedy Summer School 2013 in the Little Museum of Dublin today, were speakers Newstalk presenter George Hook, former minister Mary O’Rourke and  space commentator Leo Enright. Photograph: Mary Browne

Pictured at the launch of the Kennedy Summer School 2013 in the Little Museum of Dublin today, were speakers Newstalk presenter George Hook, former minister Mary O’Rourke and space commentator Leo Enright. Photograph: Mary Browne

Wed, Sep 4, 2013, 13:55

Two members of the Kennedy family have been announced the speakers at the Kennedy Summer School, a festival of Irish and American culture, history and politics being held in Co Wexford next weekend.

Film-maker Rory Kennedy who is youngest daughter of senator Bobby and Ethel Kennedy and was born six months after her father was assassinated will come for Irish premiere of her documentary.

The film about her mother is billed as a “private look inside a highly public life”, it has been nominated for five Emmys . Ms Kennedy will fly back to Los Angeles after the event for the awards ceremony, summer school director and Irish Times columnist Noel Whelan said at a launch of the event today.

Ted Kennedy Jnr who is the son of the late senator Ted Kennedy will speak about his father “ in the context of his contribution to Ireland, to American politics and American social affairs,” Whelan said.

The summer school is about more than JFK and becoming an annual event makes it an “enduring legacy” of the 50th anniversary celebrations, Whelan said.

Unlike anniversary events celebrating JFK’s Irish visit, the weekend is “moving on from the visit” and is timed “almost at the half way point” between the anniversary and his assassination, Whelan said.

It will look at the “legacy” of JFK’s presidency as a whole on the US, Irish-American relations, international relations and on space, he said.

Falling in the midst of the Seanad referendum campaign the weekend will include a debate in the issue involving , Minister for Jobs and Fine Gael Seanad campaign director Richard Bruton, Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty, Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin and independent senator Katherine Zappone.

Another debate will see broadcaster George Hook take on his regular on air sparring partner, US commentator and radio presenter Michael Graham on Ireland’s love affair with America.

For Hook the “Kennedy thing” goes “way back” and is “huge” in his psyche. Today he recalled sharing a subscription with a friend in school to Time magazine and following the “whole campaign” from JFK’s announcement. Nobody in 2013 can understand what it was like in Ireland when a Catholic was running for the US presidency, Hook said. “Nobody thought he could do it, on religious ground not talent” Hook said.

Debating Irish America is “hugely important”, Boston born lawyer and NUI Galway lecturer Larry Donnelly said today. “Some people say Irish America is a dead entity and politically not vibrant and that Irish Americans don’t have any unifying principles. I don’t buy that at all,” he said. He is constantly trying to tell people that “Irish America is still here, it’s powerful, it’s different an there’s not unanimity around the Democratic party but it’s still an important block in American society.”

He will talk about the complex relationships which Irish-Americans,particularly in Boston, had with the Kennedys with many feeling “abandoned” by Ted Kennedy who “got away from the local”. “The Irish are very much ’Kennedy Kennedy’ but for Irish America it’s a little more complicated than that,” he said.

Other speakers include former minister Mary O’Rourke, space commentator Leo Enright, history professor Richard Aldous and IDA chief Barry O’Leary. The Kennedy Summer School will be held in New Ross , Co Wexford from September 12th -14th. kennedysummerschool.ie