Burning the Jacqueline Kennedy letters?

Tue, Jul 8, 2014, 01:10

Sir, – I am appalled by the suggestion that Jacqueline Kennedy’s letters to Fr Joseph Leonard of All Hallows College might be burned (“Robert Kennedy’s widow tells priest Jackie letters could be ‘burned’”, Front Page, July 7th). It is in the interests of history that these letters should be preserved and that they should eventually be in the public domain.

Although there have been a few – very few – competent biographies of John F Kennedy, he remains an enigma. We can speculate about the reasons for this. One reason is the continuing impact of his terrible assassination and the sense of loss that it evokes. That still clouds our judgment. Another, however, is the assiduous efforts of the Kennedy family to “manage” the narrative of his presidency. Jacqueline herself began this process when, in an interview with the journalist Theodore White shortly after the assassination, she compared his period in office to Camelot. The existence of this cache of letters which, albeit in a small way, helps to get at the truth behind the enigma, is of inestimable value to historians.

President Kennedy and his wife were public figures of historic importance, and they are both deceased – and it seems to me in these circumstances that the public interest in setting the historical record straight outweighs any residual requirement of confidentiality in relation to the letters.

May I make a proposal which seems to me to balance the various interests at stake in this matter? It is that the Vincentian congregation, which apparently owns the letters, should donate them to the National Library of Ireland with the stipulation that they would not be made available to scholars during the lifetime of Jacqueline’s daughter, Caroline, without her permission. After her death, access to the letters would be unrestricted.

I write as someone who greatly admires John F Kennedy, but there is no need to enlarge him in history beyond what he was in life. Our heroes are ironically more attractive, and arguably more admirable, when we can see them as real human beings in all their complexity – and not as mere plaster saints. – Yours, etc,


Vale View Lawn,


Dublin 18.