In a Word: Politics

The year 1968 was tumultuous and formative, marked by a series of high-profile deaths

 

Every year it’s the same. June 6th recalls that brilliant blast of sunshine through the big window in our kitchen at home. My father polishing his shoes in the corner with bedlam all around, as Mam dishes out the breakfast to we six getting ready for school. And baby, just three, our guarantor that chaos would continue when we left.

Into this usual melee a depth charge was dropped.

As usual the radio was on. We knew something serious was wrong when our father shouted at us to be quiet. The newsreader announced that Bobby Kennedy had been shot in Los Angeles. I was old enough to realise the awfulness of this.

That year, 1968, was when my interest in politics was piqued. What a year!

What remains moving, even from this distance, was how the murder of Bobby Kennedy was felt like a family death in our house. It was similar when JFK was shot in 1963. Mam was in tears, Mac (our father) not much better.

They were typical, not the exception.

They watched JFK’s funeral in a neighbour’s house. It was why we got a TV that Christmas. As with most Irish people at the time, the Kennedys were not an American dynasty over there. They were ‘us’.

In all my years growing up the death of just one Irish politician was felt as deeply as that of the Kennedys. That was in 1968 too, March 1968. Then minister for education Donogh O’Malley, just 47, dropped dead during a byelection in Co Clare.

The previous year he had launched probably the greatest revolution in the history of the State, the introduction of free education. He announced it in 1966 apparently without consulting government colleagues.

It was in March 1968 too that Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis. In May that year students seeking reforms almost brought down Charles de Gaulle in France. (I wanted to be those students!)

In August, Soviet tanks crushed the spring revolution in Prague. In October, RUC officers hammered civil rights protesters – inspired by Martin Luther King – into the streets of Derry. And then, in November, to end it all, Richard Nixon was elected president of the United States.

What a year to discover, and to be warned about politics!

Politics from Latin politicus , Greek politikos, ‘of citizens, of the state’.

inaword@irishtimes.com

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