What are your recollections of November 22, 1963, when news emerged of President John F. Kennedy's assassination?
I'm of a younger generation, born more than a decade after JFK's death, but I'm always enthralled by the vivid memories of people who were around on that day and their abilities to recall exactly where they were and what they were doing.
Shooting the Messenger!
So...50 years ago, today, I was just 7, and was playing by myself in our back-yard on Main Street, Loughrea Town ('cause no one would play with me), hitting a tennis ball with my hurley against the big wooden gate that closed off our yard from the street. My brother Paul had numbered the squares on the gate, assigning scores to each target, the smaller the square, the bigger the score. I was aceing the hard-to-hit-for-a-seven-year-old #3 target that was the wicket gate, when the window above me opened up, in what was Sweeneys Grocery then, but now is AIB Bank. Gerry Sweeney popped his head out, a mass of ginger hair, animated, 'JFK has been shot' he roared, before slamming the window shut. I had no idea what this utterance meant, but given the nature of its delivery, felt obliged to drop the hurley and dash into our Kitchen, where mum and dad and who knows how many of my 6 siblings were having their tea (supper, whatever) and waiting for the 6 o'clock news to come on the warmed-up wireless, after the Angelus, that was chiming away sonorously amid the clack and clatter of cups and saucers and spoons. I blurted out Gerry's news, 'JFK has been shot' to be met by incredulous stares and the rebuke, 'Shut up, the news is only coming on, what would you know about JFK, sure wasn't he just in Eyre Square a couple a months ago, shot??? Shure who would shoot a man like that, shame on you for your wicked imagination, go up those stairs to your room, what a thing to say, shhh, here's the news just coming on now...get, get you up those stairs, and don't come down until you have had a long think about what trouble telling lies gets you, boyo, ...pass the milk Clare please, shush, whisth, ...what's that they just said?.. JFK, Oh my God......!'
Brian, you present this masterlully. I'm stunned by the vividness and palpability of what you share here. Go raibh maith agat! A masterpiece! G
I looked for this last week and didn't see it. I was in third grade at St. Bernard's School in Mt. Lebanon, PA. I think it must have been the principal who came over the PA system to tell us the sad news. I remember we all started crying, and were sent home. In those days most of us had mothers at home and it was safe enough even for young children to walk home alone. Afterwards there were many hours and days of television coverage of everything connected with the assassination. We had a cheap framed portrait of President Kennedy from the supermarket, along with a photo of the Pope, on our dining room wall. It was a shocking event for an eight year old to try to understand.
Susan, go raibh maith agat for sharing this memory! Where are the portraits now?
Gerry, I have no idea what became of them, but I have found myself thrown into the role of family historian, since I have "inherited" all the papers from both my parents' funerals, as well as, more recently, from both my McWilliams grandparents. I also have a papal blessing that someone gave my parents as an anniversary present some years later. More recently I have become involved in working out the tree on my mother's side. Her family comes from Calabria and I visited there for the first time in May and met some of my relatives. I also photographed Irish and Scottish pubs while in Italy. . . . Can you tell me how to add photos? I can't seem to figure it out.
Because of JFK's anniversary I thought I would post this poem about the funeral of Ireland's first president Dr. Douglas Hyde.
Burial of an Irish President
The tolling from St Patrick's
Cathedral was brangled, repeating
Itself in top-back room
And alley of the Coombe,
Crowding the dirty streets,
Upbraiding all our pat tricks.
Tricoloured and beflowered,
Coffin of our President,
Where fifty mourners bowed,
Was trestled in the gloom
Of arch and monument,
Beyond the desperate tomb
Of Swift, Imperial flags,
Corunna, Quatre Bras,
Their pride turning to rags.
Drooped, smoke-thin as the booming
Of cannon.The simple word
From heaven was vaulted, stirred
By candles. At the last bench
Two Catholics, the French
Ambassador and I , kenelt down.
The vergers waited. Outside.
The hush of Dublin town,
Professors of cap and gown,
Costello, his Cabinet,
In Government cars, hiding
Around the corner, ready
Tall hat in hand, dreading
Our Father in English. Better
Not hear that 'which' for 'who'
And risk eternal doom.
By Austin Clarke
Bernie, thanks for sharing the evocative poem. I remember visiting St. Patrick's Cathedral agog, sending it represented so much of Ireland's modern -- and medieval -- history! Those tattered battle flags still fill my mind's eye!
I have not been in the cathedral myself but I like the poem a lot. Clarke was focusing on the heads of state that did not enter the church because of Vatican 2. It was decreed that Roman Catholics could not attend different religious ceremonies back then, even Dev. stayed away."Costello, his Cabinet,In Government cars,hiding Around the corner"
Thanks for this information you are all sharing. I have been learning so much. I first came upon this site because I wanted to learn more about Robert Emmet, and I stumbled on an article posted here. One of the things I had never known before, but have learned especially in the last year and a half is how many Protestants were involved in the struggle for independence over the years. I was also surprised to see that how many major churches in Dublin were not RC. Not surprising when you consider the history. And I did not go into one of them!
Susan, did you ever visit Belfast? One of my favourite cities with very friendly people, it too has many Protestant churches. Unlike Dublin though, it lost many of its churches to the Luftwaffe during WW2. A number of Jewish people were killed in the Blitz there too, as Belfast had received many children under the Kindertransport scheme.
Here in England, the news about President Kennedy was received as just another news item, albeit sad and shocking, except within the Irish community of course. Interestingly, the Irish Protestants in my neighbourhood were as saddened at the news as were the Catholics. He was mourned as an Irishman, not as a Catholic. It strikes me that, in issues that really matter, being Irish seems to be more important than church.
By the way, the only 'Black & Tan' hanged for murder during the War of Independence was an Irishman - a Dubliner and a Protestant. You'll find a review of my book 'Running with Crows' [my author name is DJ Kelly] here at The Wild Geese and also details of it here in the Green Pages. My research for the book centred around the Dublin community in which the executed William Mitchell had grown up. My research taught me that, back then, Dubliners cleaved to their local communities rather than to their churches. The United Irishmen (arguably the first serious movement towards unity and independence) were men of all faiths. It's fascinating to read about them.
When next you visit Dublin, do go into St Michan's church, where you can 'shake hands' with a long-dead crusader down in the vaults. Churches are great repositories of our history.
I was in the 2nd grade at a school in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Our teacher was called out of the class for a bit then returned crying, telling us that we were dismissed from school. The President had been shot. I watched the funeral on TV.
I don't believe in a lone shooter. I don't believe in the magic bullet theory. I believe in the cover-up still.