November 27th, 2013
Reflections on JFK From an Irish Cardiologist in Dallas
The relationship between the Irish and John F. Kennedy is unique. To put it in context, in my grandfather’s kitchen there were two pictures on the wall: one of the Sacred Heart, the other of John F. Kennedy. To the Irish, the Kennedy story is not about Camelot, conspiracies, Cuba, or other controversies. It is about national pride. JFK’s visit to Ireland in the summer of 1963 is seen by many as a turning point in the economic path of Ireland; it coincided with a historic drop in emigration, a shift from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy, and a population movement from rural villages to coastal cities. When JFK spoke to the Irish Parliament in 1963, he observed that “Ireland’s time has come,” an inspirational observation that moved a generation.
I moved from Ireland approximately 10 years ago, not knowing a whole lot about this country, other than what I knew about the Kennedys and had seen on The Sopranos and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. About 6 months after moving here I went to DC, on a pilgrimage of sorts. My first stop wasn’t the White House or the Lincoln Memorial, but rather Arlington Cemetery where the eternal flame marks Kennedy’s resting place. I must have spent two or three hours there thinking about what it meant to be Irish, and to be in America, and what my future had in store for me. I often think back on that sad and emotional day.
When I heard that AHA 2013 was going to be held in Dallas, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to visit this important historic site, the last step in this Irishman’s tour of historic Kennedy sites that began when I was four years old at the John F. Kennedy Arboretum in County Wexford. Many emigrants hold on to certain things to keep in touch with our heritage and our upbringing. These act as an anchor, helping to keep us grounded while living overseas. To me those anchors have been the Kennedy family, Irish music, and the Gaelic tongue.
As I stood looking over Dealey Plaza, I took the opportunity to again reflect on what it means to be here, in the US, away from my home country. A lot has changed since I visited Arlington Cemetery in 2005. I have changed. This year marked the start my academic career. My wife and I had our first child. Although I am still Irish, in many regards I am now also American, a dichotomy that I struggle with all the time. As I stood looking at the final road taken by the man felt by millions to be both truly Irish and truly American, I realized that not only can I be both, but more importantly, it’s ok to be both.