President John F. Kennedy – An Irish American Who Inspired A Generation

Today, on the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s death, I pay tribute to him, an Irish American who inspired a generation and beyond.

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As a child growing up in Ireland I often heard people talk of where they were when they first heard of JFK’s assassination. Irish people revered Kennedy.  All four of his grandparents were the children of Irish immigrants. To this very day we lament his loss at such a young age. I can hardly believe he was younger than I am today, when he was shot in Dallas at the age of 46.

Because JFK was so young when he was killed, he remains forever young in our memories. We do not picture him as a 96-year old, but as a resilient man, stolen from the world when he still had so much to do.

The tragic news of his death reverberated around the world, with deep shock waves felt in Ireland, the land of his ancestors.  Even today we still talk of his great legacy and hold him in high esteem. But what is his legacy?  What did he achieve in his brief years as President that continues to inspire and motivate us to this very day?

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Inauguration of President John F. Kennedy, January 1961

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Kennedy’s inaugural address, the first ever to be broadcast live in color, is one of the late president’s most moving moments. With one simple statement he inspired a generation:

 

“… Ask not what your country can do for you;

 

Ask what you can do for your country.”

 

Kennedy understood how to use words to strike an emotional chord.  He spoke eloquently of America’s role in the world.  He did not shy away from asking Americans to avoid selfish motives, but to selflessly put their country first.  He created, then seized a moment of idealism, uplifting a nation with his optimism.

He did not simply leave us with words to remember him by, but an enduring legacy of achievements. His fierce belief in the need to nurture American values guided his policies on education, social justice, racial equality and global development.

President Kennedy knew he was lucky to call America home, yet he challenged his fellow Americans to protect that nation, to become engaged citizens and invest in their own future.  He inspired this nation to create a better tomorrow, daring to dream a man could walk on the moon; or that Americans could sow the seeds of peace throughout the world.

JFK Firescreen

Firescreen with image of JFK proudly displayed in a Dublin neighbor’s home to this very day.

And through all the pressures of a Presidency, he showed great grace, and a sense of humor. His ability to laugh at himself and inject humor into a conversation we, here in Ireland, claim to be part of his Irish inheritance.

His appreciation for the arts is another trait we Irish love to take credit for.

 

“I look forward to an America which will steadily

raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and

which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities

for all of our citizens.

 

And I look forward to an America which

commands respect throughout the world

not only for its strength,

but for its civilization as well.”

 

These words helped inspire President Johnson to establish the National Endowment for the Arts just two years after JFK’s death.

This week President Obama described Kennedy as:

 

“resilient, resolute, fearless and fun-loving,

defiant in the face of impossible odds and

most of all, determined to make the world anew,

not settling for what is,

but rather for what might be.”

 

Today, as we  come together to reflect on the day John F. Kennedy was fatally shot while riding in a motorcade with his wife in Dallas, Texas, let us pay tribute to his visionary leadership.

His death shocked not only America, but changed the world forever.  Today, when political differences seem to divide us,  I pray his legacy will help us stand together, determined to create a future of hope, peace and abundance, united as Americans.

 

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

American Kindness

It is hard to fathom the extent of human suffering and loss in the wake of the devastating tornadoes in Oklahoma this week.

As I try to comprehend the human suffering in the town of Moore, I have been struck by the amazing strength of the people of Oklahoma and by the kindness of America.

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Men and women from surrounding towns, cities, counties and states have rushed to the aid of their fellow countrymen. Their devotion and goodness makes me proud to be an American.  It humbles me to see so many people pulling together to help each other in this great time of need.

America’s extreme and violent weather patterns stunned me when I first came to live in this country.  Irish weather can be wet and miserable, and sometimes stormy.  In my childhood years I never experienced the wild and brutal battles of hot and cold fronts clashing over extensive, flat plains. Hurricanes, tornadoes, and blizzards are severe weather events I grew to appreciate only after moving to the United States.

My years living in Texas and Kentucky have taught me springtime storms are dependable, seasonal phenomena.  The severity of these storms is the only unpredictable variable. But weather disasters of this week’s magnitude remain hard to comprehend, even I expect for those born and raised in tornado alley.

And so, I pray for the suffering people of Moore, Oklahoma.

I admire and applaud the bravery of all the men and women who are helping those in need.

I offer prayers of comfort and support to those who have been injured or have lost their homes. May you once again find peace of mind.

I extend my sympathies to the families and friends of those killed. My heart aches for those who have lost their sweet, precious children.

For those who feel helpless, may you find comfort and hope in the kindness of America.

Sending my love and prayers to Oklahoma.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

Irish American Mom

 

P.S. For anyone looking for ways to help, Ree Drummond, a rancher’s wife from Oklahoma who writes The Pioneer Woman blog, has created a comprehensive list of ways to give in her recent post called Oklahoma.

 

A Snowy Kentucky Spring 2013

Where is Spring?  That’s what I want to know. I thought Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring this year, but boy oh boy, did he get it wrong. As a fully fledged American I grew to believe the famous groundhog’s prediction had teeth.

I always thought it would be great fun to attend the celebrations in Pennsylvania one February.  It would be a milestone on my American journey.  But now I’m not sure if I can trust this sleepy prognosticator.

 

Once I saw my snow capped daffodils I knew the furry weather forecaster was completely in error this year. But then maybe it was his human interpreter who just doesn’t speak proper Groundhog-ese.  We’ll never know.

But I do know my precious daffodils are shivering under their snowy hats. Spring had truly sprung this time last year in Kentucky.

All I want is to enjoy a nice breakfast cup of tea outdoors on the deck once the kids have headed off to school.  It’s a great way to plan the day ahead, but no hope these days without suffering a frozen tookus (a word I learned in New York from my Jewish patients).

 I’m tired of breaking the ice so the birds can have a wee drink.

I know I shouldn’t complain. It’s only a few little inches here in Kentucky and I remember the year I lived in Elmira, New York.  It snowed in June, and this is only March.

And then my poor little ones are worried about the Easter Bunny.  Where will he leave the eggs?  Does he deliver in the snow? I told them he might ask some of Santa’s elves to help him out.  Those guys are well used to snowy deliveries.

The thaw is coming today, and fingers crossed our temperatures will be in the 60’s by the weekend.  The Easter Bunny will be just fine!!  Yay!!

And so, what do we need to call this mixed up season.  Is it Swinter, or Winting, or Sprinter?  I just don’t know, but I sure do hope the real Spring is just around the corner.

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

Irish American Mom

Fish On Friday And The Discovery Of The New World.

Fish on Friday is a traditional Catholic “sacrifice” for the Lenten season.  Growing up in Ireland we ate fish every Friday of Lent.  When I moved to Kentucky I was surprised to see how strong the tradition is here. Many churches host a Friday Lenten Fish Fry. Maybe I enjoy our Kentucky Fish Fry so much because it reconnects me with this memorable custom of my childhood.

Irish American Mom’s Beer Battered Cod with Chips and Mushy Peas.

But let’s face it, there’s little sacrifice involved.  In these days of plenty it is easy to feast on fish.  Salmon, shrimp, or battered cod with chips and mushy peas, are all simply delicious.  I asked myself:  How on God’s good earth did eating fish get interpreted as penance?

As I fished around for information on the internet, I was astonished to learn this whole phenomenon of eating fish may have actually led to the discovery of the New World.  Just amazing!

In his book, “Fish on Friday: Feasting, Fasting, and Discovery of the New World”, Brian Fagan explores this theory.  Here’s how the logic goes.

In the Middle Ages, Europeans typically ate fish on regular days of the week.  Meat was a special-occasion dish.   The Catholic Church may have forbidden meat on Fridays as a way to let people know it was inappropriate to hold celebrations on that day.

I think it is a little ironic that seafood is now often viewed as a special-occasion food, with meat becoming our routine everyday food.  Perhaps if the rule was initiated in this century we would be having Meat on Fridays.

http://www.vintagerio.com/animal_g72-animal__p9722.html

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Anyway, back to my tale.  Most forested lands in England were owned by the King, and woe betide anyone found hunting on the King’s land.  But the sea was considered fair game.  Commoners could cast a net into the sea, or drop a hook and freely eat their catch without fear of being hanged.

By the 14th century, the Catholic Church imposed meatless fasting days way beyond just Fridays and Lent, so fish was required to be eaten more than half the days of the year.

This huge demand for fish just kept on growing through the 14th and 15th centuries. Fancy fish delicacies graced the tables of nobles.  Commoners ate fish on holy days.  Peasants enjoyed fish as a means of supplementing their meager diet.  Preserved fish sustained soldiers when they traveled far from home.

In true capitalistic spirit, medieval business men invested in a fishing industry and hired engineers to design new boats and efficient gear.  The European fishing industry just kept on growing.

http://www.vintagerio.com/details.php?gid=119&pid=20858Image Credit

 

But alas, with over fishing off the European Atlantic coast and the onset of a mini Ice Age fish stocks grew depleted.  Fishermen were forced to follow the fish, eventually tracking cod to their winter waters off the coast of Maine.  Word spread of these shores far to the west, possibly inspiring Christopher Columbus to undertake his voyage.  It is rumored he first heard tell of these new lands on a visit to Ireland.

Believe it or not, it may have been fish not gold nor spices that led to the discovery of America.

And so, I’ll do “penance” at tonight’s Fish Fry, feasting not fasting on my fish in the New World.  I’ll remember it was the lure of fish which probably first brought some of my Irish forefathers to these shores, quite a few years before Christopher Columbus.

 

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

 

Irish American Mom

If Asked Would You Like A Drink In America, Just Say “Yes”!

Today we are going to explore a little cultural nuance between Ireland and America.  When visiting someone’s home in America, if offered a drink, always answer “yes” straight away.  The offer is made at the start of the visit, with no extended repetitions until you finally accept.

The opposite is true in Ireland.  If offered a cup of tea, initially it is important to decline.  The host or hostess will chat a little, then make their tea offer again.  It is at this point the offer should be accepted.

This infamous to and fro over a cup of tea was wonderfully satirized by Mrs. Doyle in the Irish comedy series, Father Ted.  Her endless offers of tea were hilarious, as was her signature line –

“Ah go on! Go on! Go on!

You’ll have a cup of tea.”

 

When I first came to America I had no idea I needed to say “yes” on the first offer.   One day my Irish friend and I visited a co-worker’s home in Elmira, New York.  When we first arrived we were immediately offered something to drink. Being two good Irish girls we declined, in unison.

After about twenty minutes with no further offer of tea or a drink forthcoming, we realized we had missed the boat on that drink.  There was definitely no second offer on the way.  We experienced this lack of recurrent drink offers on a few more occasions before we finally found the courage to say “yes” straight away. 

Americans are very straight forward.  No means “no”, and yes means “yes”.  No feigned hesitancy required for the sake of politeness.

However, I must make a confession.  To this day, even after twenty-something years living in America, I still stutter when I first accept a drink in an American friend’s house.  I still feel rude by being so direct, despite acceptance being proper etiquette here.  My Irish conscience still urges me to decline politely.

 

I suppose my problem is, that I’m just a girl who can’t say “yes”.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom