The day that President Kennedy came to Galway in 1963 is fondly remembered, and as the years go by there is a tendency to remember it as a sunny day for Galwegians.
But in truth it was an unseasonably cold day, and the waves of Irish school children that greeted the president’s helicopter at the sports ground on the College Road were more shivering than shimmering.
BY GERARD DOHERTY
As the motorcade was about to set off for Eyre Square, an ambitious young local photographer muscled his way in for a shot, drawing the attention of Secret Service agents who moved toward him like a threat.
In what would be an especially poignant moment, knowing now what would happen in Dallas just five months later, President Kennedy intervened, asking his security to back off, to let the photographer do his job.
“He’s a friend,” the president said of the stranger from Ireland.
It said a lot about Jack Kennedy, about the way he viewed people not just from Ireland, but from other countries in general. They weren’t strangers to be feared; they were friends not yet made.
As the great-grandchild of Irish immigrants, President Kennedy understood intuitively the way the Irish had come to America with little and gave and gained a lot. He was living proof that, given opportunities, immigrants from any and all countries, from any and all religious backgrounds, could rise and prosper in America. That was the compact that America made with its immigrants, and it always paid dividends.
President Kennedy made his bones as a politician the old fashioned way, with shoe leather. I was just a teenager the day he walked into my house in Charlestown in 1946, during a lull in Boston’s annual Bunker Hill Day parade. He was running for the seat in Congress formerly occupied by James Michael Curley, the quintessential Boston Irish pol. Curley, whose father left Oughterard for Boston, served four terms as mayor, three terms in Congress, one term as governor, and one term in the federal penitentiary.
Like Curley, Kennedy knew his power derived from the people, that to obtain power you needed to have a genuine mandate from the people, and to obtain that mandate you had to make a genuine effort to meet those people.
Jack Kennedy knew the people because he talked to them. And he respected them, because he saw in their struggle the struggle of his own forbears who left Ireland with little more than dreams.
“If the day was clear enough, and if you went down to the bay, and you looked west, and your sight was good enough, you would see Boston, Massachusetts,” President Kennedy told the crowd at Eyre Square 55 years ago. “And if you did, you would see down working on the docks there some Dohertys and Flahertys and Ryans and cousins of yours who have gone to Boston and made good.”
At that point, the president asked if anybody in the crowd had family in America.
Just about every hand in Eyre Square went up.
“I don’t know what it is about you that causes me to think that nearly everybody in Boston comes from Galway,” President Kennedy said. “They are not shy about it, at all.”
That wasn’t hyperbole. When running for Congress and later the Senate, President Kennedy would have pressed the flesh all over the greater Boston area and he would come to realize that what seemed like half of Rosmuc had relocated to South Boston.
The president concluded his remarks that day with words that stand in stark contrast to the message coming out of the White House these days.
“If you ever come to America,” he said, “come to Washington and tell them, if they wonder who you are at the gate, that you come from Galway. The word will be out and when you do, it will be Céad Míle Fáilte.”
If one of Galway’s sons or daughters arrived at the White House today and told anyone at the gate they were from Ireland, they might be locked up. The presumption, the official position of the Trump administration, is that every immigrant who shows up on America’s shores is there to take advantage not of the opportunity but of the American taxpayer.
Immigrants have been demonized, with xenophobic language and sentiment that flies in the face of the American experience, families separated in scenes that conjure fascist, inhumane regimes.
The empirical evidence suggests immigrants, on the whole, remain essential to the United States. Immigrants continue to be the backbone of our economy. Without them, food would rot in our fields. Hospital corridors would be unclean. Hotel beds would be unmade. Our elderly and infirm would have no minders.
But beyond the more modest jobs that first-generation immigrants fill, there is that promise, the one the Kennedys fulfilled, of rising, generation by generation, from the corridors of hospitals to the corridors of power, in boardrooms, in situation rooms.
President Trump has insulted and dehumanized immigrants of many cultures. He has instituted policies in which hard-working, tax-paying undocumented immigrants are rounded up while criminals who mostly victimize immigrant communities are too often conveniently ignored. And he has the cheek to dismiss so-called chain immigration as wrongheaded when his own family benefited from it.
Unfortunately, his demonization of immigrants resonates with a sizable minority of Americans, the same ones who voted for him in the first place. There has always been a nativist streak in American culture, one that ebbs and flows, and it has been on the rise, not just with Trump and his minions but in many European countries as well.
Nativists purposely and cynically ignore history. History tells us President Kennedy was right to look at a stranger, some young photographer from Galway, and assume he was a friend, not an unwanted interloper. And history tells us the great majority of Americans aspire to be more like President Kennedy than like President Trump.
■ Gerard Doherty spoke at the Kennedy Summer School in New Ross. He is a former aide to President Kennedy, Senator Robert Kennedy and Senator Edward Kennedy and the author of “They Were My Friends: Jack, Bob and Ted.
Coffins have to brought by tractor over flooded North Galway road
Annual flooding on a stretch of road in North Galway requires the necessity for a tractor and trailer to bring the remains of a deceased person from the area to the local cemetery.
This was the claim at a local area meeting when it was demanded that Galway County Council carry out flood relief works on the road near Glenamaddy which is left under several feet of water every winter.
It resulted in Cllr Peter Keaveney tabling a motion at the Ballinasloe Municipal Council meeting that essential drainage works take place along the Roscommon road out of the town now that water levels are low. He wants this carried out within the next two weeks.
During one of the worst winters in recent years, the road was closed for three months and the Fine Gael councillor and agricultural contractor said that he pulled around 20 cars out of the flooded stretch when motorists decided to take the chance of driving through it.
Even in drought conditions, the levels remain incredibly high and this is mainly down to a local turlough that retains water throughout the year.
While he said that Galway County Council officials were extremely helpful, the problem lay with the Office of Public Works who would not allow drainage works as the road is situated in a Special Area of Conservation.
Senior Executive Engineer Damien Mitchell informed the meeting that Galway County Council are in a position to carry out some works but there are certain areas that only the Office of Public Works can drain.
Mr Mitchell said that the best way forward was a co-ordinated approach involving the County Council and the OPW while accepting that there was a major problem with flooding along this road.
In response, Cllr Keaveney said that this was a very acceptable move and added that a joint approach to the flooding in Glenamaddy was required at this stage and particularly with the winter approaching.
Williamstown’s Cllr Declan Geraghty said that residents were living in hell as some of them saw their houses destroyed by rising flood waters near Glenamaddy.
“There are even deceased people being brought by tractor and trailer to be buried which is an absolute disgrace. There is an opportunity to do this now or otherwise we are looking at flooding for the next 10 years.
“People have put everything into their homes only to see them destroyed when it comes to prolonged heavy rainfall.
“There is a solution to this problem and environmental issues should not take precedence,” he added.
The Independent councillor said that raising the level of the road, which leads to Creggs and onto Roscommon, was not the answer to the problem because the levels were so high.
Galway County Council have carried out several surveys of the area around the flooded road and officials told previous meetings that, subject to approval from the OPW, there was an engineering solution possible.
(Photo Cllr Declan Geraghty (Ind) and Cllr Peter Keaveney (FG) at the Creggs road out of Glenamaddy where flooding occurs on an annual basis.)
Teen arrested over €45,000 cocaine seizure
Gardaí have seized €45,000 of what they believe to be cocaine in Ballinasloe.
Gardaí attached to Ballinasloe Garda Station conducted an intelligence-led operation in the Dunlo Harbour area of the town yesterday.
During the course of this operation a quantity of suspected cocaine, estimated to be worth €45,000, concealed on derelict grounds was seized.
A male in his mid-teens was arrested at the scene and detained at Ballinasloe Garda Station on Sunday.
He has since been released with a file being prepared for the Garda Youth Diversion Office.
The focus of Operation Tara is to disrupt, dismantle and prosecute drug trafficking networks, at all levels.
Thousands on waiting list for student accommodation in Galway
The student housing crisis is ‘the worst it’s ever been’ – with thousands on waiting lists for rooms; hundreds relying on hostels and friends’ sofas; and countless more facing deferral or dropping out altogether.
The President of NUI Galway’s Students’ Union, Róisín Nic Lochlainn, told the Connacht Tribune that students had been left in a desperate situation, as she called for mass protests to have the issue addressed.
According to Ms Nic Lochlainn, 3,000 students were currently on the waiting lists for NUIG’s on-campus accommodation – Corrib Village and Goldcrest Village – with around 500 in line for any bed that might come up in the Westwood.
“Gort na Coiribe and Dunaras have told us their waiting lists are well into the hundreds too. I’ve only got to contact two of the hostels around town, but Kinlay and Snoozles have almost 200 students between them already – and they’re expecting more.
“The first years haven’t even arrived yet, and on top of all that, you have people in B&Bs and staying on their friends’ sofas,” said Ms Nic Lochlainn.
Pressure on the student rental market had been building for years, she said, but it had gone off the cliff edge this year as a perfect storm was created by increased student numbers and reduced bed availability.
“[Minister for Further and Higher Education] Simon Harris created new places on courses this year and talked about maximum access to education . . . I’m not sure how that works for students who are homeless.
“Because there weren’t many students around last year, some private landlords might have moved on. There was no new purpose-built accommodation delivered, and then Simon Harris creates new places with no new beds,” said Ms Nic Lochlainn of the causes of this year’s problems.”
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.