was troubled by a peculiar schizophrenia. Subsequent revisionist historians attributed this phenomenon to the insecurity that had always been a part of the Irish experience in America. They may have been right.

John F. Kennedy

       But at the same time that Joseph McCarthy was gaining his notoriety, another Irish Catholic Senator was preparing very carefully to run for the nation's highest office. His name was John F. Kennedy. Kennedy made a strong run for the Vice Presidential nomination at the 1956 Democratic Convention but lost. In 1960, however, working on a broad base earned in countless primaries, Kennedy won the Democratic nomination for the Presidency. He had to convince his own party first that he held no brief for either Joseph McCarthy or Fr. Coughlin. Then he had to convince the electorate that a Catholic in the White House would not betray the country to the Papacy, nor compromise his oath of office in favor of his personal religious beliefs. The people believed him and elected him President, but by the closest of margins.

       It is not our task here to analyze voting patterns in the Kennedy-Nixon election of 1960, nor to evaluate the Kennedy Presidency. We might make note however of Irish reaction to his candidacy and his Presidency. What we observe here is true of Cleveland Irish in particular and, to a degree, of the nation's Irish in general. At first, they simply did not seem to grasp .....




the fact that the non-Catholic, non-Irish establishment could actually question Kennedy's loyalty to the country and to his oath of office. To be sure, many Irish were aware that some in the Church hierarchy, notably Cardinal Spellman of New York, did not favor Kennedy's election. But they were also aware, sometimes with some embarrassment, that another Cardinal, Richard Cushing of Boston, seemed to be all but a personal chaplain to the Kennedy family. Such a division at the top of the American Church's hierarchy appeared normal enough to Irish Catholic Americans. It startled non-Catholics who felt that the Catholic vote was dictated by either bishops or priests. The myth that the Irish, or Catholics in general, voted as a block was really focused upon by Gallup and Harris for the first time in the 1960 election. Kennedy watched their ongoing polls carefully, noting in a speech to the Catholic Youth Organization in New York just before he left for Dallas in November 1963, that his strongest support came from young Catholics, priests and nuns. He ruefully observed that he had little support from the American bishops and less from American cardinals.

       Kennedy brought to the Presidency a form of Irish Catholicism which was not at all rooted in the parochialism that had shaped the lives of most of his fellow Irish Catholics in America. He had never attended a parochial grade school; he never attended a Catholic high school or university. He was a Harvard man and when he received an honorary Yale doctorate, he noted that he had .....




finally achieved the best of two worlds, a Harvard education and a Yale degree.

       Oddly enough, Irish American Catholics did not seem to resent this seeming betrayal of their educational enclaves. On the contrary, they seemed to respect it without, in any sense, denying the validity of their own struggle for Catholic education. Perhaps they allowed him this luxury since he was wealthy, and more likely, they felt pleased that a Catholic could achieve success in the most prestigious of the nation's private nonCatholic schools. Finally, the University of Notre Dame awarded Kennedy an honorary doctorate. But for the most part, the Irish American Catholics were proud to note that Kennedy attended Mass each Sunday and generally went to communion. More than this they did not require of him.

       There were anti-Kennedy people among Cleveland's Irish to be sure; one suspects that these people were basically Republicans in politics. Their dissent was rarely made public. But after Kennedy'a assassination these people were especially subdued, knowing that such dissent implied a failure to support a man regarded at least as a secular martyr. It is worthy of note that to this day, in many American Irish homes, Kennedy's picture is enshrined in a special place of honor, often with that of his brother Robert and Martin Luther King. Perhaps it is not far from the mark to say that once Kennedy became President, and surely after he was killed, Irish Americans no longer regarded .....




him as their man; they knew he belonged to the whole country. Its grief told them that.

       Oddly enough, it was the Irish in County Wexford and elsewhere in Ireland who regarded Kennedy as their son, especially after his visit to Ireland in August of 1963. He addressed the Irish parliament (or Dial) as a visiting chief of a foreign country; but most Irishmen in Ireland simply saw him as an immigrant's grandson who had made good. For his part, Kennedy was captured by an Irish ethnicity long dormant during the years after his family's immigration to Boston. So thoroughly did the Kennedy family seek to become Americanized that all strains of Irish heritage seem to have been lost. The only Irish loyalty John Kennedy appears to have cherished was that derived from his Irish advisors, all of whom had been in this country for several generations. Thus, when Kennedy went to Ireland, felt the spirit of the place and recalled the romance of the people, he did what so many latter day Irish Americans who visit Ireland do. He began to go back to the Famine, to reconstruct the history of his family and to learn just how far his family had come from the poverty that caused it to leave Ireland in the 1850's. Whether for ill or good, John Kennedy was much more aware of his Irish background just before he was killed than at any other time in his life. And to all of this the American Irish, and the Cleveland Irish in particular, hardly knew how to respond. The saddest part of the whole event seems to have been that they had only 3 months to make any sort of response before the tragic .....




day in Dallas on November 22, 1963. And after that day, It was too late altogether.