Friday, October 12, 2007

What were you doing when President John F Kennedy was shot?

Without even checking a calendar I can recall that 22nd November 1963 fell on a Friday. I was eight years old. My parents did not yet have television at the time. However my Uncle Paddy and his wife Sheila did have a television and at the end of the school week on a Friday night I was often allowed to watch some TV with them. Their house was right behind ours and accessed from our back garden into their back garden. So that evening I was merrily enjoying some interesting movie on RTE (Telifis Eireann as it was called then) in the inglorious days of snowy black and white reception. The movie was interrupted and a newsflash came up. A rather stunned looking news presenter - the famous Charles Mitchel - came on the screen to say that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas and had been rushed to hospital. Even as an eight year old I was more than a little shocked. Kennedy was adored in our household and had only been over to Ireland in summer of the same year.

My Aunt Sheila's mother Mrs O'Brien was watching the newsflash with me and she was quite upset about it. She carefully told me to rush home and tell my parents about this shocking news.

I ran out the back door and across to our house. I told my mother that President Kennedy had been shot. To my surprise she just laughed and told me that I was confused. Mum knew I'd gone over to watch a movie and she announced to my Dad and I that I must have been watching the movie "PT109" which was about the young JFK and his adventures in the US navy during the Pacific war with Japan. It took me quite a bit of explaining to convince her to turn on the wireless. Our old valve radio seemed to take longer that usual to warm up. Eventually the radio confirmed my version of events and the household went into turmoil. I recall that initially there was hope that Kennedy might live but they speculated that the head wound could render him useless. Not long afterwards the death was confirmed.

I've written before on how important a figure Kennedy was to Irish people. It was almost as if a family member had died and the mood in the house descended into a deep sadness. I remember Mrs Farrell next door coming into our house and bawling her eyes out. Most households had Kennedy photographs on the walls and mantelpieces at the time which had equal status to religious pictures.

The death of Kennedy was really like a personal loss to Irish households in a way that I have never since witnessed in my long life by the death of any public figure. To us he was our proud son who reached the pinnacle. He had pure Irish lineage on his mother and father's side all the way back to the dark days of famine emigration. He was the leader of the most powerful nation on earth and he was ours! People in Ireland in the 1960s were still very introverted in looking out at our status in the World. But Kennedy gave us - myself very much included - the belief in ourselves that anything we dream was possible.


Grannymar said...

I was watching those same snowy pictures while babysitting my nephews and niece.

Claire said...

This one is a wee bit before my time but it's very interesting to read about how people reacted. Different times.

blankpaige said...

Although I wasn't even a twinkle, it is fascinating to think that there was once a US President who was liked/admired. I know he wasn't without his faults and he'd an easier time from the press but it is amazing how our impression of that office has changed so much.
Great post, great description.

John of Dublin said...

Thanks guys for the great comments. I'll try to pick a much more recent event next time!

ainelivia said...

Was at my convent school's Bazaar, with my first love. Our headmistress got on the stage in tears gave us the news. We all made our way home shocked into silence. I watched the TV with my Mammy and Daddy, and just sat there and cried.

John of Dublin said...

Thanks for that Ainelivia, very interesting.

It's hard for many to believe today how much it affected Irish people at the time.

Anonymous said...

I'm Paul in Newport Beach, CA, 58 years old and an American of Irish ancestry. I was a high school freshman on that awful day. Some at my school had begun lunch, while the rest of us had a class. I walked toward the door and noticed older boys and girls talking in hushed tones. Everyone looked concerned, scared. We had to go into class and very soon the teacher said, yes, it's true, President Kennedy was shot in Dallas. We were all shocked, and reacted in different ways. A few minutes later, our principal (headmaster) came over the intercom and announced President Kennedy was dead. Everyone became numb and many of the girls cried. Shortly afterwards outside, a few of the boys were hateful enough to laugh and make jokes, and one boy said, "He had it coming!" We lived in a strongly Republican town. The rest of the afternoon was a daze, and then our buses took us home early. That day changed the world, my dear Irish friends and cousins. I was heartened to see your recollections. God bless you all.

John of Dublin said...

Hi Paul, thanks for dropping by and leaving those very interesting thoughts.