Robert Kennedy’s Love Affair with Ireland

Kerry Kennedy with a road sign honouring JFK when she visited Bruff, Co Limerick. pic Declan Hehir

Kerry Kennedy on her father’s love affair with Ireland – his horse called Killarney – and the enduring cross-Atlantic tie with the younger generations of Kennedys
“Ireland was all over the house”, recalled Kerry Kennedy.
The daughter of Robert F Kennedy spoke of her father’s love affair with the country at the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy autumn school last weekend.
Her father often referred to as the “most Irish of the Kennedy children” had nods to his roots throughout his life.
“He just fell in love with Ireland”, referring to his visits to Ireland, “Ireland was all over our house.
“Killarney, for instance, was the name of his horse. Our dogs were named for Ireland.  He named me for Co. Kerry.
“It was kind of a love affair with those roots and something that he wanted to pass on to us as well.”
She said the cross-Atlantic visits by her father and her uncle, President Kennedy, along with the visits of her grandmother, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, were often spoken about among her extended family.
“There’s just an endless kind of series of stories about Ireland in our household.
“The trip that Daddy took, the trip that grandma took, the trip that uncle Jack took, people just talked about those all the time.
“The aim of everybody was how old do I have to be before I can get a passport and once I get a passport how do I get from here to Ireland?
“It wasn’t how do I get from here to Europe or to South America or to someplace else in the world.
“I remember when I was 14, I got a passport for the first time, and immediately within a week was on a plane to Ireland.”
The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy autumn school in Bruff in Limerick last weekend was celebrating the ‘F’ in JFK and the three great grandparents of her father and President Kennedy, who hailed from Bruff and Lough Gur.
The human rights activist and lawyer said she returned to Co. Limerick last year to further explore her maternal ancestors, her maternal grandfathers, Thomas Fitzgerald and Michael Hannon and great grandmother, Mary Ann Fitzgerald.
“I just spent a day in Bruff and I was able to go to the church, it was  wonderful to see where all of our ancestors prayed and got married and where their funerals were held.
“I went to the field where my ancestors lived.   Then I was able to go to the graveyard which is pretty fascinating.
“You go down a winding road and then you walk through a field and you come to this small graveyard that is surrounded by stone. And in there, it’s just one Fitzgerald after the other so it’s quite moving to me.”
She believes her father’s involvement in human rights and the civil rights movements was very much informed by his Irish heritage.
“When I was a kid, we would go to my grandma’s house, and then she would go into her attic and she had all of these scrapbooks and she would show us the employment signs, NINA, No Irish Need Apply.
“I think my father had this extraordinary sense of empathy, especially to people who were marginalised people, who were left behind in ways.
“I think that that was all informed by his Irish roots and the sense of what it means to be an oppressed people.
“I think that’s part of his view on immigration, which of course, he fought very, very hard to change so the more Irish people could come to the United States and people from all over the world and informed his understanding of the civil rights movement.
“Because of course, he saw the parallels between the oppression of blacks in the United States and Irish by the English, and then he took that understanding when he went around the world.”
She also said her father, Robert Kennedy had a particularly close relationship with her larger-than-life great grandfather John ‘Honey Fitz’ Fitzgerald, who visited Bruff at the turn of the 20th century before going on to become Mayor of Boston.
“My father was kind of a shy kid and kind of scrawny and I think he was drawn especially to Honey Fitz, who was just so larger than life and had such a great sense of humor.”
And she said the Kennedy clan are continuing to stay in touch with their Limerick side of the family, with some of the young Kennedys supporting the All-Ireland winning hurling team.
“I have a nephew, his name is Declan and he has the Limerick T-shirt that he wears all the time.”
She said the younger generation still have a “tremendous amount of interest in Ireland”.
“Everybody’s names are from Ireland still. My niece Saoirse lived in Ireland.
“I think there is a very, very very strong sense of Irish rootedness in our children’s generation,
“Don’t worry, I don’t think that’s going away anytime soon, or maybe you should worry because there’s so many of them…140”, she joked, “we’re all coming.”