I shook hands with Robert F, Kennedy 50 years ago today, June 4, 1968, on Market St., San Francisco, where he was canvassing for the Presidency. He was murdered the following day, June 5, in the Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, almost directly opposite our (CTT-Irish Export Board) office.
The shock, the horror, the mourning was as deep and widespread as that which followed his brother JFK’s murder in 1963. It was not only the loss of a fine, brave campaigner for human rights and justice, but it felt like the sudden end of all dreams of a more civilised world order.
A little over 300 years earlier, in Ireland, the tragic death of Owen Roe O’Neill opened the way for Cromwellian genocide against our people, and changed the course of Irish history, from being a nation with, in all likelihood, our own overseas territories, like all other European nations at the time, to one of wretched emigration, cannon fodder in others’ armies and even slavery. The exploitation of and discrimination against the Irish (Catholics) continued in parts of the anglophone world, including the US, right up to the mid twentieth century, to the uplifting by the Kennedys, one might say. The loss of Jack and Bobby was a real loss of leadership by Irish and Irish-Americans.
The Kennedys were well versed in Irish history and seemed to regard Owen Roe as the greatest leader of the past. They usually mentioned Owen Roe when making Irish historical references. In particular they could recite or quote from the poem, the “Lament for Owen Roe” by Thomas Davis which describes the loss to the Irish people, occasioned by his death. Bobby recited the whole poem in a speech to the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick in Scranton Pa, in his first public engagement after Jacks death, in March 1964. It finishes:
We’re sheep without a shepherd,
when the snow shuts out the sky;
Oh! why did you leave us, Owen?’
Why did you die?
(The full speech is at http://www.netsso.com/sso/download/03-17-1964-Scranton-Bobbys-speech-Owen-Roe.php )
We Irish have not produced leaders of the calibre of the Kennedys or Owen Roe O’Neill, in the last 100 years or so of our “independence”. With the possible exception of Garrett Fitzgerald. Owen Roe is not even commemorated by the current lot, which seem to think Irish history commenced at the GPO (although we still commemorate in squares and buildings some of the most genocidal chaps from the other side) (Owen Roe led his Ulster Catholic Army to rescue the Cromwellian Protestants of Derry from a damaging siege mounted by English Loyalists in 1649, his last action before becoming ill and dying…The proposed roadway from Monaghan to Derry should be named after him!)…
In the late 1970s, I was introduced to Bobby’s widow in an elevator high up in the Chicago Merchandise Mart, where I was scouting for a new Mid-West office for CTT. We chatted for c. five minutes. She was absolutely lovely. She mentioned that she had come from Washington where, the previous evening, she attended a reception in the Irish embassy to introduce the Opposition Leader, Garrett Fitzgerald. She was delighted to report, and quite astonished, that over two thirds of the US Senate turned out to meet him.
Sirhan, the Palestinian patsy, didn’t kill RFK. He was in front of Bobby, who was shot from behind. Bobby’s son, Robert Kennedy Jnr, a activist lawyer in the Kennedy tradition- especially against vaccination abuse- spent quite a lot of time interviewing Sirhan in jail and doing other research and has called for a reopening of the investigation into his father’s murder (http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2018/05/27/robert-f-kennedy-jr-says-s-not-convinced-sirhan-sirhan-killed-his-dad.htm)
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