JFK’s view from the docks has changed

My, how the tables have turned in the sixty years this week since President John F Kennedy stood in Eyre Square and said ‘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, Massachussetts. And if you did, you would see down working on the docks there some Doughertys and Flahertys and Ryans and cousins of yours who have gone to Boston and made good.”

The words echo through the ages, if not for the pictures they paint, but for the image they portrayed of our neighbour across the water making sure there was work for us when it was needed. A helping hand for those in need, because for a century before he walked in Galway, Ireland was a place in need.

And in the week when we remember that visit, it is fitting that if you take a trip down to those Galway docks and look west, you will see instead, not the Doughertys and Flahertys and Ryans in the distant shimmer of a Boston dockyard, but instead, the glimmering steel and glass of the offices of high-spec American and Irish companies that have realised the benefit, both encominc, educational and cultural of having a base in Ireland.

I was reminded of all of this at the opening of US-headquartered Signify Health this week, the latest company to move into the impressive Bonham Quay complex where through those vast panes of glass, and from their rooftop perches, their talented employees are now able to see across the bay, the ocean and the world from the fingertips. What would Kennedy have made of it all, those Galway docks lined with American companies contributing to the culture and economy of his ancient homeland?

Coincidentally, Signify have one of their shared headquarters in Dallas, Texas, a name that meant nothing to any of us until that fateful day later that year in 1963. But a reminder this week of the connections that have stood through the ages since that visit, the words about the docks, and the news from Dallas just five months later.

I am reminded of this because of Galwaywoman Pam Finn’s wonderful documentary Three Miles which recalls all that went into preparing Galway for that one-day visit during which he travelled just three miles in our city, but it felt like a thousand miles in our memory banks.

The film will be showcased at the JFK Hyannis Museum Cape Cod, Massachusetts United States and Galway City Museum this summer and is well worth seeing and will also be available to view via jfkthethreemiles.com after its premiere later this week.

There were many similarities with that time and now; we also stand on the precipice of a calamitous nuclear incident; the world is divided into good guys and bad again, even though the baddies seem to have been hogging the limelight for the best part of a decade.

The myth of JFK is all the more strong because of his ancestry, but also because of the ‘what if’ that is forever posed when people talk about his legacy.

The connections with this country run strong, not least through his family’s role in the peace process, and through the Special Olympics cause his family advocate. That event came to this country two decades ago this summer and gave every village and town a sense of ownership and responsibility and created an advocacy model which has redrawn the way such events are now staged.

Time flows fast... to think that six decades have passed since Kennedy walked among us is frightening. Before he left he said that

“It is strange that so many years could pass and so many generations pass and still some of us who came on this trip could come home and here to Ireland and feel ourselves at home and not feel ourselves in a strange country, but feel ourselves among neighbours, even though we are separated by generations, by time, and by thousands of miles.:

At this time, there are many people who have come to Ireland for reasons of refuge, safety, with a desire to build a better life. It is incumbent upon us all to combat anything that should threaten their safety, their dignity, their ability to form part of a new diverse and welcoming Ireland.

If we are to learn anything from the three miles and the words of that visit to Galway, it is that we have to look out for each other, and pursue not just our own narrow interests.


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