“As the first of the racial minorities, our forefathers were subject to every discrimination found wherever discrimination is known.”
– Robert Kennedy speaking at a Friendly Sons of St. Patrick Day dinner in Scranton, PA
It is fitting that we have Joe Kennedy III on the cover of this issue that marks the beginning of our 33rd year in publishing.
Joe’s father, Joe II, the then- young Congressman from Massachusetts, was featured on the cover of Irish America in 1986, and he attended the Boston launch of the magazine that same year.
What I remember most about our launch in Boston all those years ago is not the young Kennedy’s wide smile and great hair, but the fact that our car was stolen. When it was recovered, a week later, our personal belonging were still in the trunk but our boxes of magazines were missing. I never could figure out if it was a British plot, or if the thieves thought our magazines were more valuable than our clothes!
As Irish America’s first family, we have featured many stories on the Kennedys over the years, including cover stories on Senator Ted Kennedy (1991) and Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith (1995), both of whom helped shepherd in the peace process in Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement (20 years ago this April.)
Looking at the gridlock in today’s government, one can only wish that Ted were still alive. He was so willing to reach across the aisle in the spirit of bi-partisan compromise. And his advocacy was always on behalf of the poor, the elderly, and the handicapped (almost all the significant legislation affecting these groups has Ted’s his stamp on it). So it’s comforting to see those same political ideals reflected in young Joe Kennedy’s work today.
In speaking out on behalf of immigrants and minorities, Joe is following the family tradition. His grandfather Robert Kennedy, speaking at a Friendly Sons of St. Patrick dinner in Scranton – his first public appearance after the death of President Kennedy – talked of the discrimination the Irish had faced as “the first racial minorities,” and he asked his audience to be mindful of “the walls of silent conspiracy that block the progress of others because of race or creed, without regard to ability.”
What makes the Kennedys such great politicians and champions of the underdog is the knowledge they have of their own family’s early struggles in America. In that respect, there is one person who often gets overlooked by the general public, and that’s Bridget Murphy.
If Niall O’Dowd walked away from his Joe Kennedy III interview with the catchphrase, “Why the Dream Will Never Die,” it’s because Bridget Murphy wouldn’t let it die.
Bridget (who is said to have hated her name because all the Irish maids were referred to as Biddys or Bridgets) immigrated from Wexford to Boston in 1848 and married her fiancé, Patrick Kennedy, on September 26, 1849. In seven years, they had five children – three girls and two boys. John, their first son, died before he reached the age of two. And within a year of John’s death, Patrick would be dead too, having succumbed to cholera, which was rampant in their East Boston neighborhood.
As a young widow with four children to support, Bridget couldn’t give in to her grief. She ran a small shop down on the waterfront and kept her family together. And her American dream of a better life for her kids did come true. Her remaining son and youngest child, Patrick Joseph, “P.J.,” who left school at 14 to help out his mother and sisters in the shop, went on to become a successful businessman and serve in both the Massachusetts House of Representatives and in the Senate.
Bridget died in December 1888 having lived long enough to see the birth of P.J.’s first child, Joseph Patrick “Joe” Kennedy, who was born in September of that year. Could she ever have imagined that Joe’s son John would become the President of the United States, the first Catholic ever elected to the office?
The Kennedy story is an American dream story, and an immigrant story. It is full of great achievements and unbearable tragedy, but most of all it’s a story of grit and determination and of rising above life’s sorrows. It’s a story that began with Bridget Murphy.
So, here’s to you, Bridget. You are not forgotten. Like Saint Brigid herself, you were full of determination and courage, and you passed it down. It helped future generations overcome their own sorrows, and still have a care for others.
Mórtas Cine. ♦