Remarks by FELIX M LARKIN on the occasion of the presentation by him of books and other materials to the Kennedy Book & Research Archive at New Ross Library, Co. Wexford
Kennedy Summer School, 5 September 2019
My first words this evening, the first evening of the 2019 Kennedy Summer School, must be words in memory of Noel Whelan. This event would not be happening this evening, and none of us would be assembled here this evening, were it not for Noel Whelan. The Kennedy Summer School was largely his creation – it was his idea, he was instrumental in establishing it, and his energy drove it to the successful heights that it has reached. If there is one word that sums Noel up for me, it is that very old-fashioned word: PATRIOT. He was a genuine patriot who lived and worked for his country, for the good of its people and for the various communities that he was part of – including, of course, New Ross and County Wexford.
Larry Donnelly, in a lovely piece he wrote about Noel in the Journal.ie, said that a “belief in the nobility of politics animated much of his professional life” – and that belief was something Noel shared with John F. Kennedy and his brothers, Robert and Ted. He was inspired, as I have been – as we all have been – by those famous words: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. The idealism and rhetoric of the Kennedys have inspired us all, which is why we are gathered here today for this Summer School.
I was twelve when JFK was assassinated in Dallas, Texas – and that event prompted me, at that early age, to begin reading about Kennedy, and about the US presidency and American history generally. It was the beginning of a lifelong interest in history and politics. I went on to study history at UCD and later to try my hand at writing history – and I am still at it. Along the way, I put together a very substantial library of history books and other materials – not all about American history by any means, but American history is a big part of the collection. Not being as young as I once was, I am now beginning to worry about the fate of my books after I have “shuffled off this mortal coil”. Having learned about the Kennedy Archive here in New Ross library – a wonderful by-product of the Kennedy Summer School – I knew immediately that this was the place for my American history books, a place where they would be cherished and, I hope, used by scholars visiting the area to explore the Kennedys’ Irish heritage.
I discussed the idea of making this donation with Brian Murphy at the Summer School last year, and again with Noel Whelan when I met up with him at Christmastime – and both encouraged me to go ahead with it. And so we are gathered here this evening to formally mark the handover of my books. This parting is for me “such sweet sorrow”, but in presenting these books and papers to New Ross, my modest hope is that the story of the Kennedys – and, more generally, what Abraham Lincoln called the “better angels” of American history – will inspire a spirit of public service in future generations, as JFK and his brothers inspired that in me and in so many others, including our late and much lamented friend Noel Whelan. To quote Ted Kennedy, I hope – and trust – that “the dream shall never die ... the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives”.