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Dr Kevin Cahill on the balcony of the American Irish Historic Society on Fifth Avenue, in New York City. Photo by: Kevin Cahill

Bringing it all back home for the Cahill family Gathering in Kerry - PHOTOS

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Dr Kevin Cahill on the balcony of the American Irish Historic Society on Fifth Avenue, in New York City. Photo by: Kevin Cahill

At age 19 John D. left the farm to go in second-class steerage on a seven-day ocean journey from Cork to New York. They had an “American wake” before his departure, for the reality of the time was that he might well be gone forever – a new life in a new world was balanced by the loss and sadness, and usual permanence akin to death, in his native land. You will note on the ship’s log that he listed his native country as Auniskirtane.

(Figs. 3 & 4) Within a few weeks after arriving in America he found a job as a clerk at Lord and Taylor, a large clothing store; he was paid $5.00 a week. These were lonely 4 years, full of memories. He once wrote a poem entitled The Exile From Auniskirtane, and I read but two stanzas:
The river flows through our farmland. The hills lie all around. Since I left that simple valley I’ve naught of comfort found.

The river ripples through my brain. The hills inhabit my heart. O, I that left the hills and river Have burst my soul apart.  Just a few years later he passed the examinations for the ultimate dream of the Irish immigrant, a position as a patrolman in the New York Police Department (NYPD). (Fig. 5)
John D. steadily progressed up through the ranks of the NYPD, retiring as a Captain and the first Chief of the Communications Department. His personal life, however, knew tragedy that tied him even more closely to Irish relatives and a support system that flowed both ways between New York and Kerry. His wife died in the birth of their third child, and this remarkable man, with the help of an Irish cousin, made certain those children realized the American dream through education. Although he had never graduated from secondary school he learned Latin and Greek so that he could check his son’s homework. He also made several trips back to Rathmore and Auniskirtane, so that his offspring knew the people and the land from whence he had come.

My father, also named John D., became a physician; one generation of hard work by an immigrant from this county had produced a professional man of stature in the medical world of New York. My father also never lost contact with Kerry; my brothers, sisters and I had to memorize the poems, and even sing the songs, that reminded us of our ancestry. And we, also, returned to Rathmore with our father.

My own links with Kerry are deep and long-standing. After I was engaged to be married I spent a period in London on a fellowship at the Royal Free Hospital. I hoped to share a brief Christmas holiday with my fiancé without crossing the Atlantic. After much discussion with Kate’s family – for customs at that time required that if an unmarried (though engaged) couple were to spend time together, even with relatives in Rathmore, there were proper negotiations to be held. All was finally approved, and a most memorable part of our courtship was dancing in barns, and getting to know the lovely Sliabh Luachra area. (Figs. 6-8) For the next four years, as I worked as a U.S. Navy physician in a medical research unit, first in London and then in the Middle East, Rathmore became almost a second home; Vincent and Joan Cahill made sure we were always welcome. (Fig. 9)

As the years unfolded good fortune allowed me to develop professional bases in both America and Ireland, and to forge close friendships, particularly with the Irish artistic community.  The American Irish Historical Society (Fig. 10) provided a most elegant platform on Fifth Avenue in New York for Irish poets, writers, painters, crafts people, and politicians. Almost simultaneously I began a program on this side of the ocean at The Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin (Fig. 11), building from scratch the largest Tropical Medicine and International Health Department in a medical school in Europe.

PHOTOS - Dr. Kevin Cahill on the powerful pull of Irish roots and family history - slideshow

During my thirty-six year tenure as a Professor at the College of Surgeons I taught over 4,000 medical students. Those were wonderful years; with the energy of youth I commuted between Dublin and New York four to five times per year. The only negative in this period of our life was that, as the College of Surgeons’ demands grew, the trips to Kerry became more rare. But fond memories never fully receded.

Soon after being appointed to the College Chair in 1969 I established an annual lecture series in Belfast; those were, as you may recall, very troubled times, and these trips from the Republic to the North were quite dangerous. Several of my good friends were killed for trying to use the neutral discipline of medicine to build bridges to peace. Many of my writings in this period were collected into a book for which Louis le Brocquy created a memorable jacket cover (Fig. 12) showing, as he phrased in a letter to me, two streams of people (the Nationalists and the Loyalists, Catholics and Protestant) learning to overcome the obstacles implied by the spine in order to blend into one community. 

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