Several other events continued to bind me to you. The leaders of the local historical society, Cumann Luchra, elected me as the Uachtaran of the organization. (Fig. 13) Years later, when I was appointed as the Grand Marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade New York in 2000 - the only physician ever selected to lead that great parade in its 250 year history - my cousin Ann brought a contingent from Rathmore to cheer us on. (Fig. 14)
I also feel it appropriate to share with you an unusual experience when I was able to translate a period of service into something important for Ireland. As my friend, Tim O’Connor, noted in his introductory comments today, I cared for Pope John Paul II in 1981 after he almost died from an assassination attempt. As he was recovering we had long talks about many subjects, including my discovering the absence of any modern Irish Art in the Vatican Museum. The Holy Father, being a good Pope, did not want to issue a directive that might offend the museum curators’ prerogatives.
He suggested we form a Committee and submit a formal recommendation (Fig. 15), the usual resolution in any bureaucracy, but he promised me that he would subtly guide the process along.
Needless to say, that help resulted in the Museum accepting our Committee’s donation of a large le Brocquy tapestry, thereby allowing Ireland’s art to be officially recognized at the Vatican. Today my five sons and seven of my nine grandchildren are here at this Gathering. They maintain, in their generation, close bonds between those who are in Ireland, and the vast diaspora that represent you all over the world, from America to Australia. My third son, Christopher, has been the TV commentator for the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade for more than ten years. He is the Executive Director of the American Irish Historical Society and, appropriate for today’s festivities, is the author of Gather Round: The Best of Irish Poetry. (Fig. 16) Brendan, my fourth son, is on the Advisory Board of University College Dublin’s Centre for Humanitarian Action and works closely with its Clinton Institute. I am proud to say that my other sons, Kevin, Sean, and Denis also have close intellectual, emotional and cultural ties with Ireland.
Now it is time for the grandchildren to begin – each in their own way – to identify with you, and to build those bridges that transcend time and oceans, linking us together not only at this Gathering but in meaningful – and even unknown – ways in the future. My final words are of thanks to you, the people of Kerry, for showing by this Gathering that a very special relationship with the scattered family of the Irish overseas continues to matter to you. History, geography and circumstance have meant that thousands of people, like my grandfather, had to leave this beautiful place to build a life and a home elsewhere. But for many, like my grandfather, this place never left them – rather to paraphrase him, the hills of Ireland continued to inhabit their hearts. This Gathering is an acknowledgment of the pain and the loss involved, not just for those who left, but for those who stayed behind as well. But it is also a recognition that through that kind of death, that American wake, came new life, new beginnings and new possibilities.
The closing of the circle that is the Gathering, therefore, holds a powerful message for the future – for my grandchildren who live in the New World and for their cousins who continue to live in the Old. Something of the magic, and the mystery, of the streams, hills and vales of Auniskirtane continues to unite us as family no matter where we are in this global, complex, challenging yet continuously wonderful world we inhabit. That fact constitutes a precious gift that transcends distance and time – the gift of being Irish together and of being community to each other. By understanding that gift and accepting it, we enrich each other in a profound way, supporting each other as we continue the great journey forward, wherever we may be and wherever it may take us. And never forgetting those who have gone before us. We salute you, John D. may that soul of yours, burst apart by exile, be resting a bit easier this evening.