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Left: JFK is welcomed home to Ireland by his cousin, Mary Ryan. Right: President John F. Kennedy. Photo by: Google Images

Remembering the greatness of JFK, rather than the conspiracy theories

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Left: JFK is welcomed home to Ireland by his cousin, Mary Ryan. Right: President John F. Kennedy. Photo by: Google Images

It was 50 years ago this week that the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy stunned the world.

Since then the assassination has become the fulcrum of a “who shot JFK?” industry that shows no sign of slackening off.

This year alone over 20 new titles on the assassination will be published, with numerous documentaries and films also planned.

Perhaps it is human nature that spurs us on to ever more unlikely rushes to judgment over who shot JFK. Everyone from Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson to Kennedy’s driver on the day — an Irishman called William Greer, a Protestant from Tyrone who allegedly harbored anti-Catholic prejudice — has been fingered.

The best book on the killing is probably "Case Closed," by investigative journalist Gerard Posner, who intensively researched every angle and theory, and makes clear that Lee Harvey Oswald carried out the shooting. He takes apart each conspiracy theory surrounding events on November 22, 1963 and debunks them.

Until the expected release of CIA files relating to the assassination in 2017, that is likely to be the only plausible scenario.

But lost in the furor over the assassination is the life of John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic of Irish roots to be elected president of the United States. It was as earthshaking an event at the time as the election five years ago of Barack Obama was to African Americans.

JFK’s trip to Ireland the summer before he died was an epochal event for Ireland and Irish America. It was a turning point in history, the moment when the great grandchild of penniless Famine emigrants returned as the most powerful man in the world.

It transformed Ireland in a way that changed the nation forever. It created a new horizon, a vista of endless possibilities for every emigrant and every emigrant’s sons and daughters.

We will never know what the unfulfilled years of the JFK presidency would have brought, or how it would all have turned out for him if he had lived.

Issues such as Vietnam and his philandering would have darkened JFK’s legacy no doubt, but he may have burnished it in many other ways.

Amazingly, today he would be 96, possibly still alive, as he was from a long-lived family. His mother Rose lived past the century mark.

“What made us dream that he would live to comb grey hair,” WB Yeats once asked in a different context. With JFK the Irish in America also knew the truth of the George Bernard Shaw quote that “to be Irish is to know that in the end the world will break your heart.”

Our hearts were broken indeed on that day in Dallas, now half a century ago. But we should not dwell on the details and shocking events of that day.

We need to remember JFK in life: the vibrant, wonderful figure, and the break with the grey past he represented to millions of Irish and Irish Americans.

He was indeed a Celtic chieftain, taken tragically and far too young, but his legacy lives on in civil rights, human rights, reaching for the moon and stars and in the hearts of Irish everywhere who remember that magic summer when the world was young and an American president, a son of their own tribe, came to visit.

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