As we enjoy our second consecutive relatively warm and sunny summer here in Ireland, the annual season of summer school think-ins has gotten into full swing. These summer schools, which bring together politicians, academics, journalists, economists, business people and other key stakeholders to reflect upon the central issues facing this country in front of interested audiences of varying sizes, attract media coverage and often generate headlines in the throes of the “silly season.” The most prestigious and well-known of these gatherings, the MacGill Summer School, just took place in Glenties, Co. Donegal and was the focal point of discussion for the political classes for an entire week.
While these summer schools typically and understandably have an inward-looking focus, there is one which will be held on the second weekend in September in New Ross, Co. Wexford and might be of particular interest to visiting Irish Americans. The Kennedy Summer School, founded by the barrister, political commentator and Irish Times columnist, Noel Whelan, has been a showcase for Ireland’s southeast region since September 2012. This year, it takes place from Thursday, the 11th of September, through Saturday, the 13th. The summer school is fittingly held in the picturesque town of New Ross, just a few miles from the birthplace of President John F. Kennedy’s great-grandfather, Patrick Kennedy.
Indeed, numerous members of the Kennedy family have travelled back “home” to participate in the summer school, including Edward Kennedy Jr., who delivered a memorable speech last year and is now a candidate for the Connecticut State Senate. They have been joined by countless other politicians, journalists, historians and academics from both sides of the Atlantic for fascinating and thought-provoking discussions of all things Irish and American. I’ve been delighted to attend and speak at the summer school for the past two years, and will be there again this September to examine American presidential campaigns from 1964-2012.
Although the programme of events is not quite finalised, the summer school’s overarching theme is: “History Repeats Itself.” Two featured speakers will be Baroness Nuala O’Loan and Professor Nina Khrushcheva. Baroness O’Loan, now a member of the United Kingdom House of Lords, served as the first Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman, and will discuss her extraordinary experience and the legacy of the troubled past in the north. Professor Khrushcheva specialises in international affairs at the New School and is a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute in New York. She is also the granddaughter of former Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev and will present a paper on the “Cold War: Then and Once Again?”
Summer school participants will hear from some of Ireland’s leading politicians, such as Lucinda Creighton TD of the Reform Alliance and Pearse Doherty TD of Sinn Féin, on what is likely to be another difficult budget for the Irish people this year. Professor Christine Kinealy, Director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University, will give an address entitled “Blaming the Poor for their Poverty: Then and Once Again?” Journalist and former member of Seanad Éireann (Ireland’s upper house of parliament), Eoghan Harris, will speak about the art and craft of political campaigns. The legendary RTÉ (Ireland’s national broadcaster) GAA announcer, Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh, will be joined by the Association’s Director General, Páraic Duffy, to share some reflections on the role of the GAA in the lives of Irish emigrants around the globe – historically and today.
And that’s merely a sampling of what will take place over the three days. Moreover, as well as the events that comprise the summer school, the weekend gives people the chance to see a town and area in Ireland which aren’t likely to be the first destinations that come to mind for international and domestic tourists. Yet as I’ve discovered first hand, New Ross and the surrounding region have a lot to offer visitors.
In the event that you have a vacation to Ireland planned for September or if you live here and fancy a weekend away, please consider coming down to New Ross. If you have an interest in the closest thing to a royal family Ireland or America has, or in politics more generally, or in sport, or in history, or in the relationship between our two wonderful countries, there will certainly be something to your liking at the Kennedy Summer School. I promise it’ll be worth the trip.
More details on the Kennedy Summer School are available at www.kennedysummerschool.ie.