Kennedy: “More Irish than Harvard…”

Boston man Kevin Cullen with one of the sharpest pieces on Kennedy’s relationship with the Ireland

Among the family portraits are those of his grandfather, John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, the first Irish Catholic elected to the US House of Representatives from New England, and his brother, John, the first Irish Catholic elected president of the United States.

In a corner, there is a chess set, the pieces of which are figures from the North. Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley are knights. The pawns, more poignantly, are Provos and RUC men. Above the fireplace, there is a black-and-white road sign suggesting that Lough Gur is just one-and-a-half miles away, and in some ways it was.

The Kennedy consciousness was informed by its Irishness, by overcoming discrimination against Irish Catholics — which at the end of the 19th century was as systemic in Boston as it was in Northern Ireland — and by surviving politically motivated violence.

Four years ago, in a snub meant to encourage the IRA to disarm and disband, Kennedy refused to meet Gerry Adams in Washington on St Patrick’s Day.

Instead, he hosted the sisters and fiancee of Robert McCartney, the Belfast man murdered by IRA men months before. Claire McCartney, Mr McCartney’s youngest sister, said they met with much sympathy in Washington, but only Kennedy could offer them empathy. “He knows what it’s like,” she said. Kennedy later mended fences with Adams, calling to congratulate him after the IRA disarmed.

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  • Long John Silver

    Exposing my lack of knowledge about America here, but could someone explain what the “more Irish than Harvard” comment means?

  • LGS, perhaps his Irish roots were more significant than his Harvard ones:

    May 1951: Is caught cheating on an exam and leaves Harvard College. Enlists in the Army and serves for the next 16 months. Later re-enrolls at Harvard.

    _ June 1954: Graduates from Harvard and enrolls at the University of Virginia Law School. Graduates from law school in 1959.


  • michael

    I think the advice was to play on his ‘blue collar credentials’ as his support base composed of what the americans refer to as lower middle class people.

    Or poor people as we know them here in Europe.

  • Rory Carr

    The advice from Robert Frost to President Kennedy to “ more Irsh than Harvard” is probably a reference to the reputation that Harvard Law has for churning out liberal lawyers from an Irish background. It also holds a reputation for churning out equally liberal lawyers from a Jewish background and between these two groups was formed the fighting legal base of the Civil Rights Movement. You will see recognition of these alliances in so many movies which will feature a law partnership named O’Brien, Mooney & Finklestein or Jacobs, Finestein and O’Connell or some such and their real-life counterparts are to be found all over Boston, New York and even Philidelphia.

  • saintnev

    Gee thanks for that Nev maybe it was Prince Harry’s art teachers mom wot did the cheatin for im eh.

  • wild turkey


    don’t know about the irish/jewish lawyer thing…

    but see link below

    ‘But JFK was dead. The country had lost its charismatic leader, the clan its chieftain. The country would publicly mourn him, but the clan would wake him and bury him and sing him sad songs. Ted Kennedy, the youngest and the Senator from Massachusetts, reflected, ‘Let them say what they want about our people and we have many faults–they cannot say that we are not loyal to our chieftain’.’

  • RepublicanStones

    RTE 1 now.

  • Frost’s line to be ‘more Irish than Harvard’ came at a time when ethnic groups like Irish-Americans were steadily gaining access to segments of society (highest echelons of finance, law, medicine…the Supreme Court, the White House) long preserved for the Anglo-American establishment, personified by Harvard.

    The Kennedys – through their wealth and ambition -had gained access to that club decades earlier of course. But Frost was suggesting that Kennedy, having just won the most powerful seat in the nation, if not the world, should never forget where he came from, and that he should govern on behalf of ordinary folks (immigrants, blue collar workers, etc, not just elist ones.

  • Rory Carr

    Yes! I think that Mike explains it best. It would seem that Ted Kennedy at least took his words to heart and for that he will be missed.