JFK Irish documentary: June 1963 President Kennedy in motorcade in Ireland. Photograph by Robert Knudsen, White House, in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.[/caption]
The Kennedys’ Irish Mafia follows the president’s lineage and the relevance of his ancestors in shaping his own destiny
As US presidencies go, John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s is up there with the most renowned. He had the good looks, he had the charm, he had the winning smile. And he was Irish.
Those old enough to remember his time in the Oval Office will no doubt be able to tell you exactly where they were when they heard of his assassination.
A new documentary, which is to be released later this month, charts JFK’s rise and explores his family history from the moment his great-grandfather, Patrick, set sail from Co. Wexford in the mid-19th century.
It is a well-known fact that Kennedy was Irish. What The Kennedys’ Irish Mafia attempts to show is that everyone else around him was too. The film, which runs for roughly an hour and a half, does a fine job of covering the future president’s lineage and the relevance of his ancestors in shaping his own destiny.
It is perhaps covered in too much detail given that the basis of the film is the impact of his advisors, but it is important in setting the scene. It is also important in terms of showing the sort of characteristics Kennedy, as the descendent of an Irish immigrant, adopted and admired.
His grandfather, PJ Kennedy, was the first to make real inroads into American politics. He saw the potential for social climbing and passed this ambition onto his son, Joe, who became an influential figure in the Roosevelt administration.
Eventually, despite his isolation from the US in his role as Ambassador to the UK, Joe had the power to guide his children into positions of control.
Joe had always surrounded himself with Irish-American can-doers, and the film shows that his son continued this practice. Included were Dave Powers, a man who would remain his closest advisor throughout his career, Larry O’Brien, his link between the White House and Congress, and Kenny O’Donnell, his very own gatekeeper and controller of access.
The importance of these men, in addition to his brother, Bobby, is portrayed throughout the film, with recurring references to loyalty, trust and Irishness.
“They were there at the beginning, they were there at the end.”
There could be greater emphasis on the significance of Bobby in his brother’s administration, though his important role in the Cuban Missile Crisis is duly explained. And the impact of Kennedy’s wife, Jackie, as a glamorous and willing political asset – the like of which had never been seen before – is clearly presented.
Inevitably, there are too many stuffy historians surrounded by endless volumes on Kennedy eager to display their knowledge, while some of the former president’s more distant relatives are wheeled out. But as insight into a lesser-known part of his life, The Kennedys’ Irish Mafia works very well.
The Irish, and immigrant, values of hard work and determination are clearly exposed; exemplified by one of Kennedy’s more famous soundbites of choosing to do things “not because they are easy, but because they are hard”. And the concept of friendship and devotion, of remembering your own in times of success are shown through his appointments. As is frequently alluded to, these men would do anything for their president, even in death.
This is best displayed through their insistence on immediately bringing him home following the shooting in Dallas – their first thought was of those he had left behind.
As the film signs off: “They were there at the beginning, they were there at the end.”