Horses are a fundamental part of Ireland and Irishness. We stand tall on the world stage when it comes to horse-breeding, horse-racing, show-jumping and so many great names and places comes to mind when horses are mentioned in the Irish context. How about Arkle, Redrum, Dawn Run, Moscow Flyer, Nijinsky, Shergar, Australia, Vincent O’ Brien, Tom Dreaper, Aidan O’ Brien, Jim Bolger, Capt. Michael Tubridy, Eddie Macken, Paul Darragh, Coolmore Stud, The Curragh, Punchestown, Fairyhouse, Pat Taaffe, Ruby Walsh, Barry Geraghty, The Royal Dublin Horse Show, Laytown Races … just for starters?
Horses have always been part of my landscape. I loved hearing my father telling me about his younger brother, Michael, who was a world class show jumper and nothing soothed me more at bedtime than Mother telling me about her happy childhood days on a farm with her beloved pony, Jock. I must have read every single book that was ever written about young girls and their ponies and was fortunate to be brought to places like the Dublin Horse Show and race meetings all round the country.
I have what I consider to be my very own ‘horse show’ here in Tramore every day when I bring the dogs out along Cliff Road to Newtown Wood. There is a field, with a spectacular view of Tramore Bay, which is the grazing place of the friendliest horses I know. These are horses that trot gently over to the gate to be patted. I could spend hours there running my fingers through their manes and gazing into their big brown eyes.
I guess most Irish people have a special field such as this in which noble, nuzzling friends reside and ones that evoke thoughts of echoing hooves and contented whinnying.
Tonight marks the night before the assassination of John F. Kennedy fifty years ago and, for all sorts of reasons, he has been on my mind all day.
I was too young in 1963 to realise exactly what was unfolding but as I grew up I learned more and more about the extent to which the Kennedy family was connected to ours. In short, my uncle, Captain Michael Tubridy, who was a world class show jumper developed a friendship with the Kennedys through his many trips to the US back in the late 1940’s and after he was killed in a freak riding accident in 1952, his widow, Dorothy was embraced by the Kennedys.
Today, I was looking through my late father’s scrapbooks and came across this photograph of Dorothy which was taken just before she departed to attend JFK’s inauguration as President. I suspect the photograph was in the Irish Times but I can’t be sure:
Recently, I took the Emigrant Trail in Co. Wexford, which tells The Kennedy Story. The Kennedy Homestead in Dunganstown was particularly poignant as it brings one back to the place where JFK’s great-grandfather, Patrick, lived before leaving for America in 1848. JFK paid a visit to his ancestral home on June 27th, 1963, just a few short months before he was killed.
The Dunbrody Famine Ship in New Ross, from where Patrick Kennedy sailed, has also stayed very much with me as it highlights the horrific conditions which were associated with emigration back in 1848, when it took up to six weeks to cross the Atlantic. The death rates on the ‘Coffin Ships’ were as high as 50% in some cases. http://www.dunbrody.com/
In overall terms, it is very clear that JFK’s memory will live long in the collective memory of Irish people and, through Uncle Michael, in that of our extended family.