Celebrating Irish Heritage: Where can I find a leprechaun?

Dear Students,

My husband dressed our two little boys in green and took them out for the morning. The house is quiet and I can write to you. As a librarian, I celebrate St. Patrick’s Day my way, with books, poetry and history.

Finding Little People is an ongoing cause of concern for the younger set. Today the modern mother can scroll through Leprechaun traps on Pinterest.

Gabriel's Leprechaun Trap

Looking back in the archives of our famous Irish-American President, John F. Kennedy you will find a letter from a young boy on the same subject.

letter excerpted from Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye by O’Donnell, Powers and McCarthy p. 352

The president wrote the following reply:

Dear Mark,

I want to thank you for your nice letter. I enjoyed hearing from you and hearing about your school. Your questions are quite pertinent, coming as they do just before St. Patrick’s Day. There are many legends about the “little people,” but what they all add up to is this: If you really believe, you will see them.

My “little people” are very small, wear tall black stovepipe hats, green coats and pants, and have long white beards. They do not have horses. I have never been able to determine where they live.

They are most friendly and their message is taht all peoples of the world should live in peace and friendship.
Since you are interested in the Irish, I want to wish you a Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

John F. Kennedy

President Kennedy visited Ireland five months before his death in 1963.

JFK in Galway, Ireland, 1963

It wasn’t just a sentimental journey. Ireland meant much more, he had always been moved by it’s poetry and literature because it told of the tragedy and desperate courage which he knew lay just under the surface of Irish life. The people of Ireland had faced famine and disease, and had fought oppression and died for independence. They dreamed and sang and wrote and thought and were gay in the face of all their burdens.’ –Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, 1964

On my wish list for St. Patrick’s Day is the new photography book by David Creedon, Ghosts of the Faithful Departed

Ghosts of the Faithful Departed from David Creedon Photography on Vimeo.

Salon has a beautiful interview with David Creedon about the forgotten houses left behind in the wake of the mass Irish emigration in the 1950‘s.

JFK having tea with his cousin Mary Ryan in Wexford, June 27th 1963

Considering the tenor of the times, JFK’s visit in the spring of 1963 must have electrified the country. The vibrant young President with an inextricable love and pride in his Irish heritage was coming to Ireland. The streets thronged in happy welcome. He visited his relatives and had tea toasting all the Kennedy’s that went and those that stayed. And before he departed the Shannon Airport, the scene was captured best by presidential aide Dave Powers:

When the helicopter took off from the racecourse park in Limerick for the short hop to Shannon Airport, Kennedy looked down at the green fields and said “I wish we could stay here for another week, another month,” At Shannon, where Air Force One was waiting he recited to the crowd the poem that Mrs. de Valera had given to him. “Last night,” he said, “I sat next to one of the most extraordinary women, the wife of your President, who knows more about Ireland and Irish History than any of us. I told her I was coming to Shannon and she quoted this poem, and I wrote down the words because I thought they were beautiful;

“‘Tis the Shannon’s brightly glancing stream,

Brightly gleaming, silent in the morning beam, oh! the sign entrancing,

Thus return from travels long, years of exile, years of pain,

O’er the waters glancing.

“Well I am going to come back and see Old Shannon’s face again, and I am taking, as I go back to America, all of you with me.”

We drove across the field to Air Force One, where the girls from Bunratty Castle in their medieval dresses gave him one last chorus of “Danny Boy” before he waved and went inside the plane. While the girls were singing, I saw somebody in the crowd holding up a sign, scrawled with the title of another old song popular in Ireland, a sad ballad about a young man who left his girl to go off to fight and die in the war against the British. Four months later, when we were bringing President Kennedy’s body back from Dallas, I thought of that sign at the Shannon Airport and I think of it often now. It said, “Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye.” (pp 370-71, Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye, O’Donnell et al)

Ghosts of the Faithful Departed by David Creedon

May the road rise up to meet you,
Mrs. Kenney


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