Household names add a touch of glamour to summer school
HOUSEHOLD names in the media mixed with US and Irish political experts during an entertaining, thought-provoking and inspiring Kennedy Summer School last week.
The summer school was hailed as a great success by New Ross Municipal District Cathaoirleach Cllr Willie Fitzharris, while its founder Noel Whelan said he was thrilled with how it went, especially the way it branched out to incorprate events at New Ross Library, the Kennedy Homestead, the John F Kennedy Arboretum and St Mary’s Secondary school.
The summer school began on Thursday night at St Michael’s Theatre with a documentary entitled ‘Condemned to Remember’ about Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental.
On Friday morning more than 700 Transition Year students gathered at St Mary’s Secondary School to hear insights into building resilience from Niall ‘Bressie’ Breslin and Sinead McSweeney, Twitter Ireland’s Managing Director. Students described it as an ‘inspiring and empowering occasion’.
Lunchtime on Friday saw Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe deliver a weighty address about his budgetary plans and future economic strategy at the John F Kennedy Arboretum. He outlined that for middle-income earners he would be making ‘steady and affordable progress’ in reducing the tax burden for them.
RTE newsreader Eileen Whelan was MC at the event and she praised Noel Whelan and all the volunteers and sponsors who, she said, made the festival amazing.
Fáilte Ireland chairman Paul Kelly said the summer school is a role model to other towns and villages across Ireland of what can be done by a group of hard working volunteers.
Later in the afternoon the Kennedy Homestead was filled with an audience ready to recreate the famous tea party of 1963. They were entertained with a series of cookery demonstrations by Paul Kelly, executive pastry chef at the Merrion Hotel, Kevin Dundon of Dunbrody Country House; Margaret Roche head chef at Hugo’s restaurant; and Mike O’Connor, assistant head of the School of Culinary Arts at DIT. Afternoon tea, featuring fruitcake just like the one served to Kennedy in the same farmyard in 1963 was also served.
At St Michael’s Theatre that evening Bertie Ahern, Mark Durkan, Verona Murphy and Tony Connelly all joined the Brexit panel discussion. Mr Ahern said he isn’t very impressed by the UK’s approach to the issue. ‘There is little light at the end of the tunnel . . . I can’t see much progress being made,’ he said. When asked ‘If he was in Government again what would he do?’, he said: ‘If you ask me, one word ‘pro-active’; they haven’t got a “bulls notion”’.
Ms Murphy said, ‘In Ireland, there is a failure to enforce legislation especially on foreign registered vehicles.’ Mark Durkan said, ‘People will start to question if we did the right thing with the Good Friday agreement – we need to protect it.’
On Friday evening Barack Obama speechwriter Cody Keenan offered a masterclass in speech writing, saying ‘Until you’ve really lived someone’s hopes and dreams it can be hard to write their speech’. He also reckoned that ‘If Barak Obama ran last year, he would have kicked Trump’s ass.’ He ended on a note of hope, stating, ‘Hope is contagious, it doesn’t always win in the shortterm but it always wins in the end.’
Ian Paisley Jnr MP took to the stage to close the evening’s event on Friday, speaking in a public interview with Noel Whelan. He said: ‘Growing up, we were on the same island and yet it was broken.’
He said the best people to run Northern Ireland are the people, ‘divided as we might be’.
Opening the school’s events on Saturday morning was a symposium with Felix M. Larkin, Mary E. Daily and Professor Robert Schmuhl, chaired by David McCullagh - all focussing on the life and times of John F. Kennedy on the centennial of his birth.
Bob Shrum captivated the audience in a public interview with one of the Kennedy Summer School curators Dr. Brian Murphy as he journeyed through his career and offered real insights to US campaign politics. Bob Shrum was one of the very few people at the Kennedy Summer School to have spoken with JFK in person and he said: ‘His presence filled the room.’
On Saturday afternoon Sarah McInerney chaired the Irish politics session as she was joined by Fine Gael’s Regina Doherty, Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald, Labour’s Joan Burton and Fianna Fail’s Lisa Chambers.
RTE’s Washington correspondent Caitriona Perry received rapturous applause as she spoke on Saturday afternoon. She described the moment during the Presidential campaign that she knew that it was possible Donald Trump could become the next US president.
Afterwards a US politics session got under way with Bob Shrum, Gina London, Bob Schmuhl, Dr. Robert Mauro and John McGuirk. Bob Schmuhl of Notre Dame University said: ‘What we are seeing in America is unprecedented and, I would say historic. Donald Trump was a presence in the American living room for 20 years, it eased his transition to politics for the public.’
The audience heard how Americans have lost trust in the media, while The Trump Show is keeping them entertained.
Concern was expressed by Dr Mauro about the future for America, while Mr Shrum expressed optimism about the future of the Democrats, saying the party must continue to champion social justice causes and stand up for economic issues if it is to regain power. The weekend drew to a close with a public interview with Ryan Tubridy during which he discussed the inspiration behind the Summer School, JFK, and his relationship with Ireland.
The summer school, which is deliberately held outside the peak tourist season, brings significant economic benefit to the town and county, amounting to a €50,000 spend annually. Visitors from the US, the UK, France, Germany and all across Ireland snapped up an average of 300 tickets per day for the three-day summer school.
One of the curators of the 2017 Kennedy Summer School, Larry Donnelly said: ‘This, the fifth year of the Kennedy Summer School, has been unprecedented in its success. The school’s tickets sold out some five weeks ago and we’ve had people from all across the country and the world tuned into our live stream events and each of the talks this year have been podcast on our website. We are already working on very exciting plans to expand the Kennedy Summer School even further in 2018.’
Noel Whelan said 700 students got to listen to inspiring talks while the festival broadened its reach by having Ryan Tubridy discuss his children’s book at New Ross Library.
He said Wexford County Council, New Ross Municipal District, the OPW and Fáilte Ireland have all backed the summer school to ensure it has an even bigger impact on the town next year. He welcomed the decision of Larry Donnelly and Dr Brian Murphy to remain as co-directors for next year, when the John F Kennedy Arboretum will celebrate 50 years in existence.
‘One of the problems with festivals is they can become too reliant on one or two people. Project Manager Karen O’Connor and chairman Willie Kielthy, along with Larry and Brian, have helped to build it up. The speakers go home and speak in glowing terms about New Ross and County Wexford and the delegates go home and tweet and talk about it.’
Larry Donnelly interviews RTE’s Washington correspondent Caitriona Perry on stage at St Michael’s Theatre.