Address at the Irish Institute, April 1, 1967

April 1, 1967


The time is long past when men bowed their heads or looked away from our heritage because of shame; indeed, the long roll of Senators and playwrights, poets and heroes, has given us full reason for pride. But there is a danger that this heritage will be lost—not from failure, not by an oppressor’s hand—but from its own success. For even as we have taken our place in the general American Community, as the fact of our Irish roots or religion cease to be a handicap, it became perhaps too easy for our children to take it all for granted; not only to become—as they should become—Americans first and Irish-Americans second; but to lose entire touch with our tradition, and its days of discomfort and danger. This problem has afflicted every group of immigrants, as the third and fourth generation went off to college, leaving behind old neighborhoods and the old ways of thought. And as Americans, I think we can all sense that as the immigrant tradition dies, we lose one of our most precious possessions: that diversity and color, the rub of difference and discovery that have made this country more than the sum of all its particular heritages. That is why I have been disturbed by the recent handicaps to Irish immigration here, and why I have worked to ensure that that stream of immigration keeps flowing.