Across The Pond, Irish Praise Hero Abroad

By: CBS News
By: CBS News

He was an American politician but an Irish hero.

In Ireland, Sen. Edward Kennedy is remembered as the man who helped bring prosperity to the south, peace to the divided north - and pride in an Irish-American success story.

"He was an Irishman in the corridors of Washington," said Luke McAdams, 35, a management consultant from Londonderry, Northern Ireland.

In the Kennedys, he said, Irish people saw a family that "always have half an eye toward Ireland in whatever they do."

The impact of the Kennedys is immense in a country where pictures of the family adorn thousands of homes and where many people have avidly followed the glamorous, tragic clan that - in John F. Kennedy - put the first Roman Catholic in the White House.

Edward Kennedy, who died Tuesday of brain cancer, was mourned by world leaders and ordinary citizens from Johannesburg to Rome. But the remembrances were especially strong in Ireland, the Kennedys' ancestral home.

CBSNews.com's complete coverage of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's life and death

"Farewell to the last Prince of Camelot," the front page of Thursday's Irish Independent newspaper blared.

The Kennedys did bring a touch of royal flair to the Irish Republic, their many visits a combination of homecoming and triumphal procession.

In Dublin, the verdict was nearly unanimous.

"He was a great friend of this country," said Gerry Keating, 69. It was hard to find anyone who would disagree, whether among the Guinness drinkers in a Dublin pub or within Ireland's political elite.

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"Ted Kennedy knew and loved Ireland - its people, its music, its culture," said Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin. "As the embodiment of the Irish immigrant story, his special dedication to the peace process was unrivaled and deeply held."

Many here also speak warmly of Kennedy's sister, Jean Kennedy Smith, who was the U.S. ambassador to Ireland for five years under President Bill Clinton and played her own role in the Northern Ireland peace process.

While Edward Kennedy will forever be remembered as JFK's younger brother, he was also a power broker who mobilized Irish Americans and their political views on Northern Ireland - a kingmaker whose actions helped lay the groundwork for a lasting peace accord.

"He lived to see two great chasms bridged, between Catholic and Protestant in Northern Ireland and between black and white in his own United States," said former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern.

President Mary McAleese said Kennedy would be remembered in Ireland "as a hugely important friend to this country during the very difficult times."

Kennedy was a strong supporter of the Irish nationalist cause, and in the 1970s called for British troops to leave Northern Ireland - to the immense annoyance of Britain. But he also condemned the violence of the Irish Republican Army - a stance not always popular with Irish Americans. Kennedy became a key American promoter of peace, urging Britain to negotiate with the IRA-linked party Sinn Fein as he also reached out to Protestant Unionists.

"Much of the work he did was behind the scenes," said Nigel Bowles, director of the American Institute at Oxford University. "But he was remarkably effective in building bridges there, as he was in the United States. He did a lot of work in private conversation with key players in Northern Ireland politics and I suspect that his role in Northern Ireland is probably more important in the long run than is generally acknowledged."

At several points, Kennedy's role in the peace process was decisive. One of his key moves came when the United States was considering a visa for Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, then considered a terrorist by Britain.

By the end of 1993, the IRA was signaling it would be prepared to end its violent campaign. Political leaders like Kennedy gambled that bringing Adams to the U.S. would help bring an end to the bloodshed. President Clinton was persuaded - and the gamble became a breakthrough, with a cease-fire in August 1994.

Such was his stature that Kennedy's actions took on deep symbolic importance. In 2005, he met the sisters of Robert McCartney, a Belfast man stabbed to death by IRA members, and very publicly snubbed Sinn Fein's Adams.

The signal, combined with other high-profile slights, embarrassed Sinn Fein and did much to convince them to re-engage with the flagging peace process.

In May 2007, Kennedy stood in Belfast alongside two bitter enemies - anti-Catholic firebrand Rev. Ian Paisley and former IRA commander Martin McGuinness - as they became first minister and deputy first minister of Northern Ireland's power-sharing administration.

McGuinness said it was an honor to have Kennedy there that day.

"We owe him a huge debt of gratitude for his dedication to the creation of a better society for everyone here," McGuinness said.

"I may not always have agreed with his politics but his commitment to nonviolence and to the success of devolved government was unquestionable," said Northern Ireland's current Protestant first minister, Peter Robinson.

South of the border, Kennedy encouraged American companies to invest in Ireland in the 1980s at a time when the country was still scarred by poverty and mass emigration. That investment helped turn Ireland into a "Celtic Tiger" of rising salaries and rapid growth.

Some American companies, including high-tech firms Microsoft and Intel, have stayed even though the global financial crisis has reversed Ireland's boom and left residents and companies struggling financially.

For many, though, the most important legacy of the Kennedys is more personal. Here was a family that, despite its wealth and power, Irish people could recognize: A large, noisy, close-knit Catholic clan.

"They were an Irish Catholic family who made it big," said Anne McNamara, enjoying a night out in Dublin with several of her sisters.

"There were eight of us," she added. "Growing up, your brothers and sisters are your friends. You can see that in the Kennedys - they looked out for each other."


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