The last time I met Senator Kennedy
Niall O'Dowd remembers the last time he met Ted Kennedy, which coincided with one of the most important days in the history of Ireland
Kennedy also said that earlier in the chamber, Ian Paisley’s wife Eileen had greeted him warmly, and that Paisley himself had even dispensed a cheerful wave in his direction.
After years of being the subject of speeches about interfering outsiders, Kennedy had suddenly become an acceptable figure. That in itself was a kind of miracle.
But he had achieved it on his own terms, never by bowing the knee to the cries of outrage form successive British prime ministers that he had no right to say anything on Northern Ireland that was not official policy.
Also at Stormont that day was Chuck Feeney, the reclusive American billionaire who had donated tens of millions to cross-community peace projects, who was also feeling vindicated. He had also been subjected to vilification in the media when he helped Sinn Fein establish an American presence.
Earlier in the day Feeney and I had traveled by bus organized from a Republican neighborhood to Stormont. As he looked around the bus going to Stormont, he saw the faces of many of the Republican activists who had delivered on their promises to work for a peaceful resolution.
Also there was Bill Flynn, chairman of Mutual of America of America and another key player on the U.S. side in the peace process. He was similarly moved by events at Stormont.
Through his National Committee on American Foreign Policy, Flynn has provided every major figure in Northern politics with a platform to speak in the U.S. When Bill stepped down Tom Moran at Mutual of America continued the incredible role one company played in helping bring about peace.
I left Kennedy and later I found Flynn staring out at the statue of Edward Carson from the windows of the Long Gallery at Stormont.
“You know, they told me that Nationalists only ever passed one bill in all their years in hopeless opposition here,” he said. ‘‘It was about wildlife.
“Well, we have a whole new species of that arriving here now to take up residence. It’s a wonderful change.”
That day will always be special to me, three of the greatest Irish Americans united in common cause and their love for Ireland on a day great history was made.
I met Teddy at social occasions after that, but the last time I sat down with him was in that ministerial office at Stormont. I like to think it was one of his greatest days.
Rest in Peace, Old Friend.
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