President Reagan and Senator Kennedy share a joke at a White House reception in 1981

Senator Edward Kennedy lured President Ronald Reagan into taking an interest in Northern Ireland by assuring him  that he could tell some good Irish jokes when inviting him to a Tip O'Neill speakers' lunch on St. Patrick's Day.

At the same time, Kennedy invited leading Irish government figures with the promise that they would get an opportunity to tell Reagan about Northern Ireland.

The officials arrived under that impression, but Reagan's aides told Kennedy that " we were simply there to tell funny stories."

The luncheons always started with Reagan telling his latest Irish jokes. Then the Irish government leaders would also tell funny stories but slip in information about Northern Ireland.

Eventually, year after year, through this bizzare method, Reagan became interested and prevailed upon his close friend Margaret Thatcher to accept the 1985 Ango Irish Agreement, one of the major landmarks in Northern Ireland's journey toward peace.

Writing in his  just-published memoir "True Compass," Kennedy says he resolved to do something about Northern Ireland in the early 1980s when Reagan was in the White House because he believed there was "an underappreciation of the need to stop the violence on both  sides of the conflict."

He says that Northern Ireland was one of the few areas he found common cause with President Jimmy Carter, with whom he had a frosty relationship.

At Kennedy's urging, Carter committed  to supporting a new form of government that would "command widespread acceptance on both sides."

By this gesture, Kennedy wrote, Carter ended the American era of offical non-intervention in the Irish conflict.