Caroline Kennedy told hundreds of Irish at an event at New York City Hall that they needed to pick up where her uncle Ted Kennedy left off.
“That’s what he did with his brothers,” she said. “We can’t go to anyone else to fix our problems, we each need to take responsibility.”
Kennedy was accepting the Thomas Manton Irish Man of the Year award on the late Senator Kennedy’s behalf from City Council Speaker Speaker Christine Quinn.
“Teddy was incredibly proud of his Irish heritage,” she said, stating that he learnt politics from his grandfather.
“He was taught also by his mother Rose, who my father always said was the best politician in our family, and who never lost touch with her Irish roots,” Kennedy added.
She spoke of his commitment to help the Irish, both in America and at home.
“No one worked harder to help the Irish come to America, and no one worked harder to bring peace to Northern Ireland. Teddy worked tirelessly.”
When it came to the Northern conflict, “He believed that the Irish example could be an inspiration to other societies around the world, from South Africa to the Middle East,” she said.
“He was that rare politician who combined pragmatism and idealism. He had the courage to fight for what he believed in, and also to compromise in order to achieve it.”
Ms. Kennedy also spoke of the senator’s closeness to his mother Rose. “Like many Irish sons Teddy was incredibly close to his mother. He took care of her in the very best Irish tradition.”
When Rose was sick, Senator Kennedy arranged for a priest to visit her every Sunday so she could have mass, followed by a piano player, so they could have Irish singalongs. “For Teddy and grandma, every day was St. Patrick’s Day.”
“Around this time of year he also used to tell people, way back when he was born, his mother went to the hospital on Lincoln’s birthday, she had him on Washington’s birthday, and she brought him home on St. Patrick’s day. Which was a very nice story for an Irish politician,” Ms. Kennedy joked, adding that Senator Kennedy’s sense of humor and his “tremendous heart” were what made him want to leave the world a better place.
“The cause of his life was healthcare reform,” Ms. Kennedy stated. “And now that he’s gone, people say, if Ted were here we’d have this bill passed by now. That may be true, we’ll never know. But if he taught us anything it’s that each one of us needs to pick up where he left off.”
Many others at the event had fond memories of Senator Kennedy
Christine Quinn, the New York City Council Speaker, told how Senator Kennedy’s life had inspired her. She met him at a dinner in the 1990s.
“You’d understand that night why they called him a lion. He was thunderous in that room, that night. He was uplifting, he was amazing. And in his comments he implored all of us to come together, to move forward for justice. He brought the whole room to their feet. He was also hilariously funny.”
Quinn told those present that next week President Obama would focus on an immigration bill, saying she hoped it would move forward. “Let us not forget that Senator Kennedy was the author of the 1965 immigration act.”
He fought against “the discrimination that was developed and worked, in a way that was very dramatic and significant against the Irish.”
“We need immigration reform that incudes paths for all people including Irish citizens who are here now in an undocumented status, that allows them to get the legal status to pay taxes. The truth is, that’s what Tom Manton would have wanted, that’s what Ted Kennedy would have wanted, what they both had worked their life for,” she said, to huge applause.
Senator Kennedy was “the greatest legislator of our time,” Quinn said.
City Hall was packed with members of the Irish community. A troupe of young dancers from the Bronx called the Keltic Dreams performed, making people’s toes tap, and the audience clapped and sang along to music from Mick Moloney’s band.
The other honorees were Larry M. McCarthy, chairman of the Gaelic Athletic Assocation of Greater New York, Maureen Sheehan, from a non-profit agency called POTS, John O. Murphy, from Irish Network NYC and Irish musician and author Mick Moloney.
“The list of honorees is incredible,” said Niall Burgess, the Irish Consul General, who had a front row seat. “The new Irish, the GAA, music and culture – every sector is represented.”
Speaking to Irishcentral, Kennedy said the Irish community may be more disparate than it was in the past. “But I think this was a wonderful way to come together”.