A carefully constructed model of a Dingle currach sits proudly on Rose Kennedy’s piano in the family’s Massachusetts home in Hyannisport where Ted Kennedy passed away early yesterday morning.
Ted liked to use it to “assure future generations of Kennedy’s used it as a symbol to remind his family that the Irish truly did discover America, after all.”
This is what he wrote in a thank you letter to the Donegal man, Matt Britton who gave him the replica as a gift during a 10-day holiday on the Dingle peninsula in August 1989.
The late U.S. Senator, who had close family connections with Wexford loved Cork and Kerry where he holidayed many times with family through the years.
Britton, who worked in the hotel business at the time and was a personal friend of the then Taoiseach, Charlie Haughey, befriended Kennedy after arranging a meeting between Haughey, Kennedy and another U.S. senator, Chris Dodd, on Haughey’s holiday island, Inishvickillane.
Kennedy was one of the Unsung heroes of the peace process in times when it might not have been seen as politically correct.
He had long meetings and conversations with Haughey and later with Albert Reynolds in an effort to bring about peace in Northern Ireland.
After the meeting in Innisvickillane the men spent 10 days together touring around Kerry
and a strong friendship formed.
“We just gelled straight away. It was very chilled out. I found him to be a man who knew more about Ireland than we do ourselves. He was fully committed to finding a way to solve the Northern Irish problem,” Britton said yesterday.
But he added that above all, he loved everything that was Irish. “He just immersed himself in everything. There were no shirts and ties, it was a place where he could just totally unwind,” he said.
But it was the letter written by Senator Kennedy to Britton three weeks after he returned to the US, that best summed up his feelings.
“Like so many things in life, it’s the individuals who make the difference and you truly made Ireland come alive for Chris and me while we were there.
“In a strange way although I had been to Ireland a number of times before, this time seemed like the first-no political heavy lifting, and the luxury of letting myself be carried away by the magic of the country, the warmth of the new friends we made, the wind and the sea that envelops us everywhere, you seemed to make it all happen,” wrote Senator Kennedy.
Speaking last night, Britton, now a journalist with the Donegal Democrat, said he was saddened by the death of someone he regarded as a true friend.
"His contribution to the peace that we now enjoy will be his legacy to this country" said Britton.