Members of the Irish community gathered at a memorial Mass in New York Thursday to remember Sen. Edward Kennedy, just over 12 weeks after his death. The senator’s son, Edward Kennedy Jr., Christine Quinn, Speaker of New York City Council, and Irish Consul General Niall Burgess were among those present at Holy Trinity Church on the Upper West Side .
After Communion, Kennedy Jr. spoke about his family, saying his grandmother Rose would talk about the days when she saw signs saying “no dogs, no Irish.” It was easier for the Irish to succeed in politics because there was less prejudice in that profession than in others, he suggested. “He was so proud of how far we’ve come,” he said of his father. “Civil rights and human rights were something he believed in strongly.”
Kennedy Jr. also recounted an anecdote his father loved to tell: When he visited New York once, a woman came up to him and asked if people always thought he was Ted Kennedy. When he said they did, she replied, “Doesn’t that make you mad as hell?!
“In politics you have to celebrate these wonderful moments,” Kennedy Jr. said. He read two passages from the late Senator's memoir, "True Compass," in which Kennedy spoke about how important his Catholic faith was to him. And he recalled visits to Ireland he made with his father.
“I miss my dad terribly today,” he said.
“Ted Kennedy represented a whole realm of possibilities,” said Siobhan Dennehy, executive director of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center.
“The Kennedy family came from humble beginnings but they never forgot the underdog. Ted always worked to promote assistance for people who needed it.”
The ceremony gave due to the issues Kennedy cared about in his political career and personal life. At the Prayers of the Faithful, Dennehy prayed for immigration reform and a bill “Ted Kennedy would have been proud of.” Rob Dunne, president of the Brehon Law society, prayed that peace in Northern Ireland would continue to prevail.
“There’s a natural connection between everything Senator Kennedy did and everything the Brehon Law Society continues to fight for,” Dunne said later, speaking to Irish central. “Civil rights, human rights, and peace in Northern Ireland.”
After the Mass, there was a reception in the Murphy Center beneath the church, where guests lingered over wine and food. Margaret Fogarty had come in a bus from the Emerald Isle Center to the event. Originally from Kerry, she now lives in Woodlawn; she came to the States in 1954.
“I think it was beautiful, the Kennedys so deserve it,” she said of the Mass. “I sort of grew up with the Kennedys because I’ve been in America for a long time.”
Others praised the Lion of the Senate's commitment to civil rights. “His family has meant so much for the civil rights and civil causes,” said Claudia Barton, from Queens, as she sipped a glass of wine. Her colleague, Ezra King added, “the initiative for healthcare – he started that. Obama just took the ball and ran with it.”
Kennedy Jr. joined in at the reception, smiling amicably and posing for photos with the many people who asked for them. He too praised what Obama has done. “He’s one of my heroes, he’s fantastic,” he said. “He’s trying to do the right thing. And he’s got the brains. Healthcare will go through, definitely. Maybe not immediately.”
The Emerald Isle Immigration Center and the Brehon Law Society organized the event.