Page last updated at 21:25 GMT, Wednesday, 26 August 2009 22:25 UK

Senator visited unionist areas

By Arthur Strain
BBC News

Andrew Jackson Centre in Carrifergus
Senator Edward Kennedy paid a visit to Carrickfergus

It wasn't the most high profile of visits but when Senator Edward Kennedy made his first visit to Northern Ireland he ventured into staunch unionist territory.

On a bright but blustery Saturday morning in January 1998 he made a visit to Carrickfergus in County Antrim.

Very much in the unionist heartland there was a low-key welcome for the politician, who was seen as being firmly behind Irish nationalism.

He had come to see the Andrew Jackson centre, the seventh president of the USA whose parents emigrated to America from the town in 1765.

The centre is just half-a-mile from the castle where Prince William of Orange landed the army that would defeat the forces of King James II.

The Senator was met by the local UUP MP Roy Beggs and the borough's mayor, David Hilditch of the DUP.

He sat before a peat fire in the reconstructed cottage and spoke warmly of his affection for Ireland as he tried some soda bread fresh off the griddle.

The senator spoke briefly to the few reporters gathered outside to say that Americans of Irish descent cared about the outcome of the talks which, much later that year, were to pave the way for a political settlement.

He had made his major political statement earlier in Londonderry and his visit to East Antrim, while low-key, had high security, with secret service agents complementing the RUC security for the visit.

There had been talk of a protest at his visit, with some loyalists feeling that the Kennedy family were apologists for violent republicanism, but on the day such talk remained simply angry grumblings.

Recalling the visit on Wednesday night, Mr Hilditch said that he had spent an interesting morning with the senator, talking about local history.

Despite the obvious political differences between a unionist politician whose party would not talk to Sinn Fein and the man who got Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams a visa to visit America there were no harsh words.

"Sometime when you meet major (political) personalities you can be made to feel like you are the smaller person," he said.

"But from that point of view he was very respectful - he gave you your place."

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