Page last updated at 12:07 GMT, Wednesday, 26 August 2009 13:07 UK

Derry remembers Kennedy's legacy

By Freya McClements
BBC News

Patsy O'Kane
Ted Kennedy gave Patsy O'Kane this photograph as a memento of his visit

"Every time I look at that picture, I remember the lovely times we had with Ted and his wife and his entourage.

"Ted told me to treasure that picture, and I always will."

Patsy O'Kane is one of many people in Londonderry with fond memories of the late senator, Ted Kennedy.

He stayed at her hotel, the Beech Hill, for eight days in 1998 at what was a crucial point in the peace negotiations which would eventually lead to the Good Friday Agreement.

A photograph of the three Kennedy brothers now hangs proudly inside the Derry hotel's lobby, presented to Mrs O'Kane by Ted Kennedy as a memento of his visit.

"It was literally the dark days of January, and it was dark days for the peace process," said Mrs O'Kane.

"He was involved in major negotiations, but the thing about him was his compassion.

"He spent so much time with the ordinary staff in the hotel, at least an hour a day, and I think that's why he had such an understanding of the situation here, because he talked to the ordinary people.

"The Kennedys were very humble people, and we got to know them as a family, and, I think, almost as friends."

Much of his time at the hotel was spent preparing what would become a famous speech.

Delivered in front of a packed crowd at the city's Guildhall, Ted Kennedy sought to involve both communities in the search for peace, telling Protestants in the audience that they were "part of our heritage and history".

Derry Journal report on Ted Kennedy's speech in the city
How the Derry Journal reported Ted Kennedy's Guildhall speech

Journalist Sean McLaughlin, now the news editor with the Derry Journal, was there.

"Ted Kennedy's visit to Derry undoubtedly came at a critical moment in the peace process.

"There was speculation that there was going to be a significant breakthrough in the talks that were going on at the time, and he said he was convinced there was a 'new spirit of hope' in the North.

"He had real charisma, like his brothers he could hold an audience in the palm of his hand, and he went out of his way to refer to Protestants, who he said had helped to build America.

"I think his speech surprised many, particularly those of a Unionist persuasion, who were convinced he was in Derry simply to extol the virtues of the then SDLP leader John Hume.

"I remember one well-known Unionist remarking after meeting him that, despite their political differences, Ted Kennedy had a practical understanding of what needed to be done to bring about and sustain peace."

A close personal friend and political ally of Ted Kennedy, John Hume was instrumental in bringing the senator to Derry.

"I am very sad at Ted's death, and I send my deepest sympathies to his family.

"He was very proud of his Irish roots, he was a great friend to Ireland, and he will be sadly missed.

Kevin Downey
Kevin Downey spent three months as an intern in Ted Kennedy's office

"He was involved very strongly from the beginning of the civil rights movement, and he was in total support of a settlement of the problems in Northern Ireland that would be acceptable to both sides of the community," said Mr Hume.

Someone else who remembers Ted Kennedy from the early days is Derry solicitor Kevin Downey.

He spent three months as an intern in the senator's office in 1978, and still has a signed photograph of himself with Ted Kennedy.

"I was extremely sad to hear he had passed away.

"It seems such a long time ago since I was over there, I was quite a young student, but I still remember the feeling of power that emanated from the senator's office.

"It was quite clear even at that stage that this was one of the world's major players, and it was a real honour to be part of that for a time.

"We'll never know how good a president he might have been, but in failing to become president he undoubtedly became one of the greatest, if not the greatest, senators ever to serve in the US."

Print Sponsor

Senator Edward Kennedy dies at 77
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