My one personal glimpse of Ted Kennedy was on a late evening shuttle flight from New York to Washington several years ago. I was bleary-eyed from the transatlantic leg of my itinerary, and became aware of a guy with a very loud voice who was vigorously fanboying one of the other passengers as we disembarked and had a long wait for the terminal bus. The passenger who was being fanboyed was, indeed, Senator Kennedy, who I am sure would have preferred to have a quiet evening’s journey after a hard day in the Big Apple, but coped with it all very gracefully, with due sensitivity to the other passengers’ fascination with eavesdropping on their exchange. I did not realise it, but his chief of staff at the time – who wasn’t on the plane, but I guess would normally have had the job of deflecting fanboys – was Mary Beth Cahill, who I once spent a week with in Macedonia, and who went on to run John Kerry’s election campaign.
There has been some extraordinary editorialising in the British right-wing press about his record on Ireland, based on a couple of remarks made in the heady days of the early 1970s. Once he had got himself up to speed on the issue, he was pretty firmly on the SDLP line opposing violence, and of course kept it on the agenda in Washington, which did not suit British interests. But to describe him as an IRA sympathiser is wilfully ignorant (to be charitable).