Moynihan, who was 76, succumbed to an infection sustained following surgery to remove a ruptured appendix.
He served in the U.S. Senate from 1977 until his retirement in 2001. He was the Irish Echo’s Man of the Year in 2000.
Moynihan served in the administrations of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford. He was U.S. ambassador to India from 1973-75, and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 1975-76.
Tributes from both sides of the Atlantic were paid to the four-term senator from New York and member of the Four Horsemen, a group of influential Irish-American legislators that grappled with the Northern Ireland troubles in the late 1970s.
As a member of the group, Moynihan, together with Sen. Edward Kennedy, House Speaker Tip O’Neill and New York Gov. Hugh Carey, condemned Irish-American support for the IRA and other republican groups while at the same time calling for a more interventionist political role for the U.S.
The Four Horsemen attracted both accolades and criticism from Irish Americans, with the sharp-tongued Moynihan in particular bearing the brunt of the attacks from U.S.-based republican supporters, especially those based in his political backyard.
At the same time, Moynihan spread his criticisms. In an interview three years ago he said that the English had never understood Ireland while politicians in the South had not paid enough attention to the North.
“I think there was always a certain disposition in Dublin to say that we would rather have themselves killing each other up in Belfast rather than killing us down here,” he said.
Moynihan rode to the Republic’s economic rescue in 1993 when a federal budget provision threatened to dramatically increase U.S. corporate tax rates on American companies based in Ireland.
The so-called Moynihan Amendment allowed companies to avoid higher rates by routing profits into research and development. This loophole was to become a significant boost for the emerging Celtic Tiger economy.
Warm tribute flowed from Dublin in the aftermath of Moynihan’s passing.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern led the tributes for the Irish government and people.
“He was a great intellectual and a great friend to Ireland,” Ahern said.
An Irish government spokeswoman said that Ahern would be writing a personal letter of condolence to Moynihan’s wife, Elizabeth.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said that Moynihan’s “tireless commitment” to finding a peaceful solution to the conflict in Northern Ireland “was instrumental in encouraging the U.S. government to become involved in supporting the peace process.”
Kennedy, in a statement read out on the floor of the Senate, described Moynihan as “a true giant in the Senate.”
“He was a brilliant statesman and legislator, and he was also a wonderful friend to all the Kennedys throughout his extraordinary career in the public life of the nation,” Kennedy said. “Forty-two years ago, President Kennedy enlisted many of the finest minds of his generation to serve in the New Frontier. Among the outstanding young men and women who answered his call was the brilliant young Irishman who became a special assistant to Jack’s secretary of labor, and then an assistant secretary of labor himself, Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
“To know him was to love him — the remarkable intellect, the exceptional clarity of his thinking, the abiding Irish wit that impressed and enthralled us all so often. We were not alone. Pat’s qualities and achievements captivated, educated and inspired an entire generation of Americans,” Kennedy said.
Moynihan, the Massachusetts senator said, had “dedicated his brilliant mind and his beautiful Irish heart” to the challenges facing America. The country was a stronger and better and fairer nation today because of these contributions.”
Moynihan’s death was announced on the Senate floor by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who holds Moynihan’s former New York Senate seat.
“We have lost a great American, an extraordinary senator, an intellectual and a man of passion and understanding about what really makes this country great,” Rodham Clinton said.
President Bush said that Moynihan had committed his life to service and would be sorely missed.”
Since his retirement, Moynihan had been a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and was also a professor at Syracuse University.
In 2000, President Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor that the U.S. can bestow.
Born in Tulsa, Okla., Moynihan grew up in East Harlem in Manhattan and the Rockaways in Queens. Later, when a college student, he worked in the bar his mother owned in Hells Kitchen in Manhattan. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
Moynihan’s appendix ruptured March 10 and he was taken to Washington Hospital Center for an emergency appendectomy. On March 14, he was moved to the intensive care unit, where he was treated for an infection and other complications.
Moynihan was buried in Arlington National Cemetery Monday following a funeral Mass at St. Patrick’s Church in Washington. A memorial Mass is planned for St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York on May 6.
Moynihan is survived by his wife of 47 years, Elizabeth Brennan Moynihan; three children, Timothy Patrick, Maura Russell and John McCloskey Moynihan, and two grandchildren.