Category: Archive

The Kennedy Tragedy: JFK Jr.’s death brings sadness to both sides of Atlantic

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The Irish government refrained from expressing condolences to the Kennedy and Bessette families while even a glimmer of hope remained in the aftermath of the crash of John F. Kennedy Jr.’s aircraft last Friday night off Martha Vineyard, an island off the southern coast of Massachusetts.

Kennedy and his wife, Carolyn Bissette, and her sister Lauren were en route to a Kennedy family wedding in Hyannis Port when his single engine plane disappeared off the radar screen shortly before 10 p.m. On Tuesday, recovery officials said that radar readings showed the plane hit the water at high speed and a steep angle, suggesting either catastrophic mechanical failure or pilot error. They speculate that Kennedy, an inexperienced pilot who was not licensed to fly by cockpit instruments alone, became disoriented in the haze and darkness just 17 miles from the Vineyard. As the Echo went to press, pieces of the plane have been recovered but as yet no human remains.

It was only after all chances of finding survivors of the crash had passed that Taoiseach Bertie Ahern extended "best wishes" and "prayers" on behalf of the Irish government and people.

Ahern, in his message to the Kennedy family, told them that Irish prayers were with them at this sad time.

"I share the great distress felt by Irish people around the world at the disappearance of the plane being flown by John F. Kennedy Jr. and yet another tragedy which has befallen the Kennedy family," Ahern said Monday. "Our hearts go out to members of the Kennedy and Bessette families, but particularly to Caroline, Ted and Jean, who are especially in our thoughts and to the parents and close family of Carolyn and Lauren Bessette,"

Ahern’s sadness and concern was reflected in Irish America. Loretta Brennan Glucksman, president of the American Ireland Fund, said of JFK Jr.: "He was early and importantly supportive of Ireland House and lent great credibility to it. Whenever we asked him to come to something, he almost always did. He was very conscious of not being perceived of as superficial.

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"His interest in Ireland went deeper than it was thought, though he didn’t have the passion [for Ireland] that others in the [Kennedy] clan had. He did not allow himself to be pigeon-holed. He was not just a poster boy — he was much deeper and more thoughtful than that."

Sean O hUiginn, Ireland’s Ambassador to U.S., said that he last saw JFK Jr. at his cousin Michael Kennedy’s funeral.

"He had a certain interest in Ireland, though it was not an operational interest," he said. O hUiginn believes this had to be seen in the context, that "he kept a slight distance from all political activities." JFK Jr. was "gracious, unassuming," O hUiginn said.

Congressman Peter King said that he last met JFK Jr. at a reception he held for George Mitchell. He was "very engaging, very decent, and carried himself with style and grace, but not at all arrogant or condescending. His death will have a searing effect on the entire country," King said.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and the party’s chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness, called on U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Mike Sullivan to express their sympathy to the American people.

Adams said afterward that he had the pleasure of meeting John F. Kennedy Jr. on several occasions.

"Early in 1997, I met John and the editorial board of George Magazine, and later in June of that year he traveled to Ireland to interview me for the magazine," Adams said. "I was struck by his gentle manner, his keen interest in our situation, and his deep desire for our efforts for peace to succeed. He and his family have given much for their nation, but they have also directly helped develop and encourage the peace process," Adams said.

— Andrew Bushe, Ray O’Hanlon and Jack Holland contributed to this story.

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