While much was being made of the fact that Teddy Kennedy was the last of the four Kennedy brothers, he was also a member of another famous quartet, “the Four Horsemen,” a hard riding gang of Irish American political leaders that, to look at them, was really only missing Walter Brennan roaring “Brazos” to fill out the picture.
Just as Teddy was the last of the Kennedy brothers, former New York governor Hugh Carey is the last of the horsemen. So it was particularly poignant to read Carey’s tribute to Kennedy, one of so many that flowed into the email box on Wednesday morning of last week.
Said Carey: “Among the millions of Americans who were saddened to learn of the death of Senator Ted Kennedy this morning, I share with Irish Americans a sense of loss and appreciation for the devotion and leadership he brought to the Irish peace process. “As one of the Four Horsemen, along with Tip O’Neill, Pat Moynihan and myself, he helped turn the struggle in Northern Ireland away from violence and onto the path of political settlement, with a pivotal statement in 1977 and many occasions since. “Subsequent efforts by leaders like Bill Flynn, and many others on both sides of the Atlantic, did indeed culminate in a peaceful resolution, which will remain part of Ted’s great legacy.
“The Carey family extends its sincere condolences to Ted’s sister, Jean Kennedy Smith, who served with distinction as American Ambassador to Ireland; to his wife Vicki, and to the entire Kennedy family for whom he was a beloved patriarch. His love of life, his passion for justice, his faith and courage will long be remembered.”
Now there’s a man who knows what he is talking about, and from first hand experience to boot.
Mention of the horsemen, however, only serves to emphasize the fact that we have now almost entirely said goodbye to a generation of Irish American leaders who were true political giants.
The horsemen have taken their knocks over the years from those who believed that they were not hard enough on the British during the worst years of the Northern Ireland Troubles.
But the fact is their very existence put the British on notice that Irish America could not be marginalized, or stereotyped by British politicians or those parts of the British press that saw Irish America as a perpetual obstacle and threat, never a help.
Kennedy, for one, was an early advocate of a U.S. envoy and of course was a pivotal figure in ultimately ensuring a visa for Gerry Adams. The same goes for Moynihan who also advocated an envoy and ultimately supported the visa from a political height that was above reproach from even the most gung-ho of Fleet Street’s sterotypers.
The fact that the four first set out their stall by rounding on violence, and the IRA’s violence in particular, only heightened their ultimate effectiveness. They could not be ignored, dismissed, pigeon-holed.
If there was a leader among the four, it had to be Teddy Kennedy. His office was a virtual shadow White House and a mandatory stopover in Washington for political visitors from Ireland, Britain and just about anywhere else on the planet.
Teddy was also the first politician that Gerry Adams went to meet when, on his second visit to the U.S. in the fall of 1994, the Sinn F