Saturday, 2:15 PM
Ahern, left, posed under a portrait of John F. Kennedy with Caroline Kennedy, Sen. Edward Kennedy, and Victoria Reggie Kennedy at the presidential library.
By Kevin Cullen, Globe Staff
In his last official act in the United States as Ireland's prime minister, Bertie Ahern today journeyed to the library named after one of his boyhood heroes, John F. Kennedy, and gave the presidential library a $2 million gift on behalf of the Irish people, saying it was a down payment on the debt owed to the most storied Irish-American family.
John Shattuck, the chief executive of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, said the donation will be used to establish the Irish Heritage Collection of the Kennedy Library Digital Archive, underwrite part of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, and develop new public programs on diversity in the slain president's tradition.
Ahern paid a warm tribute to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, whom he described as Ireland's staunchest congressional supporter for 40 years, and Kennedy's sister, Jean Kennedy Smith, who served as US ambassador to Ireland during the years leading up to the historic Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which formally ended the conflict in Northern Ireland. The slain president's daughter, Caroline, joined her uncle in presenting Ahern with a glass bowl made by the Vermont artisan Simon Pearce.
Ahern noted that it was exactly 10 years ago on a Friday that he and his British counterpart, Tony Blair, emerged from the drab Government Buildings complex on the grounds of Stormont in East Belfast to announce they had reached a settlement in the marathon talks chaired by former US Senator George Mitchell of Maine. Not long after that, the Profile in Courage Award was given to Mitchell and the leaders of the eight political parties who forged the compromise, the first time the award named for President Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize-winning book was given to non-Americans.
Ahern also observed that it was 45 years since John Kennedy, the first Irish Catholic elected president, made an emotional and richly symbolic visit to Ireland, accompanied by the sister who would later become ambassador.
Ahern spoke before an invitation-only crowd of about 350, many of them Irish-Americans from the Boston area who supported the peace process. Among those in attendance was Aidan Hume, the son of the Nobel laureate John Hume, the nationalist leader from Northern Ireland who is widely considered the architect of the style of compromise that emerged from the peace process.
On Wednesday, Ahern spoke to a joint session of Congress, announcing to thunderous applause that, "Ireland is at peace." He also asked Congress to find a compromise to resolve the plight of illegal immigrants, including thousands of Irish.
On Thursday, he spoke to business leaders at the Boston College Club, and gave a speech about Europe at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
After his address at the library, Ahern flew back to Dublin. He will step down on Tuesday after 11 years as taoiseach, the Irish word for premier. His final official act will be to journey to the site of the Battle of the Boyne, the 17th century battle between Catholic and Protestant kings which was a pivotal moment in creating the divisions between the two main traditions in Ireland that led to conflict for more than three centuries.
Ahern will meet there with Rev. Ian Paisley, the fundamentalist Protestant preacher and political leader who last year agreed to enter a power-sharing government with his historic enemies in Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army.
Though a popular leader, Ahern faces a continuing investigation into his personal finances and donations to Fianna Fail, Ireland's dominant political party.
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