Saoirse Kennedy Hill, granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy, dies after overdose

“Our hearts are shattered by the loss of our beloved Saoirse,” the Kennedy family said in a statement. “Her life was filled with hope, promise and love.”

A Barnstable police vehicle blocked the way to Marchant Avenue on Thursday.
A Barnstable police vehicle blocked the way to Marchant Avenue on Thursday. –Christine Hochkeppel for the Boston Globe

BOSTON — A granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy died on Thursday afternoon after suffering an apparent overdose at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Mass., according to two people close to the family.

Saoirse Kennedy Hill
Saoirse Kennedy Hill. —Twitter

The young woman, Saoirse Kennedy Hill, 22, was the daughter of Courtney Kennedy Hill. She was at the compound, where her grandmother, Ethel Kennedy, lives, when emergency responders were called on Thursday afternoon, the family friends said. She was taken to Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis, where she was pronounced dead.

“Our hearts are shattered by the loss of our beloved Saoirse,” the Kennedy family said in a statement. “Her life was filled with hope, promise and love.”

The statement quoted Ethel Kennedy, 91, Robert F. Kennedy’s widow, as saying, “The world is a little less beautiful today.”

The authorities issued a statement confirming a death at the property but did not disclose the identity of the victim or the cause of death. “Early this afternoon Barnstable police responded to a residence on Marchant Avenue in Hyannis Port for a report of an unattended death,” said Tara Miltimore of the Cape and Islands District Attorney’s Office. “The matter remains under investigation by the Barnstable police as well as state police detectives assigned to the Cape and Islands District Attorney’s Office.”

Before enrolling in Boston College, where she was a communication major and vice president of the College Democrats, Ms. Kennedy Hill wrote about her struggles with depression and mental illness for the student newspaper at Deerfield Academy, a private preparatory school in Massachusetts, in 2016. Her depression, she wrote, “took root in the beginning of my middle school years and will be with me for the rest of my life.” She described “deep bouts of sadness that felt like a heavy boulder on my chest.”

Marcus Breen, a professor of communication at Boston College, said Ms. Kennedy Hill was an engaging student in a class he taught on social media and social justice.

“In classes she was often the first student to offer an opinion on readings that demanded clear critique about the challenges of contemporary society,” he said in an email.

Professor Breen recalled that Ms. Kennedy Hill once sought him out after a class conversation on feminism and rape culture, asking him whether the issues were appropriate for the classroom given that some students may have been survivors of sexual assault.

“It was an expression of her concern for others,” Professor Breen said. “She will be missed on campus and in class.”

Ms. Kennedy Hill spent part of her childhood in Ireland, and often said she was proud of her Irish heritage and her Gaelic given name, which means freedom. Her father, Paul Michael Hill, is one of the Guildford Four, who were falsely accused of involvement in Irish Republican Army bombings; he was imprisoned for 15 years before his conviction was overturned. He and Ms. Kennedy Hill’s mother married shortly after his release in 1993, and separated in 2006.

Ms. Kennedy Hill marched in Cape Cod with her mother in March 2018 as part of a nationwide protest against gun violence, according to The Barnstable Patriot.

The Kennedy compound on Cape Cod is the storied summer residence of one of America’s most enduring political dynasties. It consists of three white clapboard houses on six acres of waterfront property along Nantucket Sound and was originally the home of Joseph P. Kennedy, the patriarch of the Kennedy clan.

The compound was a base of operations for the presidential campaign of his son John F. Kennedy in 1960, and later served as a summer White House. Senator Edward M. Kennedy kept the home as his primary Massachusetts residence for several decades until his death in 2009.

In 2012, the Kennedy family donated the main house to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.

The death adds to a litany of tragedies that have befallen the Kennedys and taken on the grim aura of a family curse. President Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy were both slain by assassins. Their brother Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. was killed in World War II, and their sister Kathleen Cavendish died in a plane crash in 1948. The president’s son, John F. Kennedy Jr., was killed in 1999 when the airplane he was flying crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off Martha’s Vineyard; his wife and sister-in-law were on board and were also killed.


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