Byline: DEMELZA DE BURCA
PRESIDENT Mary McAleese led Irish tributes after the death of Ted Kennedy yesterday.
Edward M Kennedy passed away at his home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, aged 77, after fighting brain cancer for more than a year.
President McAleese said: "Mr Kennedy will be remembered by the people in Ireland as a hugely important friend to the country during very difficult times.
"His death will be greeted with a great sense of sadness here because of his long standing affection for this country, not just with the peace process, but on many other issues, including emigration."
US President Barack Obama said he was "heartbroken" yesterday over the death of his mentor, who was once tipped to succeed his assassinated brother John as president.
President Obama said Senator Kennedy's death ended an important chapter in US political life.
In a statement issued as he holidayed in the east coast resort of Martha's Vineyard, he added: "Michelle and I were heartbroken to learn this morning of the death of our dear friend, Senator Ted Kennedy.
"An important chapter in our history has come to an end. Our country has lost a great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States Senator of our time."
The US flag was lowered to half-mast on Capitol Hill, as tributes poured in from around the world for the "liberal lion".
Taoiseach Brian Cowen said America had lost a great and respected statesman and Ireland, a long-standing and true friend.
He said: "Ted hailed from a most famous Irish-American family, and through his own endeavours and achievement, he has added further lustre to the reputation of a great family.
"In good days and bad, Ted Kennedy worked valiantly for the cause of peace on this island."
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said: "Ireland has lost a great friend and America has lost a great leader.
"Born in privilege and raised in a powerful political family, it is Ted Kennedy's great achievement that his own life transcended tragedy and not only emulated but surpassed the achievement of his brothers who he revered."
Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheal Martin described the senator as "a true and loyal friend of Ireland". He said: "Ted Kennedy knew and loved Ireland - its people, its music and its culture.
"As the embodiment of the Irish immigrant story, his special dedication to the peace process was unrivalled and deeply held. We owe him a debt of gratitude for his true and loyal friendship and steadfast support, particularly during the process which resulted in the Good Friday Agreement."
Fine Gael Leader Enda Kenny said it was the end of an era and praised Mr Kennedy's "unstinting support" for Irish causes.
Mr Kenny added: "His work during the conflict in Northern Ireland and the peace process was crucial in ensuring ongoing US Government support for a settlement. …