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Beautiful & damned? The Kennedy curse strikes again

The family's legendary bad luck burnished their status as America's royal family, writes Donal Lynch who examines the latest tragedy that claimed the life of Maeve Kennedy McKean and her son, Gideon

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Ethel Kennedy

Ethel Kennedy

Boston Globe via Getty Images

Maeve Kennedy Mckean with her son Gideon and family

Maeve Kennedy Mckean with her son Gideon and family

Getty Images for Robert F. Kenne

Mary Richardson Kennedy

Mary Richardson Kennedy

Getty Images

JFK and wife Jackie

JFK and wife Jackie

Getty Images

Kara Kennedy

Kara Kennedy

Getty Images

John, Robert and Ted Kennedy

John, Robert and Ted Kennedy

John F. Kennedy Jr and his wife Carolyn

John F. Kennedy Jr and his wife Carolyn

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Ethel Kennedy

It began, in the ominous stillness of mid afternoon, with a ball floating on a lake. It had ended up there after a game of kickball, a moment's amusement in the long hours of isolation. The sight of it bobbing on the horizon perhaps represented something of a challenge.

Maeve Kennedy McKean, granddaughter of Robert F Kennedy, and her eight-year-old son, Gideon, who had been isolating with their family, decided to try to rescue it. In high spirits they got into Maeve's canoe and began paddling out into the small cove. Surveying the calm, clear afternoon nobody could have suspected that any real risk was being taken. The problem was that Chesapeake Bay, in Maryland, has unusual features. An American meteorologist would later say that it is an "odd combination between a lake and a part of the ocean" and its strange, chameleon-like character would prove fateful.

"Somehow," Maeve's husband David later wrote, his wife of 11 years and their eldest son "got pushed by wind or tide into the open bay." Fatefully they were alone as this happened, nobody was watching from the shore. About 30 minutes after they went into the water, a man on a pier, just south of where Maeve and Gideon first set out, spotted them and grew concerned. Their boat was very small, and neither was wearing a life jacket. The man called 911.