"My first daddy died in the troubles," the little blond girl said evenly. "It was the saddest day of my life."

Nine-year-old Catherine Hamill's calm description of her father's brutal murder in 1987 brought tears to the eyes of many in the crowd. President Clinton hugged the chubby-cheeked Catholic schoolgirl, who spoke of what the end of Northern Ireland's quarter-century of violence had meant to her."Now it is nice and peaceful. I like having peace and quiet for a change instead of people shooting and killing. My Christmas wish is that peace and love will last in Ireland forever," Catherine said Thursday, her head barely peeking above the podium.

Later in the day, Clinton was still talking about "that beautiful child." He spoke with feeling about how Catherine and a young Protestant boy "had joined hands to introduce me and I felt almost as if my speech was superfluous."

Catherine said the president told her he was very proud of her. "It was so exciting. I just kept thinking, `Keep calm Catherine, keep calm,' " she said. "My mum was so proud, so she was."

Hillary Rodham Clinton and Jean Kennedy Smith, the U.S. ambassador to Ireland, were among those in the crowd who listened intently as Catherine spoke.

Several rows back, John White, a pro-British "loyalist" leader who spent two decades in prison for killing a Catholic politician and his Protestant girlfriend, wiped tears from his eyes.

Catherine has no memories of Sept. 8, 1987, when two masked men came through the Hamills' unlocked front door into their west Belfast home. Laura Hamill was nursing the 11-month-old girl in her arms while older sister Kelly, 3, played on the floor. Patrick Hamill, 29, walked in from the kitchen.

"They weren't looking for anyone in particular. They just wanted a Catholic man and we're so near to their areas," said Laura Hamill. "They shot Patrick in the head, neck and chest right in front of me."

With Catherine still in her arms, she ran out into the street screaming as the men from the outlawed Ulster Defense Association fled back to the Protestant Shankill area several hundred yards away.

Psychologists later confirmed one trace of trauma in Catherine: a fear of loud noises.

The killing was one of nearly 3,200 in Northern Ireland's quarter-century of bloodshed. As in many households touched personally by the troubles, the Hamill clan has kept its equilibrium.

"After this morning I'm going to need a lot of tea and aspirin," said Laura Hamill, between phone calls from international media and friends. "And probably a shot of vodka!"

She took a few years to rebuild her life, relying on her tightly knit family, and now has a new relationship and 2-year-old son, Brendan. The boy had no idea who Bill Clinton was but he appreciated the plastic American flag he was given.

Five doors down from the Hamills, Catherine's uncles and aunts gathered at grandma Patsy Devlin's red-brick rowhouse to relive their proudest moment. Local TV stations repeatedly replayed Catherine's short speech on news reports, and the family played it some more on videotape.

"Can you believe it, our shy wee Catherine with Mr. Clinton?" said a beaming Patsy Devlin, 55, offering guests tea and sandwiches as the tape rolled.