HYANNIS PORT, Massachusetts - Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's body was being taken to Boston on Thursday to lie in repose at his slain brother's presidential library for two days of public visitation.

The motorcade carrying the statesman's body and members of the prominent American political family departed the family compound on Cape Cod for the 70-mile (115-kilometre) trip to the state capital.

The flag-draped casket was loaded into a hearse after a private Mass in the home. Relatives took turns touching the hearse as they passed it on the way to their cars.

Hundreds of people are lining the route of the motorcade, which will end at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. His body will lie in repose there for two days with several hours of public visitation scheduled.

He is to be buried Saturday at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, near Washington D.C.

The late senator's loved ones - including niece Caroline, daughter of former President John F. Kennedy, and son Patrick, a U.S. congressman - arrived before noon for a private Mass at the family compound in Hyannis Port.

Shortly before the motorcade left, clapping could be heard in the house and family members emerged onto the porch, some holding hands, others talking and laughing. Ted Kennedy III, the senator's young grandson, walked to the driveway, tossing his long blond hair out of his eyes.

Relatives gathered near the house as the casket was loaded into a hearse, then took turns touching the vehicle as they passed it on the way to their cars. As the motorcade left, Patrick Kennedy sat in the passenger seat of the hearse, near tears.

The motorcade began passing the hundreds of people lining the route and was to go by sites important to the senator on the way to the library, which he helped develop and where he will lie in repose until Friday, a Senate office statement said.

Trudy Murray, 86, a native of Ireland who later lived in England, said Kennedy helped her and her family get visas when they moved to the United States in 1969.

"I loved Ted Kennedy. I cried yesterday when I put on the TV and saw that he had passed away," said Murray, a retired nurse who now lives in Brockton.

"He made his mistakes, but I don't even want to hear them. I forgive all of them because he was such a good man," she said.

Plans are being finalized for a private memorial service at the presidential library Friday evening and for the funeral Mass on Saturday morning at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica - commonly known as the Mission Church - in Boston's Mission Hill neighbourhood. President Barack Obama is scheduled to speak at the funeral.

All of the living former presidents will also attend the funeral, said a person familiar with the arrangements who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release details.

Shortly before the Mass, 44 sitting senators and 10 former senators will be among a group of about 100 dignitaries paying their respects at the library before heading to the cavernous basilica.

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Ray Henry in Hyannis Port and Denise Lavoie in Boston contributed to this report.