First Annual Irish America Day Celebrated in Ireland

Kim Clancy (Liam's wife); Sean Reidy, CEO of the JFK Trust; and actress Fionnuala Flanagan aboard the Dunbrody, following the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Photo by Patrick Browne.

July 5, 2012

This Fourth of July, flags were raised, grills were lighted, streets were decked with red, white and blue, and America was celebrated – on both sides of the Atlantic.

In recognition of the strong ties between the U.S. and Ireland, and of the millions of Irish immigrants who began new lives in America throughout the centuries, the Co. Wexford town of New Ross devoted the fourth of July to celebrations of America. Fittingly titled Irish America Day, the town-wide festivities ranged from readings of the Declaration of Independence and re-enactments of the Boston Tea Party, to traditional American barbeques and the naming of a town Prom King and Queen.

New Ross is of particular importance in the story of Irish emigration. Thousands left Ireland from its port, including Patrick Kennedy and Bridget Murphy, President John F. Kennedy’s great-grandparents, as did the grandparents of playwright Eugene O’Neill, to name just a few. Their stories, and the stories of countless other immigrants, are commemorated at the Dunbrody Emigration History Center, which is home to both the famous Dunbrody Famine Ship replica and the Irish America Hall of Fame.

As part of the celebrations, Irish America was thrilled to induct new Hall of Fame honorees. Actress Fionnula Flanagan, who was born and raised in Dublin and has made California her home, was honored for her extraordinary accomplishments in film, television and theater. Famous for her roles in Some Mother’s Son, The Others,  The Guard, Star Trek, Lost, Brotherhood, and Rich Man, Poor Man (for which she won an Emmy), and for her insightful and sensitive portrayal of James Joyce’s female characters, Flanagan joined a prestigious group of present honorees, including former U.S. President Bill Clinton, dancer Michael Flatley and film star Maureen O’Hara, who was inducted last summer.

She said “It is a source of great pride to me to be recognised in this way, and to  be inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame. I would like to commend the work that Irish America magazine is doing. I’m delighted that Irish America’s Hall of Fame is  housed in New Ross at the Dunbrody Famine Ship. This is one of the best visitor attractions  I have ever visited, with wonderful actors bringing  the story of the Great Famine very much alive.”

Musician Liam Clancy, who made an immeasurable impact on music and culture in both Ireland and America, was inducted posthumously. His wife, Kim Clancy, traveled to New Ross for the ceremony. She noted how pleased Clancy would have been, and how much regard he had for the Dunbrody and its work: “Liam would have been very proud at his induction into the Irish America Hall of Fame and particularly so since it is housed at the Dunbrody Irish Emigration History Centre in New Ross,” she said. “Liam loved the Dunbrody Famine Ship and always followed it’s progress with great interest.”

His son Donal Clancy sang his father’s famous song The Irish Rover, which appropriately begins “On the fourth of july, 1806 we set sail…”

James Concannon, founder of the award-winning Concannon Vineyard in California’s Livermore Valley, was also inducted posthumously. Born on the island of Inishmann on  St. Patrick’s Day in 1847, Concannon immigrated to the U.S. and worked in Maine before taking his family West. The first Irish founder of a successful vineyard in America, his story is symbolic of the great risks and triumphs of Irish immigrants.

In addition to the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, The Dunbrody played host to some colorful re-enactments, with a group of actors playing out the drama of the Boston Tea Party every hour.

Nearby, the townheld a series of American-themed events including Mark Twain readings and a flag raising ceremony. In the early evening, an Irish America Day Parade proceeded through the town’s streets, led by Brendan Ryan and Jean Kelly, the newly crowned Prom King and Queen, and featuring floats, dancers and American classic cars.

The historic Hook Lighthouse held a Family Day, with music, barbequing and displays of American football by the Waterford Wolves.

Later that night, The Three Tenors and Declan O’Rourke took the stage at the Kennedy Arboretum, and a fireworks display lit up the – blessedly clear – night sky.

At the end of the concert, the flags were lowered and stowed away – to be safely stored for next July.

More photographs from Irish America Day:

Watch a 1992 video of Liam Clancy singing The Irish Rover at The Olympia in Dublin:

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