Celebrating the 2014 Irish America Hall of Fame
Irish America celebrated the induction of the 2014 honorees to the Irish America Hall of Fame Wednesday, March 12 at the Metropolitan Club in New York.
Inducted at the Annual Hall of Fame Luncheon were talk-show hosts Bill O’Reilly and Chris Matthews; Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley; Famine scholar Christine Kinealy; businessmen and champions for Ireland Andrew McKenna (chairman of the McDonald’s Corporation), Patrick Ryan (chairman and CEO of Ryan Specialty Group), and Brian Stack (CEO of CIE Tours International); and the inspiring McDonald family, the first family to be inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame.
The common thread that emerged out of the event was of courage and conviction and the bonds that form between Irish Americans who come from different upbringings and viewpoints. “That’s the thing about this room today,” Irish America co-founder and editor-in-chief Patricia Harty said. “We’re all diverse and we’re from all different backgrounds and occupations, but when it comes to the issues that are important like emigration, we can all get together.”
Speaking first, Bill O’Reilly credited his rise to notoriety to his Irish upbringing. “In the ‘50s and ‘60s when I was a kid, I came off WWII and the Depression, and that’s when my parents were born. And their traditions of Irish Catholic feistiness were ingrained in me….We were tough kids, but we were honest kids and we said it straight.”
“Now, I’m so immature that I never really graduated from that and I brought it with me on my journey in my career. Wherever I went, my Irish blarney was on display. And then it was a miracle that I became really famous, which stunned pretty much everybody who ever knew me because I was always a big mouth and I always said what was on my mind because that’s what my parents and grandparents did…. So when I get a little upset on my show, or a little outspoken, I have to say “Hey, that’s where I’m from, okay? That’s who I am.” And why would I ever want to tamp it down? The reason I’ve succeeded is because I’m Irish.”
Steven McDonald, who was tragically shot and paralyzed from the neck down in 1986 while on patrol for the NYPD in Central Park, spoke of the importance of his Irish Catholic faith in his process of forgiveness in a moving speech. “That Niall and Patricia thought to honor us beside all these special people, the emotions we feel are overwhelming….Please know that while you’ve made us very happy, you’ve also given us a reason to live another day and do what ever it is that God calls us to do with our lives.”
Dedicating their award to the New York City police and fire departments, Steven remembered his first foot post outside the Metropolitan Club on Grand Army Plaza. “Twenty-nine years ago… that’s where I began my career, in the park. And I never thought that Conor, Patti and I would be in this room with such an honored group of people.”
The importance of the Irish network and the connections that arise out of that common tie were on full display in Pat Ryan and Andy McKenna’s speeches. “One of the things that occurs to me about this crowd is that being Irish sticks with you and stays with you,” McKenna said, attributing his success to his father’s insistence that he attend Notre Dame. Ryan as well spoke candidly about the benefits of the Irish welcome.
“I remember in the early days of my career I would sell insurance to Irish American businessmen, and they would call their friends who were Irish American businessmen and say, ‘I want to send Pat Ryan over to see you. He can help you. Be good to him; he’s one of ours.’ The Irish network is real. It’s real around the world, because we all come from similar backgrounds – we fight our way up.”
Echoing that impulse to fight for Ireland, Brian Stack spoke compellingly of his career championing tourism in Ireland, sharing the award with his wife of 47 years and his colleagues at CIE Tours International. “I feel like I’m a conductor of an orchestra. The orchestra is in incredible shape. The CIE team is in credible and our business has grown incredibly.”
The atmosphere of the event remained civil and respectful, even with Chris Matthews pointing out that Bill O’Reilly had to return to his studio before Matthews was up to speak, which provided the chance to toss some friendly chiding his way. “It was refreshing after the Oscars and all of those stars with their false modesty. None of that for Bill! But it’s good to know you really can make money out of just being yourself.”
But Matthews continued in the vein of overcoming differences for a common end, citing his parents’ example of a “mixed marriage” of Northern Protestant, Catholic, and English ancestry. The success of his parents’ marriage though gives him hope of permanent peace in the North, and he said that covering the accords in the 1990s was one of the highlights of his career.
Famine authority Christine Kinealy gave a beautiful and humorous speech that recalled her first time in America working at a burger chain in Atlantic City that wasn’t McDonald’s (pace Mr. McKenna).
Speaking of the immigrant experience in America, she noted that although the Famine “has cast a long shadow over the people of Ireland and her Diaspora. But it has marked us as a people of tremendous resilience, compassion and creativity….For people who, during centuries of colonial rule, had often been dispossessed, displaced and despised, their capacity to love not one but two countries was remarkable, as was their courage in believing there would be a better future for them, for their children, and for their children’s children if they left the country of their birth.”
Finally, Governor Martin O’Malley shared the lesser-known fact that Irish America is his mother’s favorite magazine, and thanked Niall O’Dowd and Patricia Harty for honoring him into the Irish America Hall of Fame. He called the Irish “handsome, generous and brave” and lauded, along with all the other inductees, the significance of the recognition of Irish Americans and their contribution to the growth of the United States as a nation.
Each inductee was presented with a House of Waterford Crystal Colleen Bowl at the 5th annual luncheon and will have their name engraved at the official Hall of Fame site at the Dunbrody Famine Ship Experience in New Ross, Co. Wexford.
Renowned singer/songwriter Judy Collins also accepted her Hall of Fame award and performed her new song, “New Moon Over the Hudson,” which addresses her Irish roots and the experience of the Irish diaspora. Collins was inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame where it is housed in New Ross as part of the JFK 50 events in June, 2013.
Among the attendees of the event were Joan Burton, Ireland’s Minister for Social Protection; Ireland’s Consul General of Ireland Noel Kilkenny; Dr. Malcolm McKibbin, Head of Northern Ireland Civil Service; former Irish Minister Mary Hanafin; NYPD Chief of Housing Bureau Joanne Jaffe, who introduced the McDonald family; Elgin Loane, who owns The Irish Post, and Father John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame.
Click here for more information on the Irish America Hall of Fame including full bios for all eight of this year’s inductees as well as past inductees and see more photos of the inductees below.
Click here for more photos of the event.