Weekly Comment:
Announcing the 2016
Irish America Hall of Fame

From left, the 2016 Irish America Hall of Fame honorees: former President Bill Clinton, astronaut Eileen Collins, General Martin Dempsey, writer Pete Hamill, and Mutual of America consultant Ed Kenney.

By Irish America Staff
February 11, 2016

Irish America magazine will present President Bill Clinton with a Lifetime Achievement Award and induct astronaut Eileen Collins, General Martin Dempsey, Pete Hamill, Edward Kenney to Irish America Hall of Fame.

President Bill Clinton will receive a Lifetime Achievement award from Irish America magazine March 30th, at the 2016 Irish America Hall of Fame and Special Commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising Centenary.

Clinton, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011, is being recognized for his extraordinary role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland and will welcome the 2016 inductees into the Hall of Fame.

The distinguished 2016 Hall of Fame inductees include Astronaut Eileen Collins, NASA’s first female space shuttle commander; former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin E. Dempsey; novelist, essayist, and journalist Pete Hamill; and Edward J. T. Kenney, special consultant at Mutual of America.

Founded in 2010 in celebration of Irish America magazine’s 25th anniversary, the Irish America Hall of Fame honors the extraordinary achievements of Irish-American leaders, from their significant accomplishments and contributions to American society to the personal commitment to safeguarding their Irish heritage and the betterment of Ireland.

The Irish America Hall of Fame is housed at the Dunbrody Famine Ship Experience in New Ross, Co. Wexford.


The Honorable William Jefferson Clinton

Bill Clinton was the 42nd President of the United States, and throughout his tenure in office was a major supporter of the Irish peace process, taking the strongest position on Irish issues ever taken by an American president. In 1995, he became the first president to visit Northern Ireland, where an estimated 50,000 people from both sides of the sectarian divide amassed in Belfast to hear him speak a message of peace.

The previous year, he granted a U.S. visa to Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, a decision that prompted the first IRA ceasefire and played a huge role in the Irish peace process.

In September 1998, Bill and Hillary Clinton visited Omagh, a town still reeling from the effects of a bombing the month before. Bertie Ahern, then Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland, said later during Clinton’s visit to Dublin: “The helping hand of the United States was always there in the hour of need. And there were many such hours.”

Clinton played a key role during the crucial lead up to the Good Friday Agreement – a pivotal moment that established the Northern Ireland Assembly. Senator George Mitchell, the man he personally appointed as his peace emissary, brought all of the parties together to sign the historic document on 10 April 1998.

His Irish roots come from his mother, Virginia Cassity Kelley, who was the granddaughter of emigrants from County Fermanagh.

Eileen Collins

Former NASA astronaut and Air Force colonel Eileen Collins was the first female commander of a space shuttle mission and a career U.S.A.F. officer. In 1999, she commanded the Columbia mission STS-93 to launch the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the most advanced X-ray telescope produced at the time.

Collins was born in Elmira, New York, the second of four children of Rose Marie and James Collins, whose ancestors are from County Cork. She had an interest in flying from an early age and received an R.O.T.C. scholarship to study at Syracuse University in 1976, marking her entrance into the Air Force in the first year women pilots were accepted. In 1990, she was selected to the astronauts training program and became an astronaut the following year. In 1995, she made history as the first woman to pilot a space shuttle when NASA chose her to fly the first U.S.-Russia Shuttle/Mir rendezvous. She retired from NASA and the U.S.A.F. in 2006.

General Martin E. Dempsey

Martin Edward Dempsey served as the 18th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for which he served two terms, and is a retired U.S. Army general who also previously served as the Chief of Staff of the Army.

General Dempsey graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1974 and has been a career armor officer, serving in Operation Desert Storm, commanding the 4th Battalion 67th Armor in Germany, and as an advisor to the Saudi Arabian National Guard, among other posts. In June 2003, he took command of the 1st Armored Division in Baghdad and served 14 months, before redeploying the division to Germany. In August 2005, he returned to Iraq to train and equip the Iraqui Security Forces as Commanding General of MNSTC-I.

Dempsey was raised in Goshen, New York to a heavily Irish-American family. His grandparents were born in counties Sligo, Mayo, Roscommon, and Donegal and he holds a master’s degree in literature from Duke University, where he wrote his thesis on the Irish literary revival. Dempsey has also learned conversational Irish from childhood summers spent in Ireland.

Pete Hamill

Pete Hamill is a much-lauded journalist, columnist, essayist, commentator, and novelist who has spent a career documenting stories from wars in Vietnam, Nicaragua, Lebanon, and Northern Ireland to rock and roll and the underclass of New York City.

Born in 1935 in Brooklyn to Belfast immigrants who arrived in New York the same day the stock market crashed in 1929, Hamill had artistic ambitions from a young age, attending the School of Visual Arts and, following a 4-year enlistment with the U.S. Navy, studying painting in Mexico City before becoming a writer. He joined the staff of the New York Post in the summer of 1960 as a night reporter and subsequently spent time at most of the major New York City daily tabloids, including the Village Voice, the Daily News, the Herald Tribune, and Newsday. In the 1990s, he served as the editor of the Post and as editor-in-chief of the Daily News. His feature articles and essays have appeared in publications such as the New Yorker, Esquire, New York, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and Vanity Fair. He also won a Grammy Award for his liner notes on Bob Dylan’s 1975 album Blood on the Tracks.

In 1994, Hamill published A Drinking Life, a memoir about his childhood and early years reporting, focusing on his embrace of drinking and eventual decision to abstain, which brought him national acclaim. Among his other books include, Forever, a novel about the history of New York; Snow in August, which follows the unlikely friendship between an 11-year-old Irish Catholic boy and an elderly Jewish rabbi in 1940s Brooklyn; and Why Sinatra Matters, which has recently been reissued with a new introduction by Hamill in honor of Sinatra’s 100th birthday.

He lives in Manhattan with his wife, Japanese journalist Fukiko Aoki, and has two daughters.

Edward J. T. Kenney

Ed Kenney is a special consultant for Mutual of America, a firm he has been with since 1994 after retiring from a 25-year career as an F.B.I. agent. Throughout the peace process in Northern Ireland, he used his diplomatic background as a liaison with other law enforcement and government agencies as a valuable tool.

Kenney joined Mutual just as chairman Bill Flynn’s invitation to Gerry Adams won the Sinn Féin leader a visa to the U.S. Flynn and Tom Moran, who succeeded Flynn as Mutual’s chairman, president and CEO, continued to extend hospitality to loyalist and nationalist politicians at the New York offices of Mutual of America, and it was Kenney’s job as executive vice president of external affairs to facilitate those visits and the many visits that Flynn and Moran made to the North in the ensuing years.

Ed is known for his philanthropic efforts, particularly in promoting the work of Concern Worldwide, the Irish-born international humanitarian organization that works to transform the lives of the world’s poorest people. Over the course of the past 20 years, as a board member of Concern Worldwide, U.S., Ed has made numerous trips overseas to countries torn by war, natural disasters and epidemics, and has been a key figure in persuading donors to support the organizations’s humanitarian efforts.

Born in Queens, New York to parents of Roscommon and Tipperary heritage, Kenney graduated from St. Joseph’s Seminary with a degree in philosophy. He and his wife Brigid live in Ossining, New York. They have five children.


Since its inception in October 1985, Irish America has become a powerful vehicle for expression on a range of political, economic, social, and cultural themes that are of paramount importance to the Irish in the United States. It has helped reestablish the Irish ethnic identity in the U.S. (34.7 million according to the last U.S. census) and highlights the best political and business leaders, organizations, artists, writers, and community figures among the Irish in America.


Mutual of America / The Coca-Cola Company / Guinness / Tourism Ireland / UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School / The American Ireland Fund / CIE Tours International / House of Waterford Crystal / 1-800-Flowers.Com ♦

One Response to “Weekly Comment:
Announcing the 2016
Irish America Hall of Fame”

  1. A small but important clarification: Pete Hamill’s two daughters are by his first wife, not by Ms. Aoki.

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