Distinguished Service Awards

President Michael D. Higgins and First Lady Sabina Higgins entertain the Distinguished service awardees at a reception following the ceremony.

By Sharon Ní Chonchúir, Contributor
December / January 2020


The Irish have made their mark all over the world. Following the 2011 Global Irish Economic Forum, the Irish government inaugurated the Presidential Distinguished Service Award as a way of recognising their impact on the international stage. Announcing the 12 recipients of this year’s awards, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said: “The contribution of the Irish abroad, in so many countries and in so many ways, has been immense, and the range of the contributions they have made can be seen in the diversity of this year’s award recipients.” Charlotte Moore, Ciarán O’Reilly, and Ian Gibson were honored in the field of arts, culture, and sport. Moore and O’Reilly founded the Irish Repertory Theatre in New York. Gibson is a distinguished author, scholar, historian, and broadcaster who has lived most of his life in Spain. His work on Federico García Lorca is considered to be an indispensable reference for all who have an interest in the Spanish poet. Paul Drechsler, Michael Kenneally, and Rhona Richman Kenneally were honored in the field of business and education. Dubliner Drechsler moved to Britain in 1978, worked for businesses including Imperial Chemical Industries and is currently the president of the Confederation of British Industry.

President Michael D. Higgins with Charlotte Moore and Ciarán O’Reilly.

Dr. Michael Kenneally and Dr. Rhona Richman Kenneally have worked together to promote Irish educational interests in Canada, most significantly through the foundation of the School of Irish Studies in Concordia University, Montreal. Father Patrick Clarke from Dublin and Bernard Lynch were honored for their charity work. Father Clarke is a Spiritan missionary who has worked with the most vulnerable and impoverished members of Brazilian society for the past 40 years. Bernard Lynch served as a missionary in Africa before moving to the United States in the 1970s. There, he served as a chaplain to Dignity / NY for LGBT Catholics. When AIDS hit in the 1980s, he ministered to those affected and campaigned for justice for them. He now lives in London, where he continues to work on HIV / AIDs and LGBT issues. The awards were presented on November 21, 2019 by President Michael D. Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin, the official residence and workplace of the president, who throughout his term in office has emphasized the global nature of Ireland’s cultural heritage, the significance of the diaspora, and the common history and identity we share “despite the borders, oceans, and miles that may separate us.” ♦

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