THE Washington Ireland Program held its annual event "An Irish Valentine" at the Shakespeare Theater in Washington on Monday of this week.
Over 300 leading Irish Americans, including PBS commentator Mark Shields and CBS senior correspondent Bill Plante, were on hand for the event. Irish Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Collins paid a warm tribute to an organization that has played a large part in fostering U.S. and Irish relationships.
The program yearly places 30 smart college kids from Ireland, north and south, in internship programs on Capitol Hill, and creates a much-needed bridge between the two countries. There are over 360 graduates of the program, ambassadors for life for better U.S.-Ireland relationships
It was amazing to witness the caliber of the kids on the program, originally the brainchild of Carol Wheeler and Denis Mulcahy, who also collaborated on Project Children. This year the program honored several Northern Ireland kids who had taken part in the program who had lost loved ones in the conflict. The night was entitled "Celebrating the Pathways to Peace."
How far the kids, now young adults, had come since those dreadful losses when they were children was clear from their poised performances and sometimes hilarious tales of working in key senate offices.
Their regard for America was very clear, showing again what a program like this can achieve in terms of helping the U.S. and Ireland understand each other at a difficult time for America abroad.
Programs like this which cost a pittance relatively speaking to keep going are invaluable for the future of the U.S.-Ireland relationship. Former Ambassador to Dublin James Kenny, who was one of the evening's honorees, stated the organization was one of those he realized during this time in Dublin that could really make a difference.