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25 great years to remember at the Irish Voice

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She started her career with the competitor, but since joining the Irish Voice in 1991 senior editor DEBBIE McGOLDRICK has had many highlights, some of which she fondly recalls.

Twenty-five years ago, the birth of the Irish Voice. I was sure it wouldn’t make it to its first anniversary.  And I was also fairly certain that after six months it would be history.

Well, I called that one wrong.

I remember the Voice’s 1987 debut so well because I had recently started a job at its targeted competitor, the venerable Irish Echo.

I was right out of college – spending one year of it at Trinity in Dublin – and eager to dive into the Irish scene.  The Echo’s owner Claire Grimes hired me as a subscription manager, but I was also given the chance to pursue my dream of becoming a news reporter.

The Echo was in a transition of its own at the time. Claire’s husband John Grimes had passed suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 54. It was left to Claire – who I will never forget for giving me my first Irish job – to steer the Echo ship.

And along comes the first significant threat to the Echo’s dominance, the Irish Voice.

I remember lots of chatter about the new publication and its owner, someone called Niall O’Dowd.  We weren’t quite sure what to make of the Voice, but we were slightly worried that it would have an advantage in keeping up with Irish news because its office had this new thing called a fax machine that cost a whole bunch of money.

There was plenty of trash talk from Team Voice. “We’re not just an Echo, we’re a Voice.” “Still haven’t found what you’re looking for? U2 can have a new Voice.”

Our beloved Echo editor, John Thornton, acquired a copy of the Voice the day before its newsstand debut.  “Nothing to worry about,” he said, waving the paper in his hand.

We all were eager to flip through the pages of the Voice, and we all agreed – not a chance!
And so, here we are, 25 years later.

There’s no question that the pesky Voice made the Echo up its game editorially.  The immigration issue was huge at the time – funny how some things never seem to change – and significant moves were underway in Congress to provide relief to the undocumented Irish.

The Voice reported on the political maneuverings intently. Just as important, it also focused on the everyday problems confronting the undocumented – things like opening a bank account and obtaining health insurance.

As a result, the Echo started covering these issues too. I had some friends at the time in the Irish Immigration Reform Movement (IIRM), a dynamic group of smart and savvy volunteers – many of them undocumented -- who quite literally dedicated their lives to enacting political change.

I was given the chance by Claire and John to report on immigration for the Echo. It was an incredibly exciting time. From its small roots in Queens, the IIRM became a national movement with thousands of members nationwide. Politicians couldn’t help but take notice.

The IIRM’s efforts culminated with the advent of the Morrison visa program in the fall of 1990, a towering achievement that’s testimony to the true grit and indomitable spirit of the grassroots Irish.

I left the Echo after three great years and headed for enemy territory, the Voice.  I started writing the paper’s “Green Card” advice column and covering immigration issues, and I’ve been here ever since doing basically everything and anything.

It’s been a fascinating 25 years. Our Irish American community is many different things – generous, feisty, relentless, enduring -- but the one thing it’s not is boring!

I’ve personally had so many highlights since joining the staff in 1991, but two of them stand out.
Year One of the Morrison visa program came not long after I arrived.

It was thrilling to witness, the anticipation of thousands of young Irish finally being given a chance to step out of the shadows after years of living undocumented, unfulfilled lives.

The weekend for the U.S. Postal Service – remember them?! – to accept applications by mail came in October of 1991.  First in, first served was the rule during year one of the visa program, and the more entries you submitted, the better your chances of scoring a coveted green card.

The Irish Voice hired a van and offered applicants the chance to drop off their letters, which we would then drive down to Merrifield, Virginia, where the processing post office was located.  We investigated when the office would open to start postmarking letters so that our arrival would be perfectly timed in the hopes of ensuring maximum success.

The van we originally rented had to be upgraded to a large U-Haul. Our office, which was then on Park Avenue South, was inundated with anxious hopefuls dropping off bags full of applications – even The New York Times came in to photograph the huge sacks of mail we were entrusted with.

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