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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.

Many of us on staff at the time made the trip down the Jersey Turnpike to help deliver the tens of thousands of applications we had. But we were far from the only ones.  Merrifield was a mob scene that weekend, a melting pot of nationalities from around the world, particularly Europeans and especially Irish, desperate for a rare chance at the American Dream.

The Morrison entry rules changed after that first experience, understandably. For the remaining two years applicants could mail entries that had to be received during a set time period with winners picked afterwards, thus eliminating the need for a mad dash to the post office.

I wonder how many of the envelopes we delivered to Merrifield were picked for selection.  It’s gratifying to think that even one of them made it through, that one person’s life was changed forever by our efforts.

It’s a time that I’ll never forget – and unfortunately it’s impossible to think of it ever being repeated, given the immigration stalemate that’s currently afflicting the country.

The Morrison program – christened, of course, after Congressman Bruce Morrison -- offered permanent legal status to nearly 50,000 during its three-year lifespan.  The good old days indeed.

Scroll ahead to the present, and my second standout which happened only days ago – an interview with Bono.

He needs no introduction, of course.  U2 has been the world’s biggest band for decades, period.  Their last tour, U2360, grossed well over $700 million and was seen by more than seven million fans around the world, making it the biggest concert tour of all time.

Many have come, and many have gone – current darlings One Direction will eventually fade too, girls! – but U2 never goes out of style.

In addition to his day job, Bono has been one of the world’s most prominent and effective advocates on behalf of the African poor.  For decades he’s traveled the globe lobbying politicians, pleading for relief for those who don’t have a voice.

And most of all, he’s fiercely proud to be Irish.  He talks about that and so much more in our chat.
It was truly a pleasure interviewing Bono, something I always hoped I’d have a chance to do. And hearing him talk so nicely about the Irish Voice? Doesn’t get any better than that!

There are so many people who have been instrumental in ensuring that the Irish Voice reached its 25-year milestone.  Our best friend and fervent supporter for years has been the one and only Danny Moloney, founder and president of Liffey Van Lines and Big Apple Storage, and his wonderful wife Rose.

Simply put, Danny and Rose have been there for us every step of the way. I can’t thank them enough for all they’ve done.  They’ve helped so many down through the years – and if someone has connections to their counties of Clare and Mayo, even better!

Rory Dolan, proprietor of the famous Rory Dolan’s on McLean Avenue in Yonkers, and Joe Carty, owner of the Rambling House on Katonah Avenue in Woodlawn, have been with us forever.  Brian O’Dwyer from O’Dwyer and Bernstien, Ciaran O’Reilly and Charlotte Moore from the Irish Repertory Theatre – thank you, thank you, thank you.

It’s not easy being in the newspaper publishing business these days.

We’ve had to find ways to somewhat reinvent ourselves, which thankfully we’ve managed to do through our website Irish Central – now with one million unique visitors each month – and two exciting end of year projects that have gone from strength to strength, the Irish Legal 100 and the Irish Education 100.

An old friend of mine from the IIRM days, John Dillon, is the creator and driving force behind the latter two efforts.  He’s got boundless, 24-7 passion for what he does, and it really shows when the end product is complete.

Thanks to our financial controller Kevin Mangan, one of my Best BFFs, and so many others I’ve worked with throughout the years – Nuala Purcell, Cahir O’Doherty, Gen McCarthy, Steve Travers, April Drew, Robbie Hogan, Nicola McClean, Darina Molloy … the list goes on and on.

 And of course Cormac MacConnell and John Spain, who have been with us since Day 1.

And last but definitely not least, thanks to the guy who had the nerve to come on the scene back in 1987, our publisher Niall O’Dowd.  As it turns out, we wound up getting married and having an amazing daughter, Alana, now 12, who is the senior editor of her newspaper at her school.  Thankfully those reporting genes seem to have passed down, and perhaps one day Alana will have a career in the publishing world as fulfilling and interesting as mine has been.

To our readers – of course we wouldn’t be here without you.  Here’s to another 25 years of keeping you entertained and informed!

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