Seeking help from Senator Robert Kennedy on changing 1965 Immigration Act
Irish community fightback after 1965 Kennedy-led bill ended most Irish emigration
Often the dinners and lunches did not start on time. Sometimes we operated under Irish country time. I can recall once being introduced as the next speaker at a County Corkmen's dinner. The time was midnight. On another occasion, I attended a dinner and spoke at a Mason Tenders Union Dinner. It was held in a catering hall on Burnside Avenue in the Bronx. The sound system was not operating. The members and guests were seated in two rooms in an L shaped fashion. It was well after midnight when the speeches began and it took all of one's vocal strength to be heard without microphone in the two rooms. I was heard!
The largest dinner was the NY GAA, 2500 seated in the Grand Ballroom of the Statler Hilton Hotel. The diners, sometimes well plied with spirits, were also sometimes lacking in total attention. If the toastmaster began without obtaining attention and silence, all was usually downhill and the noise accelerated as the speeches progressed. There were two exceptions. One was the former Governor of New York, Malcolm Wilson, who often addressed the dinner. He never began until he obtained silence and he always got it for the duration of his speech. I learned a lot by watching his operation. I was the other fortunate speaker exempted from the noise. In my case it wasn't due so much to technique as the content of the message. The audience was interested. The subject deeply affected them.
Fr. O'Callaghan, in his structured messages (which were always extemporaneous) told his hearers that if the 1965 law was not changed, the GAA organization (composed of many new immigrants) would be the first to go, followed by the UICA and then lastly the AOH. His prediction was right on target.
Of course not all organizations were equally hospitable to our message in the beginning. The Irish Institute had a scheduled dinner in the spring of 1967. It was to be held in the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel Commodore (now the Hyatt Regency) and the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy, brother of the late President was the scheduled guest of honor.
We sought permission to have four or five of our immigration committee information cards placed on each table at the dinner. Usually organizations had been offering us free space for an immigration message in their souvenir journals. The Irish Institute had not on this occasion but they had previously favored us with free office and meeting space, so we couldn't complain. Nevertheless, we wanted our cards on the dinner table. The decision to make the request originated at one of our general meetings. Fr. O'Callaghan and I approached Martin Killeen, the Institute President and requested his permission. He replied in the affirmative. As he did so, Mrs. Nora Doherty wife of the Institute Building custodian overheard our request. Mrs. Doherty, a fiery lady from County Limerick (who operated air charters to Ireland in her spare time) and her husband, Bill (a man of contrasting quiet demeanor) lived in an apartment at the Institute. She, the custodian, told the president in no uncertain terms that the cards would not be on the table. They would appear she said, "over her dead body and if they appear, I will set fire to them." She seemed to mean it. Mr. Killeen stood mouth open, in shock. Fr. O'Callaghan and I were embarrassed for Martin Killeen's sake and retreated.
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