IT was an extraordinary evening at the residence of Irish Consul General Niall Burgess and his wife Marie last Thursday night when the first ever "50 Most Influential Women" came together as a group. It was the first time in Irish American history that the role of Irish American women from business, community, Wall Street and voluntary organizations had been acknowledged.
It was clearly a popular thing to do. Last week's issue of the Irish Voice seemed to be close to a sellout everywhere as the list drew unusual attention from the reading public.
It was a long overdue tribute, and the women themselves certainly seemed to sense the unique nature of the night and the reason for the gathering.
For many it was an emotional experience after decades of seeing men of all stripes being honored for their work, but never seeing women honored for their contributions to the community.
Of all the events I have been associated with since founding the Irish Voice and Irish America magazine, this was one of the most special.
In its own way it breached the glass ceiling in the community and, I believe, made many realize just how talented and exceptional so many of the female community leaders are.
The women themselves flew in from as far away as San Francisco and Boston to be there on the special night. There were 47 members of the list who attended the event, a remarkable number.
The idea was the brainchild of Meghan Sweeney, a young employee in our office who asked the pertinent question in a staff meeting why women were not being acknowledged in their own right in the community. She helped create the list through diligent research.
Debbie McGoldrick, our editor, put it all together, reporter April Drew helped with the profiles, art director Genevieve McCarthy designed the issue, while graphic designer Naela El Assad designed the extensive advertising section. Photographer Nuala Purcell took the pictures.
Is that enough said about the role of women around here ? How many other companies are in a similar situation?
The beautiful Manhattan setting on a wonderfully clear summer's night added to the sense of occasion, as did the warm welcome extended by Niall and Marie Burgess.
Burgess noted that there were many new faces in the crowd and that a powerful new network was being born. He got no argument on that fact.
Among the guests were Emily Rafferty, president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who talked about how humbled she was by such an award. Mary Lou Quinlan, founder and CE0 of Just Ask a Woman, who was nicknamed the "Oprah of Madison Avenue" by The Wall Street Journal. She said it was an unforgettable evening that made her cherish her Irish heritage even more.
Sheila Ryan, a top investment banker for Cambridge Associates in Boston, stated that her fondest memories of her Irish roots, the summers she spent with her grandmother in Co. Longford, came flooding back on the night.
Colleen Kelleher Sorrentino, daughter of leading Irish community leader Denis Kelleher and a Wall Street powerhouse in her own right, said the evening was a fitting tribute to all the Irish who had come before to pave the way so their descendants could live the American dream.
Celine Kennelly came from San Francisco, where the ultra capable Kerry native manages the Irish Immigration Center there and does a wonderful job for Irish emigrants in need. She saw the evening as a wonderful opportunity to network with a remarkable group of women who claim a common heritage.
Noreen Culhane, executive vice president of the New York Stock Exchange, stated that Ireland had always been a huge part of her life, from Irish dancing to music to the football games from back home on the radio. She stated it was a unique opportunity to meet so many committed women from so many different fields.
By night's end a new community network had been born. The first ever 50 Most Influential Women list will certainly not be the last one. This is an event and network that will go from strength to strength.