Hundreds of people packed into the Council Chamber in New York City Hall on Monday evening to see Irish actor Liam Neeson accept the Thomas Manton Irish Man of the Year Award.
In a special ceremony celebrating Irish heritage and culture, New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn presented the Ballymena native with the award, which is named after former Congressman Thomas J Manton.
Neeson was given a standing ovation as he accepted the accolade in City Hall as part of his work with the Irish Arts Center.
The award winning actor, who is currently filming an action movie in New York, described the event as surreal.
“An hour ago, I was trying to catch two bad guys in Brooklyn,” he joked.
Flanked by Irish tricolors and New York City flags, a nervous Neeson admitted that public speaking was not his area of expertise.
"There's a popular assumption that actors are very good public speakers. It's absolute B.S. It's actually my worst nightmare."
The actor expressed his gratitude to Speaker Quinn and the other honorees of the event during his brief acceptance speech.
“Let me say what an honor it is to accept this Irish Man of the Year Award or as my friend said an hour ago, ‘Is that the Mick of the Millennium Award?’”
“I'm humbled to join a distinguished group of past Manton award recipients: Senators Ted Kennedy; George Mitchell; Congressman Joe Crowley and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.”
Neeson shared his final thoughts in his typically modest fashion.
“Tonight is a great example of the Irish American tradition of commitment to public service, the Irish-American commitment to community and as Christine said, helping others. I'm truly humbled, so thank you."
Monday’s event had added meaning for Neeson as it coincided with the fourth anniversary of the death of his wife, actress Natasha Richardson. Richardson passed away after a skiing accident in Canada in 2009.
The Irish actor was joined by his mother-in-law, actress Vanessa Redgrave, and his teenage son Daniel for the occasion.
Other honorees of the night included Executive Director of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center Siobhan Dennehy, who accepted an award on behalf of the ‘Irish Day of Action’ initiative.
Almost 2,000 volunteers turned out on two separate Irish Days of Action to help those affected by Hurricane Sandy in the Rockaways and Breezy Point.
Accepting the award, Dennehy paid tribute to everyone who had pitched in to help for the Meitheal Irish Day of Action.
“I wanted to issue a special word of thanks to every single person that volunteered their time, their effort and their resources,” Dennehy told the crowd.
“I share this award with each of you.”
Also honored at Monday’s event were Peter J.F. Meijer of Team Rubicon and Deputy Chief James McGovern of the New York City Department of Sanitation.
During the event, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who formally announced her intention to run for New York mayor last week, paid special tribute to the generations of Irish immigrants who came to the U.S. in search of a better life.
“Tonight is also a moment for us to remember all of those who came before us and to thank them. Because it was their contributions, their hard work, their coming here with no guarantees, that has created a city for us.”
The annual event, held in conjunction with Irish-American Heritage Month, also featured a performance by the cast of Tony Award winning Broadway musical Once.
Millions more Irish birth, marriage and death records free online