Robert “Bob” Dunfey, from Lowell, MA, considered an unsung hero of the Northern Ireland peace process, has died at the age of 88.
Dunfey understood the politics of people and in Ireland his reach stretched from Kerry to Derry and Ballyferriter to Belfast. The Irish American business man’s familial link to Ireland was strengthened when he bought a summer home in Ballyferriter, County Kerry, where he and his family visited for 35 years. He also created a landmark interpretive center in Ballyferriter which was a model of its kind.
Dunfey's involvement in Ireland was strongly felt through his second home in Ballyferriter and his family’s leadership in the American Ireland Fund, from the start. His involvement was driven by philanthropy, which was made possible by his family’s former business, the Omni Hotels International.
Dunfey was raised in the Democratic Party in Massachusetts. He was a friend of Bobby Kennedy's and played a large role in his presidential campaign.
It was Dunfey who, in 1980, approached George Mitchell, later the Special Envoy for Northern Ireland, and asked him to fill Edmund Muskie's vacated United States Senate seat for Maine. This led to Mitchell's ultimate appointment as Senate Majority Leader.
Dunfey and his brother Jack, accompanied Mitchell when he was appointed as Economic Advisor on Northern Ireland by President Clinton, on his first fact-finding mission. On Mitchell’s first day in the role they brought him to meet community leaders in Shankill and on the Falls Road, in Belfast. Their aim was that the voice of “working class unionism” would be heard in the United States, and so the peace process developed.
In 1968 the Dunfey family had bought the Boston Parker House Hotel, where the Global Citizen’s Circle was founded. This was once a space for political dialogue from across the world. The Dunfeys recreated this feeling through their Washington and Boston American Ireland Fund’s events. Among their guests in those early days were people from either side of the peace process. The space provided by the Dunfeys allowed for conversations to take place that would not have happened at home in Ireland.
The Dunfey’s rolodex would certainly included Gerry Adams, John Hume, David Trimble, May Blood, Monica McWilliams, Gary McMichael, Billy Hutchinson, David Ervine, along with front-line workers.
Dunfey passed away on August 23 after a battle with Parkinson’s Disease. He is survived by his devoted wife, Jeanette Marston Dunfey, five children: Robert Dunfey, Jr., Cape Elizabeth, ME; Roy and Karen Dunfey, Portland, ME; Eileen Dunfey and Michael Pulsifer, Cape Elizabeth, ME; Brian Dunfey, South Berwick, ME; Maryanne Dunfey, North Conway, NH; 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, and his former wife, Shirley Corey Dunfey, Cape Elizabeth, ME.
He is also survived by four of his 11 siblings: Jack and his wife, Lisa of Boston; Eileen Robinson of Bradenton, FL; Jerry and his wife, Nadine Hack of Lutry, Switzerland; Eleanor Dunfey and her husband, Jim Freiburger of Exeter, NH; many dear cousins in Ballyferriter, Co. Kerry, Ireland; and the Marston family.
H/T: Belfast Telegraph.