This week 25 years ago the Irish Voice first saw the light of day.
On December 2, 1987, with a U2 poster that proclaimed “You Too Can Have a Strong Irish Voice,” we launched at the Halloran House Hotel in Manhattan.
Ed Koch and Maureen O’Hara, both still hale and hearty, did the honors, and we have never been the same since.
While we officially celebrated our 25th anniversary in the light of a beautiful summer evening at the Irish consul general’s home in New York with a party for 100 of our closest friends, the 25th anniversary actual date is still a proud moment for us.
It is amazing to look at that very first issue with its headline “We’ll Never Go Back,” a defiant call from that generation of Irish forced to leave Ireland because of tough economic times.
We had carried out the first ever poll of those Irish and found them resilient, in fighting spirit and loving their American adventure.
Most were undocumented, but it did not have the resonance then that it has these post-9/11 days. Nonetheless, their status was a massive impediment to progress for them.
They were the first generation of illegals from Ireland. There had been precious little emigration from the early 1960s after the passage of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act which effectively barred the Irish from America.
The new emigrants in the 1980s were tough, hardy in the way Irish emigrants invariably are.
New York Times Pulitzer Prize winning writer Jim Dwyer, himself the son of immigrants from Kerry and Galway, once compared the emigrant experience to splitting the atom, the pent up energy and ability that is unleashed when the emigrant steps on to that foreign shore.
Many of those Irish did go back of course, but many stayed as well and formed the bulwark of the Irish community that we know today.
This newspaper was their voice, the first new Irish paper in almost 60 years since the Irish Echo in 1928, and we helped lead the charge when the Donnelly and Morrison visa bills were passed by Congress and allowed the young Irish to stay legally.
Little has changed in terms of emigration in the intervening years as emigrants once again flee Ireland in search of a better life here. The immigration laws are still set in stone, barring this country to pretty much all except those with family preferences.
Again, the Irish Voice is helping lead this battle, and after the re-election of President Obama and the clear reality that the Hispanic vote is critical in many key states, at last the GOP are waking up to the new reality that immigration reform has to happen.
Better late than never, we say, and we will welcome the opportunity to fight on for immigration reform in the same manner we successfully fought for American intervention in Northern Ireland.
We work for a wonderful and vibrant community. A few weeks back 1,000 of you trekked down to the Rockaways in Queens to help with Hurricane Sandy relief in the great Irish spirit of the Meitheal, neighbors helping neighbors, all pulling together.
That’s the way it is with our community, and long may it continue to be so.
As for us, we are only warming up. We look forward to our 50th anniversary in 2037. Hopefully by then we will have a new immigration bill!
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