To get it out of the way, there was no fighting at the 2014 Irish America Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which took place yesterday at the Metropolitan Club in Manhattan. Bill O’Reilly and Chris Matthews, the champion pundits of their respective social and political spheres , did not spar. Rather, they were gracious, intelligent and witty in their acceptance speeches (though Matthews did slag O’Reilly a little for leaving before it was Matthews’ turn to speak).
The true focus of the day was courage. The courage of the inductees – from the brave McDonald family, who define the ideals of public service and forgiveness, to historian Christine Kinealy, who has forever changed the landscape of scholarship on The Great Hunger - and the courage of the ancestors, invoked by all of the inductees in one way or another. Fitting, given that the Hall of Fame’s motto is “Cuimhnígí ar na daoine as ar tháinig sibh,” which translated from Irish means, “Remember the people from whom you came.”
The 2014 inductees were: Governor Martin O’Malley of Maryland, the top-rated Irish American politician in the U.S.; Christine Kinealy, the renowned authority on Ireland’s Great Hunger; Patrick Ryan, philanthropist and founder of Aon, the worldwide insurance giant; Andrew McKenna, businessman and Chicago civic leader; Brian Stack, Managing Director of CIE Tours International who has led the way in promoting tourism to Ireland; Chris Matthews, whose TV show, "Hardball," airs on MSNBC and is the leading political commentary show on television, and Bill O’Reilly, the outspoken host of the syndicated "The O’Reilly Factor," and America’s most watched broadcaster.
Special guests included Joan Burton, Ireland’s Minister for Social Protection; Ireland’s Consul General of Ireland Noel Kilkenny; Dr. Malcolm McKibbin, Head of Northern Ireland Civil Service; former Irish Minister Mary Hanafin; NYPD Chief of Housing Bureau Joanne Jaffe, who introduced the McDonald family; Elgin Loane, who owns The Irish Post in London; Father John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame and Judy Collins , who performed her new song, “New Moon Over the Hudson,” which addresses her Irish roots and the experience of the Irish diaspora. Collins was inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame where it is housed in New Ross, Co. Wexford as part of the JFK 50 events in June, 2013. Collins gave special thanks to Irish America's Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief Patricia Harty, and to genealogist Megan Smolenyak, for connecting her with her Irish roots.
During the speeches, just a small sampling of the many memorable moments included O’Reilly on his Irish roots, as he declared “The reason I’m famous is because I’m Irish.” He added “Both sides were Irish in my family – I’m a thoroughbred – and what I inherited from my Irish roots was passion.
"In the ‘50s and ‘60s when I was a kid, I came off WWII and the Depression, and that’s when my parents were born. And their traditions of Irish Catholic feistiness were ingrained in me.
“Wherever I went my Irish pride was on display, and then it was a miracle that I became really famous, which stunned pretty mush everyone who ever knew me. But I just always said what was on my mind because that’s what my parents and grandparents did, and then it was bread rolls flying across the Thanksgiving dinner table, right? That’s what Irish people do. The Irish are now more distant from their roots. And, you know, when I get a little upset on my show, or a little outspoken. . . I won’t ever change. The reason I’ve succeeded is because I’m Irish.”