The Irish Arts Center in New York City raised $2.7 million in support of their annual programming at the 2023 Spirit of Ireland Gala honoring Stephen Colbert and Kathleen B. Lynch on Friday, November 17.

Irish Arts Center (IAC), based in New York City, honored ten-time Emmy-winning comedy icon and "The Late Show" host Stephen Colbert and former UBS Americas and Wealth Management Americas chief operating officer Kathleen B. Lynch at its 2023 Spirit of Ireland Gala.

The event, for which IAC Board member and veteran Wall Street executive Robert J. McCann served as Chair, also featured longtime IAC Honorary Chair Liam Neeson, who, with Gabriel Byrne, has served as an inspirational leader of the New Irish Arts Center campaign.

The gala celebrated IAC’s immensely successful first two years in its 21,700 square-foot new home at 726 11th Avenue and raised a record $2.7 million. The program featured a special performance by an artist that exemplifies IAC’s commitment to contemporary, global Irish culture: the acclaimed Irish Afro-soul singer/songwriter Loah, who was joined on stage by harpist Bridget Kibbey.

Irish Afro-soul singer/songwriter Loah.

Irish Afro-soul singer/songwriter Loah.

Welcoming more than 500 guests, IAC Vice Chair Pauline Turley thanked them for their support of IAC’s transformation into one of New York’s most beloved multidisciplinary cultural institutions.

She explained, “Your generosity fuels the creativity of hundreds of artists, nourishes thousands of audiences, animates the beautiful new home we built together, and helps set the stage for our future.”

 Irish Arts Center executive director Aidan Connolly, honoree Stephen Colbert, Irish Arts Center Vice Chair Pauline Turley, Honorary Co - Chair Liam Neeson.

Irish Arts Center executive director Aidan Connolly, honoree Stephen Colbert, Irish Arts Center Vice Chair Pauline Turley, Honorary Co - Chair Liam Neeson.

Since the building’s opening in December 2021, IAC has presented new work from some of the most compelling Irish and Irish American artists in a range of disciplines, including the Lyric Theatre, Belfast’s punk rock musical "Good Vibrations"; choreographer Oona Doherty’s "Hard to Be Soft - A Belfast Prayer"; the Colin Davidson exhibition "Silent Testimony", featuring portraits of 18 people connected by their individual experiences of loss through the Troubles; and a monumental three-night tribute to Mick Moloney, the towering figure in Irish traditional music and frequent collaborator of IAC who died in 2022.

Looking toward the future, IAC Executive Director Aidan Connolly said: “Our work together is not done. In fact, as our great Board Chair Shaun Kelly always says, we’ve made it to the starting line.

"We must now ensure that we fortify the new Irish Arts Center—building and institution, body and soul—to ensure its dynamism and success for future generations.”

The $2.7 million raised at the gala supports the Center’s annual fund, supporting the quality and scale of IAC’s programming. At the event, IAC also previewed the next phase of the project, including the redevelopment of the Center's 51st Street home, which will complete the campus of the new IAC. 

 2023 Spirit of Ireland Gala Honoree Stephen Colbert

Gala Honorary Co-Chair Liam Neeson presented this year’s other Spirit of Ireland Award to Stephen Colbert. Colbert spoke poignantly and at length about his own Irish ancestry, noting that it includes many Lynches and that he is likely distantly related to his fellow honoree Kathleen B. Lynch.

He teared up as he recounted the story of John, the eldest son of his first relatives on his mother’s side to immigrate to the States. John’s father died young, and so he “helped raise his brothers and sisters, never marrying, instead, making his own farm over the hill, and every day he would come over blowing his bugle—to let them know, ‘I'm coming. I'm coming, I'm coming!’ And the younger children would run to see him.”

Colbert recalled, “My mother would tell me this and other stories — but especially about [John] — a man born in Ireland in the 1820s whom she never met, with such tenderness and love that I named my youngest son, John, after him, and his old horn sits on a bookshelf in my library, battered but not completely broken, and sometimes I will sound it and picture him coming over the hill.”

Colbert added, “I think of [these] as very Irish stories because often they're funny and sad and funny about being sad. And as my mom loved to quote: 'What's the use of being Irish if you don't know that life is going to break your heart?' And I do wish Mom and Dad could be here with all of us tonight because in this room, I think, their hearts would be full. I know mine is.” 

Stephen Colbert, 2023 Spirit of Ireland honoree, speaking at the IAC Gala.

Stephen Colbert, 2023 Spirit of Ireland honoree, speaking at the IAC Gala.

2023 Spirit of Ireland Gala Honoree Kathleen B. Lynch

Robert J. McCann, himself a previous Spirit of Ireland Gala honoree, presented one of this year’s awards to Kathleen B. Lynch, who has had a distinguished three-decade career in the financial services industry, including leadership positions UBS and Merrill Lynch, and now serves on the boards of UBS Americas and Eastman Kodak.

In introducing her, McCann remarked that “Kathleen Lynch commits and is a difference-maker” who brings “conscience, character, and capability” to everything she does.

Born and raised in the United States, Lynch spoke movingly of her mother’s roots in Burtonport, County Donegal, Ireland, and of the deep appreciation of Irish culture they instilled in her.

She explained, “I lost my parents too early. But I’m so grateful I can see pieces of them in my children.”

Lynch expressed her particular pride about her daughter Aine carrying the family’s Irishness forward through her Gaelic first name.

She said, “That doesn't mean she doesn’t complain—or, rather, blame me—every time someone pronounces her name wrong, but deep down I know she loves it, because every day, every mention of her name, it is a clear reminder of her Irish roots.”

Lynch concluded by saying, “My Irish heritage is a huge part of who I am, and to me Irish Arts Center keeps that pride alive.”

Honoree Kathleen B. Lynch and honorary Co-Chair Liam Neeson.

Honoree Kathleen B. Lynch and honorary Co-Chair Liam Neeson.

The Irish Arts Center

Irish Arts Center, founded in 1972 and based in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City, is a home for artists and audiences of all backgrounds who share a passion or appreciation for the evolving arts and culture of contemporary Ireland and Irish America. 

The IAC presents, develops, and celebrates work from established and emerging artists and cultural practitioners, providing audiences with emotionally and intellectually engaging experiences—fueled by collaboration, innovation, adventurousness, authenticity, and the celebration of people's common humanity, in an environment of Irish hospitality.

Steeped in grassroots traditions, they also provide community education programs and access to the arts for people of all ages and ethnic, racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. In a historic partnership of the people of Ireland and New York, the Irish Arts Center recently opened a state-of-the-art new facility to support this mission for the 21st century.