The New York Young Leaders kicked off its St. Patrick’s Day festivities with a major celebration on Thursday night, at the Capitale on the Bowery. 

The Young Leaders are the youth group associated with the American Ireland Fund. Over 300 attended.

The Irish Spirit Award went to Roscommon-born actor Chris O’Dowd and the Dylan Smith Community Service Award to diplomat Peter Ryan. Later in the evening IrishCentral had the chance to speak with the two deserving yet humble honorees.

It only took seconds to see why O’Dowd was receiving the Irish Spirit Award as he walked in all smiles and laughing with his wife, Dawn Porter. 

O’Dowd felt taken aback to be seen as an ambassador for Ireland. He told IrishCentral “It's a terrific honor and very surprising.  It kind of came from nowhere. I feel very fortunate. I'm getting awarded tonight with a guy who does proper things for a living. It's a testament to Ireland that story tellers and joke tellers are celebrated.”

O’Dowd has exploded in the United States as THE Irish actor to work with, he talked about his growing fame and said “It's a different world to a year and a half ago, It's been exciting. It's been perturbing, very unusual. It's a situation that's very hard to describe. There's definitely a sensation where you feel you're always being watched.”

He went on to joke “I don't mind that so much because I leave the curtains open when I have sex.”

O’Dowd was also in town for the New York premiere of his upcoming film “Sapphires”, and spoke about the success from the night before.
“It was a stormer, really great.  It's the first time I saw it with an American audience. You don't know how people are going to take it because it's a very sight-specific film…aboriginals and musical...and they went crazy for it so it so it was exciting.”

The comedian went on to acknowledge his Irish background as a big help in his recent successes.  “It sounds trite but I'm very proud of where I'm from.  Our generation is lucky because for the first time being Irish is a huge advantage. At times in the past, it's been really tricky. But because of the hard work of a lot of people who have gone before us, we're now considered the most charming nation in the world.”

The nights other honoree, Irish Deputy Consul Peter Ryan, was quick to deflect praise for all he’s done and asserted that he was just accepting the award on behalf of all the Irish American groups who helped in Superstorm Sandy relief. 

Ryan talked about the privilege of getting an award named after Dylan Smith.  “Oh it’s a great honor to be receiving the Dylan Smith Community Service Award , he’s sort of a hero to all of us in New York.” 

Dylan Smith saved six people from drowning in SuperStorm Sandy by towing them on his surfboard.  Tragically, he later died on vacation surfing in Puerto Rico. 

Ryan described his work as “the middle of the web for all Irish groups” allowing for a unified Irish America to more efficiently help the Superstorm victims. 

The night was a great success and Ryan described the event as  “a great opportunity for everyone to come together obviously but it's a good way to highlight the fabulous work the Ireland Fund does, raising money for worthy causes.”