Democrats Abroad Ireland will present the Outstanding Contribution to the American Experience award to former United States Representative and Ambassador, Brian Donnelly, on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 24th, in Dublin.

Announcing the event, Democrats Abroad Ireland Chair Dennis Desmond noted that “2011 marks the 25th anniversary of the passage of the legislation that created what became known in Ireland and throughout Irish America as the Donnelly Visa.  There is no more fitting recipient of this award on Thanksgiving Day in Dublin this year than Congressman Brian Donnelly.”

Stirred by so many personal stories about the economic difficulties Ireland faced in the 1980s from his constituents in what was then the “most Irish” congressional district in the United States, stretching from Boston’s Dorchester neighbourhood to the working class city of Brockton, and with the influential lobbying efforts of the Irish Immigration Reform Movement and others, Congressman Brian Donnelly made a difference.

With the help of congressional leaders, and the subsequent assistance of Senator Edward Kennedy, what became known as the Donnelly Visa worked its way through both houses of Congress and ultimately was signed into law by President Reagan.  Because of the Donnelly Visa, at least 20,000 Irish people were able to embark upon a new life in the US.  Some stayed there, raised families, and partook of the American Dream.  Others returned to Ireland and, using their American education and skills, contributed mightily to the rise of the Celtic Tiger.

The Thanksgiving Day event will feature personal stories and insights from a cross-section of recipients, both in person and using modern technology, of how they and their families benefitted from the Donnelly Visa.  This event will take place at the Dublin Hilton Hotel, Charlemont Place, Dublin 2.  The award will be accepted on Congressman Donnelly’s behalf by his nephew, a long-time resident of Ireland and Irish Central columnist, Larry Donnelly.

Larry Donnelly commented that he “is delighted to accept this award on my uncle, Brian Donnelly’s, behalf.  Brian is enjoying retirement out of the public eye on Cape Cod.  I spoke to him last week and he is extremely flattered and humbled that people still remember the work he did so many years ago and that Democrats Abroad Ireland has chosen to honour him.”

Democrats Abroad Ireland hopes to gather as many personal stories and insights as possible.  “We really want to hear from Donnelly Visa recipients in the US and Ireland about what the Donnelly Visa meant to them.  Their personal stories and insights will be the centrepiece of the night,” says Dennis Desmond.  To collect these stories and insights, a Facebook page has been created at

Donnelly Visa recipients can upload links to the Facebook page to their written or You Tube video statements describing how the Donnelly Visa affected their lives. More details (including on how to register to attend the Thanksgiving Day event) can be found on the Facebook page. 

Alternatively, please email Donnelly Visa stories to Dennis Desmond at  Donnelly Visa recipients are asked to tell their stories and share their insights by November 20th. For further information, please contact Democrats Abroad Ireland Chair, Dennis Desmond, at

Here is a testimonial from John Gaffney, a recepiant of a Donnelly visa.