The National University of Ireland Galway honored former President Bill Clinton and well-known Irish-American philanthropist Loretta Brennan Glucksman at its annual U.S. gala dinner held in the Metropolitan Club in New York on Monday night.
Clinton was the distinguished speaker at the gala dinner and was honored for his role in the Northern Ireland peace process, while Brennan Glucksman was honored for her philanthropic work. She serves as chairman of the American Ireland Fund, a charity that raises money for various projects in Ireland.
Clinton said that he was "pleased beyond words" with President-elect Barack Obama's transition team, which is expected to include his wife Senator Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.
"There are many complexities to be dealt with in the economy," Clinton said. "I think the President-elect has the best team in place that I could imagine he could have in place."
Speaking on the current financial crisis, Clinton added, "No one knows what lies ahead and there are maybe things that we have not anticipated which may go wrong. I think that the Irish, however, are very well positioned to deal with all of this.
"No Irish person will be surprised by all this bad news," Clinton said, to much laughter. He also thanked the Irish government for its support of the Clinton Foundation's HIV/AIDS initiative.
Recalling his role in brokering the Good Friday Agreement, the former U.S. president said, "The truth is that when it comes to the Irish peace process, I was in the right place at the right time. The people were ahead of the politicians. I just had to get the politics in line with what the people already wanted."
Clinton and Brennan Glucksman were introduced by Declan Kelly, a Tipperary native and the chief executive of the U.S. arm of the public relations firm, Financial Dynamics. Kelly was a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton during her presidential bid, leading the group Irish Americans for Hillary.
"What Loretta Brennan Glucksman has done in the last 10 or 15 years is unparalleled," Kelly told the Irish Voice. "She's not just a philanthropist - she's an activist. She is somebody who forces other people to get interested in things that are important, and doesn't take no for an answer."
When asked by the Irish Voice if she worried about the future of philanthropy directed from the U.S. to Ireland Brennan Glucksman said, "We are all very cognizant of the economic downturn. But we all have to stay with what we believe in. Amounts may change, but if you truly believe in something you'll stay behind it."
Irish Consul General in New York Niall Burgess was one of the guests at the dinner, which was emceed by the well-known RTE broadcaster, Sean O'Rourke, with entertainment provided by the Irish tenor, David O'Leary.
"Loretta has been one of the great inspirations behind the American Ireland Fund," Burgess told the Irish Voice, "which has been one of the real companions of the peace process over the last number of years."
Burgess added that Clinton was a "constant source of support during the formative period of the peace process in Northern Ireland."