For the past 78 years the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce has sponsored their “Walk To Washington”, a trek that sees hundreds of New Jersey’s business leaders rub shoulders with elected officials and policy makers while riding Amtrak from New Jersey to the nation’s capitol. For anyone who has an interest in shaping public policy or influencing the debate on any matter currently being discussed in the halls of government this annual event is a “can’t miss”.

Continually seeking to grow their own role in expanding business relationships between Ireland and their state, Irish Network NJ, one of 19 chapters across the country that make up Irish Network USA, has, since 2013, carved out their own niche during this annual roadshow.

It began simply enough when Irish Network NJ, under the leadership of Steve Lenox, invited then Ambassador Michael Collins to attend one of the many satellite dinners that have been born out of the Chamber’s event. What started as an invitation to simply raise a glass or two with 40 guests from across New Jersey, many of whom were more than willing to prove their Irish bona fides to the Ambassador, turned into an opportunity for Ambassador Collins to also address many of the State’s top leaders in the pharmaceutical industry who happened to be having dinner in the room next door. Of course that first night wouldn’t have been complete without the rousing rendition of Danny Boy that Jersey City Mayor Jerry Healy ably led.

Fast forward to 2015 and you’ll find the Irish Network NJ reception at the Irish Embassy among the highlights of many Chamber Train goer’s lists. This year’s edition, sponsored jointly by the New Jersey State FMBA, the New Jersey State PBA and Lenox Consulting saw well over 100 guests converge on the Irish Embassy for hors-d'oeuvres and one of Ireland’s finest exports, Kilbeggan Whiskey.

In a room that included no less than two future gubernatorial candidates, Congressman Frank Pallone, former US Ambassador Phil Murphy, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald and several of his legislative colleagues, newly elected Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco, who himself personally welcomed Irish Tanaiste Joan Burton when she visited New Jersey in 2014, countless business leaders, and the most diverse array of Irish, Irish Americans and ‘friends’ of Ireland that New Jersey has to offer, Ambassador Anne Anderson and Deputy Chief of Mission Kevin Conmy stole the show.

Refusing to miss an opportunity to show appreciation for the dangerous and brave work of New Jersey’s Finest and Bravest Ambassador Anderson rearranged her schedule to join the group and deftly worked the room, quickly alternating between acknowledging guest’s Irish pride and answering “Why Ireland?” for anyone in the room considering business opportunities, travel itineraries or any number of ways to strengthen their ties to what so many, regardless of whether they’ve set their feet there or not, consider ‘home’.

During a brief speaking program Kevin Conmy, astutely recognizing that the main attraction of the night was the whiskey, himself welcomed the guests while paying special attention to the contributions Irish America has made in public safety. Kevin encouraged all in attendance, regardless of their familial connections to get in touch with Ireland, a call that undoubtedly will lead to a few more seats being filled on one of United Airlines’ flights out of Newark!

As the night drew to a close and guests departed to tend to other obligations across Washington, D.C., a common refrain echoed down the staircase of the Embassy, “when are we going to Ireland?”

The New Jersey Chamber of Commerce’s “Walk to Washington” is a wonderful celebration of everything that is great about New Jersey, and an opportunity to join together in search of common ground to make it even better. Considering the tremendous contributions Irish America has made in New Jersey, and the critical role that police officers and firefighters, so many of whom wear their Irishness as a badge of honor, how better to make this annual event even more meaningful?