A host of big names from the Irish American business, political and philanthropic elite were in attendance, in Manhattan, on Monday, to celebrate the Irish America Magazine Hall of Fame 2015. The honorees included Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, for her role in the Northern Ireland peace process, businessman and philanthropist Bob McCann, explorer and commentator Emmett O’Connell and Pat Quinn the founder of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
Hillary Rodham Clinton was honored for her role in the Irish peace process and specifically her work with the women of Northern Ireland to push for a brighter future. She is the first person without Irish roots to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Speaking about the significance of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s involvement in the Northern Ireland peace process Minister for the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys recalled the symbolic event in Belfast on November 30, 1995 when the president and first lady lit the Christmas tree lights.
Clinton said that at the time she realized what those holiday lights stood for, as for the first time in years a great crowd gathered in the center of Belfast, they signified “the hope of peace.”
She accepted the Irish American Hall of Fame honor on behalf of the women she has met in Northern Ireland, including activists Joyce McCarten and Inez McCormack.
In her acceptance speech she spoke about the need to have courage and take risks in order to achieve peace.
She commented on the risk her husband had taken with his decision to grant Gerry Adams, who was in the audience on Monday, a US visa, even though “nobody in the government would approve it.”
She said, “It seems like an obvious [decision] in retrospect but at the time much of our own government, certainly other governments, were against such a gesture and I think it is true that absent that first step, that first risk, we might not have had the momentum to move forward to the Good Friday accords and all that has followed.”
The former Secretary of State also spoke about the risks the people of Northern Ireland took in suspending “disbelief to look for a way forward” and those women she met who “would not take no for an answer.”
Women from both sides of Northern Ireland’s conflict realized, after sitting down around a table together, that “all the differences were crystallized by the commonalities.” They feared for their loved ones' lives and were ready to work towards a brighter future for the country.
Clinton said, “There is still work to be done but that remains a crucial lesson: you cannot bring peace and security to people just by signing an agreement. In fact more peace agreements don't last. There's been some very important work done in recent years that shows that where women are involved and, therefore, where the work of peace permeates down to kitchen table, to the backyard, to the neighborhood, around cups of tea, there's a much better chance that an agreement will hold.”
She concluded that while “the work in the North is not finished, even as we speak negotiations to try to resolve governmental issues…it's better to have people arguing about that than walking away and thinking that conflict may be the only answer.”
A figure much missed and mentioned in all the speeches at the pre-St. Patrick’s Day event was Don Keough, the first person ever inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame, who passed away last month. Keough, a former CEO of Coca-Cola and chairman and trustee of Notre Dame, leaves behind him a strong legacy including the strong economic ties between the United States and Ireland and the largest Irish Studies program outside Ireland, at South Bend.
In his acceptance speech Bob McCann praised the Irish American business man and community leader’s great strength - that he was loved by everybody.
McCann was inducted for his long-standing involvement with Irish-American community and charity organizations like the American Ireland Fund and Catholic charities of the Archdiocese of New York, as well as for his commitment to education and philanthropy.
Born in Pittsburgh, PA, with roots in County Armagh, McCann became involved with the American Ireland Fund in 1998, helping to raise over $4 million to build integrated schools in Northern Ireland. He also promoted the Northern Ireland Mentorship Program, which helps Northern Irish graduates find placements with leading US corporations.
Emmett O’Connell, explorer and commentator and head of the Great Western Mining Corporation, was inducted for a lifetime of commitment to Irish and Irish American relationships.
Pat Quinn, the creator of the Ice Bucket Challenge, was honored for his great achievement in raising $150 million for research into ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. Quinn, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2013, set up the Ice Bucket Challenge with his friend, former Boston College baseball captain Pete Frates, who can no longer talk or walk. The phenomenon went viral and saw politicians, actors and millions of people around the globe douse themselves with ice water.
The Irish America Hall of Fame honors the extraordinary achievements of Irish-American leaders, from their significant accomplishments and contributions to American society to the personal commitment to safeguarding their Irish heritage and the betterment of Ireland.
The Irish America Hall of Fame was founded in 2010. Former inductees include: Maureen O’Hara (2011), Ford Motors CEO William Ford, Jr. (2011), former President Bill Clinton (2011), Vice President Joe Biden (2013), Congressman Bruce Morrison (2013), and news anchors Bill O’Reilly, and Chris Matthews (2014).
The Irish America Hall of Fame is located in Wexford, Ireland, on the New Ross quayside yards from where John F. Kennedy’s great-grandparents, among millions of others, left for the United States.
For more visit irishamerica.com.