Former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly razzed Mayor Bill de Blasio by saying Liam Neeson was the most important politician in New York after his fight to save the carriage horses. British royalty Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson wowed many in the the star-struck crowd and posed happily for photos.

Former Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen made a very rare public appearance looking fit and well and minus the haunted look he wore when under constant pressure as leader during the financial crisis.

New York Stock Exchange CEO Duncan Niederauer toasted the assembled 1,200 Irish Americans with a pint of Guinness and regaled them with tales of his Guinness drinking days following Arsenal while studying in London.

Oh, and $2.75 million was raised for Irish charity at the annual New York banquet, held at the Hyatt on 42nd Street, on a night to remember as the baton passed from former Chairman Loretta Brennan Glucksman to the new chair of the American Ireland Fund, hotelier John FitzPatrick.

Loretta Brennan Glucksman transformed the fund during her tenure and FitzPatrick has certainly given every indication he will continue to blaze a trail as they close in on the $200 million campaign goal.

CEO Kieran McLoughlin put it best when he noted during his speech that it was a night to laugh, to pay homage, but also to reflect on the critical importance of Irish American support for Ireland, both in terms of helping the Irish economic recovery and in making clear just how important the Irish peace process is to Americans.

That last message was especially important in a week when the peace process seemed to develop more holes than swiss cheese with the Gerry Adams arrest. The timing of the Ireland Funds annual world gathering, being held in Belfast in June, was never more significant.

The American Ireland Fund New York dinner is the largest Irish event on the Irish circuit anywhere. It raises more money, attracts more attention (Daniel Day Lewis showed up last year and Muhammad Ali in 2011) and sends a stronger message about the state of Ireland and Irish America than any other event worldwide.

This year was no exception.

The past few years there has been a polite fiction that an Irish recovery was underway, but this year it seems for real, that the Irish economy has finally begun to cough and splutter after almost drowning in debt.

Duncan Niederauer noted that his first meeting when he took over the NYSE was with Northern Irish leaders Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness. He later placed a satellite office of the NYSE in Belfast employing hundreds which in itself attracted more investment.

The bucket chain of US investments such as Google, Facebook, Apple, etc each following the other to the island of Ireland over the past 30 years remains the single biggest reason why the Irish island economy will become buoyant again.

How many of the CEOs of companies settling there were first introduced to Ireland by the American Ireland Fund is unknown, but the number is considerable.

Former commissioner Ray Kelly got the loudest and longest ovation of the night, a clear indicator that Irish Americans remain intensely proud and grateful to the descendant of Roscommon emigrants who kept New York safe after the horror of 9/11.

He could not resists a delicious dig at the new mayor, outsmarted so far by the Central Park carriage horse operators, mostly Irish, who with the help of Liam Neeson have been winning the battle to survive against a mayor who wants to shut them down.

But Kelly also gave a glorious recitation of the role of the Irish in New York from the cops to firemen to teachers to pols, to priests to generations of immigrants who helped create the unique blend and bravura of New York.

But it was Niederauer, hoisting his pint of Guinness to remember his own Kelly relatives from far back who caught the spirit of the night perfectly.

Eat, drink and be merry was the theme of the German/Irish American, but tomorrow let’s keep the wave of a better Ireland and Irish America going, the connections strong, the dreams alive.

The American Ireland Fund has certainly been playing its part.

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