The choice of Hillary Rodham Clinton as the keynote speaker and inductee into our sister publication Irish America magazine’s Hall of Fame was an easy one.
It is often forgotten that Clinton played a leading role in the galvanizing of women’s groups in Northern Ireland who went on to play a major role in the peace process.
On her first visit to Northern Ireland in 1995 she made the acquaintance of Joyce McCartan, an extraordinary Protestant woman married to a Catholic whose own son had been killed in the troubles.
As McCartan’s biography noted, she lost 17 members of her wider family, including in May 1987, her youngest son, Gary, who at age 17 was murdered in the family home by Loyalist paramilitaries. McCartan herself heard the shots.
This deep personal tragedy did not deflect her from her numerous community activities, which were recognized by honors such as being named Irish Pensioner of the Year in 1991, the award of the MBE in 1992, and an honorary doctorate from Queen's University in Belfast in 1995.
Unlike others, Joyce decided to embark on a path of reconciliation, not revenge. Her drop-in center, the Lamplighter, became a guiding light for families weary or fearful of The Troubles who wanted to talk and mingle.
In November of 1995, McCartan’s efforts were in the spotlight. President Bill Clinton made an historic trip to the North that year – the first sitting president of the U.S. ever to do so. First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton accompanied him.
She was followed of course by a large international press team and became the most widely-publicized, and perhaps highest ranking person, to drop in at the Lamplighter for tea, over which she chatted with a group of women of varying backgrounds.
After their chat with tea, as Clinton later described, McCartan "gave me an old battered aluminum teapot – which kept the tea very warm, which is what I first noticed about it – that I took with me to the White House where I used it every single day in the second floor private kitchen."
The teapot image was often subsequently used by Clinton. She established the Vital Voices initiative in the North, which brought together mostly, but not exclusively, women at community level and provided a powerful forum for groups with little or no voice.
It cannot be emphasized enough just how few women were in any positions of power in the North, and Clinton went about changing that from the grassroots up.
As she stated in 1999, Vital Voices was “certainly part of a larger effort that I have been privileged to view firsthand, since my husband and I first came in 1995. And that is the way that the people here have pulled together to make peace real in our lives and in our time.
“That work is so important. I have said, and my husband has repeated in many places, how we look to what you are doing here in Northern Ireland to continue to push forward the peace process, to make real the promise of the accord, and also to send a message, not only to your friends in the United States, but to people throughout the world about what is being done here in Northern Ireland, serving as an example for what can be done elsewhere as well.”
Between them Hillary and Bill Clinton made a profound impact in Northern Ireland. It is time Hillary Rodham Clinton’s role was recognized, and she is richly deserving of the Hall of Fame inclusion.