After 235 years, it was finally ladies' night at the Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick’s annual New York dinner last Friday, March 15.
This year’s black-tie event not only featured women guests for the first time, but the venue was also different, moving from the Sheraton Hotel across to the New York Hilton, where over 1,000 members and their guests gathered to hear keynote addresses from former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, and FOX Business Network anchor Maria Bartiromo.
The large ballroom was still overwhelmingly male, but there were a number of ladies mingling throughout the room as if it was no big deal. Not much mention of the event’s sea change was made from the dais until Haley addressed the guests.
Last year, the Friendly Sons in New York decided to allow members to invite women to the annual dinner for the first time, though females are still not permitted to join the group as members in their own right. The Philadelphia Friendly Sons does allow women to be members.
“The officers, board of stewards and I hereby encourage you to invite your wives, daughters, sisters, mothers, aunts, nieces, and female cousins, friends and colleagues to join us for the anniversary dinner,” wrote Kevin J. Rooney, president of the Friendly Sons in New York, to members last year.
The dinner is a ritual for many prominent New Yorkers, not all of them Irish. Among those sitting on the dais was former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and former and current NYPD commissioners Ray Kelly and James O’Neill. Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has never attended a Friendly Sons dinner, came in for particular ribbing from Rooney.
“Speaking of socialism, I forgot to acknowledge Mayor de Blasio,” he said to laughter. “You would expect that a guy who is such a fan of green stuff would want to join an event where green is on such prominent display.”
The rituals of the Friendly Sons were on full display, including the group’s Glee Club who got the festivities underway with their rendition of “Hail of the Friendly Sons.” Toasts were given in honor of the “president of the United States,” – President Trump was applauded – and “a second toast to the United States of America.”
The Glee Club sang the "Star Spangled Banner," a filet mignon dinner was served, and Haley soon delivered her 14-minute speech in which she praised the Friendly Sons for their new inclusive approach.
“I was cracking up … you mean to tell me that the society of men is run by a woman? Can we all just soak that in for a minute!” Haley said, referring to the woman administrator of the Friendly Sons, who was thanked by Rooney for her leadership.
“I am honored to be here tonight. I want to congratulate you for inviting your wives, your daughters, your moms, any women you invited here tonight. It is a significant milestone,” said Haley, who also served as governor of her home state of South Carolina.
“It only took 235 years. Way to go guys!”
Haley, touted as a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate, joked that she and Bartiromo were probably getting paid “80 percent” of what prior male speakers received.
“You couldn’t find any Irish girls?” she laughed. “I’m a woman, I’m also Indian American. I’m what’s known in the diversity industry as a two-fer.”
Haley got some laughs when she spoke about some Irish and Indian stereotypes.
“Actually Irish Americans and Indian Americans have a lot in common. Indian Americans run a lot of 7-Elevens, and Irish Americans buy a lot of beer,” she joked.
Haley’s speech also took a serious tone, especially when she talked about her time representing the U.S. as President Trump’s UN ambassador.
“The past couple years have taken me to places where religious, ethnic, and political differences define who gets fed and who doesn't. Who gets raped and who doesn’t. Who lives and who dies,” she said.
“I wish everyone squabbling on Twitter could see what I have seen. Because I have seen true evil. It puts things in perspective.”
After the event, Haley tweeted her support of the Friendly Sons. “The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick remind us of the genius of the American system. America has always had government, but our unique strength has always come from organizations rooted in their communities and focused on taking care of their neighbors,” she wrote.