Irish Voice publisher NIALL O’DOWD looks at some of the notables who have done their part to ensure that the Irish American community thrives.
Since the Irish Voice was founded in 1987 there have been some constant themes in Irish America -- the continuing problems of immigration, the Irish American role in the Irish peace process, business success and philanthropy and the extraordinary Irish contribution to American culture and the arts.
Our list of the Top 25 reflects those themes as well as some others. It is a purely subjective list, not listed in any particular order. All 25 have contributed mightily to the health of our community as we face into the next 25 years.
Greatest networker and advocate for Ireland in America. He is the former president of Coca-Cola who played a huge role in establishing the Coca-Cola presence in Ireland. He is also a former chairman of the board at Notre Dame who brought a Notre Dame football game to Ireland and connected the two entities. Brought Warren Buffet and Bill Gates to Ireland for the first time. Now chairman of Allen and Company.
Kerry-born, former messenger boy on Wall Street who incredibly rose to the very top and now runs a hugely successful brokerage firm, Wall Street Access, but has never forgotten his Irish roots.
He’s massively supportive of Irish initiatives, most notably the peace process and immigration reform as well as investing in promising Irish start-ups and business ventures.
So many Irish business people in New York owe their start in business to Bill Burke, the Irish banker.
First with Bank of Ireland and now with Country Bank, Burke, a former grand marshal of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade has always had an open door to Irish businesses small and large and helped launch many of the most successful Irish in New York.
Owner of FitzPatrick's hotels in Manhattan has been a tireless fundraiser for Irish charities including his own Paddy and Eithne FitzPatrick charity named after his parents which has raised millions for good causes.
Very active on the political front both as fundraiser and community activist, John is close friends with the Clintons and many other key political figures and never spares in his efforts to deliver on Irish issues.
Brian O’Dwyer is senior partner in the law firm of O’Dwyer and Bernstien, continuing the magnificent legacy of his father Paul O’Dwyer and Frank Durkan.
He’s close to both of the Clintons and a lifelong advocate for the Irish undocumented and peace in Northern Ireland. He is also chairman of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center in Queens.
There is hardly a cause, from immigration reform to peace in Northern Ireland, that Mayo native Ciaran Staunton has not been involved in. He was a founder member in Boston of the Irish Immigration Reform Movement which led to the Donnelly and Morrison visa breakthroughs.
Later in New York he co-founded the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform and played a key role in setting up the U.S. peace process initiative, most notably the Gerry Adams visa.
The Adrian Flannelly radio show has reached millions of Irish Americans over the years and continues to do so. An outspoken advocate for his community, Flannelly helped create the massive Irish push for Donnelly and Morrison visas and more recently he has played a ke y political role as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s trusted Irish advisor.
Aine Sheridan, long time producer of the show, has played a major role in bring the program to new media and made it America’s premier commercial Irish radio show and enterprise.
LORETTA BRENNAN GLUCKSMAN
She’s the first female head of the American Ireland Fund and the Worldwide Irish Funds.
Brennan Glucksman has revitalized and modernized the organization, created a hugely successful youth wing and continues to break all fundraising records for the philanthropic group, which passed its $100 million goal recently.
Likely to be the first ever Irish and gay mayor of New York City. The flame haired Quinn has done incredible work for the Irish community, spearheading the drive as City Council president to create a landmark new Irish Arts Center building on the West Side and providing access and political support to scores of Irish organizations.
DR. KEVIN CAHILL
Dr. Kevin Cahill is one of the pre-eminent physicians of his era, but much more than that, as director general of the American Irish Historical Society he has overseen a massive refurbishment of the Fifth Avenue mansion which is America’s greatest Irish building.
Single handedly he kept the society alive through tough times and has helped preserve a massive historical and community resource for future generations.
The former Connecticut congressman made it possible for tens of thousands of Irish to emigrate legally to the United States via his Morrison visa legislation.
In addition he played a major role in securing the support of President Clinton for the Irish American initiative, which led to a visa for Gerry Adams and a huge breakthrough in the peace process.
Vice Chair of the Irish Arts Center in New York, Turley has spearheaded a hugely ambitious and ultimately successful effort to create a massive new Irish Arts Center which has already secured over $20 million in funding.
She has also succeeded in linking both Gabriel Byrne and Liam Neeson to the center, both of whom have taken an active role in ensuring its success.
The president of Quinnipiac University in Connecticut is a former grand marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day in New York, but more importantly, will open North America’s first Irish Famine Museum this fall. Lahey has created an amazing on campus Irish presence at his university and has put Quinnipiac on the map for millions of Irish Americans.
Founder of Irish American Democrats, the Washington-based O’Leary has played a huge role in creating an Irish dimension for Democratic Party politics and is a very successful fundraiser for Irish American candidates. Personally very close to both Clintons, O’Leary single-handedly put together the Clinton Center in Fermanagh, Northern Ireland.
Irish Repertory Theater founders Charlotte Moore and Ciaran O’Reilly are dynamos, bringing the very best of Irish theater to New York City on a year-round basis at their Chelsea headquarters.
The Irish Rep opened in September 1988 with a production of The Plough and The Stars. The Wall Street Journal’s Terry Teachout wrote that the Irish Rep is “one of the finest theater companies in America.”
One of the great philanthropists and business leaders in the Irish American community. Moran is CEO and president of Mutual of America and Chairman of Concern Worldwide. Moran has played a massive role in increasing knowledge about the dire crisis in the Third World through his role at Concern, and he also played an outstanding role in providing access to the U.S. for Northern Irish political leaders.
Founder of Structure Tone, one of New York’s great construction success stories which is now a worldwide company. Tyrone-born Donaghy has also played a leading role in the U.S. part in the Irish peace process. He is a committed support of Sinn Fein and annually hosts a major dinner for Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams. Donaghy also strongly supported immigration reform groups and has employed Irish numbering in the thousands.
The “secret billionaire” who gave all his billions away remains one of the most admired people in America and a runner up for Time magazine’s Man of the Year in 2000.
With roots in Fermanagh, the New Jersey-born Feeney has given back in spades to Ireland investing hundreds of millions through his Atlantic Philanthropies. He also played a key role in U.S. involvement in the Irish peace process, and was a key player in allowing Sinn Fein to set up an office in Washington, D.C., one of the conditions for an IRA ceasefire.
Flynn is chairman emeritus of Mutual of America insurance company and a highly successful businessman. He was a key mover in focusing Irish Americans on peace in Northern Ireland.
Through his organization, the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, he provided the forum for Gerry Adams and many other speakers to appear before American audiences for the first time. He was one of the first to see an opportunity for U.S. intervention, and he was responsible for the invitation that allowed Adams to come to the U.S. in 1994.
Minihane and Hurley were co-founders of the Irish Immigration Reform Movement in the 1980s, which won legislation to legalize tens of thousands of Irish citizens. The Cork natives succeeded in winning the Donnelly and Morrison visa programs in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Minihane and Hurley galvanized a huge swathe of Irish America to help in their cause and set the stage for the Irish American political clout that followed on Northern Ireland.
CONGRESSMAN PETER KING
The Long Island Congressman was the most outspoken major politician on Northern Ireland for decades and was very close to Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams. President Reagan refused to meet with him at a Long Island event as a result.
King was on hand to greet Adams when he arrived at Kennedy Airport on his historic visit in 1994. He is also a former grand marshal of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Tipperary-born Kelly is a very successful businessman as CEO of Teneo Holdings in New York, and also is a former economic envoy to Northern Ireland under the Obama administration.
Kelly played a key role in advancing investment by U.S. companies in Northern Ireland as economic envoy. He received the Ellis Island Medal in 2012 in recognition of his Irish efforts.
She’s one of the greatest musicians and personalities in the history of Irish music in America and is the founder of the popular group Cherish the Ladies. Born in New York of Irish parents, she became the first American to win the Senior All-Ireland Championship on the tin whistle. She has since then gained many other awards, including being the youngest member ever inducted into the Irish-American Musicians Hall of Fame and the recipient of the Wild Geese Award.