There were a few surprise celebrity guests at Phil Coulter and Andy Cooney’s Celtic Twilight Christmas at Carnegie Hall on Monday night December 8.
Sitting prominently placed in a balcony seat was the once (and future?) First Couple. Bill and Hillary got a marvelous reception from the packed crowd at the famous venue.
So if you think that Irish issues have drifted far from Hillary and Bill’s mind consider they also brought along peace process hero former Senator George Mitchell and Congressman Peter King, who played a leading role in American involvement in that process.
Of course Phil Coulter and his paean to Derry “The Town I Loved So Well” was an inspirational anthem during that entire era.
One of my fondest memories is of President Clinton and Derry Nobel Prize winner John Hume along with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams blasting it out at the White House at one of the memorable St. Patrick's Day parties.
And who can forget the scene in November 1995 when Clinton became the first ever US president to visit Northern Ireland and hammered a mighty nail in the foundations of the peace process when he spoke to massive audiences, unionist and nationalist alike?
It was a chilly Thursday afternoon, November 30, 1995 when the President and Hillary arrived in Derry city center bringing good tidings from America and creating a massive sense of excitement never matched before or since.
During his speech that day, President Clinton told the tens of thousands gathered in front of the Guildhall: “I came here because you are making a home for peace to flourish and endure.”
Later on Clinton would fly to Belfast and appear outside City Hall as hundreds of thousands cheered and roared. In all my life I have never seen a more exciting moment than when the president and his wife made their appearance.
I knew then, as did many around me, that the peace process was for real and that there was no going back.
At Carnegie Hall on Wednesday night Phil Coulter went a step further than "The Town I Loved so Well" – unveiling a new song called "A Bright Brand New Day." It is a powerful anthem to the new beginning being experienced by Derry and, indeed, all of Northern Ireland. Phil dedicated his new song to President Clinton, Hilary Clinton, George and Heather Mitchell and Congressman Peter King.
A great night was had by all and for the Clintons it was an extraordinary reminder of how special the success story of Northern Ireland is to them.
There were strong performances also from singer Andy Cooney, Coulter's wife Geraldine Brannigan, Cooney's son Ryan, the great Hibernian Festival Choir and the Critical Twilight Christmas String Quartet.
The proceeds from the full house of 3,000 people went to the worthy cause of Hope House Ministries and its inspirational Founder Fr. Frank Pizzarelli spoke movingly at the beginning about the charity and the lives of thousands of young people wounded by addiction that it has touched.