Tim Brosnan, Executive Vice President of Major League Baseball

The inaugural Irish Sports 50 awards presented by Irish Voice newspaper were held on Thursday night in Manhattan at the beautiful surrounds of the American Irish Historical Society on Fifth Avenue and were an outstanding success.

They came from California, Dallas and Ireland. Sports and business figures from all the major U.S sports were present to hear keynote speaker Tim Brosnan, Executive Vice President of Major League Baseball, describe the Irish journey to success in sports as an example for every immigrant community.

Brosnan pointed out that our forefathers came with nothing and that sport was one of the first arenas in America where Irish were welcome.

At a time when “No Irish Need Apply” signs were still being hung out  the Irish were making it in baseball and other sports he pointed out.

Other ethnic groups would follow the same path and African Americans would eventually break the barrier too.

Sports were one of the first places that Irish were accepted he said. It was an invaluable lesson for other groups who faced discrimination too.

Now, Brosnan pointed out, sports is open to all “If you have the skill you can play it doesn't matter where you came from.”

It is true. The first thing the child of immigrants will do,whether Irish or these days Hispanic,  is grab a bat or a ball and try to compete on the only truly level playing field around -- sports.

We take it for granted these days that sports is the great melting pot of American society but as the Jackie Robinson biopic this Spring showed clearly it was a hell of a battle to get there.

Deputy Consul of Ireland Peter Ryan talked about the healing power of sport when it came to the fallout from Hurricane Sandy in the Rockaways.

Some of Ireland’s top athletes, members of the Gaelic Players Association came on their own time to America and rebuilt the sports gymnasium at Breezy Point that had been ruined by the storm. 1,500 members of the Irish community had lent their skills all over the different Rockaway neighborhoods.

GPA Chairman Dessie Farrell talked about the extraordinary response to their gesture including coverage on NBC Nightly News and many other organizations stepping forward to help. This weekend the GPA will conduct a Gaelic sports 7 a side tournament in Breezy Point to aid local charities.

I spoke about being present at the greatest Irish American sports event I have seen, the Notre Dame game against Navy in Dublin last year when 25,000 Irish fans made the trip across the Atlantic to their ancestral home.

The goodwill engendered between Ireland and America on that trip alone speaks volumes for the power of sport.

The first-ever Irish American Sports 50 was put together by Irish Voice editor Debbie McGoldrick and business manager John Dillon. Judging by the success it won’t be the last!