ILIR chairman Bart Murphy (center) with fellow ILIR advocates Kelly FIncham, Bruce Morrison, Celine Kennelly and Ciaran Staunton

San Francisco: The American Ireland Fund annual dinner here in San Francisco honored Bart Murphy, one of those quiet heroes of the Irish American community who too often get overlooked.

I made the 3,000 mile journey to pay homage to a friend of long standing, but also a man who will play a key role in the future of the Irish in this country.

I was delighted when the American Ireland Fund, the most prestigious Irish group in the U.S., decided on Bart as their California honoree. It was an acknowledgement of the importance of an issue and of a man who has decided not to play it safe with some worthy charity, but to try and help Irish in the U.S. who desperately need that help.

There are up to 50,000 of them scattered around the U.S. and with the fall-out  from the last election still resonating the opportunity has suddenly arisen that the GOP will finally act on the issue of immigration reform which has been stalled for decades.

If they do, Bart Murphy will be a key player. Bart, a lawyer and successful real estate investor  is Chairman of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, an organization that will be the first responder in the Irish bid to legalize the thousands of Irish who have the misfortune to live in undocumented status in America.

Chairman of ILIR is a job I once held and it is a tough one, carrying the hopes and dreams of so many thousands of Irish undocumented on your shoulders

But Bart Murphy has broad shoulders.

His selfless efforts on behalf of those undocumented and the many other great causes he is involved in led over 500 people to pay tribute to him last night at a packed St. Francis ballroom in downtown San Francisco.

Rarely have I heard a more spontaneous reaction to an honoree at an Irish event.

The standing ovation went on for minutes and the genuine warmth and affection for Murphy, who could easily focus on increasing the family fortune rather  than spend so much time working on Irish causes, was very evident.

Focusing on helping the Irish undocumented is not the sexiest gig in the Irish American community. It is an issue many Irish Americans shun, not wanting to be reminded of an immigrant issue that doesn’t fit easily into an Irish toast on St. Patrick’s Day.

But Bart Murphy has taken it on and his time has come as the issue comes center stage. I can report from San Francisco that it is in very good hands.