As the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) commemoration events draw to a close and the great caravan of life with all its attendant issues come back into focus, a brief but heartfelt acknowledgment to those who played huge roles in securing the Agreement but who have never wanted to take credit. 

In no particular order, they include Chuck Feeney, the extraordinary American billionaire who funded projects all over Northern Ireland which brought young people on opposite sides together. 

He single-handedly funded major expansions of places of learning such as Queen’s University in Belfast with the aim of broadening educational opportunities for students from both sides.

When a key stumbling block emerged about the creation and funding of the Sinn Féin office in Washington, a key ask in the lead-up to the GFA, it was Feeney again who personally underwrote the cost of the office. He was indeed a prophetic voice for peace. 

Former Irish Ambassador to the US Sean O hUiginn is another unsung hero. 
As top political advisor Fergus Finlay wrote, “I don’t believe that we would have had a successful peace process in Ireland, at all, without the immense work and ability of Sean O hUiginn in the Department of Foreign Affairs. At a time when people couldn’t see a strategy that would bring paramilitaries in from the cold and make them part of the solution, he could, and he took immense personal risks to bring that to pass.” 

The work of Brendan Scannell, another top Irish diplomat in the US, deserves to be recognized. He set about repairing the rift between Irish Americans and the Irish government after years of misguided Irish policy. We must remember that Irish America at one time was shunned and seen as too radical by the powers that be in Dublin. 

The policy, in fact, was to work with the British to keep Irish America out as they were too radical. Years were squandered with that short-sighted plan. 

How crazy that policy sounds now given that Irish America unleashed and first discovered presidential candidate Bill Clinton. Scannell was a brilliant diplomat who helped create that linkage. 

Lastly, there is one more figure who played a critical role, and that is former Taoiseach Charles Haughey who reversed the policy of working with the British to exclude Irish Americans as much as possible. 

Haughey signaled the new direction when he told Irish Americans he and his government were now in favor of the MacBride Principles, a set of rules created by Irish Americans seeking a boycott of companies doing business in Northern Ireland who did not adhere to fair hiring laws. 

Up to Haughey’s time, British and Irish diplomats worked hand in glove to ensure the MacBride Principles would never be enacted. 

It was Haughey who swept the old rules away with a public statement that the government no longer opposed the principles. It was the start of the rapport between Ireland and Irish America that would bring extraordinary new people such as Clinton and Feeney into the picture and permanently change the dynamic. Nothing would ever be the same again. 

We know we have only touched on a handful of heroes but we do owe them a huge debt of gratitude. We won’t see their likes again. 

*This editorial first appeared in the April 19 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.