To get it out of the way, there was no fighting at the 2014 Irish America Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which took place yesterday at the Metropolitan Club in Manhattan. Bill O’Reilly and Chris Matthews, the champion pundits of their respective social and political spheres , did not spar. Rather, they were gracious, intelligent and witty in their acceptance speeches (though Matthews did slag O’Reilly a little for leaving before it was Matthews’ turn to speak).
The true focus of the day was courage. The courage of the inductees – from the brave McDonald family, who define the ideals of public service and forgiveness, to historian Christine Kinealy, who has forever changed the landscape of scholarship on The Great Hunger - and the courage of the ancestors, invoked by all of the inductees in one way or another. Fitting, given that the Hall of Fame’s motto is “Cuimhnígí ar na daoine as ar tháinig sibh,” which translated from Irish means, “Remember the people from whom you came.”
The 2014 inductees were: Governor Martin O’Malley of Maryland, the top-rated Irish American politician in the U.S.; Christine Kinealy, the renowned authority on Ireland’s Great Hunger; Patrick Ryan, philanthropist and founder of Aon, the worldwide insurance giant; Andrew McKenna, businessman and Chicago civic leader; Brian Stack, Managing Director of CIE Tours International who has led the way in promoting tourism to Ireland; Chris Matthews, whose TV show, "Hardball," airs on MSNBC and is the leading political commentary show on television, and Bill O’Reilly, the outspoken host of the syndicated "The O’Reilly Factor," and America’s most watched broadcaster.
Special guests included Joan Burton, Ireland’s Minister for Social Protection; Ireland’s Consul General of Ireland Noel Kilkenny; Dr. Malcolm McKibbin, Head of Northern Ireland Civil Service; former Irish Minister Mary Hanafin; NYPD Chief of Housing Bureau Joanne Jaffe, who introduced the McDonald family; Elgin Loane, who owns The Irish Post in London; Father John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame and Judy Collins , who performed her new song, “New Moon Over the Hudson,” which addresses her Irish roots and the experience of the Irish diaspora. Collins was inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame where it is housed in New Ross, Co. Wexford as part of the JFK 50 events in June, 2013. Collins gave special thanks to Irish America's Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief Patricia Harty, and to genealogist Megan Smolenyak, for connecting her with her Irish roots.
During the speeches, just a small sampling of the many memorable moments included O’Reilly on his Irish roots, as he declared “The reason I’m famous is because I’m Irish.” He added “Both sides were Irish in my family – I’m a thoroughbred – and what I inherited from my Irish roots was passion.
"In the ‘50s and ‘60s when I was a kid, I came off WWII and the Depression, and that’s when my parents were born. And their traditions of Irish Catholic feistiness were ingrained in me.
“Wherever I went my Irish pride was on display, and then it was a miracle that I became really famous, which stunned pretty mush everyone who ever knew me. But I just always said what was on my mind because that’s what my parents and grandparents did, and then it was bread rolls flying across the Thanksgiving dinner table, right? That’s what Irish people do. The Irish are now more distant from their roots. And, you know, when I get a little upset on my show, or a little outspoken. . . I won’t ever change. The reason I’ve succeeded is because I’m Irish.”
New York City’s new Police Commissioner William Bratton was to induct the McDonald family, but he was called to the scene of the massive two-building explosion in Harlem, which resulted from a gas leak earlier in the morning. Chief JoAnne Jaffe etepped in to take his place and spoke of the great lessons the McDonald family have shared both here and in Northern Ireland, where they visited to spread the message that true peace can only be achieved through non-violence. “Stephen and his family are firm believers that he only path to peace is forgiveness,” she said.
Hero cop Steven McDonald was joined by his wife, Patti Ann, mayor of Malvern, NY, and their son, Conor, in accepting the hall of fame award – the first family to ever receive the honor. “God has not disappointed us with each passing month and year we have survived,” he said. “We have felt our best and we have been able to live out our lives as a mother and a father and a son.” He dedicated the award to all members of the police force, who make an ultimate sacrifice.”
Patrick Ryan and Andy McKenna paid moving tribute to their families, to whom they attributed a large part of their respective great achievements in the worlds of philanthropy and business. Brian Stack did the same, and also shared his eminently relatable story of coming to America with the plan of staying just a few months, but then making a life here and embarking upon a career dedicated to that special connection Americans so often feel with Ireland.
When Chris Matthews got to the podium, he took a moment to point out that O’Reilly had made an early departure. “Well, I’m sorry to see Bill left,” he said, adding that he seized sure if he’d ever head someone describe themselves as famous before. “It was refreshing after the Oscars and all of those stars with their false modesty. None of that for Bill! But it’s good to know you really can make money out of just being yourself.”
He talked about his family’s cultural tapestry, which includes Irish Catholics, Irish Protestants, and a grandfather from England. "Every time I go to one of these things, because everyone else is usually a ‘four-both-er’ – they’re Irish from both grandparents, on all sides. So I always feel a little guilty because I come from what we would call a mixed marriage.” Because of this, he explained, his work covering the Peace Process in Northern Ireland still stands as one of the most meaningful points in his career. Matthews later thanked Irish America on his MSNBC show, Hardball.
Christine Kinealy siezed the opportunity to thank her two children and also her best friend, with whom she first came to America while in college to work for the summer in a hotel in Atlantic City, and who had come specially from Dublin to see Kinealy inducted into the Hall of Fame. She reminisced about their time working at Burger King, and how at the end of the summer she had to politely decline an invitation into an entirely different academic circle, Burger King University.
In connection with her research and her new position as director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University, she took a moment to speak about the brave Irish immigrants of the past. “For people who, during centuries of colonial rule, had often been dispossessed, displaced and despised, their capacity to love not one but two countries was remarkable, as was their courage in believing there would be a better future for them, for their children, and for their children’s children if they left the country of their birth.”
Governor O’Malley said he was doubly pleased to be recognized since Irish America is his mother’s favorite magazine. “Handsome, generous and brave” were the words the 2016 presidential possibility used to describe his Irish ancestors and the Irish people.
To learn more about the Irish America Hall of Fame and to see the inductees from past years, including Joe Biden, Mary Higgins Clark, Bill Clinton and Jean Kennedy Smith, click here.