Irish America magazine’s Top 100 awards ceremony.
Of all our Top 100 awards ceremonies, this year’s was perhaps the most moving as we celebrated real heroes. Irish American of the Year, Dr. Jerri Nielsen, who battled breast cancer while stationed at the South Pole, movingly contrasted the community of survivors she lived with at the polar station with the divisiveness of the Survivor television series, pointing out that in situations where one’s survival is truly at stake, “You’re not voted off, you’re carried off.” She invited on stage to a rapturous round of applause the men and women of the 109th Air National Guard, who risked their lives to rescue her.
Former president Bill Clinton, who was on hand to present Nielsen with her award, received a standing ovation in appreciation for his efforts on behalf of the Northern Ireland peace process. Senator Hillary Clinton was also in attendance.
Elizabeth Murray, a homeless student who beat the odds and won entry into Harvard University, moved the audience to tears when she took the stage to receive our Irish Spirit Award from Frank McCourt. “I’m not brave,” she protested, crediting the friends who helped her make it through, and inviting them, along with her sister, Lisa, onstage. She then turned and presented her award to her sister, stating “She’s been with me through it all and she doesn’t get enough recognition.”
Another of the evening’s heroes was David MacEnulty, a chess teacher who led a team from one of New York City’s most impoverished elementary schools to win the national chess championship. A number of his students were on hand to show their appreciation.
Dancer Michael Flatley, presently touring with Feet of Flames, received our Irish Heritage award. In contrast to his flamboyant style on stage, Flatlet gave a humble thank you to Irish America for the recognition.
Cabaret singer K.T. Sullivan sand a rousing version of “The Minstrel Boy” to kick off the ceremony, which also included a performance by The Ballet San Patricio, an Irish dance troupe from Argentina. Irish traditional music group Heritage played during the buffet dinner afterwards.
Guest speakers included model Karen Duffy, author Mary Higgins Clark, Philadelphia’s police commissioner John Timoney, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, and Mutual of America President, Tom Moran. Irish Minister for Health and Children Michael Martin brought greetings from the Irish Government. All of the honorees received crystal trophies provided by Waterford Crystal.
The gala evening was opened by actor/writer Malachy McCourt, Irish America Co-Founder/Editor Patricia Harty and Founding Publisher Niall O’Dowd acted as Master of Ceremony.
Over 400 people were in attendance for the award ceremony and buffet dinner at The Plaza Hotel, New York’s premier hotel and home to the Top 100 Awards since 1996. ♦