When we compiled our first Top 100 list in 1985, we did it to show that the Irish had not all vanished into the mainstream of American life but were still a viable ethnic group. Almost 20 years later, the Irish, despite their profound identification with American way of life, still hold a great appreciation for their Irish heritage.
Some of those honored in these pages are high profile Irish-Americans who are well-known in the entertainment field, or in politics, but as we look at the stories in this issue we see that the strength of the community comes from many different sources.
So many times the work of everyday heroes goes unnoticed, and so we made an effort to highlight the extraordinary contributions of some you might not have heard of, such as Jeanette and John Murphy who have adopted 23 children with Down Syndrome, and Grace Devaney, a nurse for the Irish relief organization Concern Worldwide who works in Sudan. By honoring these and others in community service, we applaud all of you who do your best to make the world a better place.
Every year we are struck anew by the diversity of the people who make our list, and the many wonderful stories that come our way. From quarterback Tom Brady to swimmer Kelly Crowley, who won a gold medal in the paralympics, the Irish are well-represented in sports. So too are they a force in the world of literature and media. From Jimmy Breslin, who has devoted his life to commentary, to Carol Higgins Clark who is following in her mother’s mystery writing footsteps, there are many writers on our list who make us proud.
There are those who made our list simply because they make us happy through their music, such as Kevin Burke, the Irish fiddle player, or through their acting ability, such as Brían O’Byrne, or playwright John Patrick Shanley, who brings such wonderful theater to the stage.
And there are many wonderful people on our list in the fields of medicine and education, who remind us what can be accomplished with courage and conviction.
We are proud to name Maureen O’Hara as our Irish American of the Year, not just for her many wonderful performances but because she remained true to her Irish roots and her feisty nature. She refused to put down “British” as her former nationality when she became an American citizen in 1946. (Ireland didn’t become a Republic and leave the British Commonwealth until 1949). Her stubborn resistance caused a change in the immigration proceedings, and shortly thereafter natives of Ireland were no longer identified as British in the naturalization process.
Extremely proud of her Irish heritage, Maureen served as grand marshal of the 1999 New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. As she walked up Fifth Avenue, the crowd called out “Mary Kate” to her after her role in The Quiet Man. When the film was made in 1952, Ireland was one of the poorest countries in Europe. “Ireland is now richer than America. For most of Ireland’s modern history, Irish people went to the richer country in America and sent remittances to poor relations back home. Now, we have U.S. companies in Ireland sending remittances in profit checks back home,” according to Dan McLaughlin, chief economist of Bank of Ireland.
It wasn’t always so, of course, and there are many on our list who helped Ireland through leaner times by supporting the arts, and education, and promoting peace in Northern Ireland.
In the following pages we offer you a glimpse of some of the brightest stars in the firmament of Irish America. As we celebrate being on top, let us remember the road we traveled and let us continue to point the way for others. ♦