“I’m of Irish descent and in America, 100 years ago, we were refugees, my family. Irish were treated terribly in America for a period of time and not accepted, and America learned to accept all of these ideas. It’s what our country is, a country of immigrants. We have not recently done a very good job of remembering who we are.”
— George Clooney, speaking to a group of Syrian refugee families in Berlin.
This is our annual Hall of Fame issue and there is much to enjoy in the following pages as we celebrate our honorees, who this year, are particularly illustrative of the proud tradition of the Irish across the most influential service sectors in the United States.
General Martin Dempsey, who served as the 18th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest ranking military officer in the U.S., and Eileen Collins, the retired NASA astronaut and Air Force colonel, demonstrate the great military service to that the Irish have given to the America.
In honoring Ed Kenney, we remember all those Irish in public service. After a career as an agent in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ed went to work for Mutual of America and was introduced to the Northern Ireland peace process through the involvement of the company’s chairman Bill Flynn, and CEO Tom Moran.
Another aspect to Ed’s story is his work with the Irish humanitarian organization Concern Worldwide U.S., and here too, we are reminded that the Irish give more money per capita than any other people for world hunger relief – as well we should given our own history of starvation.
Honoree Pete Hamill, meanwhile, speaks to the Irish literary tradition. As a distinguished journalist, novelist, essayist, and editor Pete is particularily well-versed in the history of New York and the Irish immigrant story. Many of you will know his writing from his contributions to this magazine over the years, writings that tell of the influences of his Belfast-born parents.
Pete reminds us, too, that from the earliest days in the U.S. the Irish had their own newspapers, including the New York Gaelic American edited by the Fenian John Devoy, of whom you will have learned something from reading our special 1916 issue, published in February.
As that edition generated so much interest, we are continuing with more coverage of that period in this issue. In our “Personal Reflections” section you will find letters from Nora Connolly, daughter of James Connolly, and others who were involved the Rising, and also the recollections of Ernie O’Malley, the Irish Republican Army officer who was a commander in the Irish War of Independence.
In a piece entitled, “The Bonds of a Nation,” Pat Doherty, an avid collector of Irish artifacts, talks about his collection of Fenian bonds dating from 1866 when such bonds were widely sold to the Irish American community to raise money for the cause of Ireland.
(Éamon de Valera would also use this method to raise money for the fledging Irish state in 1919.)
Continuing the Fenian theme, we bring you an excerpt from Timothy Egan’s new book on Thomas Meagher. One of the most colorful figures of the 19th century, Meagher lived through the Great Hunger, was transported to Tasmania for his part in the Young Ireland Uprising of 1848, escaped to America and went on to become the one of the great Civil War heroes as the leader of the Irish Brigade. Egan’s book captures it all. (I hear that Michael Fassbender wants to play Meagher in the movie!) In the section that we have reprinted, we find Meagher in New York, meeting up with other Fenians of the day who always had the cause of Irish freedom on their minds.
There is much hoopla, here and in Ireland, around the centenary of the Rising, but in 1991 the 75th anniversary was a muted affair. The unfinished business in the North and the violence that was ongoing, made it so. In this issue, Gerry Adams writes about what it was like back then, and the changes that the past 25 years have brought to the province. They are mostly positive, and he gives thanks to Irish America for its part in bringing those changes about.
Niall O’Dowd, who himself played no small part in the process, writes about President Clinton’s peacemaking role in the North, a role that ultimately led to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and a power-sharing government.
“All changed, changed utterly,” as the poet W.B. Yeats wrote in his poem Easter 1916. (General Dempsey did his thesis on the Irish Literary Revival and, in addition to his military prowess, he is an expert on Yeats).
But if you need a reminder of the pain the Troubles caused, take a look at the portraits in this issue of the people who lost family members during that time. The artist Colin Davidson captures the anguish in their eyes – you can see the pain they have suffered and are suffering still. It’s the kind of pain that you will see if you look at the faces of Syrian refugees on your television screen.
As George Clooney reminded us recently, we Irish were once refugees. In this issue, in which we honor our high achiever, let us remember Annie Moore, the first passenger processed through the now world-famous immigration station at Ellis Island on January 1, 1892. Annie went on to have a tough life and eke out a hardscrabble existence, says Megan Smolenyak, who after a 10-year quest has finally has tracked down Annie’s Irish relatives, so that’s something to celebrate.
Our Hall of Fame motto is “Cuimhnígí ar na daoine a tháinig romhaibh,” which translates as “’Remember those who came before you.” Surely there is no better way to honor the past than to give a helping hand to the Annies of this world today.
Mórtas cine. ♦
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