The First Word: Hall of Fame

The House of Waterford Crystal Hall of Fame Awards. Photo by Nuala Purcell.

Past, Present, and Future

In this issue, in which we celebrate the new inductees into our Hall of Fame, I’m reminded of great Irish Americans of the past such as John Barry, the father of the American Navy; John F. Kennedy, our first Catholic president; and Eugene O’Neill,  playwright and Nobel Laureate.

Our incoming Hall of Fame honorees take their rightful place alongside these figures and their fellows who have been inducted since our inaugural ceremony in 2010.

Christine Kinealy, who is being honored for her research and scholarship on the Great Hunger, will find particular resonance in the fact that our Hall of Fame building in Co. Wexford is alongside the Dunbrody, a replica of a Famine-era ship that ferried thousands of Irish to the New World – brave souls who paved the way for the successes we enjoy today.

Broadcasters Chris Matthews and Bill O’Reilly we honor for giving voice to our concerns and opinions, two traits that helped the Irish carve out a place in American society, even as they remind us of our love of a good argument.

Martin O’Malley represents the many Irish on the political front. His success is honed by his family’s affinity for public service and his Jesuit education. While Andy McKenna and Pat Ryan, both of whom have reached the pinnacle of corporate success, make us proud by their philanthropy and devotion to civic causes.

Brian Stack, meantime, reminds us that Ireland’s natural beauty is its greatest glory. In the worst of times, the tourist trade kept the country afloat, and Brian’s role in bringing thousands of visitors to Ireland is especially important as the country recovers from the debt crisis that has wrecked its economy over the last six years.

The story of Steven and Patti Ann McDonald and their son Conor, our first family to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, is one of courage and love. Their journey towards faith and forgiveness after terrible tragedy is inspirational. I know that the time I spent with the family moved me towards letting go of some old hurts and grievances that I’ve been carrying around for far too long.

The Irish ability to forgive is not often cited as one of our finer traits. Our history, littered as it is with brutal battles, colonization and hunger (it’s amazing that we survived at all), has left us with deep wounds embedded in our DNA, and a tendency towards grudges and begrudgery. Yet, that same history has also fostered a spirit of perseverance against the odds and empathy for the struggles of others.

The Irish give more per capita than any other nation towards hunger relief, and have a tradition of public service. And when it comes down to it, as many of our previous Hall of Fame inductees have shown by working on finding a solution to the Troubles in Northern Ireland, we are willing to put aside our differences and unite for a good cause.

It is my hope that the Irish in America will once again rise to the occasion and help out as they have in the past. Many young people in Ireland, though highly educated, are without jobs. And with Australia now starting to close its doors, these young people have nowhere to go. So this  St. Patrick’s Day, take time out from the revelry to log on to the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform website There is no better way to honor your heritage than by using your weight to open the door, closed by the 1965 Immigrant Act, just a crack, to allow some of those future Hall of Famers in.

Mortas Cine.

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