First Word: High Notes

Father John Jenkins speaks at the 2015 Irish America Hall of Fame. (Photo: Nuala Purcell)

By Patricia Harty, Editor-in-Chief
June / July 2015

One of the many highlights of our recent Hall of Fame lunch was Notre Dame’s president Rev. John Jenkins’s tribute to Don Keough, the late great Irish American who contributed so much to Ireland and Irish Studies. “Don loved everything Irish,” Jenkins said, “but he also insisted it can’t be all about Ireland, and challenged us to found the Keough School of Global Studies at Notre Dame, to open ourselves to all cultures, all peoples, all religions around the world.

“I do think that is a very Irish trait,” Rev. Jenkins continued, “[that the Irish], a people who have gone to all corners of the world, be a people that can sympathize with all peoples, all languages, all cultures.”

Many of our stories in this issue give truth to that concept. We bring you a first-hand account from an aid worker in Nepal, where the Irish organization Concern Worldwide is helping in the recovery effort following the devastating earthquake.

And we take you to Vietnam where Janet Noble, an Irish woman from Dublin, has transformed the lives of thousands of children.

Another heartwarming story takes us to Normandy where “Irish Dave,” a Belfast man, provides a welcome for WWII veterans returning to the site of the D-Day landing.

Our cover story too, has a global slant. Des Bishop, the renowned comedian / social commentator, has just returned from a two-year stay in China. The trip was just the latest in a series of efforts Des has made to measure the human environment, having previously spent time in marginalized communities in Dublin and Belfast.

Other stories too speak to the cross-culture connectiveness of the Irish, including a piece on the Willis family whose mix of Irish music, country and gospel has made them the focus of a hot new reality show, while a report on the group “This Is How We Fly” shows an amalgam of musicians, Irish and otherwise, who are producing a great world music sound.

But perhaps nowhere does the all-embracing nature of the Irish have a more lasting and life-altering effect than right here on the homefront where teachers, often the unsung heroes of the world, are introducing students to the best of our heritage.

This truth was brought home to me on March 27, when the Irish American Heritage & Culture Committee of the Department of Education, City of New York named me Irish Woman of the Year. (I can honestly say that no previous honor has meant as much to me.)

What makes this organization special is not just the pride these educators take in their Irish heritage, and the support they give one another, but their outreach into other communities through the students they encounter in their schools.

The Committee gives out annual prizes to students for oration and art, and this year’s honorees were on hand at Brooklyn Borough Hall to receive their prizes.

Proud parents from every imaginable ethnic group sat in the audience as their sons and daughters, whose names, read aloud, produced a kind of American music – Yazmine Hussein, Zhuo Biao Chai, Victoria Pysher, Raymes Kahalid, Christ

Augustin, Alana Todd, and Amina Asif – were called upon to receive their awards.

In a stirring moment, Emma Gomez, a student from the Bronx, who earned the top prize in oratory, gave a flawless rendition of a speech President Mary McAleese had given at the dedication of New York’s Irish Famine monument in July 2002.

The whole evening was an experience that reached deep into the fabric of American life and the Irish part in it. One that showed us in our best light. And one that those students will carry with them for the rest of their lives. I will too.

Mortas Cine. ♦

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