Presidential Distinguished Service Awards Announced

2020 Presidential Distinguished Service Award honorees Sister Louise Horgan, Dennis Slamon, Fiona Shaw, Michael Dowling, Alice Kennedy,
and James Flannery

Three Irish Americans are among the recipients of this year’s Presidential Distinguished Service Awards for the Irish Abroad.

Northwell Health executive, Michael J. Dowling, cultural scholar James W. Flannery, and oncologist Dennis J. Slamon were recognized alongside the likes of actress Fiona Shaw, and Professor Mitsuko Ohno of Japan, for their achievements in a wide range of fields.

“I am delighted to have the opportunity once again to formally recognise the achievements of some of the finest members of our global family, our diaspora,” Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney, T.D., said this week.

The awards have recognized the diverse contributions of the Irish diaspora since 2011.

“The Presidential Distinguished Service Award celebrates the diversity of our global Irish family. The contribution of the Irish Abroad has been immense, and the diversity of their achievements in their many walks of life, can be seen in this year’s 14 awardees,” added Coveney.

Leading the way for the American honorees is Northwell Health executive Michael J. Dowling.

Born outside of Knockaderry, County Limerick, Dowling grew up with four younger siblings, whose parents were disabled. The family’s thatched cottage had no modern conveniences, and Dowling had to help support the family from an early age. Dowling’s recent book, Leading Through a Pandemic, offered a gripping, behind the scenes look at health care executives and workers as they navigated the COVID-19 crisis.

He recently told Irish America: “Our success story in the current crisis was due to the frontline staff, the nurses, the physicians, the respiratory therapists, the social workers, those on the front lines each and every day, did extraordinary work tending to the sick. They dealt with the families remotely, since there could be no visitors in the hospitals. They dealt with death and they saved lives. It was extraordinary. Their courage was exemplary. What they did, each and every day, continuously, was to come in, in dangerous, difficult circumstances, showing extraordinary courage.”  

James Flannery, meanwhile, is a celebrated producer, scholar and critic, specializing in the work of William Butler Yeats, and the broader cultural contributions of the Irish in the American south. At Emory University, Flannery, and the Yeats Foundation he founded, have presented a wide range of lectures, concerts, readings, and other exhibitions over the decades.  In 2011, Flannery received Emory’s Creativity and Arts Faculty Award, and was also named to the Global Irish Network advisory committee by Ireland’s Prime Minister Enda Kenny. 

The following year, Flannery was named “Irishman of the Year” by the Hibernian Benevolent Society of Atlanta.

Then there’s UCLA oncologist Dennis J. Slamon, the son of a West Virginia coal miner.

Slamon, whose life and work was chronicled in the 2008 film Living Proof, was recognized for his developments in breast cancer treatments.

He was also featured prominently in the celebrated documentary Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies.

Slamon currently serves as director of Clinical/Translational Research at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center and as director of the Revlon/UCLA Women’s Cancer Research Program.

Other honorees include Sister Louise Horgan, who is recognized for charitable works in Thailand; Alice Kennedy, who until her recent death from Covid-19, was a major figure administrating to the Irish elderly  in London; Dermot O’Leary,  a leading entertainment figure in Britain, who has used his fame to pursue charitable works; and Top World Health Organization official Dr. Michael Ryan, based in Switzerland.

Also included on this year’s list of Distinguished Service Award recipients,  Fr. Kevin O’Hara, a missionary priest in Nigeria involved in creating jobs for unemployed youths, and fighting for prisoner rights; Sister Patricia Murray, based in Italy, who has spent a life dedicated to education, peace-building and promoting understanding between different cultures; Loretta Cosgrove who has served as a community leader championing the Irish LGBT+ community in Sydney, Australia. Professor William Duncan, who is posted at the Hague Conference on Private International Law, and Mitsuko Ohno a professor at Aichi Shukutoku University in Nagoya, who has been a tireless advocate for Irish literature, as a scholar, educator, translator and editor.

Actress Fiona Shaw, meanwhile, was most recently seen in the acclaimed TV drama Killing Eve, while Jack Charlton (who died in July 2020) led two Irish national football teams to World Cups, while also winning one with England in 1966.  

“Each of these individuals have made a remarkable contribution to Ireland and to our international reputation,” Minister of State for Overseas Development Aid and Diaspora, Colm Brophy, T.D., said. “I am deeply grateful for their service and commitment to this country. This is the ninth year the Presidential Distinguished Service Award has inscribed in history, our nation’s pride and gratitude for an extraordinary group of individuals, who have honoured Ireland”. 

Congratulations to all of this year’s recipients of the Presidential Distinguished Service Award.


Tom Deignan is an author, teacher, and columnist for the Irish Voice and Irish America (tdeignan.blogspot.com).


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