December January 2008 Issue – Irish America Irish America Magazine Thu, 18 Jul 2019 14:56:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 82361074 Everywhere He Wants to Be: Michael O’Hara Lynch Tue, 01 Jan 2008 12:00:50 +0000 Read more..]]> He travels the globe putting sponsorship deals together and whether it’s the soccer World Cup in South Africa or the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs or the Olympics in Beijing,  Visa’s Michael O’Hara Lynch will be there.  

Michael O’Hara Lynch is everywhere you would want to be. As head of Visa event and sponsorship marketing he flies to World Cups, Olympics, Super Bowls and every other major event on the planet. He negotiates multi-million-dollar contracts for Visa and helps create the marketing buzz for the world’s greatest sports events.
He’s the kid brought up near the Bronx in the small town of Katonah who grew up to see the world and all that’s in it. And he loves every minute of it.

He was one of the first sports agents, those Tom Cruise wannabees who scream “Show me the money” in movies like Scott Boras with Alex Rodriguez in real life except you couldn’t imagine Michael O’Hara Lynch doing that. He’s quiet, cool and very effective.

As a sports agent he negotiated deals for superstars such as Michael Jordan and Arthur Ashe. With Jordan he put him on the box of Wheaties, achieving the ultimate iconic status for the Bulls superstar at the time.

Strange as it may seem, he had a tough job convincing General Mills to do it. They only wanted already minted legends and were unsure that the new sensation Jordan belonged on the box. O’Hara Lynch convinced them otherwise. Wheaties has never looked the same since.

These days he is near the top of a company which handles an average of 7,000 credit card transactions per second every second in the U.S. and $4.5 trillion in transactions every year.

He travels the globe putting sponsorship deals together, and whether it’s the soccer World Cup in South Africa or the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs or the Olympics in Beijing, the tall, lanky O’Hara will be there.

He’s fifty and looks forty, lives in the suburbs of beautiful San Francisco with his wife and two daughters, McKenzie, a star Irish dancer, and Dylan. For recreation he’s a Notre Dame sports nut as befits an alumni of that great Irish bastion.

He attended Notre Dame and was a walk-on for the basketball team – he has never forgiven then coach Digger Phelps for keeping him warming the bench. It might have had something to do with the fact that the Fighting Irish at the time were ranked near to No. 1 in the country,

He was a contemporary of Joe Montana at Notre Dame and saw the golden years of the football program. He left in 1979.

When we talked he had high hopes for the team for the 2007 season. Enough said. Suffice it to say South Bend is one of the places even Visa doesn’t want to be this football season.

So how come the name Michael O’Hara Lynch? “The reason I use O’Hara, you know, is my mother Kathleen Jean O’Hara,” he says. “She had nine boys. I was the sixth but I was the only one who got her middle name. Out of respect for her I use it all the time.”  A dutiful son it seems.

He laughs that his parents, good Catholics, probably used the rhythm method when they got married. Nine boys arrived in rapid succession, not a baby girl in sight. “I guess they gave up trying after the last one,” he says with a smile.

His dad was a high school principal and he gave Michael his love of sport. In 1976 his dad drove him from Katonah to faraway Montreal for the Olympics. All they could afford was standing-room for track and field tickets, but to the youngster it looked like heaven.

“I got the bug right there – to this day, seeing all these countries and people coming together, there was something truly special about it all. Right there I knew I wanted to work on the Olympics.”

Many of his siblings became teachers, but from an early age Michael had a head for numbers, a heart for sport and an eye for a deal.

“ I don’t know where I got the business instinct from.” He says part of it was the influence of Notre Dame. “I always felt really comfortable in the marketing areas, and numbers came easy to me. Sport was a given.”

He got a bachelor’s in business administration at Notre Dame and later went on to an MBA at Cornell. In between he fused his two great interests, sports and marketing, together.

“Prior to Cornell I worked as an in-house consultant for the Timex Corporation, and when we were developing the iron man triathlon watch, we hired two athletes, Alberto Salazar and Mary Slaney, to promote it.  That’s where I learned about the business of sports marketing.”

It was a brand-new business. He joined Proserv, founded in 1984, then one of the first companies in the field. “It was predominantly lawyers who were handling the athletes,” he remembers. “I came in with a marketing background to help build the athletes’ brand. We felt there wasn’t a single corporation out there that couldn’t use sports in one way or another to develop their business”

He fondly remembers working with Jordan. “Michael is able to differentiate between the public person, the celebrity icon and the normal private person. He was a tremendously normal guy, and  recognized that this celebrity thing was not who he was as a person. He was also raised by great parents and they raised him right.”

O’Hara Lynch did Proserv for seven years before jumping to entertainment vehicles because he had a non-compete clause when he left.

He ran the events business for Radio City Music Hall, jumping into a business that, like sport, was starting to attract massive new coverage from paparazzi to mainstream media.

Radio City productions were not limited to the famed theater itself. They staged Super Bowl halftime shows, World Cup opening ceremonies, and of course the iconic Christmas shows. “It was a way for me to learn different skills and to be on the inside of entertainment just as it exploded as a medium.”

But his wife Susan, a Northern California girl, had never fully settled in the Big Apple. When their first child became due they began thinking of moving to sunnier climes.
A meeting with a senior Visa executive sealed the deal. “Over breakfast she asked me if I would be interested in running the sports and entertainment stuff that Visa was doing. They had the Olympic team sponsorship, they were actually doing an Elton John tour, and it just sounded great.”

He had worked with Visa before when he brokered a deal which made them sponsor of the U.S. Open tennis championship. “They wanted someone who both worked in the entertainment business from a marketing perspective and knew the sports world.

“When I mentioned it to my wife over dinner, she went to the closet and began packing her bag. Off we went to San Francisco. I managed the Olympics for Visa. We had just become sponsor of the NFL and a sponsor of racing’s Triple Crown.”

“My job was essentially to manage those athletes, Olympic, NFL and the Visa Triple Crown, and essentially build an integrated marketing campaign around each event – ‘everywhere you want to be – unsurpassed acceptance.’”

Because all credit card companies essentially work the same, the brand means everything, which is where O’Hara Lynch comes in.

“When you think about a property like the Olympics, Visa gets you in there. It’s our main competitive difference with American Express,” he says. “But the Olympics doesn’t take MasterCard either. The campaign was essentially designed to differentiate between the brands.”

The marketing has clearly worked. Visa has a 52 percent market share in the U.S. and a 64 percent share worldwide, up by over 33 percent.

Visa is not only about sports, of course. Visa is the largest Broadway sponsor, the only card to get you into the Tony awards; they are also a proud sponsor of Disney productions.

Among the places O’Hara Lynch wants to be is in Ireland with his wife and kids at some point in the future to trace the roots of his great-grandparents who left.

He traces those roots to Cork but says he “got stuck in Dublin” every time he has gone over. “I’m dying to take the family over there. I’ve been waiting for my children to get older so they can appreciate it a little more. I want them to know what their history is all about.”

No doubt when they do, O’Hara Lynch will see a land that has been transformed in the past few decades as prosperity has come home. Not unlike his own life from its modest beginnings to worldwide traveler and dealmaker. He has a visa for the world now.

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The First Word: Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears Tue, 01 Jan 2008 11:59:28 +0000 Read more..]]> My god, what they went through to get here.  Whenever I forget the lot of early Irish immigrants to America, something pulls me back. As I write this, I have open in front of me a book called Forgotten Ellis Island: The Extraordinary Story of America’s Immigrant Hospital by Lorie Conway. (Smithsonian Books). Lorie’s book is dedicated to her son Max “whose great-grandfather Edward Conway immigrated to American in 1900 at the age of 18. Arriving at Ellis Island from Ballina, Ireland, he had two dollars in his pocket.”

Opposite the dedication is a full page photo of the nurses and doctors who staffed the Ellis Island Hospital – many Irish faces among them. Another photo shows a young patient on the steps of the hospital with nurse Jennie Colligan, who went by the nickname “Mother.”  I’m only on page 40 of this 200-page book when the tears come. “I think the worst memory I have of Ellis Island was the physical because the doctors were seated at a long table with a basin full of potassium chloride and you had to stand in front of them….And you had to reveal yourself…. Right there in front of everyone, I mean, it wasn’t private! It’s a very unpleasant memory,” remembers one Irish immigrant. “We went to this big, open room, and there were a couple of doctors there, and they tell you, ‘Strip.’ And my mother had never, ever undressed in front of us. In those days nobody would. She was so embarrassed…”  recalls an immigrant from Wales. Page 37 shows a photograph of a dozen young men with a chalk mark X on their coats identifying them for further medical and mental testing. The X usually signaled the beginning of deportation proceedings.

The book has many never-before-published photographs and stories from patients and medical staff. We learn that “Often times a child with tracoma would be denied entry, requiring one of the parents to [return home] with it. The mother and the rest of the children would have to return to Europe with the diseased one, and until the boat sailed, the father, wretched and unhappy, would haunt the detention quarters, while his family kept up a constant wailing and crying.”

Since burial was not permitted on Ellis Island, many immigrants who never made it out of the hospital were buried in paupers’ graves in cemeteries around New York City. As one record noted: “Received from the chief Medical Officer, the following property of Edward Moran, age 55 years, admitted to the hospital, Feb. 14, 1928 and died in this institution Feb. 18, 1928: 1 hat, 1 pair shoes, 1 gray suit, 1 white shirt, 1 pair socks, 1 pair garters, 1 union suit, 1 belt, 1 overcoat, 1 pair gloves, 1 watch, keys, rosary beads, $23.15.”

As tough as it was there was also  much kindness. Rev. Grogan, Catholic chaplain at Ellis Island 1900-1923, wrote: “I have been in daily contact with the doctors and nurses and can testify to the kindness and care that the patients receive at their hands. It is not generally known that the hospital physicians and surgeons often call in specialists from the city in doubtful and obstinate cases.”

Reluctantly, I put the book aside and get back to the business of editing the Business 100 bios and profiles. They are an impressive bunch, and as usual when I work on our Top 100 list I’m struck by the incredible success these descendants of Irish immigrants have achieved. Some have ancestors who went through Ellis Island, others come from families who migrated even earlier, landing in Boston Harbor and New Orleans. And a couple of our honorees are latter-day immigrants who left Ireland in the last 10 to 20 years before the Celtic Tiger economy took hold. I’m especially struck by the story of Sean Conlon, an Irish immigrant who at 20 started life in the U.S. working for a cousin who felt he would make a great janitor. At 38, Conlon is now one of the biggest property developers in Chicago.By holding on to the ideal that “you could be anything you wanted to be in America,” Conlon achieved his American dream, as did that immigrant of the last century, Edward Conway, who by 1915, at age 33, owned a home for his family. And so we dedicate this issue to a country where dreams can still come true. And as we pay tribute to those on our Business 100 list we put forth the hope that today’s immigrants, Irish and otherwise, who languish on the sidelines waiting for proper documentation, will eventually get through the process and have a shot at keeping the American dream alive.

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A Letter to the Editor: Mission Possible Tue, 01 Jan 2008 11:58:04 +0000 Read more..]]> I felt compelled to write you and say thank you for unintentionally helping my family. Because you put a group of wonderful people in the same room (for the awards ceremony of your “Top 100 Best & Brightest”) our lives have forever been changed. Let me explain:

My husband John is a 15-year Army veteran who was severely injured on January 5, 2006, while on patrol on Taji, Iraq. John was driving an up-armored Humvee when an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) was command detonated (by someone actually pushing a button) directly under him. He sustained multiple life-threatening injuries, but due to the amazing emergency medical care he received from his fellow soldiers, he survived – only to begin an extremely long road of recovery.

Both of John’s legs were crushed, his left arm sustained two open fractures, his ring finger was severed, he fractured a vertebra in his neck, had contusions to his lungs, a lacerated liver, shrapnel to his eyes, face and torso, and multiple burns.

John has had approximately fifty surgeries to date and is in need of several more. His right leg has been amputated, and he has been in a constant battle to save his left one.
He was in an external fixator for 10 months but due to the extensive damage he required several more surgeries – all attempting to help him regain use of his foot and ankle.

That’s where you come in! Because you saw fit to put so many wonderful Irish-Americans together in one room, we are getting the help we have been in dire need of.
Three of your Top 100 who are very dear to us were honored at your Awards ceremony: John Melia, Flip Mullen, and Dr. John Kennedy. John Melia is the Founder of Wounded Warrior Project and he works with Flip Mullen every year for the summer water sports event that takes place for the Wounded Warriors in Rockaway, New York. As they were all sitting there listening to you talk of Dr. Kennedy’s, Flip’s, and John’s many accomplishments, something magical happened. Through an amazing chain of events, Flip and Dr. Kennedy ended up discussing the care of the Wounded Warriors. You see, we have been at Walter Reed Army Medical Center undergoing care for John’s injuries for nearly two years now and our care has been nothing short of excellent. (Just seeing John ride a bike or water skiing tells you all you need to know about the standard of care at this amazing facility.) But we had hit a plateau with John’s improvement and we wanted a “fresh set of eyes” to take a look at his leg because he had been considering amputation. Somehow, through the grapevine, Flip heard of John’s difficult decision and called to inform us that he had facilitated a number of second opinions for soldiers in John’s predicament with Dr. Kennedy at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. He asked us if we would be interested in getting a second opinion before opting for amputation. Of course we would!

Needless to say, things are going well. We went to New York, stayed with Flip, got a ride to Dr. Kennedy’s office from a firehouse on 67th Street (Engine 39 Ladder 16 – thanks, guys!), and saw the amazing Dr. Kennedy! I was so very impressed – and because John has undergone approximately 50 surgeries, it’s not easy to impress me! Dr. Kennedy needed some more information to make his final decision so we came back to Walter Reed for more testing. The test results all looked good and we are scheduled for a surgery that should increase John’s function and simultaneously decrease his pain! We are more than excited to get this done.

At a time in the world when it seems that so few people care – or even know – about the suffering that is happening to so many of our “war wounded,” it was a blessing to meet such a wonderful group pf people. We are forever in your debt for putting these amazing people under the same roof, which made this all possible. John is the fourth or fifth soldier Dr. Kennedy had helped and he is doing so out of the kindness of his heart – there is no money in it for him and he’s every bit the amazing man you at Irish America magazine thought him to be. Flip has been helping Wounded Warriors for years and will never understand how much what he does means to the lives of the families he touches. Our family will never be able to thank him enough for all he’s done. I only hope this letter expresses the deep gratitude John and I feel toward all those involved: John Melia, Flip Mullen, all the guys of Engine 39 Ladder 16 on 67th Street, Dr. Kennedy, and last but definitely not least, Irish America magazine! Thank you all from the bottom of our hearts.

SSG John, Mollie, Brittany and Xander Borders
Silver Spring, Maryland

Editor’s Note: We are delighted to be part of such a wonderful story, and we are sure that the spirit of Mollie’s Irish immigrant great-grandmother, Mollie Mullens, is at work here also. As we go to press Dr. Kennedy has just operated on another soldier, 25-year-old Army Capt. Brian Jantzen (his fifth soldier to date). He is hopeful that he can save Capt. Jantzen’s right leg which was injured in Iraq.

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A Window on the Past Tue, 01 Jan 2008 11:57:41 +0000 Read more..]]> This book is lovingly dedicated to my son, Max George, whose great-grand-father Edward Conway immigrated to America in 1900 at the age of 18. Arriving at Ellis Island from Ballina, Ireland, he had two dollars in his pocket and listed his occupation as “laborer.” By 1915, he was already living the American dream – he had a family, owned a home, and in one photo, a derby hat sits jauntily on his head, his Irish eyes smiling as if he had not a care in the world. May my son Max fulfill his own dream, wherever that may lead.  
– Lorie Conway dedicating her book Forgotten Ellis Island to her son.

For nearly a century the shadowy image of New York’s Ellis Island has represented the long journey undertaken by many who went on to become American citizens. For others, however, the dream of a new beginning ended with the physical and mental screenings they were subjected to upon landing at the processing station. Many were deported back to their places of  origin on the grounds that they were too sick or weak to become productive Americans. Others were deported because flawed psychiatric testing identified them as “feebleminded.” But a larger number were nursed to health by the dedicated medical staff at the Immigrant Hospital and allowed entry.

In a new book, Forgotten Ellis Island, Lorie Conway writes the first ever history of the Ellis Island hospital, the state-of-the-art complex which served as the nation’s first line of defense against immigrant-borne diseases such as typhus and cholera.  Conway, an award-winning writer and independent film producer, intertwines the history of the hospital with personal stories of the ailing, as well as the shifting political climate that changed the standards of immigration. She includes recent interviews with those who passed through the hospital as children and recall their experience as patients. In addition, excerpts from the oral histories of ward matrons, doctors, nurses and patients, and never-before-published photographs, add to the story.

Conway’s work on Forgotten Ellis Island, published by Smithsonian Books, was supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and includes a soon-to-be-released documentary film. The accompanying website for this book can be found at

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The Save Tara Campaign Tue, 01 Jan 2008 11:56:52 +0000 Read more..]]> The harp that once through Tara’s halls
The soul of music shed,
Now hangs as mute on Tara’s walls
As if that soul were fled.
– Thomas Moore

The Save Tara Campaign spread its wings to New York City and the steps of the Irish Consulate on Park Avenue on September 22 when a group of Irish artists gathered to protest the building of a motorway, approved by the Irish government in 2003, to run between the Hill of Tara (the historical seat of Ireland’s High Kings), and the Hill of Skryne, in County Meath (north of Dublin). The motorway will run through a complex of archaeological sites associated with the Hill of Tara, which were placed on the World Monuments Fund’s list of 100 Most Endangered Sites in June 2007.

The New York event included piper Jerry Dixon; Strings of Tara, a group of seven women harpists who played “Brian Boru’s March” (Boru was the last of Ireland’s High Kings), and host Susan McKeown, who sang “Mise Éire” (I am Ireland), a Pádraic Pearse poem set to music. “Mise Éire” includes the words: “Great my glory; I who bore Cú Chulainn the valiant; Great my shame, my own children that sold their mother.” New York musicians Isaac Alderson, James Riley and Keith O’Neill performed a virtuoso set of tunes that had a neighboring construction crew rocking, and various speakers including Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon spoke of the spiritual need to preserve Tara.

Meanwhile, in Ireland, a simultaneous event was held, and a huge crowd gathered to form a human harp on Tara. Muireann Ni Bhrolcháin who heads the Save Tara Campaign in Ireland, said she was heartened by the turnout. “The support for the campaign is growing — this was clearly demonstrated at the recent equinox event when 1,500 people gathered to form a huge human harp on Tara for the international artist John Quigley.” Ni Bhrolcháin went on to say, “With climate change a frightening reality, it is madness to persist in building motorways instead of public transport.”

To lend your support to the campaign to save Tara check out ( and

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Irish Man Builds Houses for Homeless in South Africa Tue, 01 Jan 2008 11:56:46 +0000 Read more..]]> New York, September 24, 2007: Irish philanthropist, Niall Mellon, unveiled plans to build the world’s first not-for-profit housing super-factory in South Africa in response to the inability of traditional methods of house construction to keep pace with the growth of homelessness among the Developing World’s poor. The Irishman’s radical plans to build the first such factory near Cape Town got the backing of Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the South African Government which donated the site for its construction.

Mellon unveiled the Trust’s plans in a media briefing at the office of The American Ireland Fund (AIF) in New York, where earlier he addressed a meeting of Irish-American donors in the presence of Archbishop Tutu. Giving the plan his strongest public endorsement, the Archbishop said “This bold initiative is the kind of solution we need in South Africa and elsewhere in the world where homelessness if the root cause of endemic poverty.”

President of AIF, Kieran McLoughlin said “Niall Mellon’s pioneering project underlines the contribution that modern Irish philanthropy is capable of making at a
global level. It is tremendous to see a new generation of successful Irish business people embracing the culture of philanthropy which is one of America’s greatest exports. It also reflects an unbroken tradition in Ireland of giving to the Developing World.”

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A Celebration of Grace Kelly Tue, 01 Jan 2008 11:55:44 +0000 Read more..]]> The Irish flag flew over Sotheby’s on October 15, 2007 when the  exhibit “Grace, Princess of Monaco: A Tribute to the Life and Legacy of Grace Kelly” opened as part of a ten-day “Celebration of Grace” in New York marking the 25th anniversary of her sad passing on September 14, 1982. The tricolor was most appropriate because both the New York exhibit and “The Grace Kelly Years,” an amazingly complete retrospective mounted at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco this summer, left no doubt as to Grace Patricia Kelly’s pride in her heritage as expressed in both her public and private life. And it’s she herself who speaks, through the souvenirs of a lifetime. Grace Kelly saved everything. Here’s her scrapbook from age eleven with a script from Don’t Feed The Animals performed at a local community center, which she labels “my first part.”  Carefully pasted on another page is the Kelly Christmas card in which the face of an even younger Grace is superimposed on a drawing of a colleen. The greeting reads:

Gracie put the kettle on
Gracie put the toast on
Gracie put the sugar on
The Kellys want their tea.

She preserved her baptismal certificate from St. Bridget’s Church, Philadelphia and an invitation to the marriage of her parents, Margaret Katherine Majer and John Brendan Kelly at the same church. In the wedding picture her father wears a morning suit, a top hat and a big smile.

He seems to be enjoying the success he has achieved – he was a man who laid bricks himself before making Kelly Brickworks a hugely successful construction company. The Monte Carlo exhibit presented a 20-foot brick wall replica of the yard, and in New York the “Kelly for Brickworks” tee-shirt got pride of place. The Kelly crest with its rampant lions, tower and the motto “Turris Fortis Mihi Deus” – God is my Tower of Strength – is displayed as well as the Kelly Family Champagne Toast:

So children dear, while we are here
Let’s drink a little toast
The world is at your fingertips
So make the very most.

This juxtaposition reveals something  about the character of Irish immigrants  like Grace Kelly’s grandfather John Henry Kelly.  He came to Philadelphia in 1869 from an Ireland shattered by starvation and oppression and yet managed not only to survive, but to imbue his son with the conviction that the world can be at your fingertips. Perhaps Princess Grace was thinking of him and her grandmother, Mary Costello, when she composed her speech accepting the position of International Chair of the Irish-American Cultural Institute in Dublin in 1973. The hand-written draft reads “I think it was the Institute motto – ‘Not ancestor worship but filial gratitude’ – that attracted me first and I am very proud to join in the effort to spread knowledge of the history of Ireland as well as the many valuable contributions to both the old and new world made by Ireland’s sons and daughters. It is a rich heritage and one we all treasure – and it is my sincere hope to be long associated with you in this common endeavor to offer our children and friends whatever gifts we can cull from the nobility of the lives of a great people.”

She preserved some of this “rich heritage” through the collection of Irish books and manuscripts in the Princess Grace Library and affirmed her personal connection in June 1961 when she visited Ireland, returning to her ancestral Mayo where she would buy a house.

On this trip she wore vivid green – Givenchy designed – and chose the same suit for lunch at the White House with President John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy earlier that year – an elegant way to “wrap the green flag round me.” This suit was selected by her son and daughters to be auctioned at the 25th Anniversary Princess Grace Awards Gala along with the Helen Rose ball-gown from High Society.

The proceeds will benefit the foundation  she created which presents fellowships to artists in theater, dance and film to “support continued excellence” in the arts.
The exhibit provides a bounty of film clips, pictures, costumes and correspondence from her five years in Hollywood during which she starred in ten movies and won an Academy Award for her performance in The Country Girl. We still enjoy films such as To Catch a Thief, Rear Window, Dial M for Murder, High Noon (salary $750 according to the contract displayed). “True Love,” the duet she sang with Bing Crosby in High Society, earned a gold record.

We’re taken behind the scenes too. There’s a note from Cary Grant: “Delighted you are here dear Grace. It will cheer up the whole town. Me too.”

And from Mr. and Mrs. Frank Sinatra: “Thank you for your warm wishes and prayers. Prayers were answered.”

The portrayal of the Monaco years also combines glamour and intimacy.

We see The Wedding from every angle and get a close look at her gowns and jewels. But also displayed in the exhibition is a poem from a seven-year-old Princess Stephanie for her mother’s birthday that starts:

I love you Mother
When I was one
I had just begun.
I love you Mother
When I was two
And nearly new.

The photographs with her children clearly show her love for them and the good times they had together. In several photographs Grace is wearing her Claddagh ring. On her first trip to Ireland, President Eamon de Valera offered to send four-year-old Princess Caroline a pony. In a gesture that would be appreciated by any child ever promised a pony, which is probably every child, Princess Grace followed up with a letter enquiring about the pony’s whereabouts. In a letter dated December 1961, President de Valera replied, telling the Princess that the pony would be leaving for Monaco the first week of January.  He explained it took some time for the National Stud to secure a suitable one and make arrangements for transportation.

In a February 1962 letter, President de Valera says he’s “very glad to know that ‘Babbling Brook’ is giving satisfaction, and that your daughter is pleased with her.” He adds, “I was delighted to get the Princess’s letter, which I have shown to my wife.”

In a famous photograph, Grace Kelly looks at President John F. Kennedy (see page 85). Here are two people who embodied so much for Irish America.

Sad that neither reached an age when outside burdens lift and the inner person emerges. This exhibit, arranged by the Consulate of Monaco, the Princely Palace, the Princess Grace Foundation-USA, Van Cleef and Arpels is expected to travel to other cities in the U.S. It’s well worth a visit as it reveals how firmly the girl who became Hollywood star, fashion icon and Grace, Princess of Monaco, held on to her Irish-American identity in ways not seen before.

Gracie, we hardly knew you.

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Irish Eye on Hollywood Tue, 01 Jan 2008 11:54:17 +0000 Read more..]]> The Irish and boxing are longtime Hollywood staples, from John Wayne as the reluctant slugger in The Quiet Man right up to Russell Crowe in Cinderella Man and Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby. In December, a Cork-born writer-director and quirky American actor are going to take their shot at the genre with Strength and Honor. Buzz on the film is solid. True, one gossip web site said the film combines a couple of genres – the “poor and miserable Irish people movie and the boxing movie,” but Strength and Honor (written and directed by Mark Mahon) did win Best Picture and Best Actor at the recent Boston Film Festival. It was the first time a single movie nabbed these two awards. Strength and Honor is about an Irish-American boxer (Michael Madsen, best known for his psycho ear-chopping role in Reservoir Dogs), who may have to break a promise he made to his wife when he finds out his son is dying.

The wife, by the way, is also dead. So, yes, it appears this movie is heavy on the Irish trauma.  It also explores the underground world of Irish travelers and their penchant for bare-knuckle boxing.

Strength and Honor was filmed in Mahon’s native Cork last year and also stars Patrick Bergin, Richard Chamberlain and Vinnie Jones.

After his triumph at the Boston Film fest, Mahon said: “To win top awards at such a prestigious festival is surreal – competition was fierce this year with a large number of high profile titles competing. We’re absolutely ecstatic that Michael Madsen won for his superb lead performance.”

Meanwhile, the Irish ring chronicles continue with buzz building about a Brad Pitt-Mark Wahlberg pairing. The dynamic duo is slated to star in The Fighter, a film based on the life of “Irish” Mickey Ward.

Pitt is expected to play Ward’s half-brother Dickie Eklund, a tough boxer in his own right, who pushed Ward to the top of the fight game.

Critically-acclaimed director Darren Aronofsky (The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream) is shooting the movie. In recent interviews, Wahlberg has said he idolized Irish Mickey Ward while growing up in working-class Dorchester, Massachusetts. Ward grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts.

“Mickey Ward was, in my opinion, one of the greatest champions of all time, and the biggest heart that ever stepped into the ring,” Wahlberg recently said. “I am committed to making him proud, and I know that Brad feels the same way about portraying his brother Dickie. We are going to make it real.” The Fighter is slated for release in 2009.

It’s not exactly a happy holiday film, but Daniel Day-Lewis’ epic There Will Be Blood is set for release the day after Christmas. Directed by hip auteur Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love), the movie is based on a novel by muckraker Upton Sinclair and looks at corruption following the discovery of oil in Texas. Oil? Corruption? Texas? It’s safe to say a few reviewers are going to see echoes of the present day in this historical movie.

Colin Farrell will star alongside Ewan McGregor in Woody Allen’s next movie Cassandra’s Dream, due for release in late November. In yet another British-set movie for the New York directing legend, Cassandra’s Dream follows English brothers lured into a life of crime.

The movie “is simply a story of some very nice young people who get caught up because of their weaknesses and ambitions in a tragic situation,” Allen said after the film premiered at the Venice film festival. “They mean well. They were raised decently, but it turns out that their own events and own actions bring them to a tragic demise at the end of the movie.”

Initial reviews of the movie are not very inspiring. Word is that both Farrell and McGregor sport accents reminiscent of Dick Van Dyke’s in Mary Poppins, while The Independent newspaper in Britain said, “To many critics, it seemed feeble and dispiriting fare – the work of an old master in decline.”

The Oscars will not be held until February 2008 but the Irish film community is already making cinematic history.

The Irish movie Kings, starring Colm Meaney, Brendan Conroy and Donal O’Kelly, has become the first movie from Ireland to be submitted to the Oscars for consideration as top film in a foreign language.

Written and directed by Tom Collins, Kings explores a group of Irish-speaking men who leave the west of Ireland for London in the 1970s. They are so filled with hopes and dreams, they believe they can someday be “kings.”

The men meet up 30 years later when one of their pals dies. “I know it’s always dangerous to have messages in films, but I hope people will watch Kings and empathize with the whole experience of emigrants in a foreign land and how hard it is for them to find their way home,” director Tom Collins said. “This is a universal story – it’s not just about paddies.” Kings was shot in Belfast, London and Dublin last year.

“Kings is a powerful and moving story that transcends its native language and can communicate universally with its raw and honest storyline,” Aine Moriarty, CEO of The Irish Film and Television Academy, recently said.

Each year, the Academy Awards accept one foreign language film from eligible nations. The five finalists will be announced in January.

Speaking of Colm Meaney, he will join fellow Irish actor Jason O’Mara on the ABC TV show Life on Mars. The show is a remake of a BBC show based on a time-traveling cop. Look for it mid-season on ABC.

Actor Paddy Considine cemented his reputation with Irish film fans in Jim Sheridan’s New York immigrant tale In America. He’s also appeared in blockbusters such as The Bourne Ultimatum. Now, Considine says his own Irish Catholic background (his dad was born in Limerick) has inspired him to make his own short film Dog Altogether. The film is a loosely biographical look at Considine’s dad, who in the film is played by Scotsman Peter Mullan.

The film had its world premiere earlier this year in Edinburgh and looks at Irish immigrants living in Britain. Considine recently said: “Within an Irish Catholic background often you do inherit a sense of guilt even though I’m not practicing. Sometimes you think of things you have done and want forgiveness. You think – ‘I did something wrong and I should be punished.’ I suppose that’s inherent in me and the film.”

The plight of immigrants is also at the center of The Visitor, the latest movie from Irish-American director Tom McCarthy, best known for his indy smash The Station Agent starring Javier Bardem.

In his latest work, which generated lots of buzz at the Toronto International Film Festival, a widowed and weary college professor (Richard Jenkins) drives to New York City for an academic conference, and finds an immigrant husband and wife squatting in his vacant apartment.

McCarthy said his own immigrant past led him to ponder the difficulties of life as an immigrant in America today.  “Our new Ellis Island is our detention centers,” McCarthy said.

A slew of movies with Irish themes and talent hit theaters in September and October, so if you missed them, you should make an effort to nab them now that they are coming out on DVD.

First there was the new George Clooney movie, Michael Clayton, in which the hunk Clooney plays a “fixer” for a powerful law firm. The movie makes a lot of Clayton’s Irish-American background.  His dad is a retired cop, and there is a strong tradition of civil service work in the Clayton clan. It’s even implied that Michael’s work for the elite is somehow a betrayal of his upbringing.

Also look for Terry George’s latest writing/directing work, a dead-child weepy starring Joaquin Phoenix and Jennifer Connolly called Reservation Road.
Another dead child pops up on the mean Irish streets surrounding Boston in Ben Affleck’s directorial debut Gone Baby Gone, based on a novel by the master of Irish- American suspense Dennis Lehane.

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Darina Allen: Simply Delicious Tue, 01 Jan 2008 11:52:02 +0000 Read more..]]> Irish chef, TV personality and founder of Ballymaloe Cookery School, Darina Allen’s enthusiasm for food has brought the Allen family to prominence and made her a true celebrity in Ireland. But it all started with her mother-in-law, Myrtle.

Irish cuisine… Now there’s a thought.  But is it an appetizing one?  Traditionally, it conjures an image of the once ubiquitous bacon and cabbage, served with the requisite bowl of boiled potatoes.

You are bound to have encountered such unimaginative fare on previous trips to Ireland.  After all, it’s renowned as a country that has little or no food culture of its own.
Until now, that is. In recent years, the Irish attitude to food and cooking has begun to change.  And much of this is due to the passion and commitment of one particular family.

The Allen family of Ballymaloe House and Cookery School in East Cork have almost single-handedly revolutionized the food culture of Ireland. Myrtle, its 80-year-old matriarch, has been its driving force.

To this day, Myrtle supervises the running of her renowned guesthouse and restaurant, from where she has reshaped the values of Irish cooking.  She is helped by her six children and their partners, one of whom is Darina Allen, her formidable daughter-in-law who runs an internationally-acclaimed cookery school in which she teaches the values she learned from Myrtle to the world.

Myrtle and Darina make quite a team. Both are impassioned advocates of Irish cooking and food. “I love a good Irish stew,” says Myrtle, with gusto. “Then there’s brown yeast bread, an Irish breakfast, good floury potatoes, apple tarts… All of these are good things.”

Darina is just as keen to suggest some favorites of her own. “I’m so fickle and it all depends on the season,” she says. “I love the first rhubarb tart of the year, fresh strawberries in the summer, fresh mackerel, damson jam and of course Irish stew with young lamb, floury potatoes, new season carrots and onions.  What could be better?”

Indeed it’s this enthusiasm for food that has brought the Allen family to prominence.  What started with Myrtle has been passed down to Darina and others in the family.  It has resulted in several generations of the Allen family working on a national – and sometimes international – scale to promote Irish food and to revitalize the food culture of Ireland both at home and abroad.

It all began when Myrtle and her husband Ivan bought Ballymaloe House and Farm in 1947. At that stage, the now charming property which retains such architectural features as a 15th-century Norman tower and is surrounded by carefully tended farmland, was suffering from years of neglect.

“We wanted to farm and that’s what we started to do,” says Myrtle. While Ivan was busy farming the land, Myrtle was preoccupied with looking after the couple’s growing family – a task that included cooking.

“I’ve always cooked,” she says. “If you can’t cook, you can’t eat.  The food on my table has always been the food of the farm, based on the local produce and what we could grow ourselves.”

Through a combination of talent and trial and inevitable error, Myrtle became a good cook.  She began to establish a reputation for it and was eventually encouraged to set up what would become a world-famous restaurant in her home.

She is modest about this achievement. She claims that she would never have become a cook had there not been an element of necessity – “we needed the extra money” – and credits the success of her dishes with the quality of her ingredients.

“I had such good raw materials, what with my husband growing such marvelous produce on the farm,” she says.  “And I also had a gourmet husband who appreciated good food. That encouraged me to improve my cooking.”

Improve it did, and more and more people began to frequent her restaurant.  This attracted the attention of The Irish Farmers’ Journal, a weekly newspaper that had a wide readership at the time.

“They asked me to write a weekly column and it was this that really crystallized my attitude to food,” Myrtle recalls. The task kept her busy testing recipes and led to her defining her personal food philosophy.

“My attitude to food comes from living in the countryside,” she explains. “I was the first person [in Ireland] to write about cooking on a farm using seasonal ingredients. Whether it’s blackcurrants, rhubarb or carrots; there’s always a glut of something that needs to be used in the countryside.”

Myrtle was several decades ahead of her time.  Her seasonal approach had always been a tradition in the countryside but 1950s Ireland had already been seduced by the concept of processed, year-round ingredients.  It’s a trend that has only really begun to reverse in recent years – long after Myrtle first suggested it.

She was also pioneering in other ways. She and her husband Ivan ran their farm in an organic fashion and were members of the English Soil Association from the outset.

“It was something we both believed in,” she says.

What with her newspaper column, her popular restaurant and several best-selling cookbooks, Myrtle Allen was beginning to make an impact on Irish eating habits. However, perhaps her most enduring legacy was to be the effect she had on members of her own family.

“I’ve got six children and they all grew up around food,” she says. “Today, all of them and their partners work with food.”

The most famous of these partners is Darina, known to many Americans from her regular appearances on TV food programs. Darina’s first foray into the world of professional food production came in Myrtle’s kitchens in Ballymaloe.

As a young chef who had been raised on a farm, she wanted to cook in a traditional way that prioritized seasonal and local food. When she married Tim Allen, she found in Myrtle a culinary mentor.

“She was somebody whose philosophy I could immediately identify with,” remembers Darina.  “She was serving parsnips, turnips, carrageen moss and tender spears of rhubarb at a time when they would have been considered far too humble for most restaurant menus. The confidence she had in her own local produce, used in season at its best, was an inspiration.”

The pair worked together in the restaurant at Ballymaloe House, where they continued to convert diners to the potential of Irish food. Darina, like her mother-in-law, fervently believed in the quality of Irish produce and she started to attract a following of her own.

She was asked to present cookery shows on RTE (Ireland’s main television channel), began publishing cookery books and was soon traveling the world spreading the good news about Irish food. Her international excursions included planning the menu for the New York St. Patrick’s Day Ball and giving cookery demonstrations in Macy’s.

She also found the time to start up her own cookery school – with her mother-in-law’s help of course. “We started out in 1983, teaching afternoon classes to about nine students,” recalls Darina. “I’m glad we started small because it gave us the chance to find out what we really wanted to do with the school.”

And what she created was something truly unique – a school that attracts students and chefs from all over the globe who come to cook using produce from the surrounding farm and the local food-producing community: fruit, vegetables, herbs, eggs, home-cured hams, beef, lamb, artisan cheeses and much more.

“I think what makes us so special is that we are a cookery school in the middle of an organic farm,” says Darina. “Most of what we use is our own produce or locally sourced. Our students regain a sense of connection to their food. They can help out in the garden, feed the hens, milk the cows, butcher the animals – it all adds an extra dimension.”

As well as reintroducing students to the source of their food, Darina also aims to teach them the importance of using top-quality ingredients. “That’s the main thing I want them to learn,” she insists. “Shopping (or sourcing your ingredients) is the most vital step of all. If you’ve got fresh, natural, local and seasonal food, all you need to do is cook it simply and it will taste wonderful. If you don’t have that, you’ll need to be a magician to make it taste good.”

This is an attitude Darina has also brought to bear on her cooking programs and in her cookbooks – which go under the title of Simply Delicious.  Simple food that is also delicious – there couldn’t be a more apt description.

Darina and Myrtle may have spearheaded the revolution in Irish cuisine but many more have followed.  This is a development that gives them cause for hope for the future.
“We have the climate and resources to grow the best food in the world,” says Darina, adamantly.  “We have wonderful soil and plenty of rain. We should try to produce real food that delivers on its promise of taste.  We have it and we should flaunt it.”

Darina is prepared to go even further than that. She admits that Irish cuisine may not be internationally respected but thinks this situation is unfair.  Instead, she maintains that Irish cooking may rank with the best in the world.

“So many people think we have no culinary tradition worth talking about,” she says.  “But there is far more to it than bacon and cabbage and Irish stew.”  She goes on to cite from a seemingly endless list of examples – countless potato dishes with infinite regional varieties, an encyclopedic range of breads and cakes, vegetable dishes – what she describes as “the sort of wholesome, comforting dishes that nourished our ancestors for generations and are just as delicious today.”

The Allen family believes wholeheartedly in the value and potential of Irish food. Darina and Myrtle have inspired the third generation in their family to follow in their culinary footsteps. Darina’s daughter-in-law Rachel is the latest Allen to have a cooking show of her own and unsurprisingly, she too promotes the use of locally sourced fresh food cooked simply and deliciously.

This is the sort of food that has always been served in Ballymaloe House and these are the sorts of dishes you can learn how to cook in the Ballymaloe Cookery School.  Over the years, many famous visitors have savored the taste of such delicacies. Hugh Grant, Liz Hurley, Jude Law, Sienna Miller and Lady Sarah Ferguson are just some of the celebrities who have sampled the fare.

Both Myrtle and Darina remain committed to the cause.  Myrtle continues to supervise the kitchens and the guesthouse.  “I need to be here just in case something happens,” this sprightly 80-year-old says.  Meanwhile Darina is kept busy running the cookery school.

Both are actively involved with small food producers, groups and organizations that promote the use of high-quality ingredients. Together, they continue a mission that started 60 years ago – a mission to bring the best Irish food and traditional Irish recipes to a wider and more appreciative audience.

So, have you rethought your idea of Irish cuisine?  You may still find bacon and cabbage on many menus but these days, it’s more likely to be home-cured bacon accompanied by locally grown cabbage, a tasty parsley sauce and the flouriest of organic potatoes.  And it’ll be up against the likes of mutton pies, freshly grilled mackerel and homemade scones with damson jam and cream.

You can thank Myrtle and Darina Allen and the many generations of cooks that went before them for such simple deliciousness.

For more information about the cookery school (where courses are held throughout the year and where afternoon demonstrations are held most days), visit

For more information about Ballymaloe House (restaurant and guesthouse), visit

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Mission Responsible: Fr. Séamus Finn Tue, 01 Jan 2008 11:51:05 +0000 Read more..]]> A past president of the board of ICCR, Fr. Séamus Finn currently serves on the executive committee of 3IG, which represents a post-9/11 coming together of the major world religions to participate in what is known as “socially responsible investing.” 

It isn’t easy getting face time with Séamus Finn. It’s not that he didn’t want to be interviewed for Irish America; in e-mail exchanges he was friendly and willing. Pinning him down to a time and place was the problem. This member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a missionary order of 5,000 priests and brothers in 60 countries, reckons he travels on average 125,000 miles a year, which means he’s rarely in any one place for very long. Earlier this year, however, a public policy conference at Harvard Law School created an opening. We could meet, he said, at the end of the day’s session and before he made a dash for a brief visit to his 94-year-old mother who lives north of Boston, after which he was heading to Indonesia. I imagined it would be easy to spot him in the crowd emerging from the conference room that afternoon: he’d be the one in black suit, white dog collar, eyes glazed with travel fatigue. In the end it was he who approached me, sporting an open-necked shirt, tweed jacket, and the broad smile of a man who clearly enjoys his life.

It’s his several roles that keep Reverend Finn on the move. He is director of the Oblate Order’s Justice, Peace & Integrity of Creation offices in Washington, and their representative at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) and at the International Interfaith Investment Group (3IG), two of the world’s leading faith-based investor organizations. His past accomplishments include his involvement with the shaping of the McBride Principles, developed to ensure fair labor practices in Ireland, and he’s the sort of person journalists turn to when they need background on the Tamil conflict in Sri Lanka, just one of many places he has an insider’s knowledge of.

“Some people have compared me to the tinkers back home,” Finn smilingly told me, revealing his origins, now obscured by his American accent, in the reference to Ireland’s subculture of traveling people. Born in Kanturk, Ireland, he moved with his family to Lowell, Mass., when he was 14 years old. He conveys the magnitude of this cultural shift by pointing out that the number of pupils at the Lowell High School where he was enrolled was twice the size of the entire population of Kanturk. His father, an auto mechanic, never really adjusted to life in the depressed former cotton manufacturing town, he says. His mother and the females in the family of seven proved more adaptable. Recalling memories of when he entered the priesthood, Finn smiles at the thought of the t-shirt with the words “Join the Oblates and see the world” that his father jokingly gave him, not knowing then the full extent of his son’s life of nonstop travel, only that as a missionary priest Séamus would see more of the world than his brother, Dan, a diocesan priest who has spent all his life in the Boston area.

In the 1970s, in an effort to end South Africa’s apartheid regime and concerned about the growing production of armaments by U.S. companies for the Vietnam War, Tim Smith, a Methodist minister, got together with a number of other faith-based investors to form the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. Today the New York-based ICCR is a coalition of 275 religious institutional investors representing over $100 billion in investments, which they have leveraged, Smith, its former director, has been quoted as saying, to “protect the environment, end sweatshops, guarantee equal employment, improve healthcare access for the poor and elderly, and build a more peaceful world.”

For the past twenty years Finn, who has a doctorate in social justice from Boston University, has engaged with governments on behalf of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate on public policy issues and with corporations on a wide range of human rights and environmental issues. A past president of the board of ICCR, Finn currently serves on the executive committee of the more recently formed 3IG, which represents a post-9/11 coming together of the major world religions to participate in what is known as “socially responsible investing.” It’s the obverse of the get-rich-quick approach – one that espouses ideas like keeping workers healthy and therefore productive, and keeping the environment cleaner and therefore more sustainable – and one to which religious organizations bring a special perspective, Finn argues. “There is a capricious, greed-driven side to human nature, and it’s clear that for some people the accumulation of wealth is the number one priority they have in terms of the meaning of their lives, and one has to be honest about that. And sometimes shareholders are not any different. They’re looking for the greatest return – that’s a feature of the system. The faith perspective says, Hold on a minute. Human beings are created in God’s image and likeness.” He elaborates further, “Our perspective is from biblical and Catholic social teaching and what our understanding of what the mission of the church is. We’re not interested in making money so that we’ll have it in five years to pay someone’s college tuition or because we want to buy a bigger house. I’m not saying those are bad, but we feel that we have a vocation to look at the longer view.”

While the Oblates may not be personally invested in a particular mining company in Bolivia with environmental issues, say, or a flower farm in Kenya whose employees are being exposed to pesticides, their mission centers close to such places make them accessible to Finn, and the information he gathers can be shared with ICCR or 3IG investors who do have a financial stake in these concerns. With bases all over the world, the Oblates have an unusually wide-lensed view of multinational corporations. “We have colleagues in Indonesia, Latin America, and in sixteen countries in Africa, and they wonder are they getting a fair shake; are any of these companies really interested in anything but making as much profit as they can.”

One of Finn’s frequent destinations is indeed Bolivia, where he has been participating in ongoing discussions between community leaders and mine owners about improved safety conditions for workers and the need to develop cleaner technologies to protect the surrounding environment. With the benefit of twenty years’ experience he knows that bringing about such changes is a “long, slow process.” But not an impossible one. After all, he says, “Reinvention is part of the story of capitalism.”

There is no radical agenda, no whiff of revolutionary ardor, about the methods of ICCR or 3IG. Divesting from a company that is engaging in poor practices is only ever a last resort. Instead, ICCR investors prefer to stay involved, leveraging their combined financial clout to induce change.  Finn explains, “We want to simply say that there are a number of things that should be included in the balance and some have to do with human rights. How do you treat your workers? How did you make this money? Was it fairly made or did you steal it? We want companies to count the environmental costs, the social costs, in their budgeting. Then I think you have a holistic system.”

The increased transparency of Nike’s operations and the promise of a sustainability report from Wal-Mart by summer of 2007 were some of the breakthroughs for ICCR that Finn pointed to when asked for some examples of past successes. “We’ve been asking Wal-Mart for the past eight or nine years. We’ve been saying we don’t think your business model is sustainable. It might demonstrate some short-term money but it’s not viable in the long run. You’re creating hostility, you’re creating enemies!”

When I checked on the status of the sustainability report at the end of the summer, Finn responded that it was still in draft form. At that point Wal-Mart had just released a reduced profits forecast. Was this proof, I asked, that they should have heeded ICCR’s warnings? Séamus’s circuitous response revealed that the world lost a fine politician when he chose the priesthood: “I think it is fair to say that these [reduced profits] should be attributed to a number of different causes; competition; China issues, etc. which would, I believe, fall under a sustainability report.”

In July this year the SEC sent ICCR and other investor groups scurrying into action when it announced that it was considering imposing restrictions on shareholders’ rights to sponsor advisory resolutions, the main tool investors use to draw attention to their concerns. If the past offers any clues, then chances are high that ICCR in collaboration with other interested bodies will succeed in skewering the proposal. In 1998 more than 300 socially responsible and other groups successfully joined forces to oppose a similar SEC plan to end the shareholder resolution process.

On the last occasion I contacted Séamus it was to get his response to the SEC proposal. He only had time to direct me to the topic on ICCR’s Web page. He was heading out the door to the airport, he said.

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