I am honored beyond belief to have been chosen for this award for two reasons. One it bears the name of the distinguished Nobel Peace Prize winner and fighter for Irish freedom Sean McBride. There is literally no one in Irish history that has done as much for Ireland and the world as Sean McBride and to receive an award in his name is truly a great honor. Second this award is given to me by my brother and sister Hibernians. I have been blessed by my membership in the Hibernians since my early years and have been proud to be and maintain my membership in Division III New York and I’m especially grateful for the presence of many of my Division III brothers and sisters here today.
The ancient order of Hibernians maintains a proud tradition of standing up and defending both God and country. In the 19th century the Hibernians were called into action by Arch Bishop John Hughes, to protect old St. Patrick’s Cathedral from the assault of nativist groups disturbed by the prospect of Catholic immigration into the United States. Even as late as last week Hibernians were asked by Cardinal Dolan to help maintain order in Madison Square Garden as the Pope ministered to his flock. From that very beginning until today Hibernians have been asked to provide service to their church and have responded with the dedication and skill that was expected of them as Irishmen and Irish women.
All of us here today were inspired and awed, by Pope Francis visit to the United States. There were many lessons that each of us took from that visit. Let me share with you two of those lessons.
Those of us that saw the interfaith service at Ground Zero truly understood Pope Francis message that people of goodwill no matter what their belief could unite in common bond for the common good. If ever dividing Irishmen and Irish women from each other made sense on the basis of their religious belief, and I believe it did not, the lesson today is even more profound that the partition of the Irish nation along religious lines was and continues to be an abomination. I am particularly proud of the Hibernians and their role in the peace process. As the only nation wide organization representing Irish America throughout the United States Hibernians were called upon by the Irish government and President Clinton to be supportive of the peace process. Hibernians in turn pressured the government to grant a visa to Gerry Adams which propelled that process that ultimately resulted in the Good Friday accords. Today as a result of the Hibernians and others of goodwill the ballot has replaced the bullet and no Irish mother need to go to sleep at night awaiting the dreaded knock on the door that her son has been killed in the troubles. Each of us here can be justly proud of our work in securing that peace and maintaining that peace as fragile as it might be. But let us not forget for one moment that our work is far from done for an Ireland divided will never be at real peace. Today we must rededicate ourselves to that proposition and never rest until the 32 counties of Ireland and the Irish people are reunited as a nation once again.
His Holiness also rejected the bigotry that would deny immigrants access to our shores Just as the Hibernians in the past rejected and fought against the know nothing bigotry of the 1850s so too, the Pope calls upon us all to reject that bigotry today. I am proud to be part of the effort to reform our unjust and unworkable immigration laws and am particularly proud that the Ancient Order Hibernians has been the leader in that effort. This year let us resolve that once and for all the signs that have been erected upon American shores * Irish need not apply * are ripped from their very foundations.
An honor such as this does not belong to one person. I receive this award acknowledging the many who are responsible for me being at this podium tonight. In particular the many families that I have been part of at the Emerald Isle immigration center whose dedicated staff and Board has enriched the lives of thousands of Irish immigrants. My family at O’Dwyer and Bernstein which has supported me all these years. My own family my brother Bill and sister Ellen, nieces nephews and cousins that are here tonight and who have always given true meaning to the word * Meatheal * that have been part of my very existence since birth. I also wanted to remember my cousin and partner Frank Durkan who deserved this honor and many more far more than I. My wife Marianna has been my partner for 50 years and is with us tonight as she has been at every step in my career.
Finally I accept this award in the name of Mary Agnes Rohan, my grandmother who left her home in County Galway at the turn of the last century. She left Ireland at the age of 16 years alone and without support – the oldest of four children literally driven from her home by the grinding poverty and near starvation that was the want of the Irish peasant under British subjugation. She came to this country and by dint of her hard work and that of her family made a new and successful life for succeeding generations. I stand here today because a lonely and frightened 16-year-old had the courage to leave her home and greet the lady in the harbor making a new life in a country that was far from welcoming.
I dedicate this award to her and the thousands of Mary Agnes and Maria’s before and since who have so enriched the fabric of our country. Hibernians can be justly proud that we continue to fight their cause.
Thank you again. I am truly grateful to you my brother and sister Hibernians for this great honor undeserved as it might be.
Go Raibh ma Agut