Awards salute 'sacrifice' of diaspora
The first annual Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad, while a bit of a mouthful, was an uplifting event held yesterday in Áras an Uachtaráin, celebrating the very best of the Irish diaspora. Actor Gabriel Byrne, who was on the guest list, didn’t attend the ceremony but it felt like the kind of gathering of which even he might have approved.
Speaking to guests, made up mostly of family and friends of recipients, President Michael D Higgins said our new awards system allowed the State to formally recognise and honour “the sacrifice, support and commitment to Ireland of the wider Irish diaspora in all its diversity”.
While some recipients were well-known names such as philanthropist Chuck Feeney or the late Australian rules footballer and charity worker Jim Stynes, others were less known.
Boston-based nun and campaigner on immigration law Sr Lena Deevy from Crettyard, Co Laois, spoke of her mix of “great excitement and deep humility” on accepting the award. She was one of 10 people honoured at the ceremony attended by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, former president Mary Robinson and Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams.
“You just do the work that needs to be done. You don’t expect to get awards but it is an affirmation of what you do so that’s very nice,” said Sr Lena, a Harvard graduate and member of the Little Sisters of the Assumption order .
The awards, managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, are divided into five categories and open to people with Irish links who live outside Ireland.
The work of Ottawa-based publican, leading member of the Irish community and founder of the Ottawa Gaels GAA club, Pat Kelly, was recognised under the Arts, Sports and Culture category. This group also included French author and academic Pierre Joannon, who was honoured for his commitment to strengthening Franco-Irish relations.
Dublin-born Australian Rules footballer the late Jim Stynes also received an award in this category. His wife, Sam Stynes, accepted it on his behalf. “I’m very proud of him, but it’s a sad day too because he’s not here,” she said afterwards.
An award for Irish Community Support was presented to British-based community worker Sally Mulready.
In her citation, emcee for the event RTÉ’s Olivia O’Leary said Ms Mulready was “a tireless ambassador for the vulnerable Irish in Britain”.
Campaigner for Magdalenes
She is a founder of the Irish Women’s Survivors’ Network, a director of the Irish Elderly Advice Network, and a campaigner for former residents of the Magdalene laundries.