Obama attends funeral of ex-ambassador to Ireland

Owner of Pittsburgh Steelers Dan Rooney remembered as man of the people at service

Former US ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney, who died last week,  used his standing as the owner of the Steelers to help Barack Obama win over key blue-collar areas of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia during his 2008 presidential election victory. Photograph: Gene J. Puskar/AP

Former US ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney, who died last week, used his standing as the owner of the Steelers to help Barack Obama win over key blue-collar areas of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia during his 2008 presidential election victory. Photograph: Gene J. Puskar/AP

 

Former US ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney was remembered as a man of the people, a devoted public servant and an influential leader of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team during his funeral Mass on Tuesday.

Among those who attended the service in Pittsburgh were former US president Barack Obama, former US secretary of state John Kerry and a cast of current and former Steelers football players.

Mr Rooney, who died last week aged 84, used his standing as the owner of the Steelers to help Mr Obama win over key blue-collar areas of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia during his 2008 presidential election victory. Mr Rooney was appointed to serve as the US envoy to the Democratic president from 2009 to 2012.

In a eulogy, Mr Rooney’s son, Art Rooney II, said his father’s core values were “faith, family and football”.

He said in the case of his father he could add his love of Ireland to that.

Loved to talk to people

“The greatest invention for my dad was the cell phone,” he told mourners at St Paul Cathedral. “He loved to talk to people on the phone and hated to miss a call.”

Art Rooney II told the cathedral of the time his sister Joan was born in 1968. His dad went to the hospital for the birth, then went to the office and fired Steelers coach Bill Austin.

Mr Rooney lived a “very long and good life . . . this wonderful story of a wonderful man,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl said during his homily.

The cardinal spoke of Mr Rooney’s involvement in starting The Ireland Funds, and of the businessman’s vision for a peaceful Ireland and his support for integrated education for young Catholic and Protestant children in Northern Ireland.

One of Mr Rooney’s lasting legacies is the creation of the “Rooney Rule”, which requires NFL teams interview minority candidates for head coaching jobs.

In 1976, Mr Rooney and Irish businessman Sir Anthony O’Reilly, then a senior executive at food group Heinz, established the Ireland Funds in Pittsburgh to raise money aimed at promoting peace and reconciliation in Ireland from Irish Americans who wanted to help Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

The charity helped draw money away from the republican movement which was raising funds at the time through Noraid in the US.

The Ireland Funds, which marked its 40th anniversary last year, has raised more than $550 million (€519 million) in 12 countries for more than 3,000 non-profit groups in Ireland and elsewhere.

Among the Irish in attendance were Ireland’s ambassador in Washington Anne Anderson, hotelier John Fitzpatrick and Kieran McLoughlin, chairman and chief executive of The Ireland Funds, the charity Mr Rooney helped co-found 41 years ago, and Peter McKenna, stadium director of Croke Park.