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.

“Networker and mentor” for many Irish groups in Britain Andy Rogers was honoured in the Business and Education category. He is a founding board member of the Irish International Business Network and was chairman of the Irish Community Group for the London Olympic Games.

Zambia-based campaigner on HIV and Aids Fr Michael Kelly from Tullamore, Co Offaly, received his award for Peace, Reconciliation and Development.

Chairwoman of the American Ireland Fund Loretta Brennan Glucksman was also honoured for her philanthropy and “vital role” in the pursuit of peace in this country.

Two recipients could not attend. These were former head of Coca-Cola Donald Keough, and Irish-American philanthropist Chuck Feeney.

Recipients Distinguished Service Award

PAT KELLYFounding member of the Canadian County Board in 1987. He has lived in Ottawa since the 1970s and has been closely involved with various Irish organisations in Canada, including the GAA.

PIERRE JOANNONAuthor of the only French biographies of Michael Collins and John Hume. He has written essays on Irish nationalism. In 1990 he founded and chaired the Ireland Fund of France.

JIM STYNES, who was given the award posthumously, joined Melbourne AFL club in 1987 and became the first international player to win the sport’s highest honour, the Brownlow Medal, in 1991.

ANDY ROGERSChairman of the European Marketing group, formerly of Bank of Ireland and principal of Rogers Associates Ltd, a consultancy group providing advice to many European companies.

DONALD KEOUGHChairman emeritus of the board of trustees and a life trustee of the University of Notre Dame. Honorary Irish citizenship in 2007 and honorary doctorates from Notre Dame and Trinity.

CHUCK FEENEYIrish- American businessman and philanthropist and founder of Atlantic Philanthropies, one of the largest private foundations in the world. Has donated about $1bn to education in Ireland.

SALLY MULREADYMember of the Irish Council of State, appointed by the President for her many decades of work for the Irish community in Britain. Director of the Irish Elderly Advice Network in London.

SR LENA DEEVYFrom Laois, she is executive director of the Boston Irish Immigration Centre. With Little Sisters of the Assumption for over 30 years. Now chair of Advisory Council on Refugees and Immigrants.

FR MICHAEL KELLYWent to Zambia in 1961 and worked in education for years before becoming a child psychologist in 1975. From the late 1980s he has redirected his attention to addressing HIV and Aids.

LORETTA BRENNAN GLUCKSMANChair of the American Ireland Fund, the US chapter of the Worldwide Ireland Funds. Spearheaded a major campaign to raise $100 million over five years.