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The Irish America Hall of Fame officially opens in Ireland

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The Irish America Hall of FameBy Patrick O’Brien

The Irish America Hall of Fame is officially inaugurated in Wexford today with Irish Tourism Minister Leo Varadekar doing the honors along with inductee Michael Flatley.

The Irish America Magazine Hall of Fame is located near the shore where John F.Kennedy’s family left Ireland for the New World. The inductees were inaugurated into the Hall of Fame by Irish America magazine at an event in New York recently. Keynote speaker at the event was President Bill Clinton

Former Coca Cola president Don Keough was the first person inducted last year. The 2011 class will be inducted along with him today.

The Hall of Fame is housed in The National Centre for Emigration History in New Ross, Co Wexford,

Located on the quay side of the River Barrow next to the popular tall ship Dunbrody, which commemorates the Great Famine, the €2.6 million interactive centre features a state-of-the-art exhibition on the story of Irish emigration, plus a genealogical resource for visitors hoping to trace their Irish heritage.

According to the New Ross Standard, the new purpose built visitor centre will also allow the visitor travel on an historical thought provoking one way sea going journey in famine times.

The experience begins Quayside with the authentic recreation of the New Ross of the 1840s. Here the passenger will join fellow travellers paying for their journey. Various audio and visual displays capture the atmosphere of a passenger stepping on board Dunbrody and setting sail for the New World, America.

On board the authentically recreated ship, passengers will encounter re-actors telling their stories. The passenger then arrives in North America where here the emigrant witnesses the impact Irish emigrants have had on American life and culture.

The centre piece of this exhibition is the Irish America Hall of Fame, which is being developed in collaboration with Niall O’Dowd and Patricia Harty of Irish America Magazine.

PHOTOS – The Irish America Hall of Fame photo gallery

The 2011 honorees are:

Doctor Kevin Cahill

Kevin M. Cahill, M.D. has been  a driving force in humanitarian assistance and relief efforts across the globe for more than 45 years and a leading specialist in tropical medicine.

Physician, teacher, activist, diplomat, and advocate, Cahill is the director of the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs, president of the Center for International Health and Cooperation and a University Professor at Fordham University. He serves as the director of the Tropical Disease Center at Lenox Hill Hospital, and has done extensive research and aid work in Africa, Latin America, and the Near and Far East. He is professor of International Humanitarian Affairs at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, senior consultant to the United Nations Health Service, and president-general of the American-Irish Historical Society.

Bill Clinton

As a major supporter of the Irish peace process, Bill Clinton moved mountains.  The 42nd President of the United States took the strongest position on Irish issues ever taken by an American president. In 1994, he granted a visa to Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, fulfilling a campaign promise and stating “the U.S.  cannot miss this rare opportunity for our country to participate in the peace process.”

Then in November, 1995, President Clinton became the first sitting American president to visit Northern Ireland.

Mary Higgins Clark

Higgins Clark is one of the most admired and popular writers alive today – her novels frequently top the best-selling charts. She is also one of the highest paid authors. Each of her 42 books has been a bestseller in the United States and various European countries.

Proud of her Irish American roots she was the Grand Marshall at New York’s 250th St. Patrick’s Day parade.

Charles Feeney

Charles “Chuck” Feeney has amassed billions of dollars in wealth. However he prefers to give it all away while he is still alive, Feeney wants to better the lives of people around the world in the here and now.

Forbes estimated Feeney’s wealth to be $1.3 billion in 1988, landing him in the top 20 of its 400 richest people list. However, he was actually worth less than $5 million. As he said in a previous interview with Irish America, “I did not want money to consume my life.”

Michael Flatley

He’s been the world’s most famous lord for the past 15 years. Now Michael Flatley is poised to become a movie star with “Lord of the Dance” in 3-D.

Flatley is a step dancer, actor, choreographer, musician and occasional television presenter. He became internationally known for Irish dance shows “Riverdance”, “Lord of the Dance”, “Feet of Flames” and “Celtic Tiger”.

William Flynn

To say that William J. Flynn has embodied the American dream millions of immigrant parents have for their children is true – but it also understates all that he has accomplished. His story is one of determination and care; of no possibility overlooked and no opportunity abandoned. He has been a leader in business, a catalyst for peace, and he has always been equally committed to his native country and the land of his ancestors.

When William J. Flynn was celebrated in a special issue of Irish America in 2008, the outpouring of praise from both sides of the Atlantic was immense. Irish President Mary McAleese, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness, Edward Cardinal Egan, Governor Hugh Carey, and many more came forth with words of great appreciation for Flynn and all that he has done. Though certainly impressive and meaningful, none of this was all that surprising.

Denis Kelleher

Denis Kelleher, the son of a shoemaker, immigrated to New York in 1958, at age 18, with $1.50 in his pocket. In a matter of days the bright young Kerry man charmed his way into a job in Merrill Lynch. In less than a month he went from messenger boy to payroll clerk.

Kelleher progressed through the ranks at Merrill and held several operational positions at the firm.  He was also one of the founders of Ruane Cunniff & Co., Inc., an SEC-registered investment advisor and NYSE member firm and also served as Vice President and Treasurer of the renowned Sequoia Fund from 1970-76. He is the CEO and founder of Wall Street Access, a leading independent firm specializing in institutional research, trading and money management

Jean Kennedy Smith

Often referred to as the shy Kennedy, Jean Kennedy Smith has quietly blazed her own trail while still holding true to the family legacy of public service. The last of the Kennedy siblings still living, Kennedy Smith has devoted her life to advocating for the disabled and working towards peace in Northern Ireland.

Since leaving diplomatic service, Jean Kennedy Smith has received numerous accolades for her work to bring peace to Northern Ireland and for her work with the disabled. The government of the Republic of Ireland granted her honorary citizenship in 1998. She has received honorary degrees from multiple institutions. Most recently, Kennedy Smith was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama for both her diplomatic service and her humanitarian efforts.

Doctor James Watson

James Watson helped unravel the structure of DNA, a feat so stunning that it is considered the greatest scientific achievement of the 20th century. A Nobel Prize winner as a result, Dr. Watson is deeply proud of his Irish heritage and is “very pleased” to be inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame.

Next up for Watson is a cure for cancer, and he believes he once again holds the key to that extraordinary breakthrough. And who can doubt him? At 82, he is as committed and hardworking a scientist as ever.

>> PHOTOS – The Irish America Hall of Fame photo gallery

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