An Irish Voice: My Zoom chat in Lockdown with Niall O’Dowd

In an article entitled ‘Tipperary Stars Line Out for a Celebration of their Homeland’ , published on Tuesday August 15th 2000, in the Irish Examiner , Anne Marie O’Brien writes ‘Natives of the Premier County are to the fore in business, sporting, academic and cultural life at home and abroad – and a major conference next month will bring some of these important figures together for the first time.  Organised and hosted by the newly-opened Tipperary Rural and Business Development Institute (TRBDI) Ceiliúradh Thiobraíd Árainn, A Celebration of Tipperary, from August 31st to September 3rd marks the start of the millennium and Tipperary’s extended Diaspora. People with Tipperary roots such as Niall O’Dowd, who had a significant role in the Northern Irish peace process and is publisher of the Irish Voice Newspaper in the US; Dr. Conor Cruise O’Brien ; TJ Maher; and John Lonergan will share stories from  their youth and their careers in a festival centered at TRBDI in Thurles’.

In another article, on Aug 29th (she wrote several about the event, including the one copied below – ‘An Irish Voice of Our Country’s Diaspora is Keynote Speaker’ ) she goes on to mention all those participating in the event but rather than list everyone, I include below the conference programme, which gives some idea of the magnitude and importance of the event. Several key participants are sadly no longer with us, but it remains a great achievement that so many high profile and influential Tipperary people gathered together in Thurles in 2000.

Ceiliúradh Thiobraíd Árann Conference Programme.

I was one of the main organizers and I remember vividly the buzz of excitement on Friday evening September 1st, waiting for Niall O’Dowd to give his key note address:  ‘The Role of the Diaspora in the Peace Process’. The Tipperary Star also did extensive coverage of the event, the snap below from Saturday September 9th (apologies as my files with paper clippings are twenty years old and I had to take them out of scrap books to scan them causing some damage).

Zoom Forward Twenty One Years

Push the clock forward twenty one years, and I am sitting in my dining room, on a cold February evening in 2021, in Covid Lockdown,  waiting to talk on zoom to Niall in New York.  Is 6pm Irish time, 1 pm NY time. But once the meeting begins, it is like sitting down at the table together, in Killough, for a chat.

I tell Niall I had a difficult time trying to decide the focus of our conversation – Niall has had such an amazing career,  some of which we discuss in the interview below. Apart from his many business achievements, his role in the Northern Irish Peace process, his journalistic and academic writing career, and the many prestigious acknowledgements he has received, such as being awarded in 2004 by UCD ,his  Alma Mater, an Honorary Doctorate and in  2014 The Government of Ireland ‘President’s Distinguished Services Award’, Niall remains a very humble and humane person, and deeply knowledgeable about Irish American relations.

Thurles Years

Denise: There are so many things I could ask you about, I had a hard time narrowing things down. But I think I have hit on a couple of key questions that will interest people who read my blog. It is a visual, cultural and a biographical blog Niall, as I was explaining to you. So, when you are ready, we can launch in.

Niall: I’m all set, go right ahead.

Denise : So obviously I want to ask you about your early years, you grew up in Tipperary, indeed my brother-in-law Michael Quinn remembers your dad quite vividly, Donal, and often mentions him when your name comes up. So, what are your first memories that come back to you about those formative years, but also what Tipperary means to you as an Irish-American. Is it something that you think about in terms of your identity now that you have lived away for so long?. I’m interested in regionality and things like that. So, I thought I’d begin with that.

Niall: Sure, I’ll tell you where it is most important to me – is the Tipp hurling team. I was brought up in Thurles, as you know, and hurling was in my blood from a very early age. I know I left Thurles when I was 10, but I was deeply indoctrinated at that point into the great Tipperary teams of the early 1960s and Jimmy Doyle and John Doyle, Tony Wall and all those, Liam Devaney, I think I could probably name the team. And something that really kind of grabbed me at the time, like a young kid, fixates on a particular sport. So, what Tipperary means to me? I get as excited about Tipperary playing in a hurling All Ireland as I would about any team playing anywhere. So, that’s one memory and one sort of connection that I have kept all my life.

Denise : Well that’s a very strong memory  and one that a lot of people from Tipperary would identify with. So, you moved then with your family when you were about 10, I think to Drogheda and you completed your primary and secondary education there before moving on to UCD. So I’ll go to UCD. It was English and History you chose as your subjects, am I right in that?

Career Decisions

Niall: Actually, English and Irish.

Denise: English and Irish ok. With a view perhaps to becoming a teacher?

Niall: Yes, you know it was a time you are talking about the seventies, where you didn’t have any great ambition other than a certain level – what did your Father do? My Father was a teacher all his life. So, I basically wanted to become a teacher. You didn’t think back then of any great sort of career changing moves, but you tended to go along with the flow, which was teacher’s sons tended to become teachers. The legal world was I suppose controlled by certain families, the medical business was controlled by certain doctors. I think to some extent it’s still the same. But you didn’t have any greater horizon other than what your Father had done and what your family history was.

Irish Community in America

Denise: Yes, I can fully understand that. But during that time you did go on a trip to America, which was probably something a lot of students may not have had the opportunity to do at that stage in the 70s. So that was formative for you to go on a working visa when you were in college?

Niall: Yes, I was always fascinated by America, my Father loved Cowboy and Indian movies and the old movies. And I remember going to see John Wayne and all that stuff and just growing up with the kind of mythology of America. And then I remember very specifically John F. Kennedy coming to Ireland and what an inspirational figure, it seemed that overnight the country went from black and white to colour. Because you had this spectacular young president who a very backward country, like Ireland was at the time, could lay claim to and it was something very trilling. So, America was in my imagination. I often think about that these days of what the kids today think when they see Trump, as against what we saw, which was a great American president called John F. Kennedy.  So, I went to America in 1976 for the first time, I was in college in UCD and I went to Chicago for the summer to play football, Gaelic football. I was a reasonably good footballer and hurler I must say. But mainly played football with the Connemara Gaels and hurling with the Limerick hurling team. So that was a great way to go because I had no relatives in America as such. And it was a great way to get started. I think one thing about the GAA that people forget is just how much socialisation and good will there is when you arrive into a new town and you don’t know anyone, you can go to the GAA club, you can get to know people. In my case they got me a job, they got me a place to live, and I made an immediate group of friends. And I just found America everything I was looking for as a young man.

Denise : And of course you had a strong sense immediately there then of community and an Irish American community, even at that stage. It seems to have been something that really nurtured you on your first trip there?

Niall: ‘Nurtured’ is a good word, because I can’t imagine what I would have done if I didn’t have the GAA, if I didn’t have that immediate connection with people to give me a job and get me started. Because it’s a pretty intimidating country otherwise. And I found it very helpful to be able to hang out with a group of people right from the beginning. And it was just a great experience, because my mind was expanding at that point, to what was I going to do after college and all that. I remember thinking this is a magnificent country, I’m really enjoying myself here, I love the climate, although I wasn’t crazy about the heat at the height of summer. But I love the people, I love the whole sense of adventure basically…like so many Irish before me.

Californian Years

Denise : Yes indeed, it’s such an incredible history and incredible bond. So you came back home to Ireland and taught for a while. You moved to California then a couple of years later. Had you a vision Niall as to what you were going to do then? Was the world of journalism beckoning to you or was that something that came about when you got to California. Can you tell me a little bit about that please?

Niall: Well it’s interesting, I often talk to young journalism students and people like that, and I always say ‘don’t plan your life because it won’t work out as you expect anyway’. And I never sort of said in my head, well I’m leaving Ireland and I’m never coming back. I just went to America in 1978, I went to California which was a fabulous experience for a young Irish man at the time. Again, using the Gaelic football and hurling connection I played out there with teams and got in with a crowd of lads. And I remember at the end of the summer thinking, you know I’m not really that interested in school teaching and I’d like to really see if I could do something out here…not making a complete decision, but just saying I’m going to stay, I’m going to stay for a year, I’m going to stay for two years and suddenly it’s 40 years! and you look around and think: ‘how did that happen’.

Denise: I know, but you launched the first successful newspaper in 50 years when you had settled a little bit in California, the Irishman newspaper. So you were beginning to see a need to reach out to the Irish-Americans Niall I think?

Niall: Yes it was just at the time, it was right at the time that emigration was becoming an issue from Ireland again. And the early eighties saw a flood of young Irish come into California, New York, Boston, Chicago. And what I remember noticing (because I was working in construction myself and a friend from Connemara and I started a small construction business) but just how little knowledge people had about Ireland and the New Ireland and what was happening. Because there was no internet obviously, there was very little media that you could get from Ireland. Occasionally there would be an Irish radio show on the radio, but that was about it. So, I thought, you know, because there was so many young Irish coming in, that this was an opportunity for me to start a newspaper because I was always very interested in writing and I had written for a local paper in Drogheda for a couple of years. So, I thought to myself – I’m going to give this a shot. And with the sheer madness of youth and the sheer irresponsibility, just starting a newspaper with $1,200 dollars when I think of it now and making it work, was just a great growing experience and something that told me a lot about myself and also a lot about America. The main thing about America I noticed was the good will that people had towards you, if you were Irish – it  was phenomenal. And when we started the newspaper the amount of support we got from very good people. I remember after a week we went broke and I had to go and ask this guy for a loan, and not only did he give me a loan, but he got five other people to help!. And it was that kind of initial stage where you were all in it together, you were an emigrant community, you helped people and it was all informal. But I look back on it with great pride and great sense of achievement that you know, 95% of new publications never get off the ground – but we did.

East Coast

Denise: Yes – fantastic. And in deciding the move to the East Coast, you had obviously at this stage found your vocation, found a passion in translating, as such, what was happening back in Ireland, to the community in the States. That would have appeared, from what you just said, as one of your objectives and that’s what you wanted to do.  Or was it more to liase and bring together the Irish community in America? Probably a bit of both?

Niall: Well, there were two levels to it, one was that the Irish-American history, not just the Irish form, but the Irish American history was so incredibly fascinating. In a place like San Francisco, where the Irish had come in their droves for the Gold Rush in the 1840s and they had put together much of the downtown infrastructure – you went downtown and the streets were called after Irish people. And there was this whole history, extraordinary history of the Irish in California. And I became very very interested in, and that was one part of it. 

And the other part of it was the young Irish coming in who didn’t have any access to information other than through my paper. But I realised what I wanted to do was start a magazine. I had been to New York a couple of times and just in terms of the numbers of young Irish, there were far more in New York. Also I remember  going by a newsstand one day and picking up an Italian-American magazine called the ‘Attensioniand thinking you know, something like this could work for the Irish and that was the determination for the Irish-American magazine. And another Tipperary person, Patricia Harty was working on that as well. So, we decided that New York and Irish-American magazine was really going to be the future.

Denise: The rest is history.

Niall: Rest is history , good or bad! But I mean when I came to New York again it was like starting all over. And somebody said to me instead of going west young man, I went east. But again, a great welcome, a great sense of involvement by the community and what people understanding and being proud of what I was trying to do, which was create a whole new Irish sensibility out of the fact that so many new young Irish were coming in, and they were changing the whole situation there. So Irish America was mainly aimed at the Irish-Americans, the history, the heritage. And like John F. Kennedy was obviously Irish-American, but there was so many other great figures in American history who were Irish-American. And writing a magazine for them, the 40 million people of Irish extraction was great task. And then in 1987, that was in 1985, in 1987 starting the Irish Voice, because there was a massive influx of young Irish into New York at the time.

Democrats and Republicans

Denise: Yes, and indeed the Irish Voice was the first successful newspaper since 1928 I think and had a huge circulation – so I mean, what a fantastic achievement. But what I was thinking about, I’m jumping ahead a little but something that struck me when I was thinking about that and I suppose this is inevitable after Trump’s time in office as well..but when I look at social media in Ireland and when I think about politics in the States, I see this incredibly polarised society. I see the Democrats on one side, the Republicans on the other and the Democrats are progressive economically, pro-immigration, pro-choice, pro-same sex marriage. And one could say almost directly the opposite then: Republicans are conservative, anti immigration, anti choice, anti same sex marriage. I mean is it as bad as that there Niall? I think the election really brought that home to me. I used to have to close social media some days, because I would see these pejorative terms being thrown by Republicans at Democrats calling them ‘communists’ and ‘socialist’. I wonder did you find a problem in reaching out to the Irish American community, in bridging that divide, or is it that pronounced among the Irish American community?

Niall: Well, the Irish American community reflects America at large. I mean think of it this way, if you look at the Irish American political history, we had the great liberal Kennedy family, the great liberal icons of the 20th Century.  You had the on the other side Joe McCarthy who was also Irish American, who was a rabidly anti-communist, rabidly right wing. So, you had this differentiation. Then you had Eugene McCarthy who was a very liberal American senator who played a huge role in forcing President Johnson out of office. So, you had this divide right through which reflected to some extent the greater American culture. But also the level of peoples experience. I mean in terms of the liberal Irish, they made huge contributions to the United States. I mean I think John F. Kennedy was probably the key figure in terms of the Irish Americans. But there were thousands of other politicians across the country who created the democratic party really. The Democratic party arose out of Tammany Hall fundamentally and the rules and regulations of Tammany Hall about how to get elected in local politics and how to take care of the local individual, how to go, block by block, and that was all from Irish American political experience. And you look at how Roosevelt handled the depression. A tremendous amount of the donations and charitable and then the kind of work programmes and all that that was done were based on Irish models. So, I think from that point of view there was a very identifiable Irish strain in American politics. And then on the other side you had Ronald Reagan and people like that of Irish American heritage, who thought very differently. And in fairness it didn’t look that bad during the Reagan era really when you think back on it now. But with Trump it has just become completely and disastrously divided, to the point where there is a story today in the New York Times, that 71% of Republicans don’t look on Democrats as their opponents, they look on them as their enemies and that’s a sad day for politics. And it’s totally created by the Trump era.

Denise: Yes absolutely very sad to see things having, I suppose, ‘regressed’ so far – that’s probably the best word to use in that context. But anyway, we have good days ahead – we have a different Administration.

Niall: And I want to put that in context, I was on 125th Street in Harlem in 2008 when Barack Obama, a black man was elected president, I never thought I’d see that in America or anywhere actually. And then if you look at the result from the senate race, two Senate races in Georgia, you had a Jewish and a black guy elected in the deep south. I mean there is a lot of tremendous amount of change going on in American politics and it’s not all about Trump. It’s about states like Arizona, states like Georgia understanding suddenly that the Republicans are going completely off the wall and there are more and more people like in Colorado which used to be a red state, now it’s a blue state. So, I think there is an underground political movement of a shift to the left, which is probably disguised at the moment because everyone is talking about Trump. But long term I think that is happening…I mean if you look at the last elections, since 1998, I think, the Republicans have only won the popular vote one time. So, they are not necessarily as popular, or as dominant, as people might think.

Denise: Yes and again it’s what we are being fed and how the media can present these things: it can become skewed when you are not on the ground in a certain place, however vast the American society is.

Patten Report

Denise: So, I’ll bring you back a little bit and I’ll come back to Biden in a few minutes but obviously you played such a pivotal role in the progress that was made between the American administration and relations with Northern Ireland in the lead up to the Good Friday Agreement. Now that was largely through your friendship and your collaborations with Bill Clinton and his time in office, when you acted as a key negotiator there.

So, the questions that came to my mind about that and it is bringing you back a couple of years now to ask you this – but when you were over in Tipperary in 2000 at Tipperary Institute, we had seen the establishment of the Good Friday Agreement. And you were concerned at that stage about the Patten Report, because that was clearly still a worry at the time as to whether the British administration were taking the policing side of things seriously enough in Northern Ireland. Now happily that all seems to have panned out ok with the establishment of the Northern Irish Policing Board. 

So I wondered and I’m jumping over time spaces here, but in light of what happened on 25th May 2020 with George Floyd’s tragic death, I wonder have you ever thought about something like that working in the States? Because you are so knowledgeable about that particular process in the Northern Irish context do you think a reform of policing might happen under this new administration, in light of the upset that man’s death created?

Niall: You know I wish I could say yes. But I actually think what I have become acutely aware of, something I should have known for a long time, but I never really thought enough about it ..but the depth of racism in American is unbelievable and that’s the very sad part of it and that’s what’s blocking a lot of progress, in an awful lot of places. Because it’s almost so prevalent that you don’t notice it, I know that sounds strange. But the entire society is set up in such a way because of slavery that black Americans are second class:  in terms of the number of people dying from Covid; in terms of general health issues; in terms of employment; in terms of all these factors. And there is a very good question to be asked, why is that the case? And I think a tremendous amount of it is, I’m not even sure people mean to be racist, but it’s like they inherited this society where blacks were thought of a second class and third class people. And that flows over into policing. I mean the secret to policing, as everyone knows, is that the police man at the top of the road in the Ardoyne Road should be a Catholic police man, because he understands the community and he’s from them and he’s understood by them and he’s accepted. Now in American unfortunately the chances are in most of these black neighborhoods, that the policeman is a white guy. And like what happened with George Floyd where you had this tug as a policeman who put his weight on his neck for nine minutes…and for the life of me, to this day, I cannot understand why he did that for any reason. I mean it made absolutely no sense, other than to torture the poor man who was obviously not well to begin with.

Denise: Well to assert his authority of course and his power in the dynamic.

Niall: Yes …but to spend nine minutes killing somebody.

Denise: It was horrific, I couldn’t watch it to be honest, I found it too distressing.

Niall: It really made me think an awful lot. And I think that’s where Black Lives Matter came in very prominently. And you know what I’m delighted about, more than anything, you know people attack the young generation that they are into their computers and they are into Facebook and all that. But they came out on the streets in huge numbers, massive numbers when that happened. And that is something very pertinent in a democracy – that people can protest peacefully and make the point over and over: this is not good enough. And I was very proud of the fact that so many young people did that, because they really had quite a bad reputation as a generation that wouldn’t go outside the door other than to socialise or exchange texts or whatever. So, I think from that point of view there is a lot of good things happening, at a younger level.

But if you ask what’s really going on in America: unfortunately, I think racism is so deeply engrained and it’s very hard to deal with it.

Denise: Yes and even after Obama’s Presidency – it is hard to believe that these things could be happening, to the extent that they are. But from what you are saying it is deeply ingrained and it’s not going to resolve easily: it would take really a complete reenvisaging.

Niall: I mean you look at the faces of the mob that stormed Capitol Hill, just look at the hate, look at the horrible things they did. They gouged out a guy’s eye; they killed somebody; they threw a fire extinguisher at someone else; they attacked somebody with an American flag. I mean these are bad people. And what Trump did, quite deliberately, is to wake up that slumbering giant of racism and promote it and push it for his own reasons to ensure his re-election. And it was a dreadful political thing to do and it was a dreadful outcome that happened. But I think people now see that that’s what Trump was doing. And I do believe that what has happened to the Republican party is very tragic, because they are a party that apparently does not believe in democracy and you can’t survive as a party like that, because they are not accepting the results of the election. They tried to overturn it. To this day there are forty four Senators who don’t want Trump to face trial on the issue of creating an insurrection which was no doubt what he did. So they are in a very bad way in my opinion.

But it is also an incredibly fascinating time, because America is going through incredible transformations. When I say Trump’s time in office was bad – but then I’m really saying also that electing a black man in Georgia, electing a Jewish guy in Georgia, that’s huge. People would never have thought of it fifteen years ago, in the heart of the south, that a black guy and Jewish guy would get elected to the Senate. 

Denise: Yes well that’s very positive and I’m delighted to hear you say that. I guess we don’t hear enough of that filtering through. …we are hearing more of the negative side than some of that progress you are speaking about.

Niall: Well we can talk about riots and all that, but even the election of Obama, I know it’s two steps forward and three steps back, but it was an incredible thing to do. And unfortunately, Hillary missed out very narrowly that would have been…

Denise: Yes. Very unfortunate….

Niall: Yes…but so I think the country in many ways is innovative, creative, finding new ways, finding new people. But unfortunately, the last four years, frankly I’m serious about this Denise, a lot of people I know and myself included, seriously wondered if we could live through another four years of Trump.

Denise: I can understand that totally.

Niall: Because it would effectively have become a Dictatorship.

From Kennedy to Biden

Denise: Very very scary. And in light of all that you have achieved (and I know we can’t go into this in too much detail, because it’s too vast a topic) but in everything that you did and worked for, in the context of Northern Ireland, Brexit was also a big blow in that respect. And it did appear like it was a dark place the world for a few years and then Covid on top of it. I mean all I can say is at least Biden made it in.

And I loved your piece in the Irish Times recently where you talked about Robert Frost’s advice to John F. Kennedy, about how to direct his presidency: ‘Be more Irish than Harvard’, and I thought that was brilliant advice.  You made the point that Biden is in some respects, more Irish than John F. Kennedy . (1) see ref. below

(2) see ref. below

Do you see him having a hugely positive role for Irish Americans and for Ireland?. I mean he clearly is a person who has selected for his Administration, people across ethnic grounds, across gender grounds. I was delighted to see, obviously, the Vice President Kamala Harris – she is wonderful. And his Interior Secretary is a Native American Indian Deb Haaland (now that probably hasn’t been confirmed yet). And of course we have Samantha Power, an Irish lady,  my own age , who will be heading up USAAid. So I mean these are great things to see happening. Do you see him as being very important for the Irish now Niall?

Niall: I see him as being very important for the world and also the Irish. I think it’s very interesting when you get inside the American mindset. They go and they pick an African American President. And then they go and pick this crazy lunatic television reality star. But then they go as far away from him as they can and they pick this calm, very together, very easy going on the surface conciliatory figure which is what he is. You watch what Joe Biden is doing, he hasn’t said a single thing against Republicans in any kind of inflammatory way. He said,’ I’m trying to deal with them’. But he’s just taken down the whole tone, he’s letting all this sort of stuff go over his head, he’s getting the Covid package together, he’s getting the economic package together. He’s doing exactly what Joe Biden does, he’s a legislator, he’s a guy and this is what people don’t understand, to move the leavers of power within the US government, you have to have such an intimate knowledge which is exactly why he picked people who had been in the cabinets before. Because Trump hadn’t a clue how to use the levers of power, even in terms of the delivery of the vaccine. He just said leave it to the States, which was insane thing to say. And tens of thousands of people died as a result.

But I think Biden knows, it’s like a guy who has been a cop for 50 years, and suddenly he becomes the captain. He knows what he’s doing. And this guy knows exactly what he’s doing and I’m very proud of him. Because I mean if you look at a guy who came from nothing, I mean his Great Great Grandfather left on an emigrant famine ship from Cooley Co. Louth and the other one from Mayo. And three generations later there he is, in the White House. And I think he’s very very aware of his heritage and I think already, in terms of Brexit, where he stepped in and said: ‘now you are not going to mess around with the Irish on this one, we want the position that’s in the Good Friday Agreement’. So, I think, from that point of view, he’s very very keen. I mean I know the guy reasonably well. I first interviewed him in 1987 and the reason I had interviewed him was he had written an article about Wolfe Tone, his political hero.

Denise: And you subsequently wrote about Wolfe Tone then?

Niall: Yes. But I mean he’s exactly what you need in terms of calming down the country which is what the country desperately needs. So, I think from that point of view he’s going to be very successful.

Denise: Yes, I hope so and I agree with you fully on that. My last question would relate again to, I think you have kind of answered it, have you any thoughts of returning home, you still have family here. I know you probably would be on the plane already, if Trump was back in office! But you may be reconsidering that?

Niall: Well, I went home for the Kennedy School September twelve months ago and I haven’t been…I just haven’t been home since. I mean it’s been an extraordinary year without being home. And it’s really upsetting actually because you miss so much with your family. But also, there is a hunger within you just to see Ireland. I know the exile situation is really one that emotionally, every so often, I need to go back and connect with Ireland and I need to talk to people, I need to find out what’s happening, I need to hear it firsthand, I need to look at the country and see where it’s at. But I also just love to be there and to meet my friends and all that. And of course, that’s all been cut off, not just for me but for everyone. So, it will be a great day for me when Covid is finally vanquished and I’m able to get on EI105 and land into Dublin Airport. Because in so many ways it’s still home, my family is there. And it’s something that I miss desperately. I mean even the hurling and the football and all that, the atmosphere around those months are so exciting. And it was all very different last year. It worked out in the end, but you missed the games in the summer which were great.

Denise: Even I did and I’m probably the least knowledgeable person about anything in that arena, as one could imagine!. But I fully understand what you are saying.

Remembering Mutual Friends, My Trip to New York in 2001 and The Power of Education

The formal part of the interview over, we chat for a further few minutes about my trip to New York for the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in 2001 where I met some wonderful people including Bill and Hilary Clinton, the late Frank McCourt, among others. I mention Theresa Crowe, also from Thurles, and her kindness to me on that trip in 2001. The picture below of Theresa was taken at the New York Plaza Hotel on March 15th, when she and I met Hilary Clinton.

We recall the day I called to chat with Niall at his New York office before returning home to Ireland.  Incredible to think, all these years later, we chat again, using a medium we all now consider part of our day to day life: zoom.

Thurles, formative years

Niall’s final reflections bring him back to Thurles where he spent those early formative years: ‘Well you know I lived in Castle Avenue in Thurles and somebody one day recited to me where all the people that we grew up with, there was some amazing success stories, like there was a guy called Jimmy Fitzgerald who became a huge horse trainer; there was another guy who became a brain surgeon. I mean just this ordinary little street in Thurles and so many people… like my brother (Fergus) became a TD and a Minister. I mean it’s incredible to think. And you know it speaks to what was very important for people back then and my parents embodied it, which was education and everybody in the house ( they had seven kids), obviously they weren’t rich, but they insisted on the best education for everyone. And you can never forget that when it comes to Ireland, that that is what made Ireland what it is today’.

Niall O’Dowd is certainly an Irish Voice that has made a huge contribution in the States and in relations between Ireland and America over the last forty years. I am proud to say he comes from Tipperary.

And we have another Irish voice, once again, back in the White House. His name is President Joe Biden.

(3) see ref. below


(1): ‘Niall O Dowd: Joe Biden’s Debt to the Kennedy’s’ : The Irish Times, Thur Feb 4th 2021

(2): I found this paper cutting in an old album, belonging to my late Mother. She frequently took paper cuttings and put them into albums or her favorite scrapbook. This was obviously from a paper published around the time John F Kennedy’ was inaugurated or from his visit to Ireland . It is nearly 60 years old. Jacqueline Bouvier looks radiant in the picture. She made her own contribution to the western world, in terms of her incredible taste and sense of style and aesthetics.

(3): Photo Credit: Niall O’Dowd inducting then Vice President Joe Biden into the Irish America Hall of Fame. Photo Courtesy: Waterford Crystal / Niall O’Dowd.

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