TAOISEACH ENDA Kenny has paid tribute to the organisers of a Donegal Diaspora weekend in Buncrana, named in honour of the late great Tip O’Neill.
Niall O’Dowd, the US publisher, was awarded the inaugural Tip O’Neill Donegal Diaspora Award at a glittering ceremony at the Inishowen Gateway Hotel last night.
The weekend saw more than 80 members of the Irish American politician’s family in Buncrana, many visiting the family homestead at Dumfries which the O’Neill’s bought from an ancestor more than 30 years ago.
It was the culmination of years of hard work by former mayor Nicholas Crossan, supported by many members of the Fullerton family – direct descendants of O’Neill’s grandmother who left for America in the 1860s.
Tip went on to become one of the most powerful men in America as Speaker of the House of Representatives in Washington. He was a frequent visitor to Ireland and to Buncrana – and kept a picture of the homestead on his desk in DC.
O’Dowd paid tribute to O’Neill after receiving the award last night from Pat Hume, wife of veteran SDLP politician John Hume, and a close friend of Tip.
O’Neill had worked tirelessly for the peace process, encouraging Hume to continue his work for peace during some of the darkest days of the Troubles. The Irish-American politician passed away in 1994. December marks the 100th anniversary of his birth.
Yesterday family members including his daughter Susan visited the family homestead.
In a warm message read out at the Inishowen Gateway last night, Taoiseach Enda Kenny spoke of his delight at meeting the O’Neills in Dublin earlier this week.
He congratulated Buncrana Town Council and Donegal County Council on the initiative.
Mr Kenny said Tip O’Neill was a great politician who had worked so hard for America, but he had also worked hard for Ireland.
“He is also remembered in Donegal and throughout Ireland as a steadfast and firm friend. Tip O’Neill made a huge contribution to assisting the land of his ancestors, not least in terms of helping to bring peace and stability to this country as well as contributing to its social and economic wellbeing,” he said.
He also praised Niall O’Dowd, saying he was a fitting recipient of the inaugural award for his contribution to America and Irish-America and serving them with “distinction.”
The Taoiseach said it was appropriate that Pat Hume presented the award because of her work and the work of John Hume alongside Tip O’Neill in the peace process.
Donegal County Council Director of Services Michael Heaney said the weekend of events was part of The Gathering 2013 when Donegal would reach out to its diaspora across the globe, encouraging people to visit here and supporting those who wanted to bring investment and business ideas home.
A statue of Tip O’Neill will be unveiled in Buncrana later today (Saturday) sculpted by Burt-based artist Maurice Harron.