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Tánaiste announces recipients of the Presidential Distinguished Service Awards

The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Simon Coveney, T.D., today announced the names of the recipients of the Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad for 2018.

The Presidential Distinguished Service Award was established by the Government following the 2011 Global Irish Economic Forum as a means to recognise the contribution of members of the Irish diaspora, and the first awards were made in 2012.

Announcing the recipients of the award, the Tánaiste said:

“I am delighted to have the opportunity once again this year to formally recognise the achievements of some of the finest members of our global family, our diaspora.”

“The diverse contributions of these individuals extends across six different categories. Through their work, they contribute to building an invaluably positive image of Ireland and Irish people around the world.”

“This is the seventh year in which recipients have received this Award, and the ceremony remains a very important opportunity to acknowledge those who have contributed to realising Ireland’s place as an island at the centre of the world."

 

 

Ciarán Cannon T.D., Minister for Diaspora Affairs and International Development, added:

“As Minister of State for the Diaspora, I am proud that we recognise all that our diaspora have done and continue to do, and that through this Award, we can celebrate this remarkable group of individuals, and their contribution to the world.”

“A total of 148 nominations were considered for these 10 awards this year, and the level and breadth of the achievements of the people nominated are outstanding.”

 

The full list of recipients of the Presidential Distinguished Service Awards in 2018 is:

 

Arts, Culture and Sport

William Kennedy (US)

Edna O’Brien (Britain)

 

Business and Education

Munira Hamud Mutran (Brazil)

John L. Lahey (US)

 

Charitable Works

Bridget Tighe (Palestine)

 

Irish Community Support

Tom Power (deceased) (Australia)

Edward J. Ward (US)

Breege McDaid (Britain)

 

Peace, Reconciliation and Development

Mary Killeen (Kenya)

 

Science, Technology and Innovation

Margaret Murnane (US)

 

The Awards will be presented on 29th November by President Higgins.   

 

ENDS

Press Office

27 November 2018

 

Note for Editors

 

The Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad is neither an honours system nor does it confer any legal entitlements upon the recipients.

 

In order to be eligible for consideration, nominees must be habitually resident outside the island of Ireland and are required to satisfy the following additional requirements:

(i)    have rendered distinguished service to the nation and/or its reputation abroad;

(ii) have actively and demonstrably contributed to Ireland and/or its international reputation and/or Irish communities abroad in at least one of the categories listed above;

(iii)           have a track record of sustained support and engagement with Ireland and/or its international reputation and/or Irish communities abroad over a period of not less than 5 years.

The scheme is managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and a High Level Panel was established to make recommendations to Government.  This Panel includes: Mr Niall Burgess, Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Chair), Mr Martin Fraser, Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach; Mr Art O’Leary, Secretary General to the President; and four representatives from the non-Government sector-  Ms Sally O’Neill Sanchez, Ms Catríona Crowe, Mr Kingsley Aikins and Ms Samantha Barry.

Nominations were made by Irish communities abroad through Ireland’s network of Diplomatic Missions.

 

2018 Recipient Biographies

Arts, Culture and Sport

William Kennedy (US)

William Kennedy, aged 90, is an Irish American novelist whose work has been recognised with the US’s highest literary honours, including the Pulitzer Price, MacArthur Fellowship, National Book Critics Circle Award and the American Academy of Arts and Letter’s membership.  His Albany Cycle of novels is set in Albany, NY and he explores themes of Irish American heritage, culture and identity. His novel “Ironweed” was made into a major motion picture starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson. His characters span multiple generations of Irish Americans.

In establishing the NYS Writers Institute in 1983, Kennedy gave a platform to Irish writers in the US. In 2009, he was honoured with the first Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award from Irish American Writers and Artists, Inc.

Edna O’Brien (Britain)

Edna O’Brien was born in Clare in 1930, and moved to London in 1954. A renowned Irish novelist, memoirist, playwright, poet and short story writer, she published her first book, the Country Girls, in 1962, and has published many other award winning novels since, as well as short story collections, plays, poetry and non-fiction books. Her work has brought important Irish and feminist themes to the fore. She has been recognised internationally and in Ireland for many years as one of Ireland’s greatest living writers and has won many awards in a long and distinguished career. In April 2018, she was awarded a Damehood by Queen Elizabeth.

Business and Education

Munira Hamud Mutran (Brazil)

Professor Munira Hamud Mutran is Associate Professor of Literatures in English at the University of Sao Paulo and has been a pioneer in developing Irish studies in Brazil. The Irish Studies Programme at the University of Sao Paulo (USP) which she established 38 years ago, has had a profound  impact nationally in Brazil and also internationally, supporting the development of Irish studies in other parts of Latin America. She has taught Irish Literature in the Graduate Programme since 1980 graduating 25 MAs, 20 PhDs and 1 Post-Doc. For 20 years she was the key organiser of Bloomsday celebrations in San Paulo which has spread to other important Brazilian cities. In 1989, she co-founded the Brazilian Association of Irish Studies, and she is also the honorary Director of the WB Yeats Chair of Irish Studies/USP.

John L. Lahey (US)

Until his retirement in 2018, Dr John Lahey has held the position of President of Quinnipiac University, a post he has held since 1987, and was also the Chair of the New York 5th Avenue St. Patrick’s Day Parade Board of Directors. He is a leading figure in the Irish American community in New York, serving many years on the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee. Dr Lahey also developed the Great Hunger Museum and Institute at the University in 2012, which is home to the largest collection of Famine era material. He has facilitated the display of the Museum’s collection in 2018 in Dublin, Cork and Derry. 

Charitable Works

Bridget Tighe (Palestine) 

Sr. Bridget Tighe is a native of Ballindoon, Co. Sligo, who has served in the Middle East for more than 25 years and is currently based in Palestine. Like many of her generation, she left Ireland to pursue a third-level education – nursing initially - in England where she later joined a religious congregation, the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood (FMDM).  

Over a span of more than 40 years, she has served almost 25 years in the Middle East, focused on support for the Palestinian people, providing care to the most marginalised, often in extremely difficult conditions. Her first assignment was to Jordan, where she worked with Palestine refugees for almost 18 years. In more recent years, she has worked for Caritas Jerusalem, serving the poor and marginalised, regardless of religious or political affiliation, in health and psychosocial care, social assistance, job creation, micro-finance, food security, youth work, and drug abuse prevention. In 2015, she was appointed Executive Director in Gaza, where she served for three years, supporting the provision of emergency medical care and humanitarian relief in the aftermath of the 2014 war. In January 2018, she was appointed General Director of Caritas Jerusalem and moved to Jerusalem, where she now lives. She continues to travel widely throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

In addition to her many years of work in support of the Palestinian people, Sr. Tighe can point to an extensive array of other significant achievements, including further studies in the University of Cambridge and the London School of Economics. She was Founding Principal of the Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology in Cambridge and Vice-Rector of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem.

Irish Community Support

Tom Power (Deceased, Australia)

Tom Power, who passed away in 2017 aged 87, was the man who envisioned the Great Irish Famine Commemoration monument in Sydney. 

Originally from Tipperary, Tom arrived as a Priest in Sydney in 1956. On leaving the Priesthood in the early 1970s he worked as a Parole Officer with corrective services. 

Tom was involved with many community activities across Sydney, but he was best known for his work in the establishment of the Great Irish Famine Commemoration Committee which commissioned the world renowned Famine Memorial at Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney. As Chairman of the Committee, he worked tirelessly and selflessly alongside his committee colleagues to raise the funds necessary to complete its design and construction.

This memorial remembers the million people who died during the Great Irish Famine and more than 4,000 Irish orphan girls who came to Australia during and after the Great Hunger and who were initially housed at the Barracks. Since the monument was put in place, Tom gave much of his time identifying and engaging with the descendants of the orphan girls, making and keeping personal contact with many families.

Tom has made significant contributions in many other areas and has been a founding and influential member of many Irish organisations. In 1988 he was co-founder of the Tipperary-Australian Association, and was Chairman for 20 years. He was also Vice-Chairman of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee from 2002-2008. Tom also had significant involvement in the Irish Welfare bureau and was on the Executive Committee of the Aisling Society – an Irish literary society. 

In January 2014, Tom was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for “service to the Irish community, particularly through the commemoration of the Great Irish Famine”. 

Breege McDaid (Britain)

Breege is an inclusive community leader, whose positive outlook and mindful generosity inspires others and promotes deeper understanding and empathy towards vulnerable people in society.

A native of Buncrana in Co Donegal, Breege is Director of Irish Community Care Merseyside (ICCM). Beege has worked with with ICCM since 1987, which now has 17 staff, and caters for people of Irish birth or descent, including Irish Travellers, across Merseyside, west Cheshire and Wigan.

In addition to the young Irish, many of their clients include elderly people long domiciled in Merseyside, who may be in poor health and socially isolated. Help is provided with regard to jobseeking, benefits, housing, health, personal safety and many other issues affecting those of Irish background. ICCM also co-operates with the “Safe Home” project, based in Mayo, which assists elderly Irish to return to live in their native land.

Breege’s leadership of ICCM, her ability to collaborate with city partners and service providers, teamed with her tenacity to navigate systems to deliver opportunities to the poor, the vulnerable, the lost and the isolated, has benefited thousands and shows no signs of slowing. Breege’s reputation for diplomacy, advocacy and care is widely understood and appreciated in community, care and business circles in the city.

Edward J. Ward (US)

Ed Ward is an Irish American who founded the Milwaukee Irish Festival in 1980 and has been involved with the festival ever since.  

Under his stewardship, the Milwaukee Irish Festival has grown to be North America’s largest annual celebration of Irish music and culture and draws an audience of some 130,000. 

He has also founded the Ward Irish Music Archives, currently celebrating its 26th year. The Archive houses one of the largest public collections of Irish music in America and plays an important role in documenting and preserving local Irish culture.  

Beyond Milwaukee, Ed has played an important mentoring role across the US, including establishing the Association of Irish and Celtic Festivals in which he continues to play a leading role.  

Peace, Reconciliation and Development

Mary Killeen (Kenya)

Sr. Mary Killeen is a Mercy Sister who arrived in Kenya in 1976 where she initiated, and leads a diverse programme of education, health, and community services in Makuru slums, which is home to over 600,000 people. Her work targets the most marginalised children in the Nairobi Slums. 

Starting with a Primary School in 1985, she developed the Makuru Promotion Centre. This vast project now comprises 5 primary schools with 5,000 pupils, plus skills training in the various trades, beauty, hygiene, catering and vegetable growing. It also includes a school for special needs children, plus a secondary school for 660 students, along with health clinics, social work services, street children rehabilitation, support group for HIV/AIDS and business training. She has educated over 170,000 people – many of whom are now self-sustaining.

Sr. Mary has also been involved in the Mercy Development Support Office, Nairobi, which supports training centres, water supply, vehicles for projects and support for volunteers.

Science Technology and Innovation

Margaret Murnane (US)

Professor Margaret Murnane was born in Co. Limerick in 1959. She is Director of the National Science Foundation STROBE Science and Technology Center on functional nano-imaging, a fellow at JILA and Distinguished Professor at the Department of Physics and Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Colorado. She graduated from University College Cork before obtaining her PhD in Physics from the University of California at Berkeley.

Prof. Murnane is regarded as being one of the leading optical physicists of her generation.  Her work has focussed on the development of lasers which can operate at the fundamental limits of speed and stability. She has won many prizes for her pioneering work, including the prestigious John D and Catherine T MacArthur Fellowship in 2000, and more recently, the RDS Boyle Medal in 2011. In 2016 she was awarded the Optical Society of America’s Frederic Ives Medal/Quinn prize and was the recipient of the 2018 Science Foundation Ireland St. Patrick’s Day Science Medal.

She has served as an external reviewer for the Trinity College Dublin School of Physics and has delivered many talks in Ireland on her work, as well as having participated in fora such as the “Big Science for Small Countries” panel at ESOF in Dublin during 2012. 

Prof. Murnane is a strong advocate of supporting women in science and has been Chair of the American Physical Society (APS) Committee on the Status of Women in Physics. 

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