- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2001

The cancellation of traditional St. Patricks Day Parade festivities in Ireland this year may have made Thursdays American Ireland Fund gala more high-powered than usual.
Irish politicians of all stripes turned up, and so many Irish-Americans, that one Irish-born visitor was moved to observe, tongue-in-cheek, "No wonder the English are worried about the Irish-American community." (This country has 44 million people of Irish descent, according to fund chief Kingsley Aikins.)
Those in attendance included British Ambassador Christopher Meyer, Irish Ambassador Sean OHuiginn, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, Nobel laureates John Hume and David Trimble, and Seamus Mallon, deputy first minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Other VIPs included Gerry Adams of the IRA-associated Sinn Fein organization and U2s Bono.
Sen. Christopher Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, was recipient of the funds 2001 International Leadership Award, and New York Republican Rep. James Walsh was given a Distinguished Service Award.
The black-tie event at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center was a mix, as usual, of sentimental and serious talk, bragging and bombast. A harpist played "Danny Boy" and "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling." A goodly number of the "green" crowd were suitably decorated none more dashing than Jim Rowan, lobbyist with Cassidy & Associates, looking like a somber Oscar Wilde in a black velvet vest and green carnation.
The cause uppermost in everyones mind was, of course, peace and prosperity, especially in Northern Ireland and border counties. Fund dollars a cool million raised in one evening alone go to projects to alleviate sectarian violence and its effects in the homeland.
"Ive been coming to this country for St. Patricks Day for 20 years," Mr. Hume said, crediting "my friend Tip ONeill (the late speaker of the House) for instigating American celebrations on behalf of Irelands most famous saint. He interrupted serious talk during the pre-dinner reception to pay homage to Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy with a mock low bow. (Mr. Leahys St. Patrick observance would be sledding in Vermont with son Kevin and grandson Rowan.)
"I dont think [negotiations resulting in the 1998 power-sharing accord] worked as well as we expected," Connecticut Republican Rep. Rob Simmons said privately.
Mr. Mallon was more optimistic or more diplomatic in formal remarks to the crowd, saying that "Peace has not happened by accident, and it has to continue. There is something significant if for the first time we are here together officially at the American Ireland Fund, able to speak together. That in itself is recognition that for the first time we have two communities in Ireland working together."
Mr. Trimble echoed his words and goals, saying with carefully crafted phrases that "We have come a long way," and making the point that the destination was peaceful resolution of differences. "We are not far away from it. I look forward to being here again next year to celebrate the way we have been able to work together."
Mr. Dodds entrance earlier was like Moses parting the waves, so eagerly did well-wishers descend upon him with congratulations for his role as what the program termed "a catalyst for progress."
It took his friend Sen. Ted Kennedy to bring the Connecticut senator down a peg in a joshing introduction from the podium later.
"Im one of few people on the planet who loves Chris more than he does himself," Mr. Kennedy deadpanned. "He is a splendid guy. I hate to see so nice a young man get ahead on the basis of a family name." Mr. Dodd followed his late father into the Senate some 20 years ago.
"Getting ahead in the Senate," Mr. Kennedy added, "is 90 percent ability, and the other is 10 percent Irish luck."
"He is an Irishman for all seasons," the Massachusetts senator concluded on a note of praise.
Mr. Dodd wasnt at any loss for words or jokes, either.
So many people have been given awards at this function in the past, he noted, "the only other choice could have been Mickey Rooney."


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