Major Irish Unity Conference in New York

A new page in the push towards a united Ireland was written in New York in March when the Great Hall of Cooper Union hosted a major Irish Unity Summit. It was a day-long conference focusing on the work, design, inclusion, and conversations needed to create a new and United Ireland. Hundreds of people attended in person while hundreds more watched the event live online.

Many travelled to New York from all over the USA as well as from Canada and Ireland. Young and old, recent Irish immigrants, 4th generation Irish Americans, progressive political organizers and conservative leaders all came together to listen, contribute, and be a part of this historic moment.

It was a project born of the coordination of the seven largest Irish American organizations (Ancient Order of Hibernians, Brehon Law Society, Friends of Sinn Féin, Irish American Unity Conference, Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick, James Connolly Irish American Labor Coalition, and Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians).

The Irish Unity Summit was the result of months of planning and work. Speakers and panellists included Professor Brendan O’Leary, author and New York Times writer Megan Stack, Peace Activist Glenn Bradley, ‘Ireland’s Future’ Founder Niall Murphy, Foras na Gaeilge board member Ola Majekodunmi, Navigating NY Podcast host Sophie Colgan, founder of ‘The Dead Rabbit’ Jack McGarry, Professor of Irish History Christine Kinealy, NY State Senator Tim Kennedy, and MA State Representative Hannah Kane.

Labor leaders like John Samuelson, international president of the Transport Workers Union and president of the 39,000-member Transport Workers Union Local 100 and John Murphy, International Representative,
United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada ensured that the central role labor plays in the work was front and center.

Board members of the African American Irish Diaspora Network, played key roles throughout the day as moderators for our panel and Q&A.

With a schedule of speakers that included politicians, professors, business leaders, community organizers, legal experts, and elected representatives, the question of how do we help achieve Irish Unity was examined from nearly every angle.

The event was kicked off by a surprise visit from New York State Governor, Kathy Hochul, who welcomed us all to New York and celebrated the coming together of such a brilliant and thoughtful schedule. Governor Hochul is the first woman to ever serve as the Governor of New York.

An inspiring keynote address by Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald let everyone know that attendees were in for a groundbreaking event. She said: “Ireland – united and free – finally taking its rightful place
amongst the nations of the world. This is a journey that the United States has walked with Ireland for generations.”

The Sinn Féin leader added: “The bonds that tie our two countries together are not only those of friendship, they are also the bonds of family. Bonds forged by the agonies of famine and the destitution of the coffin ships, of emigrants forced across the Atlantic in search of work, opportunity, and a better life in a new world. These are the roots of Irish America.

“The connection between Ireland and the US is the story of challenge, of perseverance, of hope, of endurance and success. The US has been a sanctuary for Irish people and those Irish who came here helped to build this nation and have made defining contributions to American society across literature, politics, business, arts, music, and sports.”

Mary Lou McDonald continued: “The US kept faith with Ireland and played a central role in our national voyage that spans the struggle for independence, the pain of conflict, an emerging peace process that defied the odds, right through to the achievement of the historic Good Friday Agreement twenty six years ago.

“When Brexit threatened Irish interests and our peace agreement, the US stepped up and stood-by Ireland. That’s what friends do. That’s what family does. So, I ask that you walk with us now on the
final length of the journey in common cause for peace, for reconciliation, for progress and prosperity. For unity.”

The New York Ceili Band which consisted of Seagda Coyle on button accordion, Pamela Geraghty on guitar and vocals, Brenda Dowling on concertina and flute, and Erin Loughran on fiddle, provided music throughout the day.

Between panels, speeches, and tunes, the lobby was full of the sounds of friends saying hello, new connections being made, and plans for future meetings, discussions, and more.

Flyers for upcoming events in the New York area, Frederick Douglass walking tour guides generously donated by Prof Kinealy, programs, and more were handed out and made available for all attendees. In addition to the materials made available, boxes were placed all over the theatre and lobby into which attendees were asked to submit questions which would be shared with a special panel which included
Mary Lou McDonald, Professor Brendan O’Leary, and Niall Murphy, founder of Ireland’s future.

The Q&A panel was one of the highlights of the day. Irish American organizations, Irish diaspora, and everyone in attendance was reinvigorated by the conversations and by the opportunity made possible by the event to discuss the details of the next steps and calls to action.

The Irish Unity Summit made it clearer than ever that we are the generation that will see the project of a New and United Ireland through.

This story first appeared in the latest issue of Éire Nua – you can download the magazine here.