AnnualTestimonial Awards Dinner Report
The 14th Annual Michael Flannery Testimonial Awards Dinner, held by Cumann Na Saoirse Náisíunta (National Irish Freedom Committee) on Saturday, April 25th at Connolly’s Restaurant, was a great success. Attendees enjoyed a fine evening of traditional Irish music, plentiful hot hors d'oeuvres, open bar (including at least 15 beers on tap), a delicious buffet dinner plus inspiring speeches
2009 Annual Dinner
Report.htmand lively conversation. The evening was enhanced by fabulous warm and sunny weather and a Times Square Manhattan location.
Traditional Irish music was provided by the always incredible Mary Courtney on vocals and guitar, along with Pio Ryan on banjo and Gerry Enright on bodhrán. The trio entertained the packed room with a great mix of lively reels, jigs and ballads which was enjoyed by young and old alike.
Master of Ceremonies Brian Mór Ó Baoighill gave the official welcome to the crowd. He gave get well wishes to a recuperating John McDonagh, who is typically Brian’s co-MC. Brian also spoke of Republicans who passed away during the past year and asked for a moment of silence in their honor.
Brian then introduced Darryl Levey, who read a statement from the Republican prisoners in Maghaberry Prison:
“We, the Republican Prisoners in Maghaberry Gaol wish to express our gratitude for your support over the past number of years.
Since the signing of the Stormont Agreement our former comrades in the Provos have ensured that we are denied the right to be recognised as political prisoners. This refusal has been fought for tooth and nail by Republican Prisoners, both past and present.
In 2003 Republican prisoners endured a dirty protest for segregation and political status. Segregation was eventually gained, much to the annoyance of the Prison Officers' Association in the Six Counties and the British administration. Again in 2006 Republican prisoners embarked upon a protest for better conditions. This protest was suspended in 2007 after successfully securing a number of changes.
After the protest was suspended we made it clear that the status quo would not be tolerated for another three years. With suspending the protest, we made it clear that our protest could be reactivated at a time of our choosing.
With this in mind we must ask you, the people of the United States, to continue the good work which you have conducted on our behalf to highlight our plight to the outside world. Without you – the true inheritors of the Republican ideal – the voice of the Prisoners would go unheard.
You have been a great inspiration to us all, and we send our thanks and appreciation for your work”
Mike Costello then spoke briefly about an ardent supporter, Martin Griffin, who has been a prolific contributor to our website with essays and book reviews. Martin has been ill recently and unfortunately was not able to attend the dinner. Mike thanked Martin for his hard work and commended his indomitable spirit. Martin will be presented with an official tribute from the organization in the near future.
Tiokasin Ghosthorse of the Lakota Nation spoke of the historic connection between the Gael and the Native American, mentioning the support given to the people of Ireland by the Lakota people during the great starvation. Tiokasin gave a blessing of the food in his native tongue and played a native tune on the flute.
After dinner, Jane Enright introduced Pat Sullivan who spoke passionately about our late member and friend John Costelloe, who passed away last December. Pat spoke of his long friendship and FDNY working relationship with John. He told the crowd that John was the first fireman he met on the job who was not only aware of James Connolly but could quote passages from Connolly’s Labour in Irish History. Pat spoke of John’s commitment to socialism, social justice and republicanism. It was a touching tribute to John. Pat and Jane presented a memorial plaque to John’s father, Michael Costelloe, on behalf of Cumann Na Saoirse Náısıúnta.
Next, Maggie introduced Sandy Boyer and presented him with the 2009 Sr. Sarah Clarke Human Rights Award. Sandy has been a life-long human rights activist. He has lead many campaigns to free Irish political prisoners including the Guildford 4, Birmingham 6, and Róisín McAliskey. He has taught Irish politics and history and has contributed articles on the Irish struggle to publications in Ireland and the U.S. Sandy has been co-host of Radio Free Éireann, along with John McDonagh, on WBAI radio (99.5FM) in New York City for many years.
Sandy spoke about the plight of Republican prisoners, in particular, mentioning the ongoing cases in America of the Malachy McAllister family and Pól Brennan. Sandy finished by saying “if each of us in the activist community could do just a little more, then next year we will have something to be very proud of.”
Maggie Trainor then read a statement from Bernadette Devlin McAliskey which included this stirring assessment of Sandy Boyer: “In fact, contrary to the brash egotistical and opportunistic revisionism currently writing the script of Irish- American relationships, the real history of the hard work and shared effort to raise in the USA awareness, consciousness (not the same thing) solidarity and support in the Irish progressive struggle, within the context of international progressive context, within the human rights context, within the context of anti-imperialism, anti-racism and anti-sectarianism cannot be written without Sandy Boyer’s name appearing right through it like a piece of seaside rock.” Regarding all the campaigns on which Sandy has worked, Bernadette said, “…very little happened without his quiet unassuming but steady hand on the backroom business of making it all work.”
Brian Mór then introduced Mary Costello and presented her with the 2009 Pearl Flannery Humanities Award. Mary was born in Birmingham of Irish parents who were forced to leave Belfast in the 1930’s due to the Orange Order pogroms in the British occupied six Irish counties. Mary has been prominent in the campaign to promote the Eire Nua program and with the distribution of Saoirse in the United States. Mary and her family have also been involved in campaigns to support dependants of Irish political prisoners in Long Kesh and other British prisons.
Mary spoke eloquently of her family’s experiences facing brutality, sectarianism, and pogroms in the six occupied counties. She closed by accepting her award on behalf of all the Nationalist women in the six counties who, in the face of it all, kept their families together and instilled a great grá in their culture and nation of birth.
The final award -- the 2009 Michael Flannery Spirit of Freedom Award -- was presented to Liam Ó Murchadha by Brian Mór. Liam is a long time activist in the cause of Irish freedom and is a strong proponent of the Éire Nua federal solution for Ireland. He has written many articles and essays on Irish and Irish American history, specifically, on the role of the Fenian Movement in America. Brian called Liam “the very definition of a Fenian.”
Liam spoke of his long friendship with Michael Flannery beginning at an Easter commemoration in 1966. He stated that following the Adams led abandonment of republicanism in 1986; Flannery felt it was time for a new organization to preserve -- in America -- the principles of 1916. He convened a meeting of seven men at his house, including the late George Harrison and Joe Stynes, and formed Cumann Na Saoirse Náisíunta. Liam told the crowd that Michael Flannery’s steadfast Republicanism should inspire us all to settle for no less than the full goal of a united and independent Ireland.
Des Dalton, Vice President of Republican Sinn Fein, addressed the crowd via telephone from Ireland: "Irish history since 1921 has witnessed a series of agreements culminating in the St. Andrews of 2006. The point about this is that none of them have produced a lasting settlement because none of them have addressed the cause of the conflict in Ireland which is the ongoing British occupation. What we have gotten has been a cycle of armed resistance followed by an agreement followed by yet further resistance and yet another agreement. The nature of British rule in Ireland has not changed, be it in the 21st century or in the 20th or 19th or, for that matter, for over 800 years of British occupation of Ireland.”
Dalton continued: “We believe that there is an alternative to the St Andrews Agreement. We believe that the Eire Nua proposal provides for a viable and realistic framework for building a new Ireland” and “substituting the name of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter, for the common name of Irish men.”
He also spoke about the U.S policy of visa denial to proponents of Eire Nua and the current political situation in Ireland including the abusive raids by the RUC/PSNI and the detentions of Republicans who do not support the so-called agreements imposed by the British government. Des ended his remarks by thanking those in America who continue to support true Republicanism.
Brian Wardlow then spoke about the importance of continuing to fight against the U.S. visa denial policy. Wardlow stated that “The Eire Nua program was a threat to the status quo because Eire Nua provides for real access to power all the way to the local level. He added that the Irish Republican movement in the U.S. will be shouldered by a new generation, who will seek the guidance of our predecessors in the promotion of Eire Nua.
Brian Mór thanked Tomas O Coisdealbha for his work with the popular Fenian Graves project that features memorials to former activists who took part in the Irish freedom struggle and who spent some time here in the United States (see www.irishfreedom.net). He also reminded the crowd that this weekend marks the 94th anniversary of the beginning of the Armenian Genocide, which occurred when two million Armenians living in Turkey were eliminated from their historic homeland through forced deportations and massacres resulting in the deaths of at least half a million Armenians.
Brian wrapped up the evening with a thank you to the crowd for attending the dinner and making it a great success.