From the US Presidential campaign to Buncrana

Chris Matthews
Chris Matthews

With the US Presidential campaign in full swing, well known political commentator Chris Matthews is taking time out from his busy TV schedule next week to make a special visit to Donegal where he will receive this year’s Tip O’Neill Irish Diaspora Award.

Chris Matthews will be the guest of honour at the Gala Ceremony which will be held on Friday next in the Inishowen Gateway Hotel in Buncrana and will be attended by a number of dignitaries including the Minister for the Diaspora Joe McHugh, T.D..

The Tip O’Neill Irish Diaspora Award was initiated in 2012 on the centenary of the birth of Thomas P. Tip O’Neill. Tip O’Neill whose maternal grandparents hailed from Donegal (Buncrana and Clonmany) was an American Politician and Statesman who served as Speaker of the US House of Representatives from 1977 until 1987.

The Tip O ‘Neill Irish Diaspora Award is presented on an annual basis to a chosen member of the broad Irish Diaspora in recognition of achievements in their chosen field and their interest in, and support for Ireland and its Diaspora.

This year’s recipient Chris Matthews is proud of his Irish heritage. His mother’s father was Charles Patrick Shields whose grandparents both emigrated to Philadelphia from Donegal in the mid 1860’s.

Speaking about his grandfather, Chris says “the Shields were from Donegal and were grandparents to my mom’s dad, Charles Patrick Shields.  He was the local democratic committee man in Philadelphia and I loved the guy, we talked politics all the time”.

His father’s mother, Matilda Gardner was from Dervock, Ballymoney, Antrim and she arrived in Philadelphia in 1907.  

Receiving this award, which is dedicated to the legendary Tip O’Neill, is particularly emotional for Chris Matthews.

“I should say something about Speaker Tip O’Neill who I had the honour to serve for a half dozen years.  He brought me aboard as his aide which was the top title back then.  It was the time in which he was going head-to-head politically with the newly-inaugurated President Ronald Reagan”.

“It was a challenging time for him as he, the classic American liberal, was facing a popular conservative Republican president.  I am proud of being part of his leadership and witnessing his courage and generosity during those years”.

“I am especially proud of the way in which he and President Reagan, men of different philosophies, were able to work together in meeting the country’s urgent need.  They saved social security, reformed the tax system and quietly worked together for what we in America could do to help bring peace to Northern Ireland.  Speaker O’Neill, of course, was a leader in the effort to ensure that Americans played their part in ending the “troubles.”

Cllr. Nicholas Crossan, chair of the Tip O’Neill Irish Diaspora Award Committee is looking forward to this year’s events saying “The Tip O’Neill Irish Diaspora Award has become a key event in the Donegal calendar and the excitement in Buncrana is mounting as we get ready to welcome all our special guests back to Inishowen. This award is a fitting tribute to one of Donegal’s most famous sons.”

Cathaoirleach Cllr. Terence Slowey believes that Chris Matthews is a well deserving recipient of this award. “Chris’s resumé speaks for itself, he has been awarded 34 honorary degrees, including from his Alma Mater “The College of the Holy Cross”.  He has received the John F. Kennedy medal from “The Ancient Order of Hibernians” and he was inducted into the Irish American Hall of Fame in 2014. His faith in electoral politics and in the value of democracy and how it can best serve the people are a quality that I admire greatly”.

The previous recipients of the Award have been, Niall O’Dowd, an Irish New York based journalist and publisher, Brian Schweitzer, former Governor of Montana, Senator Therese Murray, former President of the Massachusetts Senate and Loretta Brennan Glucksman, US philanthropist.

Other events to be held over the weekend include the Tip O’Neill Irish Diaspora Award Lecture by Prof Paul Arthur at the Sliabh Sneacht Centre in Drumfries on Saturday 24 September at 11am and the presentation of the Tip O’Neill Irish Diaspora Award Schools Competition at 2pm on Friday 23 September in Scoil Naomh Pádraig, Drumfries.