By Christopher Gillett
Former Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern visited Youngstown State University and received the Sean MacBride Humanitarian Award on Oct. 14 in the DeBartolo Stadium Club for his work negotiating the Good Friday Agreement.
Ahern’s visit was part of the midterm national board meeting for the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a national Irish American organization — whose national president is also director of Support Services at YSU, Danny O’Connell.
Ahern and O’Connell met with YSU Interim President Helen Lafferty on Oct. 12 at Tod Hall. After their meeting with Lafferty, the pair went to Cassese’s MVR to play bocce and have dinner.
Ahern went to the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor the next day to be interviewed by David Simonelli, a YSU professor of contemporary history who teaches Irish history this semester.
Simonelli said the interview was a fantastic opportunity at a personal view of history.
“It’s really fantastic to be teaching history — have it fly into town, and have it come and choose to meet with you, and discuss what actually happened,” Simonelli said. “It was dramatic — I felt. Mr. Ahern had personal stories that he brought forward about his life growing up, his life in politics, especially around the negotiations for the Good Friday Agreement.”
Bill Clinton, during his administration, wanted to end the Troubles, and reached out to Tony Blair in the U.K., Northern Ireland’s political parties and Ahern in the Republic of Ireland. U.S. Sen. George Mitchell mediated negotiations and the GFA was signed in 1998.
Ahern gave a personal side to the GFA and its negotiations, generating audience applause and laughter when reflecting on his legacy.
“The biggest thing is that when I want to go support my Gaelic football team in Dublin, I can now drive to Cork in two and a half hours, Limerick in an hour and a half [and] Belfast in an hour and a half, because I put the road structure in place,” Ahern said.
Later in the day, Ahern attended a dinner in the Coach’s Court in Beeghly Center where he and other presenters spoke to AOH members.
Ahern’s awardment on the night of Oct. 14 included speeches by him, Lafferty, O’Connell, AOH Vice President Sean Pender and Consul General of Ireland to New York Helena Nolan.
Ahern spoke about the award’s namesake, Sean MacBride, saying it was an honor to receive an award in his name.
“It is especially a particular honor to receive an award in the name of Ireland’s first Nobel Peace Prize winner, Sean MacBride,” Ahern said. “I met Sean MacBride a few times in his old age. I never formally crossed paths with him as a [Teachta Dála] … because he left in 1957 — 20 years before I arrived.”
Bertie Ahern also hosted a podcast, “As I Remember It: Bertie Ahern & The Good Friday Agreement,” available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts, where he talked with parties about the GFA.
To learn more about the Ancient Order of Hibernians, visit its website.