Irish eyes were smiling at Heinz Field


The setting and ambiance might have taken on the feel of a library and bookstore as a tribute to honoree David McCullough, a Pulitzer Prize winning author and Pittsburgh native, but things were lively on Wednesday night at the American Ireland Fund Pittsburgh Gala at Heinz Field.

Pittsburgh-based Irish band Red Hand Paddy entertained guests, and Burke Conroy Irish Dancers stepped their way into the hearts of all attendees with their charm and talent.

The festivities formally kicked off when Jim Lamb of Guaranteed Irish sang the Irish National Anthem, "The Soldier's Song," while Red Hand Paddy fiddler Pat Manion performed the American National Anthem.

While the entertainment was stellar and had everyone's Irish eyes smiling, the night was about a lot more.

Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney Sr., along with Pittsburgh businessman Anthony J.F. O'Reilly, created The Ireland Fund, which later merged with the American Irish Foundation (AIF) to create the American Ireland Fund, the leading charitable organization benefiting Ireland. Rooney has been a driving force in the success the AIF has seen over the years, helping with the American Ireland Fund's mission of promoting programs of peace and reconciliation, arts and culture, education and community development throughout Ireland.

"They have had a very big part in the peace between the North and the South in Ireland," said Rooney, the former United States Ambassador to Ireland.* *"It's going very well. That was the key thing that I wanted to work as Ambassador. I visited every county and we would talk about that. I was representing the United States, so that helped towards the peace process."

The dinner honored McCullough with the 2014 American Ireland Fund Chairman's Award. McCullough, an American author, narrator, historian, and lecturer, was born in Pittsburgh. He is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian award. In 2013 McCullough was honored by the City of Pittsburgh when the 16th Street Bridge was renamed the "David McCullough Bridge," honoring his book "The Great Bridges." The American Ireland Fund paid homage to that with a replica of the bridge as part of the evening's décor.

"He is a fantastic person," said Rooney, who presented McCullough the award while team President Art Rooney II also honored him. "His background is very unique. Those who had the opportunity to hear him really enjoyed what he had to say. And he is from Pittsburgh. He was thrilled they named the bridge after him as the bridges came into a lot of the work he did. He said that bridges bring people together, and he did that so well too."

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