Esteemed novelist Edna O’Brien and Merseyside care worker Breege McDaid were among the winners of a presidential award for the Irish abroad.
O’Brien and McDaid are the only two Britain-residing recipients who were announced by Simon Coveney, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, as winners of the Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad for 2018.
The award was established by the Government following the 2011 Global Irish Economic Forum as a means of recognising the contribution of members of the Irish diaspora. The first awards were handed out in 2012.
Renowned novelist, memoirist, playwright and poet Edna O’Brien, born in Clare in 1930, moved to London in 1954.
She published her first book, The Country Girls, in 1962, and has since published many other award-winning novels, as well as short story collections, plays, poetry and non-fiction books.
Her work has brought important Irish and feminist themes to the fore. She has been recognised internationally and in Ireland for many years as one of Ireland’s greatest living writers and has won many awards in a long and distinguished career. In April 2018, she was awarded a Damehood by Queen Elizabeth.
Breege McDaid, Director of the Irish Community Care Merseyside (ICCM), is, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs, an “inclusive community leader, whose positive outlook and mindful generosity inspires others and promotes deeper understanding and empathy towards vulnerable people in society”.
Originally hailing from Buncrana in Co Donegal, Breege has worked with ICCM since 1987, which now has 17 staff, and caters for people of Irish birth or descent, including Irish Travellers, across Merseyside, west Cheshire and Wigan.
She helps with the elderly members of the Irish community and provides assistance with regard to jobseeking, benefits, housing, health, personal safety and many other issues affecting those of Irish background. ICCM also co-operates with the “Safe Home” project, based in Mayo, which assists elderly Irish to return to live in their native land.
The department hailed Breege’s leadership of ICCM and her ability to collaborate with city partners and service providers.
Among the other eight recipients are Irish-American Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Kennedy, Irish studies expert Prof Munira Hamud Mutran of the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, Dr John L Lahey, a leading figure in the Irish American community in New York and Sister Bridget Tighe who was named in the charitable works category.
Sr Tighe, currently based in Palestine, has served in the Middle East for more than 25 years and her recent work is focused on “support for the Palestinian people, providing care to the most marginalised, often in extremely difficult conditions”, according to her award biography.
The late Tom Power from Australia also received the award posthumously.
The awards were presented on 29th November by President Michael D. Higgins.
There were 148 nominations considered for the 10 awards this year. Mr Ciaran Cannon, the Minister for the Diaspora, said the level and breadth of the achievements of the people nominated was “outstanding”.
In order to be eligible for consideration, nominees must be habitually resident outside the island of Ireland. Nominations were made by Irish communities abroad through the State’s diplomatic missions.
“The diverse contributions of these individuals extends across six different categories. Through their work, they contribute to building an invaluably positive image of Ireland and Irish people around the world,” Coveney said.
“This is the seventh year in which recipients have received this Award, and the ceremony remains a very important opportunity to acknowledge those who have contributed to realising Ireland’s place as an island at the centre of the world.”