2019 Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient

By Karen Daly

“Kindness, humour, affection and even love (were) on display,” tweeted Counsel General Ciarán Madden, summing up the mood as the Irish American Writers & Artists presented Peter Quinn its Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award on October 21, 2019. The Manhattan Manor’s beautiful Skylight Room was filled to the rafters to celebrate that “New York Paddy.”

The O’Neill Award honors an individual for his or her exemplary contributions to the arts. Quinn, a novelist and contributor to many publications, including Irish America, is an authority on the Irish American story and a respected figure in our midst, beloved for his generosity and wit.

Hosting the event, IAW&A President Mary Pat Kelly observed that through his writing, notably Banished Children of Eve, the magisterial novel of the New York City Irish experience during the Civil War, “The Mighty Quinn rescues us from cliché and stereotype, illuminating our history with his unforgettable characters…”

Family, friends, fan, and representatives of the Irish cultural groups — Glucksman Ireland House, The Irish Repertory Theatre, The Yeats Society, the Irish Arts Center— all came out to join IAW&A members in honoring, Peter, who was a was a founding member and IAW&A’s first President.

Opening the tribute part of the evening, singer Ashley Davis hushed the room with her thrilling a capella rendition of “Raglan Road.”  Consul General Ciarán Madden lead off the tributes, followed by Siobhan McCourt delivering wishes from her father, Malachy McCourt who was away in Limerick.

Two Pulitzer Prize winners joined in the tribute. Novelist and IAW&A’s first O’Neill Award recipient in 2009, William Kennedy said that Peter Quinn, “… takes history by the throat and makes it confess.” NY Times writer Dan Barry, said of his friend, “Peter Quinn so vividly summoned a distant time and city. If I had written Banished Children of Eve, I would have stopped writing.  I would have thought, I’ve already conquered literature, so I might as well have learned to dance.” 

Attorney and writer Fred Wistow, like Quinn, a Bronx native, recalled Peter’s corporate days as editorial director for Time Warner. Then Irish America’s editor Patricia Harty, a former O’Neill honoree, presented Peter with the handcrafted Tiffany glass award. 

The honoree, with his trademark erudition and wit, rewarded the crowd with his acceptance speech, declaring “I’m so tired of hearing about Peter Quinn.”

The SRO crowd didn’t tire of hearing him and rewarded his eloquent words with a standing ovation. As Ashley Davis told him, “As always, your speech was a homer.”