Speaking at the ceremony last night, President Higgins acknowledged Concern’s extraordinary contribution to overseas humanitarian aid for five decades.
President Higgins said: “Through your work you crafted a vital bridge between the Irish people and some of the poorest people in our world.
“I would like to thank Concern most profoundly for all that you’ve achieved not just for the work that you’ve done but for the work you continue to do. It is so important.”
Commenting at the event, which was attended by 170 volunteers, supporters and staff, Concern CEO Dominic MacSorley paid tribute to the incredible generosity of the Irish public, which has helped the organisation to reach many millions of people over the past 50 years.
Mr MacSorley said: “The response of the Irish public was phenomenal. Images of war and starvation broadcast into homes across Ireland tapped into the instinctual empathy and generosity of a nation and this is what has continued to sustain Concern over the past 50 years.”
Founded in 1968 in response to devastating famine in the breakaway state of Biafra, Nigeria, Concern is now Ireland’s largest international aid agency, reaching over 26 million people in 26 of the world’s poorest countries last year.
From the beginning, a group of volunteers, led by a young Dublin couple, John and Kay O’Loughlin Kennedy, had a bold, inclusive vision that brought supporters from all backgrounds and all corners together, including from north and south of the island of Ireland.
Their efforts built on the legacy of the Irish missionaries and opened a new chapter of ambitious Irish humanitarian relief that was both compassionate and professional, supported by communities and volunteers from all over the country.
In the first year alone, they raised the equivalent of €4 million to send a ship-load of vital supplies to the starving population of Nigeria in what was the largest relief operation to ever come out of Ireland at the time.
Irish vessel ‘The Columcille’ set sail from Dublin Port on September 6, 1968 and arrived off the coast of São Tomé 23 days later, where pilots flew consignments of aid into the war-torn country.
Channelled through the strong and capable hands of the Finucane brothers, Aengus and Jack, on the ground, thousands of lives were saved.