Concern pays tribute to generosity of the Irish public

Press release28 March 2018

Concern Worldwide has paid tribute to the extraordinary generosity and compassion of the Irish public after being honoured by President Michael D. Higgins at a special 50th anniversary event at Áras an Uachtaráin

Concern co-founder John O'Loughlin Kennedy (left) with President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin
Concern co-founder John O'Loughlin Kennedy (left) with President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin

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.

A Bold Inclusive Vision

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.

Mariner Karl Vekins with President Michael D. Higgins at 50th anniversary event for Concern Worldwide at Áras an Uachtaráin
Mariner Karl Vekins with President Michael D. Higgins at 50th anniversary event for Concern Worldwide at Áras an Uachtaráin

Dubliner Karl Vekins, who now lives in Greencastle Co. Donegal, who was among those who attended last night’s event at Áras an Uachtaráin, was just 16 when he spotted the ship at Sir John Rogerson’s Quay and decided to join the crew as a cabin boy.

He recalled: “I was intrigued and eventually I found out that they were looking for crew. I had just finished my Junior Cert and was just going to go on the vessel for six months and continue on with the Leaving Cert then. It didn’t quite work out like that.

“The people who set it all up were so farsighted. Can you imagine nowadays? Just going out and buying a ship, loading it with cargo and bringing it down to West Africa. It was an incredible experience.”

Concern has a number of events planned to mark the 50th anniversary of the organisation over the year including an international conference on conflict to take place in Dublin in September.

For more information, images or interview requests, please contact Kevin Jenkinson on 086 358 2886 or [email protected].

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