Below are the full remarks delivered June 14, 2022 by John D. Feerick ’61, Dean Emeritus and Norris Professor of Law, at University College Dublin (UCD), after being conferred with the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa:
I am overwhelmed and humbled by this high honor, for which I feel unworthy. I wish to thank UCD’s former dean, Imelda Maher, for launching the selection process for this honor. This honor has great meaning to me, both emotionally and professionally, coming as it does from a University of grandeur in the history of Ireland.
I mention emotionally because of my parents, Mary Jane Boyle and John Feerick, both born in County Mayo, and raised on farms. They immigrated to America in their teens, each alone, in the late 1920s. They met in New York City, married, and raised a family of five children. I was the oldest, followed by my deceased brother Donald, a successful businessman; Maureen, a retired school teacher; Kevin, a lawyer in the field of dispute resolution; and Anne, a healthcare administrator.
My mother raised us while my father worked. Pop served on military installations in World War II, as a sandhog in the water tunnels of New York City, and as the operator of a trolley car. He played the accordion while my mother sang and danced. They gave us a happy home and sent us out in the world with a moral code and their hope that we make something of ourselves by attaining an education, serve others and honor our Irish heritage. Neither were to see their parents again, but they loved returning to Ireland, as do my siblings and I, along with many grandchildren. Today, I am here with Donald’s daughter, Mary Beth, a lawyer for the mentally ill [and]institutionalized in New York, and a few other family members from New York and various counties in Ireland.
Professionally, as a Fordham Law professor at age 85, I consider this honorary degree as a capstone recognition that would have astonished my parents, as it does me. UCD has a special place in my life. At the turn of this century, former Dean Paul O’Connor of the Sutherland School of Law invited me to join him and Dean John Jackson of Queen’s University School of Law in the creation of a historic 20-year partnership that would join all three schools in an educational program. Each year, American law students from Fordham take classes at both schools and learn the history and culture of both countries. In the past dozen years, these classes have included Irish law students and many wonderful relationships have developed. Today, more than 700 Fordham law students have attended the program, and I am grateful to all the lawyers, judges, and other professionals from both countries who have contributed.
My desire to join in the creation of this partnership, as the dean of the School of Law at Fordham, a university established by Archbishop John Hughes from County Tyrone, has many sources. Principal among these sources was a 21-year history on my part as a practicing lawyer engaged in problem solving and peacemaking roles, and then for another 20 years as a builder, with other Fordham colleagues, of a robust curriculum of courses to acquaint students with skills that enable them to be leaders.
In coming to Ireland, there were other influences. One was associated with the late John Hume, and another with President William Clinton. In November 1994, I hosted a lunch at Fordham for John Hume with graduates. I recall [that]at the end he said, “I appreciate the lunch, but I want more from you.” He paused and continued, “Please come to Northern Ireland.” We did so a number of times before the peace agreement of April 10, 1998.
In the following year, I was invited to join a group of 38 citizens accompanying President Clinton to Belfast, a historic first by an American president. We were all asked by the president to find ways to contribute to a more peaceful society in Northern Ireland. The trip concluded in Dublin with a dinner at Dublin Castle, at which Ireland’s President, Mary Robinson, and President Clinton gave inspiring remarks promoting, as I recall, a more peaceful Ireland.
My parents, if then alive, would have been in disbelief to learn that I was assigned to sit at a table between a former president of Ireland and the chief justice of Ireland, Patrick Hillery and Liam Hamilton, respectively. I had the opportunity to introduce the chief justice to President Clinton and to listen to them speak with each other. Justice Hamilton became my friend that night and accepted my invitation to visit Fordham Law School. He came and gave a historic John Sonnet Lecture, as had two other chief justices of Ireland earlier. Justice Hamilton and his wife honored me and my wife by attending a play then on Broadway called Showboat, and I discovered what a wonderful singing voice he had.
And now I conclude by thanking UCD for this moment in time for honoring the memory of my parents, to whom I dedicate these remarks. I will cherish this honorary degree and promise always, with whatever energy I have, to contribute to a greater peace in Northern Ireland and the Republic so that the children and grandchildren of this generation will have their opportunities as the children of my parents had.
Thank you very much.
Photo courtesy of University College Dublin