6th May, 2010

35th Annual New York Dinner Gala

Bono Joins President Clinton and Mayor Bloomberg at New York's Lincoln Center

U2's Bono joined President Clinton, Mayor Bloomberg and 1,300 members of the Irish-American business, political and arts communities at the American Ireland Fund 35th Anniversary New York Gala at the Lincoln Center Thursday to raise $3 million for Irish and Irish-American projects. Despite the economic downturn on both sides of the Atlantic, this year's special anniversary gala – one of the largest annual events of its kind among the global Irish Diaspora – surpassed The American Ireland Fund's target of $2.5 million.

Honored at this year's 35th anniversary dinner was Andrew N. Liveris, President, CEO and Chairman of the Board of the Dow Chemical Company, who received the Leslie C. Quick, Jr. Leadership Award.

Among other distinguished guests joining the former President and the New York City Mayor were Michael Geoghegan, Group Chief Executive of HSBC Holdings plc, Christopher M. "Kip" Condron, President and Chief Executive Officer of AXA Financial, Inc., Robert J. McCann, Chief Executive Officer of UBS Wealth Management Americas, and the Secretary of State's Economic Envoy to Northern Ireland, Declan Kelly.

Proceeds from the Gala will benefit a range of projects across the island of Ireland as well as in the United States. The first two checks cut on the night, for $500,000 and $200,000 respectively, were for the Music Network in Ireland, and the Forgotten Irish in New York. A nationwide musical and vocal tuition program for Ireland's teens, the Music Network is a $10 million U2 / The Ireland Funds partnership which has already received a $7 million commitment from the band. The initial injection of $1/2 million from The Ireland Funds at the AIF's New York Gala Thursday night will grow to $3 million over the next two years.

Also committed on the night was a $200,000 investment in the Forgotten Irish campaign in New York's boroughs of Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx to support isolated and impoverished elderly Irish-American emigrants. This is the second year for the American Ireland Fund to donate to the campaign.

Addressing the capacity crowd at the Tent at Lincoln Center, U2's Bono said,

"One of the big disappointments of my young life was when the piano was taken from my grandmother's house. Luckily for me, I went on to a school with a strong music facility. As a band we believe music tuition should be available to anyone who wants it. It greatly benefits the individual, which in turn benefits the country. We hope the National Music Tuition Programme will inspire Ireland's young musicians, who might not otherwise get access to such valuable teaching."

President and CEO of the Worldwide Ireland Funds
Also addressing the Gala, President and CEO of the Worldwide Ireland Funds, Kieran McLoughlin, said,

"There may be a downturn in the economies of our two countries but there's no downturn in the generosity of Irish Americans. You understand that philanthropic investment strengthens communities not just economies. You understand that the ultimate triumph over those who seek to wreck our communities, whether in Times Square or Belfast, is reaching out to marginalized people through persistent investment in peace and reconciliation."

In its 35th year, The American Ireland Fund Annual New York Dinner Gala and the other activities of the American Irish network have raised over $370 million for projects across the island of Ireland that have contributed to cross-community peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. Since the The Ireland Funds were first established in the US by Sir Anthony O'Reilly and Dan Rooney, 1,200 Irish causes have benefited.

The transcript of Bono's address to the attendees at the Gala:

Ok.  Indulge me if you will. 
Let me return to the frustration of my youth and describe to you what music meant to me growing up on the north side of Dublin in the bleak and beleaguered 60’s and 70’s. 
It meant everything. 

The music was inside me, my frustration was how to get it out. 
There was a long distance between where I was as a song writer and where I wanted to be… the distance between the note and the fret I suppose. 
I had a few ‘difficulties’ on my way to being a musician if that’s the right word… and a lot of them stemmed from the fact that I did not have music lessons.

I remember standing with my head just below the level of the black and tobacco keys of my Granny’s piano. 
I could reach them but I couldn’t see them, I was that small… you still are I hear you say…  I could hear the hammer hit the string and bone machine but I didn’t know why, after choosing one ivory, I could hear a sort a sort of rhyme for the note in my head, leading me through the din and clangour of choices to a melody. 
I was song writing by accident, age 8. 
If I stood on the sustain pedal of the piano, the room would change shape into a cathedral, I knew then that music was a playground that for the rest of my life I would be chasing in. 
Reverb… echo… the sound of your own voice… yes I know …

Only problem was they sold the piano. 
There was no room in the two up, two down, outside toilet, redbrick for music now that there were more grandchildren than money…

I lost the argument to bring it to our house in Ballymun. 
I wanted to learn how to play the melodies I heard in my head. 
Poor Bono. 
No.  Poor you. 
Megalomania for me started at a very early age, probably this age. 
Everyone was going to pay for this… everyone was going to have to listen to me… Revenge like this takes a lifetime…

Revenge… on my father, a beautiful tenor who conducted our stereo with knitting needles, who never even imagined music might be handed down through the DNA like his bad back … and so never bothered to bother us about learning an instrument.

I cannot exaggerate to you this frustration… and whilst I know that the lack of musical instruction sent me and indeed U2 into exploring  some original territory, meaning we wrote our own songs because we couldn’t play anyone else’s… I wouldn’t wish this frustration on anyone else.
Which brings me to the Music Network Scheme.

U2 has always tried to keep its philanthropy a private matter, however with the Music Network we felt it was worth sticking our head over the parapet in case others felt similarly compelled.  

Music, you probably already know is not just important for musicians like myself… it's another language to speak.  
We use the songs we hear on the radio to say things we can’t quite express. 
And sometimes it's nothing to do with the words. 
Edge tells me this everyday… no one listens to the words… I know what he means.

The thrill of the Beatles singing “I want to hold your hand”… has little to do with the words. 
But the feeling from the music is liberation. 
Not just sexual. 
All kinds of liberation arrived with Rock and Roll. 
Political, spiritual… I think it might be the oldest language of all… pre words. 
Like bird song. 
A feeling, swelling up from somewhere deep in the spirit. 
A prayer, the sound of being alive.

Some people sing for a living. 
Some people sing to stay alive. 
I’d put myself, strangely, in the latter of these. 
I write and I sing to straighten myself out. 
The biggest influences on my life, have been musicians. 
From King David, to that American David Elvis…
Bob Dylan, John Lennon,
Patti Smith… but even, and don’t laugh, somebody like Albert Einstein who has utterly changed the way you and I see the world.

I can’t explain to you that I talk regularly with Edge and the rest of my band mates about music in terms of mathematics. 
It’s a daily part of our conversation and I’m a guy who can’t spell… Songs to me are kind of equations. 
It’s incredible when those equations bring you unexpected results. 
You have an outcome that wasn’t intended but now appears obvious. 
E = MC2. 
It was always true, but just hadn’t been spoken until Einstein uncovered it… you’re thinking I’m on drugs aren’t you? 
But stick with me here… 

Einstein was a great great musician… a violinist… had lessons from the age of six… he said “If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. 
Life without playing music is inconceivable to me. 
I often think in music.
I live my daydreams in music.
I see my life in terms of music”. 
His second wife Elsa, talked about how he used music to work on his theories. 
“He leaves his study”, she said, “strikes a few chords on the piano, jots something down, then returns to his study”.

Thomas Jefferson was another one… another keen and talented violinist.
I’m telling ya… he made a special carry case so he could put it on his saddle and take it with him wherever he went. 
About playing music, he said “an enjoyment the depravation of which cannot be calculated”. 
He used to play his violin while working on the declaration of independence, while he was stuck for prose.
What a band he had… Now they are great lyrics Mr. Jefferson.

“That we hold these truths to be self evident… life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. 
It’s a hit… number one on the pop charts all over the world to this very day. 
A serious song with serious implications. 
Perfectly composed, perfectly balanced. 
A melody line as memorable as Beethoven, as revolutionary as the Beatles or Bob Dylan.

Now let me tell you there are more musicians in Ireland per head of population than anywhere else in the world. 
This had a lot to do with the show band tradition of the 50’s and 60’s as well as reverence for traditional music. 
Singing, I hear you say, is the only thing that will shut the Irish up. 
With show bands now evaporated, traditional music bravely holding on, and rock music bereft of investment, it is vital that we don’t let the high number of people that play instruments reverse.
The Music Network Scheme becomes more important than it should be.

I would like to point out to you another woman who means a great deal to me. 
We also went to school together actually. 
She was a brilliant student, unlike myself. 
She was the chair of the arts council and she’s our senior advisor on this project. 
Her name is Patricia Quinn.

What we want to do is really simple. 
We just want to make sure that everyone, whatever their background, gets access to music tuition. 
That’s the idea. 
So The American Ireland Fund and U2 have gotten together to pay for this… hoping, I might add, that others including the government will take it up, further down the road. 

I want to thank The American Ireland Fund for what you have done, since the seventies for our country.
And the Diaspora… It has truly been transformative. 
The Irish are European physically, but spiritually, we’re American. 
Or Americans are spiritually Irish.
I dunno which.

On an emotional note, the rise out of the despair of the 60’s and 70’s that I was born into, would not have happened without investment by American companies. 
Intel, Microsoft, Dell…

A lot of us badgered our friends at Google to set up their offices outside of America, in Dublin… and they did… as did Facebook.
And they are pleased they did… Irish people are great entrepreneurs, and great technologists not just because we are a smart young well educated work force but … for less obvious reasons, I think related to our… Eh… how can I put this? 
Our bolshie anarchic approach to life… to thinking… we’re not buttoned down to tradition… we don’t respond well to orders, old orders is what I meant but maybe I mean orders full stop … we challenge accepted morays…. this can be bad in that we stay up too late and drink too much wine at your dinner parties but this is very good if you want to hire us to write software. 
In the twenty first century, these are the kind of people you want as executives in your companies.
Dow, take note

The Irish may have blown up the economic bubble till it burst in our face.
We have made terrible mistakes that have cost us what can’t be counted. 
But do not rule us out. 
Do not make the mistake of thinking we are the kind of people that role over easily. 
We can take a punch or ten or twenty, but we can return them. 
We are relentless. 
We don’t give up. 
And we are coming back.

Have you seen our national sport? 
Gaelic football makes your American Football looks like synchronized swimming. 
I don’t play it myself because I am too scared. 
Hurling, do you know what that is? 
Imagine giving fifteen Irish men wooden sticks… fifteen men whose idea of fun is beating the shit out of each other for an hour or so. 
Rugby, (English accent)
an English game, as with so many other English game… played better by the Irish. 
I actually did play that. 
I was no surprise, the hooker. 
That’s the little guy in the middle of the scrum who bites.

Sorry, I’m digressing. 
What I am trying to get across is not how hard we are, but how vulnerable we are at this time. 
And I am going to say it. 
We need your help. 
But the rate of return on investment will be considerable. 
You stood with us through the Irish troubles. 
Without the lion of the senate, Teddy Kennedy, where would we be? 
Without the tenacity of George Mitchell, where would we be? 
And I’ll tell you where we would be without one Billy Clinton from Arkansas;
we would be back in the quagmire of bigotry and tribal dissonance.  
I would have you stand up and give us the 42nd president his just deserts…

Another musician, I might add. 
And with this, I rest my case,

Thank you.