Irish American Month: lessons from top Irish American communicators

Communications, Storytelling, World events
March 15, 2019
by Laura McCormack

“I’m Irish”

We’ve all heard it, whether from a Carroll’s bag toting tourist with a thick American accent or from that distant cousin you once met on a trip to Boston, we’ve become well used to this proclamation of Irishness. And it’s no surprise when you consider that almost 1 in 10 Americans claim Irish heritage.

The Irish diaspora is one of the largest in the world, with more than 80 million people claiming Irish ancestry. Mass emigration from Ireland shaped not only our own history but also the histories of many countries across the globe. This is particularly true of the United States, Irish American Month was founded in 1991 to commemorate the contributions Irish immigrants and their descendants have made to the country.

As a nation of storytellers, it comes as no surprise that many people who claim Irish heritage are renowned for their communication skills. In recognition of Irish American Month, we’ve looked to some of the top Irish American communicators to try and glean some storytelling and communication tips from them.

 Barack Obama

Obama

In 2011, Barack Obama visited Moneygall, the ancestral home of his 3rd great-grandfather. This historic visit to the small village on the border of Tipperary and Offaly not only strengthened the President’s connection to Ireland, it changed the landscape of a previously unremarkable part of the country. Moneygall now also promotes itself as ‘Obama town’, statues of Barack and Michelle Obama were unveiled in August 2018, a cafe in the village rebranded itself as the ‘Obama cafe’, and the famous Obama Plaza was opened in tribute to the 44th US President.

Barack Obama is undoubtedly one of the best political communicators of all time, his speeches were both personal and politically effective, they have ‘staying power’.

Use rhetorical devices

Anaphora is the repetition of a word or phrase at the start of successive sentences or clauses, it is one of the oldest literary devices. Using anaphora will add emphasis where needed in speeches or in persuasive writing. Obama often employed this technique throughout his political career and in many of his speeches. Here is an excerpt from his Farewell Speech that demonstrates this:

“To all of you out there…Every organiser who moved to an unfamiliar town, every kind family who welcomed them in, every volunteer who knocked on doors, every young person who cast a ballot for the first time, every American who lived and breathed the hard work of change … I will forever be grateful.”

 Soledad O’Brien

Soledad-OBrien

Soledad O’Brien is an American broadcast journalist and executive producer. She is currently anchoring the Hearst Television political show Matter of Fact with Soledad O’Brien. Over her impressive career, Soledad has worked for top broadcasters across North America including MSNBC, CNN, Al Jazeera America, and HBO. Most recently, she founded Starfish Media, a multi-platform media production company. Soledad O’Brien’s career has cast an unflinching focus on issues of racial injustice, and she is well-known for spotlighting often underreported stories.

O’Brien claims Irish ancestry on her father’s side, who is three-quarters Irish. In 2016, Soledad O’Brien appeared on an Irish edition of the show Finding your Roots. The show highlighted a history of businesswomen in O’Brien’s family.

Listen

O’Brien has spoken about the importance of listening as a journalist. In order to properly and accurately capture a story, you need to pay attention to your source. If you’re working in a communications role, listening is as important a skill as any:

“We’re storytellers–so listening is a critical skill. If you’re not hearing–you’re probably not going to capture a story well.”

Pete Hamill

PHamill

Pete Hamill is an American author, journalist, essayist, educator, and editor. He is particularly famous as a New York City journalist, his columns were known to capture the pulse of the city and its politics. Hamill is often credited as being one of the New York’s best “newspapermen”. The writer worked as a columnist for the New York Post and The New York Daily News. The eldest of 7 children born to Irish immigrants from Belfast, Hamill grew up in a working-class Brooklyn family.

Read often

A voracious reader himself, Pete Hamill has often advised that those looking to improve their writing should read often:

“There are 10,000 books in my library, and it will keep growing until I die. This has exasperated my daughters, amused my friends and baffled my accountant. If I had not picked up this habit in the library long ago, I would have more money in the bank today; I would not be richer.”

If you are a communicator and you would like access to Ireland’s largest online media contacts database, click here for more information, or call Gaye on (01) 254 1845.