Lives Remembered

Irish American was bridge builder during peace process

Irish-American businessman Bob Dunfey was described as an unsung hero of the peace process

The name Bob Dunfey may attract little recognition on the streets of Belfast but the Irish-American businessman made a significant contribution behind the scenes to the peace process.

Dunfey was a close friend of Senator George Mitchell and accompanied him on his first visit to Belfast, Derry and border towns as President Bill Clinton's economic adviser to the north.

He visited working class-communities on the Falls and Shankill roads in west Belfast to hear about the impact of the Troubles.

Many friendships were forged over subsequent years, with Dunfey among mourners at the funeral of former PUP leader David Ervine.

He and his brother Jack also travelled with John Hume and David Trimble to Oslo when they jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1988.

An obituary by his family said: "Rarely in the 88 years of Bob Dunfey's life was he in or did he seek the limelight, but a look behind the scenes in meetings, conversations, and telephone calls would reveal Bob's signature contributions.

"The seventh child in a family of 12 knew from the beginning that his life would be that of bridge builder, connector, supporter of worthy causes."

Dunfey was born in 1928 in Lowell, Massachusetts into a family of 12 and made his fortune in the hotel industry, having started out with his brothers with fried clam stalls at Hampton Beach.

He was a strong supporter of the Democratic Party and was called every week by Bobby Kennedy during his 1968 presidential campaign to hear about the situation in Maine.

It was also Dunfey who asked then judge George Mitchell to fill a seat on the US Senate when Ed Muskie was appointed Secretary of State by Jimmy Carter in 1980.

Acutely aware of his Irish roots, he built a house in his ancestral home overlooking the ocean at Ballyferriter, Co Kerry, aiming to help generations of his family connect with Irish relatives. He visited himself every summer for more than 30 years and introduced Senator Mitchell and Ted Kennedy among others to the wonders of the Dingle peninsula.

He and his family were also centrally involved in the American Ireland Fund, which facilitated dialogue between republican and loyalist leaders away from the pressure cooker environment of Northern Ireland.

Described as an unsung hero of the peace process, he received several awards for his work behind the scenes.

Shankill community leader Jackie Redpath said he was a "great man".

"In Ireland, in Belfast, on the Shankill and Falls, he straddled 'both sides' and both extremes and I am forever grateful for his bringing loyalism/unionism in from the cold and giving us a seat 'at the top table' in the United States.

"People are alive today, who would not otherwise be, on account of this. Bob was strong, sincere, determined, wise, sensitive and great damn fun. He was very kind to me and I will miss him."

Robert John Dunfey died aged 88 on August 23 after a battle with Parkinson's Disease. He is survived by his wife Jeanette, who accompanied him on his trips to Ireland, and five children.

He asked that his ashes be interred in Ballyferriter alongside his sister Mary and brother Walter.

Lives Remembered