THE first Certificate of Irish Heritage has been awarded posthumously at a ceremony in New York to an Irish American firefighter who died on 9/11.
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore presented the certificate to Bridget Hunter, mother of 31-year-old Joe Hunter, at the fire station in Maspeth, in the borough of Queens where he worked.
"It's going to be right in front of everybody when they walk into my house," said a proud Mrs Hunter, who emigrated from Recess, Co Galway, in 1958.
Joe was last seen walking into the South Tower of the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001, to help people escape.
His story first came to public attention when it was featured in an RTE radio documentary 'Still waiting for Joe' -- broadcast at the end of August.
The Department of Foreign Affairs approached the family to see if they would like to receive the first certificate.
"Joe ended up losing his life in the Twin Towers, attempting to save the lives of others," said Mr Gilmore.
"I don't think there is anybody more fitting to get the first Certificate of Irish Heritage than somebody who made such a sacrifice."
The presentation was attended by New York fire chief Ed Kilduff, who said it was "an extraordinary honour".
Joe's sister Teresa said her late brother was fiercely proud of his Irish heritage. "He had an Irish shamrock on his racing helmet, he had an Irish shamrock on his car, he had an Irish shamrock everywhere. So this is a tremendous honour," she said.
The framed certificate contains a quote from the Constitution which says: "The Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage."
The inscription is on a colour background featuring Edwin Hayes' 1953 painting of 'An Emigrant Ship, Dublin Bay, Sunset', one of three designs that applicants for the new certificates will be able to choose from.
The scheme will be formally launched next month at Dublin Castle during the upcoming Global Irish Economic Forum.
It is expected that former US president Bill Clinton will be presented with the second Certificate of Irish Heritage at that event.