If hotelier John Fitzpatrick had the best line of the 2021 New York-New Belfast conference on 1 October and session chair David Gavaghan the best topic — a high speed rail line from Belfast to Dublin — then the best time was had by those who joined Rob Walsh's walking tour of the spectacular new Moynihan Train Hall.
This was the 13th Rob Walsh annual walkabout but the first without a Belfast delegation as the travel ban very much put the kibosh on plans to fly in our finest flaneurs.
But nevertheless, the show very much went on, live and in-person, at the Manhattan Club off Time Square even if mandatory vaccination protocols (you can't enter a New York hostelry without proof of double jab) and an abundance of caution by many of our staunchest supporters meant attendance was reduced.
However, the flame was kept, hope was given and we carried on. Rebuilding was the theme and there is no better way to rebuild than bring folks together in common cause. And even though there wasn't the transatlantic coming together which is the bread and butter of New York-New Belfast conferences, connections were renewed both among our Big Apple supporters (most of whom hadn't been in the same room in 18 months) and, virtually, across the pond.
In total, over two days, we had sixty-plus speakers (click here for full programme), 12 presentations and even an anthem – courtesy of East Belfast troubadour Anthony Toner.
And for the first time, with the expert assistance of headline sponsor KPMG, we turned our attention to climate change and the journey to net zero — the perfect curtain-raiser for the 'Belfast International Homecoming - The Green Edition' on 4 November.
Again, we don't expect as many of our diaspora friends to fly in to join us for the Homecoming — there's a reduction in carbon emissions we can claim — but we do promise a global engagement led by Pekka Timonen, the Mayor of Europe's Green Capital, Lahti, Finland (who will join us in person).
Our Homecoming conference in Titanic Belfast and our gala installation of Belfast ambassadors the same evening in City Hall will mark another milestone in the city's recovery from Covid. And if we can't bring as many Friends of Belfast in from far-flung shores to join us then we will just have to find some local ambassadors who have brought their talents to us and who are transforming their adopted city.
And we have plenty of those to boast of. In fact, if we include blow-ins from Coleraine, we could even install Anthony Toner - who saw out our New York sojourn with the gam below.
Before you go, that John Fitzpatrick line: He told our luncheon audience that Irish Echo editor Ray O'Hanlon called into his desolate 42nd Street hotel office in late 2020, pre-vaccines when the city was a ghost town, to ask him if he would accept the Echo's Person of the Year accolade. Recalled John: "For a moment I thought he was asking me because I was the only Irish person left in the city."