Joanne enjoys action-packed sweet 16th in Big Apple

Sixteenth birthdays don’t come much sweeter.

The O’Riordan clan gathered at the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square, New York, on Tuesday to celebrate Joanne’s birthday, surrounded by music memorabilia and large plates of tasty treats.

“I didn’t expect the food to be so good here,” said the birthday girl, who had two wishes for her special day: a meal at the iconic fast food joint and her picture to be taken underneath the Kodak sign on Times Square.

That Kodak moment was more evidence of the sharp humour that attracted the organisers of a UN conference, who decided to tap into Joanne’s motivational talents.

The schoolgirl from Millstreet, Co Cork, is due to give a talk at the Institute of International Education in Manhattan today to a conference organised by the UN information and technology agency, the International Telecommunication Union.

Her theme will be Technology as Empowerment, and she will explain how she uses technology to overcome the limitations of Total Amelia syndrome.

Normally celebrating such a landmark birthday would help distract from any potential nerves ahead of a big moment like this.

But the Transition Year student was confident she wouldn’t suffer stage fright either way.

“I don’t know. Maybe when I’m up there, it’ll hit me. Probably not,” she added, laughing.

“When I was on The Late, Late Show, I said technology was my life and Paul Conneally heard about it and he got in contact with someone else, and it kind of snowballed from there. It’s an amazing opportunity, I’m looking forward to it.”

On a day of surprises, her friend Muireann also organised for the Cork footballers to tweet birthday wishes to one of their number one fans.

Earlier, Joanne and her family were treated to a live performance at the World Trade Center headquarters of the BMI recording company by Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Julie Gold, who wrote the popular song, From a Distance.

The track was used by Joanne’s brother Steven for his debut documentary The Forgotten Maggies, about the human rights abuses at the Magdalene Laundries.

That led to the pair meeting, and to Ms Gold writing a song dedicated to Joanne that will soundtrack the film Steven is making about his sister, due for release next year.

“She’s such an inspiring young lady,” said Ms Gold.

“It was a labour of love. It’s worked out beautifully. She’ll be representing her country and she’s not very daunted by it.”

Later, Steven pointed out: “From an Irish perspective, it is a phenomenal achievement. For a girl to be invited to the UN and try to get people to think outside the box. And for it to be this wonderful person on top of all that… you wouldn’t imagine that happening to anyone.”

Yesterday, there was a lunch meeting with UN dignitaries. “They’ll be making sure I don’t say anything too controversial,” Joanne said. “My teacher told me to ask for peace in Syria!”

That was followed by a helicopter trip around Manhattan, a gift donated by a stranger back home.

Throughout all the excitement, there was no sign of jet lag. The O’Riordans had flown in 24 hours earlier but staying alert wasn’t a problem.

“We were landing in JFK and Joanne was just looking out the window,” said mother Anne. “She turned to me and said: ‘I never thought I’d see the day’. And I just thought to myself, ‘me neither’.”

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