The Dignitaries from Ireland

In 1962 Emmetsburg, Iowa and Dublin, Ireland were officially declared "Sister Cities." It has since been a privlege and honor for the St. Pat's Association to host a member of the Irish Parliament to reign over the three day celebration. Through this association, many lasting friendships have been formed.

While visiting in the states, the Parliamentarians are given the opportunity to watch Iowa's governing bodies at work, and are invited to address both sessions the state legislature. Although some have left political life and returned to sucessful businesses, they keep actively in touch with affairs of the government, both at home and abroad.

2023 Irish Dignitary

Paul Daly, Senator at Houses of the Oireachtas

2020 Irish Dignitary

Joan Freeman, Senator

Senator Joan Freeman was born in Clontarf, Dublin and holds a BSc in psychology and an MSc in psychology.

Pieta House

After a personal tragedy, she noticed there was a huge lack of suicide prevention services in Ireland and went about establishing the country’s only organisation providing a free, professional, face to face, therapeutic service for people in the acute stages of distress. In 2006, she set up Pieta House, the Centre for the Prevention of Self-harm or Suicide. Pieta House has since established twelve additional centres across Ireland with almost 270 therapists and administration staff, providing free therapeutic services to over 30,000 people

The stigma of mental ill-health is gradually being lifted, and there is no doubt that Senator Freeman’s work with Pieta House has contributed greatly to that. Senator Freeman regularly speaks to groups and organisations around the country, promoting tolerance and educating people around suicide and self-harm.

Darkness into Light

Senator Freeman created and held the very first 5km walk which began at 4am in the dark and ended as the dawn broke in 2009, in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. Along with 400 people, she set-off on the inaugural Darkness into Light to raise funds for Pieta House. From small beginnings, the movement has grown year on year and in 2018 over 200,000 people took part in 150 locations, in 16 countries across 5 continents. (

Solace House

Having brought the services of Pieta House to great heights, and having helped thousands of people in suicidal distress, in 2015 Senator Freeman readjusted her focus and brought the wonderful work of Pieta House to the US, opening up Solace House.  The centre was formally opened in early November 2017 by Minister for Children Katherine Zappone and Consul General of Ireland in New York Ciarán Madden.

Senatorial Position

In recognition of her outstanding work, Senator Freeman was appointed to Seanad Éireann in 2016 by the then Taoiseach Enda Kenny.  (

She immediately knew that her focus would be in mental health and the associated challenges we face in Ireland. By staying centred and committed to this difficult topic, especially around services for children’s mental health, Senator Freeman realised her passion was to act as a voice for the most vulnerable children in our society. Her numerous achievements in her first 18 months as Senator include holding a public consultation on mental health, inviting the parents of children using mental health services, and those who provided these services, to have their say. And one of her most recent achievements include an amendment to legislation that will make it illegal to place children in adult psychiatric wards.

She was instrumental in the formation of the first ever Irish Committee on the Future of Mental Healthcare and is Chair of the Committee as well as convening and chairing the Government’s first Public Consultation Committee on Children's Mental Healthcare in Ireland in June 2017. Senator Freeman introduced the Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2016 which as of July 2018 has cleared all legislative stages in the Seanad.

Presidential Campaign

In September 2018, Senator Freeman received the nomination of four councils required to be a candidate in the 2018 Irish presidential election.

Senator Freeman has changed the lives of thousands and thousands of families through her compassion for people and in her belief that everyone deserves to have the proper services needed.

Senator Freeman sees and fully understands the challenges that affect people’s physical and mental wellbeing which is central to our lives and is being increasingly challenged by the pressures of modern living. She is driven to continue to fight to put in place, services that help all of these individuals and communities to erode the inequality in society, to continue to take the stigma out of mental health and to focus attention back onto people and in particular, the social issues that affect families across the country.

Senator Freeman is the sixth of the eight children of Marie and John Lowe, she lived in WarwickshireEngland, where her parents moved when she was a baby. Her family returned to Dublin when she was 12. She is married to Patrick Freeman and they have four children.

Senator Freeman is a member of the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs. 

A former member of the Council for Justice and Peace of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference.

Honorary Doctorate

Senator Joan Freeman received in December 2019 and Honorary Doctorate (LLS) for her work in creating Pieta House and for being a national and international activist for Mental Health. 


Mental Health Bill 2016

Children’s Digital Protection Bill 2019


Senator Freeman is the author of ‘Cover Up’ (understanding self-harm)


2011 RTE People of the Year Award

2016 ‘Trailblazer Award’ (2016)

2016 Tatler ‘Woman of the Year’ (2016

2016 ‘SHEMAZING Special Recognition Award’

2018 Trailblazer Award from the Women's Executive Network, Ireland. 

2018 Most Powerful Women awards 

Joan regularly speaks at conferences and events in Ireland and abroad. In addition to being invited as a key note speaker, guest speaker, panellist and contributor to national and international discussions around suicide, self-harm, mental health, health policy, public health, social entrepreneurship, and charity start-ups, to name a few.