Documentary Review / By Peter McDermott
Filmmaker Mary Fishman with JoAnn Persch RSM, center, and Pat Murphy RSM.
[Click on photos for larger image.]
PHOTO: CHRISTIAN MOLIDOR RSM
Margaret Brennan remembers back in the 1950s that her mother and father drove her down on her first day as a novice with the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters.
“They had both written me letters and they pinned them to my robe,” she recalled. “I thought if I opened them I know what I’d read, and if I read them maybe I couldn’t bring myself to stay.”
She gave them to a professed sister, who was a close friend, to keep them for her. When, every so often, the friend would ask if she wanted to read them, she’d decline. She eventually did open them, after about 25 years had passed.
Brennan, who became a theologian and general superior of her order, tells the story in the film “Band of Sisters” to illustrate how wrenching the separation from family could be for a young woman.
Irish-American filmmaker Mary Fishman displays considerable skill in telling the stories of a score or more women religious in an economical and informative 83 minutes.
It’s left to Brennan to introduce the overarching story of “Band of Sisters,” by recalling the elevation to the papacy of a man with a “great, big face.” He was already “up there in his 70s” and so she wondered what the future held. It turned out that Pope John XXIII would open the windows and let in the winds of change, with the Second Vatican Council.
Already, of course, women were being called to service as teachers, nurses and missionaries. But the journey over decades taken, for instance, by Pat Murphy, of the Sisters of Mercy, shows the expanded role of women religious. She went to Peru in the early 1960s to work 12,000 feet above sea level in the Andes. She remembers the powerful mix of the indigenous and the Spanish cultures and still marvels at the endurance and faith of the people in the face of suffering.
Sisters bound for Peru, on Jan. 13, 1961.
SISTER OF MERCY ARCHIVES
More recently, Murphy has taken on the role of a lobbyist for society’s most marginalized, and with her friend Sister JoAnn Persch is building ecumenical coalitions for social justice.
The pair get more screen time than anyone else as Fishman follows their work on behalf of undocumented immigrants and for prisoners from 2008 through 2012. Elected officials, it seems, don’t know quite how to cope with their mix of charm and steely determination. And when a loudmouthed uniformed official at Illinois’ Broadview Detention Center is not charmed, then Persch makes sure she gets in the last word, as a signal that she will not be bullied.
In the 1970s, a woman named Marjorie Tuite was one of the first to outline the need for a more political role for sisters if they were to achieve social justice in their areas of interest.
But then simply working for low-income people can be seen as political in today’s America. Still, Sr. Lillian Murphy, the CEO of Mercy Housing (which provides accommodation for 138,000 people at any given time), says that they are merely continuing the work of Dublin-born founder Sr. Catherine McAuley, who built affordable housing for women.
What some call the “option for the poor” is occasionally exercised in innovative ways, as with Sr. Madeline Gianforte’s holistic wellness center in Milwaukee.
Women and men religious are rather better known for their advocacy for Latin America’s oppressed. We learn that the horrific ordeal and deaths of Sisters Maura Clarke, Ita Ford and Dorothy Kazel and lay missionary Jean Donovan in El Salvador on Dec. 2, 1980, had a hugely galvanizing effect on American nuns.
Sr. Kathleen Desautels, of the Sisters of Providence, says she had to channel the anger she felt at Reagan’s UN Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick denouncing these four Catholic martyrs as “communists” who “shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”
An increasingly important aspect of the story is the sisters’ embrace of the environmentalist cause. Fishman visits two organic farms owned and managed by nuns: Santuario Sisterfarm in Boerne, in the Hill Country of Texas, and Genesis Farm, Blairstown, N.J. Sr. Carol Coston — who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Freedom by President Clinton in 2000, for her advocacy in a number of areas – is a founder of the Boerne operation. Her cofounder Sr. Elise Garcia says they’ve grounded themselves on the “universe story,” which begins with that explosion 13.7 billion years ago.
In contrast to the stultifying fundamentalism that rejects science, American nuns are embracing the new, breathtaking cosmological knowledge. Sr. Margaret Galiardi, a Dominican, says it means interpreting Christian faith “with a wider lens.”
A film clip of the late Passionist Order priest, Fr. Thomas Berry (who became a convinced environmentalist at age 8), summarizes the eco-theological position.
“Why do we have such a wonderful vision of God? Because we live in such a gorgeous world. We live in such a brilliant world. And so we wonder at the magnificence of whatever it was that brought the world into being,” Berry said. “We have a sense of adoration. We have that sense of gratitude. We have that sense of participation in such a beautiful world. We call that religion.
“If our outer world is diminished, our inner world is dried up,” he continued. “If our outer world is severely damaged, our sense of the divine will be severely damaged.”
Inevitably, the sisters’ battle against sexism in the church, and specifically their being excluded from the decision-making processes at the highest levels, is an important theme in “Band of Sisters.” Sr. Theresa Kane, we learn, is something of a folk hero among fellow nuns for raising the issue from the altar at a Mass during the first visit of Pope John Paul II to America.
The investigation of American women religious under Pope Benedict is also rigorously critiqued. Lillian Murphy says that they didn’t want it and didn’t feel it necessary, but had to pay for it and would not even be allowed to see the final report. She says that the process was “not respecting the dignity and history of women religious in this country.”
The decline in the number of young women joining religious life might account for the anxiety of traditionalists, but the sisters here are unfazed. Sr. Nancy Sylvester, of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters, says that “huge numbers” that joined from the 1940s through the early 1960s were an anomaly in the history of religious life.
Brennan, as general superior over 10 years, interviewed 300 women who left the order. She felt that their vocation had evolved in a different direction and that this was in accordance with Vatican II, which said that everyone was called to holiness and that no way was higher or better.
There would always be a role for women religious, in these smaller numbers in the midst of the general population, Brennan argues, as a “reminder – not that we’re holier or better – [but] that there’s something else that we’re here for.”
For more information go to: www.bandofsistersmovie.com
Music Notes / By Colleen Taylor
The Screaming Orphans
Interested in free Irish music? If so, you’re in luck this autumn. Throughout September and October, Smithwick’s Ale sponsors a number of free Irish music performances throughout North America featuring some of Ireland and Irish-America’s best acts. New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia will be lively with the sounds of fiddles and guitars these next weeks—an authentic taste of Ireland at home in America.
I took part in the Smithwick Sessions Pub Rock Tour last week at Boston’s The Green Briar, where I caught a show by Erin’s Guild, an Irish-American band out of New England. Founding members Sean Fell and Geoff Roman bring something interesting to their interpretation of Irish music: a background in classical music training. Tralee man Fell received a bachelor’s degree in classical voice, which he displayed during his Frank Petterson-like rendition of “The Fields of Athenry.” Roman’s training in classical violin was not as easy to detect amidst his rapid fiddling, but he maintains it has been an influence for his playing and tune composition for Erin’s Guild. To give a unique spin on their interpretation of traditional Irish hits, Erin’s Guild works to blend their distinct backgrounds, all the while focusing on harmonies and the stories behind the ballads’ lyrics.
The band are true to their American roots as well—something not only relevant in their geographical makeup with American members Roman and bodhrán player Susan Young, but in their set lists as well. Erin’s Guild melds their traditional Irish tracks with American classics like those of Johnny Cash. Their influences are various, as well as original: Sean and Geoff write their own songs and tunes for the band, like their ballad “Broken Man,” featured on their website erinsguild.com. This trio is still establishing their beginnings, but they have a strong notion of their roots: as an Irish-American New England band, they make the Irish tradition visible and lively throughout the Northeast.
Other acts involved in the Smithwick Sessions include big names like Mundy, The Mahones, Screaming Orphans, Black 47, along with a number of local bands. Screaming Orphans, the excellent Celtic Pop group from Donegal, will take the stage at Boston’s famous Irish pub the Burren on Oct. 2, and Black 47 will close off the Smithick’s Run with a show at Tommy Fox’s in New Jersey on Oct. 30. It’s an exciting and nostalgic year for Black 37, as they perform and promote the release of their latest—and last—album, “Rise Up,” which is available on their website Black47.com. In total, this two-month pub tour involves over 60 shows across the continent, and the best part is they’re all free of charge. Now there’s no excuse to catch the best of live Irish music.
Find out more about the Smithwick Sessions happening near you on their calendar of events at: csmfb.com/smithwickssessions.
By Matthew Jude Barker
If you meander your way down historic State Street approaching Portland’s working waterfront, you will come across a beautiful old, redbrick church building, now the Maine Irish Heritage Center. On Monday nights you can hear the haunting wails of a practicing Irish bagpiper. It would be easy to think, for a moment, you were back in time, but the center is on the peninsula of Maine’s largest, busiest, and most modern city.
The MIHC is housed in the former St. Dominic Catholic Church in Portland, the focal point of the Irish and Catholic community for almost 175 years. Opened in 2002, the non-profit center has made tremendous progress, especially in the last five years. It is home to a first-rate genealogical research library, as well as a library open to the public that contains over two-thousand items and which will soon be a part of Maine Interlibrary Loan. The center is also home to the John Ford Center; the Irish American Club of Maine, its founding member; the Governor Joseph E. Brennan Press Collection; A Company of Girls; the Claddagh Mhor Pipe Band; and the local Ancient Order of Hibernians. The MIHC is affiliated with the American Irish Repertory Ensemble; the Stillson School of Irish Dance; the Maine Police Emerald Society; and the Portland Hurling Club. All of these groups march together in a large St. Patrick’s Day parade on Commercial Street that grows with each passing year.
Throughout the year the MIHC sponsors or hosts many varied events and programs, including Irish ceili (dance), Irish language, and tin whistle classes; St. Patrick’s Day parades and open houses; genealogy classes and the Maine Gaeltacht DNA Project; the Duchas Lecture Series; the Celtic Christmas Fair; Bloomsday (James Joyce) events; weddings and receptions; book launchings and talks; Labor Day breakfasts; the annual “Not-So-Silent” auction; St. Dominic’s Parish/School reunions; Civil War and other historical lectures; and the Claddagh Award Celebration. This last event is held annually to honor “an individual of Irish heritage from Maine who has generously served our community and made us all proud of our Irish roots.” Past recipients have included Senator George J. Mitchell, a native of Waterville, Maine, and US Congressman and Maine Governor Joseph E. Brennan, a native of Portland. As Board Chair Mary McAleney stated, “The success of these events allows the MIHC to fulfill its mission to protect, preserve and restore the historic landmark that was St. Dominic’s,” as well as “provide a center for Maine’s diverse communities to share their cultural experiences through education programs and community events.”
The John Ford Center at the MIHC houses memorabilia related to the celebrated Hollywood director who was baptized as John Martin Feeney at St. Dominic’s in 1894 and who was an altar boy at the church. Ford lectures and film festivals are held periodically.
The genealogical and historical research library houses a large obituary collection; yearbooks and directories; St. Dominic’s School registers; a Knights of Columbus collection; old photographs of local Irish families and school classes; family history files; transcription endeavors; old newspapers; artifacts; and manuscripts. Everything in the library has been generously donated over the years. Volunteer genealogists at the center are available, for a fee, to consult on family history and DNA test results. They have access to an Irish DNA project that has over two-hundred participants, genealogy websites, and a genealogical database of 125, 000 Maine and New England Irish.
The former St. Dominic Church, home of the MIHC, was built in the Greek Revival tradition and finished in 1892. It was designated in 1970 as part of the National Register of Historic Places in the State of Maine. It is on the location of the first Catholic church built in southern Maine, the original St. Dominic’s, where Mass was first celebrated in 1828.
The story of the Irish in Maine is a rich and varied one that continues to be studied and written about. Irish emigrants have settled in the Pine Tree State since the early 1700s and sizable Irish communities were to be found throughout the state, including in Bangor, Boothbay, Benedicta, Brewer, Calais, Houlton, Brunswick, Bath, Eastport, Ellsworth, Newcastle, North Whitefield, Pembroke, Lewiston, Auburn, Westbrook, Biddeford, South Portland, and, of course, Portland. According to many accounts, there are 250, 000 people who claim Irish ancestry in Maine.
Visitors from all over New England and North America annually visit the MIHC; many are natives and former residents. A lot seek some knowledge of their ancestry; others are attracted to the beautiful setting or come to attend the plethora of events that are held throughout the year. But all agree that the Maine Irish Heritage Center is one of the most attractive and premier Irish heritage centers in the country.
The center is staffed almost entirely by volunteers. As Board member Patricia J. McBride said, “We simply could not offer all of the wonderful events, programs, and educational opportunities that we do without the help of our wonderful volunteers; they are the heart and soul of this place.” And as James Walsh, a co-founder, said, “MIHC’s success comes from the warm, welcoming atmosphere—it’s always, ‘Come in and let’s talk!’”
Matthew Jude Barker
Between the Lines / By Peter McDermott
Published in the Irish Echo, Sept. 3, 2014
A granduncle of mine, a Reynolds from Strokestown, Co. Roscommon, volunteered to fight in the Great War. He subsequently spent much of his life institutionalized, in what might have been referred as a lunatic asylum. My great-grandmother from West Clare had two brothers who joined up. The Considine boys survived the trenches in better shape than did Reynolds, but one of them collapsed and died on a troop ship, a short time after he’d participated in an on-deck tug-of-war contest.
I was thinking of this recently when I read that Labour TD for Dublin South-West Eamonn Maloney called on the Irish postal service, An Post, to immediately withdraw their plans for a stamp commemorating John Redmond (1856-1918).
Redmond, a Member of Parliament for Wexford, was the leader of Irish nationalism from 1900, when the Parnellite faction (to which he himself belonged) and the two anti-Parnellite factions reunited, and he remained so up until at least 1916. He believed that it was in Ireland’s interest to fight for Catholic Belgium being overrun by Germany, not least because it would help the cause of his own country’s self-government.
Deputy Maloney said it’s wrong to honor a “politician who promoted, recruited and shamed Irishmen into killing for Great Britain.”
But this seems to be a bit of headline-grabbing that ignores the complexity of the situation.
Prof. Joseph Lee has argued that Redmond was doing what any politician might have done at the time, especially one passionately committed to a united Ireland, which he was.
I cited in a column a few weeks ago Patrick Pearse’s words in December 1915: “The old heart of the earth needed to be warmed with the red wine of the battlefields. Such august homage was never before offered to God as this, the homage of millions of lives given gladly for love of country.”
Other Irish opponents of British war aims, like Sir Roger Casement, were not unhappy with bloodshed as long it was done for the right cause, in the right uniform. Singling out poor Redmond, whose own brother and follow MP Willie died at age 51 in the trenches, is ahistorical nonsense.
Deputy Maloney said that while some called it the Great War, “there was nothing great for the 200,000 Irish recruits who fought in it. There was nothing great for the almost 50,000 young Irishmen who were slaughtered.”
The “Great,” of course, referred to the sheer scale of the war, involving as it did 10s of millions in the entire Western world and much territory beyond it.
My Roscommon kinsman, Stephen, joined the United States army in Chicago (and was later institutionalized there), while the brothers from Clare, Tom and Willie, signed up with the armed forces in self-governing Australia.
In the 1913-set film “The Shooting Party” (1985), a young woman suggests to a friend that he longs for war. He denies it, but adds: “I suppose there’s something in every man that answers the call of battle.”
Wherever or for whatever reasons their loved ones had joined up, hundreds of thousands of families in independent Ireland had a direct connection to the traumas of the Great War trenches. Uniquely in the Western world, though, this was not acknowledged officially in any way.
This reminds one a bit of primogeniture, widely adapted in Ireland after the Famine. The eldest son got the farm. He was king, and the others were pretenders. Likewise with regard to war: one experience was privileged and elevated above the others.
That was perhaps understandable when the wounds were raw following the 1916-23 period. But after a couple of decades, by which time even veterans who had fought for independence were joining the British and other armed forces during World War II, it really didn’t make much sense. (My grandfather was an anti-Treaty republican interned for over a year in 1922/23, before he was even eligible to vote, and served in the RAF police during World War II). Looking back, it seems to epitomize the state’s insularity and immaturity. One might detect in it the self-perpetuating ideology of the political elite, the first-born as it were, which was disproportionately made up of leaders from the 1916-23 era.
The novelist Tom Phelan is someone who has been vocal on this issue in pieces in these pages and elsewhere and it’s the backdrop to his acclaimed novel “The Canal Bridge,” which was published in the U.S. for the first time this year.
I know from interviewing Phelan a few times that inclusion is a value that he puts above most others. He has bad personal memories working as a young curate in England in the late 1960s with a parish priest who didn’t make him feel at home. He faults too the Irish bishop who didn’t once visit his brother, who was also a priest, during the two years of his terminal illness. He has clashed about the church’s treatment of younger clergy with New York’s Cardinal Dolan in the letters page of the Irish Echo.
The survivors of the 1914-18 war from his native Mountmellick, Co. Laois, found no honor at home or real sense of inclusion, he believes. Among those he remembered from his 1940s and ’50 childhood – the inspirations for “The Canal Bridge” – was farm laborer Jack Staunton, who Phelan’s father said had rescued his commanding officer from no-man’s-land.
“I won’t say they were ostracized,” Phelan recalled. “But nothing was made of them.”
We can, perhaps, make something of them now, the men who set out from towns like Mountmellick, from the tenements of Dublin, from the hamlets of Protestant Ulster, from Chicago and from Australia – men who mostly felt that they were doing the right thing by their family and their community.
The Beatles in 1964. [LIBRARY OF CONGRESS]
A remembrance by Frances Scanlon, published in the Irish Echo, Aug. 27, 2014
Aug. 29: just another date in time; maybe, maybe not.
A quick glance at any “This Day in History” listing for Aug. 29, 1964 will invariably note the presence of the Beatles on tour in New York. Similarly, 1958 will be highlighted as the birth date of Michael Jackson alongside the death of Eamon de Valera in 1975, not to be up-staged by Shays’ Rebellion, an armed uprising of Massachusetts farmers, in 1786.
Time is a fungible good, no doubt about it.
It’s also a funny thing, that intersection of memory and history – sometimes a sweet, sometimes a sour spot.
Assuredly on the night of Aug. 29, 1964, what living soul could have ever predicted that the Beatles would ironically perform their last concert before paying fans in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park exactly two years later to the date?
I believe some things take seemingly so long for actualization to us mere mortals if for no other good reason than to remind us that forever is a very short time in the lead-up to eternity.
For example, as a teenager engulfed in the heart-stammering throes of Beatle-mania in 1964, the night of Aug. 29 was longed for more than the release of Walt Disney’s “Mary Poppins” and Mickey Mantle’s tying Babe Ruth’s career strikeout record (1,330), both of which came to pass on that weekend, as well.
Listen: do you want to know a secret?
On Saturday night, Aug. 29, 1964, dressed in the innocence of imagination, with a sweater of expectation, penny loafers of unparalleled excitation and madras walking shorts of purity’s length, I was fetched and ferried in a Gold Cadillac, courtesy of the parent of my classmate, Elizabeth Fox, to the West Side Tennis Club, in Forest Hills, Queens.
Elizabeth and myself were embarking on a life changing experience: we knew it, were ready for it, and what a magical mystery ride indeed!
Within the intimacy of Forest Hills Stadium and 15,998 other screaming fans, we witnessed the Beatles perform their standard live set of 12 songs, including “All My Loving,” “She Loves You”, “Can’t Buy Me Love”, in other words, everything we wanted to hear but couldn’t and didn’t really care as “A Hard Day’s Night” echoed in the reverb.
The fact that the opening acts, in order of appearance were: the Bill Black Combo, the Exciters, the Righteous Brothers and Jackie DeShannon phased us not, a nod to the heady legal intoxication that adolescence wrought, fueled by the unstoppable passion of desire realized.
But not quite and not so fast.
Elizabeth and myself needed a memento, not a trifle like a ticket stub or some such. A collectible beyond all others – something that only we two might share with the Beatles, as well.
On the august grounds surrounding that living jukebox that very night we encountered a grounds keeper who instantly – upon recognizing that we were still in the grip of Beatles frenzy and in direct reply to our plaintive cry “Is there anything we can take home?” – cautioned us to await his return.
In a lifetime of satiated desires none seeming took longer nor perhaps still more satisfying to our youthful eyes than what beckoned: that kindly gentleman’s return with two pieces of cake from the larger sheet cake that the Beatles had just then enjoyed in the Tudor-style members-only 1913 clubhouse.
What Elizabeth and myself neither then appreciated nor knew experientially was that within the prior 24 hour time-frame, the Beatles had encountered Bob Dylan and cannabis, simultaneously, for the very first time in a hotel room at the Delmonico, after their Friday night’s performance at Forest Hills Stadium.
If that inhalation lived up to reputation, then any lingering residue might have sweetened the Beatles’ taste buds for that wee decorative party favor.
Elizabeth and myself declined the generous offer to immediately partake of the sweet and instead implored that guardian of our desire to return with the wee pastry enclosed in silver foil where it remained – courtesy of the indulgence of our respective parents – for exactly one year hence in the upper berth of our family refrigerators.
Even though “A Hard Day’s Night,” the 1964 black-and-white comedy film directed by Richard Lester was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Screenplay Best Score (Adaptation), for myself and Elizabeth, nothing could ever imitate the cinéma vérité of that very sweet day’s night, not then, not now, not ever.
Published in the Aug. 20, 2014, issue of the Irish Echo
The Delaware and Hudson Canal Company’s HQ
in Rondout (click on image for larger view).
By Peter McDermott
“It’s on almost hallowed ground,” so said writer Ed McCann. “The laborers walked up the hill there to get their wages.”
He was referring to the well-advanced plans to build the Irish Cultural Center Hudson Valley at 32 Abeel St., in the historic Rondout section of Kingston, N.Y.
The Irish story in the Hudson Valley goes back a full two centuries and few places were as evocative of the experience as the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company’s headquarters.
Only the foundation exists today, but next door the ICCHV will build its 15,000 square-foot space, its website says, “to serve as a testament to the contributions and sacrifices made by the Irish and Irish-Americans in helping to build New York State as well as to the success they achieved and the obstacles they overcame; To provide a warm and welcoming meeting place for all who want to share in this great Irish-American experience.”
McCann was asked to get involved and he did because he was impressed with ICCHV president Robert Carey’s vision that it can be a “mini-university of all things Irish.”
Said McCann: “It’s not going to a hall, something stodgy, a boys’ drinking club.
“It’s going to be a living, dynamic center, not a museum. It will be a rehearsal space; it will have music, and cooking classes,” he said. “For me, as a writer, it’s exciting that they’re creating a physical space where writers and artists can showcase their work.
“I hope it will be flexible enough not to rule out anything, like broadcasting or web casting or filmmaking,” McCann added.
He said that he hoped that the center could aspire to having a writer-in-residence program that would attract nationally known authors like Alice McDermott and Colum McCann.
When he moved to the Mid-Hudson Valley as a college student, McCann, who is from Broad Channel in Queens, New York City, said, “I knew that I had come home.”
He was told then that the region stretched from the “Tappan Zee to Albany.”
Paul Tully of the ICCHV said that the area had no cultural center. “You have to go north to Albany or south to New York City,” he said.
“There are so many areas in the arts that we felt the needs weren’t being met,” Tully added.
The project that originated with the Sullivan County AOH has paid off the property it bought three years ago, as well another across the street that will serve as a car park.
The website adds: “This site is a critical location for the Irish in the Hudson Valley. It was once dubbed ‘Little Dublin’ because our ancestors tirelessly labored there while building the country’s canals as well as communities based on faith and family.”
As for tracing those ancestors, “There will be access to genealogical research and documents. And a collection of critical documents and items reflecting the lives of the Irish-Americans will be developed.”
It adds: “The 15,000-square foot facility will be a well-rounded place to celebrate all aspects of Irish culture.
“Literature, song, poetry, dance, language, drama and story-telling will be embraced, examined and taught and the region’s active AOH Pipe and Drum Band and Honor Guard will finally have a place to call home.”
The Irish Cultural Center Hudson Valley will host a welcoming reception on Saturday, Aug. 30, for Ireland’s ambassador to the United States. It will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the SteelHouse Restaurant, 100 Rondout Landing, Kingston, N.Y. Anderson will also attend the Hooley on the Hudson in Kingston the same weekend.
Tully said: “We’re very happy that Ambassador Anderson is honoring us with her visit and that she’s showing her support for the Irish Cultural Center Hudson Valley.”
For more information contact Tully at email@example.com.
By Ray O’Hanlon
The announcement that a gay marching group comprised of NBC employees will be allowed to march in the 2015 New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade has been welcomed by the Irish gay group Irish Queers.
But only to a degree.
The group, which has mounted a protest on Fifth Avenue during the parade for a number of years, has described the parade committee’s decision as a “small victory” but vowed to continue its fight to have an Irish gay group in the line of march.
Said Irish Queers in a statement: “Irish Queers – along with the scores of LGBT individuals, groups, and allies who have fought since 1991 for a parade that includes the whole Irish community – is learning about the change in the NYC St. Patrick’s Day parade at the same time as the rest of New York City and the Irish community. We welcome this cracking of the veneer of hate, but so far Irish LGBT groups are still not able to march in our community’s parades. The fight continues.
“This is a deal that was made behind closed doors between parade organizers and one of their last remaining sponsors, NBC. It allows NBC’s gay employees to march, but embarrassingly has not ended the exclusion of Irish LGBT groups. The parade organizers have said, astoundingly, that we ‘can apply’ in years to come.
“To the extent that parade organizers have changed their tune, it’s the result of Irish Queers’ many years of organizing, which led to last year’s refusal to march by Council Speaker Mark-Viverito, Mayor de Blasio and others, the withdrawal of major corporate sponsors and escalating criticism of uniformed city workers marching in the Parade.
“We welcome this small victory, but our call remains the same – the parade must be open to Irish LGBT groups, not ‘in subsequent years’ but now. (We remember too well how parade organizers used fake waiting lists to bury our applications before.)
“The Irish community in Ireland and abroad is far more progressive than the parade committee, having abandoned the secretive power-mongering of the days when the Catholic Church held sway over politics. We still hope NYC will catch up. This has been a long, long journey and struggle. It is time for Irish LGBT people, marching under our own banner, to take our rightful place in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.”
Cardinal Timothy Dolan
By Ray O’Hanlon
Cardinal Timothy Dolan will lead the 2015 New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade and for the first time since 1991 the parade will include a gay marching contingent, though this time with the approval of the parade organizing committee.
In a statement released in advance of Cardinal Dolan’s formal elevation to lead the 254th march, the parade committee announced that a group made up of gay employees at the NBC television network would take its place in the parade line of march.
The statement said: “The NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade has celebrated Irish culture, heritage, tradition, and the faith of St. Patrick since 1762. In its 252-year history, the parade has included individual marchers of every political and personal persuasion, including members of the gay community. Indeed, in recent years, we have encouraged all New Yorkers and gay participants to join with any of our 320 marching units as a symbol of our inclusiveness.
“At the same time, organizers have diligently worked to keep politics – of any kind – out of the Parade in order to preserve it as a single and unified cultural event.
Paradoxically, that ended up politicizing the Parade. This grand cultural gem has become a target for politicization that it neither seeks nor wants because some groups could join the march but not march with their own banner.
“To address that and move forward, Parade organizers welcome the LGBT group, ‘Out@NBCUniversal’ to march in the 2015 NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade under its own banner. WNBC TV has long been our broadcast partner in televising the NYC Patrick’s Day Parade around the nation.
“This change of tone and expanded inclusiveness is a gesture of goodwill to the LGBT community in our continuing effort to keep the parade above politics as it moves into its 253rd year, all the while remaining loyal to church teachings and the principles that have guided the parade committee for so many decades.”
OUT@NBCUniversal, according to a New York Post report, is “a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender affinity group at 30 Rock.”
The group will be the only gay marching unit in the 2015 parade but other gay groups will be eligible to apply for a place in future parades, the report stated.
It added that OUT@NBCUniversal had applied to be in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, this according to Craig Robinson, executive vice president and chief diversity officer at NBCUniversal.
“It wasn’t immediately clear why OUT@NBCUniversal was chosen or if there were any other openly gay groups that also applied,” the Post report stated.
“We welcome the parade committee’s decision to accept OUT@NBCUniversal’s application to march and enthusiastically embrace the gesture of inclusion,” Robinson said.
“Our employees, families and friends look forward to joining in this time-honored celebration of Irish culture and heritage,” he said.
A spokesman for the parade said that Cardinal Dolan was “very supportive” of including gay groups in the event.
Dolan will be the third cardinal archbishop to lead the parade since 1995 when the late Cardinal john O’Connor made parade history by being the first archbishop to lead the march up Fifth Avenue. Cardinal Edward Egan was the second archbishop to do so.
The last time a parade included a gay marching group marched in the parade was 1991 when the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization marched with Mayor David Dinkins and members of AOH Division 7.
The rumbling row over the participation of a gay group marching under its own banner would cast a long shadow of the parade for a number of years afterwards and would lead to the Ancient Order of Hibernians relinquishing a controlling role and leading it to the independent parade committee.
Last year, newly elected New York Mayor, Bill de Blasio, chose not to march because there was no gay group in the parade – as opposed to individual gay marchers who were never excluded from the march.
And in a blow to the parade effort in recent years to attract more needed corporate sponsorship and funding, Guinness withdrew its sponsorship from the parade.
Guinness officials layed a role in brokering the deal that brought OUT@NBCUniversal into the 2015 parade, IrishCentral.com reported.
By Ray O’Hanlon
It’s the news that her legions of fans around the world have been waiting for.
Actress Maureen O’Hara is to be recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with a life time achievement Oscar.
Admirers of the Dublin-born O’Hara, who is currently living in Idaho, have been campaigning for years to have her stellar career properly acknowledged by way of an academy award.
O’Hara, who is 94 and told the Echo in an interview a few years ago that she was determined to live until one hundred, will receive the award at the Academy’s 6th Annual Governors Awards in Hollywood on November 8.
“The Governors Awards allow us to reflect upon not the year in film, but the achievements of a lifetime,” said Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs.
The award, an Oscar statuette, is intended “to honor extraordinary distinction in lifetime achievement, exceptional contributions to the state of motion picture arts and sciences, or for outstanding service to the Academy.”
O’Hara enjoyed a long and distinguished film career with movies such “How Green Was My Valley,” “Miracle on 34th Street” and of course the classic “The Quiet Man,” one of a number of films in which she starred opposite John Wayne.
Find the PDF version here: Irish Echo August 20, 2014 page 9
By Evan Short
It’s a little known fact but Kansas City, Missouri, is a city with a huge Irish American heritage and a staggering 250,000 people living within its confines tracing a history back to the old country. So it’s no wonder then that the annual Kansas City Irish Fest (KCIF) is among the best attended Irish American festivals in the fifty states, with 90,000 people expected to attend the 2014 event from August 29-31. Although it has only been going around 11 years in its current guise, KCIF has been able to establish itself as one of the foremost events in Irish America. There is no one more proud of how far the KCIF has come in a short time than Craig Duke.
This year’s president was born in Belfast, and moved to the U.S. at the age of 23. He says becoming festival president has been a dream come true, and he is particularly looking forward to the Labor Day weekend’s events as the North of Ireland has been chosen as the festival theme for 2014.
“Every year we pick something to concentrate on that that would be from the Irish woman to sports, stuff like that. This year, with me being from Belfast, that was one thing I pushed on them, to try and emphasize Northern Ireland. “We are going to cover everything from medicine, science, industry, the Titanic, Massey Ferguson – people don’t realize the tractor was invented in Northern Ireland. Then you have the inflatable tire invented in Belfast by Dunlop, and writers like CS Lewis and Jonathan Swift.”
The jewel in the six counties showcase will be the DeLorean motor car, he says. “Stuff like that. People don’t realize it was made in Belfast.” The pride in Craig’s voice as he talks about the festival is evident.
Although he has a demanding day job, as Senior Deputy Chief of the Kansas City, Kansas, Fire Department, the married father of two says the hours spent working on the festival are a joy. “That’s something I really enjoy. The KCIF has been going on 11 years. It started off as two smaller festivals in different parts of town, and then we thought we would do better if we joined forces and became one big one. “The new one, singular, now does more to expose people to the cultural side of Ireland.” Modern Ireland features to a greater extent that the fairy tale image of the country, he says. “Last year we opened up an area called the Cultural Café. We hooked up digitally with the Omagh Jazz Festival on the Internet. People were Skyping and able to questions – there’s a huge Irish contingency here.”
Keli O’Neill Wenzel from the KCIF organizing committee says the focus on contemporary Ireland helps to keep relationships going, as generations become further removed from their relatives who emigrated 150 years ago. “We want to hit on facts that are contemporary, and not just about history. We always have a lot of heritage and culture and genealogy which is very important, but one thing our festival is really trying to pick up on is more the contemporary, and Ireland today. “That’s so the younger folks are connecting. For example, I am a fifth generation, so it’s so far beyond me that it’s now more about loving the culture as saying ‘that’s where I’m from.’” Craig says that this is how they are able to keep the young people engaged with the festival. “We are one of the biggest festivals in the States, but at 60 I’m the oldest on the board, the rest are all young people. That’s a big strength.” For more information visit www.kcirishfest.com