Thursday, 18 March 2010

Lennon, Connolly & The Irish Arts Center

All right, I’ve got one for you! What do John Lennon, James Connolly and the Irish Arts Center have in common?
“It’s about time he got on my wavelength,” says your man up in Pearl River. “Don’t I adore the very ground the Beatles walk on, and what could be better than the Wolfe Tones singing about the “Irish Rebell,” and sure haven’t I been meaning to drop by the Irish Arts Center this twenty years or more.”
Ah, isn’t it a wondrous thing when reader and writer connect! All three, indeed, have one man in common – Brian Heron, a grandson of Connolly who inspired Lennon to write Luck of the Irish, and once upon a time persuaded the city of New York to grant a building on West 51st Street to the fledgling Irish Arts Center for a mere pittance a year.
The Irish Arts Center has been through many changes since its revolutionary days – it has produced academy award winners and nominees, Jim Sheridan and Terry George – but has never lost its sense of adventure and willingness to take a shot on an idea.
And now it stands poised to become the Irish center that New York has always lacked. The Irish government and the city of New York are foursquare behind this new venture that in coming years will grace a block on 11th Avenue where once the Westies prowled.
Of course, we must all kick in. You don’t have to do so with big donations, although they would be welcome. How about taking one of the many wonderful Irish music, dancing or language classes, or checking out a concert or theatrical production?
I have always feared that there might be a carpenter in Queens who could be the next O’Casey or a barman in the Bronx blessed with the latent talent of Patrick Kavanagh, neither of whom ever fulfilled their promise.
There’s a haven for such literary aspirants in the heart of Greenwich Village. It’s not that Glucksman Ireland House will make them better writers but when they cross its threshold they will enter a cocoon of literature and learning where they may share with others their love of Joyce, Yeats, McGahern or McGann and their desire to emulate such giants.
Ireland House holds readings, lectures and concerts, and in general stimulates the Irish-American intellectual life of the city, all in a very friendly and casual, if efficient, manner. A word of warning, you do risk running into me at Pádraig Ó’Cearúll’s Irish classes where conversation is spiced with much laughter and one only needs an interest in the language to participate.
Again, like the Irish Arts Center, Ireland House depends on community support and you don’t have to be an aspiring writer or artist. Just drop by for an event, even risk a year’s membership; you’ll find it will work wonders for your mind and, quite possibly, your soul.
There are so many great social and cultural organizations around the country, and I risk alienation from many friends for not mentioning theirs. However, I’d like to applaud an institution that has received many the knock in Irish-America over the years – the Irish Consulate.
While its staff has always been polite and efficient when it came to renewing a passport or divulging some piece of information, there was a time when many Irish-Americans of republican, or even broadly nationalist, views felt a deep sense of alienation from the Irish diplomatic corps.
Now, one could argue that Sinn Fein’s participation in the political process helped ease this rift, but the healing goes well beyond that. Consul General, Niall Burgess, has thrown open the doors of the consulate and it’s a rare week that there are not a number of events that include all from “shanty to lace curtain” of every political persuasion.
Not to mention that his outgoing, informed and informative deputy, Breandán Ó’Caollaí is so ubiquitous and welcomed about town, that I could have sworn I awoke to see him slipping out my doorway the other morning after setting my unruly desk to order.
On this St. Patrick’s Day it’s a pleasure to tip one’s cap to these dynamic organizations that have added much to the cultural and social life of the city and country in the last year. One hopes that all of you, including my correspondent from fair Pearl River will join me at one of their classes, readings or functions in the coming year.

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