Across town a bit there was a gathering at the Irish Consulate. It was a reception to introduce to the world a library posing as a book. Well, nine volumes to be precise.
Indeed, what was being unveiled on the 17th floor of 345 Park Avenue was a scholarly version of the trinity mystery: nine books in one dictionary.
"The Dictionary of Irish Biography" has been in the works for 14 years and is the dream writ very large of the Royal Irish Academy aligned with the publishing acumen of Cambridge University Press.
It is described in a glossy brochure as a collaborative project between the two that is available in print and online. Which begs the question: how many giga whatsits do these nine volumes make?
Anyway, 700 of the keenest scholarly minds devoted to Irish studies have combined in the telling of 9,000 life stories that fill the pages of the dictionary, which can be purchased at a decent discount up until the end of this month.
The brochure, useless for bench pressing, but for sure easier on the biceps than the volumes, described the dictionary as being "the indispensable reference work for Ireland."
It went on to list some familiar names, ones that you would expect to find in such a work. Even so, with 9,000 men and women between the hard covers there are clearly many individuals who do not trip off the tongue.
"The dictionary will put their lives into every major library in the world and on the shelves of scholars, journalists, teachers, broadcasters, diplomats and general readers. It will be especially important in helping to sustain Irish studies courses in universities throughout the world," stated the brochure.
Journalists? Those creatures with such short attention spans?
Anyway, there was an impressive list of speakers in the room to speak of the dictionary, its value, its importance, its immense scope.
Nicholas Canny of the Royal Irish Academy stressed the point that the dictionary was an all-island tome, while Professor Maureen Murphy of Hofstra University flew the Irish studies in America flag.
Her professorial colleague, Joe Lee of New York University's Glucksman Ireland House, forsook the microphone and podium and took to the floor to extol, in what amounted to one of his famous lectures, the innumerable virtues of the great work. Lee said a great deal of the tomes though resisted the temptation to open with the line, "and in the green corner, weighing in at...."
The man could sell sand in a desert but you could probably buy a desert for the dictionary's sticker price of $1,200 (just $995 until the 31st deadline).
That said, there is an online option and its free up until the end of February, so people can get a peek at what they will be trading the arm and a leg for.
Still, and you don't have to take the word of all the eminent writers who wrote nice blurbs in the brochure, this is truly a piece of work, Ireland's living sea scrolls, the story of a people reflected in the lives of a tiny but outstanding fraction of them.
But not a small number, mind.
"The mammy always told me I was one in a million, at least up until my teens. But the truth is I'm not even one in 9,000," said I to Consul General Niall Burgess, the evening's host, this after confirming that half a lifetime of writing for a living had not opened a door into the dictionary of dictionaries.
"That's because you have to be dead to be in it," the CG replied with a smile that could only be described as charitable.
"I can wait so," I replied in turn.
Wait and wait and wait.
In the meantime, at the cost of no limb, you can explore this extraordinary treatment of the great Irish story until February's end by going to the website http//dib.cambridge.org/ and click on "Create an Account" located just under the login button. The offer code is DIB2010.