Judy andy mcgowan

New York celebrates Yeats

A portrait of William Butler Yeats by his father John Butler Yeats (1900).

By Peter McDermott

W.B Yeats is just so damned sexy.

So Irish Repertory Theatre’s Producing Director Ciarán O’Reilly opined at a gala benefit in Manhattan on Monday night marking the poet’s 150th birthday.

But Artistic Director Charlotte Moore, in that routine at the mic, chided her co-founder for appealing to the lowest common denominator.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

Still, the Nobel laureate who looked down, from a series of iconic images, upon the audience of 1,100 at the Town Hall had no doubt about his own sexiness.

Maud Gonne was mostly unpersuaded, however, as we know -- and that and the other key dimensions of the Yeats story were marvelously told through his words, as performed by Olympia Dukakis, Colum McCann, Melissa Errico, Peter Gallagher and a few more.

Star couple Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick were officially the hosts of “Yeats: The Celebration,” and they both did quite a bit of the reading, but Moore and O’Reilly put their stamp on the proceedings early on with a video outlining the Rep’s capital program.

Many of the big stars then took their seats on stage for the rest of the show, enjoying performances by, for instance, Ciarán Sheehan, Gabriel Donohue and the American Ballet Theatre JKO School.

One of those stars, John Slattery (best-known perhaps as Roger Sterling in “Mad Men”), eventually got to say his party piece, “I Am Of Ireland.” He nailed it.

Caitriona Yeats, granddaughter of the man of the hour, was equally effective with her rendering of “Down by the Sally Gardens.”

That set up the musical finale to a very entertaining evening.

McGowan party

Last night, Ireland’s top diplomat in New York, Barbara Jones, described Andy McGowan as Yeats’s ambassador to the city. Other prominent figures in the community, such as George Heslin and Larry Kirwan, stepped up to praise McGowan at a "roast and toast" dinner at the National Arts Club in Gramercy Park for his vision, his kindness and his industriousness. Others via video claimed not to have heard of McGowan, and indeed said they were the real president of the Yeats Society of New York. When challenged on this, Charlotte Moore changed her story and insisted instead that she was the vice-president.

Peter Quinn, in that video, said he had never heard of Yeats before McGowan told him of his society. He was upset to hear he was dead, and then that he wasn’t a Catholic, or even Jewish, and nor had he come from the Bronx. However, once Quinn was assured that this dead Protestant poet had never been a Mets fan, he agreed to get involved.

McGowan had scheduled a special event to commemorate the 150th anniversary and also the Yeats Society of New York’s 25th, but in secret his wife Judy and three sons began planning a tribute to him for the same night at the same venue. And they were so successful in getting the word out, several people had to be turned away at the door.

Michael Gray, the Irish Echo’s film critic, commented to me that he learned some years ago that you had to arrive in plenty of time to ensure your place at Yeats Society events.

Andy and Judy McGowan at the National Arts Club last night.