Points of arrival

John Duddy will be one of the performers in "New York: A Shining Mosaic" at Pier A on Sept. 27.

By Charles Hale

Immigration to America peaked in the late 19th and early 20th century with millions arriving in New York City. Many of the newcomers worked at the lousiest, rottenest jobs in order to put food on their tables. They paved and swept the streets, built the tunnels and bridges, worked in the saloons. And many stayed. I’m reminded of a comment by Brooklyn-born author Pete Hamill, whose parents came from Ireland. As children of immigrants, he said, “We have to honor their pain for the rest of our lives.” Artists Without Walls’ presentation “New York City: A Shining Mosaic” will strive to do just that on Tuesday, Sept. 27.

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When George Heslin asked Artists Without Walls’ cofounder Niamh Hyland and me if we would do a show as part of Origin Theatre’s 9th Annual 1st Irish Fest we were honored. We chatted with George about an idea for the show and as soon as he said that Pier A, Harbor House, was our venue, I knew the direction of the show—a celebration of the immigrants, their contributions and their ancestors, at the point of their arrival

Pier A, Harbor House, is a landmark building at the southern tip of Manhattan. It originally housed the city’s docks department and later served as a command post for the city’s fireboats. Today it is a restaurant and performance venue, providing sweeping views of New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

Mala Waldron

When I visited the space I looked south, where my great-great-grandfather John Hale sailed into New York City from Newry, Ireland, on a spring morning in 1854; I looked west where stands the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, which became the inspection station from 1892. Today, over 100 million Americans—about one-third of the population—can trace their ancestry to the immigrants who first arrived in America at Ellis Island, and I thought, there could be no better place to honor our ancestors, New York City and it immigrants.

This is also a perfect show for Artists Without Walls, since one of our goals is to unite people of diverse cultures in the pursuit of artistic achievement. Since Niamh and I founded Artists Without Walls three and a half years ago, we have featured performers from 34 countries. It’s no surprise that “New York City: A Shining Mosaic” features two European-born artists and two South Americans.

"New York City: A Shining Mosaic" will highlight the entry points into America--Castle Garden, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty – life along the Waterfront, the music and dance of immigrants and their children, and the impact on music when diverse cultures unite.

We’ve assembled a wonderful team. Julie Kline, who directed Erin Layton’s award-winning “Magdalen,” is directing the show. Singer Niamh Hyland, who will be performing in the show, is also the show’s musical director. I created the show, which I narrate, in the hope of transporting the audience the audience back in time through the immigrants’ stories and experiences, and their impact on New York City and its culture.

Charles Hale.

Our performers include jazz standout Mala Waldron—Mala’s father Mal was a Billie Holiday accompanist—actors Jack O’Connell and John Duddy, no strangers to New York’s Irish-American audiences, Walter Parks, who was Woodstock legend Richie Havens’ lead guitarist, and three very popular musicians on the New York scene, singer/songwriter Eleanor Dubinsky, flutist Elsa Nilsson and guitarist Yuri Juarez.

One last thing. Folks might want to get there early and sit outside or at the bar and enjoy the incredible views and the sunset, which we’ve timed perfectly….6:44… right between the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

New York City: A Shining Mosaic will take place on Sept. 27, 7:30, at Pier A, Harbor House, 22 Battery Place. Tickets are $20 or $15 Early Bird Special. Reservations: 866-811-4111 or www.1stirish.org.