Actor Gabriel Byrne.
By Peter McDermott
The Irish have famously long memories.
So said writer and comedian Maeve Higgins when discussing her reasons for performing at the Irish Stand on St. Patrick’s Day, a rally and a concert and a “global call for justice and equality.” It will take place at the 2,500-seat Riverside Church in Manhattan, starting at 7:30 p.m.
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“When I see the migrants and refugees trying to cross the sea in broken-down boats my mind goes at once to the coffin ships that the Irish died on,” she told the Echo. “And to think that the government is trying to ban Syrians, who are a wonderful people and badly in need of sanctuary. It’s just not fair.”
When asked about his headlining role in the event, Dublin-born novelist Colum McCann said: “The Irish Stand is all about bringing some much-needed nuance to the America we’re living in – in fact, the whole world around us.
“It’s about us complicating the simplicities that often get slung our way especially on St. Patrick’s Day, the lepracorniest day of all,” he added.
“It’s about us understanding that culture is a force to be reckoned with. And it’s about us saying that we’re not going to be boxed or pinned or deported without a fight,” said McCann, whose novel “Let the Great World Spin” won the National Book Award. “It’s about us saying that what we stand for is what we stand on.”
“I’m looking forward to St. Patrick’s night and to taking an Irish Stand,” said the Cobh. Co. Cork native Higgins, “not just because there will be drinking and dancing, though there will be, but because it feels like a properly Irish night to have, even though we’re thousands of miles away from home. You see, it’s a very natural thing for an Irish person to stand up for those being oppressed and silenced, because that used to be the way for us. Not me, personally. In fact, I’m a real motor mouth.
“So I’m going to get up and tell stories and jokes,” she said, “because that’s all I know how to do to say to my brothers and sisters around the world – I’m with you, you count, I’m standing up for you tonight.”
Comedian Maeve Higgins.
The Irish Stand has its roots in a speech made by politician Aodhán Ó Ríordáin in the Seanad two days after the election of Donald Trump. Senator Ó Ríordáin spoke of the “ugly international crossroads” and said he was embarrassed at the response of the government of Taoiseach Enda Kenny to the election of a “fascist” as president of the United States, comparing it unfavorably to that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel who said she would deal with Trump only on the basis of democratic values.
The speech, which also made reference to the annual Irish ceremony at the White House, went viral and is said to have had 40 million views online so far.
“Once I made the speech, it was said I had to do something about it,” Ó Ríordáin told the Echo.
His main collaborator is County Cavan social entrepreneur Ruairí McKiernan who was appointed by the president in 2012 to the Irish Council of State because of his work on youth, community and health issues.
Supporters in New York suggested playwright and Waking the Feminist organizer Lisa Tierney-Keogh as a contact person.
“We reached out to her,” said Ó Ríordáin, who will speak at the March 17 event, the proceeds from which will go to the ACLU.
Activist and writer Shaun King was one American who had emailed his support to the Irish senator at an early stage.
The Riverside Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said “Yes, we must stand and we must speak!”, was secured as the venue for March 17.
“People are anxious to have a different space for the Irish and Irish-Americans to the handing over of the shamrock,” the Labour Party senator said, referencing the ceremony involving the president and the taoiseach.
He said they wanted to present an alternative to those Irish associated with the White House: “Bannon, Conway, Spicer, Kelly, Flynn and those at Fox News, O’Reilly and Hannity.”
Aodhán Ó Ríordáin.
SAM BOAL/ ROLLINGNEWS.IE
The Irish Stand has won the support of actor Richard Schiff, who played Toby in “The West Wing.” Schiff said in statement: “We are facing an unprecedented challenge to our democracy for the first time in my lifetime. And a challenge to our basic freedoms and rights delineated so profoundly in our constitution. That there is a spontaneous combustion of protest and resistance around the world is as remarkable as it is necessary. My wife is Irish American. I know firsthand that the Irish don’t stay silent when they are wronged or see an injustice perpetrated anywhere. I stand with the Irish on St Patrick’s Day inspired by their voices and passion for justice.”
County Leitrim singer and co-founder of Artists Without Walls Niamh Hyland and musician Niall Connolly are among those who’ve joined the lineup for St. Patrick’s night.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Ó Ríordáin said.
Meanwhile, the host of the Maeve in America podcast added another reason why she is, too.
“Gabriel Byrne is going to be there,” Higgins said, “and that man is aging really well, if you get my drift. He’s a fine wine and I’m going to drink that up.
For more information go to www.irishstand.org, @irishstand and @AodhanORiordain. The Riverside Church is located at 490 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10027.
Novelist Colum McCann.
PHOTO: PETER MCDERMOTT