Cathy Maguire’s passionate singing of “Only Our Rivers Run Free” drew sustained applause from the congregation. Photo by John O’Connell, Ancient Order of Hibernians.
By Ray O’Hanlon
It was a substantial congregation, close enough to a thousand people.
But the prayers of all of Irish America, certainly the active and informed part of it, rose to the rafters of St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Monday evening during a Month’s Mind Mass for Martin McGuinness.
The gathering was a solemn occasion, but also a celebration of a man who had known war only to wage his greatest battle in the cause of peace.
The concelebrated Mass was organized by the Francis P Beirne AOH Division 9 in conjunction with the Brehon Law Society and an array of Irish American organizations and community leaders.
And the date was no accident, April 24 being the calendar anniversary of the beginning of the 1916 Rising.
The Mass itself was a rising in the form of prayer, song and music, all of which ascended to the vaulted roof, lately, and blessedly, free of scaffolding.
The main celebrant was Monsignor Robert Ritchie, Rector of St. Patrick’s, who said that the setting was appropriate as St. Patrick’s was a pinnacle for America’s Irish.
Readings and prayers of the faithful were delivered by Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald, Sean Pender of the AOH, Brian Pearson, Malachy McAllister and John Tully.
The McGuinness family was represented by Celine Gallagher and Cara Biaachi. Consul General Barbara Jones represented the Irish government, and, as it was their 150th anniversary, the Manchester Martyrs were represented by descendants Erica Veil and Bob Bateman.
The pipes and drums of the NYPD Emeralds delivered their unique musical force to the occasion and a color guard stood to attention before the main altar where a tricolor floral wreath was placed along with two mounted photos of Martin McGuinness.
Senator George Mitchell delivered a eulogy which summed up McGuinness as a courageous leader who rose to every challenge during the long process aimed at restoring peace and politics to the North.
In his eulogy, Senator Mitchell cited Martin McGuinness as “a major factor in the negotiations of the Good Friday Agreement, in the power sharing government of Northern Ireland and in the peace that endures today.
The Senator recalled the bright promise of the iconic images of Martin McGuiness and the Rev. Ian Paisley and how, in his ten years as Deputy First minister, McGuinness had worked alongside first Ministers Paisley, Peter Robinson and Arlene Foster. T
This work had taken place between the personifications of the opposing sides of the conflict in Northern Ireland, joining together not only in the first post Good Friday Government but in sincere friendship and the bright prospects for an enduring peace based on a parity of respect it seemed to portend.
Senator Mitchell concluded: “I have known Martin through three phases of his life: conflict, negotiation and governance. Through it all there was one constant factor: leadership. Martin McGuinness was a strong, effective leader in all that he did. He was truly one of the most important figures in the long history of Ireland,” said the architect of the Good Friday Agreement.
Music and song were the inspiring bookends for the service.
Cathy Maguire, among other compositions, performed a riveting “Only Our Rivers Run Free.” Mary Courtney delivered a slow and soulful “Amhrán na bhFiann,” and Sean Ruane sang “The Star Spangled Banner” with pride.
Cillian Vallely filled the great space with the haunting cadence of the Uileann Pipes and at the end of the Mass was joined by Heather Martin Bixtar for Sean O Riada’s “Mise Eire.”
The congregation spilled slowly onto a darkening Fifth Avenue where the NYPD pipes were calling.
Marin McGuinness, his life and work, had been embraced by Irish America, though Irish America was quick to state that the work continued.
In a statement coinciding with the Mass the Ancient Order of Hibernians said that “sadly,” many in the Irish American Community noted how distant the bright promise of peace for the north of Ireland currently seemed.
Said the statement: “While the legacy of Martin McGuinness highlights how far we have come, it also reminds us how much work remains to complete the transition from the ephemeral peace that is the lack of violence to a lasting peace built on the firm foundations of equality, justice and parity of respect as envisioned in the Good Friday Agreement.
“Nearly two decades on, there is still no Bill of Rights or resolution of legacy issues as called for in the Good Friday Agreement; both continually stalled and delayed by successive Democratic Unionist Party governments in Stormont and British governments in Westminster.
“The plans of the Government of Ms. Theresa May to pursue Brexit in defiance of the mandate of the people of Northern Ireland portends a return to the hard borders, both physical and psychological, of the past and tears at the very fabric of the Good Friday Agreement.
“For Prime Minister May to call for a ‘snap election’ as a means of building her British power base while the devolved executive of Northern Ireland is in collapse, for her to tout ‘a plan for Britain’ without a tangible plan to protect and pursue to completions the commitments of the Good Friday Agreement bespeaks either a shocking recklessness or callousness to the welfare of the people of the North of Ireland.
And the statement concluded: It is fitting that the Mind’s Day Mass for Martin McGuinness, a man who throughout his life and even in his epithet proclaimed his pride in being an Óglaigh na hÉireann, should be held on the 101st Anniversary of the Easter Rising.
“In his life, Martin McGuinness worked tirelessly for a nation that ‘guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens’ and to surmount ‘the differences carefully fostered by an alien Government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.’
“As ‘Ireland’s exiled children in America’ the AOH honors Martin McGuinness for a life spent keeping faith with the vision of the generation of 1916 and will continue to support the establishment of a fitting monument to his and their legacy, an island of Ireland united in peace and justice.”