Showing resilience while celebrating immigrants

Mark Donnelly recalled his immigrant grandfather, an English-born milkman, at the latest fundraiser for the Dwelling Place of New York.

By Maura Mulligan

“My brother just texted me from Ireland to see if I was okay,” announced Mary McIntyre as she arrived at the Samhain celebration and fundraiser for the Dwelling Place of New York. Some guests were visibly shaken by the horrific events downtown and a few whipped out phones to check on loved ones and friends who were at the Halloween parade in the village.

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When your city is under terror attack, it’s natural to feel frightened. The urge to hunker down and hide is strong. But New Yorkers are known for strength and resilience and those of us gathered to celebrate Samhain, the Celtic New Year knew that we must go ahead with the festivities. Besides, we were there to celebrate immigrants who made a positive difference in America.

Fiddler Marie Reilly and singer Mary Deady were on hand to welcome our immigrant ghosts. Mary Fee and Deirdre Batson, also immigrants made the delicious Bairín Breac for the occasion. Skilled Seanchaí Jim Hawkins was ready to weave a yarn about a bodhrán player whose skill with the instrument caused ghosts to come down a chimney in Clare. Yours truly had a broom ready to lash into a dance and as the Samhain Earth goddess it was also my job to welcome everyone to the Playwright’s festive party room on West 49th Street. Explaining that behind the many customs related to Samhain aka Halloween, I reminded the gathering that the ancient Celts believed that this is the time when the year begins again with its dark winter half. With the beginning of this dark phase, comes the opportunity to rest; reflect on the past and dream of new beginnings. The seed hidden in the earth will germinate in season and we are reminded to look for the seeds in ourselves.

Maura Mulligan’s job as the Samhain Earth goddess was to welcome

everyone to the Playwright’s festive party room on West 49th Street.

Starting with Margaret McCarthy reciting her lovely poem, “Approaching Samhain” and Hara Reiser’s reading of a Scarecrow poem, we brought the ancient Celtic New Year festival to life. Because the veil between worlds is thin and passage from one world to the other is possible at this time, the beautiful voice of Mary Deady rendered a fitting fáilte to the spirit of Annie Moore who appeared in the person of Mary McIntyre. Suitcase in hand, Annie reminded us that she was the first immigrant in the United States to pass through federal immigrant inspection at the Ellis Island station in New York

Joining Annie Moore at the dinner party was Mike Quill, who emigrated from Kerry in 1926. Jim Cagney reminded us that Quill was the mighty founder of the Transport Workers Union of America. Nearby was Mary Harris (Mother Jones). Called "the most dangerous woman in America” for her success in organizing mine workers she came to us in the person of Bridget Cagney.

Dolores Nolan, in a traditional Quaker costume, brought another immigrant, Lydia Barrington Darragh to life. A Dublin-born American Revolutionary War heroine Lydia is said to have saved General George Washington's army from a British attack. Google her.

Among the writers at our party was the spirit of Irish Short Story Writer and Journalist, Maeve Brennan. Nancy Oda told us how this writer had moved to the United States in 1934 when her father was appointed to the Irish Legation in Washington. After hearing Nancy’s presentation, guests were inspired to read more of Brennan’s work.

With his navigation equipment in hand, Irish born Commodore John Barry stood before us. Along with facts about his young life when the family was evicted from their home in Cork, John Kearns reminded us that Barry, who became known as “Father of the American Navy,” received his first captain's commission in the Continental Navy on March 14, 1776.

Irish ghosts weren’t the only ones who made their way through the mists of time. Deirdre Batson brought a famous immigrant from the Isle of Man to our midst. The psychologist, Elizabeth Holloway Marston who became co- creator of Wonder Woman was also known for using systolic blood pressure to detect deception – i.e. the precursor of the lie-detector test. Deirdre left no truth untold.

John Kearns in the role of

Commodore John Barry.

In building bridges this night between the living and the dead, we imagined the famous Kościuszko in our midst as Diane Hawkins brought the Polish-Lithuanian military engineer to the floor. Diane reminded us that this immigrant became a national hero not only in Poland but also in the United States.

“I’d like to write a great peace song,” Irving Berlin told a journalist in 1938, “but it’s hard to do, because you have trouble dramatizing peace.” In a stylish black suit, Karen Daly brought this famous Russian immigrant to life and Mary Deady was on hand to lead us in Berlin’s composition, “God Bless America.”

Deloras Nolan as Dublin-born Lydia Barrington

Darragh, a heroine of the Revolutionary War.

Listening to native-born Americans like Mark Donnelly, Josephine Donahue, Sheila Houlihan, Patricia McGivern, Judy Stapleton Engle and Maureen Sorca fondly remember their immigrant relatives, we realized more fully how and why immigrants are often called the backbone of this country.

Traditional fiddler Marie Reilly and singer

Mary Deady getting into the party spirit.

During our Samhain ceremony of lights, we remembered the eight innocent victims who died in the terror attack at the Halloween Parade a few hours earlier. We honored our dead by placing a donation in a memory box. These contributions were offered to the director of the Dwelling Place of New York, Sister Joann Sambs who told us that this year the shelter, which provides refuge, sustenance and support to thousands of women is celebrating “40 years on 40th Street.”

We wish everyone reading this article a Happy Celtic New Year.