The L.E. Beckett stands off in the Hudson just yards from the Great Hunger Memorial. Photo by Phil Gilson.
By Ray O’Hanlon
Up and down the river from this place they would have scrambled and staggered ashore, lucky to be alive, wondering how they were still alive.
Not all of them had made it of course.
So many had succumbed to the ravages of hunger, disease and despair.
So these were the lucky ones. They were getting a second chance at life in America, starting here, on Manhattan Island.
“Here” on Wednesday morning was the Irish Hunger Memorial at Battery Park City.
The island and the rest of the city was gearing up for a record breaking temperature for the second day of October.
But on this island of green, representing the far away West of Ireland, there was a cooling breeze, enough of one to make the bees and butterflies work a little harder as they inspected the Yellow Bidens, the Foxglove and the Flowering Clover.
And just off the island, out in the great river, there was a ship full of Irish.
They had been ashore in a better time, the serving members of the Irish Naval Service ship L.E. Samuel Beckett.
The Beckett was here to stand off the memorial, to salute what it represents, and to remember all those who had once longed for a free Ireland, even as they dreamed even more of a full belly and lighter heart.
The Beckett had been New York for a week, part of the Irish offensive to make even better friends at the United Nations which next year will vote for a new batch of rotating members of the Security Council.
The Beckett is a warship if it has to be, but in recent times it has been deployed in rescuing thousands of migrants crossing the Mediterranean in search of a better life, in search of life itself, just like those Irish who streamed across the Atlantic in the sailing ships of the mid-19th century.
There was a gathering at the Great Hunger Memorial and words from Adrian Flannelly, one of the primary creators of the memorial which mirrors his own corner of his home county, Mayo.
There were words from B.J. Jones, CEO of the Battery Park City Authority, and from Irish Consul General in New York, Ciaran Madden, who reminded those gathered that just as the Irish had faced a cataclysmic crisis more than a century and a half ago, all too many were today facing similar dire circumstances in parts of Africa, in Syria, and elsewhere in the world.
As the consul general spoke the Beckett was standing off the island, members of the crew standing at attention in naval whites, the Irish tricolor billowing in the stiff breeze blowing up the Hudson. Beside Thomas Meagher’s flag, the Stars and Stripes also fluttered proudly on a proud Irish ship.
The symbolism, the circle, was complete. A ship full of Irish bestride Manhattan, but one representing a free Ireland confident of its place on the waters and on the land, and of its singular contribution to the building of America.
The ceremony over, the Beckett let off a blast from its horn and eased on down the river towards the great harbor, with its statue of that lady and Ellis Island, a later landing place for the immigrant Irish.
From the harbor it would be on to a new port of call.
The Long Eireannach Beckett was shipping up to Boston.