This blog is travelling south from Boston on the train to New York. Me and your man are soaked, dripping wet from the incessant rain that greeted our arrival in the USA on Saturday. We were in Boston for a number of Saint Patrick’s Day events. In Ireland we celebrate Paddy’s Day for one day. Here it takes at least a week.
And for that week or most of it there is a great deal of focus on Ireland. So this is always a good time to engage with popular opinion, to inform the public, particularly Irish America, of current developments and to thank friends for their support. It is also an opportune time to make more friends and to ask for support in the upcoming period. This year I almost didn’t make the trip. But because the planning for some events was already well advanced I eventually decided to come ahead. And as always it is very worthwhile. Except for the rain.
However as always, some good always breaks out and my failure to bring a topcoat means I have now inherited a jacket belonging to Kevin Fagin (Fago to his friends) late of Dublin, well known in Derry and Clonard and good friend to rain soddened itinerant preachers of the gospel of Irish freedom. Go raibh maith agat Fago.
In Boston I was guest speaker at a Saint Patricks Day celebration for members of the Clover Club. Some media outlets in Ireland have ran with negative stories about this event. I was there at the invitation of a good friend of Ireland Joe Leary who is President of the Clover Club this year and is also President and CEO of the Irish American Partnership. This organisation does sterling work raising funds to support educational, economic development and cross community projects in Ireland. Its efforts have been widely applauded.
This Boston institution was founded in 1883. John Boyle O Reilly, the Fenian who escaped from exile in Australia, was a founder member. The founding members first called themselves Boeotians in mocking memory to an ancient Greek reference to second class citizens. They like many other similar Irish American organisations were set up to combat discrimination and exclusion of Irish immigrants.
The Clover Club is a fraternal organisation. There are many thousands of others in the USA like it, either exclusively for men or exclusively for women. These fraternal organisations are either social or professionally based. They reflect that country’s particular cultural development.
The Clover Club has many eccentric rules. For example all members of its Publicity Committee are dead. Its President is not allowed to speak at the two first two dinners of his term. He may not speak and has no vote at Executive Committee meetings – if there are any such meetings.
The Club itself meets three or four times a year for dinner, speeches and an evening of political satire. Speakers are not paid a fee.
Me and your man enjoyed a very long and unique evening. It was a mixture of vaudeville, old style music hall singing or what I imagine that would have been like, and lots of good humoured speech making, much of it political satire. The close harmony singing was terrific. My Wild Irish Rose, When Irish eyes Are Smiling, The Wild Colonial Boy, Relieve Me Of All These Endearing Young Charms vied with many other old time melodies that I haven’t heard in ages. Your man sang along like a nightingale. He was Percy French and John McCormack and Ronan Tynan all at the same time.
Sunday morning was a repeat performance of sorts at the breakfast hosted by Senator Jack Hart in South Boston. At this event, packed to capacity, there was a terrific singalong led by local politicians, including Congress members, State legislators, City Council members and the newly elected US Senator Scott Brown who took Teddy Kennedy’s seat.
All the songs were Irish songs. And then some. It went on for almost four hours. Like a Clancy Brothers Concert interspersed with local political speechmaking, again of a politically barbed but humourous kind by the local politicos. I could never imagine such an event in Ireland.
MacNamara’s Band competed with If You’re Irish Come Into the Parlour, The Fields Of Athenry and The Boys Of The Old Brigade, all belted out by politicians who are usually warring with one and other over domestic and other issues. Ireland is one issue they seem to agree on. Here the real Ronan Tynan turned up and gave a wonderful rendition of Ride On. This blog hummed along. Many thanks to state Senator Steve Toland for his help with this gig and for all his work.
And then the Parade. More a swim than a walk. But somebody had to do it. Brrrrhhhh! Poor Rita O Hare was almost swept away in it all.
The St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Boston, like that in New York, is attended by the nation’s most senior local and national politicians, by tens of thousands of Irish Americans, hundreds of community organisations, and representatives of the Irish government.
There has been controversy around some of the parades, particularly those in New York and Boston because they refuse to allow gay and lesbian groups to participate. Sinn Féin long ago made clear our opposition to exclusion. Our policy in support of gay and lesbian rights is long standing. However, we are not prepared to exclude ourselves from opportunities to promote the peace process and Sinn Féin’s objective of Irish unity.
And now New York for more events. Then Washington, the White House, our own event. And then home again. No rest for the wicked.
Lá Fhéile Pádraig faoi mhaise daoibh.