The Irish Arts Center’s annual dinner dance at the prestigious New York Athletic Club on Central Park South always promises to be a memorable night out. The 2004 dinner, held on Friday, October 1 was no exception.
Each year the Center honors those in the entertainment and business communities who have made great contributions to advancing and highlighting Irish culture. This year’s event honored Irish writer Edna O’Brien and New York construction dynamo Gerry Boyle.
The Arts Center, as expected, managed a perfect mix of community and showbiz, and this year, once again, the two Irish-born Hollywood stars, Liam Neeson and Gabriel Byrne, turned up to show support, with Byrne taking the lead. The actor, who has long been a patron of the Center (now in its 35(th) year) was splendid in his introduction of Edna O’Brien. He talked of her significance as a writer — from The Country Girls to her book on James Joyce — with warmth and appreciation. He also quoted from writer Philip Roth, who said of O’Brien’s book Wild Decembers, “The great Colette’s mantle has fallen to Edna O’Brien. A darker writer, more full of conflict, O’Brien nonetheless shares the earthiness, the rawness, the chiseled prose, the scars of maturity. She is a consummate stylist and, to my mind, the most gifted woman now writing fiction in English.”
O’Brien, who suffered public humiliation and book burning by her local priest in Scariff, Co. Clare, when The Country Girls (1960) was first published, talked about her “mixed relationship” with Ireland. “But I love my country and I know that there is something it is capable of transmitting, which is beautiful but indefinable.” She adding that “much as we love the country we left,” we must acknowledge the “hope and optimism that America gave us.” Brooklyn, she said had held a particular fascination for her as a child. As a place her mother had visited as a young woman, it took on a “mythical” quality.
Gerry Boyle, from Co. Kerry, whose stage presence is such that should he decide to give up the construction business, he could probably make it as an entertainer, charmed the audience, ribbing his brother-in-law Cel Donaghy, Irish Arts Center patron and rival construction industry leader, and his parents (“How long are ye staying?”) who the Center had flown over as a surprise.
Music was provided by the Ian Gallagher Band. ♦