1999-09-04 / Columnists

Meet The Irish

by Harry McGuirk

Brooklyn’s parade was originated as a salute to America’s freedom. It is now known as the Brooklyn St. Patrick’s Parade. You feel the great old American-Irish pride. Long may Brooklyn live in this Irish tradition.

Look at the dedication which the Brooklyn supporters of Ireland wrote on the expectations of peace among the people of Irish-Catholic and Protestant background-it sounds like Martin Luther King’s homily "Peace At Last! Peace At Last!"

We hope all of the Irish parades will salute the efforts to make peace the objective of their work. For the future of Ireland’s children north and south.

Thanks Brooklyn.


Brooklyn St. Patrick’s Parade: Theme of the 21 annual parade-"Wolfe Tone and The Historic Road to Peace in Ireland."

After centuries of persecution, occupation, war and partition, there is for the first time the real hop for an agreement by both the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain to take the hard steps and necessary actions to create a lasting peace in all of Ireland.

On February 22, 1995, at a joint conference held in Belfast, Ireland, Prime Minister John Major of Great Britain and Prime Minister John Bruton of the Republic of Ireland presented a document entitled "Framework for the Future."

The next significant elements of this document were for all all-party talks leading to the abrogation of direct rule of Northern Ireland by London, the formation of a power-sharing assembly for Northern Ireland and the institution of a north-south body, which would have power over matters designated by the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Irish Parliament.

Both the parliaments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland approved the "Framework for the Future" by sizable majorities.

Hopefully, this February we will see the start of all-party talks, negotiations, and the concurrent decommissioning of arms by both sides.

An international body headed by former Senator George Mitchell of Maine will monitor the decommissioning issue.

The cessation, for the third year, of indiscriminate sectarian killings and violence between Protestants and Catholics, raises the real prospect for the ultimate removal of the British military occupation of six of the counties of the historic province of Ulster.

Unlike his predecessors, much credit must be given to President Clinton for establishing an independent American policy, apart from British interests, on Northern Ireland and for taking an active role in the peace process.

This year the Brooklyn Irish American Parade Committee recalls, and commemorates, the bicentennial of the United Irishman leader, Wolfe Tone’s invasion of Bantry Bay in West Cork. Wolf Tone, born June 20, 1763 in Dublin of Protestant parentage was to become an Irish nationalist, revolutionary and republican hero.

Tone founded the Society of the United Irishman first in Belfast in October 1791 and then in Dublin.

His clear vision of a united Ireland is expressed in an excerpt from one of his letters in 1790—"to united the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissensions and to substitute the common name of Irishman in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter."

In 1791, in a pamphlet entitled "An Argument on behalf of Catholics of Ireland", Tone states—"that the depression of slavery on Ireland was produced and perpetuated by the divisions existing between them."

The Society, both in Dublin and Belfast, spread with great rapidity and in it membership Catholics and Protestants formed a strong union. Tone worked to reconcile differences and feuds between Protestants and Catholics deliberately caused by fascism controlling the government.

Tone was exiled from Ireland, but by way of America, he arrived in France where he persuaded the French to assist in an invasion of Ireland in 1796. Bad weather undermined the invasion.

In 1798, Tone was captured by the British off the Donegal coast while making another invasion effort. Denied a soldier’s death and sentenced to hang as a felon, Tone took his life in a Dublin prison on November 19, 1798.

An interesting historic note-his wife, Matilda Tone, a faithful supporter of his republican efforts, and their last surviving son, William Theobald Wolfe Tone, rest in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Across the centuries, Tone speaks to us-neither north or south, neither Protestant nor Catholic, but one Ireland united and free.

Joseph Ferris, Parade Historian


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