By T. J. English
Haiti is an island nation; Ireland is an island nation.
Along with this being an obvious geological fact, there is an additional truth. Island people are known for their fierce pride and independence.
And yet, when disaster strikes, island people are made vulnerable by the very thing that makes them unique. They are stranded within a small universe, cut off from avenues of escape or support via land. Surrounded by water, they become dependant on the outside world for basic supplies, and they are sometime forced to take to the seas for survival.
Few groups of people should know this better than the Irish. The Potato Famine dislodged hundreds of thousand of destitute people, scattering them to the four corners of the earth. As Irish Americans, most of us descended from a class of island people whose lives were turned upside down by tragedy.
The earthquake that struck Haiti last month is on a scale equivalent to the Famine. The destruction is almost incalculable. As Irish Americans, we must reach out a helping hand.
The American continent was a source of refuge and salvation for the Irish at a time of great need. We can honor that historical role by offering support and sustenance to Haiti, our neighbor, whose people have suffered enough.
On the night of February 24, 2010, a group of Irish Americans is attempting to help out. Under the umbrella of Irish American Writers & Artist, Inc. (IAW&A), we are having a benefit to raise money for the relief effort in Haiti. Our theme for the night is RELIEF FOR HAITI: ISLAND PEOPLE SUPPORTING ISLAND PEOPLE.
All proceeds from this event will go to Concern Worldwide, an Ireland-based relief organization that had boots on the ground in Haiti even before the earthquake struck
It will be a night of music and readings by some prominent Irish American artist. But we are also trying to do something else with this event: make it an evening of cross-cultural solidarity.
The host of the evening is Terry George, a son of Belfast who went on to write and direct, among other movies, “Hotel Rwanda,” a searing portrait of the wrenching tribal warfare in one African nation. Along with well known local Irish American musical acts such as Black 47, Ashley Davis, Seanachi and the Unity Squad – and notable writers such as Colum McCann, Malachy McCourt and Michael Patrick Macdonald — there will be a Haitian Creole jazz band and an afro-Haitian drumming group whose “vodou” (the Creole spelling) rhythms promise to raise spirits and blow the roof off Connolly’s Pub on West 45th Street in midtown Midtown.
It will be a different kind of evening that we hope will chart a slightly different course for Irish America in the 21st Century.
Irish pride is all well and good, but what is Irish pride if it is only about self promotion? The Irish in America have reached the highest levels of achievement. We no longer need to puff our chests out and wear kelly green jumpers to show our self worth. It is time for Irish pride to become a celebration and accentuatuon of another aspect of our identity.
Irish pride can be a bridge to other cultures, other ways of seeing the world. The benefit for Haiti will be presented by a collective of Irish American writers, musicians, actors and poets, but it will be a multi-culural celebration of island cultures – Haitian, Latin and Irish.
We will be attempting to raise money and awareness for an island nation in the Carribean that has just suffered an enourmous tragedy and has nowhere else to turn.
The Irish have always been good at caring. They buckle up in a crisis and do what needs to be done.
Please show your Irish pride on Wednesday, February 24, 7 pm at Connolly’s Pub by throwing down $30 (or more if you can) for an important cause and help us make our theme for the night – ISLAND PEOPLE SUPPORTING ISLAND PEOPLE – more than just a slogan.
(T.J. English, author of The Westies and Paddy Whacked, in also a co-founder of Irish American Writers and Artist, Inc.)