By Karen Daly
Photos by John Kwok

Irish American Writers & Artists packed The Ellington restaurant’s party room for an Irish Wake for our beloved Malachy McCourt, an IAW&A founding Director.  This past month, many tributes have been offered to the truly larger than life Malachy as an actor, author, raconteur, activist, radio host, pater familias.

On a mid-April night, we paid tribute to his grand gift to us: the legacy of the Salon, which was Malachy’s idea to let the members “be heard.”

In fact, for the first IAW&A Salon (June 2011) at the Thalia Café at Symphony Space, he not only opened the program, read a funny passage from his book A Monk Swimming, he closed with a song. We don’t know what he sang that night, but we’d like to believe that it was Will Ye Go Lassie, Go, forever his signature song.

Nearly 13 years later, the Salon is flourishing. Much creative work has been presented and developed –plays, novels, poetry, performance art, music, comedy.

That work and our vibrant community are his legacy.

Brendan Costello, Jr.

Jake James

Dylan James

IAW&A President Brendan Costello, Jr. organized and hosted the Wake, and twenty-one members took the mic to honor Malachy in the ways he most appreciated, and which he inspired us to do: with stories, songs and words. Two excellent young trad musicians Jake James and Dylan James provided the soundtrack.

Each speaker shared a unique and personal connection to Malachy, often citing his encouragement of their creative pursuits, community building, fearless humor, and persistence in enjoying life until the end of his 92 years.

Brendan noted that, although Malachy frequently professed his atheism, he always had the deepest faith for us, and anyone engaged in creativity. So many are grateful for his personal interest in their work. For Mary Goggin, Malachy brought “magic” and “permission to be irreverent” in her performances. Jill Caryl Weiner often sought him out on an upper West Side corner for a dose of encouragement about writing her novel. Writer Mary Lannon sweetly offered similar appreciation.

Mary Goggin

Jill Caryl Weiner

Mary Lannon

John McDonagh told a hilarious tale about Brooklyn Cyclones honoring Malachy at its Irish Night, when he talked politics, not baseball. Sarah Fearon shared bits from her interview in Irish America, where Malachy said “The Irish mourn marriages and celebrate death. The most enjoyable times are at wakes. The Irish have such a marvelous time with the storytelling, the greatest laughs and the music, and the way they talk about the deceased. When they talk about a fella getting married, they say ‘ah, poor old Tim is gone now.’”

Longtime friends spoke, including Brian McDonald, who was funny and tender, and co-authored with Malachy’s Death Need Not Be Fatal. Andy McGowan shared Malachy’s opinion of bagpipe music! Mary Pat Kelly talked about his long friendship with her husband, Martin Sheerin, before Malachy invited her to join IAW&A’s board as it was forming.

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Brian McDonald

Andy McGowan

Mary Pat Kelly

William Leo Coakley read his gorgeous poem about Malachy called The Bringer of Joy, which says,“We kissed his ring.”

I (Karen Daly) observed that Malachy’s presence at the Salon was a benediction, in a strictly non-religious way, referencing his well-known stance on the topic: “I’m an atheist, thank God.” Thom Molyneaux expanded the theme with philosopher Martin Buber’s lesson in which a Rabbi explained that God created atheists to teach true compassion, because they help and do good due to a sense of morality. Buber told students that when someone asks for help, don’t pray for them, just help. And that’s what Malachy did.

Karen Daly

Maria Deasy

Maureen Hossbacher

Screen images elicited poignant comments. Maria Deasy thought his bright blue eyes and wonderful smile seemed to retain a childhood innocence. Maureen Hossbacher, saw Malachy at St-Pats-for-All, waving to the crowd from a horse and carriage, or leading IAW&A from his wheelchair, living life to the fullest. The politicians, even Senator Schumer, sought him out at the parade.

When Malachy received IAW&A’s Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award, Mark William Butler was a producer of the event. The date was Mark’s birthday, and he called Malachy “the best birthday present ever!”

Lisa Engesser

Nancy Oda

Logan Reyes

Bill Hughes

When Malachy told Liza Engesser, in an interview for the Crossing the Waters video series, that he danced for passengers on the boat crossing to Ireland at age three, she said, “Malachy, you’ve always been an entertainer.” And a storyteller. In his storytelling class, Nancy Oda learned the value of keeping it short – a lesson she termed “priceless.” All the speakers at the Wake, did just that, a feat which would make Malachy proud. Nancy is grateful for Malachy’s connecting her with IAW&A. College student Logan Reyes also found community and energy listening to Malachy and John McDonagh on WBAI during the pandemic…before he even met them. Speaking of WBAI, when Bill Hughes was on the show, he found Malachy to be a thoughtful and discerning interviewer.

Toasting with a Guinness, frequent Salon host Gordon Gilbert promised that Salons will continue to thrive. Salon photographer John Kwok knew Malachy for years before discovering their mutual love for classical music.

Gordon Gilbert

John Kwok

After the member tributes, we joined in signing Will Ye Go Lassie, Go robustly, sadly, and joyfully.

The final note of the evening, but not the final note about Malachy, was a heartfelt acknowledgement from his daughter, Siobhán McCourt, who often accompanied him in the last ten years. She thanked IAW&A, saying the Salons and our activities  were a gift to Malachy, helping him thrive in his final years.

Poet Myss Uneek perfectly summed up the night  “ So much love in this room.”

We can say no more than Rest in Peace, Malachy McCourt.

Our next Salon will be on Thursday, May 2, at Houghton Hall (22 East 30th St. NYC), starting at 7:00pm. Please check back on the website for further details.