By Karen Daly
Photos by Christopher Booth
Malachy McCourt’s fans lined the street outside The Cell Theatre on West 23rd Street to enter the launch party for his latest book Death Need Not Be Fatal.
IAW&A was proud to host the event on the book’s publication date, May 16. Malachy is a founder of IAW&A, and the inspiration for our bi-monthly Salons, which have been going strong for more than five years. Honoring one of his favorite ideas, we devoted the first half of this night to storytelling, and the second to the man himself, with two splendid musical interludes.
IAW&A Board member, comedian and writer Sarah Fearon served as host and organizer. She thanked Malachy for his generosity, his contribution to our community and dedication to freedom of speech. Other guests echoed these themes throughout the night in personal stories and in “Malachy” stories.
Sarah invited Leah Tehrani, a Julliard-trained soprano and her fellow Friar to open the program with two songs. Accompanied on piano by Karim Merchant, Leah gave us Puccini’s beautiful aria “O Mio Babbino Caro.” An Irish arts enthusiast, Leah set the tone for the evening with Loreena McKennitt’s “The Old Ways.”
First of the fabulous storytellers, IAW&A president, playwright, musician and founder of Black 47, Larry Kirwan first met Malachy back when Larry was a budding rock singer and Malachy the proprietor of the famed Bells of Hell bar in the Village. Malachy let Larry and his partner sing in the back room, and the rest is history.
Conor McCourt has an even longer history with Malachy, as Conor is his son. He’s a retired NYPD sergeant, a documentary filmmaker and private investigator. In Conor’s story, he was working undercover in midtown, when Malachy showed up.
A writer, performer and author of the memoir and New York Times bestseller A Widow’s Walk, Marian Fontana told a very personal story. Ever the entertainer, she tried to make the best of a scary medical situation only to find the medical personnel not responding to her humor. Marian succeeded in amusing her doctor by dint of an only-in-New York- six-degrees-of-separation moment.
Next, Malachy’s co-hosts and co- conspirators on a weekly radio show John McDonaghand Corey Kilgannon showed awe and appreciation for Malachy’s talent and generosity. John McDonagh, creator of the hilarious solo piece Cabtivist, noted that guests on the show “can’t out-poverty Malachy” when he compares their stories to his childhood in Limerick. NY Times reporter Corey Kilgannon called his story “Driving Himself.” In the course of driving to do the radio show each week, he learns that Malachy – by virtue of his storied career as an actor, tv star, tavern owner and political activist – is connected to just about everyone in NY. Listen to their show, Talk Back – New York, We and Thee Edition every Wednesday 10:00am to noon on 99.5FM.
John McDonagh, left, Corey Kilgannon
Mary Pat Kelly, IAW&A Vice President, author of Irish Blood and Galway Bay paid sweet tribute to Malachy for teaching her a thing or two about selling books. She noted the great coverage of Death Need Not Be Fatal in the Washington Post and her pleasure in often seeing Malachy and his wife Diana on the Upper West Side.
Mary Pat Kelly
Malachy had bookselling advice for Colin Broderick, too. Author of Orangutan, and That’s That and producer of the new film Emerald City, Colin acknowledged Malachy as one of the “most influential people in his career and his life in America.” Malachy’s advice: “Sing a song, and they’ll remember you.” So Colin sang Spancil Hill, a folk song about an Irish immigrant.
Journalist and playwright Pat Fenton, whose Stoopdreamer received five nominations in the First Irish Theatre Festival, talked about “Malone’s Wake.” Pat deemed it the last Irish wake in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn now that hipsters are moving in. After the mass, mourners toasted Jack Malone’s ashes on a stool at Farrell’s Bar.
Diana McCourt, right, and Malachy before the show
After a lively intermission and long line for autographing those books, harpist and singer Alice Smyth opened the second half of the program with two exquisite songs including the “Connemara Cradle Song.”
Another of Malachy’s co-conspirators, Brian McDonald is an acclaimed memoirist and author of Last Call at Elaine’s and My Father’s Gun: One Family, Three Badges. Brian, who helped organize and “decode” Malachy’s notes for the book, gave a heartfelt introduction to working with and knowing Malachy and his family.
Then the man himself, Malachy McCourt took the stage to talk about Death Need Not Be Fatal. After thanking his beloved Diana, and his children and grandchildren, he commented that the tributes tonight were like “hearing his own obituary.”
Malachy talked about his fortunate life. He arrived in America in 1952 with $4, because “I had a dream I’d be happy here.” He believes that dreams can come true, as he looked at his wonderful family in the audience and offered some wisdom of his 85 years. “Love people, not countries.” “Do the right thing, love children, don’t stop working.” And his signature line: “Live each day as if it’s your last. Someday you’ll be right!”
Malachy read excerpts from the book, including his thoughts on why Americans never die. They “pass, expire, go to the Lord” and a raft of other euphemisms. Who else but Malachy can put the “fun” in funerals? You’ll be surprised, entertained and moved by his book www.centerstreet.com/deathneednotbefatal/
Malachy gave his fans, standing room only until the end, more of his massive charm, more laughs and raucous comments. He closed, in his fashion, with a song:
“Let’s not have a sniffle
Let’s have a bloody-good cry.
And always remember:
The longer you live
The sooner you’ll bloody-well die”
Special thanks to host Sarah Fearon, our storytellers and musicians, photographer Christopher Booth, Brendan Costello and IAW&A Salon Committee for a wonderful night!
Please note our next event on Thursday, June 1 will be renowned author Mary Gordon’s book release and interview by Mary Pat Kelly at the American Irish Historical Society. REGISTER TO ATTEND aihs.org/event/there-yourheart-lies-in-conversation-with-mary-pat-kelly/