THE great review in The New York Times on Monday for "The New Electric Ballroom," the new play by Irish playwright Enda Walsh, further reinforces the remarkable story of Irish success in New York in recent years.
It follows another front page Times rave two weeks previous for the Irish Repertory Theater’s staging of the Eugene O’Neill classic "The Emperor Jones," and a big thumbs up last Friday for 'Finian’s Rainbow' which, while not Irish originated, certainly has a major Irish theme to it.
The Irish economy may be falling apart and the news from Ireland may be depressing, but there is incredible life and energy in the Irish artistic scene both here and in Ireland.
Playwrights like Walsh, Conor McPherson and Martin McDonagh have taken Broadway by storm, and in the process have continued the grand tradition of Brian Friel and Samuel Beckett of a previous generation of Irish-born.
Here in New York the Irish Repertory Theatre has simply gone from strength to strength in recent years, a fact that has been increasingly evident with the kind of reviews they have been drawing.
Meanwhile, the Irish Arts Center has begun fundraising for a major new headquarters that would become a home for Irish culture in New York City.
It is backed by luminaries such as Liam Neeson and Gabriel Byrne, the Irish government as well as New York City Council President Christine Quinn, who has proven herself a dedicated supporter of Irish arts.
The Irish government has taken bold steps to support Irish arts in the city also. Current Consul General Niall Burgess and his predecessor Tim O’Connor made clear from the outset of their terms that supporting Irish artistic pursuits would be a bedrock of their time here. In both cases it has worked out even better than they might have expected.
A thriving arts scene draws its own support base and can lead to much more involvement with Irish affairs generally. The intersection of Broadway and Wall Street, for instance, while not evident at first, is a clear reality when backing for Irish shows and drawing people in from the business world to the Irish milieu is considered.
And arts and culture have not let the Irish down at a time when almost every other institution of Irish life has, such as the church, major business leaders and some politicians.
It was a point well expressed by Oscar winning filmmaker Neil Jordan at the Global Irish Economic Forum hosted by the Irish government in September when he expressed the belief that arts and culture could lead the way in Ireland as a global force in these troubled times.
Writer Colm Toibin, whose exquisite novel "Brooklyn" captured a moment in the Irish emigrant experience in America also made the same point.
They are right, and hard times make great writers, a fact proven by the Northern Troubles which produced Seamus Heaney, Brian Friel and Seamus Deane from the same small area of Derry in the same time frame.
The current travails in Ireland then may augur a golden period ahead for Irish arts and culture as well. The new mooted plans to place the new Abbey Theater at the site of the General Post Office right in the heart of Dublin is the kind of unconventional thinking that can accrue great benefits.
In the end Irish arts and culture are the flagship of the Irish identity. The Broadway hits, coupled with the local energy and commitment by theater companies all over America and Ireland help keep the flame alive. In these troubled times that is good news for Ireland and Irish America.
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