Irish Americans this week shared their memories of actress Natasha Richardson who died last week after a skiing accident.
Musician Gerry Finlay, who played at the couple’s 1994 wedding remembered her as a warm and vivacious woman who was the perfect match for her movie star Irish husband Liam Neeson.
Finlay recalled the reception held on Neeson’s 60-acre estate in Millbrook, where Richardson was buried at St. Peter’s Church on Sunday.
“We played in a tent on the back lawn," saud Finlay. It was a very informal type of an afternoon, a very Irish affair. They were married right there on the property.”
If the setting was informal, the guest list was not. Lauren Bacall, Mia Farrow, Emma Thompson, Aidan Quinn and the Irish composer Phil Coulter were all guests, said Finlay.
“It was Coulter who got me the gig, as a matter of fact. He’s a friend of Liam’s from way back. Liam’s from Ballymena and Phil’s from Derry, you know? There were other Irish actors there who have since gone on to make it big, too.”
The most requested song of the day by the couple and the guests alike, was the Pogues’ hit “Fairytale of New York.”
“We were also asked to sing ‘Crazy Love’ by Van Morrison and ‘Fields of Gold’ by Sting. These were requested by the couple themselves. Neeson’s request to us was not to play ‘wallpaper music,’” Finlay recalled.
“He didn’t really want the more obvious songs. They were a very casual couple, very welcoming. I had a cup of tea in the kitchen with them before I left. The family was there and the whole event was very low key.”
Earlier in the morning Finlay had the chance to see the family get ready for the big day.
“I got there pretty early on the morning of the wedding and there was maybe a dozen people already gathered. Liam was standing near a brook with a big brown suit on him, I remember. He was looking smart but at the same time very casual, you know?” Finlay says.
“Emma Thompson was relaxing at the pool nearby. Natasha’s younger sister Joely was there, and I believe she was the bridesmaid.”
It was July 3, a nice warm afternoon. The couple had met and fallen in love one year earlier while costarring in Irish American playwright Eugene O’Neill’s play "Anna Christie" on Broadway.
Now all the preparations had been well laid and the day was spread out before them. For guests there was access to a pool near the house, a tent with a catered party and a dance floor was waiting for an afternoon get together.
The bride and groom seemed to have a particular love for the music of Van Morrison, Sting and the Pogues and the whole day was particularly memorable for both the guests and the band.
Speaking of last week’s tragic turn of events, Finlay said, “Seeing Liam in the photographs this week reminded me of the man I had met at the wedding in 1994. He was dressed still very casually – in a cap and scarf - but you could see he was devastated by what just happened. Things like this make you realize that things can change so quickly.”
A source close to the Neeson confirmed that Finlay’s sentiments are not far from Neeson’s own. “All the clichés are true,” the source claimed Neeson told them. “You really should tell the people you love how much they mean to you every day, because you never know when you’re going to lose them.”
Meanwhile, tributes from Irish Americans have poured in for the actress, who was only 45. At the Irish Arts Center, where Neeson and fellow Irish actor Gabriel Byrne are well known patrons, the staff was shocked and saddened to hear of Richardson’s tragic passing.
In a statement they wrote, “The Irish Arts Center mourns the tragic passing of Natasha Richardson. Natasha was a wonderful actress and devoted mother. We would like to extend our deepest condolences to our dear friend and patron Liam, their beloved children Michael and Daniel and their entire family. They are all in our thoughts and prayers at this very difficult time.”
Kieran McLoughlin, president of the American Ireland Fund, presented the group’s leadership award to Neeson last year at their annual New York dinner. Natasha stood proudly by his side.
“Not only was Natasha one of the most accomplished actresses of her generation, but she maintained a deep affection for Ireland. She talked so enthusiastically and knowledgeably of Ireland at last year’s awards,” McLoughlin said.
“We’ve lost a great actress and an artist, but most importantly Liam has lost a wife, and Michael and Daniel have lost a mother. Our deepest condolences go out to the family. A great light has gone out.”
Richardson was waked at the American Irish Historical Society in New York on Friday. Neeson is a long-time supporter of the society and a recipient of its arts and cultural award in the past.
Family members, including her mother Vanessa Redgrave, who was at the society on the previous Sunday to attend the launch of IrishCentral.com, the first media outlet in the world to break the news of Richardson’s accident, were joined by celebrities such as Sarah Jessica Parker and her husband Matthew Broderick, Diane Sawyer, Lauren Bacall and Howard Stern.
Richardson was buried in St. Peter’s Church in Millbrook on Sunday. Neeson carried the casket to the church along with six other pallbearers, and then he joined Richardson’s mother Vanessa Redgrave, sister Joely Richardson and the couple’s sons, Micheal and Daniel, in saying their final goodbyes.
Also present at the services were family friends Uma Thurman, Ralph Fiennes and Mia Farrow. Richardson was buried in the same cemetery as her grandmother, Rachel Redgrave.