Today and Yesterday

Posted by PatriciaHarty at 3/20/2009 4:40 PM EDT

Lingering signs of St. Patrick's Day -- a tapestry of John F. Kennedy in an Arabic carpet store window; a display of nylon scarves festooned with shamrocks in a wholesale shop; a bedraggled young man with green T-shirt who doesn't look like he made it home.

It's Tuesday morning, March 18, but let me take you back to March 15, Sunday afternoon.

The musicians are setting up and Dr. Kevin Cahill is showing Vanessa Redgrave around. I shake her hand and we chat for a couple of minutes. I don't have anything witty to say. How does one make small talk with such a star?

Turlough McConnell asked her if she had any Irish roots. She laughed and said she might have, but couldn't prove it. “You can tell people you have Irish grandchildren,” he said, and she smiled, happy at the idea.

We were all gathered at the American Irish Historical Society building on Fifth Avenue to honor Dr. Cahill the president of the Society, and to launch IrishCentral.com.

The building has the kind of architecture that makes you think of history -- the stories that connect us down through the generations and the cultural ties that hold us together.

The society was founded in 1897 “to inform the world of the achievements of the Irish in America,” and those of us who write for Irish America and The Irish Voice continue that tradition. And on this night, March 15, 2009, we would embrace the latest technology that would bring the story of the Irish to the world.

The Taoiseach pushes the button and IrishCentral is born.

St. Patrick's Day:

The line of march is a reminder to me of the long and enduring history of the Irish -- the triumphs and the tragedies. The Sisters of Charity, celebrating 200 years, march by -- most of the nuns are older now -- they played their part in the Irish success story -- educating the sons and daughters of immigrants and readying them for a place in the world.

The sisters are followed by the FDNY.

I feel that familiar stab of pain as the firefighters walk past, each holding a flag for a fallen comrade who died on 9/11 -- three hundred and forty-three -- so many of them Irish-American.

For so many of the families who lost loved ones, the Parade will have a tinge of sadness now.

And now it is the day after.

I pass the wholesale shop with its shamrock scarves and stop at the deli on the corner. The Daily News stacked on the counter catches my eye.

“Grief for Hollywood Royalty. Tragic End: Natasha Richardson's family at beside after ski fall leaves her brain-dead.”

I had hoped that the reports were exaggerated.

As I look now at the photo of Natasha with her two boys -- those "Irish" grandchildren, Michael 13, and Daniel, 12, I receive the news that Natasha will be waked at the American Irish Historical Society.

There are no words to offer at a time like this -- only the hope the family will find some small consolation in this place that holds so much of our history, and in the knowledge that we come from a people who know how to pick themselves up and keep on keeping on.

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