‘Exiled children’ in America celebrate 1916 Rising
Old Irish republican calls Proclamation a ‘work in progress’ as goals remain unfulfilled
Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly: told New York gathering it was “no accident” the US was the only country mentioned in 1916 Proclamation: five of seven signatories had spent time in US. Photograph: James Higgins
The 75-year-old Fermanagh-born man, a resident of New York since 1960 and a self-described “Sinn Féin republican”, helped raised many thousands of dollars for the Irish Northern Aid Committee, or Noraid, across the United States to help Irish republicans during the Troubles.
Reilly, a New York city bus driver, and the other four men spent the guts of a year in jail for contempt of court for refusing to testify before a grand jury in Texas. The five were eventually freed after the US supreme court ordered them to be released following a high- profile campaign by US senator Ted Kennedy and other members of the US Congress.
“It was a long haul of hardship on families, on us, on everybody,” said Reilly, who still denies having any involvement in IRA gun running.
He acknowledges the suffering of the Troubles but stands by his role in fundraising, saying that it was a just war because Britain was “the bully”.
Yesterday, Reilly, along with Irish-Americans in New York, celebrated the centenary of the start of the Easter Rising.
Work in progress
“It is a work in progress that will eventually be recognised and finished, and will go down
. . . as one of the world’s longest wars, but a war worth fighting,” said Reilly of 1916 and the conflict stemming from it.
Reilly marked the occasion with Ancient Order of Hibernians events near his home in Rockland county, an Irish community in New York. About a further 1,000 Irish- Americans celebrated at New York city’s main ceremony, in Robert F Wagner Park in Manhattan.
“It is truly appropriate that the largest commemoration of the Easter Rising outside of Ireland today is happening right here in New York City, ” Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly told the crowd at the ceremony, co-hosted by Ireland’s consulate in New York and the Irish Defence Forces.
“This great city has had such an absolute profound influence on Irish history, including on the Rising and the leaders of the Rising, and on Ireland’s journey to independence and a lasting peace.”
Mr Kelly said that it was “no accident” the US was the only country mentioned in the 1916 Proclamation: five of the seven signatories of the Proclamation spent time in the US.
Capt Peter Kelleher read out the Proclamation – including the line about the insurrection being “supported by her exiled children in America” – as he did at the official commemoration in Dublin last month. “The whole thing about them being exiled, that line resonates with people here,” he said before the ceremony.
Other speakers included New York lieutenant governor Kathy Hochul and Melissa Mark-Viverito, speaker of the New York City Council, who shared a stage with former US senator George Mitchell, the broker behind the
Belfast Agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland.
“There wouldn’t have been an Easter Rising in Ireland without the support of the Irish-American community in New York,” Barbara Jones, the Irish consul-general in New York told the audience.
“There wouldn’t be peace in Ireland without the Irish-American community in New York,” she added, and paid tribute to Senator Mitchell. The peacemaker said it would “take the judgment of history” to assess where the 1998 accord fitted into the legacy of the Rising.
“All human history is a consequence of building blocks to different goals and when you achieve them, new goals will arise,” he said.
Matty Reilly, now a stronger supporter of Sinn Féin and the peace process, hopes a united Ireland will be achieved. Asked whether that would take another 100 years, the Irish New Yorker said: “God forbid that would happen.”