Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
listen on the internet: wbai.org Saturdays Noon EST
Sandy Boyer (SB) introduces Martin Galvin (MG) who recalls the life of former NY Congressman Mario Biaggi, a champion of Irish Freedom who passed away this week. May he rest in peace.
(begins time stamp ~ 21:35)
SB: And we’re joined on the line by Martin Galvin, the longtime spokesperson for Irish Republicanism in America now the Bronx Chair of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Martin, thank you for being with us.
MG: Thank you, Sandy.
SB: And of course this week we had the passing of a giant, Mario Biaggi, who for many, many years was the foremost spokesperson/champion of Irish Freedom in Congress – more energetic, more dedicated than anybody in my lifetime. Can you share some of your reminiscences about Mario Biaggi?
MG: Sandy, for more than ten years, from the late 1970’s, certainly when he formed the Ad Hoc Committee for Irish Affairs, into the ’80’s until his troubles with Congress, Mario Biaggi was the person, the leader. When you talked about an “Irish lobby” you spoke, initially, about Mario Biaggi.
He was able to get a hundred and twenty Congressmen who would sign onto initiatives – what would happen is – these are the years: the lead-up to the hunger strike, the brutality at Long Kesh, or plastic bullets were being fired on Irish children, there were collusion murders – and when there was an event in Ireland: someone like me from Irish Northern Aid or people from the Ancient Order of Hibernians or Irish National Caucus and later the Unity Conference would be able to call Mario Biaggi – he would spearhead an immediate reaction. Letters of protest would go out from large number of members from the Ad Hoc Committee. When there was any event, I know a rally that I spoke at was attacked in Belfast in 1984. When I came back to the United States he had already set up Congressional hearings, he had me flown down to Washington – he greeted me – he said: they cannot do this to us – and this was something – that type of protest – that immediate reaction – that visceral reaction – was something that I and so many members of the Irish community found in Mario Biaggi. Now he was somebody who didn’t need Irish votes. He lived in a district where less than ten percent of the people were Irish. He had earned our votes a long time before but for some reason he became very interested in the Irish issue. He was attacked – people like Kerry and Moynihan and Kennedy would attack him. The Irish government of the day was against him. The SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party) was against him – and all of that made him more determined than ever and to stand up and fight and lead for us. So much so that, Sandy, for more for ten years – you’ll remember many events – if it was an Irish Northern Aid testimonial dinner or one of the other large testimonial dinners the emcee, Frank Durkan, myself, whoever was doing that job would wait until the last – everyone else had been introduced on the dais – then we’d turn and say: And now there’s somebody who needs no introduction, that is Mario Biaggi – and you’d hear cheers and applause – everybody would stand, cheer and applaud and it would go on and on and it would be thunderous. And he deserved that recognition then. And he deserves our gratitude now.
SB: Well Martin, thank you very much. That’s a very gracious tribute to a great leader. And I just want to let our audience know that Martin will be here next week sitting in this chair so that John and I can get a little bit of a break and I’m sure that you’ll put a great show on as usual, Martin.
MG: Sandy, thank you. Let me just say I’m at the Gaelic Park at the football memorial tournament for O’Donovan-Rossa which Jimmy Sullivan announced last week and he’s here today. There’s events at The Cork Center tomorrow at one o’clock – there’ll be a Mass and there’ll be another ceremony for that indomitable fenian.
And Mario Biaggi’s being waked on Monday and Tuesday at Riverdale-on-Hudson. Even though he was not Irish (obviously he was Italian) because of the way he championed Irish issues Bronx County AOH is going to go there and have a special ceremony that’s usually reserved for AOH members. I would urge as many people as possible – go to Riverdale-on-Hudson on Monday or Tuesday – show the family that just as Mario Biaggi never forgot us that we will never forget him. And it’s interesting to note the things that he campaigned for: visas, American presidential involvement in Ireland, all of those things – later on – they would be accepted and that would be the basis for any progress in Ireland. When he advocated those things in the ’70’s and ’80’s the Irish government, the SDLP, the Irish politicians were against him. He is proven to be right and our true champion.
SB: Well Martin again, thank you very much. That was a very gracious tribute and I know you’ll be back here next week. (ends time stamp ~ 26:24)