Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
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John McDonagh (JM) speaks to Brendan Fay (BF) of Saint Pat’s For All about the Distinguished Service Award he will receive next week from the Irish government for his work to end discrimination against people in the LGBT community. (begins time stamp ~ 12:12)
JM: Well, anybody’s that been listening to WBAI since the ’80’s and ’90’s knows of our next guest. He’s an Irish immigrant from Drogheda, or as Americans would say, Draheeda. Back in the early ’90’s Brendan Fay was trying to march with his banner for ILGO, the Irish Gay and Lesbians, up 5th Avenue on Saint Patrick’s Day. And little did he think when he was laying down on 5th Avenue back in the early ’90’s and being carted off to prison that next week that he would be in Dublin receiving a medal from the Twenty-Six County Irish president, Michael D. Higgins. And with us on the line is Brendan. Brendan, it’s been a long journey but I can guarantee you when we interviewed you back in the early ’90’s that you never would have come on and said: You know what? From this day on, twenty or thirty years from now I’ll be receiving a medal from the Irish President.
BF: Right, I know. Hello there, John, and to all your listeners of Radio Free Éireann. Yip. Back in the late ’80’s and in ’90-’91 with ILGO and in ’93 when there were hundreds of us arrested and every year after that – so I think of the activism of ILGO, Irish Queers, Lavender and Green Alliance – when we were among those arrested on 5th Avenue, we were also arrested at the Throgg’s Neck parade in the Bronx, we were also arrested at the Saint Patrick’s Parade in Brooklyn and – but we just knew we needed to take a stand and to challenge prejudice, exclusion, discrimination in our own community. And we did what we had to do – year after year after year. The historic breakthrough was this year when finally, under our Lavender and Green Alliance Muintir Aerach na hÉireann banner, we marched on 5th Avenue. And of course, this has very much influenced – you know in 2000 when we started – and of course, John, you were there and Sandy Boyer and when we began Saint Pat’s For All…
JM: …and Grandpa Al Lewis.
BF: …and Grandpa Al Lewis. You know, we just knew – we’d been excluded from parades everywhere and we said: Let us build a parade, an Irish parade, that says who it’s for – for everyone. And to explore through our own history our relationships with other communities. And that’s what we became known as, Saint Pat’s For All. A parade that included everyone. And we did it year after year and of course over the years honoured great people in our community from Malachy McCourt, Frank McCourt, Alfie and Michael one year – we honoured and Pete Hamill and you know some amasing sort of men and women in the city you know, and Kerry Kennedy, Terry McGovern…
JM: …And people like that would never get elected now the way the situation is on 5th Avenue – you have to be the head of a corporation to get elected. But you’re getting this medal basically because of the parade that you help set up in Queens but explain to our audience…
BF: …There’s two of us going over, John, myself and Kathleen Walsh D’Arcy. I’m so thrilled to be honoured with Kathleen Walsh D’Arcy who in 2006 and 7 stepped in, saw the parade, has been Co-Chair since. She’s dedicated herself to equality in the Irish community – she and so many others. And by the way, while I’m on the air and since you mentioned his name and he’s been honoured in the Bronx earlier is Hugh O’Lunney. Hugh O’Lunney was one of the first in the Irish community to support Lavender and Green Alliance – even way before the parades when we were struggling. Hugh O’Lunney and Frank Skuse of Kinsale Tavern. So these two great Irishmen in our community supported this cause way back in the early ’90’s when few were there. They were on-board. That’s their vision of equality. Of Irishness. They knew nobody should be discriminated against or excluded and they were totally supportive.
JM: And Brendan, you’ll be flying over on behalf of the Twenty-Six County government on Aer Lingus next week. What exactly is this medal and how did you win it? Did you apply for it? How did it come about?
BF: Oh no,no, not at all – never applied. Apparently the way it’s done is we’re recommended…
JM: …But what is the award? Explain…
BF: …(crosstalk) in the Irish community consulates around the world recommend people from among the Irish diaspora from Australia, Canada, Europe, Asia and the United States, Latin America – all recommend people for this Distinguished Service Award in the Irish community, ten every year. And Kathleen and I were notified that we were to receive this great honour. To receive it, for me to return home to Ireland – to my hometown which is Drogheda. Although of course, I grew up in a tiny town in Co. Kildare, which I’m very proud of. My father was a union man in the asbestos factory where he worked. He was always somebody who spoke out, who stood up and I’ll be thinking of all of those who’ve worked to end discrimination against LGBT people. We’ve a lot more work. The work goes on. We’ll be pausing and taking a moment to receive this award and feel with great gratitude the movement that we represent when when we go and we step in Aras an Uachtarain and receive this Distinguished Award, Kathleen and I, will really be representing a great movement in the Irish community in New York City that changed history, that changed the nature of parades and continues on and of course..
JM: …Well I’m hoping to see Kathleen at the next Irish-American Writers and Artists salon, whether it’s at The Cell or up at Bar Thalia. I hope she’s wearing the medal and I want to see that medal when she comes here and I hope she’s listening now. So Kathleen, you have to bring that medal down to the next salon.
BF: Bring the medal or I don’t know if it’s a plaque or whatever. My family in Drogheda are thrilled and excited. We’re going to meet with Brian Fleming, leaders of a couple of grassroots movements in Ireland. I’ll be meeting with LGBT youth groups in Dublin, in Dundalk, in Drogheda and also with leaders of The Spectacle of Defiance and Hope and other groups. This is our heritage. This is our movement. That change is possible and that if people just stay committed, stay to the cause that change is possible, equality is possible. And now we have to make sure that we hold onto – we hold onto what we’ve achieved and continue the struggle.
JM: Alright now Brendan, we’re going to move along but I can’t wait to talk to you when you get back and tell us what the ceremony was like.
BF: Thanks very much, John. And thanks to all the listeners. And by the way, anybody who wants to – St. Pat’s For All 2017– people can register, sign up and support. It’ll be great! Go raibh míle maith agat. Thank you, John!
JM: And that’s the one and only Brendan Fay going over to Dublin next week to be honoured for all the activism he’s done here in New York City. (ends time stamp ~ 19:38)