Bean an Tí – Celebrating Loretta & 20 Years of Glucksman Ireland House

Loretta’s family and friends: Jim Blumenfeld, Chris Cooney, Loretta, Seamus Heaney, Kate Cooney Picco, Caitlin Cooney and John V. Cooney, Jr. Photo: James Higgins.
Loretta’s family and friends: Jim Blumenfeld, Chris Cooney, Loretta, Seamus Heaney, Kate Cooney Picco, Caitlin Cooney and John V. Cooney, Jr. Photo: James Higgins.

By Mary Pat Kelly, Contributor
April / May 2013

Glucksman Ireland House, NYU’s center for Irish Studies celebrated 20 years and its founders, Loretta Brennan Glucksman and her late husband Lewis Glucksman.

Seamus Heaney read “Lauds for Loretta,” his praise poem for Loretta Brennan Glucksman at the Gala Dinner celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Glucksman Ireland House, New York University’s renowned center for Irish and Irish American Studies, on the night of February 26, 2013.

Held in NYU’s Kimmel Center in the Rosenthal Pavilion, the venue afforded glorious views across Washington Square Park to the charming Fifth Avenue Federal period building that is home to Glucksman Ireland House.

Heaney, 1995 Nobel Laureate in Literature, who has won about every conceivable literary award, and who was present for the opening ceremonies of Glucksman Ireland House (GIH) in 1993, returned to celebrate twenty years of its astounding growth and success with his friend Loretta, its founder. He recalled that “the mighty posse” of Irish politicians, scholars, writers, poets, musicians and actors, led by a piper as they processed across Washington Square, had a hint of a pilgrimage to become first-footers into Glucksman Ireland House.

At that opening of Ireland House on May 20, 1993 John F. Kennedy. Jr., proclaimed: “The creation of Ireland House will be a wonderful academic and cultural addition to NYU.” How right he was. In the twenty years since it opened the very best of writers, poets, journalists, playwrights, historians, artists and musicians have come through its doors.

When Heaney took the podium to laud Loretta and her late husband, Lewis Glucksman, he described the first person every student in the Gaeltacht encounters, the Bean an Tí, the woman of the house. “In the Irish language,” he said, “the term suggests more than an individual person. It is somebody with a natural authority within the four walls,  but then something extra, a sense that she enjoys more than a domestic status. The Gaeltacht Bean an Tí embodies the quality we call duchas – hard to translate the meaning, but suggesting a cluster of different words and phrases such as ‘native place’ – your affinity with that place through descent.”  He said “Duchas includes a tendency to instinctively embrace the values of a place and live by its spirit. So when we think of Loretta, our own Bean an Tí this evening, those venerable concepts of inheritance, affinity, attachment and descent all come to mind, and what’s more, through her commitment to Ireland and things Irish, Loretta Brennan Glucksman embraces the values and lives by the spirit of all the qualities suggested in duchas.”

Heaney went on to praise not only the woman of the house and the man of the house, Lewis Glucksman, but the house itself.  “On that April day (1993),” he said, “it was as if a history that included famine and eviction, land wars and emigration – as if all that were being answered with a manifestation of survival and a proclamation of renaissance.”

Lewis Glucksman
In 1984, when Loretta met Lewis Glucksman, the CEO and Chairman of Lehman Brothers, she met a man who had fallen in love with Ireland. After landing there as a teenage sailor during World War II, he had gone on to develop a passion for all things Irish. It was Lewis who took her on her first trip to the land of her ancestors, and it was his devotion to Irish literature, especially the work of James Joyce and W.B. Yeats, that spurred their philanthropy.

They became generous benefactors and indefatigable fundraisers for Irish causes, particularly those that promoted higher education and extended (to quote Heaney) “to peace and poetry and involve art and the people of art.”

With Lew’s passing in 2006, Loretta continued the work they had begun together through her role as Co-Chair of the Advisory Board of Glucksman Ireland House, Chair-man of the American Ireland Funds, and as member of several boards here and in Ireland.

In all that she does, Loretta honors her husband’s memory and her Irish ancestors: her four grandparents who emigrated from Ireland. Her mother’s father was a miner and union organizer in Pennsylvania, and her aunt was the Mother Superior of Chestnut Hill College, where Loretta attended on scholarship, receiving an education that helped her to go on to become a college lecturer, a public television pioneer, and founder of her own very successful public relations firm.

Family is everything to Loretta. Her two grown sons and daughter were there on the night to laud her, but perhaps her biggest gift is that she treats everyone she meets as extended family, be it a new student entering the Irish studies program, or a visiting author to GIH.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny in a video message thanked Loretta on behalf of the Irish people for choosing to “dwell deep in the territory of the Irish heart, in the gap where ideas are formed and grow.” He congratulated Glucksman Ireland House on “20 years a-growing.”

And grow it has. In 2008, GIH created an MA in Irish and Irish-American Studies. Meanwhile, its successful undergraduate program has expanded from an initial base in Irish history and literature to include studies in Irish music, Irish language, and the Irish-American and global Irish experience.

GIH has also established the Archives of Irish America at NYU’s Bobst Library (when a GIH exhibition entitled “Ireland-America: The Ties That Bind” was displayed at New York’s Lincoln Center, half of its exhibits were drawn from the Archives), and formed the pioneering Oral History teaching and recording program, which preserves the memories of Irish immigrants and Irish Americans.

Highlights on the 20th Anniversary horizon include a dramatization of the 1813 trial, People v. Phillips, that established priest penitent privilege in the United States (see page 22); and events relating to the Bordeaux Letters – a trove of hitherto unknown correspondence between France and Ireland in the 18th century that provides significant new insight into the role of Ireland in Atlantic history.

Judith McGuire, President of the Advisory Board, whose idea it was to use the 20th anniversary celebration as a fundraiser for GIH’s Irish Studies programs, noted that although New York University provides some support for its academic programs, GIH must compete with all other university entities for scarce dollars.

“Our continued success and expansion has relied and will continue to rely substantially on the support of generous donors,” says McGuire.  “The success of the 20th Anniversary Gala Dinner, fittingly honoring founder Loretta Brennan Glucksman, ensures that established programs, as well as ambitious plans . . .  are adequately funded.”

In a message to the board, John Sexton, President of New York University, affirmed “Glucksman Ireland House is one of the university’s brilliant jewels.” And indeed, the 20th Anniversary Gala Dinner proved to be one jewel of an evening that will long be remembered.

LAUDS FOR LORETTA

How can we laud her? Let me count the ways.
Her ready smile, serene attentive gaze,
Her hostess role on both sides of the ocean,
Her work for peace when the land was in commotion.

Philanthropy, unstinted, open-handed,
Requests for help from every quarter granted,
Benefactor, with her mighty spouse,
Of galleries, colleges and Ireland House.

That edifice off 1 Fifth Avenue –
Fit monument to herself and Lew –
Is like a small translated Clonmacnoise,
An amplifier for the native voice

Of Irish writing, culture, scholarship,
An answer given to the famine ship,
A feis, a court of poetry, a seisiún,
Academy and legacy, a boon.

Twenty years ago, a kilted piper,
The Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, at his heel,
Led a starry crowd across the Square:
Jay Oliva, James Galway, Brian Friel,

Loretta, Lew himself, the whole aosdána,
With supporting cast, O’Shea, Cusack, O’Hara.
That April day, a mark was made in time
As we processed in step like words in rhyme,

As dúchas met diaspora and combined
Indomitable Irishry of mind
With the Big Apple of Knowledge: thus we set a
Crown upon the labours of Loretta

And great Lew, while Cathleen ni Houlihan
Looked down upon this Lass of Allentown
And recognized her as an aisling geal,
A presence, guardian spirit, and a pal.

‘She is foremost of those that I would hear praised’
Said Yeats of Maud, but for us LBG
Is she to whom all glasses must be raised,
So rise up now and toast our honouree.
– Seamus Heaney

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