The Spirit Of Endurance
“Am I the first Scots-Irish person on your cover?” Senator John McCain asks.
“Yes. But it’ s all the same DNA.” He doesn’t seem to hear me. He’s busy being photographed by Kit DeFever.
I’m about to tell him about Scotland being the only place the Irish ever colonized – the Scotti being Gaelic speakers from Ireland who settled in Argyle – but I stop myself. I’ve noticed in the past that, for a Scot, the news that Scotland gets its name from the Irish “Scotti” is equivalent to an Irish-American hearing that Al Smith was German (and that’s a story for another issue).
Scots-Irish, as Senator McCain calls himself, is a label that confuses many. Are you Irish or Scottish? The phrase is actually American, used to identify the Ulster Scots – such as Senator McCain’s ancestors – who immigrated to the U.S. from Northern Ireland, mostly in the 1700s.
Much has been written about the battles between the Irish and the Ulster Scots, whose descendants are still marching every July 12, to celebrate the Protestant King William’ s victory over the Catholic James II in 1690. In this issue, Tom Deignan writes about the famous Orange marches in New York City in the 1800s, and the riots that ensued.
But there is much that should be written about what the two groups have in common, not least a shared history of famine, pestilence and the sword, foisted on us by the British.
The Gaelic traditions brought over by those 4th-century Irish are still strong in the Scottish Highlands where they are displayed in a passion for music, dance, and storytelling.
Of course, Ireland’ s own Gaelic cultural revival/Irish Literary Renaissance, was fueled in good measure by one J.M. Synge who was of Ulster Scots-Irish stock. A marathon staging of all of Synge’s plays is currently taking place at Lincoln Center, (see “DruidSynge” page 72).
And one cannot mention the cause of Irish freedom without recognizing the contributions of Protestant nationalists such as Wolfe Tone, Charles Stewart Parnell, and Roger Casement.
Of the things shared in common, both the Irish and the Scots-Irish enjoy a reputation for not backing down from a fight. (My favorite line in Braveheart is “Send in the Irish”). They have fought each other, and for each other (“If defeated everywhere else, I will make my last stand for liberty among the Scots-Irish of my native Virginia,” said George Washington), and on both sides in the American Civil War. And to this day, both traditions have a proud record of service in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Senator McCain, who may well be the next President of the U.S., comes from that military tradition. In this issue, he talks to Niall O’Dowd about lessons he learned from his father and grandfather – both four-star admirals – that helped him survive five and a half years of imprisonment and torture in North Vietnam.
It is that same spirit of endurance, that facing down of difficult challenges, that we also admire in our Wall Street 50, as the fifth anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center draws near.
On July 12, 2001, Irish America held its annual Wall Street 50 party at Windows on the World. Just two months later the world would change utterly, but I have wonderful memories of that night.
I remember how young Chris Duffy looked, and how proud his father was of him. What a nice Irish face the chairman of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, Joseph Berry, had, and how he and his wife held hands as they left the party. How Joseph Lenihan, also of KBW, had sent back his bio for the magazine with the quote “The harder you work, the luckier you get.”
Now a simple memorial behind the reception desk of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods’ new offices says it all. It is a painting of an American flag with 67 names etched into the stripes. These are the names of the employees the company lost in the attack, and included on the list are Joseph Berry, Chris Duffy, and Joseph Lenihan.
It’s a moot point to say the loss of so many left a big emptiness that can never be filled. Yet, those who were left to carry on did so with a heroic determination that would have made the ancestors proud.
As writer Pete Hamill says, “It’s not the knock down, it’s the getting up that matters.” And those men and women, many of them Wall Street 50 honorees who lost friends and loved ones (forty percent of those who died in the attack worked in the financial industry), set about rebuilding. They went back to work, knowing that it was the best way to honor those they lost.
“Every day you go to work and do something meaningful, it is a tribute to all the special friends that we lost,” says John Duffy, who lost not only his son, Chris, but many friends in the attack, and still went on to lead Keefe, Bruyette & Woods.
“After 9/11, we quickly realized that we had several jobs ahead of us: the obvious task of rebuilding our fine company; the moral obligation of taking care of this family, especially those with children; and the need to heal and go on,” John continues in an interview with Turlough McConnell in this issue.
And go on they did.
Recently, I attended the opening of Seven World Trade Center (7WTC), the new 52-story tower just north of the World Trade Center site, and the first major project near Ground Zero. The evening was hosted by “Wall Street Rising,” a group that came together in the wake of 9/11 to attract business back into the devastated area.
The building has, I’m told, impressive safety features. Exit stairwells are much wider than in the old 7WTC, and it’s built so that if the exterior walls are compromised the load will shift elsewhere.
But it is so much more than a “safe” building. It’s a beautiful place, and it was for me a poignant reminder of our Wall Street 50, and the last time I visited the World Trade Center.
Through the floor-to-ceiling glass of 7WTC, you can look down at construction on the Freedom Tower site, and see the footprints of the memorial to come. You can look also at the architects’ model, which shows the proposed new transit hub that will look like the opera house in Sydney, and the new performing arts center, also architecturally beautiful.
And in the still unfinished space of 7WTC, you can get a sense of something mighty – of endurance, promise, and hope for the future – all the things that this country is built on. ♦