New York -- News of the passing of former New York state Governor Mario Cuomo reminds me of one of several serendipitous encounters I had with the Governor, whom I once happily envisioned as US president. With his flights of eloquence, his progressive views, and staunch opposition to the death penalty, he seemed to exude the self-assurance and humanism that I'd long sought in a leader. Clearly, though, God had another plan.
Former Governor Mario M. Cuomo in praise of author and former Cuomo speechwriter Peter Quinn, December 2013, at the midtown residence of New York Consul General Noel Kilkenny and his wife, Honora.
My first encounter occurred in 1991. First some background: From 1987 through 1991, I worked with a few other devotees of the Irish military experience, most notably fellow WG member Liam Murphy, to pull together a portrayal of a color guard drawn from Thomas Francis Meagher's Civil War-era Irish Brigade. We began that year with about a dozen reenactors, drawn primarily from Long Island-base Co. H, 119th New York Infantry, and by 1990 our numbers swelled to 160 or so, the year marking the 125th anniversary of the end of America's Civil War.
'2nd Battalion, Irish Brigade, Castle Clinton, New York NY, March 16, 1991'
We typically had a lot of down time before step-off, as the parade drew 150,000 marchers and millions of spectators. For us in the brigade, it was verily a time when art imitated life, noting the miltary's penchant to 'hurry up and wait.' We delighted in the many Civil War-era artifacts and structures that we found, including our lodgings -- a Coast Guard-operated motel in nearby Governors Island, a stone's throw from antebellum structures Fort Columbus and Fort Jay.
In 1991, we also included a stop at Castle Clinton, at the Battery, the lower end of Manhattan. Here our entourage, which must have included at least two companies, and perhaps three, posed for pictures. We also had an opportunity before we all stepped off to talk with briefly then-Governor Cuomo and Senator Al D'Amato, aka "Senator Pothole" for his unrivaled attention to constituents. For most politicians then, less-so today, an appearance in the parade was mandatory to better curry favor with the city's substantial Irish-Catholic population.
Below, center, in profile, Mario Cuomo surrounded by armed reenactors. My original hand-written caption reads, "Irish Brigade Clears Way for Gov. Mario Cuomo West 44th Street, 3/16/91."
I recall feeling on the heels of this contact that this governor was very dignified yet personable, a remarkably adroit and engaging human being, a man of the people. We at The Wild Geese were to meet the Governor again in December 2013 at the midtown residence of New York Consul General Noel Kilkenny and his wife, Honora, at a reception honoring author and former Cuomo speechwriter Peter Quinn.
Governor Mario Matthew Cuomo, June 15, 1932 – January 1, 2015. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam!