2009 Grand Marshal – Robert Lynch

robert-lynchRobert P. Lynch was born in Queens, New York, the first of seven children born to Robert B. and Mary Anne Hyland Lynch.  He resides in Glen Cove, Long Island with his wife Síghle and their children, Kieran, Aidan, Conor and Maura.  He is a graduate of St. John’s University, where he received a BA in history in 1977, and of St. John’s Law School, where he received a Doctor of Laws degree in 1980.  Robert is a practicing attorney, with offices located Glen Cove and Williston Park.

Robert cherishes his Irish roots and heritage.  He has from his youth been an activist in Irish causes and follows a long family practice of love and support for both the countries of their origin and adoption, keeping one foot firmly planted on each side of the Atlantic.  While he is “first generation” on his mother’s side, from Kiltimagh, in Mayo, the same County, along with Kerry, produced his earliest American ancestors, in 1820, followed by his maternal grandfather who arrived here from Westmeath in the early 1900’s.  He has traveled to his ancestral homeland many times for family, political and musical activities.

Robert follows in the footsteps of his brother, Patrick J. Lynch, President of the NYC Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), who served as our Grand Marshal in 2001.

Robert has been a proud Hibernian all his adult life, being a Charter Member of Div. 13 in Queens and serving Glen Cove Division 8 as Corresponding Secretary, Vice President, with two terms as President in the 1990’s and two terms just ended.  He is also former Chairman of our Parade.

Ten years ago he devised the idea of a consortium he called Cairdenet, (invoking in loose Irish translation the idea of a “net of friends”) to allow Irish, religious, charitable and cultural associations he was involved with to establish and maintain a presence on the internet, something they had hitherto been slow to do for financial and technical reasons.  As part of this arrangement Division 8 was able to establish one of the first and largest Hibernian websites in the Metropolitan area.

Robert is well known as a traditional Irish piper.  Robert has been active for many years in a wide variety of efforts in support of Irish freedom and is a member of Friends of Sinn Fein and a founding member of the Brehon Law Societies in both NYC and Long Island.  He is an outspoken and active supporter of the Irish peace process, being a member of a delegation which met twice with the International Monitoring Commission (IMC) monitoring the Irish ceasefire and of the first Irish American delegation to meet with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to encourage the formation of the present coalition government between that party and Sinn Fein.

In addition to his legal practice, Robert works as Supervisor of the after-school recreational and tutoring program at St. Martin De Porres School in Uniondale, where he also instructs students in the Irish tin whistle and pipes.  He is an active member of St. Boniface Parish in Sea Cliff, where he is a Eucharistic Minister the webmaster and instructs parents in the Baptism program.

He is a member of the County Tyrone and County. Mayo Societies, the Co. Tyrone Pipers, the Long Island Uilleann Pipers and was a founder of the North Shore Irish American Cultural Society and the St. John’s University Irish Society.

Address by Robert P. Lynch at the Grand Marshal’s Sash Presentation Ceremony, February 22, 2009

About thirty years ago I read an article in the Sunday NY Times about a young Jewish man from New York, Bill Ochs.  Bill had become fascinated by Irish music and especially the Irish bagpipes.

He sought out the few pipers left on Long Island and the Northeast and set out to revive that instrument, even though most Irish people seemed to have abandoned it.

He went to Ireland and sought out elderly traditional musicians to teach him.  They made the point to him that being an Irish piper was not only about being a proficient musician but also involved another special job.  That job was to preserve and tell the story of the people who had produced this musical tradition, and not to let it die.  It meant telling the people their own story.

I was reminded of Bill’s lesson a few years ago when Barney Lough and I attended a big annual St. Patrick’s dinner in Manhattan.   It was addressed by the acclaimed Irish actor Gabriel Byrne.

Gabriel asked those gathered to contemplate what purpose is served by getting together for these St. Patrick’s Day events.

He reminisced of how, as a child in Dublin, he listened to his relatives from Galway sit at home in the kitchen and tell stories.  That was how he learned of and developed a love for his culture.

Gabriel answered his own question by suggesting that St. Patrick’s Day events serve some of the same purpose for Irish Americans that those kitchen gatherings did for him:  they give us the chance to think about and share our story.

I agree with Gabriel.  The value of events such as our parade is that the give us the chance we might not otherwise have to ask ourselves “who are we” and “what is our story?” It gives us the opportunity to tell that story to our children and to our neighbors.

For all their trouble and expense, these are opportunities not to be missed.  The fact is that, for a people who are supposed to be great storytellers, we don’t practice that art very well when it comes to our own story.  We don’t value the concept of contemplating who we are and telling others about it.

There are many reasons for this.  It has been argued that this is the result of a subconscious lack of esteem for our own culture, coupled with a fear of expressing it openly, possibly the legacy of generations of colonial oppression.

Whatever the reason, the fact is that many of our immigrant ancestors didn’t tell us their story.  We, the Irish Diaspora in America, remains very Irish, indeed more than more Irish than most of us know, on what might be called an unconscious level, even many generations removed from “home”.

The fact that we don’t have a highly conscious level of awareness of who we are and where we come from leaves us somewhat inarticulate in describing ourselves.  Outsiders like the musician I spoke of earlier can often be more eloquent in explaining who the American Irish are than we can ourselves.

It has been said that the beautiful stained glass in venerable European church buildings were first developed to aid people who weren’t full literate enough to learn about their faith by reading Scripture and the written works of the church.

It might be said that events that surround St. Patrick’s Day in Irish America serve somewhat of the same purpose for our people.  We of the Hibernian Divisions of Glen Cove have been blessed with a veritable Parthenon of personalities whom we can view for a personification of who the Irish in America are.

They include not only our long list of distinguished Grand Marshals, but also the Aides to the Grand Marshal (for as is the case this year the Aides are often just as worthy or more so of recognition as the person with the top billing), Hibernians of the year and Presidents.

They include:

  • John Sweeney, Mike Moran, Charlie Phillips and John Whelan, who before they passed on taught us the love of our culture and pride in our Ancient Orders.
  • Andy Stafford, Paul Long, Patsy Furlong and Eamonn Beck, our very own “Boys of Wexford” who, along with likes of Bill Doherty, Vic Sackett and Martin Mannion, have kept that legacy alive.
  • LAOH members such as my wife, Sighle Lynch, Mary Moran, Shelia Zeineth, Pauline Stafford, Marylynn Johnson and Sioban Rack, who show us who really gets things done in an organization supposedly dominated by men;
  • Steve McDonald, the terribly wounded police officer who went on to quadruple his initial heroism by becoming a missionary of God’s mercy and forgiveness;
  • Denis Dillon who epitomizes the streak which runs through Irish life of fearless insistence on protection and justice for the weak and threatened;
  • Sister Janet Fitzgerald who embodied the Irish love of learning and the dedication of the generations of consecrated religious men and women who dedicated their lives to teaching;
  • Peter King, who put his career at risk, and honorary grand marshals Joe Doherty, Malachy McAllister and Gerry Adams who put their lives and freedom on the line, as did our own Patrick Webster, Danny Lane and Tony Deignan all to remind the world that for nearly a millennium the most passionate thread of the Irish story has been our struggle for national sovereignty;
  • Tom Suozzi, Brian Fitzpatrick, Maryanne Holzkamp and John Canning told us the story of Irish public service; it is not surprising that they are involved with the same Hibernian Divisions which once welcomed as a member Sen. Robert F. Kennedy during his brief time with us;
  • Jim McCabe, Eddie Doohan, Al Baker, Jeff Moore and Cardinal John O’Connor demonstrates the truism that the Irish male cherishes his faith just as much as the women do;
  • Joe Buckley, who embodied for us the ancient Irish tradition of hospitality;
  • Jack Ryan, Tom Lilly and my brother Patrick Lynch bring forward to our time the unparalleled Irish tradition of support for the right of working people to organize to protect their interests, even in the face of fierce opposition by the powers that be;
  • It is Dr. Mary Gilroy who is our most beloved exemplification of the Irish women’s reputation for healing and compassion;
  • Jack McDougal and the Fighting 69th teach us to “never forget” the courage of the Irish in uniform who clear the way for the rest of us when our lives are threatened;
  • Our Order’s real-life seanachie, Michael McCormick, who finds joy in telling our story in print, as does this year’s Aide to the Grand Marshal of the NYC parade, John O’Connell, while Tony Jackson and Patti Ann Brown do the same on the airwaves.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let us go forward with these models in mind to continue to tell the story of who we are.