Usual Suspect wants unusual centre for New York’s Irish
Homesick New York-based actor Gabriel Byrne wants to keep a little piece of Ireland with him …by persuading the Irish government to fund a cultural centre for his countrymen in the Big Apple. Though he has lived in New York for over 20 years and now holds US citizenship, Byrne just can’t let go of his Irish roots and is campaigning to set up the “Irish Centre” in Manhattan, a place where “Irishness in all its forms can be nurtured.”
“Usually, culture has some kind of a center, a building, some place that you can go,” explains Byrne, 58, who is enjoying a second wind as an actor with his critically-acclaimed US telly show In Treatment. Even the British have managed to do that here with Soho house, a big building in the center of the city where you can meet people and operate on a business, social and cultural level. There is no place like that for Irish people. So I started to think, well, wouldn’t it be great if we had a place where people could go, where people could connect, where that thing that defines Irish American culture could be seen and begin to grow. Of course it’s a sensitive time economically to be asking for money. But this is the best time to invest, not just in this notion of an Irish identity and culture, but in the brand of Ireland.”
Byrne, who owns a sprawling mansion in Brooklyn, first talked about the project with Bertie Ahern and arts minister John O’Donoghue four years ago.
Now he says, “I’m reporting to (Taoiseach) Brian Cowen. It just needs a commitment from the Irish government to support this. The government is behind it, in theory. It just needs that final push to make it happen. You really have to envision it as a temple on the hill. We would have to make a place of welcome, not just for Irish Americans. It would reach out to all cultures, a place of light and welcome.”