If your St. Patrick’s Day starts with green bagels, moves on to green beer and ends with you looking somewhat green around the gills, you might want to consider a change of pace the next time you’re looking to celebrate all things Irish.
From its start in 1995, the Swift Hibernian Lounge (a fancy name for a genuine pub) on East 4th St. has staked a claim to a true celebration of Irish culture with its annual “Literary Cure.” Hosted by the award winning Irish author Colum McCann since its conception 25 years ago, the event — which pointedly does not take place on the actual holiday — has consistently drawn a room full of families, friends, noted literary figures and musicians.
The afternoon consists of readings by anyone with the courage to step up to the pulpit (salvaged from a church in Ireland where the bar’s namesake, Jonathan Swift, was once a vicar) and recite a favorite Irish passage or sing a song, while the audience respectfully listens and sometimes sings along.
Bold face names that have taken center stage include Sam Shepherd, Gabriel Byrne, Stephen Rea and Michael Shannon. The words of James Joyce, Brendan Behan, Yeats and Jimmy Breslin are just some of the authors whose works have been celebrated there.
This past Sunday, March 13, Pulitzer Prize winners Maureen Dowd and Dan Barry held forth, with Dowd making her first appearance as a reader.
“All roads lead back to Joyce”, she proclaimed as an intro to her reading. “This is an incredible event.” she told us later. “I was thrilled to do it.”
Barry, who has participated in the event since 2009, reminisced about bringing his daughter to read when she was seven. Somewhat nervous but unfazed, nine year old Sarah Browne shared the spotlight with Mary Trinity and received very enthusiastic applause.
Shawn McCreesh, of New York Magazine, called the afternoon “frankly inspiring.” Irish-American philanthropist Loretta Brennan Glucksman declared that “you can’t have too many poems by Seamus Heaney !”
Danny McDonald, who owns the place along with Anthony Malone and Michael Jewell, pronounced the afternoon a success.
“It’s one of our favorite days!” he told us, adding, “We love that kids can participate in this multi-generational celebration. It’s very much an Irish tradition. It’s important for them to learn that anyone can get up and recite.”
Having grown up in Ireland, McDonald relates that they endeavored to create an establishment that mirrored the pubs that he knew back home.
“There are no TV screens here!” he points out. “And we are very proud of our Guinness pour. There’s a special storage room just for that beer that keeps it at the perfect temperature. We blend our own nitrogen gas (other beers typically use carbon dioxide) and we serve it in a 20 ounce glass.”
Besides that, the pub hosts live Irish music two night a week and serves traditional pub fare.
But even with the Guinness flowing, the audience in the back room listened attentively when someone was reading or singing, although they occasionally joined in on the song. McDonald had many favorite moments Sunday afternoon, but for him the high point came with Anthony Malone at the mic.
Malone’s father, Tony Malone, was a singer who had collaborated with the late musician Pete St. John. In fact, St. John had just passed away just a few days earlier and Malone chose to sing “The Fields of Athenry,” his most popular song, in tribute.
“The whole room sang the chorus,” McDonald said. “It was a lovely moment.”
The next time that you’ll be able to participate in such a day will be June 16, when Ulysses, one of their other establishments (they have quite a few around town) will host “Bloomsday”, a James Joyce celebration that takes place outdoors, weather permitting.
“Today was a lot of fun!” McDonald concluded. “It’s a day of anti-paddywhackery — which we still enjoy — but we like to go in the face of it.”