From Staten Island to Ireland, the Emerald Isle

In September, Mary and I took our first trip across the Atlantic. We traveled to Ireland with the New York State American – Irish Legislators Society. 

The American – Irish Legislators Society is a bi-partisan organization of members of the New York State Legislature, committed to promoting awareness of Irish culture, ties between Ireland and New York, and fellowship among legislators of Irish decent or with an interest in Ireland or the American – Irish community. The society supports many Irish cultural organizations and initiatives.

The forty-four member delegation consisting of legislators, friends and family was led by society President, Assemblyman Michael Cusick. We were joined by fellow society members including Staten Island legislators, Senator Diane Savino and Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis.

The 6 hour flight on Aer Lingus from JFK airport brought us to the Republic of Ireland capital city of Dublin on Thursday September 19th. We arrived at 8am, which is 5 hours ahead of New York time. We boarded our tour bus and hit the streets of Dublin, which began with the city’s main thoroughfare O’Connell Street, filled with statues. We visited the General Post Office, which served as headquarters for the Uprising Leaders during the “Easter Rising of 1916.” The beginning of the effort to establish a free Ireland from British rule.

The panoramic tour took us by St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Trinity College, home of the famous “Book of Kells.”  We visited EPIC, The Irish Emigration Museum, which depicted the influence the Irish had around the world. During our stay in Dublin we had the opportunity to dine with several members of the government including the Lord Mayors of Wexford and Dublin.

We had the honor of being hosted by the President of Ireland, Michael Higgins at Aras an Uachtarain (equivalent to the United States White House). The architecture and landscape was magnificent.

After 2 nights in Dublin we boarded the bus to travel to Belfast, the capital city of Northern Ireland, which remains part of the British United Kingdom. We went from using the Euro currency to the British pound.

Our first stop in Northern Ireland was St. Patrick’s Centre, located in the town of Downpatrick. We heard the story of St. Patrick, who was kidnapped at a young age and brought to Ireland as a slave. After escaping he eventually returned to Ireland, bringing the teachings of Catholicism to Ireland.

Our stay in Belfast centered on the history of the “Troubles,” the conflict between the Catholics who are striving for a united Ireland and the Protestants, who are loyal to the British United Kingdom. The 6 counties of Northern Ireland remain a British territory. The “Good Friday Agreement” signed on April 10, 1998, calmed tensions and reduced the violence that rattled Belfast for decades. The Europa Hotel in Belfast, which hosts dignitaries from around the world, was the site of 36 bombings during the “Troubles.” Mary and I took the “Black Car Tour,” which took us through the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods, which are lined with murals and divided by the “Peace Wall.”

While in Belfast, we joined former Lord Mayor Mairtin O’Muiller for a visit to the James Connolly Centre, where we learned about the Irish Civil Rights movement and a tour of City Hall. This was capped off with a dinner with the current Lord Mayor of Belfast, John Finucane.

After 3 nights in Belfast we headed to Galway with a wonderful scenic view of the Irish countryside, lined with the greenest grass and trees, sheep, cows and horses. We stopped at Derry to tour the Free Derry Museum which depicted the history of “Bloody Sunday,” the murder of Irish protesters by the British military.

Along the way to Galway we joined dignitaries at Knock Airport for a tour of the newest hub in western Ireland. The American – Irish Legislators Society is exploring and advocating to bring direct flights to and from New York and Mayo.

As we arrived in Galway we were overcome by the enchanting stone walls and cobbled streets. The River Corrib, which ran alongside our hotel was majestic and soothing. The city center had shops that were refurbished castles. During our stay in the magnificent city we visited the Claregalway Castle for a tour and dinner. A remarkable experience!

With 2 nights in Galway we then headed to our last destination of Cork. During our travel to Cork we stopped along the Clare coast at the “Cliffs of Moher.” The Cliffs provide an amazing view from “O’Briens Tower,” a round stone tower above the Atlantic Ocean.

Our delegation arrived in Cork for our final night with a visit at the University College Cork. The New York State Legislature has a special relationship with UCC, as we host an internship in Albany for their students studying government and political science. A wonderful venture that continues the partnership between New York State and Ireland.

On our final day we were greeted by a fabulous rainbow as we arrived at Shannon Airport for our Aer Lingus flight back to New York’s JFK Airport. A fitting send-off from the Emerald Isle!

By Michael Reilly, NYS Assemblyman, previous District 31 Community Education Council President and former NYPD Lieutenant.