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Those worlds came full circle at a gathering May 6th at Connolly's Irish Pub, as more than 75 gathered to pay Month's Mind for Brian Mór, where he was remembered as an unvarnished, completely unique, deeply passionate New York character and advocate for Ireland. He died February 19, age 70, of natural causes.
At least a few of the faithful present for the Sunday afternoon tribute seemed to share Brian Mór's unstinting commitment to gain Ireland its 32-county republic, by any means necessary. Certainly, though, others present came to differ from Brian on those means, eschewing the armed struggle for the more evolutionary, and political approach now espoused by Sinn Fein. But even those whom Brian might consider lapsed republicans he could embrace, speakers indicated, IF he was satisfied they had the strength of THEIR convictions, as he mightily clung to his.
Among those who came to pay tribute were notable figures from New York's Irish community such as Larry Kirwan, lead singer and songwriter of Black 47; Melkite priest Paddy Moloney, a Limerick native who in the 1980s harbored Provisional IRA men indigent or on the run as he worked with the poor in New York's East Village; and Mary Ward, a representative of Republican Sinn Fein in Ireland. Ward applauded Brian Mór for artwork that "opposed imperialism and fought for men and women of no property."
Brian Mór had a deep passion for Ireland and its people, along with a deeply rooted Irish republican faith fostered from his childhood days. In his traditional blend of political seriousness matched with light wit, he once wrote up a biography describing himself as an "implacable unrepentant Fenian . . . and a swell guy." He was one of the longest serving members of the National Irish Freedom Committee in New York.
"The man was a genius," said Comic Strip owner Andy McGowan, a childhood friend of Brian Mór's. "The rest of us were only half geniuses. He was a full genius."
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Though this reporter was unable to deduce how Brian Mór came to acquire the name Brian, the "Big" was rather obvious: At 6' tall and broad shouldered, with a deep husky voice and grizzly beard, his friends called him a "bear of a man." Brian Mór often had fun with his "big" reputation, drawing caricatures of himself as Santa Claus.
Brian Mór's primary talent was his artwork, which he often used to advocate for Irish republicanism and satirize those who were opposed to or equivocated on the idea of a united Ireland, free from British rule. His satire could be as biting as the work of Thomas Nast, with depictions of Gerry Adams as head of a Gestapo or Protestant clergy as giant talking oranges in priests' robes. According to McDonagh, Boyle took pride in the fact that his cartoons were regularly denounced in the British House of Commons.
He was also, of course, apolitical at times: Brian Mór painted album covers for bands like the Police and Black 47, as well as murals for bars and restaurants. One of his more famous pieces is his charming painting and illustration of the Irish poem "The Mouse on the Barroom Floor" which adorns the walls of Irish pubs throughout the world. Friend Ian McCowan recalled seeing the painting in an Irish pub in Amsterdam.
Irish pubs and their culture were an integral part of Boyle's life. On Sunday, his son Danny fondly recalled helping his father paint the inside of bars and clubs around the city as a boy. Brian Mór owned a bar in the Bronx called the Castle Keep at one time, and bartended at several pubs throughout the Bronx. His friend and WBAI colleague Pam Somers recalled many Saturdays spent at the Blarney Stone Pub on 34th Street, listening to Brian Mór tell stories for hours. "He was a real shanachie," Somers said.
Longtime friend Mike Costello agreed. Brian Mór, he said, had an uncanny grasp of Irish culture and history, especially considering having been born and raised in New York, with rare visits abroad. Though Costello was an Irish native, Brian Mór knew Irish so well that he would at times correct Costello on grammar.
"He went on for 4 hours in each direction. I never said a word. The man created the 6th century as if he were there. If I'd recorded it, I could have sold it as an audiobook! There was very little the man didn't have a grasp of," Costello said. Republican Sinn Fein's Ward agreed that Brian Mór had a nearly "encyclopedic knowledge of Ireland and its people."
Along with that knowledge was an ability to relate his passions to anyone else's interests. Domenic Bruno, a friend from the Irish Freedom Committee, remembered going to CBGB's for a punk rock show with Brian Mór, who started talking about punk rock's relationship to fine art and calligraphy.
Costello put it even stronger: "We never agreed on anything. We argued all the time, but we got along because we argued so well," Costello said. "Brian wasn't the kind to try to make you happy. He wanted you to react. He wanted you energized."
On Sunday as the tributes drew to a close, Brian Mór's partner Joanie Messina said a few words. Though not an artist, Messina said she played an integral role in helping Brian Mór with his work in his later years. "I was his cleaner-upper," she joked. "I followed him and kept things organized."
At the memorial, many people ended their tributes of Brian Mór, noting "We shall not see the likes of him again." However, Irish historian Liam Murphy offered this take: "While it is true that the world will not see his like again, it is also true that his mighty deeds will live after him." WG
2012, GAR Media.