(By Mark Hammond, Staff reporter)
TROY ‹ Troy really got its Irish up Sunday.
The city had the luck of Irish, too, as Mother Nature withdrew threats of rain that might have soaked an estimated 1,000 gathered for the annual Irish Day celebration and a tribute to Irish patriot and founder of Ireland's Trade Union movement, James Connolly.
The afternoon began with a parade from South Troy to Riverfront Park, where prominent labor leaders from Ireland and elsewhere praised Connolly as listeners ‹ many sporting green ‹ sweltered in fiercely humid heat.
The highlight of the, day proclaimed James Connolly Day by Gov. Mario Cuomo ‹ was the unveiling of a seven-foot monument to Connolly, who lived in Troy from 1903-1905.
The $10,000 monument features a bronze bust of Connolly fashioned by a sculptor in Ireland for $3,200 - about $17,000 less than it would have cost in America, said Peter Durkee, co-chairman of the Connolly Committee.
The bust sits atop a six-foot granite block that bears a quote from Connolly: "Be men now, or be slaves forever."
Connolly emigrated from Ireland to Troy in 1903 with his family and lived here two years before moving to New Jersey. He returned to Dublin in 1910 to become a labor leader. He was executed by a British firing squad in 1916, several weeks after he and others led the Easter Rising in Dublin. He was a signer of Ireland's declaration of Independence from Great Britain.
"He was not only a great labor leader but a great patriot who made a great sacrifice for his country," said James J. Devine of Cherry Plain, who began organizing the Connolly tribute in 1983 with visits to Ireland and New York State to win support.
"I'm an Irishman and an avid one, said Devine, whose work as president of the striking Local 1116 of the Communication Workers of America prompoted several to liken him to Connolly. "When I saw Connolly lived in Troy, I saw an opportunity to give the Irish cause and the labor cause a day in the sun.
I think it's a great tribute to James Connolly that 70 years after his death people would travel great distances to be here," Devine said, referring to Sen. Chris Kirwan, general secretary of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union of Dublin, among others.
The weekend's tribute, including a dinner Saturday night at Mario's Theatre Restaurant, provided an education for some Trojans unaware they live in Connolly's former city.
"I'm surprised someone from Troy was so prominent and could bring so many people out in support," said Jay Ruefle of Troy. "I'm of Irish descent myself so I had to come down for support."
Troy mayor Robert Conway said, "He was a man who fought for what he believed in. I'm very proud to call James Connolly one of us and a real Trojan."
Festivities beneath city parking garage followed with food, Harp and Guiness beer on tap and music by the Rutherfords, a family of Irish musicians from Rochester.
"It's a nice time - it's a nice cause," said Ron Haverty of Boston, owner of a store, Irish Heritage in Boston. "It takes a lot of Irish patriotism to do this.
[ Troy ]