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Irish slur doesn’t deterBlack 47

February 15, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon

Members of the accclaimed Irish-American band Black 47 are rarin’ to go in the Bronx this Sunday despite a furor over claims that their fans would “end up pissing and puking all over the place.”

A benefit concert featuring the band has been dropped from the official program for the annual City Island Maritime Festival after concerns over fan behavior were raised at meetings of the local Chamber of Commerce.

But the concert, which will raise money to fund sailing lessons for underprivileged kids, is going ahead anyway at the Morris Yacht Club, with Black 47 listed as one of the main acts.

“No one has told us anything about it,” said Black 47’s Larry Kirwan in reference to the row, which has resulted in a vice president of the City Island Chamber of Commerce sending an angry letter to the organization’s president.

In his letter to Chamber President Peter La Scala, the vice president, Jim Cox, angrily denounced the “pissing and puking” allegation, describing it as “an undeserved and inexcusable slight.”

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Cox stated in his letter that the allegation had emerged at a private meeting of chamber members last March. That meeting had taken place in a local restaurant immediately after a public membership meeting held by the chamber.

Wrote Cox: “After [the] public meeting, several chamber directors held a ‘private’ discussion. One director whom we shall refer to as ‘Director C’ referred to Black 47 as a troublesome group who had a following that we would not want on City Island. It having been clearly stated at the public meeting that Black 47 was a well known Irish Band, with an obvious Irish and Irish American following, the other comments made by Director C were inappropriate, to say the least, those being ‘their followers will end up pissing and puking all over the place.’ ”

Cox did not actually attend the “private discussion” but states that he was subsequently told what had been said and also informed that a decision had been taken not to include Black ’47 in the Maritime Festival Concert.

Cox, in his letter to La Scala, continued: “Having being advised of the negative comments made by Director C by a fellow director later that same day, I called Director C to confirm what up to this point had been ‘hearsay.’ Not only did he repeat the reference to Black 47 being ‘unsuitable’ for city Island but went on to describe their followers as pe-ers and pukers etc. as he had done earlier in your company.

“In the course of a 50-minute telephone call, he commented upon the likelihood of his own local business and yours being adversely affected by unsuitable ‘types’ being brought onto City Island. His commentary included reference to Black 47 probably attracting ‘other ethnic groups and bikers’ and more in a similar vein. This distasteful commentary was a repeat, albeit using different words, that Director C had used to describe the ‘drinking Irish and their conduct’ at a public Community Center meeting in November last, for which he subsequently apologized to me in person. The comments at that time related to an ‘Irish Arts Night’ which the Center was planning for February 28th.”

Cox, who was born in Ireland, pointed out more than once in his letter to La Scala that “Director C” was not the only member of the Chamber of Commerce to oppose Black 47’s inclusion in the June 7 concert.

He concluded with an angry denunciation of what he believes is an anti-Irish backdrop to the entire debate over the concert.

“In hoping to represent various elements within our community, each individual City Island organization must proceed with policies and programs which are inclusive of our diverse population and must not countenance discriminatory behavior or racially oriented remarks.

“Stereotyping of any race is repugnant. To suggest and repeatedly reinforce the concept that an Irish group will attract a heavy drinking audience who will ‘piss and puke’ all over our island and negatively impact our business community indicates contempt for an entire race and subscribes to that race an undeserved and inexcusable slight.”

Larry Kirwan, meanwhile, told the Echo that the band was really looking forward to playing City Island because the group had been originally founded on Bainbridge Avenue in the Bronx.

However, he expressed some concern at the reported disparaging remarks directed at the band.

“None of us either piss or puke at concerts. I don’t get it. We play at many festivals that are well run and we’re always looking from the stage to make sure things are well organized,” he said.

“We have kids ourselves and take it upon ourselves to look after the kids who come to hear us.”

The Echo last week reported the Chamber had blocked inclusion of the Black 47 concert in the Maritime Festival program but quoted the chairman of the Morris Yacht club, Phil Armstrong, as stating that the Black 47 concert did not present any logistical problems.

“I don’t know why there is any resistance in the chamber. It could only be a boost to business on the island,” Armstrong said.

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