I was home from America barely two years when the world changed, on that sunny Autumnal morning (afternoon Irish time). We all remember too well the stark images of the planes flying into the iconic Twin Towers, the subsequent collapse of the buildings and devastation and horror visited upon New York and other East Coast locations. I watched, in disbelief, a city and population thrown into chaos and Armageddon-like numbness.
I had called New York my home for the previous twenty years, frequently and proudly, escorting visiting family and friends to the various landmark locations of my “adopted city.” Two regular and essential highlights on the tourist itinerary were The Statue of Liberty, “The Lady of the Harbour” and the Observation Deck on the South Tower – where we viewed the stunning panorama of the Tri-State area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
‘How many did I know?’
I made my living playing music in concert, clubs, bars and private venues to audiences, mostly with Irish American backgrounds and loyalties. Many of those were members of New York Police and Fire Departments. And as I watched the ensuing video footage from that tragic day and its aftermath, I couldn’t help but wonder how many did I know. As it turned out, I knew quite a few and still mourn their loss.
In the two-year transition period adjusting to life back home in Ireland after the twenty-year NY sojourn, I made regular trips back to the States to maintain a profile of sorts, in case the ‘move home’ didn’t work out. Only months before September 2001 I played at a private corporate event (as I had every St. Patrick’s Day - a celebration that invariably lasted weeks) organised by “Wall Street Friends of Ireland” at a fancy venue in the World Trade Center complex. That same building was one of those that was obliterated in the attack, and with it perhaps, many of those in attendance at this event (and the many others I had played before).
‘Give me your tired ....’
I’m a songwriter – a music maker – and my response to any emotional experience is to convey and express those emotions in a song or a music composition. This was no exception – in fact it was stronger than ever. I had worked with lyricist Art McGann (my first cousin) on many occasions, starting with pop songs for my alter-ego, Jamie Stone back in the 70s. We had continued to collaborate throughout my life in New York – one of our songs dealt with immigration and the Vietnam Conflict. Legendary balladeer Danny Doyle interpreted “The Rose of Saigon” beautifully on his “Under A Connemara Moon” album. And so we set out to channel our feelings grief and loss into a work that turned out the be “The Phoenix.” Art is a Master of Words and beautifully captured emotions of the time, responding to an evocative melody that I had been inspired to create. His words encapsulate the images of a tragic day, including ‘images’ of Fr. Mychal Judge OFM, chaplin to FDNY and son of immigrants from Leitrim, while celebrating the resilient nature of mankind, and in particular America at this time. The lyric echoes the words of Emma Lazarus on the plaque of the Statue of Liberty...”Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.” The music reflects the spirit of strength and defiance of the aftermath rather than the shock of the day – hence the title “The Phoenix.”
Ciarán Kelly’s beautiful arrangement captures the essence of our endeavours. The stunning performance by Ardú, first performed in a virtual concert as part of MusicTown 21 is captured in a video collage of live concert footage, punctuated with stark remembrances of the tragic day but also with images depicting hope, human kindness, compassion, unity and resilience.
The Lady of The Harbour, with her Lantern held high, has a been a beacon of hope, resilience and welcome for nearly 150 years, watching momentous events unfold before her – from the 12 millions immigrants that entered through Ellis, to the tragic images of 9/11, now to the new World Trade Center proudly standing at the tip of Manhattan Island. She once again provides a guiding light. To quote the final line of ‘The Phoenix’....
‘We will resurrect with honour
Put our faith upon her
Let the Lantern shine on high”
Today, on that same site, the 9/11 Memorial Site and Museum clearly states it’s intention, standing “as a beacon of healing and renewal – a physical embodiment of the compassion we showed to one another, the resolve we demonstrated to the world, and how, in the face of unfathomable loss, we rose as one.”
In the 1990s and until he returned to Ireland, Carl Corcoran was a Warwick resident during which time he hosted a Saturday show on WTBQ titled, “A Drop of the Irish,” along with a daily popular music program. He is now Course Director of a Master’s Degree in Songwriting at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance in the University of Limerick and also serves on the Board of Directors of the Irish Music Network.
Corcoran also co-authored The Phoenix, a song for the 10th anniversary of September 11 ceremonies held in New York.