BY THE VILLAGE SUN | Malachy McCourt, the Irish-American actor, writer and former Green Party candidate for governor, was sainted at the East Village’s Earth Church on April 16. In return, he offered words of wisdom, poetry and song.
Before McCourt scooted up to the front of the room in his electric wheelchair, Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir did a rousing rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching in.” The singers were feeling it with evangelical-like fervor, some gyrating wildly, others falling to their knees as they belted it out. A smile beaming on his face, McCourt loved it.
Billy praised McCourt for having “escaped from the hospice,” noting that feat should have immediately conferred sainthood.
McCourt, whose late brother Frank penned the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Angela’s Ashes,” was in classic form, poking fun at mortality and irreverently at his own religious upbringing.
First, though, he started out by reciting “Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven,” by the great Irish poet W.B. Yeats.
“I’m 91, but that’s not my fault,” he quipped, afterward. “When you were singing ‘When the Saints Go Marching in,’ I wanted to amend that to ‘When the Saints Go Rolling in,'” he said to laughter, referring to his wheelchair.
“But I’m enjoying my life,” he continued. “I’ll tell you about life — it’s one day at a time.
“Of course,” he said, lightheartedly, “any day aboveground is a good one. I come from a long line of dead people — and I don’t know how soon I’ll be joining them.”
McCourt noted that he was born in Brooklyn, then was taken back to Ireland at age 4 “and grew up there in savage Catholicism.”
“Organized religion has all the elements of organized crime — except the compassion,” he joked.
He reprised Yeats’s “Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.” Then he led everyone in a rendition of his signature song, stirring as always, the Scotch/Irish folk traditional “Wild Mountain Thyme” (“Will Ye Go Lassie Go?”).
“And we’ll all go-o-o-oh together, to pull wild mountain thyme all around the bloomin’ heather / Will ye go-o-o-oh, lassie, go?”
“Sing it, children,” he exhorted the choir and Avenue C audience before each refrain.
He then offered a final parting bit of wisdom, which was greeted by warm laughter: “Live every day as if it’s going to be your last because one day — you’ll be right.”
I don’t get why Malachy would be “sainted,” but I have fond memories of him myself. In September 1973, he interviewed 17-year-old author me about my book/more like a booklet “Watergate Scorecard” on his radio show. And then, about six years later, future Village District Leader Liz Shollenberger and I stopped in at his bar, The Bells of Hell, on West 13th Street, had a drink (or probably a soda) and renewed my acquaintance with him.
Now St. Malachy’s really will be the “actors church.”