Brian Mor Ó Baoighill Gone But Not Forgotten
Thank you, Joan, for inviting me to speak. I am here to pay tribute to the life and legacy of my friend, Brian Mor. It is an impossible task – for in every way, Bernie was larger than life. His wit, his talent, his commitment to a free Ireland and even his very name were larger than life. Mor, in Irish, means “Big,” and to me, Bernie was my big brother, my mentor, my best friend. Fortunately, there is no need to sum up his legacy in a few words – Bernie has left behind a treasure trove of artwork, cartoons and writing. He has laid the foundation for future generations to follow – and we will be forever in his debt.
One of Bernie’s favorite author’s, Evelyn Waugh, once wrote “your actions, and your action alone, determines your worth.” I am lucky to have been part of his actions and I’d like to share a few with you. Bernie was a character that only being born the son of immigrant parents in New York City could produce. Born in Harlem, Bernie later moved to the South Bronx, where his adored sister Margo was born. His mother’s biggest complaint was that he kept drawing on the walls of their apartment – Bernie’s friend Joe can tell stories about how many times she had to repaint the walls. How lucky we are that Bernie kept drawing on walls, and that we can still see his artwork on the walls of the Comic Club, Rocky Sullivan’s and Robert Emmett’s, to name a few.
Although a born and bred New Yorker, Bernie never forgot his family ties to Donegal, and at the Irish People Newspaper, found the perfect place to blend his Fenian passion with his artistic skills. Bernie and I worked together for many years, and as crazy as some of my ideas might have been, Bernie found a way to make them even more outlandish. One of our finest moments was standing in the middle of Times Square on December 16, 1983, watching the electronic sign board send Christmas Greetings to Irish Prisoners of War. Our second finest moment was enjoying the stir it made. I'll never forget sitting in the Blarney Stone with him, as we watched Bill Butell, anchor of Channel 7 news in NY, say "IRA hijacks sign in Times Square. More at 11." Bernie looked as though he had just won the lottery, knowing that his art was being shown around the world. In the pages of the Irish People, Bernie’s cutting political cartoons were the first thing that people looked for when opening the paper. And whether hung on someone’s refrigerator, or condemned in the House of Commons, they made a big impact. One of Bernie’s greatest gifts was his ability to blend history with current events. Whether hosting Radio Free Eireann, writing a scathing article or lampooning a subject in a cartoon, Bernie’s knowledge of Irish history was beyond reproach – and perfectly juxtaposed with the issue of the day.
You often hear people say “what can I do? I’m only one person?” Bernie’s legacy shows just what one man can accomplish. Bernie’s artistic talent should have made him a millionaire. But he was generous to a fault with his gift. Bernie’s worth will not be measured in dollars, but in his actions – giving his talent to further ideals he fervently believed in; mentoring younger artists; sharing his wisdom with those wise enough to listen. It seems wrong to live in a world without Bernie – we had so much more to do. We need more paintings, murals, cartoons. Bernie was so looking forward to his niece’s graduation this spring. And he had such grand plans with Joan! Joan took such good care of Bernie – he was planning on a lifetime of better days with her, and with his family. But knowing Bernie, I think he would find these words by Edna St. Vincent Millay fitting:
My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends -
It gives a lovely light.
I miss you Bernie. See you on the other side.