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Eire’s glitterati—from Hollywood to law and literature—are rallying to block the proposed $52 million sale of the historic Fifth Avenue mansion housing the American Irish Historical Society.
Opponents fear the loot from the sale of the Gilded Age property, known for hosting big parties celebrating Irish-American heritage, will be spent on a cheaper new home at a far less prestigious address.
“I am absolutely shocked and stunned that they would do away with one of the few beautiful memorials of its kind to our Irish heritage in America,” Malachy McCourt, 89, the New York-based Irish-American author and actor, told The Post. “We can’t allow this to happen.”
A parade of other big Irish and Irish-American names, among them actor Liam Neeson, joined forces with McCourt — brother of the late Frank McCourt, who penned the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Angela’s Ashes” — urging state Attorney General Letitia James to stop the sale of the property across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, owned since 1940 by the non-profit.
Neeson, whose latest flick, the thriller “The Marksman,” is in theaters—was reportedly furious when he learned of the plan.
“We believe that, like St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, this architectural jewel is a living moment to the struggles and success of our immigrant ancestors,” said a petition to James signed by Neeson, McCourt and 44 others, including writers Alice McDermott, Colum McCann, Pulitzer-winning poet Paul Muldoon and attorney Brian O’Dwyer, son of the late City Council President Paul O’Dwyer. The petition said the sale would be “a tragic mistake that once made can never be reversed.”
The opponents of the sale believe the attorney general’s charities bureau and the state Supreme Court may have a say in approving or nixing the sale of the building because it is owned by a nonprofit. Neither responded to requests for comment.
“The AIHS is a cultural and scholarly organization devoted to making better known the history of the Irish in the United States as well as celebrating the riches of Irish culture globally,” the society said in a press release. “The decision to place the building on the market has been made in order to best enable the society to pursue its cultural and scholarly mission in a sustainable manner.”
But a former leader of the society crying poverty is a load of malarkey.
“I bet you could run it for $500,000 a year instead of the present $1 million or so outlay,” James Sheehy Normile, a past president-general who told The Post he was ousted in August 2019, a fate endured by other reform-minded society members and staffers.
“No one [at the society] wants to say what it wants to do with the money,” said a defiant Normile, a partner at the Katten law firm, who worries money from a sale could be ill-spent. “You can’t let these people have $52 million. Come on, that would be a crime.”
Active since 1897, the historical society has honored VIPs like U2’s Bono, author Mary Higgins Clark and former Sen. George Mitchell, who ushered through the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace in Northern Ireland. It lists President Theodore Roosevelt and renowned tenor John McCormack as former members.
The Beaux Arts revival mansion is also known for its enormous trove of Irish-American literature and historic artifacts, including the first printing of the Bible in the Irish language.
“Frank and I were very much in love with the building’s library,” said Brooklyn-born McCourt. “There is no word to describe the value of the books, first editions, old newspapers and recordings,” he added. “These are treasures that date back to an era when No Irish Need Apply was a common sign, and we had our own Irish Lives Matter campaign.”
The Irish government said a sale would be a tragedy.
Paula Del Nunzio, handling the listing of the five-story property for Brown Harris Stevens, is confident of a buyer since “anything on Fifth Avenue is the Holy Grail.”
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