Meryl Streep wore mourning black as she spoke of Inez McCormack, the great Irish human-rights and peace activist who died of cancer just 10 weeks ago at the age of 69.
“A tall woman and a towering figure,” Streep said.
The magnitude of the loss mounted as Streep spoke of all McCormack had done. McCormack had ensured that human rights—and in particular the rights of the people she called “the invisibles”—became part of the 1998 Good Friday accord in Northern Ireland. McCormack had also become the first woman to head a trade union there.
“Well, there’s no fun in being the first woman in anything,” Streep quoted McCormack saying.
With that came a laugh and the indication of what Streep was really doing. She was there to invoke all of McCormack the cancer had not claimed, the spirit it could never claim.
Streep had read the real life part of McCormack in the play Seven at the 2010 Women and the World Summit, and she now reprised a bit of that role, complete with a Northern Irish accent.
Streep recounted a story that McCormack had told of trying to explain the concert of inalienable rights to a group of heretofore “invisible” impoverished Irish women. McCormack had told the women that these were rights that belonged to everybody and needed only to be claimed.
“Well, that’s the best f--king kept secret in the whole world,” one of the women had said.
The women in the big hall in Lincoln Center filled with laughter, people rejoicing in this invisible woman just as McCormack had. McCormack would have seemed present even without the film clip of her or the picture of her with Streep.
McCormack almost could have been there, right beside her husband of 44 years, Vinnie, who stood up in the third row after Streep announced his presence.
Streep remained enough in mourning that her voice caught at moments, but at the close it was vibrant with the exquisite empathy that summons glitter from the deepest gloom, that powers her greatness and the greatness of her sister in spirit.
“A call to action, a call to arms, to link arms,” the great actor said in summing up the great activist’s living message. “Inez McCormack, her great heart beats on in us.”