The items on the walls and shelves of Art McCabe’ Andover office testify to his interest. Photographs feature key figures in Irish culture and politics, such as Deputy First Minister Mark Durkan, Nobel Prize-winner John Hume, and Sinn Fein leaders Martin McGuiness and Gerry Adams (whom McCabe will assist during a U.S. trip later this year). There are also Irish books, toys, pieces of bog oak, photographs and original artwork. McCabe favors framed quotations on the walls, including W.B. Yeats,’ "Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy which sustained him through temporary periods of joy."
"That’ one motto. Here’ another," McCabe says, tongue in cheek, pulling another from the wall. It reads, "Don’ ever try to teach a pig how to sing. It’ a waste of your time, and it annoys the pig."
"You’ be amazed how many situations that applies to," McCabe says.
That is particularly true in Irish history, in which McCabe is now playing a quiet but important role. Certainly, it is analogous of "The Troubles," the extended civil war that left the Belfast region of Northern Ireland with what McCabe euphemistically refers to as "30 years of deferred maintenance."
His interest in the Ireland isn’ purely philanthropic. However, his status as an international outsider invited to join the public-private partnership charged with changing Northern Ireland’ economic fortunes - and ensuring peace - was borne from an interest that goes beyond the bottom line.
In fact, McCabe’ reputation in Belfast was made early when he proved himself, as one noted Irish observer says, "quite an unusual American" by following up on a commitment to help produce a play in the United States. The production made him no money, but started him on the path that’ an extension of his life’ mission. The former counsel to the Lawrence Redevelopment Authority specializes in economic re-generation, bringing private business together with local government interests. For someone who has spent a career in urban redevelopment, Northern Ireland represents the ultimate in challenges and rewards.
For a multi-ethnic American who considers himself Irish "in heart and in mind" it represents an opportunity to bring peace and harmony to an adopted land.
McCabe is part of "The Working Group," a multi-national board created by the Northern Ireland government to review opportunities for public-private partnerships, and to explore the infrastructure deficit in the country. In addition, working for private clients on a range of projects involving hospitals, airports and waste management, he has made 27 trips to Ireland over the past five years, and travels frequently to New York City and Washington, D.C. on Northern Ireland-related business.
At press time, he was scheduled to join a high-level group at 10 Downing Street in early July to announce the creation of the Strategic Opportunities Resources Group, a private corporation comprised of international business and financial institutions, which will work closely with the British government’ Strategic Investment Authority. The group will be charged with the mission of marshaling private financial and technical resources to respond to government-stated needs for Northern Ireland.
He is also a player in an orphan project to restore the Ulster Canal. The public-private partnership will extend across borders of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. As a first demonstration of one such project, it is symbolically ideal.
"It crosses the border," McCabe says. "Twenty-three miles of the canal is in the Republic, and 23 miles is in Northern Ireland."
"Art is probably the best networker I have ever met," says the Rev. Professor Martin O’, principal of St. Mary’ University College in Belfast, which is working with McCabe to create "living links" between small businesses in Belfast and Massachusetts, and through Northern Irish businesses and local college business departments. The colleges will use videoconferencing facilities to enable potential business partners or visitors to talk with contacts before visiting the other country. "He knows personally everyone who matters politically and economically in Ireland, and not a few in the USA, too," said O’
Since traveling with a fact-finding business group led by Congressman Martin Meehan (D-Lowell) in 1997, McCabe has charged headfirst into Ireland’ reconstruction. He made a strong impression early, when he produced and backed a play that came to New York City, "Binlids: A Drama of West Belfast Resistance." The play was written and created by four women who are lifelong residents of West Belfast and based on real-life anecdotes.
"One of their dreams was to bring the play to the U.S." McCabe says. "I thought, 'If not now, when? If not me, who?’"
Specifically, the group wanted to produce its play in New York City. With cooperation from Irish trade unions (who’ already been in contact with the play’ creators) and a $25,000 grant from the city, McCabe found a theater and "cobbled together" the $250,000 it cost to bring 28 people to New York City for three weeks and do the production.
"I had no concept of how big a project it was when I started doing it," McCabe recalls. Nonetheless, "We drew 7,000 to 8,000 people over three weeks, and got great reviews in the legitimate press in New York (including The New York Times). These people were compelling. They were so raw and human and dedicated."
Since then, McCabe and his wife, Mia Guerrera, have sponsored other Irish cultural events, including art exhibits and another play.
"Trust is a huge issue over there," adds McCabe, who had done similar pro-bono work for community organizations and church groups in the Merrimack Valley, and recognizes their importance to community development. "Because I helped the community without asking for something, it put me in a good position."
At the same time, however, McCabe notes, "I didn’ do the play because I figured I would get projects from it. I did the play because I thought it should be done."
"Art is quite an unusual American," states Mairtin O Muilleoir, managing editor of three major Belfast region newspapers, "in that he does what he says ... a quaint but endearing quality at a time when promises, in the building of peace, have been plentiful but real delivery hasn’ been as strong."
Corresponding by e-mail, O Muilleoir adds, "Art brings a fresh mindset to development and regeneration issues, provoking debate on issues which communities often think they can’ or shouldn’ address and insisting (politely) that those in business and redevelopment (especially in the resurgent areas of Belfast where the peace dividend is needed most) raise the bar for themselves. He’ a good facilitator and I think his ideas have provided food for thought, especially for small to medium-sized enterprises here that are trying to break into the U.S. market.
"He’ invested a lot of time, money and patience in the economic side of the peace process in Ireland," said O Muilleoir, "and I hope he gets a return, because that in turn will mean that he’ turned a pound or two for local businesses."
Paraphrasing Robert Strauss, a Democratic political operative from the 1960s and 1970s, McCabe notes that at certain times a lawyer stops being a lawyer for the client and becomes a lawyer for the deal. That concept applies perfectly to Northern Ireland, where the prolonged conflict has created many factions with their own prejudices and needs.
"Making something from separate pieces is something I enjoy," he says. "There are tons of pieces over there."
Inside the office of Attorney: Arthur J. McCabe Age: 56
Years in Practice: 28
Hometown: Wilton, Conn.
Firm: Arthur J. McCabe and Associates
Specialty: Corporate Business Law
Law School: Boston College, J.D. 1974
MBA, Boston University 1974
Undergraduate Studies: Union College, B.A., 1969
Family: Wife, Mia Guerrera, and daughters Lacey, 20, Tali, 12,
and Emma, 10