New York City's horse-drawn carriages are back in the news with intensified demonstrations from animal rights activists (supported by the mayor) and drivers fighting back, now bringing these activists to court for hurting business. Liam Neeson, who stepped up to defend horse carriage drivers in 2013, may need to get back into the fray as the fight begins to escalate once again.
During his election campaign three years ago, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio vowed to enact a ban on horse-drawn carriages in Central Park. (The measure was billed as an animal-rights issue, though questions have been raised about the role political donors and real-estate interests played in the proposed ban, and Mayor de Blasio's actions were later investigated.) The horse ban was supported by animal advocates like Miley Cyrus and Alec Baldwin. Neeson, who grew up caring for horses on his aunt's farm in County Armagh, waded in to defend the drivers.
"I'm in the park every day," Neeson told Men’s Journal in a recent interview. "I see these guys; I know these guys. There were so many celebrities supporting [the ban], I was like, 'These guys need a celebrity or two.' "
"He really put himself in the line of fire," says Stephen Malone, a second-generation carriage driver and spokesman for the horse-and-carriage industry. "It was a complete game-changer. He hosted a stable visit for the city council on a Sunday afternoon, and if he wasn't there, we might have gotten one or two [members]. We ended up with about 20. They got to take their selfies with Liam Neeson, but they also got to meet the children of the drivers and to see how the stable hands care for the horses. It completely swayed public opinion. That was the moment we knew we were gonna be OK."
Colm McKeever, an Irish-born carriage driver and longtime friend of Neeson's, told MJ, "There's a framed picture of him in every stable. It's the Pope and then Liam Neeson." McKeever says Neeson's support of the drivers wasn't due to their friendship: "We've been fast friends for a number of years, but that has nothing to do with Liam's convictions. He stands up for what he believes in. It's as simple as that."
The proposal was eventually defeated, and now Neeson is a hero to the 300-odd drivers, who often stop him to say thanks. "It's almost like he's part of the tour," jokes McKeever. " 'There's the carousel — and that's Liam Neeson.' " Malone adds: "Liam Neeson is the biggest Hollywood star going right now, and he walks through Central Park and stops to talk to carriage guys. Only a true gentleman would do that."
For now the horse carriages continue to give Central Park tours and are seeking legal action against protesters — none of whom apparently have seen any of the Taken films. Liam Neeson is the kind of guy who protects what he cares about, on and off screen.
To read the full interview with Liam Neeson, on the cover of the current issue of Men's Journal, pick up a copy or go here.