Irish America April May 2013

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CANADA $4.95 / U.S. $3.95

There is something about the Irish that knows that to live is to be hurt, but we’re still not afraid to live –Vice President Joe Biden

A Sacred Place

Medieval Monastic Settlement on Skellig Michael

The Friendly Sons

History of the Benevolent Organization Founded in 1771

Kennedy Homestead

JFK’s Ancestral Home on the 50th Anniversary of His Irish Visit

True Grit

Sandy Fails to Derail Xavier High School’s Run for Glory



Hall of Fame

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The American Ireland Fund salutes today’s honorees — great Statepersons & philanthropists standing by Ireland for over 35 years The American Ireland Fund has supported innovative work that preserves Irish culture, counters sectarianism, advances education, strengthens community development and cares for those in need. Today, our Promising Ireland Campaign seeks to raise $140 million for Irish charities by the end of 2013. With charities facing increased demand for services with fewer resources, your support is needed more than ever. So far, over 350 outstanding projects and organizations have received support from the Promising Ireland Campaign. Please join us in Promising Ireland.

We invite you to learn about giving back to the land that has given us so much. Please visit

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April / May 2013 Vol. 28 No. 3





FEATURES 34 A SACRED PLACE Photographer and writer Chris Ryan visited Skellig Michael, where an early-medieval monastery survives at the edge of the material world.

40 I’LL BE BACK IN THE SPRINGTIME Sean Reidy looks back on President Kennedy’s trip to New Ross in 1963, and forward to celebrations on the 50th anniversary of that visit.

45 THE HALL OF FAME The 2012 Hall of Fame inductees: Vice President Joe Biden, Brian P. Burns, Robert M. Devlin, John Fitzpatrick and Bruce Morrison.

56 JOEY FROM SCRANTON Genealogist Megan Smolenyak delves into the Vice President’s family tree and unearths a few surprises.

60 TRUE GRIT Hurricane Sandy fails to derail the Xavier High School football team’s run for glory. By Keith O’Ceallaigh.

66 THE FRIENDLY SONS OF ST. PATRICK Founded in Philadelphia on March 17,1771, the Friendly Sons continue as a benevolent society today. By Tom Deignan.


84 IRISH STUDIES The 20th anniversary of Glucksman Ireland House is covered by Mary Pat Kelly, and Kristen Romano writes about Molloy College’s celebration of St. Brigid’s Day.

88 WHAT ARE YOU LIKE? Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland, answers questions about her life and work.

90 IRISH FOLK FURNITURE Filmmaker Tony O’Donoghue speaks with Sheila Langan about the utterly charming stop-motion animated Irish Folk Furniture.

92 EDNA & NUALA Sheila Langan reviews Edna O’Brien’s memoir, Country Girl. Tom Deignan looks at Nuala, a documentary on writer Nuala O’Faolain.

100 MOTHER EARTH In her Sláinte column, Edythe Preet reveals why Ireland is called the Motherland.

James E. Kelly, who specialized in depicting the American Civil War. By William B. Styple.

74 1845-46, FREEMAN An excerpt from Colum McCann’s new novel focuses on abolitionist Frederick Douglass’s trip to Ireland.

80 GREGORY HARRINGTON The acclaimed violinist talks to Kara Rota about making classical music more accessible.

DEPARTMENTS 8 10 14 20

First Word 96 Books Readers Forum 98 Crossword Hibernia 102 Music Irish Eye on Hollywood 104 Photo Album

Cover Photo: AP Images

- Guided Factory Tour - Opulent Retail Store - The World’s largest collection of Waterford Crystal

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Book your tour online today Join us on

House of Waterford Crystal The Mall, Waterford City, Ireland Call:+353 (0)51 317 000 E: W:

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Vol.28 No.3 • April /May 2013

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IRISH AMERICA Mortas Cine Pride In Our Heritage

Founding Publisher Niall O’Dowd Co-Founder/Editor-in-Chief Patricia Harty Vice President of Marketing Kate Overbeck Art Director Marian Fairweather Deputy Editor Sheila Langan Copy Editor John Anderson Advertising & Events Coordinator & Music Editor Tara Dougherty Director of Special Projects Turlough McConnell Financial Controller Kevin M. Mangan Editorial Assistants Adam Farley Michelle Meagher

IRISH AMERICA 875 Avenue of the Americas, Suite 201, New York NY 10001

Colum McCann Colum McCann won the National Book Award in 2012 for Let the Great World Spin, which through an extraordinary feat of storytelling connects a disparate group of ordinary New Yorkers to Philippe Petit’s 1974 tightrope walk between the Twin Towers. His new novel, TransAtlantic, due out in early June, is another tour de force: a series of narratives spanning 150 years and both sides of the Atlantic. We are pleased to publish an extract in this issue.

Keith O’Ceallaigh Keith O’Ceallaigh broke the story of the impending IRA hunger strike in Long Kesh prison, making the front page of the Chicago Catholic in September 1980. The same reporter applies his straightforward approach to every story he writes, including in this issue “True Grit,” the story of a high school football team that won the championship despite the fact that 11 of the team had been displaced by Hurricane Sandy.

Kara Rota Kara is the lead editor and manages business development for Cookstr, a technology company based in Manhattan that focuses on the intersection between food, lifestyle and health. She also does freelance food journalism and is an award-winning fiction writer.

Chris Ryan Both a writer and photographer, Chris Ryan provided the images and the story for “Skellig Michael: A Sacred Place,” in this issue. He specializes in travel, the outdoors, politics, and business. Chris wrote the cover story, “The Global Irishman” for the Dec. 2009 issue of Irish America. He is based in the San Francisco Bay area and online at

TEL: 212-725-2993 FAX: 212-244-3344

Subscriptions: 1-800-582-6642 E-MAIL: Irish America Magazine ISSN 08844240) © by Irish America Inc. Published bi-monthly. Mailing address: P.O. Box 1277, Bellmawr, NJ 08099-5277. Editorial office: 875 Sixth Avenue, Suite 201, New York, NY 10001. Telephone: 212-725-2993. Fax: 212-244-3344 Email: Subscription rate is $21.95 for one year. Subscription orders: 1-800-582-6642. Subscription queries: 1-800-582-6642, (212) 725-2993, ext. 150. Periodicals postage paid at New York and additional mailing offices. Postmaster please send address changes to Irish America Magazine, P.O. Box 1277, Bellmawr, NJ 08099-5277. IRISH AMERICA IS PRINTED IN THE U.S.A.


Megan Smolenyak Megan Smolenyak is a genealogist and the author of six books, including Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing and Who Do You Think You Are?, a companion to the TV series. She is only slightly less Irish in heritage than Joe Biden, whose Irish roots she uncovers in this issue.

William B. Styple Historian and author William B. Styple writes about sculptor James E. Kelly in this issue. Styple discovered and transcribed Kelly’s interviews with Civil War generals, and the resulting book, Generals in Bronze: Interviewing the Commanders of the Civil War, was published in 2005. Since 1988, he has edited, co-authored, and authored nearly two dozen books and documentaries.

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{the first word} By Patricia Harty

The Emigrants’ Flame “Cuimhnígí ar na daoine ar tháinig sibh.” (Remember the people from whom you came.) – Irish America Hall of Fame motto


t’s that time of year when everyone is a little bit Irish, and a good time to reflect on the very special relationship between Ireland and Irish America. I remember as a young immigrant how wonderful it was to discover that in America being Irish was special. And it wasn’t just Irish Americans who seemed to appreciate my Irish culture and heritage, it came from many different quarters. Not that it happened overnight. In the words of Robert Kennedy: “As the first of the racial minorities our forefathers were subject to every discrimination found wherever discrimination is known.” And we do not forget the struggles of those early immigrants as we celebrate our Hall of Fame inductees (as Donald Keough, our first Hall of Fame inductee said, “The real members of the Hall of Fame are those ancestors who had the courage to come here.”) This issue, then, is one of remembering, and each story touches on our history: From medieval Ireland when monks lived in beehive huts on Skellig Michael (which are amazingly well preserved), to the great starvation that began in 1845, to the founding of the U.S. Friendly Sons of St. Patrick’s, the benevolent society that helped ease the plight of poor Irish immigrants. A story on Irish-American sculptor James Kelly calls to mind the many Irish who died fighting in the Civil War, while the tale of Xavier H.S.’s Knights winning the Catholic High School Football League trophy just weeks after 11 Knights were displaced by Superstorm Sandy, reminds us of the part Catholic education played in the Irish American story. (How delightful it is to find a Catholic institution still turning out fine young men such as those profiled in our story.) And as with so many Irish stories, there are common threads moving through each of ours. For example, in the feature on the Vice President’s Irish roots, we find that both he and President Obama had Irish ancestors who landed in New York in 1847 within weeks of one another. And they were both shoemakers! We also learn that Biden’s great-grandfather was a founding member of the Scranton branch of the Friendly Sons, at whose annual St. Patrick’s dinner Robert Kennedy spoke those words about discrimination. It was his first public appearance after the death of his brother John. (It was to the same Friendly Sons that a young Senator Biden spoke on St. Patrick’s Day in 1973 just a couple of months after the tragic death of his first wife and daughter.) Though our history is layered with tragedy, in our Irish way we choose to celebrate life.


As Vice President Biden said in an earlier interview with Irish America, “There is something about the Irish that knows that to live is to be hurt, but we’re still not afraid to live.” Perhaps no other family embodies this better than the Kennedys. As this year marks the 50th anniversary of the death of President John Kennedy, we celebrate his life, and his historic visit to Ireland in June 1963, in a story called “I’ll be back in the springtime.” On June 21st this year, a great number of the Kennedy family will arrive in New Ross, County Wexford, to kick off two weeks of festivities that will culminate in Irish America Day on July 4th. The celebrations will include the opening of the new visitors’ center at the Kennedy homestead; a tree planting in the JFK Arboretum by former Ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith in memory of her brother Senator Ted Kennedy; and on June 22nd, Caroline Kennedy will light an eternal flame in front of the Dunbrody Famine Ship & Irish Emigration Experience where our Irish America Hall of Fame has a physical presence. Fittingly, this flame, taken from the eternal flame in Arlington Cemetery, will be called the Emigrants’ Flame. It will burn in memory of Patrick Kennedy, Caroline’s great-great-grandfather who left New Ross in 1849, and of Donald Keough’s great-grandfather Michael, who left from the same quay that same year, and all the other thousands of Irish who left from every corner of Ireland during that hard time. (Patrick Kennedy would die of cholera just eight years after arriving in Boston, leaving his wife Bridget Murphy with five children.) It would seem that all our struggles – invasions, starvations, emigrations, wars, discrimination, and loss of loved ones – have left us with an empathy for others. That is a legacy we can be truly proud of. We see that empathy shining in generations of Kennedys, in the benevolence of Joe Biden’s greatgrandfather, and in the good works carried out today by our Hall of Fame inductees. As Robert Kennedy said when he spoke at that Friendly Sons dinner in Scranton all those years ago: “So, on this St. Patrick’s evening let me urge you one final time to recall the heritage of the Irish. Let us hold out our hands to those who struggle for freedom today – at home and abroad – as Ireland struggled for a thousand years.” Mortas Cine.


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{readers forum}

Daniel Day-Lewis Brings Lincoln Alive No sooner had I fallen in love with Daniel [Day-Lewis’s] Lincoln than I discovered a family member, born 1865, who took the name Abraham Lincoln as first and middle names. I continue to research family history, and a few historical facts bothered me during the movie, but this character was very lovable! Thank you, Daniel. Marie Flynn Posted online, February 28

I learned about Lincoln in grammar school, and he was my hero ever since I was a kid. I loved him. I was deeply saddened by learning about his assassination, but I didn’t cry about it because it was so far back in time. Then I saw DDL’s portrayal, and at the end of the movie I cried so hard. I felt the same way I did when JFK was murdered. This is because DDL brought Lincoln so alive that I loved him more than ever. Thank you, Mr. Day-Lewis. You are a genius. Claire Higgins Posted online, March 5

The painting of this poor boy who must have suffered so much from poverty and neglect breaks my heart. But it brings home what many Paddys suffered in the early days in New York. Patricia Farrell Posted online, January 20

Life just flung at him, but never within his grasp! Patrick Cuddihy Posted online, January 24

Rory Staunton’s Legacy The Rory Regulations in New York State, I pray will sweep the nation. The courage of the Staunton Family in spearheading such reform is more than incredible. They must relive the most agonizing moments of their lives every time they tell their story, but still, they persist. Having known Rory, I still ask, why him? How could this happen to our beautiful Rory? For all who knew him and loved him, this discussion happens on a daily basis. They say that only the good die young. I will never say that again. Losing Rory is too much to bear. Cynthia DeMonte Posted online, February 7 10 IRISH AMERICA APRIL / MAY 2013


Portraits of the Irish: Paddy at the Met

Such a very sad story. I heard the interview on RTE radio and think how brave you both are [Ciaran and Orlaith Staunton.] Having three boys of my own I just can’t imagine how you are coping. Best of luck and love to you both and your lovely daughter

Photo, left, Orlaith, Rory, who died of sepsis due to misdiagnosis, Kathleen and Ciaran Stuanton. Above: Patrick Cashin who featured in “Photo Album.”

Marie Hayes Posted online, January 22

Family Pictures: The Autobiography of Patrick Cashin Pat, Congratulations on a beautifully produced project. It was wonderful to view, and to learn about your father and your family, and, of course, I love the beautiful portrait of him. He looks so dignified and relaxed; a lovely image. What you have produced is priceless and I can only imagine how grateful your family members are to you for doing this. Thank you so much for sharing this with me. Well done my friend. Jackie Weisberg Posted online, February 1

Visit us online at to leave your comments, or write to us: Send a fax (212-244-3344), e-mail ( or write to Letters, Irish America Magazine, 875 Avenue of the Americas, Suite 201, New York, NY 10001. Letters should include the writer’s name, address and phone number and may be edited for clarity and length.



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[The story on Patrick Cashin] brought tears to my eyes, reminded me so much of my grand-father. Billie Dunne Posted online, February 12

Such a wonderful job you’ve done – as did your father, with such specific and interesting info. on your family. Thank you for sharing! John J. Tierney Posted online, February 22

The Four Irish Nobel Laureates As an Irish Exchange Student from NUI Maynooth to Boston College, it is such a pleasure and a privilege to have such rich cultural links with Ireland through the university here at BC. This is a wonderful exhibition, part of a wider Burns Library experience that is truly impressive.

Above: Hands Across the Divide: sculpture by Maurice Harron in Derry

The Derry Air is Rich With Culture

Siona Cahill Posted online, January 24

Hillary Clinton Visits Ireland and Northern Ireland This piece is ridiculously entitled “Hillary Clinton Visits Ireland and Northern Ireland.” How did this fallacious description get through the editorial net? Ireland encompasses both the Republic of Ireland and “Northern” Ireland as any good atlas will Rowan Gillespie’s sculptures at the John J. tell you. Ireland does not end at Burns Library in Boston College. Co Louth, Monaghan or Sligo. The country know as Ireland was cruelly partitioned by a foreign power in 1922 and we have been living with the effects of that ever since.

Thank you for the inspiring article on the city of Derry/Londonderry, the UK City of Culture 2013. It is so beautifully written, compelling and informative. Derry is indeed an inspiration, and hopefully that message spreads to areas of conflict including the present sad situation in Belfast. As I read your closing lines, I thought of the words my mother said that her father used in times of sadness or worry. “Always remember no matter how high the tide, it always ebbs.” Joan O’Leary received by e-mail

Corrections: The Rideau Canal runs from Ottawa, Ontario to Kingston, Ontario, not to Montreal, as was stated in the February/ March article “Recognition for the Irish Workers of the Rideau Canal.”

Garret Posted online, January 31

Clan Gatherings A most cordial welcome is extended to all members of the global Kelly Clan Association and to all non-members wishing to learn more about the “Kellys” and their experiences. Join us in our Gathering on May 17-19 2013. The venue for 2013 is the beautiful Dundrum House Hotel, Cashel, Co. Tipperary. Our website provides all the necessary details. Ray Kelly Posted online, February 2


effort to reconnect us all with the history of that fateful ship. With multimedia exhibits, tours and entire rooms recreated in the image of the Titanic, Belfast has provided a new and exhilarating way to remember and honor the past.

A Message From Joe Byrne

Ireland is not all about the past, it combines that sophistication of Europe and strong links to the ancient with a desire to celebrate and embrace the future! Northern Ireland 2012 is a yearlong celebration including exciting effort to reconnect us all such with the history events of that as the and a relaxing barbeque should entice quite the Belfast Festival at Queensexhibits, and thetours Peaceand One Day fateful ship. multimedia crowd thisWith spring. Northern Ireland and changentireConcert. rooms recreated in the imageisofvibrant the Titanic, ing.has is no endand to the wonders to be found Belfast provided abusinessman new exhilarating way to As a There seasoned like Bob Devlin remember and the past. and no endhonor to the value a visit here! might know, there are fewofbetter ways to bring

people together than a round a golf, and in his ancestors’ County Golf 2013 not all about the combines Theis festivities doDonegal not past, endanitinInternational 2012! Inthat fact, It is with great pleasure that I extend our warmestIreland Gathering will be ongoing from May until September and strong the The congratulations to the 2012 Inductees into thesophistication will proveoftoEurope be a banner yearlinks in to Ireland. this year. Ballyliffin Golf Club is hosting and with a desire to celebrate embrace the is Gathering Ireland 2013 isand an invitation to the Irish America Hall of Fame. The impacts thatancient among hundreds of stunning and challenging future! Northern Ireland 2012 is a yearlong celeworld to join Ireland’s in Ireland's renewal. This yearlong these individuals have made in the worlds of busi- courses across great landscape.

bration including such exciting events as the

ness, education, public service and humanitarian program of events, festivals and activities has Belfast Festival at Queens and thethePeace One Day And come autumn throughoutFrom hustle and bustleacross something for everyone. adventures aid are astonishing testaments to their character Concert. Northern Ireland is vibrant and changofIreland's John Fitzpatrick’s Dublin this September 7-22 and ability. breathtaking natural landscape ing.will There is no end Fringe to the Festival. wonders to be foundto festibe the Dublin This enormous valsend celebrating food, and art throughout andarts no to the value ofover aculture visit A Message From Joe Byrne festival boasting 600here! events spanning the country, Gathering present best of Just A as these honoreesFrom demonstrate the diverse and dance, Message Joe Byrne music,The opera, theatre,will visual artsthe and talents spring fromourIreland, Ireland the theaInopportunity to witwill and transform theworld city into treasure trove festivities do give not end in 2012! fact, 2013 Itvast is with greatthat pleasure thatforth I extend warmesttheirThemore It is with great pleasure that I extend our warmest and beand aa part of Ireland's renewal!The home counties,towhether the rural untouched beau- ofness inspiration imagination. congratulations banner year in Ireland. congratulations tothe the2012 2013Inductees Inducteesinto into the the will prove to tyIrish ofAmerica Ray Kelly's Roscommon or Irish Hall ofCounty Fame.These The impacts America Hall of Fame. individualsthat aretheGathering Ireland 2013 is an invitation to the Theisbest part aboutarms Ireland The is to join inopen Ireland's renewal. ThisGathering yearlong these individuals made in and theDublin, worlds of abusibustling city of have Kevin Roche's are demonwith weand welcome more visits shining beacons of character tenacity, truly worldIt to that there is something for everyone, including the of from events,these festivals activities and has future ness, education, public service and humanitarian inspiring group in their various Ireland Irishand Americans strations of thewhose vastlyimpacts different corners of fields Ireland.program opportunity to create your own gathering! The for everyone. From adventures across aid areleave astonishing testaments to found theirtocharacter will come. inductees into this prestigious of Fame. For There is solasting muchmarks magicfortodecades be back home.something invitation to come explore, eat, drinkHall and celebrate and ability. Ireland's breathtaking natural landscape to festiThe history of these honorees and of all Irish here those who share their drive we wait with us is open-ended to alland whopassion, are inclined 2013 is a particularly special year for Ireland and vals celebrating food, culture and art throughout great for your visits,The your accomAmericans runs deep throughout the island of towith travel to anticipation Ireland’s green shores. Irish forasIrish Americans much like these honorees. Just these honorees demonstrate the diverse and the country, The Gathering will present the best of America Hall of Fame inductees are testaments plishments and the future of Irish America. To all Ireland and there2013 has is never been a better time The Gathering wellfrom underway this toIreland and give theand world the opportunity wit-we vast talents that spring forth Ireland,astheir to the ambition creativity the honored Irishtoand the inductees, we are proudofand to claim explore, and of enjoy. yearlongdiscover celebration Ireland and the coming nesshope and be a part of Ireland's renewal!in this special home counties, whether the rural untouched beauto welcome them to Ireland together of the Irish born, Irish descendants and you as sons and daughters of Ireland and Irish year and for many years to come. ty of Ray Kelly's County Roscommon or the Irish-at-heart proves the sheer magnetism of From the rich history of artifacts to the rich wel-It is America! with open arms we welcome more visits to bustling ofher Kevin Roche's Dublin, are demonIrelandcity and people. comes of the Irish people, Ireland is a land apart. strations of the vastly different corners of Ireland. Ireland from these Irish Americans and future The Hall ofmuch Fame not only demonstrates the greatinductees into this prestigious Hall of Fame. For There is so magic to be found back home. In County Louth, where Vice President Joe Biden spirit ofhisIreland, they also and show The history of these honorees of aallwonderful Irish traces Irish roots, the Dundalk Stadium Land those who share their drive and passion, we wait respect history, and a commitment tobe preservAmericans runs deep throughout the3 island of of the for Legends Race Day on May will an with great anticipation for your visits, your accomexhilarating gathering sailing enthusiasts Executive Vice President ing theand vitality of never the for land and culture andVice the President future of Irish America. To all Ireland there has been a better timeof to theplishments Executive and novices alike. Complete with an evening ancestors. One particularly United States & Canada we are and honored to claim explore, discover and enjoy. stunning display of thisthe inductees, United States & proud Canada of entertainment rich history of Louth, as sonsIreland and daughters of Ireland and Irish commitment is telling the the Titanic Belfast VisitoryouTourism Tourism Ireland localthe merchants providing a delectable array of America! From rich which history of artifacts to the rich Experience, opened this spring as a welmassive treats and local artwork to top it off, the Land of comes of the Irish people, Ireland is a land apart. the Legends Racing Day looks to be a legend in The Hall of Fame not only demonstrates the great the making itself. spirit of Ireland, they also show a wonderful respect for history, to preservFor those who and like atocommitment explore under the sea ingrather the vitality the it,land and culture of the than sailofover Waterworld in Fahamore ancestors. One particularly stunning display this Castelgregory in Brian Burns’ own of County commitment is the Titanic Kerry are celebrating 50 yearsBelfast of scubaVisitor diving on April 20. Guest speakers, daily dive lessons Experience, which opened this spring as a massive

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Executive Vice President United States & Canada Tourism Ireland

2/27/13 11:55 AM

Calling all Flynns, O’Malleys and Schweitzenburgs. No matter how much, or how little, Irish you have in you, you’re invited to come and experience The Gathering Ireland 2013. The year-long celebration of Irish culture promises a trip like none other. You can immerse yourself in countless festivals and events, incredible music and art, exhilarating sports, and there are thousands of ways to connect with your family, friends and Irish roots. If you’ve ever wanted to come “home” there’s never been a better time to do it.

Don’t miss this once in a lifetime chance. Be part of it.

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{ hibernia }



State Apology for the Magdalenes


n behalf of the Irish State, on from 1922 to 1996, when the last, run by February 19 Taoiseach Enda the Convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Kenny gave a long-awaited and Charity on Sean Mac Dermott Street in forthright apology to the victims Dublin, shut its doors. Upwards of 10,000 of Ireland’s Magdalene laundries, the girls, with a median age of 23 years old, Church-run institutions where thousands passed through the laundries. The total of young women were kept – often against their wills – throughout the 1900s. In an address that was largely praised by survivors, family members and politicians alike, Kenny stated: “I, as Taoiseach, on behalf of the State, the government and our citizens deeply regret and apologize unreservedly to all those women for the hurt that was done to them, and for any stigma they suffered, as a result of the time they spent in a Magdalene laundry.” The formal apology came just a few weeks after the release of the McAleese Report, an intensive study Above: The advocacy group Justice conducted throughout 2012 to determine for Magdalenes. Right: Taoiseach the State’s relationship with the laun- Kenny gives the state apology. dries. The report, led by the recently retired senator Martin McAleese (the husnumber is thought to be at least 4,000 band of former Irish president Mary greater, as the report was unable to obtain McAleese) was ordered in the summer of adequate records from the Sisters of 2011, when the United Nations Committee Mercy-run Galway and Dun Laoighre Against Torture censured the Irish governlaundries. ment for its failure to investigate longThe report revealed that the State was standing allegations of human rights abusdirectly involved in over a quarter of all es and conditions tantamount to torture. admissions to the laundries, through the Kenny praised the McAleese Report as social services, reformatories, psychiatric having shone “a bright and necessary light institutions, probation services and induson a dark chapter of Ireland’s history.” Ten trial schools, and that many state-run instilaundries operated throughout Ireland tutions, including prisons, availed of their

laundry services, for which the women were never paid. Speaking in Dáil Éireann, where Magdalene survivors and advocates crowded the visitors gallery, Kenny declared that the women would get the compensation and recognition they had long fought for. He also spoke to Ireland’s national conscience, commenting that the laundries had “cast a shadow over Irish life, over our sense of who we are.” “Today, just as the State accepts its direct involvement . . . society too has its responsibility,” he said. “I believe I speak for millions of Irish people all over the world when I say we put away these women because for too many years we put away our conscience . . . We lived with the damaging idea that what was desirable and acceptable in the eyes of the Church and the State was the same and interchangeable.” The Taoiseach was visibly moved as he talked about meeting with many of the survivors, most of whom are now elderly, and the vivid detail with which they were able to recall the conditions they endured. “As a society, for many years we failed you. We forgot you or, if we thought of you at all, we did so in untrue and offensive stereotypes,” he concluded. “This is a national shame, for which I again say, I am deeply sorry.” – S.L.

THE MOST GLOBALIZED NATION OF THE WESTERN WORLD reland has been ranked as the most globalized nation in the West and the world’s third most globalized economy in terms of GDP according to the annual globalization index published by accounting giant Ernst and Young. A collaboration between Ernst and Young and the Economic Intelligence Unit, the index examines 60 countries – specifically, their integration into the global economy. Variables considered include “a country’s openness to trade, movement of capital, exchange of technology and ideas, labor movements, and cultural integration.” This may come as no surprise given the great number of Internet and corporate giants, including Google and Apple, that have established their European headquarters in Ireland in recent years, but Ernst and Young has consistently ranked



Ireland among the top three most globalized nations every year since 1995. In fact, 2012 saw Ireland fall one place behind its 2011 ranking. Hong Kong (which held first place for the third consecutive year) and Singapore placed ahead of Ireland, which surpassed close contenders Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark.The United States ranked twenty-fifth. Ireland’s high ranking was attributed to the country’s high performance in the areas of movement of capital and finance, and cultural integration, and to its disproportionately high level of foreign direct investment. Ernst and Young forecasted that Ireland will maintain its overall ranking until at least 2015, due to continued projected growth in trade and capital – good news as Ireland continues to rebuild its economy. – S.L.



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{news from ireland}

Graffiti on the Cliffs of Moher uthorities in County Clare had a surprise in February when graffiti was discovered by local seascape photographer Daniel Olsthoorn on a remote part of the Cliffs of Moher. The artwork is painted out of the way of the main tourist path and far from the visitor center, which sees upwards of 860,000 tourists annually. The artist would have faced a fairly difficult commute to the monolithic canvas, having to climb onto a narrow shelf ending in a 500-foot declivity to the Atlantic below. The abstract piece measures roughly 8” wide by 6” high and is located off the Cliffs Walking Coastal Walking Trail near the Hag’s Head, the highest point on the cliffs. While officials at the Cliffs of Moher say that time will eventually wear the spray paint off the cliffs, it would take up to 15 years for the natural, 300-million-year-old process of wind lashing and water spray to erase the graffiti completely from the porous sandstone. Dr. Eamon Doyle, a geologist for the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark, told the BBC “we will probably speed up this process manually as we do not want visitors leaving the trails to


find it. The cliffs here are very dangerous.” Olsthoorn told the Irish Examiner, “It is totally out of place there. It looks like something that should be on an alleyway in a city and certainly not on natural rock. Personally, I think it’s a good piece of art but I don’t think it’s in the right place.” If the identity of the artist is discovered, he or she will face prosecution, though authorities admit it is unlikely they will identify the muralist. Whatever merit the art has, the consensus in Clare gives it little by way of approval. – A.F.

DENIS O’BRIEN WINS DEFAMATION CASE rish businessman Denis O’Brien was awarded €150,000 in damages after suing the Irish Daily Mail for defamation.The case centered on a January 22, 2010 Daily Mail article written by columnist Paul Drury titled “Moriarty is about to report, no wonder Denis O’Brien is acting the saint in stricken Haiti.” O’Brien, who owns the Caribbean-based telecommunications company Digicel, and who appeared on the December/January cover of Irish America as the Business 100 Keynote Speaker, said the article misrepresented his involvement in the Haiti relief effort after the devastating 2010 earthquake as a hypocritical and self-motivated contribution meant to deflect attention from the Moriarty Tribunal Report, which contained unfavorable findings relating to business practices O’Brien engaged in with the then Irish Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications during 1996 PHOTO:THE IRISH TIMES mobile phone license negotiations for his company Esat Digicel. O’Brien strongly refutes these claims. The Dublin jury of six men and six women ruled that while the article contained Drury’s “honest opinion,” protected by the 2009 Defamation Act, it was not based in facts and did not serve the public interest through its publication. Michael Kealey, solicitor for the Irish Daily Mail, said they would consider an appeal.Attorney for the Daily Mail Oisín Quinn said the case was about freedom of press, arguing before the jury,“You don’t have to agree [Drury] was right, but he had a right to say it.” The Belfast Telegraph reported that after the verdict O’Brien acknowledged “people have freedom of expression,” but added that “people have the right to their good name as well.That’s what this case has all been about.” – A.F.


IRELAND HORSE MEAT DISCOVERY SPARKS INTERNATIONAL INVESTIGATIONS hat started as a local discovery by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland of varying amounts of horse DNA in hamburger meat quickly became a much larger European scandal. The Irish Times reported that Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney explained although the beef itself is 100% Irish cattle, many processing plants use imported ingredients to bind the product together, and it is this added product “that we suspect may be the source of the problem.” In a very short time Minister Coveney’s hypothesis was confirmed as traces of horse meat were found in processed beef in Britain, France, Sweden, and Germany. While eating horse meat is more commonly accepted on the continent and poses no safety threat, the discovery exposes a lax government oversight from farm to fork and massive fraud on behalf of the processing plants that knowingly mislabeled this amalgamated meat as 100% beef. The scandal hits the Isles all the stronger because equine meat lacks acceptance in Ireland and Britain, where there is greater reverence for horses and fondness for horse racing. – A.F.



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{irish news from around the world}

New Chinese Translation of Joyce Becomes Best-seller he new translation of James Joyce’s epically complex Finnegans Wake into Chinese has become an unexpected success. The first print run of 8,000 copies sold out in just under five weeks and a second printing is on order to satisfy China’s still-increasing demand for Joyce’s book. The translation was undertaken by Dai Congrong, a professor at Fudan University in Shanghai, and clocked in at eight years. Both Dai and her publisher, Gray Tan, were more than surprised at the translation’s success. In China, the average run for a translation is about 5,000 copies, but the Shanghai News and Publishing Bureau reported that the rapid sales of “Fennigan


de Shouling Ye” made it the number two best-selling publication in the prestigious “good book” category, after a new biography of Communist reformist Deng Xiaoping. “At first I felt very surprised, and I feel very surprised now still,” says Dai. “I thought my readers would be scholars and writers, and it wouldn’t be so popular.” But just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it is any less opaque. In a statement reported by the Shanghai People’s Publishing House, Dai said “I would not be faithful to the original intent of the novel if my translation made it easy to comprehend.” Dia invented new Chinese

symbols for the text and consciously misused traditional Chinese grammar in her attempt to remain true to the mode of Joyce. While the success of the translation has been attributed variously to the universal intrigue about its inscrutability, a massive urban billboard campaign (the first of its kind according to the state-run Xinhua news agency), or, more skeptically, owning it as a bourgeois status symbol, its heralded publication in China makes all the more relevant Joyce’s thunderous multi-lingual onomatopoeia: “bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!” – A.F.



galactic photograph of Dublin released via Twitter in February by Canadian Space Agency astronaut Cmdr. Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian to walk in space, was accompanied by another small first: the first Irish language tweet from space. Cmdr. Hadfield, a 52-year-old former Royal Canadian Air Force pilot, snapped the night-time photo from the International Space Station (ISS) and then posted it to Twitter with a message written partially in Gaelic: “@Cmdr_Hadfield: Tá Éire fíorálainn! Land of green hills & dark beer. With capital Dublin glowing in the Irish night.” Before he posted the photo, though, he made sure to confirm with his daughter that the city was in fact Dublin. His daughter, Kristin, is a 26-year-old PhD student at Trinity College’s School of Psychology and has been living in Dublin for two years. Ms. Hadfield told the Irish Independent her father received some flack in December because “he once posted a picture and didn’t realize it was of Dublin.” Among the thousands of re-tweets and almost half a million delighted followers, the Irish Times reported: “@CilliandeBurca tweeted “Maith Thú A Cheannasaí! Nice to see there’s some Gaeilge in space! :-)” “@LaurenNiCuinn tweeted “is maith




Above: Cmdr. Chris Hadfield on board the ISS; His photo of Dublin from space.

liom do cuid [sic] gaeilge. Go raibh maith agat!!!” Answering the many responses, Cmdr. Hadfield continued with Irish, tweeting, “Wow, I can feel the warmth of the Irish all the way up here – go raibh maith agaibh! I’ll do my best to photo more cities as clouds clear.” Go raibh maith agat fein, Chris! – A.F.

slew of new diplomatic and consular assignments at the start of the year will bring new Irish representatives to American cities, while other familiar figures are taking on fresh appointments elsewhere. Anne Anderson, currently based in New York as Ireland’s Ambassador to the United Nations, will move to Washington, D.C. as Ambassador to the U.S. She is the first woman to hold the post. From 2001 to 2005, Anderson served as permanent representative to the European Union in Brussels. Before that she was Ireland’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva. Current Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Collins, who has served in Washington since 2007, has been named Ambassador to Germany. Brendán O Caollai, joint head of the International Fund for Ireland at the Department of Foreign Affairs, has been named Consul General in Boston. O Caollai previously served as Deputy Consul General in New York and is well known in Irish-American circles. Philip Grant, director of the Department of Foreign Affairs’ press office, has been appointed Consul General to San Francisco.The Irish diplomats will move on to their new posts in the summer. – S.L.



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Fighting Irish Coach Honored by Kelly Gang



members, became the first American journalist killed in the Iraq War, the Kelly Gang responded by holding a St. Patrick’s Day benefit, on what would have been Michael’s 47th birthday, to raise money for the education of his two sons, Tom and Jack. The St. Patrick’s Day event went on to become a tradition. Since then the Kelly Gang has raised over $500,000 for worthy causes, including The Wounded Warrior Project, and Tuesday’s Children. – P.H.


rian Kelly, Notre Dame’s famed football coach, was honored by the Kelly Gang at Michael’s Restaurant in New York City on March 13. Earlier that day he visited Breezy Point, where he witnessed the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy and met some of the people who were badly affected by the storm. In honoring Coach Kelly, the Kelly Gang raised over $60,000 for the Kelly Cares Foundation, which was established by Brian and his wife, Paqui Kelly, to support initiatives in health, education and community. After visiting Breezy Point, Kelly promised to rebuild the Catholic Club, which had served as the heart of the community, using funds from the Kelly Cares Foundation, and the funds raised by the Kelly Gang. The Kelly Gang, whose members include NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly; Ed Kelly, President/CEO, American Express Publishing; Keith J. Kelly, “Media Ink” columnist, New York Post; author Mary Pat Kelly, and a host of other clan members, sprang up in the late 1990s as an impromptu group of media types with the surname Kelly. When tragedy struck in 2003, and Michael Kelly, one of the original


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Clockwise: Coach Brian Kelly with Kelly Gang member Ed Kelly at Michael’s Restaurant in Manhattan. The coach’s visit to Breezy Point brought joy to Jim McGuire, an 80-year-old resident. The coach signs autographs for fans in Breezy Point.

Fighting Irishmen in Phoenix A


fter traveling from New York to Boston and then to Ireland, amateur boxer and the Ulster senior boxing champion in the the Fighting Irishmen boxing exhibition, which details near1960s. Sullivan is famous for beating Jake Kilrain after a staggerly 200 years of Irish fighters, is now open ing 75 rounds in the last (barely) legal for viewing in Phoenix, Arizona, in the bare-knuckle boxing match in 1889. recently opened McClelland Irish Library. Most striking among the artifacts may The Phoenix opening for “The be the mummified arm of Dan Donnelly. Fighting Irishmen: Celebrating Celtic Donnelly, who was shorter than most Prizefighters 1820 to Present” paid spefighters, had unusually long arms, which cial tribute to Muhammad Ali, whose allowed him to strike and block against great-grandfather emigrated from larger boxers. He became the first IrishCounty Clare in the mid 19th century. born heavyweight champion before his Ali has several artifacts in the show, death in 1820. including his signed gloves and robe, and James J. Houlihan, curator of the Fighting Irishmen The Fighting Irishmen was created for items documenting his fight at Croke exhibition, at the Phoenix opening. the Irish Arts Center in New York City in Park in Dublin in 1972 with Al Lewis. 2006 and has been on tour ever since to widespread acclaim. It The bricolage of boxing memorabilia numbers over 1,000 and will be on display in Phoenix until May. includes items like John L. Sullivan’s fur coat and punching bag, For further information, see: and and several items on loan from actor Liam Neeson, who was an – A.F.


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{hibernia} Chris O’Dowd’s Irish Spirit


he Young Leaders of the American Ireland Fund celebrated the St. Patrick’s season on the night of March 14 at Capitale in Manhattan’s Bowery. They honored Irish actor Chris O’Dowd (of Bridesmaids, Girls and Moone Boy fame) with the Irish Spirit Award. Peter Ryan, Deputy Irish Consul to New York, was presented with the Dylan Smith Community Service Award, which he accepted on behalf of all the community leaders, groups and volunteers who rallied together to help those affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Sober St. Patrick’s Day


very year around St. Patrick’s Day, stores bring out the Irish-themed merchandise including a slew of comic t-shirts, many of which cross the line from funny to offensive: “Irrish I Was Drunk;” and “Irish Yoga” emblazoned over a stick figure throwing up shamrocks. On March 16, a groundbreaking event called Sober St. Patrick’s offered Irish revelers and enthusiasts the chance to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day away from the drunken stereotypes and often drunken antics. For the second year in a row, the event drew sober celebrators, families looking for a child-friendly atmosphere, and lovers of Irish music culture to Regis High School in New York City for an afternoon of world-class entertainment. Sober St. Patrick’s Day was dreamed-up by William Spencer Reilly, a TV and theater producer who almost lost a family member to addiction a few years ago. The Irish-American community responded with enthusiasm to his idea for a more inclusive day, and the inaugural Sober St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated on March 17, 2012. This year, demand proved so great that the event team created a second overflow party downstairs from the main event, with live streaming of the performances and a full trad session. Highlights included eight-time All Ireland Champion button accordion player John Whelan and his band, five-time All Ireland champion fiddler Brian Conway, ten-year-old fiddle prodigy Haley Richardson, Malachy McCourt, Irish dancers from the Niall O’Leary School, singer Tara O’Grady, Leitrim-style fiddler Marie Reilly, and more. Jerry Moe, vice president and national director of the Betty Ford Center’s Children’s Programs, received the 2013 Emerald Spirit Award for his important work with children from families affected by addiction. Organizers also collaborated with the Belfast City Council to initiate sober celebrations in the Northern Irish capital, and additional satellite celebrations are anticipated for 2014.

Above: Chris O’Dowd and his wife, Dawn Porter. Right: Deputy Consul General Peter Ryan and the event cochairs: Bernadette McCabe Kelly, David McCormack and Rachel Conlan. PHOTOS: JAMES HIGGINS NYC

Grand Marshal Rings the Bell


he St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee of New York and officers of the Parade Foundation rang the NYSE closing bell on March 14. The 2013 Grand Marshal Al Smith, who spent over 35 years on the exchange, received a very warm welcome from the floor. Hilary Beirne, John Dunleavy, Grand Marshal Al Smith, and his wife, Nan. APRIL / MAY 2013 IRISH AMERICA 19



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{ irish eye on hollywood} By Tom Deignan

about from [screenwriter] Eric Roth to combine these movies using the footage from Paint Houses to do another kind of a [film that is] reminiscent of 8 1/2, La Dolce Vita, [a] certain kind of biographical, semi-biographical type of Hollywood movie — a director and the actor — based on things Marty and I have experienced and kind of overlapping them.” Sounds like there might be a really good movie in there somewhere.

The original Goodfellas: Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci and Paul Sorvino.

Wicklow native Jack Reynor will star alongside Irish American Mark Wahlberg in the next installment of the behemoth Transformers film franchise. Transformers 4 is being envisioned by director Michael Bay as the first film in a new trilogy about the good and evil robots who do battle on planet Earth. Reynor, just 21, was born in America to parents Tara O’Grady and Paul Reynor (also an actor), who

The Irish Goodfellas are getting back together! Back in 1990, Robert DeNiro wowed audiences playing Irish-American hood Jimmy Conway in the electric Martin Scorsese gangster flick Goodfellas. Ray Liotta costarred as half-Irish Henry Hill, as did Joe Pesci playing the psychotic Tommy Carbone. Well, Scorsese, DeNiro and Pesci – as well as Al Pacino – are teaming up again to make a movie simply entitled The Irishman. A script for the film has already been completed, and earlier this year Scorsese held a reading at the Tribeca Film Center. The film is based on a book by Charles Brandt called I Heard You Paint Houses, about notorious Irish American hit man Frank Sheeran. Mob lore has it that Sheeran was likely the trigger man behind the infamous disappearance of labor leader Jimmy Hoffa as well returned to Ireland when Reynor was just as the murder of “Crazy” Joe Gallo at two years old. Bay is said to have spotted Umberto’s Clam House in Little Italy in 1972. Reynor in the small Irish film What Richard (The title of the Brandt book refers to a comDid. Next thing you know he’s the lead actor mon euphemism among gangsters for people in a multi-million dollar film. No word yet on willing to kill for hire.) the release date for Transformers 4. DeNiro, who is slated to play Sheeran in the film, recently said: “It’s about a guy [named Another young Irish actor, Sarah Bolger Frank Sheeran] who is – and I believe the book (best known for her role in Jim Sheridan’s says he’s now passed away – but he confessed 2004 New York Irish immigrant saga In that he killed Hoffa and also Joe Gallo over America) has been popping up in the ABC here on Hester Street. And so I’m going to play fairy tale series Once Upon a Time, playing that character, Joe Pesci’s gonna be in it and Al Pacino is going to be in it and Marty’s Above right: Jack Reynor. Sleeping Beauty. Bolger also had a role on going to direct it. . . . I’d never say it if I didn’t Above: Sarah Bolger. The Tudors mini-series and on March 29, the really fully have us all, you know, committed.” Dublin native will be partaking in a decidedly Then DeNiro’s description of the project becomes a little, international film. Or her voice will anyway. Bolger is set to um, interesting. be one of the voices in From Up on Poppy Hill, a Japanese “We have a more ambitious idea, hopefully, to make it a drama based on the comic book series of the same name. Ron two-part type of film or two films. It’s an idea that came Howard, Christina Hendricks, Jeff Dunham, Jamie Lee Curtis 16 IRISH AMERICA APRIL / MAY 2013



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Donal Logue in the upcoming second season of BBC America’s Copper.

and Irish American Ronan Farrow (Mia Farrow’s son with Woody Allen) will also be heard in the flick. In TV news, Irish American film and TV veteran Donal Logue has signed on to the second season of BBC America’s drama Copper. Set in 1860s New York, during the Civil War, at a time of heavy Irish immigration to the U.S., Logue will play Civil War General Brendan Donovan, who has returned from the front to reestablish himself as local political powerbroker. Production for season two of Copper is already underway. Julianne Moore and Copper is a gritty look at the notori- Jonathan Rhys Meyers ous downtown Irish enclave The Five in 6 Souls. Points. Also joining the cast of Copper as Executive Producer is Thomas Kelly, one of the driving forces behind the CBS Irish American cop hit Blue Bloods. Kelly, a New York-born novelist as well as TV writer, joins Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson behind the scenes. Tom Weston-Jones will be back to play scarred cop and Civil War veteran Kevin Corcoran. Dublin native Kevin Ryan will also be back for season two, playing Corcoran’s fellow police officer Francis McGuire. “Season two is driven by flawed and haunted characters living in explosive times,” says Tom Fontana. “Each of them is looking for renewal in the wake of last season’s revelations and violent upheaval. The on-going storylines follow Detective Corcoran and company on their paths to redemption or ruin.”

Speaking of Jonathan Rhys Meyers, it’s been a long, arduous journey to the big screen for his upcoming thriller 6 Souls. The thriller (also starring Julianne Moore) was shot way back in 2008. It has been released briefly in various countries since and will finally be available in the U.S. in April. Moore plays a widowed psychiatrist who attempts to care for a patient (Rhys Meyers) who cannot walk. 6 Souls also stars Jeffrey DeMunn and Frances Conroy. Rhys Meyers should have a lot more luck with the summer big-budget extravaganza The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. Based on the 2007 book of the same title (the first in a series), the film stars Rhys Meyers as well as Jared Harris (Richard Harris’s son, of Mad Men fame), Lily Collins, Lena Headey and Aidan Turner. As for Julianne Moore, if one Irish star (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) doesn’t bring her box office gold, she can always count on Liam Neeson. Moore and Neeson are slated to star in the upcoming thriller NonStop. The film, which began shooting in New York this past December, is about an air marshal (Neeson) who begins receiving frightening text messages while flying

Liam Neeson ‘s latest action turn, as an air marshal in Non-Stop.

from New York to London. The texts state that a passenger aboard the flight will be killed every 20 minutes unless $150 million in ransom money is paid into a secret bank account. Yes, it seems clear that Liam Neeson will indeed be riding out this action hero thing as long as it proves lucrative.

Finally, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick is all of Also on the television front, vampires remain 14 years old but he already has quite an impressive all the rage as County Wicklow native Katie McGrath has signed on to appear alongside movie career going. The young Irish-American fellow Irish-born thespian Jonathan Rhys Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick (whose father, James Hugh Fitzpatrick, is also an Meyers in the upcoming drama series Dracula. actor) has appeared in films such as The Omen and (Dublin author Bran Stoker penned the novel Dracula, pubthe Academy Award nominated Moonrise Kingdom. Look for lished in 1897). Rhys Meyers and McGrath have previously Seamus in the upcoming Before Midnight, starring Ethan worked together on the aforementioned The Tudors. The 10Hawke and Julie Delpy. The film, already out in limited episode Dracula series, to be shown on NBC later this year, release, should be seen more widely soon. This is the third will feature McGrath as Lucy Wetenra, and will focus on an time around for Hawke and Delpy, whose earlier films Before American businessman who arrives in 1890s London hoping Sunrise and Before Sunset explored the same star-crossed IA to create a number of scientific breakthroughs. lovers who meet up while traveling around the world. APRIL / MAY 2013 IRISH AMERICA 21



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{hibernia} New Edward M. Kennedy Prize Celebrates American Drama


olumbia University and Jean Kennedy Smith have inaugurated a new award, the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History, or the EMK Prize. This year’s prize is actually shared by two playwrights: Dan O’Brien for The Body of an American, and Robert Schenkkan for All the Way. The two inaugural winners will divide the award of $100,000 endowed by Jean Kennedy Smith in memory of her brother Ted’s love of theater and the arts. Judges for the prize will rotate annually and include contemporary playwrights, scholars, and theater professionals. This year’s panel of eight reached a unanimous decision that both plays epitomize the mission of the EMK Prize. Speaking for her late brother, Kennedy Smith recalled, “He was intrigued by the theater’s cre-

ation of worlds, based on the human imagination, either for purposes of escaping what’s difficult in Jean Kennedy Smith life or for purposes of confronting and her brother Ted. difficult truths.” Both plays seem to embody the and LBJ himself. It also premiered in youngest Kennedy’s fearless confrontaOregon, at the Oregon Shakespeare tionalism. O’Brien’s The Body of an Festival in Ashland. American is about the ethics and conseJean Kennedy Smith was the U.S. quences of war reporting, specifically of Ambassador to Ireland from 1993-1998 the famous photograph of an American and was inducted into the Irish America soldier’s body being dragged from a Hall of Fame in 2011. At this year’s Hall Blackhawk helicopter in Mogadishu in of Fame ceremony, she will receive a spe1993. It premiered at the Portland Center cial award for her service towards the Stage in Portland, Oregon. peace process in Northern Ireland and for Schenkkan’s All the Way turns on the furthering the diplomatic ties of Ireland aftermath of the assassination of John F. and the United States, continuing the Kennedy and the first year of Lyndon Kennedy legacy of public service. Johnson’s presidency, and is told through 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of several historical personalities, including JFK’s trip to Ireland and his assassination Martin Luther King, Jr., J. Edgar Hoover, in Dallas. – A.F.

100 Years of People v. Philips and Religious Freedom in America 1813

brought the first test of the right of free religious practice and expression in the United States. The famous case, People v. Philips, which eventually solidified the priest-penitent evidentiary privilege that protects the privacy of information given during confession, was argued in New York City on behalf of the growing Catholic population by the exiled Irish Protestant William Sampson. Sampson, having seen the legacy of religious intolerance in Ireland, argued that U.S. law should not look across the Atlantic for legal precedent in dealing with Catholics. He argued the case on behalf of the trustees of St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church on Barclay Street in New York. In commemoration of the case, Glucksman Ireland House (GIH) at New York University has organized “Religious Freedom in America, 1813 to 2013: Bicentennial Reflections on People v.


Above: A sketch of old St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church on Barclay Street in Manhattan, 1785. Left: William Sampson, the Irish Protestant who argued People v. Philips on behalf of the Catholic church.

Philips,” a weekend of events that examine the intersections of Ireland and America in the foundation of our national culture. On April 12th, the case itself will be dramatically re-enacted at Glucksman House, adapted for the stage from Sampson’s own accounts by playwright Steve DiUbaldo. Following the staged reading, Saturday the 13th brings a day-long symposium to GIH, featuring numerous interdisciplinary speakers, including retired Irish High Court Justice Bryan McMahon and Professor Walter J. Walsh of the University of Washington, Seattle, School of Law, and panels to discuss the legacy of the case and the ways in which it is still relevant to contemporary issues. On Sunday the 14th, a morning pilgrimage will be made to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn to pay respects to the graves of Sampson and the judge who ruled in his favor, New York City Mayor De Witt Clinton. – A.F. For further information, contact Miriam Nyhan by email at or by phone at 212.998.3953.

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St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Church in the East Village Reopens


fter more than a decade of closed doors and legal battles, St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Church in New York’s Alphabet City is restored and open again for worship. Built between 1848 and 1849, St. Brigid’s, on Avenue B and Eighth Street, is among the earliest surviving works of famed architect Patrick Keely, a Tipperary native, who carved the reredos, organ case, and the original wood altar himself at only 25 years old. Keely went on to design an estimated 600-700 buildings in his lifetime, mostly Catholic churches and other religious buildings in North America. On January 27, Mass was held in St. Brigid’s sanctuary for the first time since 2001, when the building was closed over concerns about its structural safety. The reopening came just in time for the Feast Day of St. Brigid, celebrated February 1. The restored church was officially consecrated and dedicated by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, who presided over the Mass. The restoration was not exclusively a church matter and included support from numerous East Villagers, parishioners and non-parishioners alike. The legal battles were headed by attorney Marisa Marinelli pro bono; the borough fights by City

Council Speaker Christine Quinn and City Councilmember Rosie Mendez; and community support came from people like Ed Torres, chairman of the Committee to Save St. Brigid’s and a former head usher; City Comptroller William Thompson; and novelist Mary Gordon. In its early years, St. Brigid’s served as a haven for Irish immigrants fleeing the famine, and later as a stalwart presence for the ever-changing immigrant populations to the neighborhood, from the Polish and Germans, to Ukrainians and Puerto Ricans. Despite its history as a neighborhood force, as recently as 2008 the church was still slated for complete demolition. In 2001, a formerly repaired crack reemerged near the northeast corner, rendering the building unsound. The Archdiocese of New York officially closed the church in September of 2004. After several failed lawsuits by parishioners, a temporary restraining order, and back-and-forth rulings by the New York State Supreme Court, demolition began on the historic church in 2006. Although a court-ordered halt came only one day later, a number of original stained glass windows bearing the names of famine immigrants were removed and destroyed, as

were the remaining pews, and the demolition crew had already carved an eight-foot hole in the south wall and erected scaffolding around the church. Nearly two years of legal stalemate went by until news came from the Archdiocese in 2008 of a $20 million anonymous donation, which stipulated that $10 million would be used for repairs, $8 million for the adjacent St Brigid’s School, and $2 million as an endowment. While at the time rumors suggested that actor Matt Dillon, a long-time supporter of restoring the church and an East Village resident, was the donor, Joseph Zwilling, spokesman for the Archdiocese, assured the Daily News, “I will tell you it was not Matt Dillon.” Dillon simply fell in love with the church while filming scenes from City of Ghosts there and has been vocal about the necessity of preserving the church’s history. Regardless of who the benefactor was, Ed Torres summed up the community’s feeling to the New York Times, saying, “we are ecstatic.” – A.F.

The Fight to Save St. James P

arishioners and friends of hispast by operating a food pantry that toric St. James Parish, founded serves more than 1,500 families per in 1855 on Chicago’s South Side by month. Loss of their church could Irish immigrants who’d escaped the well mean the end of this parish, and a Great Starvation, spent St. Patrick’s heritage that includes priests who Day in a prayer vigil imploring the ministered to both Union soldiers and Archdiocese to stop the planned Confederate prisoners during the Civil demolition of their unique church. War. Famed Tipperary-born architect Preservation Chicago named St. Patrick Keely, who also designed James Church the number one endanSt. Brigid’s (see story above), gered building in the city, the one that designed this Gothic masterpiece must be preserved. The congregation built in 1880 by the congregation as a is willing to undertake needed repairs monument to their survival, an and has received substantial offers of expression of gratitude for hard-won help, but the wrecking ball is still prosperity. When St. James became St. James church on Chicago’s South Side. scheduled to destroy the church within the first racially integrated Catholic the month. Please check out friendsofparish in Chicago, that spirit to achieve and give back found and consider signing up to express pride new expression and now this vibrant, diverse parish honors its in our heritage in this very concrete way. – Mary Pat Kelly


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Civil War Sailors Laid to Rest W Stopping the Famine Trigger




pathogen called Phytophthora infestans has long been recognized as the cause of the Irish Potato Famine, which led to over one million deaths. But until recently, scientists were unsure of exactly how it subverted the natural immune system of the crop and wreaked such rampant failure. A new study published in Nature Genetics uncovers the process by which Phytophthora cripples the immune system in certain plants and suggests new areas of genetic research that could diminish the devastating effects of the pathogen. The research team behind the discovery, led by Wenbo Ma, an associate professor at the University of California, Riverside, found that Phytophthora infestans gravely suppresses a process known as RNA silencing, which is critical to plant growth and development, leaving the plant significantly more vulnerable to disease. Far from being a blight of the past, current Phytophthora infestans causes more than $6 billion in losses of potato crops annually. In a press release, Ma explained that her team’s research shows “RNA silencing suppression is a common strategy used by a variety of pathogens — viruses, bacteria and Phytophthora — to cause disease, and shows, too, that RNA silencing is an important battleground during infection by pathogens across kingdoms.” Knowing this, Ma says new technology can be developed to produce crops that are genetically resistant to the pathogen, potentially eliminating it as a factor in mass crop failure. The research is supported by a $9 million USDA grant to study Phytophthora, and last year UC Riverside engineered avocado rootstocks that effectively prevented Phytophthora root rot from taking hold in avocados. – A.F.

hat will likely be the last burial of the sailors were both white males. One was the U.S. Civil War took place at 17 to 24 years old; the other was in his 30s. Arlington National Cemetery on March 8. Both were about 5 foot 7 inches tall. From Two sailors whose skeletons were found in there, the team narrowed it down to six out 2002, when the gun turret of the sunken of the sixteen, and genealogists were able USS Monitor was unearthed off the coast to find living relatives for 10 of the 16, but of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, were no DNA samples to date have provided any finally laid to rest in a full naval ceremony. clear connection. Speaking at the funeral service, Navy While others among the crew have been Secretary Ray Mabus said, “Today is a highlighted as likelier candidates, it is postribute to all the men and women who have sible that one of the skeletons is that of gone to sea, but especially to those who Galway man Thomas Joice (also spelled made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.” Joyce), who emigrated from Ireland around His speech touched upon the largely sym1858 and enlisted in the U.S. Navy in bolic nature of the ceremony, as after ten January 1862. As genealogist Megan years of intensive research, the identities of Smolenyak discovered, his European the men remain unknown. ancestry and skill as a fireman make it posThe Monitor, which shipped out of sible that he would have been in the gun Brooklyn in January 1862, made history turret at the time the ship sank, but his taller when its battle against the Confederate than average (for the time) height of 5 feet CSS Virginia on March 9, 1862 marked the 9 inches conflicts with Mann’s conclusions first-ever hostile encounter between two about the heights of the sailors. ironclad warships. The battle was a draw and the Monitor survived, but almost nine months later the ship sank in rough seas, killing sixteen sailors. Left: The names of those sixteen are known, Crew but forensic specialists and genealogists on the have been unable to conclude which two deck of of the sixteen men were trapped in the gun the USS Monitor. turret as the ship went down. “The Monitor sailors were really very unusual for us; water recoveries first of all are not that common,” said Robert Mann, director of the Forensic Science Academy for the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, which works to repatriate and identify fallen members of the military “To recover remains from the bottom of the ocean that sat there for 150 The two unidentified sailors were laid to rest in a full Naval funeral service at Arlington National Cemetery. years is really phenomenal.” PHOTO:THE U.S. NAVY The lost 16 sailors have been described as a cross section of mid-19thA marker with the names of all sixteen century America: two Irishmen; three will be placed on the spot where the African Americans; others from Scotland, remains were buried, and the JPAC will England, and Wales; one from Maine. continue efforts to discover their identities. After the initial discovery in 2002, Mann “We will never give up trying to identiand his team set about trying to identify the fy these Sailors,” said Mann. His coltwo men. Once the bones were desalinized league, Sgt. Mag. Danang McKay, added and cleaned, a process that took several “It gives the family closure, and I think it months, Mann was able to examine the gives the war fighter a sense of comfort to remains and establish biological profiles of know that no matter what happens, the the two sailors. The profiles, based primarination has not forgotten them and will ly on their bones and teeth, concluded that return them back home with honor.” – S.L.

The John J. Burns Library and the Center for Irish Programs at Boston College congratulate

Brian P. Burns on his selection to the Irish America Hall of Fame.

Photo by Roger Kohn

This is a well deserved honor for a man who has contributed so much to the advancement of Irish Art, Letters and Scholarship, especially through his many benefactions to Boston College, the most recent being the commissioning of the four Nobel Laureates in Literature sculptures by renowned Irish artist Rowan Gillespie.

Artist Rowan Gillespie with his sculpture, "The Four Irish Nobel Laureates," John J. Burns Library.

John J. Burns Library

Burns ad.indd 1

Boston College

140 Commonwealth Ave. Chestnut Hill, MA 02467

T: 617-552-4861

F: 617-552-2465

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Those We Lost Inez McCormack 1946 – 2013

Northern Irish civil rights and labor activist Inez McCormack died late January. She was 66. McCormack, who once said, “There is no fun in being the first woman on anything,” served on numerous boards as the sole female representative, and broke the glass ceiling in labor and politics as the first full-time female official in the National Union of Public Employees, the first female regional secretary of UNISON, the largest union in Britain, and the first female President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. A labor activist since the 1960s, McCormack was a signatory to the 1984 MacBride Principles, a code of conduct for U.S. companies investing in Northern Ireland demanding religious equality in employment, and later helped broker the 1998 Good Friday Agreement from behind the scenes. McCormack was also the founder and advisor of the Belfastbased Participation and the Practice of Rights organization (PPR), which works to change the social and economic inequalities of disadvantaged communities using a rights-based approach. In 2010, McCormack’s life was portrayed by Meryl Streep in the Broadway documentary play Seven, in which seven playwrights created an ensemble detailing the lives of seven women who have championed change for equality in their home countries. Streep said in a statement, “She gave voice to women who had no say in their lives, and hope to others who marked her example. I salute her life.” Among her many awards for her civil rights activism, most recently McCormack was named as one of Newsweek’s “150 Women Who Shake the World” in 2011, along with Hillary Clinton, Meryl Streep, Michelle Obama and others. She is survived by her husband Vincent, her daughter, Anne, and two grandchildren. – A.F

Dennis O’Driscoll 1954 – 2012

Dennis O’Driscoll, a poet lauded for his witty, penetrating and poignant attention to contemporary life, died suddenly at the end of December. Friends said that O’Driscoll, 58, had been struggling for some time with an undisclosed illness. He is survived by his wife, the Irish American poet Julie O’Callaghan. In addition to his poetry (he was the author of nine collections, most recently Dear Life), O’Driscoll was a critic and the force behind Seamus Heaney’s definitive 2008 biography, Stepping Stones. He had also worked in Dublin for over 40 years as a civil servant with the Revenue Commissioners, where he specialized in “death duties, stamp duties and customs.” O’Driscoll was born in Mullauns, near Thurles in Co. Tipperary, in 1954 to James and Catherine O’Driscoll. He was 28 IRISH AMERICA APRIL / MAY 2013

the eldest of 5 siblings, all of whom possessed an artistic bent, and he knew from an early age that he wanted to be a poet. Practical as he was creative, he joined Ireland’s Civil Service at 16 and pursued further education at University College Dublin, where he studied at the Institute of Public Administration. The Civil Service would prove to be a fount of inspiration, as O’Driscoll’s poetry zeroed in on quotidian terrains such as office culture, routine, and polite conversation. As “No Thanks,” one of his most famous poems, put forth: “No, I don’t want to drop over for a meal / on my way home from work. / No, I’d much prefer if you didn’t feel obliged / to honour me by crashing overnight. / No, I haven’t the slightest curiosity about seeing how your attic conversion finally turned out.” For Stepping Stones he won the Lannan literary award, the EM Forster award of the American Academy of Letters, the O’Shaughnessy award from the Center for Irish Studies at the University of St. Thomas, and the Argosy non-fiction book of the year award. O’Driscoll and O’Callaghan met at a reading by Heaney at the Lantern Theatre, Dublin, in 1974, and later made their home in Naas, Co. Kildare. He is also survived by his brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews. Interviewed by the Irish Times in 2000, he spoke of his dual lives: “In the Civil Service you are assigned a grade. You know your status. Whereas with poetry, you never retire and you never really know your grade – it will be assigned posthumously.”– S.L.

Dolours Price 1951 – 2013

Irish political activist and former Provisional IRA member Dolours Price, who was imprisoned with her sister Marion for the 1973 Old Bailey bombings in London, was found dead in her home outside of Dublin in January. She was 61. Price had been in poor health since her time in prison, where she was force-fed during a 203-day hunger strike. She was eventually released on humanitarian grounds after being diagnosed with tuberculosis and other ailments in 1981, having served seven years of a life sentence. Price was an unapologetic republican, repeatedly criticizing the peace process for leaving Northern Ireland where it started: under British rule. She was also a vehement opponent of Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin for their role in negotiating the settlements. Since 2010, Price, and her relationship with Adams, had come under intense public scrutiny, when she revealed to The Irish News that she had given interviews to Boston College’s oral history “Belfast Project.” She implicated Adams as her Commanding Officer in the IRA, attesting that he ordered the London car bombings at Old Bailey’s in which over 200 people were injured, and that she also carried out numerous kidnappings and executions of IRA informers at his command. Adams denies involvement in the IRA, but the tapes themselves have been the subject of debate since a 2011 request by the

New York. Dublin, Ireland. Nonstop.

Beginning June 12, 2013, American Airlines will offer daily nonstop service from New York JFK to Dublin, Ireland. This is in addition to our up to 18 daily flights from JFK to the UK and Europe. Our oneworld partners also offer service from Dublin to London Heathrow via British Airways, and Dublin to Madrid via Iberia.

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Relax at either airport. At New York JFK, the Admirals Club® is the perfect place to relax before your flight. Transatlantic Business Class customers are invited to visit either Admirals Club location on the day of travel as our guest, enjoying such member benefits as complimentary snacks and beverages (including beer and wine), Wi-Fi and PCs with Internet access, and spa-like showers. At Dublin Airport, Business Class and oneworld Emerald and Sapphire customers are invited to enjoy complimentary Wi-Fi, refreshments and other amenities at the Aer Lingus Gold Circle Lounge prior to departure. To book a flight, call your travel professional or visit

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Enjoy the FlagshipSM experience. From New York to Dublin, you have a choice of two classes of service on our Boeing 757 aircraft – Business Class and Main Cabin. In Business Class, you can customize your personal space for the maximum in comfort and privacy for sleeping, working or relaxing. Bose® Acoustic Noise Cancelling® headphones provide hours of entertainment with superb audio quality, and you will also appreciate our Eames Office® design amenity kit featuring Akhassa® cosmetics Now you can stretch out your legs in the Main Cabin, too – with 4" to 6" of additional legroom – in a Main Cabin Extra seat. With Group 1 boarding and seats close to the front of the plane, you can get on and off the plane much faster. Elite status members and fullfare customers will receive complimentary access to Main Cabin Extra seating.* For complete details, visit

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{those we lost} Northern Ireland police to have access to the recordings was denied by Boston College and further blocked in 2012 by the U.S. Supreme Court. Price was married to actor Stephen Rea until their divorce in 2003. She is survived by Rea and their two sons Danny and Oscar, as well as her brothers Sean and Dino, and her two sisters Clare and Marion, who is currently in prison on charges of plotting a republican attack on the government. – A.F.

Tony Sheridan 1941 – 2013

Tony Sheridan, an early collaborator, mentor, and fellow Hamburg red light district musician of The Beatles, died late February at the age of 72. He had recently undergone heart surgery. Anthony Esmond Sheridan McGinnity, or “The Teacher,” as Paul McCartney sometimes called him, was born to an Irish middle-class family in Norwich, England in 1941. After a childhood education in classical music, by 1956 Sheridan had learned guitar and formed his first band. In 1958 he moved to London to play the Soho scene and reputedly became the first British musician to play an electric guitar on television. Despite a lifetime of collaborations with famed musicians like Chubby Checker, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, and Gene Vincent, Sheridan is perhaps best remembered for his formative role in The Beatles’ genesis. He allegedly is responsible for their early black skinny jeans and leather bomber jacket look and was the first to bring them into a Hamburg studio as his backup band in 1961. They recorded what would be the first “Tony Sheridan and The Beat Brothers” hit, a rocked up version of the Scottish folk waltz, “My Bonnie.” “What a silly choice,” Sheridan recalled later. “But [the studio] said we had to do something that the Germans would understand, and they all learned ‘My Bonnie’ in English lessons.” More recently, Sheridan corresponded with musicologist Toru Mitsui for a scholarly paper about those early Beat Brothers sessions, and released a solo album in 2002 titled Vagabond. He had lived in Hamburg more-or-less permanently since he went to play the clubs in 1960. Tony Sheridan’s third wife, Anna, died in 2011. He is survived by two daughters and three sons. – A.F.

Josephine Stout 1922 – 2013

Josephine Stout was the oldest known undocumented Irish immigrant living in the U.S. until she finally received her green card in September, 2012. Her death at the end of February came just four weeks before she was to receive her naturalization papers. She was 90 years old. Stout was brought to the U.S. by her parents at 18 months. When older, she worked odd jobs until the first of three children was born in 1944. She stayed in her home neighborhood in South Chicago where nobody ever questioned her citizenship status; she always assumed she was one. One of 12 siblings, Stout remembered sneaking into the nearby stockyards to milk cows so her family would have milk. She never 30 IRISH AMERICA APRIL / MAY 2013

had an easy life, but after a series of tragedies she could no longer support herself. Her son was murdered in 1985, and in 1992 her daughter Deborah was stabbed to death, following which, Stout won custody of her seven children. When her husband died in 1996, she needed to apply for public assistance. Then, at a routine financial services check-in in 1999, Stout was asked for verification of either legal residency or citizenship but couldn’t produce any, never having had a driver’s license, passport, or birth certificate; she was removed from financial assistance and became undocumented overnight. It would take another 12 years of struggling to make ends meet before a bilateral effort between the U.S. and Ireland that involved months of looking at microfiche, literally digging through archives, and the beneficence of local charities would confirm her legal immigration status. Stout’s granddaughter, Sandi Stout, told the Chicago Tribune that despite her grandmother’s burdens and never officially naturalizing, Josephine “always believed in her heart that she was an American.” She was born in Limerick in March, 1922. – A.F.

Walt Sweeney 1941 – 2013

Walt Sweeney, a San Diego Chargers Hall-of-Famer and All-Pro offensive guard who had deeply criticized the Chargers for fostering a culture of drug abuse that led to his own addiction, died of pancreatic cancer in February in his San Diego home. He was 71. Walter Francis Sweeney was born in 1941 in Cohasset, MA, the youngest of seven children of Mary Ann McCormick and Jack Sweeney. He attended Syracuse University on a football scholarship, which was revoked after he was involved in a drunken brawl. A wealthy benefactor paid for his final year. After graduating in 1963, Sweeney was a first-round draft pick and headed to San Diego where he later revealed that coaches and trainers would offer players prescription drugs, amphetamines, sedatives, and steroids on game days. Either because of or in spite of these tactics, the Chargers had a championship season his first year on the team, finishing 11-3. It remains the only championship season San Diego has had in its 50-year history. At 6 foot 4 inches and 256 pounds, Sweeney was a dynamo on the field and a force to be reckoned with throughout his 13-year career, but once out of the NFL his substance abuse increased. In 1997, Sweeney filed a lawsuit against the trustees of the NFL pension plan. He argued that his time in the drug culture of the Chargers directly contributed to his life-long struggles with addiction and that the NFL should be required to take greater responsibility for the fates of retired players. The judge ruled in his favor, awarding him $1.8 million in damages, but the case was later overturned by an appeals court. Nonetheless, Sweeney’s lawsuit opened the floodgates for the numerous litigations since that are forcing the NFL to reconsider how they treat and compensate retired players. Sweeney had been sober for the past several years and is IA survived by his daughter Kristin and his son Patrick. – A.F.

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Quote Unquote “Intelligent and effective dissent is an Irish trait forged over centuries of suffering, deprivation and repression. I think it dwells inside Martin alongside his genuine shame over the church’s sins. His choice to replace the caretaker Benedict would bring the possibility of renewal to the church in the West, including former strongholds like Ireland, and signal a recognition that today’s crisis won’t be resolved with yesterday’s perspective.” – Michael D’Antonio, in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times advocating for Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin to be named the next Pope. February 14.

“The Irish who left behind a land of famine. The Germans who fled persecution. The Scandinavians who arrived eager to pioneer out west. The Polish. The Russians. The Italians. The Chinese. The Japanese. The West Indians. The huddled masses who came through Ellis Island on one coast and Angel Island on the other. All those folks, before they were ‘us,’ they were ‘them.’ And when each new wave of immigrants arrived, they faced resistance from those who were already here. They faced hardship. They faced racism. They faced ridicule. But over time, as they went about their daily lives, as they earned a living, as they raised a family, as they built a community, as their kids went to school here, they did their part to build a nation.” – President Obama in a speech on comprehensive immigration reform. January 29, Del Sol High School, Las Vegas.

“It’s not an issue of being in the markets, it’s an issue of at what price.” – Michael Noonan, Irish Finance Minister, on the issue of allowing foreign investors to again trade Irish security bonds. January 24, Bloomberg News.

“When I came back, I cried. I cried. It hurts, but yet the people, they’re so good. It will come back, it will. And stronger.” – Grace McGovern, 79, a Rockaway resident at the Queens County St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 2. – The New York Times. 32 IRISH AMERICA APRIL / MAY 2013

“I regret what I did, but it’s over now and it won’t happen again. I realized pretty quickly that it wasn’t the right thing to do. No matter how bad I was playing I should have stayed out there.” – Rory McIlroy, apologizing for dropping out of the Honda Classic in the second round. The 23-year-old golfer initially blamed it on his wisdom teeth, but later admitted that it also had to do with his poor game. – The New York Post.

“At the time I didn’t know the word. There’s no plié in Irish dancing” – Jean Butler, in a March 3 interview with the New York Times. Butler, who starred in Riverdance for three years, is performing a new solo dance, “Hurry,” at the Dancespace Project in New York.

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Skellig Michael


tart at the Dublin offices of Google or Facebook, drive to the southwest tip of Ireland, hop a boat, journey seven miles out to sea, and climb 600 steps clinging to the edge of a steep, jagged island – in only seven hours or so you’ll have made one of the farthest journeys you can make today. You’ll have traveled from one of the hubs of modern, superconnected civilization to a windbeaten perch where for 600 years a handful of intrepid ascetics lived on a knife-edge between annihilation and exaltation. “I tell you the thing does not belong to any world that you and I have lived and worked in: it is part of our dream world.” – George Bernard Shaw, from a 1910 letter.


It’s easy to imagine why one would seek to escape modernday society – the shortage of time and solitude, the stresses of hyper-networked life. But the founders of the retreat that astonished George Bernard Shaw rowed away from the Celtic shore in the 6th or 7th century. What social pressures could have felt so overwhelming nearly a thousand years before the arrival of the first newspaper? At that time, bound books were a recent invention and monks could not yet have known the angst of receiving a Facebook request from their abbot. And still, some Christians were contemplating how they could escape the rat race of early-Medieval society and get even closer to God. One of them must have been standing one day at the end of one of Ireland’s glacier-carved peninsulas reaching farthest into the North Atlantic and eyed two rocks rising out of the ocean like sharks’ teeth. The smaller one showed not a patch of earth, its steep cliffs topped with the white of thousands of pairs of



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Photographer and writer Chris Ryan visited the larger of the two Skellig Islands off the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry, where an early-medieval monastery survives at the edge of the material world.

nesting gannets. The larger island would have looked nearly as inhospitable, rising sharply up to two peaks six and seven hundred feet above the ocean swell, with just a few swaths of green clinging to some slopes but no sizeable plot of land flatter than the side of an Egyptian pyramid. He may have looked out to sea that day and thought, “Perfect.” Which is what I thought when I first learned of this mistshrouded island off the rocky coast of Kerry. I was intrigued by stories of steep, hand-carved stairways and a tiny community of monks who had lived in beehive huts and faced Atlantic storms and Viking raids. And if the Skelligs were an escape for earlyMedieval monks, I wondered how remote they’d feel to a 30something member of the Internet age.

Clockwise from top-left: Beehive huts once occupied by monks (Little Skellig in the background); Some of the thousands of puffins that reside on the island from April to August; Hikers ascending Skellig Michael; The island’s southern stairway; A map of the Kerry coast.

So I made my way to the little harbor of Portmagee, where mornings between April and October a few skippers wait to take visitors out to the islands – ocean permitting. Even today, an attempted visit demands good sea legs. The monks doubtless had some adventures surviving the crossings and landings in their wooden, hide-covered rowboats. But a good swell just as surely sends today’s motorboats clawing up the sides of steep waves and careening down the far sides while passengers cling to railings and huddle under tarps, deflecting walls of saltwater and struggling to keep sight of the horizon. Setting foot on Skellig Michael’s stone jetty after a rough trip APRIL / MAY 2013 IRISH AMERICA 35



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Clockwise from top-left: Skellig Michael capped by mist; Monastery cemetery and outer wall; View to Little Skellig; Visitors near Wailing Woman Stone; Hikers ascending southern stairway; Platform at south peak hermitage; stairway from “Christ’s Saddle.”

felt like a blessing itself: dry, solid ground beneath my feet. At this point, the skipper cast off and left me to explore the ancient outpost for myself. The journey upwards begins with some 600 unique stone steps dug into the steep slope, hand-placed some 14 centuries ago. Here’s where even the most jaded tourist begins to feel like an Irish Indiana Jones. Ascending the ancient staircase, I saw no handrails to balance me or catch me if I misplanted a foot on one of the uneven stone slabs. And after only a handful of steps I was high enough that balance and will were all that was keeping me from succumbing to gravity’s pull. And some have slipped, including two American visitors who fell to their deaths just months apart in 2009. But accidents are actually rare. Many who dislike heights visit the Skellig Experience Centre instead, on flatter land back at the Portmagee harbor. Climbing upwards, I felt like I was ascending into another world. The rolling sea receded from my senses, replaced by the lonely wind and the calls of the island’s myriad seabirds. I looked up to gauge my progress and the steps ahead curved gracefully upwards to a distant ultimate stairstep whose threshold seemed to lead to the sky beyond. And all around my stone path was a soft green carpet of cliff plants covering every piece of rock stable enough for a little soil to stick to. It was hard not to be distracted by the numerous puffins poking their heads out of burrows beneath these plants, launching themselves into the sky and returning to their clans by what looked like improvised crash landings. The orange-beaked divers are fearless around people and endlessly entertaining. But I knew the monastery was still higher, so I tore myself away and continued up towards Skellig Michael’s spiritual pinnacle. At “Christ’s Saddle,” I passed the top of an even more impossible stone stairway, this one closed to the public. It rises from an 36 IRISH AMERICA APRIL / MAY 2013

alternate monastic landing site somewhere over the ledge, far below and out of sight, from where I could hear the faint and distant crash of the Atlantic on the north shore’s rocks. But I continued climbing the stairway to the sky, and on the other side I finally lit upon the ancient monastery, perched on the edge of the island with a commanding view of the Iveragh Peninsula. I ducked through a portal in the outer wall to find myself in the midst of crude but well-crafted structures, assembled from the rocks around me in the 6th or 7th century. Not everything survived the ravages of time, but considering the centuries of weather lashing this exposed rock, it’s remarkable what did. The monks used no mortar to bind the rocks together. The slabs comprising their huts overlap and lock, coming together at the top in a dome and giving them their beehive shape. Inside they are dark and simple and contrast sharply with the light and life outside the door. Besides six stone huts, the complex also contains two orato-



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ries for worship, a small cemetery, and a more recent, damaged chapel whose one surviving window frames white-capped Little Skellig off in the distance. Looking around, I couldn’t imagine how anyone could live here very long. Experts think fewer than a dozen monks ever lived here at once, surviving on rainwater, fish, seabirds and their eggs, and maybe small crops; there was no fuel on the island for cooking. And as if nature wasn’t harsh enough, Vikings raided the little community off and on beginning in A.D. 795. Violent visits by Norsemen excepted, this marginal existence probably helped fuel the monks’ spiritual livelihoods. As Katharine Scherman, author of The Flowering of Ireland, put it: “… The rough life had compensations. Asceticism gave an intensified response to the smell of flowers, the texture of stone, the feel of rain or sun or wind, the flight of birds. When they came out of their dark cells, their spirits must have lifted to heights rarefied beyond our experience.”

Such reactions aren’t limited to monks and hermits. Des Lavelle is an author and local boatman, and many of the visitors he brings to the island tell him of spiritual experiences they’ve felt there. And as “for myself,” he told me, “I continue to feel something special about the place – even after 40 years of visits!” Small groups of early Christians survived on Skellig Michael until about the 12th century, when Church reforms, a worsening climate, or something else entirely caused the monks to move ashore. The site continued to attract pilgrims over the following

centuries, followed by two lighthouses and their keepers in the 1820s. Two children of one of the keepers are buried in the tiny cemetery overlooking the sea. Looking out to that ocean, so vast and calm from these heights, and standing among the monks’ enduring structures, it’s hard to wrap your head around the years and centuries that have elapsed or to grasp your place in it all. Sceilg Mhichíl reminds you of your mortality while surrounding you with timelessness, confronts you with the forces of nature while offering tastes of transcendence. I thought of my California life and its vast distance from the world of an early-Medieval ascetic. The monks came to flee secular distraction and get closer to God, while I aimed to escape civilization and get closer to nature. I went for a day and they stayed lifetimes. And still, 1,400 years apart, we shared a similar experience on Skellig Michael: the earthly encounter with a IA sacred place. APRIL / MAY 2013 IRISH AMERICA 37

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IRELAND’S GREAT HUNGER MUSEUM “Brian P. Burns has been safeguarding Irish culture for more than 50 years. We’re proud to have his gift hanging in the permanent collection at Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum John L. Lahey President, Quinnipiac University

For the good are always the merry, Save by an evil chance, And the merry love the fiddle And the merry love to dance The Fiddler of Dooney by Willam Butler Yeats

Irish School Lest We Forget Oil on canvas I R E L A N D ’ S G R E AT H U N G E R MUSEUM

30 x 40 in

3011 Whitney Avenue Hamden, CT 06518

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Brian P. Burns, September 28, 2012 Ireland's Great Hunger Museum



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I'll be back in th


Sean Reidy, CEO of the JFK Trust, looks back on President Kennedy’s visit to New Ross in 1963, and forward to celebrations on the 50th anniversary of that visit.


’ll be back in the springtime” were the last words spoken by President John F. Kennedy before he boarded Air Force One to return to the U.S. after his momentous visit to Ireland in 1963. His desire to return was genuine, but his wish was never to be realized. The tragic event in Dallas intervened. President Kennedy’s visit to Ireland was a hugely enjoyable and uplifting occasion, both for the President and the nation of Ireland.


As a fourteen year old I can remember being excited and greatly encouraged by a speech to Dáil Éireann that inspired positive action and pride of country. It certainly was not the usual drab and discouraging message one had been used to hearing from this chamber. Kennedy said that we were a great country that had achieved much and punched way above our weight down through the centuries, a small nation playing a major role in world affairs. How many young Irish men and women were inspired by his words I do not know, but I am sure there are many more like me who have carried

them with us throughout our lives like beacons of encouragement and sustenance. His visit had a transforming effect on Ireland. President Kennedy himself was much buoyed up by the warmth and enthusiasm of the welcome he received. His sister Jean once told me how during the months following his visit, whenever the President got to be in Hyannis, he would summon all the family to his drawing room to view the video of his Irish trip. He loved every minute of it. The President’s close aide Dave Powers told me that Kennedy had confided in him



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Far left: President Kennedy taking tea with his cousin Mary Kennedy Ryan and her daughter Mary Ann at the family home in Dunganstown. Scenes on the quayside in New Ross; Jean Kennedy Smith with cousins Josie and Mary Ann Ryan and President Kennedy. TOGRAPHY


after his Irish visit that his ambition was to serve two terms as President and that his last executive action would be to appoint himself permanent Ambassador to Ireland. JFK’s tour of Ireland was accompanied by much pomp and ceremony, but the most enduring images are those of the young President being greeted by his cousins in Dunganstown. The remarkable family resemblances between Mary Ryan and her daughters, Mary Ann and Josie, and the President and his sisters, Jean and Eunice, confirmed that the good-looking Kennedy gene was alive and well on both sides of the Atlantic. Kennedy’s sister Jean was to fulfill the President’s own ambition to become U.S. Ambassador to Ireland and arrived in Dunganstown for her first official duty as Ambassador on the 30th anniversary of the 1963 visit on June 27, 1993, precise to


the day, with typical Kennedy timing and Kennedy style. She had been appointed by President Clinton in March and Senator Edward Kennedy had used all his influence to ensure her appointment was ratified in time for the important date. I was honored to have played a role in this event, and Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith has been a great friend of New Ross and Ireland ever since. Jean was back in 2008 on the 45th anniversary of the visit to unveil the JFK Statue on the quayside in New Ross. It was on that occasion that we all gathered in the Kennedy Homestead in Dunganstown to have tea with the present owner and Kennedy cousin Patrick Grennan and his wife, Siobhan. During the tea party, Jean asked to meet with Minister Brian Lenihan and, with her Kennedy charm, asked the minister if he would consider giving some state assistance to Patrick to

develop a proper exhibition center at the Homestead. Local Minister Sean Connick followed up with Lenihan, pressing the point until finally in the budget speech of 2009, Lenihan, saying he wanted to honor the memory of the recently deceased Senator Edward Kennedy, committed to a modest development at the Kennedy Homestead. There was much jubilation. Alas, the government fell, Brian Lenihan tragically died and nothing happened. The director of the Kennedy Summer School, Noel Whelan, met Brian Hayes, the new Minister of the Office of Public Works, at the Glenties Summer School in 2011 and told him about the Kennedy Homestead and the previous plan for the state to develop it. Hayes said he would come down. He came to New Ross and Patrick Grennan gave him a tour of his ad hoc collection of newspaper cuttings, photoAPRIL / MAY 2013 IRISH AMERICA 41


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graphs and letters. I watched as Hayes, who was not even born in 1963, was captivated by the story being told by Patrick in his inimitable and slightly irreverent Kennedy style. Before he left, a small group of us gathered around to hear what the minister had to say. He said that there was no money in the file, but having visited and hearing Patrick’s story he was determined to find money somewhere to make it happen. In these most financially stringent of times, Hayes proved a man of his word. Amazingly, he managed to find the budget to develop the new Kennedy Homestead Visitor Center in Dunganstown. He was encouraged in his task by Paul Kehoe, the government chief whip, who is from nearby Enniscorthy and was a classmate of Patrick Grennan. The new visitor center will be finished in time for the 50th Anniversary in June, and for me this opening will be the centerpoint of the celebrations. To see the amazing story of the Kennedy family being told in a new state of the art exhibition, through a mixture of media, with such a rich supply of material, will be fascinating for anyone who visits. It will trace the story from Patrick leaving as a Famine emigrant to his great-grandchildren returning as U.S. President (John F. ), U.S. Ambassador (Jean), founder of the Special Olympics (Eunice), Attorney General (Bobby), U.S. Senator (Edward) – the story goes on. This new center will be a tribute to the Kennedys who left and those who stayed. It has been, to a large extent, inspired by Patrick Grennan’s determination down through the years to keep the Homestead open for visitors, where despite his busy day job of farming the land, he also manages to act as tour guide, because he appreciates the importance of this site in the context of the social and economic history of Ireland. President Kennedy’s return to Dunganstown and nearby New Ross, the port from which his ancestor left for America, in a sense laid to rest the ghost of the Great Famine, as the greatgrandson of a Famine emigrant returned to the land his great-grandfather had left 114 years earlier. Luckily the homestead had stayed in the family’s hands down through the years, despite trials and tribulations, threats of eviction, and 42 IRISH AMERICA APRIL / MAY 2013



TOP: Bobby Kennedy III with Sean Reidy, CEO, JFK Trust, New Ross aboard The Dunbrody Famine Ship. RIGHT: Kennedy cousin Patrick Grennan who kept the homestead going. The picture shows the exhibit Patrick put together, which served as a blueprint for the new exhibition to open in June.

with much hard work and perseverance. Jacqueline Kennedy brought John Jr. and Caroline to visit as very young children and gave to Mary Ann, Patrick’s aunt, the dog tag and rosary beads that were on the President’s person the day he died. That’s how important she considered that connection to be, leaving the PHOTO: PJ BROWNE PHOTOGRAPHY most personal of President Kennedy’s times. From there we will move to the possessions there to be kept in perpetuity. John F. Kennedy Memorial Park to open These items and others will be on display another new exhibition and to plant trees in the new exhibition. Patrick Grennan as reminders of the presence of Caroline, said to me recently, “Sean, to be able to Jean and other family members on the properly display these priceless objects is day. reason enough on its own to develop the Proceedings in New Ross will connew center.” clude with afternoon celebrations on the Caroline Kennedy will accompany quayside where JFK spoke in 1963. A Taoiseach Enda Kenny to perform the new boardwalk linking the JFK Statue official opening at 11 a.m on June 22. with the Dunbrody Famine Ship will be Jean will be there again, and many more opened, a specially commissioned members of the Kennedy family. We will sculpted podium marking the spot where toast and celebrate the life of John F. the President spoke will be unveiled, and Kennedy over a cup of tea at the farmCaroline Kennedy will be invited to light yard that hasn’t changed since Famine the Emigrant Flame from the Gathering


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LEFT: Sean Connick, Chairman of the John F. Kennedy Trust New Ross, presenting the Kennedy Summer School program to Tim Shriver, son of Eunice Kennedy and Sargent Shriver. BELOW LEFT: Broadcaster and historian John Bowman with Noel Whelan, Director of the Kennedy Summer School. BELOW RIGHT: Jean KennedySmith, who as Ambassador to Ireland visited the homestead, pictured with Sean Reidy CEO of JFK Trust. BOTTOM: Jackie’s visit the homestead with Caroline and John not long after President Kennedy’s death.


Torch in a specially commissioned globe adjacent to the Dunbrody Famine Ship. This torch will have been lit from the eternal flame at President Kennedy’s graveside on the President’s birthday, May 29, transported to Ireland and kept carefully alight for the President’s daughter to perform this most symbolic and meaningful act, a flame of inspiration and hope, as epitomized in the life of President Kennedy, and dedicated to all Irish people forced to emigrate to find a better life. This wonderful initiative of New Ross Town Council will ensure that President Kennedy’s wish to return in the springtime will at least be symbolically realized. In a final act, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy will be posthumously inducted into the Irish America of Fame at the Dunbrody Famine Ship. He was surely the IA greatest Irish American of them all. PHOTO: IRISH PHOTO ARCHIVES



THE DUNBRODY FAMINE SHIP The Irish America Hall of Fame commemorates the critical contribution of Irish men and women to US history, as well as acknowledges the continuing contribution of contemporary Irish Americans. Founded in 2010 in conjuction with Irish America magazine, the Hall of Fame is housed at The Dunbrody Famine Ship in New Ross, Co. Wexford. The Dunbrody welcomes visitors to explore Ireland’s history of emigration and trace the footsteps of those who left their homes in hope of a better life. The Hall of Fame serves as a reminder of their sacrifice and a celebration of the success of these great Irish Americans.

The Dunbrody Famine Ship is honored to welcome the 2013 Inductees into the Irish America Hall of Fame: VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN ROBERT M. DEVLIN




Come experience the Hall of Fame exhibit at the Dunbrody. Open all year round.

WWW.DUNBRODY.COM AM13_Dunbrody.indd 1

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IA47 hall of fame opener.qxd


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Irish HALL America FAME Cuimhnígí ar na daoine ar tháinig sibh: Remember the people from whom you came.

Illustration by Caty Bartholomew



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HALL FAME Vice President

Joe Biden

Statesman & Everyman

By Niall O’Dowd


ice President Joe Biden is suddenly the most popular politician in Washington. On the fiscal cliff he galloped to the rescue and cut the deal with Senator Mitch McConnell, and now on gun control he is defying the conventional wisdom again and getting real traction behind his recommendations. He has met with the NRA, Walmart, and every major gun constituency, forcing a dialogue where none existed before and making clear that action will be taken to prevent another Sandy Hook. Biden’s strong record in his more than 40 years in government – he was first elected to the Senate in 1972, just shy of 30 years old — has earned him respect from both sides of the political spectrum. As Maureen Dowd, writing in the New York Times stated, “In a time when American politics is so polarized Biden has managed the extraordinary trick of being able to appear reasonable to both sides. [He] can spread everything out on the table and negotiate his way through all of his former colleagues’ shortcomings, weaknesses, fears and frailties.” Biden was born in the Irish heartland of Scranton, Pennsylvania, one of the most Irish cities in America. There were already political genes in his DNA. Edward F. Blewitt, his grandmother’s father, was the first Irish Catholic state senator. He was also the co-founder of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick in Scranton, around 1908. There is still a plaque in existence in Scranton that shows he was one of the founding members. Like many from the western part of Ireland, Biden’s Finnegan relatives were


Gaelic speakers, and family lore has it that his great-grandmother Finnegan used to read the letters from home for those who could not and she’d write back in Gaelic for them. In response to questions submitted by Irish America to the Vice President prior to his joining us at our Hall of Fame gala luncheon on March 21, Biden confirmed that he would like to visit his ancestral homeland. Asked if he was going to Ireland this

year, he said, “I hope so. And I’d like to take my family with me.” As for how his Irish roots have shaped his life, he stated, “They’ve actually been critical to my career. The Irish ethic of loyalty is important, that you have an obligation to help if you can, that you should speak up when you see what you consider to be an injustice, and that public service is an honorable profession. In my family, politics wasn’t a dirty word, it was about righting things that were wrong.



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Left: Senators Joe Biden and Barack Obama on the campaign trail in September, 2008. Above: The Vice President arriving in style on Air Force 2.

“Making sure everyone was accorded the dignity they deserved. The best vehicle for this was politics. That’s how your rights are guaranteed.” Asked to name some of his political heroes the Vice President responded: “Wolfe Tone. Robert Kennedy. Clarence Mitchell [longtime NAACP chief lobbyist – he was instrumental in passing the big civil rights laws]. Mike Mansfield for his integrity, and Hubert Humphrey for his heart.” In an earlier interview with Irish America when he was still a senator, Biden, who has read Irish history extensively, elaborated on Tone, the leader of the 1798 Rebellion. “Wolfe Tone is the embodiment of some of the things that I think are the noblest of all. He was a Protestant who formed the United Irishmen. He had nothing to gain on the face of it but he sought to relieve the oppression of the Catholics caused by the penal laws. He

gave his life for the principle of civil rights for all people. “I view him as an honorable figure. He was obviously passionate, which I admire. He had the ability to make his own comfort secondary to the greater good.” In that same interview, Biden talked about growing up in Scranton, in what he described as “a predominantly Irish neighborhood and an overwhelmingly Irish parish. The centerpiece of life in Scranton was the church, the nuns, the priest, the monsignor,” he recalled. “Everybody had a sister who was a nun, everybody had a brother a priest. Vocations were a big deal.” His first Irish memories are of encountering his Aunt Gertie on visits to his grandparents’ house. “I’d go upstairs and lie on the bed and she’d come and scratch my back and say, ‘Now you remember, Joey, about the Black and Tans, don’t you?’ She had never seen the Black and Tans, she had

no notion of them, but she could recite chapter and verse about them. “Obviously there were immigrants coming in who were able to talk about it [the War of Independence in Ireland. The Black and Tans were British Army irregulars who were particularly brutal] and who had relatives back there. Aunt Gertie was born in 1887. After she’d finish telling the stories, I’d sit there or lie in bed and think at the slightest noise, ‘[the Black & Tans] are coming up the stairs.’” Biden confessed to hating Irish wakes, which were a constant when he was a child. “I hated it, you know, everybody sitting around and drinking and the corpse in the next room.” But he went on to say, “There is something about the Irish that knows that to live is to be hurt, but we’re IA still not afraid to live.” For more on Vice President Biden’s roots read what Megan Smolenyak has discovered on page 56. APRIL / MAY 2013 IRISH AMERICA 47



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Art Collector & Benefactor


rian P. Burns, grandson of an Irish immigrant, is a nationally regarded business executive, attorney and philanthropist. He is the chairman of BF Enterprises, Inc., a publicly owned real estate holding and development company. The fifth of seven children born to John J. Burns and his wife Alice, Brian traces his roots to County Kerry and is a graduate of Harvard Law School, at age 23, and The College of the Holy Cross. Over the years, Brian has gained a reputation as a moving force behind corporate mergers, but it was a merger of a different sort, that of two major Irish-American organizations, for which he will be remembered in Ireland and Irish America. Over 50 years ago, Brian became the youngest director of the American Irish Foundation, established in 1963 by thenPresident John F. Kennedy and Ireland’s President Eamon de Valera. As director, Brian had some major achievements. He was the leading fundraiser behind the effort to restore the world famous Marsh’s Library at St. Patrick’s Close in Dublin, the oldest public library in Ireland. He also founded an American Law Library at University College, Cork in honor of his late father, the Hon. John J. Burns. Despite these accomplishments, Brian wanted to do more. “I frankly had envied, in a constructive way, the manner in which six million Jewish people were able to raise billions of dollars each year for the young State of Israel, whereas, by contrast, hundreds of disparate Irish organizations were doing


cumulatively a very tiny bit for Ireland even though there were over 40 million of us,” he recalled recently. He determined to arrange a merger between the American Irish Foundation and the newly minted Ireland Fund, formed in the early 1980s by Dan Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Tony O’Reilly, the Irish-born businessman who would become chairman of Heinz. After a number of rebuffs and unsuccessful efforts, with the assistance of chairman A.W.B. Vincent and Bill McNally, who was then executive director of the Ireland Fund, the two organizations became The American Ireland Fund, and the merger was celebrated on March 17, 1986 at the residence of the Irish Ambassador in Washington, D.C. “President Ronald Reagan presided over the signing ceremony.” Brian recalled. “My young daughter, Sheila Ann, and I were thrilled to witness it.” The merger of the two organizations indeed proved that Brian’s instincts were right. To date, The American Ireland Fund has raised over $430 million for projects that promote peace, culture and charity throughout the island of Ireland. Brian remains a lifetime trustee of the organization. In addition to marking this historic merger, 1986 was also a memorable year in that Brian established The Honorable John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College, in honor of his father, who had enjoyed a spectacular career in law before his untimely death in 1957. John J. was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on May 1, 1901. He attended Harvard Law School, and in

By Patricia Harty

1931, one day shy of his 30th birthday, was appointed associate justice of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts. He went on to become part of one of the first New Deal agencies of the Roosevelt administration, and served as Amb. Joseph Kennedy’s attorney and closest adviser, while carrying on a successful law practice. In that tradition, Brian served as a key trustee to the Joseph P. Kennedy Trust from 1998-2010, and was one of the few non-family contributors to David Nasaw’s sweeping new biography of Joseph P. Kennedy, The Patriarch.



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Clockwise from far left: The Honorable John J. Burns; Brian Burns; Mickey and Donald Keough with Eileen and Brian Burns; Rowan Gillespie with “The Four Irish Nobel Laureates,” specially commissioned by Brian Burns; (left to right) Dr. Robert K. O’Neill, librarian of the John J. Burns Library; Eileen and Brian Burns; Dr. Cuberto Garza, Boston College Provost; Jerome Yavarkovsky, University Librarian.

The John J. Burns library at Boston College has over 300,000 books, 17 million rare manuscripts and other ephemera. It is the largest collection of Irish rare books and manuscripts in the Western Hemisphere. In 1990, the Burns Foundation endowed the library with a Visiting Scholar in Irish Studies chair. Next year, the chair will be filled by the

Hon. Mary McAleese, former president of Ireland. Meanwhile, Brian Burns’ collection of Irish art, the largest of its kind by a private collector in the world, has been exhibited to great acclaim at Boston College, Dublin’s Hugh Lane Gallery, the Yale Center of British Art in New Haven, Connecticut, the Kennedy Center in

Washington, D.C., and the Phoenix Art Museum in Arizona. In 2012, Brian generously donated an important 1853 Famine piece from his collection titled “Lest We Forget” to Quinnipiac University’s Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum. He was also a principal benefactor of the first Irish Famine memorial in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which was dedicated in July, 1997 by former Irish President Mary Robinson. And recently he donated to Boston College a series of sculptures by Irish artist Rowan Gillespie called “The Four Irish Nobel Laureates.” The specially commissioned sculptures will be permanently housed in the John J. Burns Library. A 1996 winner of the Erie Society’s Gold Medal Award, Brian has served as vice chairman of the Irish American Fulbright Commission (1992-98). He is a member of the Trinity College Foundation Board in Dublin, currently serves as a member of the Irish prime minister’s Economic Advisory Board, and was recently elected a trustee of Boston College. In October, 2012 Palm Beach Atlantic University presented Brian with the American Free Enterprise Medal. Brian’s wife, Eileen, is a member of the Advisory Board to the National IA Gallery of Ireland. APRIL / MAY 2013 IRISH AMERICA 49



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Businessman & Philanthropist

By Sheila Langan


or Bob Devlin, the combination of natural business acumen, strong family ties and Irish roots has proven unbeatable. Today, at 72, he is chairman of Curragh Capital Partners, a New York-based investment firm that – between its Irishinspired name and the fact that he founded it with his eldest son, Michael – embodies his central values. Devlin was born in Brooklyn in 1941 to Norma Hall Devlin and John M. Devlin, whose grandfather James Devlin immigrated to the U.S. from County Donegal in 1848. John Devlin’s story is a remarkable one. Born in Brooklyn in 1911, he grew up during the Depression, and, as a result, did not have much of a formal education. In a pivotal turn of luck, he found work as a clerk for an insurance firm in the Chrysler Building, and from there his career took off. The family eventually moved to Schenectady, New York, where Bob grew up with three brothers and one sister, and where their father became chairman and CEO of Ter Bush and Powell, then one of the largest insurance agencies between New York and Chicago. For Devlin, this provided a model of success. After graduating from Tulane University in New Orleans in 1964, he entered the life insurance business with Mutual of New York. In 1977 he joined American General and spent three years in California, then five and a half in Nashville before moving to their Houston headquarters in 1986, as president and CEO of American General Life. By 1993, he had been elected vice chair-


man and a director of American General Corporation, and in 1995 he became the company’s president and CEO. One year later, he was made chairman. From 1995 - 2001, Devlin helmed what would become, by his final year in charge, the country’s third-largest life insurance company. During his tenure, American General’s assets grew from $46 billion to over $150 billion, and its market capitalization rose from $7 billion to $24 billion. The company was acquired by the American International Group Inc. in August of 2001, and Devlin left upon the merger’s completion. In addition, he has served on the board of directors of ConocoPhillips, Cooper Industries, LKQ Corp., Discover Financial Services and Forethought Financial Group. Throughout all this, Devlin has been supported by his wife, Katharine (Kate), with whom he celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2011, and their two sons Michael Devlin II and Matthew. As he said in an interview with Niall O’Dowd in the December/January 2000 Business 100 issue of Irish America, one of the things he found over the years is “how important family is. Whenever you move to a new town, the importance of the support system that your family provides becomes more apparent. I have been very lucky to have it.” Devlin’s parents taught him to “have a commitment and a high level of integrity to what you’re going to do and to really stick with it as well as you can,” and that’s exactly what Bob has done – not only throughout his career, but also his philanthropic work.

Bob became involved in the non-profit arena from an early age, serving on the board of the Muscular Dystrophy Chapter in upstate New York and the YMCA boards in Sacramento and Nashville. After moving to Houston, he and Kate worked with the Holocaust Museum there, hosting the annual gala at which then-Secretary of State Colin Powell was honored with the Lyndon B. Johnson Moral Courage award. Together Bob and Kate were awarded the AntiDefamation League’s Torch of Liberty Award, and Devlin also served on the board of trustees of the Houston Fine Arts Museum. For ten years, Bob was a member of the board of Colin Powell’s America’s Promise initiative. More recently, he and Kate were inducted into the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation Hall of Fame in recognition of their contribution to the fight to end domestic violence. A trustee of his alma mater, Tulane, Devlin was chairman of the university’s endowment committee for six years and is a member of the Paul Tulane Society. He was also a trustee of Boston College, from which Michael and Matthew both graduated – in 1988 and 1990, respectively – and is now a trustee associate. In 2004, he and Kate were recognized by the college as Outstanding Parents of the Year. A significant number of the Devlins’ philanthropic projects have been connected to Bob’s Irish roots. Growing up, he recently explained, he was aware, through his parents, of the richness of his Irish ancestry, but the emphasis at the time wasn’t on where you came from, it was on striving to be American. While


Above: Bob Devlin. Right: The Devlin family, from left to right – Michael, Kate, Matt, Erin and Bob, with Matt and Erin’s sons, Luke, Jack and Ian.


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many Irish Americans come to treasure their heritage through stories and traditions handed down generation to generation, Devlin’s interest in Ireland was piqued when the family spent Christmas there in 1984, and was further enhanced when his two sons attended Boston College. Matt then studied at University College Galway in Ireland during his junior year. There he met Erin Conroy, a young Irish American woman from Marquette University who was also studying abroad. Married with three sons, they now live in Toronto, where Matt is the TV sportscaster for the Toronto Raptors. Michael, Matt and Erin helped kindle in Devlin a deep interest in his Irish heritage, which has become a major part of his life. As co-chair of the American Irish Historical Society (a position he shared with Liam Neeson), Devlin, along with President General Dr. Kevin Cahill, put in place the long-term strategic plan to save the AIHS’s townhouse, the finest Irish one in the U.S., and regenerate the society. Devlin’s Irish roots were recognized in 1999 when he was awarded one of the Ellis Island Medals of Honor for his business achievements, and in 2001 when he received the AIHS’s Gold Medal. The Devlins’ visits to Ireland often find them in Killybegs, Co. Donegal, where they feel blessed to love a family, Samantha, Colum and their daughters Kaitlin and Shonaugh, as their own. The Devlins have supported the restoration of St. Mary’s, a church in Killybegs, and Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Barretstown, Co. Kildare, which provides a fun, nurturing environment for children with serious illnesses. Reflecting on his Irish heritage, Devlin recently said “the Irish spirit encompasses everything I value: inner strength, determination to continue forward and do better, a great love of family, soulfulness, and an all-important sense of humor. Connecting with Ireland and my roots has helped me immeasurably, in ways both large IA and small.” APRIL / MAY 2013 IRISH AMERICA 51



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Fitzpatrick Hotelier & Humanitarian By Kristin Romano ohn Fitzpatrick is one of the most down to earth people you could meet. When he walks into a room he instantly puts you at your ease. Perhaps it’s a talent that he has developed over the years from being in the hospitality industry. He is the president and CEO of Fitzpatrick Hotel Group, N.A., but there more to it than that. He is genuinely interested in people and though it’s his business to meet and greet, behind the scenes he is just as likely to be helping out someone or some group that needs a hand. John was raised in the hotel business, the second eldest of five children of Paddy and Eithne Fitzpatrick who owned Killiney Castle Hotel in Co. Dublin, Silver Spring Cork and Fitzpatrick’s Shamrock Hotel in Bunratty, Co. Clare. But he did not have his career handed to him on a plate. He began by mowing the lawn at Killiney Castle during the summers when he was a teenager. Eventually, he moved on to washing dishes in the hotel kitchen and from there onto washing glasses and, eventually, when he was 17, to mixing drinks behind the bar, working every weekend while he was still in school. “Dad was always tough on us. He said, ‘if you want to have money you have to work for it,’” John recalled in an interview with Irish America. But even back then as a teenager, his favorite part of the job was meeting customers. Determined to make his own way, and feeling that he had learned all he could in Ireland, he enrolled at the University of Las Vegas’ prestigious hotel management course. From there, he expanded his knowledge by working at two Chicago



hotels before returning to Ireland. But the U.S. was never far from his mind. In 1990, with his father’s blessing, he began considering various American cities as potential hotel sites, eventually choosing New York and purchasing a building at 57th Street and Lexington Avenue. To save money, he lived in the building as he oversaw its renovation. Fitzpatrick’s Manhattan opened its doors in December 1991 and very quickly became the Irish hotel in New York. Albert Reynolds, who was then Taoiseach, stayed there. Then Mary Robinson, who at the time was President of Ireland, paid a visit. Soon it became the de rigueur for visiting Irish heads of state and celebrities, including Gregory Peck, to choose Fitzpatrick’s. Seven years later, John opened another New York hotel, Fitzpatrick’s Grand Central, on 44th Street.

Above: John Fitzpatrick with the staff and students of the O’Hanlon Park Boxing and Fitness Club in Dundalk, Co. Louth – one of the programs he supported after appearing on the Irish version of Secret Millionaire.

“John is know to be a warm and gracious host. He used these skills to achieve success as a hotelier and, perhaps more importantly, to reach out to all sides in the Peace Process. There were no ‘Peace Walls’ needed in the lobby bar of John’s hotel. Late nights brought the sounds of friendship and understanding from all quarters,” said Tom Moran, chairman and CEO of Mutual of America, who himself, worked tirelessly for Northern Ireland behind the scenes. In the aftermath of September 11, John again stepped to the fore. The hotel, with one of the few working phone lines, began receiving calls from all over Ireland, from parents who had children in New York.



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Regulars rushed to the hotel’s bar, asking John to take their names down, knowing relatives would call. Fitzpatrick worked with the Irish Consulate that day and the following days, exchanging lists of names, and helping stranded Irish visitors find accommodations, inviting them to sleep in the lobby of Fitzpatrick’s Manhattan when all other resources were exhausted. John was very close to his mother, Eithne, a former Miss Ireland, she worked alongside her husband, using her great eye for detail and interior design as they built their hotel business. When she passed away in 1994, John wanted to make sure she was

remembered, so he founded The Eithne Fitzpatrick Memorial Fund in her honor. With the death of his father in 2001, the fund became the Eithne and Paddy Fitzpatrick Memorial Fund. The fund’s mission is to “make a significant positive impact on the lives of those in need.” Among its current projects are the Integrated Education Fund, which strives to integrate the education system in Northern Ireland, and the Corrymeela Community, which promotes reconciliation across social, religious, and political divides in the North. In addition to these peace and reconcili-

ation initiatives, the fund, which has raised $1.3 million to date, also supports Barretstown, a summer camp for seriously ill children. In 2011, Fitzpatrick participated in RTÉ’s version of Secret Millionaire, traveling to the Muirhevnamor housing estate and Coxs Demense in Dundalk, Co. Louth. For the first time in 20 years, the man who describes himself as “married to his work” was without his Blackberry as he spent eight days in Muirhevnamor pretending to film a documentary and getting to know the people in the housing estate. In the end, he gave away a total of €20,000 to the Craobh Rua Community House, €15,000 to senior citizen organization Cuidigh Linn, and €2,000 to O’Hanlon Park Boxing & Fitness Club. His donations were matched by the Eithne and Paddy Fitzpatrick Memorial Fund. John forged lasting bonds with a number of the community members. Through Cuidigh Linn, he met an elderly couple, Tim and Diane, both of whom are in wheelchairs. After the show, he assisted in lobbying the local government to provide them with a wheelchair-accessible house, which they have since moved into. One boy from the Craobh Rua program, Joel Maguire, is a few steps closer to achieving his dream of becoming a singer, thanks to lessons and encouragement from John. For his contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process, Queen Elizabeth II awarded him an OBE in 2008. In 2010, he was named Irish American of the Year by this magazine. In 2011, Queen’s University Belfast presented him with an honorary Doctorate of Science in Economics. He is also a recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. And as we go to press we learn that John has been named Chairman of The American Ireland Fund, which to date has raised $430 million for projects that promote peace and culture in Ireland. Yet, for all the honors and accolades he has received, it’s safe to say that the greatest reward for John Fitzpatrick, is the one IA he gets from giving back. APRIL / MAY 2013 IRISH AMERICA 53



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Immigration Reformer & Peacekeeper By Sheila Langan


lawyer, lobbyist and former U.S. congressman, Bruce Morrison is not an unlikely hero. Since his days as a student organizer at the University of Illinois, where he founded and chaired the Graduate Student Association, to the ground breaking immigration reform he ushered in at the close of his four terms in Congress, he has long held justice for the overlooked as a top priority. He is, however, an unlikely Irish hero. Morrison was raised as a Lutheran in Northport, Long Island by Dorothea and George Morrison, adopted parents of German and Scots-Irish heritage. He took an interest in chemistry from an early age, graduating from MIT in three years and then pursuing a master’s degree in organic chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. There, his work rallying the graduate student body sparked his interest in social justice, and in a turn of pace he applied and was accepted to Yale Law School, graduating in 1973. The bonds he forged with some of his classmates, including a couple named Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham, would later prove important. He joined the New Haven Legal Assistance Association, which specialized in providing legal aid to New Haven’s poor, and quickly rose to become its executive director in 1976. Morrison entered politics in 1982, winning the Democratic primary and a grass roots campaign to represent Connecticut’s third congressional district. His eight years in the House of Representatives were


marked by a fierce dedication to domestic social issues and international human rights. In addition to serving on the House Banking Committee, House Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Children, Youth and Families, he fought hard to improve housing conditions and opportunities for the poor, becoming an expert in the field. His human rights involvement took him to Cuba, Chile, South Africa, Nicaragua and Northern Ireland. Morrison was introduced to the Irish cause in 1983, during his Freshman term in congress. He initially joined the Friends of Ireland, a group that at the time included Tip O’Neill and Ted Kennedy, but after two years he accepted the invitation of Richard Lawlor, then vice-chairman of Irish Northern Aid (Noraid), to join the Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs. In 1887, he took that first trip to Ireland, visiting Dublin and Belfast. He met with Irish and British officials, and with Sinn Féin’s leader Gerry Adams – with whom, at that point, the American government still refused to communicate. His commitment, which would prove crucial to the ceasefire and peace process, was solidified. However, Morrison first gained notoriety in the Irish-American community not for his role in making Northern Ireland a priority in Washington, but for his work on immigration reform. During his last term in Congress, Morrison served as chairman of the House Immigration Subcommittee. That year, he authored one of the most comprehensive revisions to immigration law of the 20th century, and with the help

of his allies, including Senator Ted Kennedy, saw it through to legislation. The Immigration Reform Act of 1990 created new opportunities for skilled workers and introduced the Diversity Immigrant Visa lottery. It increased by 200,000 the total visas to be granted each year, and also saw a certain number allotted to applicants from countries that had been out of favor since the immigration reforms of 1965, including 48,000 specifically for the Irish. These visas soon became know as the Morrison visas, and their author’s name became synonymous with the new lives they granted to so many. Morrison retired from political life in 1990 after an unsuccessful bid for Governor of Connecticut. No longer an elected official, he was able to act more forcefully and directly than before. Morrison returned to legal practice, founding his own firm specializing in immigration law. In 1992, he supported his old law school classmate in his run for President, serving as co-chairman of Irish Americans for Clinton-Gore, a role he would reprise for the 1996 election. After the Morrison visas, the former congressman was famous in Irish circles. But it was not a position he would take for granted. As he explained in a 1997 interview with the Hartford Courant, “Here I had this fortuitous coming together of opportunities that had made me a hero in Irish America and in Ireland . . . and it was like, ‘That’s great, I can just bask in the glory of it all and get upgraded on Aer Lingus, but I’m an activist. That’s who I am. How do I take this and



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continue to assist with negotiations, leading to the IRA ceasefires of 1994 and 1997, and, also in 1994, the U.S.’s decision to grant Gerry Adams a 48-hour visa , allowing him to attend a peace conference held by the National Committee on American Foreign Policy. Throughout this period, Morrison served from 1992 to 1997 on the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, which conducted a comprehensive study of U.S. immigration law. During the Clinton Administration, he was also appointed by the president as chairman of the Federal Housing Finance Board, an independent agency regulating the twelve

Above: Morrison in Dublin in 2012. Right: Bruce Morrison, Niall O’Dowd, Bill Flynn and Gerry Adams at Connolly House, Sinn Féin’s Belfast headquarters in 1993, following the announcement of the IRA ceasefire.

make something different in the world?’” In addition to representing and rallying the Irish-American contingent in support of Clinton, Morrison advised and briefed him on Northern Ireland. Once in office, the new president followed through on his promise to devote attention to the struggle for peace. Morrison continued to provide advice and information to President Clinton throughout his two terms in office. Traveling frequently to Ireland and the North, the former congressman became one of the Americans for a New Irish Agenda (ANIA), a group that included publisher Niall O’Dowd and fellow Hall of Fame honorees Chuck Feeney and Bill Flynn. In September 1993, they made an unprecedented eight-day visit to Northern Ireland, to deepen the understanding of all sides and to communicate the possibility that a cessation of violence would be met with U.S. support.

In Dublin, the members of ANIA met with then-Taoiseach Albert Reynolds and Jean Kennedy Smith, who had just been appointed U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. In Belfast, they were received by Loyalist figure Gusty Spence, David Ervine of the Progressive Unionist Party and Gary Mitchell of the Ulster Defense Force. They talked at length with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. After their departure, it emerged that the IRA had quietly called a ceasefire for the duration of the visit. Over the next few years, ANIA would

Federal Home Loan Banks. In this role from 1995 to 2000, he developed and implemented a far-reaching strategy to modernize the business of the banks. Now head of the Morrison Public Affairs Advocacy Group, which he founded in Maryland in 2001, Morrison provides strategic advice and representation to a range of clients, and still practices as an attorney, specializing in immigration. He lives in Bethesda with his wife, Nancy, and their son Drew. His legacies are many, but he will always hold a special place in Irish history and regard. IA APRIL / MAY 2013 IRISH AMERICA 55

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Joey From Scranton It’s well known that Vice President Joe Biden spent his early years in the very Irish city of Scranton, Pennsylvania. But what about his ancestors? Genealogist Megan Smolenyak, who also traced President Obama’s Irish roots, has delved into the Vice President’s family tree and unearthed a few surprises.


ow can you not love a name like Finnegan Biden? I find it charming when family names are given fresh life in ensuing generations, and that’s exactly what happened in the lineage bracketing Vice President Joe Biden. His beloved mother Jean’s full name was Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden. Subtract “Catherine Eugenia” and you have the name of one of his granddaughters – Finnegan Biden. Whether she knows it or not, there’s a lot of history tucked into her first name. My guess is that she’s heard some of it from her grandfather, who likes to tell tales about his own grandfather Ambrose Finnegan, but she probably doesn’t know everything I’m about to share. As a professional genealogist, I’m something of a retro-journalist who delves into people’s family histories, and given my own Irish roots, I have a soft spot for anyone who shares that heritage – from Barack Obama to Barry Manilow. So I suppose it was inevitable that Vice President Biden would take a turn under my past-seeking microscope. Before probing more deeply, let’s step back and take a look at the big


picture – well, the Irish part of that picture. By heritage, Joe Biden is roughly fiveeighths Irish. His mother’s entire family tree traces to Ireland with ancestors named Arthurs, Blewitt, Boyle, Roche, Scanlon and Stanton accompanying her Finnegan kin. The last one-eighth comes from his father’s side, which contributed the Hanafee name. Most of the immigrants in the Vice President’s family were born in the early decades of the 19th century and made the journey to America mid-century, so the Famine was undoubtedly a key factor in their departure. With a couple of exceptions, they converged almost immediately on Scranton, Pennsylvania. By the time the future Vice President joined the family in 1942, they had been settled there for roughly 70 to 90 years, so it’s little wonder that Scranton features so prominently in his narrative. Biden’s quintessentially Irish American mother was born in 1917 to Ambrose Finnegan and Geraldine Blewitt, so it seems appropriate to focus on the Finnegan and Blewitt branches that played such a strong role in shaping who he would become.

The Blewitts of County Mayo In his Blewitt line, it was Biden’s greatgreat-great-grandfather, Edward, who made the decision to emigrate to America in 1851, though he may have been influenced by his son, Patrick (Biden’s eventual great-great-grandfather). Joining his parents and seven siblings on the voyage, 18-year-old Pat is recorded as a sailor on

Top left: Biden’s Ballina-born great-greatgrandfather, Patrick Blewitt (from Prominent Men: Scranton and Vicinity by Dwight J. Stoddard). Top right: His great-grandfather Edward Francis Blewitt (Scranton Tribune, March 18, 1897). Above: Passenger list for the Excelsior showing the Blewitts arriving in New York on January 28, 1851.

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Left: Vice President Biden and his mother, Jean Finnegan Biden, at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Top left: Biden’s official portrait from 1987. Top right: Shaking hands at the 2012 St. Patrick's Parade in Pittsburgh. Right: The Vice President with his granddaughter, Finnegan Biden.


Far left: Family resemblance? Brendan Blewitt, who met Joe Biden’s mother during a roots-seeking trip she took to Ireland. Left: County Mayo Blewitt cousins (from left to right): Laurita, Catherina, Brendan, Dara, bride Brenda and her husband, Ross Dunphy, Christina, Deirdre, baby Emily and Joseph.

the ship’s manifest, but that was only part of the story. Though still a teenager, he had already worked as a cabin boy and lived in Chile, and there are hints that he may have previously been to the United States. I’ve long believed that families pass more than just physical traits through the generations, and the Blewitts are a classic example. A number of the Blewitt men, for instance, worked as surveyors with a focus on civil and mining engineering. Another common denominator? Wanderlust. Though Patrick centered his life in his adopted hometown of Scranton, his work took him everywhere from Iowa to Brazil at a time when most regarded such trips as once-in-a-lifetime experiences. This explains why his eldest – Biden’s

future great-grandfather, Edward – was born in New Orleans in 1859. Edward inherited these occupational and meandering tendencies, putting in a decade as city engineer for Scranton before venturing to Mexico for a couple of years to oversee the construction of a drainage system and water works – 138 miles of sewers and 90 miles of pipes – for Guadalajara and the state of Jalisco. In a sign of things to come, Edward also waded into the world of politics, serving as a senator for the 22nd District in the Pennsylvania State Legislature. He was elected in 1907 and is believed to have been the first Irish American senator in the state. Sadly, tragedy also links Edward with his famous descendant, as both lost their

first wives at a young age. In 1972, a few weeks after Biden had been elected to the Senate, his first wife, Nelila, and their oneyear-old daughter, Naomi, were killed in an auto accident. His sons also injured, Biden was sworn in at their hospital bedside. Mary Ellen (Stanton) Blewitt died of typhoid fever at age 27, leaving 29-yearold Edward widowed with several children including Biden’s future grandmother, Geraldine, and her sister, Gertie, who would also figure in Biden’s life in later years. The Blewitts’ pride in their heritage can be seen in Edward’s prominence in organizations including the Ancient Order of Hibernians (for which he chaired Scranton’s 1897 St. Patrick’s Day Parade), APRIL / MAY 2013 IRISH AMERICA 57

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the Irish American Association (founded at his suggestion and now known as The Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick of Lackawanna County), and the Mayo Men’s Benevolent, Social, Patriotic and Literary Association. The name of this latter society provides a fairly conspicuous clue to the origins of the Blewitt family, and they were indeed from County Mayo. Specifically, they were from the Ballina area, which is fitting as Scranton and Ballina happen to be sister cities. It’s difficult to pinpoint the precise location because various branches of an extended family tended to recycle the same first names with great regularity, but Patrick’s obituary mentions Ardagh Parish. An April 1832 baptism for “Patt Bluet” with parents named Edward and Mary can be found in the neighboring Kilmoremoy Parish, and this fits rather nicely with the 18-year-old who arrived in New York with the rest of his family in 1851. A number of Blewitts remain in the Ballina region today. One of them, Brendan Blewitt, fondly remembers a visit from Biden’s mother in the late 1970s. Records from the critical timeframe are patchy, but it appears that Brendan and the Vice President are likely fourth or fifth cousins. As it happens, former Irish President Mary Robinson, whose maiden name is Bourke, also hails from Ballina, and given that Brendan’s sister married a Bourke, it’s possible that Joe Biden and Mary Robinson are related by marriage. Were they to meet in Ballina, that would undoubtedly be one of the most memorable reunions of The Gathering.

The Finnegans of County Louth Barack Obama’s Kearney forebears came to America from the town of Moneygall, in Co. Offaly, a fact widely known since the President’s pint-in-a-pub visit to his ancestral hometown, and it’s interesting to note the similarity to the Vice President’s family migration. In the case of Biden’s Finnegan line, the immigrant was Owen, his great-great-grandfather, and just as with Obama’s Kearneys, the patriarch came to America before the rest of his family. In fact, Owen Finnegan arrived in New York on May 31, 1849, just five weeks after Joseph Kearney, Obama’s ancestor. Curiously, both men were shoemakers. Owen’s wife, Jane, followed with their children (including Biden’s great-grandfa58 IRISH AMERICA APRIL / MAY 2013

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Spotsylvania Courthouse and carried shrapnel souvenirs for the rest of his life. Stephen and two of his brothers went to California, while other siblings settled in Ohio and Missouri. It was Owen and Jane’s son James who stayed the closest to home, and census records provide a hint as to why this might have been. Two of the four records that include him state that he was blind. This inconsistency suggests that while he may not have been completely blind, he probably had a severe vision problem of some sort, which would explain why he didn’t serve in the Civil War or follow the family’s preferred occupation of shoemaker. Instead, he became a musician. After marrying Catherine Roche in 1866 and living in Rochester, New York for several years, James moved to Olyphant, situated on the outskirts of Scranton, Pennsylvania. His wife’s brother, Peter, also lived there, which would prove fortunate for the couple’s youngest son, Ambrose, born in 1884. Ambrose, the future grandfather who would provide both fodder and inspiration for Biden, had a rough start in life, with his mother passing away before his second birthday and his father dying when he was ten. Just two days before his death, James wrote a will leaving his prized violin to Ambrose, a snippet of information that revealed that he had literally been a blind fiddler. He also instructed that his house be held a year before selling, and Clockwise from top: A memorial to several of the that the “rent or income of my propimmigrant Finnegans buried in Holy Cross Cemetery, Ovid, NY; Entrance and exit wounds on the left leg of erty . . . be paid . . . to the St. Patrick’s Biden’s great-granduncle, Stephen Finnegan, who Orphanage of Scranton, PA until said served in the Civil War (as seen in his pension file real estate is legally disposed of or from the National Archives and Records Administsold.” The orphanage in question ration); Entries on the passenger list of the Marchioness of Bute, which docked in New York in 1850. was opened shortly after the Jane Finnegan, Biden’s great-great-grandmother was Finnegans arrived in Scranton, and on board with her children and some Boyle relatives. made national news in 1881 when 17 ther, James) almost a year later in May children died in a fire. The local communi1850 on a ship called the Marchioness of ty rallied to rebuild, and the Finnegans Bute, meaning that the Finnegans beat the were among those who supported the Blewitts to America by about eight effort, but knowing that James was aware months. Unlike the Blewitts, however, the that he would soon be leaving his youngest Finnegans did not sprint directly to an orphan makes this final bequest all the Scranton. The 1850 census, conducted more poignant. mere months after their arrival, finds them Ambrose moved in with the family of his in Covert, New York. Before long, they maternal uncle, Peter Roche, and remained shifted slightly north to the town of Ovid. close to them, even working for the Roche Parents Owen and Jane stayed put and Company, which manufactured signs and were eventually buried there, but their bulletin boards. That they were devout children scattered. Catholics is hinted at by the fact that They lost one son, Michael, to the Civil Ambrose’s slightly older cousin, Thomas War, at Cole Harbor, Virginia in 1864. Roche, went abroad on more than one Another named Stephen was wounded at occasion with the Knights of Columbus.

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Clockwise from above: Ambrose Finnegan’s signature can be seen in the upper right of many 1910 census pages; Owen Finnegan and Jane Boyle’s marriage certificate from Cooley Parish, Co. Louth, December 8, 1839; James Finnegan’s will, bequeathing his violin to his son, Ambrose, and his income to St. Patrick’s Orphanage of Scranton.

It was on June 1, 1909 that the Finnegan and Blewitt families finally linked destinies, when Ambrose Joseph Finnegan married Geraldine Catherine Blewitt. Their first born was a honeymoon baby, which may be what motivated the freshly minted husband and father to put in a season as a census enumerator in 1910. As a result, should the Vice President ever wish to see a sample of his grandfather’s handwriting, all he has to do is scan the pages of the 1910 federal census for Dunmore Borough in Lackawanna County. As with the immigrant Finnegans, Ambrose and Geraldine also sacrificed a son to war when Second Lieutenant Ambrose J. Finnegan, Jr. was killed in May 1944. The plane he was flying has never been located, so he is considered MIA/KIA. Having assisted the Army and JPAC (Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command) for 14 years with repatriation efforts to identify soldiers who are still unaccounted for from past conflicts, it was immediately apparent to me that should his uncle’s plane or remains ever be recovered, Vice President Biden would be eligible to provide a DNA reference sample to help in the process, and given his family’s proud military history, I suspect he would. Little Joey Biden made his entrance the year after Ambrose and Geraldine’s daughter, Jean, married Joseph Biden, making him a fifth-generation Finnegan in the United States, but just where in Ireland did they come from? The ships they journeyed on left from Newry, so that provided a clue, and working with Griffith’s Valuation narrowed the search to counties Armagh, Louth, Cavan, Monaghan and Meath. I knew that James Finnegan was born around 1840 with parents named Owen Finnegan and Jane

Boyle, who would have probably married in the late 1830s, since James was their eldest. Considerable digging eventually unearthed a James baptized on December 18, 1840 in Lordship Parish in County Louth with parents named “Owen Finegan” and “Jean Bail” (likely a distortion of Boyle as Griffith’s Valuation

Dalkey on the edge of Dublin. “He’s a Finnegan,” said Bono. “His mother was a Finnegan, which is the name of my local pub, so I have to introduce him to my local publican.” As persuasive as the famed singer and humanitarian may be, I wouldn’t bet on him in this particular instance.

Above: The Vice President at the Pittsburgh St. Patrick’s Day parade in 2012. Left: An October 25, 1908 article from the Philadelphia Inquirer mentions that State Senator Edward Blewitt would attend a Mayo Men’s Association event that night.

shows no Bail families). Owen and Jane had married on December 8, 1839 in Cooley Parish, County Louth. The records involved are all Roman Catholic and the parishes border each other, indicating an origin in the vicinity of Carlingford, so should Joe Biden decide to pay tribute to his Grandpa Finnegan, County Louth can expect a visit. Not surprisingly, that visit would be welcomed. Upon learning of the connection, Kevin Woods, a member of the County Louth Gathering Steering Committee, declared, “We are going to move heaven and earth to get Vice President Biden here.” But even aside from the Blewitt homeland of County Mayo, there’s some competition. Bono of U2 is trying to tempt the Vice President to visit his own stomping grounds of

An Unexpected Call I first began poking into Joe Biden’s past before he became Vice President, and have shared bits and pieces of my discoveries online over the years. Even so, it caught me by surprise when I answered the phone one day last summer to hear the caller say, “This is Joe Biden. Vice President Joe Biden.” That he troubled to explain who he is may well be a reflection of the values he inherited from Grandpa Finnegan and others, including his greataunt Gertrude, who wound up at the heart of our conversation that day. Gertie, it turns out, gave terrific back rubs, made the best rice pudding you ever tasted, and frequently reminded Joey to be proud of his Irish heritage. Rest assured he is, Aunt Gertie, and I think it’s safe to say the Irish IA are proud of Joey, too. APRIL / MAY 2013 IRISH AMERICA 59



Xavier H.S. Knights gather on field at Mitchell Field Stadium, Uniondale, NY, after defeating St. John the Baptist 35 to 14 to win Catholic High School crown only five weeks after 11 Knights were forced from homes in wake of Superstorm Sandy. They are: Left to right: John Strehle, Jimmy Wolfer, Ricky Comis, Bryan Carley, Ryan McDade, Dan Smith, Ryan Sullivan (Trophy), Eddie McCarthy, Jimmy Morgan and Dylan Bergstol. (Not pictured Ryan Kilgallen.)

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Sandy Fails to Derail Xavier’s Run for Glory


By Keith O’Ceallaigh

ll they wanted was a chance for ten more days of football. Just before the end of the season, a quarter of the players and one of the coaches on the Xavier High School Knights had been forced from their homes when Superstorm Sandy slammed into the East Coast. But when the displaced kids voted to play on, their courage inspired the team to go on to an

improbable playoff rumble and the Catholic High School Football League AA crown, an amazing championship run that cheered a reeling city, landed the team on ESPN Sports Center and Good Day New York, and turned them into the feel good story of Hurricane Sandy. There was no sign of impending doom on the last day of the regular season, even though news reports had been warning of the approaching



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From top down: Ryan McDade holding the hammer that became the symbolic school mascot. McDade had worn #22 in regular season but had to switch to #2 because all his clothes were lost in the fire that destroyed Breezy Point and Belle Harbor; Ryan Kilgallen, who was displaced from his Belle Harbor home, was MVP of championship game; Jimmy Wolfer, who ended up with a huge piece of boardwalk in lobby of his apartment building, had a key interception in final game.

monster storm. With time running down at the end of the first half, Xavier wingback and special teams member Ryan McDade grabbed the football on the 12 yard line against Christ the King and dashed 88 yards for a touchdown.

The jaunt by the wiry 5 ft 8 in, 150 lb senior meant that momentum, which seemed to be tilting toward CTK seconds earlier after they had returned a kickoff for a touchdown to move within one score, shifted instantly back to Xavier. The Knights went into halftime with a 20 to 7 lead and would go on to win decisively. The win meant Xavier ended the regular season with a 6 and 2 record and a 5and 2 record in league, which put them in third place and made them a decided long shot to win the playoffs in the Catholic High School Football League AA division, which stretches across Long Island, New York City and Westchester. For someone on the special team, running a kickoff back for a TD in the final regular season game of your senior year might go down as the highlight of the year. Two days later, on October 29, 2012, the rains came. And then the fire. For McDade and many of his teammates, their lives were turned upside down. The school, in the Chelsea section of Manhattan just north of Greenwich Village, was founded by the Jesuits in 1847, but a good number of its students have always come from the outer boroughs of New York. Over the past few decades, a growing number have come from Breezy Point, the so-called Irish Riviera, and other neighborhoods up and down the Rockaway Peninsula. Xavier is a private school, but one where the sons of cops and firemen and nurses can still scrimp and save to send their boys for a tough, old-school academic regimen. Forty percent of its students join the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps. One of the alums, Antonin Scalia, sits on the U.S. Supreme Court. The Xavier Knights have had good football seasons, but the last time they went all the way in the playoffs to a varsity championship was 16 years ago. Their brand of football is ground and pound with a conservative offense known as the Princeton single wing. “We don’t throw the ball a lot, but we were the leading rushing team in the city,” said Coach Chris Stevens, with over 3,600 yards on the ground. On Oct. 29. as Superstorm Sandy blew ashore in Breezy, the furious Atlantic raged

over the narrow peninsula and met up with the Rockaway Inlet and Jamaica Bay. Rockaway Peninsula was under water. Ryan Kilgallen, a senior running back and one of the co-captains, recalled piling sandbags outside his home that Monday evening in a futile attempt to keep the floodwaters from his bedroom in the basement of his Belle Harbor home. Jimmy Wolfer, the team’s defensive MVP, recalls watching the raging sea from his apartment building in Rockaway. “The boardwalk ended up snapping and hitting the lobby of the apartment building,” he recalled. “Water was hitting the apartments on the second floor.” In Manhattan, team co-captain and tight end Connor Sweet was at his apartment on the East Side when all of lower Manhattan suddenly went dark a little after 8:30 p.m. Floodwaters had cascaded into a Con Edison power plant on the East River and 15 feet of water had filled the lower level. After some crackles and pops, the plant sent off an electric blue bolt that gave a brief brilliant flash of illumination across the night sky. And then every neighborhood from the 30th Street area to the Battery plunged into darkness that would last five days or longer. Things were going far worse in the Rockaways and Breezy, where flooding started around 6 p.m., a few hours before the expected high tide around 8:30 p.m. Just before 7:30 p.m., the first reports of fire in Breezy came. Fire engines from the Breezy Point Volunteer Fire Department were stranded. Their Zodiac fireboats floated off the trailers and were pushed out to the flooded Rockaway Beach Boulevard. It would be five to six hours before FDNY fire trucks could get their rigs through the water to try to quench the flames. The fire, unchecked and whipped by winds gusting up to 80 MPH, was leaping quickly from home to home among the wooden frame houses packed tightly together in the gated Breezy community. Kilgallen reached his friend Ryan McDade by cell phone shortly after nine. “I knew the wind was coming from the northwest so it was heading toward him.” He offered a place to stay if the fire got close. APRIL / MAY 2013 IRISH AMERICA 61



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In the McDade household, Ryan’s dad, Steve, a 51-year-old retired FDNY firefighter and a first responder on 9/11, could not believe the intensity of the fire which was now eating Breezy Point and Belle Harbor alive. “I was a fireman for 17 years and I was scared,” he admits. “I never saw that much fire. It was like a blow torch.” The approaching flames added an entirely new and unknown dimension to the flood. “Dad told me if Harbor Light catches on fire, then we have to get out,” recalled 17-year-old Ryan McDade. “Nobody was coming for us,” recalled the older McDade. The Harbor Light Pub was a landmark tavern that had stood for more than 30 years on Beach 129th Street and Newport Ave. Its owners, Barbara and Bernie Heron, lost a son on 9/11, and when American Airlines Flight 587 crashed a few blocks away on Nov. 12, 2001, the pub became a staging area for emergency rescue workers. But now it was ablaze. Embers the size of his hand were flying from the landmark tavern toward the McDade home on Beach 130th. Young McDade donned a wet suit and remembered a kayak and two surfboards that he kept in the garage from carefree summer days at Rockaway, which would now never be the same. Recalled Ryan McDade, “The water was five feet deep – it was up to my neck.” He and his father put his grandmother, 77year-old Patricia Walsh, who lived next door, into the kayak and Ryan began pulling her away from the approaching flames. “She kept thinking the firemen were going to come to put out the fire,” Ryan said. His sister Casey, with a parakeet in a shoe box, was placed on one surf62 IRISH AMERICA APRIL / MAY 2013

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board pulled by his dad, while his mom, Amy, struggled to pull another sister, Madeline, on the other surfboard. When they reached Beach 133rd St. on the bay side, they ran into a neighbor, Donald Olsen, who was looking for a way to rescue his wife, who had M.S. and was

Ryan Kilgallen, above, who traces family roots to Dublin, reflects on the championship season. Above right, William “Tre” Solomon said love for his teammates propelled him on his playoff run. Bottom right: Coach Chris Stevens. Far right: Ryan McDade.

confined to a wheelchair. So Donald, Steve and Ryan McDade went back down the street, which was now a cold, deep extension of the Atlantic with its own current rearranging the sandy landscape. Across the street, a 1,000-gallon oil drum that had been buried under the sand so long nobody even knew it existed was rearing its rust-covered body and floating down the street. A neighbor’s brand new Porsche floated away and became wedged between two houses that were spared by the flames. Two




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neighbors would perish in the storm: Rick Gold, the local mailman, who became trapped in his flooded basement, and Nancy Sorenson, who bled to death in front of her teenage daughter when her arm was slashed by a shard of broken glass and no rescue workers could reach her. They rescued Mary Ellen Olsen plus the

McDade family dog, who sat in a plastic tub on the back of a surfboard. The only light was from the fire; all of the electricity had long since gone. While they were retreating, the McDade home and the home of their grandma caught fire. Within an hour, 18 homes on the block were gone. “I knew it, but I didn’t want to believe it,” said Ryan. “I didn’t know for sure until the next morning at five a.m.” All that was left of the only home he had ever known was ashes. Throughout the night, one hundred and eleven homes would burn to the ground, destroying an entire community. The next day, as the waters subsided

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when the tide ran out, an uncle made it over the bridge and drove the McDades to his house in Rockville Centre on Long Island. Xavier High School was in the part of Manhattan that was plunged into darkness, so school was canceled for a week. With electricity out across much of the city and cell phones drained of power or missing entirely, it took football coach Chris Stevens until Saturday to check up on the whole team, and what he found was stunning. More than a quarter of his players – 11 kids out of the 43-person team – had been forced from their homes. “When I heard McDade’s story, I just asked, ‘who’s going to play you in the movie?’” joked Coach Stevens. Across Xavier High School, 80 of the 1,000 person student body were forced out of their homes. “After a few days, my dad said, ‘Hey we can help out here,’” recalled Connor Sweet. Said his dad, Kerry Sweet, “I’m a NYC cop and I had gone out to the Rockaways, and could not believe it.” The elder Sweet is a third-generation Irish-American, although he’s not sure exactly where his ancestors came from. “I’m named after a county, but I have no idea if that’s where we’re from.” Connor soon had four “brothers” move into his family’s Manhattan apartment: McDade, Kilgallen, Jimmy Wolfer and Bryan Carley. With subways still erratic, Connor Sweet and his “brothers” could walk to the school a few miles away when Xavier re-opened one week later. “It took a lot of pressure off us,” recalled Steve McDade, who was busy moving the rest of the family from his brother’s home on Long Island into a temporary apartment in Brooklyn. The CHSFL canceled the junior varsity

Top, far left: Ryan McDade’s photo of what’s left of the family van, and far right, what’s left of his family home. Center: Connor Sweet who had four of his team mates move into his Manhattan apartment. A statue of the Virgin Mary stands intact among the ruins in Breezy Point.

championship series for the season and began polling the varsity teams from the hardest hit areas, asking them if they wanted to call off the season and cancel the playoffs. It would be an all or nothing call. Coach Stevens asked the displaced kids if they wanted to continue the season. The vote was a unanimous yes. “Football was one of the few things we had that was normal,” said Ryan McDade. “We didn’t want to lose that too. We said we wanted to win the championship.” “It wasn’t just a commitment by the kids, it was a commitment by the parents, who gave up a lot of youth muscle,” said Stevens, who when he is not coaching football is teaching history. Their main practice field in Brooklyn was under water, so Stevens had the kids practicing mostly indoors in the school gymnasium or the cafeteria, running plays while dodging support beams. The single elimination tournament had them facing off against top seeded Mount St. Michael’s, which plays in the larger school division in the regular season. With three weeks since their last game, the Knights looked sluggish and trailed 22 to 12 at halftime. For a while, it looked like it might be a repeat of the 2011 season, when a Xavier team that had gone undefeated in its league season was defeated in the first round of the playoffs by St. Joseph by the Sea from Staten Island. Tre Solomon, the number one rusher in the city with 2,343 yards and number two scorer in the state with 29 rushing touchAPRIL / MAY 2013 IRISH AMERICA 63


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Front L-R: Jimmy Morgan, Ryan Sullivan, Ryan McDade, Jimmy Wolfer, and John Strehle. Back L-R: Coach Chris Stevens, Dylan Bergstol, Eddie McCarthy, Bryan Carley, Ryan Kilgallen, Dan Smith, William “Tre” Solomon, Coach Kevin Kelly, and Ricky Comis.

downs, lives in Brooklyn and said it took him a few days before the enormity of Sandy’s tragedy sunk in. “When coach told me what happened to my teammates, I was heartbroken,” said Solomon, who in addition to his offensive prowess also had 63 tackles and was team MVP two years in a row. Trailing in a playoff football game seemed small in comparison with the adversity endured by his teammates. “I honestly had not looked at the scoreboard,” he said. “I thought we were still in it.” Xavier stopped the Mounties on the first drive of the second half and then scored on their next possession to pull within one. Momentum was heading their way again. “We made a couple of defensive stops and Wolfer came up with a big interception,” recalled Stevens. The Knights climbed back to a 25 to 22 lead and never looked back. They pushed it to 40 to 29, before the Mounties scored late in the fourth quarter to close the gap to 40 to 36. But that would be all. The Knights recovered the onside kick to end the game. Solomon had scored all six touchdowns. Now they would take their ground-andpound offense to square off against traditional rival Fordham Prep in their annual Thanksgiving showdown. The two Jesuit schools first clashed on the gridiron back in 1883, and USA Today recently voted the annual classic the best high school football rivalry in New York State. “Fordham is always tough and the Turkey Bowl is a game unto itself,” said Connor Sweet. The game was being played in historic Rose Hill on the Fordham University 64 IRISH AMERICA APRIL / MAY 2013

campus, before 6,500 fans, and this year, aside from settling the annual Jesuit grudge match, it would determine who advanced to the CHSFL championship game in the AA division. In the lead up to the game, Coach Stevens had found a box of red hammers that some were using on the now weekly relief trips students and parents were running to Rockaway. At the pep rally, two red-handled hammers crossed into the shape of an “X” became the new unofficial school symbol. For the next two games, the Xavier cocaptains would carry a hammer to the coin toss. “It was a symbol of hope and rebuilding, but we still had to explain to the refs why our captains were carrying a hammer,” said Stevens. Xavier scored first, but Fordham tied it up as they headed to halftime and then jumped out to a 14 to 7 lead early in the third quarter. Once again, the Knights were forced to dig deep for another second-half comeback, allowing only two Fordham TDs while scoring four TDs themselves in the half enroute to a 38 to 21 victory. Solomon racked up 252 yards, Kilgallen had 98 yards rushing, and Connor Sweet chipped in with five unassisted tackles on defense. The game over, Xavier had a cherished victory in the Turkey Bowl. But for the football players, who realized that the Rockaways and Breezy Point would never be the same again, it also meant ten more treasured days of football season. “We had talked about extending the sea-

son,” said Coach Stevens. “That was our goal – not necessarily to win the championship, but just to get to the championship so that we could extend the team camaraderie for ten more days, in support of our teammates who had been driven from their homes. Ten more days closer to normalcy. It was ten more days of positive distraction for the parents as well.” That set up the final game with St. John the Baptist, a strong football school from West Islip, Long Island. The two teams had already clashed in the regular season, and St. John’s had shut out Xavier, 14 to 0. Most observers were pegging the Long Island school as the favorite. Stevens figured St. John’s would be keying on Solomon, his 5’ 11” 200 lb. junior powerhouse. But it was Kilgallen who emerged as the offensive star of the game, racking up 100 yards rushing while Solomon grabbed two interceptions and Jimmy Wolfer added a third. Xavier scored first for a 7 to 0 lead, but St. John’s battled back to tie it, before Xavier pulled ahead to a 14 to 7 lead at halftime. The Knights cruised to an eventual 35 to 14 victory. Coach Stevens works hard to keep it all in perspective. “I tell them this is just a moment in time,” he says, although its significance is not lost on a history teacher. He was the first to label their improbable road to victory “the feel good story of Sandy.” But sometimes it’s more than just a football game. There’s a coaching staff that includes defensive coordinator Kevin Kelly, offensive and defensive line coach Brian McMahon, receivers and linebackers coach Matt Furey and assistant line coach Dave O’Brien. All helped to rally the team behind the displaced eleven. You can’t do a story on Breezy without the Irish element, but the Xavier football team was a lot more than that, everyone pulling as one to help fallen comrades. “Football brought us back together,” said Ryan McDade. “It meant the world to us.” Said Coach Stevens, “It was great to be able to give people who were struggling through some serious hardships a happy ending.” As Kerry Sweet noted, “It was amazing how the kids bonded together. They were always close, but this was something different. “It really wasn’t until they won against St. John’s that you realized how important it was to them. There were tears in a lot of their eyes. They bought into the whole thing. It was a once in a lifetime memory. It’s something they’ll never forget.” IA

Congratulations to Robert M. Devlin and John Fitzpatrick on being inducted into the 2013 Irish America Hall of Fame. UBS Wealth Management Americas is proud to salute their achievements and the impact each has made on Irish-American society.

ab Wealth management services in the United States are provided by UBS Financial Services, Inc., a registered broker/dealer offering securities, trading, brokerage and related products and services. ŠUBS 2013. All rights reserved. UBS Financial Services Inc. is a subsidiary of UBS AG. Member SIPC.

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Friendly Sons of

St. Patrick

The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, or The Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick for the Relief of Emigrants from Ireland, was founded in Philadelphia on March 17, 1771 and continues on as a benevolent society today. Tom Deignan looks at the history and ongoing tradition of one of the best-known Irish-American organizations in the U.S. today.

A Above: An invitation to the New York Friendly Sons’ 122nd anniversary dinner in 1906 and a menu from their 101st dinner. Left: An invitation to the Cincinnati Friendly Sons’ 1896 banquet. 66 IRISH AMERICA APRIL / MAY 2013

t the end of 2012, St. Rose Catholic School in Belmar, New Jersey – badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy – received a $15,000 donation from the local chapter of the Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. Given that Sandy will ultimately cost the state of New Jersey billions of dollars, a Friendly Sons donation to a single Jersey Shore Catholic school may not seem like much. But when you pile up all of the charitable donations from all of the Friendly Sons chapters, going back to the time before there was even a nation called the United States of America, you start to appreciate just how much this Irish-American institution has done. At this time of year, from Boston to San Diego, the Friendly Sons are out in full force. They are organizing, sponsoring and marching in scores of St. Patrick’s Day Parades across the country. But to get a true sense of how vital Friendly Sons chapters remain in communities across America, you have to flip the calendar a bit. An April 10-K run in Central Iowa. A December Little Sisters of the Poor Christmas Party in Baltimore. Blood

drives, toy drives, scholarship contests and charity golf outings in Cincinnati, Scranton, Detroit, and Mobile, Alabama. Keeping Irish culture alive – and doing charitable works – is not only what the Friendly Sons do: it is what they have been doing for 240 years.

The Founding Sons The early 1770s were not a pleasant time to be an Irish Catholic in the American colonies. In many areas, Catholics could not own land or vote, and there had been spasms of violence against what some Protestants viewed as the Pope’s agents in North America. Yet, many Catholics managed to distinguish themselves. And though undoubtedly some held animosity towards Protestants, the Friendly Sons was conceived as a non-denominational organization, open to Catholics, Protestants and Quakers. The society was formed in Philadelphia on March 17, 1771, which at that time was “the focus of every political and diplomatic movement, the Capitol of the nation, where Independence was declared, national conventions and Congress met, the seat of the confederated Federal and State Governments, the



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Top Row: Thomas Fitzsimons, Stephen Moylan and John Barry. Bottom Row: John Dickinson, General John Cadwalader, Robert Morris and General “Mad” Anthony Wayne.

residence of the Foreign Ambassadors and ministers, and occasionally the theatre of war,” as Samuel Hood wrote in 1844 in A Brief Account of the Society of the Friendly Sons. Early membership relied heavily on those who had wrested American independence from the British in the Revolutionary War. As Hood wrote, “The men of whom [the Friendly Sons] was composed [were] some of the most active and influential patriots of the country . . . distinguished in the Army, Navy, Cabinet, and Congress.” Among the founders listed by Hood are Thomas Fitzsimons, an Irish-born Catholic merchant from Wexford who came to the U.S. in the 1750s. Fitzsimons served in the Revolutionary War, as a captain under Colonel John Cadwalader, a Quaker, who also went on to become a founding member of the Friendly Sons. Cadwalader, a New Jersey-born merchant, distinguished himself as a leader, and forced the British General Howe to surrender the state of New Jersey to the Americans. Another founding member was Commodore John Barry. A Wexford man like Fitzsimons, Barry left New Ross as a

cabin boy on one of his uncle’s ships and ended up as “The Father of the American Navy.” (An imposing statue of Barry, erected by the Friendly Sons on March 16, 1907 stands outside of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall). Other prominent Irish Americans present at the creation of the Friendly Sons were John Dickinson, a lawyer and politician from Philadelphia. Robert Morris, a Philadelphian who is credited with financing the war, and General Anthony Wayne, whose father was an emigrant from Wicklow, and whose military exploits earned him the moniker “Mad Anthony.” Stephen Moylan, another Catholic, from Cork, who would go on to become one of General George Washington’s closest aides, became the first president of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. Easily the most prominent of the early Friendly Sons members, however, was a military man and gentleman farmer from Virginia who became an honorary member in 1782. “I accept with singular pleasure, the ensign of so worthy a fraternity as that of the Sons of St. Patrick in this City, a society distinguished for the firm adherence of its members to the glorious cause in

which we are embarked,” George Washington said in 1782, seven years before he would go on to become President of the United States.

Famine Aid Since a main goal of the Friendly Sons has always been to assist others, it should be no surprise that when Famine struck Ireland in the 1840s, the Friendly Sons were one of the most active organizations administering aid to the Irish on both sides of the Atlantic. The Friendly Sons worked closely with other charitable and religious organizations to deliver maximum assistance to those in need. Recorded minutes of Friendly Sons meetings suggest that hunger in Ireland remained a top priority for the group well into the 1870s. Also during the mid-19th century, Irish Americans were deeply affected by the U.S. Civil War. Many initially believed the war would be a brief affair. But early in the war, after the Battle of Bull Run in July 1861, it was clear this would be a long, bloody ordeal. Nearly 40 members of the famous “Irish Brigade” — The Fighting 69th – were killed at Bull Run, and their famous leader, Sligo-born Colonel Michael APRIL / MAY 2013 IRISH AMERICA 67



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Corcoran, was taken prisoner. “These losses deeply affected the Irish American community in New York,” writes Edward K. Spann in The New York Irish. “The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick contributed some $1,500 to help equip and sustain the Sixty-ninth.” Just as noteworthy, however, was the assistance the Friendly Sons gave to those whose roots did not lie in Ireland. John Hugh Campbell explored this ecumenical spirit of giving in an 1892 book entitled History of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick and of the Hibernian Society for the Relief of Emigrants from Ireland. “Whether it be in raising money for the struggling people of Ireland, or in promptly contributing to the relief of the Johnstown flood sufferers, or, as we have just witnessed, to the famine-stricken peasants of Russia,” Campbell said the Friendly Sons and other Irish aid groups were always willing to lend a hand. Victims of the San Francisco earthquake in 1906 and the Spanish American War in the late 1890s also received assistance from the Friendly Sons. It is no wonder, then, that Friendly Sons members often recite the lines from a 18th century poem by Dublinborn writer Thomas Moore:

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“Shall I ask the brave soldier who fights by my side, In the cause of mankind, if our creeds disagree? Shall I part from my friend, both valued and tried, If he kneels not before the same altar with me?”

Independence, Education and Politics This is not to suggest that Irish immigrants in the U.S. were somehow ignored by the Friendly Sons. Records show that in 1893 over 300 immigrants to the U.S. from 21 arriving ships received aid from the Friendly Sons. The war years in Ireland, from the Easter Rising of 1916 through the Civil War years of the 1920s created great need, and one estimate suggests that over $5,000 in aid was sent to Ireland during this trying time. Once the tensions eased, the Friendly Sons aimed to strengthen the ties between the Irish on both sides of the Atlantic. A new scholarship program created in 1954, for example, allowed students from Ireland to study at American universities. (In the

The Glee Club O

ne hundred years ago,Victor Herbert was on top of the musical world. The Dublin-born composer watched as his latest operetta, Sweethearts, opened first in Baltimore, before moving to Boston and Philadelphia. By September of 1913, the operetta hit New York’s Broadway and would run for over 100 performances. That same year, Herbert also helped create The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick Glee Club. He wrote or arranged many of the Glee Club’s trademark songs, including “The New Ireland,” “The Boys of Wexford” and “The Cruiskeen Lawn.” Friendly Sons chapters from New York to Cincinnati still have active choral groups with up to 50 members who practice weekly and perform all over the country. “The Glee Club sings choral compositions of all kinds – traditional Irish music, contemporary Irish music, religious music, Broadway show tunes, music from the 1940’s through today’s popular songs,” current New York Friendly Sons Glee Club conductor Kevin Faughey wrote in a recent letter to members. In addition, the song “Hail to the Friendly Sons,” with lyrics by Dublin native Joseph Ignatius Constantine Clarke (who also helped create the club), is performed at Friendly Sons meetings and Glee Club rehearsals. With an arrangement by Victor Herbert, Clarke’s lyrics remind listeners of the importance of Ireland’s long struggle for freedom:


1990s, the Friendly Sons initiated a new program enabling American students to study in Ireland.) Meanwhile, when a certain senator from Massachusetts was pondering a run for the White House on March 17th, 1959, he delivered a rousing speech heavy on Ireland’s historical struggle to the Friendly Sons in Providence, Rhode Island. Fittingly, however, John Fitzgerald Kennedy struck a more inclusive tone towards the end of his speech “Let us recognize that there may be satellite governments, but there are never satellite peoples — that nations may be colonized, but never men –- and that whether a man be East German or West German, Chinese or Irish, Catholic or Moslem, white or black, there forever burns within his breast the unquenchable desire to be free.” Most touching of all, in March of 1964 – just four months after JFK’s assassination – Bobby Kennedy spoke at a Friendly Sons of Lackawanna County dinner in Scranton, Pennsylvania. It was RFK’s first public speech since his brother was gunned down, and he struck a somber note when he chose to recite lines from Thomas Davis’s poem about Irish nationalist figure

“Shall we who meet and part to-night / Remember not our sires? Shall we forget their age-long fight / Their quenchless battle-fires? They handed us the freedom-flame / That spreads from sea to sea. They bade it burn in Ireland’s name / Till land and race are free.” Friendly Sons Glee Clubs have boasted world class talent over the years. The New York group was led, for five decades, by Dr. George Meade, whom the New York Times called “one of the most celebrated choral conductors in New York City” in its 1996 obituary. The Glee Club appeared several times on St. Patrick’s Day episodes of the famous Ed Sullivan Show (Sullivan himself an Irish American). They have also performed triumphant shows at Radio City Music Hall and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. To this day, Friendly Sons Glee Clubs give performances at churches and other public events all year Victor Herbert round. Over his long career,Victor Herbert produced countless songs, operettas and more. But when he served as a guiding force behind the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick Glee Club, he surely couldn’t have known that he helped create something that would still be going a strong a century later. – TD



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Owen Roe O’Neill. Robert’s slain brother had earlier read the poem in public, which only lent more poignancy to the lines: “We’re sheep without a shepherd, when the snow shuts out the sky – Oh! why did you leave us, Owen? Why did you die?” Kennedy ended his speech thusly: “So, on this St. Patrick’s evening let me urge you one final time to recall the heritage of the Irish. Let us hold out our hands to those who struggle for freedom today – at home and abroad – as Ireland struggled for a thousand years. “Let us not leave them to be ‘sheep without a shepherd when the snow shuts out the sky.’ Let us show them that we have not forgotten the constancy and the faith and the hope – of the Irish.” Those who were there remember clearly that there was not a dry eye in the house.

Speakers One of the most impressive things about the Friendly Sons is their ability to attract leading members of the Irish American community to their ranks. Today, when many Irish-American organizations are struggling to attract younger members, the Friendly Sons is doing better than most. The tradition of membership is often handed down from father to son. Other young professional males are attracted by the camaraderie and fraternity the organization promotes. Impressive too, are the highprofile speakers – from top politicians and religious leaders to movie stars and authors – the Friendly Sons feature at their annual St. Patrick’s Day dinners. Besides Robert Kennedy, past speakers at the Friendly Sons of Lackawanna annual dinner include Harry Truman who appeared twice, before and after he was president. And Vice President Hubert Humphrey who caused a stir when he turned up without a tuxedo. This is one of the stories featured in a stirring video by Dan Simrell commemorating the 100th anniversary of The Friendly Sons of Lackawanna. The video includes a clip from Robert Kennedy’s speech. Given that Vice President Joe Biden’s great-grandfather, the Hon. Edward F. Blewitt of Scranton, was a co-founder of the Lackawanna chapter, it’s fitting and poignant, that the young senator spoke at the chapter’s annual St. Patrick’s Day dinner in 1973. It was his first public speech following the tragic death of his wife and daughter in an auto crash just months before.

Clockwise from top: Robert Kennedy speaking at the Friendly Sons of Lackawanna dinner in Scranton in 1964; the statue of Commodore John Barry, a founding member of the Friendly Sons; at the 107th dinner of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick of Lackawanna County, Tom Cummings places a green carnation on his father, Thomas P. Cummings Sr.; Harry S. Truman who addressed the Friendly Sons on two occasions.

Men Only Though membership in the Friendly Sons was open to Catholics and Protestants, one group has been traditionally excluded: women. (They are the Friendly Sons, after all.) Their annual black tie dinners around St. Patrick’s Day generally remain all-male affairs, and this has created some uncomfortable moments. Connecticut newspaper columnist Bill Stanley wrote about a Friendly Sons dinner in Norwich where the guest of honor was Ireland’s sitting Prime Minister Jack Lynch. Lynch’s wife, however, was not allowed to attend the dinner. Despite the potential for controversy, the Friendly Sons generally believe the “men only” rule is about camaraderie rather than exclusion. “I happen to have seven daughters so I have to be very careful,” former judge and Friendly Sons of Lackawanna County president Richard Conaboy says in the aforementioned video. “I have always thought that women ran the world anyhow and it was a rare occasion that men were able to put something together of their own.” While another former president, John A. Quinn says: “We’ve invited some [women] who were judges but they were always wise enough to recognize the fact

that this was strictly a man’s world – for that one day out of the year. And that’s all – that one day out of the year.” In recent years, Friendly Sons and Daughters chapters have sprung up around the country, while other chapters have opened more events up to both sexes.

Parade Season Now that the calendar has turned to March, Friendly Sons chapters are generally consumed with events revolving around St. Patrick’s Day. Thus it might seem easy to forget the charitable portion of the Friendly Sons’ mission. But even parades can be about much more than good times and green beer. Consider that local Friendly Sons chapters are among those organizations dedicated to making sure that towns ravaged by Hurricane Sandy kick off their annual St. Patrick’s Day parades. This year, Jersey towns such as Keyport, Seaside Heights, Highlands, and Belmar, as well as Sandy-ravaged towns across Long Island, will hold parades despite the obstacles they still face. Friendly Sons chapters play a large role in making sure local residents — Irish or not — enjoy a sense of normalcy, community and comfort. Which is pretty much what IA they’ve been doing for 240 years. APRIL / MAY 2013 IRISH AMERICA 69



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A Sculptor of American

History James E. Kelly, sculptor and illustrator, specialized in depicting people and events surrounding the American Civil War. Historian and author William B. Styple discovered Kelly’s journals, which contained interviews with many of the generals who participated in the war. Here he writes about this amazing artist who contributed so much to recording American history.


ames Edward Kelly was born on July 30, 1855 in New York City. He was the only surviving child of Patrick Paul and Julia Finley Kelly – his father being born in Glasgow of Irish parentage and his mother in Ireland. Throughout James Kelly’s life he had three passions: art, American history and New York City. He grew up during the violent tumult of the Civil War – in a city as divided as the nation itself – and from his bedroom window he watched as thousands of blue-clad soldiers marched off to war in 1861, and later as local policemen struggled furiously with rioters during the bloody Draft Riots of July 1863. Inside the Kelly home, father and mother read aloud news dispatches from the battlefront – reports from Antietam, Gettysburg, the Wilderness and the Shenandoah Valley – all of which stimulated the imagination of young James, who spent his time copying the fanciful woodcut illustrations that appeared in Harpers’ Weekly and the other illustrated newspapers of the day. After viewing the pictures of heroic generals leading their armies into battle, James remarked to his mother that one day Generals Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan would come and visit him, and he would draw their portraits. These childhood day-dreams came true for James Kelly. Mr. and Mrs. Kelly recognized their child had a talent for art, and enrolled James as a student in the Academy of


James E. Kelly at age 60.

Design. The fifteen-year-old Kelly began an earnest study of art, eventually became a founding member of the Art Students’ League, and also was under the tutelage of many famed illustrators such as Winslow Homer, Alfred Waud and Thomas Nast. In the fall of 1876, Kelly began illustrating for the leading magazines of the era: St. Nicholas, Harpers’ Monthly, and Scribner’s Monthly. His early work was known for its originality, vigorous action, strong accents, and powerful contrasts in black and white – so characteristic that an interested reader would know them by style, without looking for the signature. Much of Kelly’s artwork was of military subjects and



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1 Kelly at work on the Admiral Worden bas relief in 1890. 2 Union Gen. John Buford monument at Gettysburg. 3 Sculptor James E. Kelly at work on the Gen. Fitz John Porter monument which stands in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. 4 Kelly’s sculpture depicting Sheridan’s Ride.


depicted scenes from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. In 1879, on assignment from his publishers, Kelly had the opportunity to meet and sketch over forty commanding generals of the Civil War, including his boyhood heroes – Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and Philip Sheridan. Along with sketching their portraits, Kelly interviewed his subjects about their wartime experiences and carefully preserved those interviews in notebooks. Kelly had always felt a great lack of personal detail in the history of the Revolutionary War, and though assigned only to produce sketches, he asked of these officers every question that he would have asked George Washington and his generals had they posed for him. These Union commanders freely discussed their wartime experiences with Kelly, often telling him stories they left out of their memoirs – including their private thoughts on President Lincoln and rival generals. Fortunately, for today’s historians, Kelly was as good at

interviewing as he was at sketching. During one interview session with General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Kelly asked about the charge at Fort Damnation near Petersburg, Virginia. General Chamberlain acquiesced, but then added, “I don’t see how you can show this in a picture?” “Just tell me the facts,” responded Kelly, “and I’ll attend to the picture.” Chamberlain continued: “I was running ahead of my men waving my heavy cavalry saber urging them on. I had the colors in my left hand and waved them to my troops. I was doing it when I was wounded. The ball passing through each hip and from which the blood spurted as though a spigot. As I felt myself hit, I brought down my sword point to the ground and bent my legs like a tripod. The men saw I was wounded, but kept right on to either side of me. I was considered mortally wounded.” Kelly was especially interested in the assassination of President Lincoln, and would seek out any eyewitness to the APRIL / MAY 2013 IRISH AMERICA 71



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tragic event. Dr. Charles A. Leale, a fellow New Yorker, had been present at Ford’s Theatre, and was the first surgeon to reach the mortally wounded President. Dr. Leale told Kelly: “When I entered the box, after some delay, for it had been blocked with a bar of wood, I found President Lincoln lying back in his chair – his body inclined to the right, and his head leaning forward on the right side. I loosened his cravat and placed him on the floor. Opening his shirt, I found his breathing had ceased and his heart had stopped. So I knelt down with my knees on each side of him. Holding his nose, I placed a handkerchief around his mouth, and breathed into his lungs. I then pulled up his shirt and massaged his heart. I also raised his legs up and down, to bring blood up into his head.” Kelly later wrote: “The doctor stepped forward and 1 placing his right forefinger at the left back of my skull, said ‘the bullet went in here and lodged above the eye.’ The jab he gave my head as he did this made me feel as though I had been shot myself, and emphasized for all time where the bullet had pierced the skull of Lincoln.” In the early 1880s, Kelly turned from illustration to bronze sculpture. This was during the American era of placing commemorative monuments at historical sites, and James Kelly was commissioned to make statues for several battlefields including Gettysburg, Saratoga, James E. Kelly at work on the Gen. Fitz John Porter monument. Monmouth and Brooklyn Heights. Kelly’s historical depictions included Washington, Paul Revere, Molly Pitcher, Lafayette, General John Buford, and President Lincoln. in Bronze: Interviewing the Commanding Generals of the Civil His work achieved for him international fame, and in 1896, a War. The book ensured that Kelly received accolades from a new leading art journal published a retrospective of Kelly’s work, entigeneration, not only as an artist, but as a historian. tled, “James Edward Kelly – A Sculptor of American History.” After Generals in Bronze was released, I was interviewed on The editor of the journal commented on Kelly’s work thusly: C-Span and told the story of Kelly lying in an unmarked grave. “[Kelly] is the American sculptor, for he has made historical Soon afterwards, I began to receive emails and phone calls from events of this country his chief aim. He partakes of the soil he people wanting to help place a marker at his final resting place. was born on [and] by strong individuality, hard study, and There were a few problems with the cemetery, and some strict unceasing labor, accomplishes his purpose, creating ideals of his rules to be followed (there were 8 bodies in the double-plot, and works full of individual thought and action.” all had to be named on the stone), but $8,000 was raised and we Another art critic wrote glowingly of Kelly’s talent and hishad a dedication ceremony the following year. torical accuracy: “The characteristics of his imaginative compoAfter lying in an unmarked grave for nearly 75 years, James sitions are picturesqueness of conception and arrangement, and Edward Kelly finally received a headstone. Carved upon it are boldness in breadth of treatment. At the same time historical the words: JAMES E. KELLY 1855-1933 – A SCULPTOR OF IA details are closely adhered to, both in the compositions themAMERICAN HISTORY. selves and in the minor accessories.” Alas, after nearly six decades as a working artist with nearly 80 public and private bronzes placed throughout the United States, A new exhibition “American Heroes in Bronze: The Artwork Kelly’s fortunes declined with the arrival of modern sculpture and of James E. Kelly” will be on display at Macculloch Hall he quickly faded from the forefront of American art. Historical Museum, Morristown NJ from March 10th until Kelly married Helen McKay (1871-1929) but no children surOctober 31st. Nearly two dozen sculptures and drawings will vived them. He died penniless and alone in New York City in be on display, many for the first time publicly. On Sunday 1933 and was buried with his wife and her family (parents and March 17th and on Sunday June 16th author and historian sisters) in an unmarked grave in Saint Raymond’s Cemetery in William B. Styple will lecture about artist James E. Kelly in the Bronx. the main gallery. Tickets for the Sunday program will go on Kelly had hoped to publish a book of his Civil War interviews sale from 1pm on the day of the program, no advance sales. before his death but there was little interest at the time. In 2003, The presentations begin at 4:30pm. The museum is open to while doing my own research on the Civil War, I discovered tour the house and view exhibits on Wednesdays, Thursdays & Kelly’s archives – a massive collection of 24 boxes of notebooks Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. Adults $8; Seniors & Students $6; containing drawings and interviews with over 40 Union generals. Children 6 – 12 $4. Members and children under 5 are free. I transcribed the interviews, and James E. Kelly’s unique primary The last tickets for admission are sold at 3 p.m. source material was finally published in 2005, entitled Generals (973) 538-2404 ext. 10 or 72 IRISH AMERICA APRIL / MAY 2013

We are proud to call you Irish-American. We are honored to call you our friends.

Congratulations to Bob Devlin and John Fitzpatrick on their induction into the 2013 Irish America Hall of Fame. Bob and Cindy McCann thank you for your many years of support for the Irish-American community and your contributions to the rich heritage we take pride in every day.

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An excerpt from


Colum McCann won the National Book Award in 2012 for Let the Great World Spin, which through an extraordinary feat of storytelling connects a disparate group of ordinary New Yorkers to Philippe Petit’s 1974 tightrope walk between the Twin Towers. His new novel, TransAtlantic, due out in early June, is another tour de force: a series of narratives spanning 150 years and both sides of the Atlantic. Fact and fiction mingle as three generations of mothers and daughters bear witness to historic events including John Alcock and Arthur Brown’s attempt to fly the first nonstop flight from Newfoundland

to the west of Ireland in 1919 and Senator George Mitchell’s 1998 trip to Belfast to begin the peace talks that would result in the Good Friday Agreement. The following excerpt, adapted from the book’s third chapter, takes place during the first year of the Irish famine. Frederick Douglass, the American social reformer and writer, is on a four-month lecture tour of Ireland, accompanied by his publisher, Richard Webb. Douglass, who after escaping slavery became leader of the abolitionist movement, finds the Irish people sympathetic to his cause while famine and poverty ravage the countryside all around.

1845–46 freeman

Bony children ran after the carriage, often for a mile down the road, until they seemed to sigh down, brittle, into the landscape. The poor were so white they were almost lunar. Wicklow, Arklow, Enniscorthy: he charted the names in his diary. It struck him already that there truly was a suggestion of hunger over the land. In the boarding houses at night the owners apologized for the lack of potato.


t was early October: time for Douglass to bring his lecture tour south. His clothes were brushed. His writing papers were wrapped in oilskin. Webb had the servants feed and water the horses. The carriage was ready. He and Webb took turns sitting up on the boards, up front with the driver, John Creely. He was a small man, sparely built, with the emaciated face of a serious drinker. The land was stunning. The hedges in bloom. The gallop of streams. The light slant on the valley floors. When it rained they sat in the carriage, opposite each other, reading. Occasionally they leaned across to tap one another on the knee, read a passage aloud. Douglass was studying the speeches of Daniel O’Connell. He was amazed by the agility of O’Connell’s mind. The nod towards the universal. He wondered if he would get another chance to meet the man, to spend proper time with him, to apprentice his own ideas with the Great Liberator. There were rumors of a potato blight, but the land outside the city seemed healthy, green, robust. Near Greystones they stopped on a hill to watch the magnificent play of light on the last of Dublin Bay. There were rainbows in the distance, iridescent over the dulse-strewn sand.


Colum McCann.

The carriage bounced along the rutted roads. It was only slightly faster than a stagecoach or jaunting car. Douglass was surprised to learn that there were, as yet, no railroads south of Wicklow. The afternoons spread in a great rush of yellow across the hills. Shutters in the sky, opening and closing suddenly. A swinging brightness and then a darkness again. Some raw innocence about the land, he thought. When he sat up front on the boards crowds came out of their houses just to look at him. They clapped his shoulder, shook his hand, blessed him with the sign of the cross. They tried to tell him stories of landlords, of absentees, of English atrocities, of loved ones far away, but Webb was impatient to get along, they had a schedule to keep, lectures to give.

n Wexford he stood on the top stairway of the Assembly Hall. He was hidden from view, but he could see down the staircase to the next floor where a table was set up, his poster on the wall rippling in a small breeze. It was the local gentry who came to see him. They were finely dressed, curious, patient. They sat quietly in their chairs, removed their scarves, and waited for him. His words stirred them – Hear hear! they shouted, Bravo! – and after his speech they made out promissory notes, said they would organize bazaars, fetes, cake sales, send the money across the Atlantic. But when Douglass stepped out into the street he felt a small pang of regret. The streets were thronged with the poor Irish, the Catholics, an energy of doom to them. There was talk of repeal rooms, clandestine debates, houses being burned. A street performer danced in the bell-tipped lappets of a clown’s outfit. Children went along




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the street hawking ballad sheets. Women sparked clay pipes. Whenever he moved amongst them he was disturbed and thrilled both. The Irish were given to laughter, revelry, high sadness, their own clichés. He wanted to stop in the streets and deliver an impromptu word, but his hosts moved him along. He was driven down a long laneway of majestic oak trees towards a high mansion. Candles in the windows. Servants in white gloves. He had begun to notice that he was surrounded mostly by English accents. Magistrates. Landlords. They were melodic and well informed, but when he asked of the hunger that he had seen in the streets they said there was always a hunger in Ireland. She Frederick Douglass as a young man. was a country that liked to be hurt. The shook it, then went back Irish heaped coals upon their own heads. inside. A chill went around the They had no notions of self-reliance. It had room from the open door. always been so. They took their coffee in The conversation swerved. They small china cups. The engaged him on matters of democracy, of women were gathered ownership, of natural order, Christian around the piano. He had imperative. Wine was served on a large sillearned how to play ver tray. He politely declined. He wanted Schubert on the violin. He to know more about the rumors of undercould lose himself in the adaground forces, he said. Some of the faces gio: even in the slowness, they were around him smarted. Perhaps he could be thrilled by the deftness of his hands. told more of Catholic emancipation? Had hey continued south. Just over the they read O’Connell’s fervent denunciaBarrow River they took a wrong turn. tions? Was it true that Irish harpists once They entered wild country. Broken fences. had their fingernails plucked so they could Ruined castles. Stretches of bogland. not play the catgut? Why had the Irish Wooded headlands. Turfsmoke rose from been deprived of their language? Where cabins, thin and mean. On the muddy were the votaries of the poor? paths, they glimpsed moving rags. The Webb took him out onto the verandah by rags seemed more animate than the bodies the elbow and said: But Frederick, you within. As they passed, families regarded cannot bite the hand that feeds. them. The children were huge-eyed with There were stars out collandering the hunger. Wexford night. He knew Webb was right. A hut burned at the side of the road. The There would always be an alignment. smoke looked like it was issuing from the There were so many sides to every horiground. In the fields, near stunted trees, zon. He could only choose one. No single men stared balefully into the distance. One mind could hold it all at once. Truth, jusman’s mouth was smeared with a green tice, reality. Misunderstandings could mould: perhaps he had been eating grass. arise. He had one cause only. He must The man watched impassively as the carcleave to it. riage went by, then raised his stick as if He paced the verandah. A cold wind bidding goodbye to himself. He staggered whipped off the water. The moon looked across the field, a dog padding at his heels. marooned. They saw him fall to his knees and then — They’re waiting for you, said Webb. rise again, continuing on into the distance. He reached out for Webb’s hand and


A dark young woman picked berries from the bushes: there was red juice all down the front of her dress as if she were vomiting them up one after the other. She smiled jaggedly. Her teeth were all gone. She repeated a phrase in Irish: it sounded like a form of prayer. Douglass gripped Webb’s arm. Webb looked ill. A paleness at his throat. He did not want to talk. There was a smell out over the land. The soil had been turned. The blight had flung its rotten odor into the air. The potato crop was ruined. — It is all they eat, said Webb. — But why? — It’s all they have, he said. British soldiers galloped past, hoofing mud up on the hedgerows. Green hats with red badges. Like small splashes of blood against the land. The soldiers were young and frightened. There was an air of insurrection about the countryside: even the birds seemed to howl up out of the trees. They thought they heard the cry of a wolf, but Webb said that the last wolf had been shot in the country a hundred years before. Creely, the driver, began to whimper that it was a banshee. — Oh quit your foolishness, said Webb. Drive on! — But, sir. — Drive on, Creely. At an estate house they stopped to see if they could feed the horses. Three guards stood on the gate. Stone-carved falcons at their shoulders. The guards had shovels in their hands, but the handles of the shovels had been sharpened to a point. The landlords were absent. There had been a fire. The house smoldered. Nobody was allowed past. They were under strict instructions. The guards looked at Douglass, tried to contain their surprise at the sight of a Negro. — Get out of here, the guards said. Now. Creely pushed the carriage on. The roads corkscrewed. The hedges rose high around them. Night threatened. The horses slowed. They looked ruined. A gout of spittle and foam hung from their long jaws. APRIL / MAY 2013 IRISH AMERICA 75



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Burying the Child by Lillian Lucy Davidson. Oil on canvas. Quinnipiac Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum collection.

— Oh, move it please, called Webb from the inner cab where he sat knee to knee with Douglass. nder a canopy of trees the carriage came to a creaking stop. A silence pulled in around them. They heard a woman’s voice under the muted hoofshuffle. It sounded as if she was invoking a blessing. — What is it? called Webb. Creely did not answer. — Move it, man, it’s getting dark. Still the carriage did not budge. Webb snapped the bottom of the door open with his foot, stepped down from the inner cab. Douglass followed. They stood in the black bath of trees. In the road they saw the cold and grainy shape of a woman: she wore a grey woolen shawl and the remnants of green dress. She had been dragging behind her a very small bundle of twigs attached to a strap around her shoulders, pulling the contraption in her wake. On the twigs lay a small parcel of white. The woman gazed up at them. Her eyes shone in the gloaming. She spoke in Irish and a few scattered words of English, but they understood from the high ache that tightened her voice.



— You’ll help my child, sir? she said to Webb. — Pardon me? — God bless you, sir. She lifted the baby from the raft of twigs. — Good God, said Webb. An arm flopped out from the bundle. The woman tucked the arm back into the rags. — For the love of God, the child’s hungry, she said. A wind had risen up. They could hear the branches of the trees slapping each other around. — Here, said Webb, offering the woman a coin. She did not take it. She bent her head. She seemed to recognize her own shame on the ground. — She’s not had a thing to eat, Douglass said. Webb fumbled in his small leather purse again and held out a sixpenny piece. Still, the woman did not take it. The baby was clutched to her chest. The men stood rooted to the spot. A paralysis had swept over them. Creely looked away. The woman thrust the baby forward. The smell of death was overpowering.

— Take her, she said. — We cannot take her, Ma’am. — Please, yr’honors. Take her. — But we cannot. — I beg you, a thousand times, God bless you. The woman’s own arms looked like nothing more than two thin pieces of rope gathering upwards towards her neck. She flopped the child’s arm out again and massaged the dead baby’s fingers: the insides of its wrists were already darkening. — Take her, please, sir, she’s hungry. She thrust the dead baby forward. — May God bless you, Madam. Webb let the silver coin drop at her feet. He climbed up onto the wooden board beside Creely. Douglass reached for the muddy coin and placed it in the woman’s hand. She did not look at it. It slipped through her fingers. Her lips moved but she did not say a thing. — Come on, Frederick, Webb called. Get in, get in. Hurry. Douglass followed. Webb hit the reins hard on the shiny backs of the horses. It began raining. The sky itself did not seem surprised. Douglass felt himself become the dark of the road. IA

Toour ourPops, Pops,Bob Devlin Bob Devlin, To

Congratulations! You’ve always been beenour ourHall HallofofFamer! Famer! You’ve always Love,


Your YourFamily Family Erin and Matt Erin and Matt Jack, Luke Jack,Ian Ian and and Luke Marnieand andMichael Michael Marnie

AM13_Devlin family2.indd 1

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{irish place names} By Adam Farley

Irish in the Heartland: St. Patrick, Missouri


n the northeast corner of Missouri, wood church with a more permanent 150 miles north of St. Louis and three brick structure in 1860, but by 1935 miles west of the intersection of when Father Francis O’Duignan had to Highway 61 and State Route Z, an oak make a U-turn, it was barely standing. grove marks the turnoff to St. Patrick, a Born in County Longford in 1901, small unincorporated community with a Fr. O’Duignan was familiar with rich Hibernian back-story. There, a grander churches and resolved that stoneworked Irish round tower interrupts instead of simply repairing the existan otherwise verdant horizon. It belongs ing building, he would construct a verto the Shrine of St. Patrick, a 56-year-old itable shrine to the town’s namesake. He office with thousands of letters from those medieval-inspired church. This may be would honor St. Patrick’s Irish heritage wanting to participate in the 75-year long the heart of Irish middle America. and capitalize on its familiar name, contradition of the shamrock cancel. St. The area was first settled as North tinuing the tradition of entrepreneurial Patrick had to receive special permission Santa Fe in the early 1830s by Irish Irish immigrants. from the federal government to use the immigrants, who erected the first Church Fr. O’Duignan knew that St. Patrick non-standard cancellation stamp, and it is of St. Patrick from local timber in 1834. residents would not be able to afford such only allowed between March 1 and 31. By 1857, the town was called St. a construction project alone, so in 1936 he Last year, 8,000 requests passed Marysville and had grown large enough created a novel fundraising scheme. He through the post office, and in previous to warrant its own post office. This meant and the postmaster created a new church years as many as 50,000 have arrived another name change because there was seal and post office cancel stamp bearing during March’s 31 days, according to already a St. Marysville in Missouri. The a shamrock and the words, “St. Patrick Missouri’s Columbia Tribune. Thus, by priest at the Church of St. Patrick the virtues of transcendental conhad emigrated from Donegal and tact, the Shrine of St. Patrick in suggested naming the town after rural Missouri becomes one of the the church, perhaps in an effort best attended St. Patrick’s Day to highlight the parallel that, just celebrations in the United States. as Catholicism had been brought If the cancel made St. Patrick, early to Donegal by St. Patrick, MO famous, the shrine made it a Irish immigrants like himself had destination. The stained glass pioneered its presence in western windows, manufactured specifiAmerica. cally for the Shrine by the State One hundred years later, the Glass Company in Dublin, are a modern Shrine of St. Patrick was wonder, and St. Patrick’s Day modeled after St. Patrick’s brings leprechauns, prizes, Irish Top: The Shrine of St. Patrick in St Patrick, MO, modeled after Church of Four Masters in the Church of the Four Masters in Donegal. Above: An envemusic, and traditional beef dinCounty Donegal. Along with a lope marked with St. Patrick’s official cancel stamp. ners to this special corner of rural reputation for St. Patrick’s Day Missouri. reverie, the shrine has a grand central Missouri: The Only One in the World,” There are many more churches named rose window depicting St. Patrick and and personally mailed 500 St. Patrick’s for St. Patrick around the world (more, the four provinces of Ireland, 37 other Day greetings and requests for assistance even, than there are churches named for stained glass windows inspired by the by thumbing through phone books of St. Peter), but St. Patrick, Missouri is the Book of Kells, a relic of St. Patrick lain in major American cities and addressing the only town in the world named for the the altar, and a flagstone from Croagh cards to people with Irish surnames. It patron saint of Ireland. And for the month Patrick embedded in the floor of the altar. took 20 years, but the campaign finally of March, the history and traditions of A statue of St. Patrick keeps vigil on a generated enough money, and on St. Ireland and the U.S. converge on this slivgrassy knoll just outside the door. Patrick’s Day 1957, the Shrine of St. er of the heartland. The shrine owes its existence to Fr. Patrick was officially dedicated with Fr. To receive your own hand-canceled Francis O’Duignan, who, local legend has O’Duignan officiating. letter, with the seal of the Shrine of St. it, upon arriving in St. Patrick in 1935, While St. Patrick currently has a populaPatrick and Fr. O’Duignan’s cancel, send drove through the town before realizing tion less than 20, St. Patrick’s Day brings a self-addressed, stamped, envelope to he had passed his appointment. an influx of visitors, and the month of Postmaster, St. Patrick, MO 63466 before The town had replaced its original March inundates the little town’s post March 31. IA


Congratulations on this wonderful honor and best wishes to our dear friend Bob Devlin.

Love, The Foley Family Larry and Megan, LJ, Liam, Clare, Aidan and Declan.

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Harrington Taking Classical Music out of the Concert Hall Story: Kara Rota • Photos: Daniel D’Ottavio


reg Harrington doesn’t look like your average classical violinist. When we met at a pub in Manhattan’s Upper West Side on a recent snowy evening, he was wearing a gray hoodie and peppered his conversation with good-natured cussing and colorful stories. But as Ireland’s leading classical violin soloist and crossover artist, he’s toured the world, produced two albums, and performed multiple times at Carnegie Hall. Rather than isolating himself within the classical music community, Harrington makes it his mission to find a way for classical violin to speak to each of his listeners, from high schoolers to Vice President Joe Biden. “Whether it’s an audience or a child, it’s always about who is listening. You pour everything into the experience that they have. I’m doing the [IA Hall of Fame] event for Joe Biden, and I’m so excited for this because it’s a blank canvas for me, and it’s about creating something that personally connects with everyone in the room and that resonates with him. His greatgreat-grandfather was a blind fiddler from County Louth. Turlough O’Carolan was a blind Irish composer who composed classical and gypsy, so I’m starting with that. . . . You want to try to make


everybody in that room feel that they are the one being played to. It’s got to be about your audience. It’s got to be personal…otherwise, you’re going against what music is. Music on a page is the physical representation of an emotion. In order to emote, you’ve got to connect. That’s what drives me.” Born in Dublin, Harrington started

playing violin at age four. In the beginning, it was one among a number of activities: he was an avid rugby and tennis player. “Rugby is, obviously, not good for the fingers, as I found out once. I was playing and, bang, it just snapped! It was the day before a scholarship exam and I never told Mom or Dad, because I thought they would just absolutely flip. So I’d just go to school, bandage it up

with a little splint, and for two months, take it off at the dinner table and just keep my fingers like that and just go upstairs and put the splint back again.” He mimics holding a broken finger straight, then laughs and rolls his eyes a bit. “Oh, the joys of being a highly communicative child.” From the beginning, his mother was deeply supportive of his interest. “I remember walking by a string quartet playing and I just loved the sound of the violin. I remember tugging on her arm and saying that I wanted to play that. She took me in the very next day to McCullough Pigott, we bought a violin about this high, and I started a month later.” He gestures with his hand to indicate a violin about the size of his wine glass. Memories of his mother provided a personal inspiration for the most recent of his two albums, A Different World, released in 2011 under his own music label, Estile Records. “I was in Patelson’s Music Store on 57th just behind Carnegie Hall and I came across this piece. What really spoke to me was the way the silence in his music screams, and the passion in his music.” The piece was “Kiss on Wood” by Scottish composer James MacMillan. “Kiss on Wood,” is representative of




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walking forth to kiss Christ’s feet on the classically and symphonically.” advocate for music in the classroom. cross. However, for me, it’s always been Harrington is finishing a third album, Kids never need to pursue a career in about my last conversation with Mom coming out this spring. Taking some of music, but learning an instrument is the who died in 1995. It goes from angry and Bach’s most famous violin pieces and only discipline where you combine the confused and just raw emotion to somedoing his own arrangements. He sees this emotional, the physical and the intellecthing that evolves and goes into nothingas an opportunity to present what tual. It’s amazing what it does for you. . . ness. It’s that unanswered question.” amounts to original work rather than as a its effects on English and math.” While A Different World communicomparison to other classical musicians Harrington teaches at the prestigious cates universal emotions through classiwho have covered Bach. Spence and Nightingale schools on cal music, Harrington’s first Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and album, Reflections, tells sees it as an investment in the familiar stories through the future of the arts. “My goal is to lens of classic violin. A colgive kids a love for classical lection of sixteen encore-style music, to give them a fun aspect pieces – ranging from the about it, something tangible, so Schindler’s List theme to when they go to a symphony “Summer-time” – the album orchestra, they’ll say, ‘you know serves as a showcase for the something? That makes sense. I breadth of Harrington’s know exactly what’s going on.’ accomplishments. “I’ve got a Realistically, they’re going to very eclectic ear. I love everybecome the funders of the arts. thing from jazz to indie. If Every class is all about enthusiyou’re going to be an instruasm and instilling love in the mentalist, you’ve got to take music. For example, I’m just finvocal pieces that everybody ishing an arrangement of Adele’s knows. . . . You take U2’s “Sky Fall” for them. You’ve got to “One,” which is an iconic sort give them the Beethoven and the of rock lullaby song, and the Bach and then their Adele. So challenge is how to make that Harrington playing with trad. musicians Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill. they’re exposed to classics, and sound as if it was completely then they have stuff they can get written for a violin. So you just strip it “As classical performers, we’re so their teeth into. They have something down bare…whether it’s ‘One’ or conditioned to perform something a certhey can relate to and they have a posi‘Hallelujah,’ “Purple Haze” or a South tain way. This is all about ripping everytive experience.” American tango, you want to make sure thing out and just putting it bare and raw Whether it’s starting his own record that it sounds organic. There’s nothing out there and just – who cares who likes label to set himself apart from the clasworse than playing it and sounding like a it. That’s the only way you can be comsical pack, or advocating for music educlassical musician playing it, because pletely genuine and faithful, and that’s cation, Harrington defines his life by his you lose everybody. . . . A classical musithe only way you have a chance of sucmusic.

“I’m an advocate for music in the classroom. Kids never need to pursue a career in music, but learning an instrument is the only discipline where you combine the emotional, the physical and the intellectual.” cian must not sound like a classical musician doing tango. He’s got to sound like a South American gypsy. If you’re doing a rendition of ‘Purple Haze,’ you’ve got to sound like Jimi Hendrix. People have got to walk away saying, ‘I never knew a violin could sound like an electric guitar.’ You’ve got to make them almost cry with it. Whether it’s [from] Damien Rice or U2 or Frank Sinatra or Louis Armstrong or Radiohead. I’m doing a beautiful transcription of [Radio-head’s] ‘Karma Police.’ [The band] compose so 82 IRISH AMERICA APRIL / MAY 2013

ceeding: if you can just tear the premise down. I feel an audience needs that human contact with the artist. They need that insight into the personality of the artist, that’s not just coming out of the fingers into the’s got to be so much more than just the notes on the page.” Harrington also teaches music, another opportunity to experiment with genremelding and knowing his audience, as well as an outlet for his belief in the importance of music in school. “I’m an

“When I look back in twenty years’ time, I want to say that I had a beautiful journey…so many people want a career and they want a career now. A career is something you look back on, and something you reflect upon. “As Pavarotti said, it’s not always about performing at Carnegie Hall, it’s about singing at a small venue of 10 to 12 people where you learn your craft, and it’s always this journey. It’s always about playing to people, and getting your music across to as many people as possible.” IA

Ali & Joe Torre and the entire Safe At Home team


Bob Devlin for being inducted into the

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{irish studies}

Bean an Tí

Glucksman Ireland House, NYU’s center for Irish Studies celebrated 20 years and its founders, Loretta Brennan Glucksman and her late husband Lewis Glucksman. By Mary Pat Kelly


ty within the four walls, but then something extra, a sense that she enjoys more than a domestic status. The Gaeltacht Bean an Tí embodies the quality we call duchas – hard to translate the meaning, but suggesting a cluster of different words and phrases such as ‘native place’ – your affinity with that place through descent.” He said “Duchas includes a tendency to instinctively embrace the values of a place and live by its spirit. So when we think of Loretta, our own Bean an Tí this evening, those venerable concepts of inheritance, affinity, attachment and descent all come to mind, and what’s more, through her commitment to Ireland and things Irish, Loretta Brennan Glucksman embraces the values and lives by the spirit of all the qualities suggested in duchas.” Heaney went on to praise not only the woman of the house and

All photos: James Higgins

eamus Heaney read “Lauds for Loretta,” his praise poem for Loretta Brennan Glucksman at the Gala Dinner celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Glucksman Ireland House, New York University’s renowned center for Irish and Irish American Studies, on the night of February 26, 2013. Held in NYU’s Kimmel Center in the Rosenthal Pavilion, the venue afforded glorious views across Washington Square Park to the charming Fifth Avenue Federal period building that is home to Glucksman Ireland House. Heaney, 1995 Nobel Laureate in Literature, who has won about every conceivable literary award, and who was present for the opening ceremonies of Glucksman Ireland House (GIH) in 1993,

returned to celebrate twenty years of its astounding growth and success with his friend Loretta, its founder. He recalled that “the mighty posse” of Irish politicians, scholars, writers, poets, musicians and actors, led by a piper as they processed across Washington Square, had a hint of a pilgrimage to become firstfooters into Glucksman Ireland House. At that opening of Ireland House on May 20, 1993 John F. Kennedy. Jr., proclaimed: “The creation of Ireland House will be a wonderful academic and cultural addition to NYU.” How right he was. In the twenty years since it opened the very best of writers, poets, journalists, playwrights, historians, artists and musicians have come through its doors. When Heaney took the podium to laud Loretta and her late husband, Lewis Glucksman, he described the first person every student in the Gaeltacht encounters, the Bean an Tí, the woman of the house. “In the Irish language,” he said, “the term suggests more than an individual person. It is somebody with a natural authori84 IRISH AMERICA APRIL / MAY 2013

Left : Loretta Brennan Glucksman and poet Seamus Heaney. Center: Loretta and her husband Lewis at the opening of Glucksman Ireland House. Right: Loretta’s family: Jim Blumenfeld, Chris Cooney, Loretta , Seamus Heaney, Kate Cooney Picco, Caitlin Cooney and John V. Cooney, Jr.

the man of the house, Lewis Glucksman, but the house itself. “On that April day (1993),” he said, “it was as if a history that included famine and eviction, land wars and emigration – as if all that were being answered with a manifestation of survival and a proclamation of renaissance.”

Lewis Glucksman

In 1984, when Loretta met Lewis Glucksman, the CEO and Chairman of Lehman Brother, she met a man who had fallen in love with Ireland. After landing there as a teenage sailor during World War II, he had gone on to develop a passion for things Irish. It was Lewis who took her on her first trip to the land of her ancestors, and it was his devotion to Irish literature, especially the work


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Left to right: Author Peter Quinn, who served as MC, with singer Ashley Davis. Flautist James Galway and Loretta. Board president Judith McGuire and Loretta.

All photos: James Higgins


of James Joyce and W.B. Yeats, that spurred their philanthropy. studies in Irish music, Irish language, and the Irish-American and They became generous benefactors and indefatigable global Irish experience. fundraisers for Irish causes, particularly those that promoted GIH has also established the Archives of Irish America at higher education and extended (to quote Heaney) “to peace and NYU’s Bobst Library (when a GIH exhibition entitled “Irelandpoetry and involve art and the people of art.” America: The Ties That Bind” was displayed at New York’s With Lew’s passing in 2006, Lincoln Center, half of its exhibits Loretta continued the work they had were drawn from the Archives), and LAUDS FOR LORETTA begun together through her role as formed the pioneering Oral History Co-Chair of the Advisory Board of teaching and recording program, How can we laud her? Let me count the ways. Glucksman Ireland House, Chairwhich preserves the memories of Irish Her ready smile, serene attentive gaze, man of the American Ireland Funds, immigrants and Irish Americans. Her hostess role on both sides of the ocean, and as member of several boards Highlights on the 20th Anniversary Her work for peace when the land was in commotion. here and in Ireland. horizon include a dramatization of the In all that she does, Loretta honors 1813 trial, People v. Phillips, that Philanthropy, unstinted, open-handed, her husband’s memory and her Irish established priest penitent privilege in Requests for help from every quarter granted, ancestors: her four grandparents who the United States (see page 22); and Benefactor, with her mighty spouse, Of galleries, colleges and Ireland House. emigrated from Ireland. Her mother’s events relating to the Bordeaux Letters father was a miner and union organ– a trove of hitherto unknown correThat edifice off 1 Fifth Avenue – izer in Pennsylvania, and her aunt spondence between France and Fit monument to herself and Lew – was the Mother Superior of Chestnut Ireland in the 18th century that proIs like a small translated Clonmacnoise, Hill College, where Loretta attended vides significant new insight into the An amplifier for the native voice on scholarship, receiving an educarole of Ireland in Atlantic history. tion that helped her to go on to Judith McGuire, President of the Of Irish writing, culture, scholarship, become a college lecturer, a public Advisory Board, whose idea it was to An answer given to the famine ship, television pioneer, and founder of her use the 20th anniversary celebration A feis, a court of poetry, a seisiún, own very successful public relations as a fundraiser for GIH’s Irish Studies Academy and legacy, a boon. firm. programs, noted that although New Twenty years ago, a kilted piper, Family is everything to Loretta. York University provides some supThe Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, at his heel, Her two grown sons and daughter port for its academic programs, GIH Led a starry crowd across the Square: were there on the night to laud her, must compete with all other universiJay Oliva, James Galway, Brian Friel, but perhaps her biggest gift is that ty entities for scarce dollars. she treats everyone she meets as “Our continued success and expanLoretta, Lew himself, the whole aosdána, extended family, be it a new student sion has relied and will continue to With supporting cast, O’Shea, Cusack, O’Hara. entering the Irish studies program, or rely substantially on the support of That April day, a mark was made in time a visiting author to GIH. generous donors,” says McGuire. As we processed in step like words in rhyme, Taoiseach Enda Kenny in a video “The success of the 20th Anniversary As dúchas met diaspora and combined message thanked Loretta on behalf Gala Dinner fittingly honoring Indomitable Irishry of mind of the Irish people for choosing to founder, Loretta Brennan GlucksWith the Big Apple of Knowledge: thus we set a “dwell deep in the territory of the man, ensures that established proCrown upon the labours of Loretta Irish Heart, in the gap where ideas grams, as well as ambitious plans . . . are formed and grow.” He congratuare adequately funded.” And great Lew, while Cathleen ni Houlihan lated Glucksman Ireland House on In a message to the board, John Looked down upon this Lass of Allentown “20 years a-growing.” Sexton, President of New York And recognized her as an aisling geal, And grow it has. In 2008, GIH University, affirmed “Glucksman A presence, guardian spirit, and a pal. created an MA in Irish and IrishIreland House is one of the universiAmerican Studies. Meantime, its ty’s brilliant jewels.” And indeed, the ‘She is foremost of those that I would hear praised’ Said Yeats of Maud, but for us LBG successful undergraduate program 20th Anniversary Gala Dinner Is she to whom all glasses must be raised, has expanded from an initial base in proved to be one jewel of an evening So rise up now and toast our honouree. IA Irish history and literature, to include that will long be remembered. – Seamus Heaney APRIL / MAY 2013 IRISH AMERICA 85



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{irish studies} Molloy College Celebrates St. Brigid’s Day


n February 2, Molloy College’s Irish Studies Institute held its first St. Brigid’s Day Celebration – a fun afternoon of songs and stories that held the promise of exciting things to come for this fledgling Irish Studies program. St. Brigid’s Day, a Christian feast day, has its roots in the ancient Celtic festival of Imbolc, which signaled the start of spring. On Imbolc, Druid priests would light fires in honor of Bríd, the Irish goddess of fire, fertility, and crops, asking her for an early spring. Born around the middle of the 5th century, St. Brigid of Kildare was named after the goddess. Along with St. Patrick and St. Colum Cille, she is one of the three

dents alike. One of the many highlights was student James Sullivan’s reading of the opening paragraphs of Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes (Luaithreach Aingéil) in Irish. During an intermission, Mary Jo Lilly and Robert Lynch taught a workshop on making St. Brigid’s Crosses. Some Molloy student athletes sat down to watch. Lyrics to a few of the songs were passed out, allowing the audience to follow along. For the last song, “Óró Sé do Bheatha ’Bhaile,” the audience was encouraged to sing-a-long. The celebration ended with a short but rousing trad siesun featuring Lynch, Luke Powers and Patrick Shields.

During the celebration, Kelly emphasized that the Irish Institute’s certificate program is not only for adults, but is open to children as well. This was reflected by the participation of Erin Laxton and Maura Lynch, age 12. Laxton, who performed two step dances, just began Level 4 and, as her mother told me, “really enjoys the class.” Lynch sang “Báidín Fheilimidh.” Kelly and his ISI colleagues explained that they believe it’s important “to remind people that there’s more to Irish tradition than St. Patrick’s Day, as wonderful as St. Patrick’s Day is.” Within the Celtic calendar, there are four important festivals – Samhain (November 1st), Imbolc or St.


A few of the St. Brigid’s Day revelers: Robert Lynch and Mary Jo Lilly on the tin whistle; Jerry Kelly; Patrick Shields on the fiddle.

major saints of Ireland. Over time, Imbolc became St. Brigid’s feast day. Held at Molloy’s Wilbur Arts Building at its Rockville Centre, Long Island campus, the celebration – the first in what the Irish Studies Institute hopes will become a tradition of recognizing Irish festival days – began with a warm welcome from instructor Jerry Kelly. Speaking first in Irish and then translating his words into English, Kelly made every level of Irish speaker, from beginners to the fluent, feel welcomed. He followed this with Scéal Ársa ar Naomh Bríd, or An Ancient Story about St. Brigid, which recounts how, due to Brigid’s beauty, she had numerous suitors. Having no desire to marry, Brigid prayed to God, who removed her eyeball and placed it on her face. When a suitor came to see her, he was dismayed by what he saw, and left. Afterward, God returned her eye to its proper place. The program consisted of songs, poems, humorous stories, readings and more, from Irish enthusiasts and past and present stu86 IRISH AMERICA APRIL / MAY 2013

Founded in 2008, the Irish Studies Institute (ISI) is one of the newer Irish and Celtic Studies programs. Kelly credits the direction of Cathy Tully Muscente, the institute’s program director, as well as the support of Molloy College with the ISI’s “steadily expanding its number and breadth of offerings.” Currently, the ISI offers five levels of Irish language instruction. Level 5 was added this term, and there are plans to add a new course level each term through Fall 2014. The courses now also include culture, as the ISI “thinks it’s essential that the culture be taught with the language.” The Level 1 course, for example, now covers “an overview of Irish Language literature from pre-Christian times to the present,” including praise poetry (bárdachas), Brehon law (féineachas), the lives of the saints, folklore (béaloideas), and 21st century Irish language media. Levels 2 – 4 explore the pre-Christian mythological tradition and level 5 will study the sean-nós singing tradition.

Brigid’s Day (February 1st), Bealtaine (May 1st), and Lúnasa (August 1st). On May 4th, the institute will hold its first Bealtaine celebration. The first Samhain celebration was to be held at the beginning of November 2012, but was canceled because of Hurricane Sandy. In discussing the importance of learning the Irish language and culture together, Jim Norton, editor of the Irish language magazine An Gael and a friend of Kelly’s, said, “I don’t know how you could have Irish Studies without involving the language, without learning the language.” “Reintegration, just like [Jim] said,” Kelly added. “You can’t teach one without the other.” – Kristin Romano IA Information about the Irish Institute can be found at or by contacting Cathy Tully Muscente at 516-678-5000 ext. 6218. Contact Jerry Kelly at to learn more about the Certificate in Irish Language & Gaelic Culture.

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Authentic Irish Foods

Enjoy a Taste of Ireland Untitled-1 1

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{what are you like?} By Sheila Langan

Mary Robinson M

ary Robinson made history as Ireland’s first female president, in office from 1990 – 1997. She has since devoted her life to human rights on a global scale, serving as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 – 2002, and founding, among other projects, Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative and the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice. She is also a co-founder and past chair of the Council of Women World Leaders, and a member of the Elders, an independent group of international leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela. Robinson was born Mary Bourke in Ballina, Co. What is your current state of mind? I am very happy to be back in Ireland and working on what I believe to be the greatest threat to human rights: the negative impact of climate change on poor communities and poor countries.

Mayo in 1944, the daughter of two physicians and the only girl among five children. She studied law at Trinity College, Dublin; King’s Inns, Dublin and Harvard Law School. Her legal career, throughout which she was a member of the Trinity Law Faculty, was marked by a vision for achieving social change. In addition, she was a member of the Irish Senate from 1969 – 89. A recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama, Robinson now lives with her husband, Nick, in Dublin and Mayo. Her revealing and insightful memoir Everybody Matters: My Life Giving Voice was released in early March.

the vast majority of whom are women. It is estimated that about four million people die from toxic fumes from indoor cooking of this kind every year, so it’s also a huge health issue.

Where did your sense of the importance of equality come from? From a very early age I had a strong sense of wanting things to be fairer and being conscious that my family was quite privileged in comparison to others. I joke that that being the only girl among four brothers was an early introduction to human rights and fighting for equality!

How did your time as president of Ireland prepare you for addressing human rights on a global scale? When I was elected, I said that I wanted, on behalf of the people of Ireland, to give leadership on human rights, but I had very little idea how I could do that. But then, as it happened, I was the first head of state to go to Somalia in 1992, and I was able to draw attention to the food crisis there. I was also the first head of state to go to Rwanda in 1994, and I went back in 1995 and again a third time for a Pan-African women’s conference. All of this gave me a sense of the need to address human rights and [provide] a moral leadership as I had been [providing] as President of Ireland.

Globally, what should we be paying attention to right now? That climate change affects the poorest countries. At the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, we are looking at opportunities for affordable renewable energy for the 1.3 billion people who have no access to electricity and the 2.6 billion who still cook on open fires using coal, wood or animal dung, the

You often quote lines from poetry and literature to convey larger ideas. Is there a quote or passage you always come back to? I often come back to a poem by Seamus Heaney called “From the Republic of Conscience.” It’s a wonderful poem to explain what having a strong sense of human rights is about. In the ‘Republic of Conscience’ you loose all sense of privi-

What brought you to write Everybody Matters? I wanted to share my own experience and very much to encourage others to believe that not only does everybody matter, but everybody can make a difference.


lege, and when you return you are a dual citizen; you are an ambassador, and no ambassador will ever be relieved. I said that poem to myself on my last day as High Commissioner for Human Rights, at a memorial in the Cathedral in Geneva to mark the first sad anniversary of 9/11. What I was saying was, “today you are High Commissioner for Human Rights, tomorrow you are just Citizen Mary Robinson, but you are still an Ambassador of Conscience.”

You’ve spent a lot of time here. What do you like about the U.S.? I feel very at home in the United States because I was privileged to take a Master in Law at Harvard, in the class of 1968. I always look back on that year as having been very significant in my development. I spent eight years working with the UN from New York. It is a wonderful, cosmopolitan city and it suits me very well because the shops stay open late and early, and I’m a bad shopper and don’t plan ahead. Where did the idea of keeping symbolic a light on in the Áras for the diaspora come from? The idea of that light came from my mother, who used to put a candle in the window at Christmas signifying that no one should be without shelter and that if somebody knocked on the door they



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would be welcome. That was the idea of the light, to link with all of those who had to emigrate from Ireland in difficult times and to tell them that we still cared. I still have that light and treasure it.

Your election was a huge step forward for Irish women. Is there more to be done? Yes. We still have a relatively small percentage of women in our parliament, and in other walks of life we also need to make progress. What historical figure do you most identify with? There are a number. My great living hero is Nelson Mandela. I also very much look to Eleanor Roosevelt, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Your arch-nemesis? Those who trample on the human rights of others. At the moment that would be what is happening in Syria and those responsible for that. Best advice ever received? My friend Eavan Boland said to me when I was going forward as High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Mary, if you become popular in that job, you’re not really doing a good job!” Best advice ever given? I tell young people to believe in themselves, particularly young women, and to have confidence.

Where do you go to think? I do my best thinking walking around our grounds in the west of Ireland, by the lake, and I love to be there.

What drives you? A passion to make a difference and make life a bit fairer for those who suffer from inequality and injustice.

What don’t people understand about the Irish? Because we live on a small island, I don’t think people understand how politically conscious we are and how much we know about the rest of the world.

Your greatest fear? That we won’t take climate change seriously and that our grandchildren will look back and say “how could they have been so selfish and so uncaring?”

What don’t people understand about you? That I have a good sense of humor and like to tease and be teased and laugh. What is your hidden talent? An ability to relate to people at a deeper level. Your favorite quality in others? A willingness to listen. What is on your bedside table? Usually a book of poetry and a very readable novel. Your perfect day? A day spent with my children and grandchildren. Best line in a piece of music? I like Edith Piaf, whom I heard in Paris. I suppose it is “Non, je ne regrette rien.” Your proudest moment? When I was elected President.

What trait do you most deplore in others? Any racism, anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia, any hatred of the other. In yourself? I can tend to be very impatient for no good reason, especially in restaurants if I’m sitting there for too long before getting attention. Do you have a motto? I think the essential motto is ‘Everybody Matters.’ What’s next for you? Continuing to work for climate justice for so long as I have health and energy. What are you like? I’m a mother, a grandmother, a family person, very rooted, and yet I am very concerned about what is happening in poor countries and to poor people far away. IA I am very preoccupied. APRIL / MAY 2013 IRISH AMERICA 89



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At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, one Irish short made big waves. Filmmaker Tony Donoghue spoke with Sheila Langan about his utterly charming stop-motion animated film Irish Folk Furniture. he Sundance Film Festival, which takes place each January in Park City, Utah, is a staging ground for the independent films to watch out for in the months ahead. At this year’s festival, audiences and critics were raving about a number of screenings, including Fruitvale, which re-tells the 2009 shooting of a young man by Bay Area police; Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe’s turn as Allen Ginsburg in Kill All Your Darlings; an experimental short by actor James Franco; and a nine-minute animated documentary about traditional furniture all the way from the small village of Ballinderry, Co. Tipperary. Thoroughly unique and captivating, Irish Folk Furniture took home the Short Film Jury Prize for Animation. It is the work of Tipperary native Tony Donoghue, who caught up with Irish America after almost 48 hours of circuitous travel from Utah back to Ballinderry. At the time of our conversation, Irish Folk Furniture had been screened 47 times in 17 countries, and just as this issue went to press it received the Best Short Documentary award at the Global Visions Festival in Canada. On paper, Irish Folk Furniture shouldn’t work – “short animated documentary about old furniture” is a bundle of contradictions. But under Donoghue’s direction, it’s a triumph and a joy. In the opening scene, an old cabinet teeters down a snowy laneway. Two wooden chairs appear, scampering up to it in close pursuit. Immediately evident is Tony’s skill as an animator. The pieces are brought to life with stop-motion animation, using images from a Nikon D70 still camera he found on eBay for $150. Moving a large item of furniture frame by



frame across a big field is no easy feat, so what’s equally clear is how much the person behind the camera must care about these pieces. Donoghue became interested in traditional culture and folk furniture years ago, when he was living in London and working at the Natural History Museum. “I think that, like a lot of people, I had to go away to be able to see it,” he mused. “When I worked in England for a few years I realized that it was very trendy for people to have English folk furniture, remnants of the English agricultural past, in their houses, whereas we have this stuff just sitting in our sheds at home.”

Mary Brannigan. Her dialogue was recorded ten years ago; the images were taken last year. Now 99, she is, according to Donoghue, still farming.



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Rural Ireland in particular is pretty unique, Tony explained, in that many older items of furniture – dressers, cabinets, chairs, tables, flour bins – are still in the same family or the same context in which they originated. “Here, we never had much of an industrial revolution, so [aside from immigration] families tended to stay put. You see furniture that’s been in the same place for 50 or 100 years, some as far back as before the Famine.” He conceded that there tends to be a difference in quality between Irish folk furniture and that of other countries like England and France, where it was made by special craftspeople. “Most of our stuff was made by local guys,” he explained, “woodworkers, barrel makers or wheelwrights, people who weren’t primarily furniture makers, so most of the interest that I have in Irish folk furniture – other than that it’s uniquely beautiful – has to do with its association with the family.” After working as a curator in California and going to art school to study film and animation, Tony returned to Ireland and began teaching animation courses in Dublin. But when his father died suddenly in 1999, he realized that between going to

Donoghue has been trying to create awareness about the subject for about 10 years now – raising the issue of restoration with his County Council; intervening when a local man came close to losing a pre-Famine dresser to an American antiques dealer for a mere $100 (it has since been restored by the National Museum, and Tony now uses it for exhibitions). The question was how to get other people to care. Since many of the pieces are from a poorer past, most of the people he talks to don’t value them at first – either associating them with poverty or seeing them as things that have just always been there. “They don’t speak about them with great attachment,” Donoghue acknowledged, “but when you listen to them for a while the stories start to come out.” That’s precisely what happens in Irish Folk Furniture, which was produced by Cathal Black as part of the Irish Film Board’s Frameworks short film initiative. Truly a local project, it was all filmed no farther than two miles away from Tony’s house. Using conversations from his archive and more recent recordings, he introduces us to five members of his community, and over the course of the film, sixteen pieces of furniture are repaired,

boarding school and moving to Above, this page and page opposite: three of the stars restored, and returned home. The aniof Irish Folk Furniture – before and after restoration. England at 18, he had never realmation is a stunning achievement – ly spent much time exploring where he was from. witty and moving without being overly cute, it inspires in view“My mum was doing poorly, so I quit my job and came ers a genuine regard for the pieces. home,” he said. “I would set her up with her breakfast in the “I thought okay, how do I take probably one of the most bormorning and then go out for a few hours to record the neighing subjects in the world – old furniture – and make it interestbors talking about life.” He wound up recording conversations ing?” Donoghue asked, laughing. His answer was “make it with over 50 local people – neighbors, farmers, etc. – going move. Without going into the Disney anthropomorphic world, I about their daily business, all using a small voice recorder. “If had to animate it. Empathy is what I was after, because the real you put a big camera in front of your granny, she’ll either clam danger with animation is that you fall into slapstick.” up and be terrified or put on an act for it,” Tony explained. Now, Donoghue’s hope is that, between the film’s success “But if you put a little recorder in the middle of the table and and Ireland’s still evolving post-Celtic Tiger ethos, the Crafts let your uncle or your granny wash the cow, peel the carrots or Council and local bodies will take a stand towards restoring whatever they need to do, they’ll ramble on.” Ireland’s folk furniture and preserving it. Not in museums, but From this archive of recordings, he made an earlier short, Film where they belong: in people’s homes. “If you put the furniture From My Parish: 6 Farms, which screened at the 2009 Sundance back in the house it continues to evolve,” he maintains. “And Festival. He also delved into the conversations while working on so what if a dog takes a bite out of it? It’s part of the evolution. IA Irish Folk Furniture. It’s the most sensible way of curating living culture.” APRIL / MAY 2013 IRISH AMERICA 91



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{books} By Sheila Langan

Country Girl Edna O’Brien has published the memoir she swore she’d never write. Readers will be very glad she did. By Sheila Langan


ou can write and I will never forgive you,” said Ernest Gébler, Edna O’Brien’s then husband, after reading her manuscript for The Country Girls. Published in 1960, O’Brien’s honest and intimate portrayal of two young women in the Ireland she had left behind was a breakthrough success in England and America. It launched her literary career (there would be two sequels and film adaptations) and established her as a singular, distinctly female voice at a time when the field of Irish writers was still overwhelmingly male. Though he may have been the only one to put it so directly, Gébler was not the only one who would try to condemn O’Brien with his judgement. In Ireland, the author and her work, with its (by now tame) accounts of sex and intimacy, were denounced. The Country Girls was banned and burned. Archbishop Dennis McQuaid and then Taoiseach Charles Haughey concurred that it was “filth and should not be allowed in any decent home.” Years later, after her mother’s death, O’Brien would find the copy of The Country Girls she had sent to her “in a bolster case, with offending words daubed out in black ink.” One can only imagine the perverse care and attention to detail that must have taken. In Country Girl, O’Brien’s sweeping new memoir, we meet her many iterations. Edna the child, growing up in the fallen Great House of Drewsboro in Co. Clare, with a father prone to outbursts of drunken rage and a mother who carried on determinedly but never quite got over the fact that the money she thought she married into was gone. There’s Edna the student, at a convent boarding school in Galway, where she develops her first consuming crush – on one of the young Sisters. We see her enjoying her first taste of independence in Dublin, where, while training for four years to become a pharmacist, she discovers literature beyond the prayer books that filled her childhood home. She also discovers men. We witness her relationship with Gébler as it frees her


from her family and uproots her from Ireland, and we understand her despair as it turns bitter, oppressive. We meet Edna the mother. Edna the gracious hostess of the Swinging 60s, welcoming a wide-ranging list of stars into her Putney home. Robert Mitchum, Sean Connery, Paul McCartney, Marlon Brando, Princess Margaret and Lord

Snowdon, RD Laing, Ingrid Bergman, Judy Garland. One can’t help but recall the party scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Some are dear friends, many are passing acquaintances. Two men, who go unnamed, break her heart for a time. Both Norman Mailer and a young Jude Law steal quick kisses from her. Though impressive, the swirl of luminaries also highlights a palpable loneliness. O’Brien has often maintained that the writer’s life is, by nature, a solitary one. The Edna we get to know the most is Edna the writer. In this regard, Country Girl is a portrait more intimate and complete than any we’ve seen before. Her account of writing The Country Girls – more impassioned than most of her romantic reminiscences – drives home how vital the creative act is to O’Brien.

Isolated in suburban London and stuck in what has become a mostly loveless, imbalanced marriage, writing becomes her all. O’Brien finished The Country Girls in a mere three weeks, and here the urgency she felt is plain. After dropping her sons Carlo and Sasha off at school, she rushes back home to write and is instantly transported. “The wash of memory, and something stronger than memory, was so pervasive that I forgot I was in a semi-detatched house in London, with a small back garden that looked out onto another small back garden and an identical row of houses with red tiled roofs,” she recalls. The writing is also a catharsis. She cries, but they are “good tears,” dredging up feelings she didn’t know she had. “The words poured out of me, and the pen above the paper was not moving fast enough, so that sometimes I feared they would be lost forever.” One of the most important things about O’Brien, something she doesn’t belabor but something that must be recognized, is how much she gave up and risked in order to keep writing. Gébler, her sons (whom she almost lost in the ensuing custody battle), her mother, her reputation in Ireland. But barely for a second does O’Brien seem to reconsider or compromise. Things get hard for O’Brien the writer. The fluidity she was blessed with while writing her earlier works eventually leaves her, and at one point, in a Singapore hotel on a book tour, she seriously contemplates taking her own life. In a 2006 interview with this magazine, O’Brien said, “I would be much lonelier on this earth without literature, and I might even have gone mad. . . . Literature is the big bonanza, and writing is getting down on one’s knees each day and searching for the exact words.” As much as it plagues her at times, writing is necessary for O’Brien – a kind of affirmation. In the book’s prologue, she calls Country Girl “the memoir I swore I would never write.” But of course she had to write IA it. Because, resoundingly, she could.

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Nuala O’Faolain shook Ireland and captivated the world with her forthright memoir Are You Somebody? A new documentary seeks to present a full picture of the woman behind the writing. By Tom Deignan


or the millions who were astonished by Nuala O’Faolain’s Are You Somebody? The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman (1996), filmmakers Patrick Farrelly and Kate O’Callaghan have put together an important new documentary, which serves as a vital companion to O’Faolain’s best-selling memoir. Simply entitled Nuala, the film has earned raves from The Hollywood Reporter and The Irish Times, and is currently making the rounds on the film festival circuit to critical acclaim, winning, amongst other prizes, the Most Popular International Documentary Award at the Vancouver Film Festival. (Its next outing is at the Minneapolis/St. Paul Film Festival at the end of April). In Are You Somebody? published when she was in her late 50s, O’Faolain laid bare her battles with the demons that have conquered many lesser Irish souls: repressive family life, alcohol, strict gender roles. (“It was like someone breaking glass,” is how Colm Toibin describes the experience of reading Are You Somebody?) In Nuala, a more rounded sense of O’Faolain the person emerges, with her great friend, radio host Marian Finucane, serving as a guide throughout the film, and Farrelly and O’Callaghan expertly setting the broader stage. All three are uniquely positioned to make this documentary, having worked in Irish journalism for decades. After teaming up with Finucane on RTÉ radio in the 1980s, Farrelly and O’Callaghan made a series of successful documentaries, including Voices from the Grave, about the Troubles, which nabbed Best 94 IRISH AMERICA APRIL / MAY 2013

Documentary at the 2011 Irish Film and Television Awards. In Nuala, while Finucane takes us on the journey of O’Faolain’s life, Farrelly and O’Callaghan build on the narrative with family photos, archival footage and other well-chosen artifacts that simply tell their own story. Particularly memorable are black and white stills of a lithe, luminous O’Faolain in her twenties, and later, uncomfortable video footage of O’Faolain in Brooklyn barely tolerating the daughter of her final boyfriend, a lawyer she met online. (“I didn’t say one word on about wanting to meet an eight year-old,” we hear O’Faolain complain.) The comments and remembrances — from writers, editors and friends including O’Faolain’s three sisters, who are the true gems of this documentary – provide a deeper understanding not only of Nuala, but also of the country and era that so defined her. O’Faolain’s own voice also adds a sense of poignancy, with Farrelly and O’Callaghan employing audio recordings from Are You Somebody?, as well as television and radio recordings. Nuala efficiently chronicles the known facts of O’Faolain’s complicated, at times, grim life: her glitzy, philandering father; her mother’s retreat into alcoholism; and her coming of age as a bold, sexually experimental girl who was eventually shipped off to boarding school, which proved a crucial turning point in her life. Her many affairs with men also get an airing, as does her surprisingly stable 15year domestic partnership with feminist journalist Nell McCafferty. Though ultimately, as the film shows, Nuala’s dis-

missal of the sexual aspect of their relationship was devastating to Nell and nothing short of “cruel,” as one observer puts it. As the documentary makes clear, the literary success was welcome, but did not completely banish the cranky, complicated person often referred to as “the old Nuala.” She moved to the New York following the success of her memoir, and was thrilled at the prospect of reinventing herself in the vibrant city. And yet, not for the first time, she spend an inordinate amount of time seeming to sabotage what could have been a fulfilling relationship with her last boyfriend. O’Faolain would admit that “old insecurities” were getting the best of her. Yet, rather than flee, as she might have in the past, she works to rebuild this relationship. Not long after, however, comes the cancer diagnosis, and the fateful radio interview with Finucane on April 12, 2008, in which O'Faolain, with her trademark brutal honesty, shared her thoughts and feeling on her impending death. The interview caused such reverberations in Ireland, “its ripples still beat against the tide,” as one observer put it. O’Faolain’s decline was swift, she died within weeks of the interview, and many tears are shed in Nuala as friends look back on her final days. Nuala provides many of the answers as to what made Nuala O’Faolain unique – her brilliance and her passion for life, her courage, and all the things that made her, at various times, the voice of a nation and a pain in the neck. And makes us mourn IA her loss all the more.

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{ review of books}

Recently published books of Irish and Irish-American interest.


Non Fiction


Everybody Matters: My Life Giving Voice

ith her 2010 literary debut, The Walking People, Mary Beth Keane, the daughter of Irish immigrants, established herself as a writer who is especially sensitive to the experience of starting a new life in a new country. In her second novel, Fever, she has found a challenging but highly fitting subject in Mary Mallon, better known to history as Typhoid Mary. Immigrating can be an isolating ordeal, a fact that, as Keane makes clear, no one knew better than Mary Mallon. She left Ireland for the U.S. as a teenager in 1884. She found work as a domestic, and eventually established herself as an in-demand cook, employed in the homes of a number of New York families. When people in the households where she worked became sick with typhoid fever, it was only a matter of time before an expert, Dr. George Soper, realized that Mary was the common variable. An asymptomatic carrier, Mary found it hard to understand how she was at fault. Quarantined for three years on North Brother Island in the East River, she was eventually released in 1910 on the condition that she would not cook for anyone else – a promise she broke. In 1915 she was found out and sent back into quarantine, where she died in 1938. Keane has taken a few liberties with history – giving Mary a long-term partner in the form of Alfred, a German immigrant, for example – but rather than reading as fillers of fancy, they serve to highlight other realities of Mary’s time. It’s hard to imagine any writer giving voice to Mallon more thoroughly than Keane has. One gets the sense that her aim was neither to pity Mary nor to persecute her, but to present a full portrait of the real Irishwoman behind the name. Here, as in The Walking People, Keane has shown a distinct empathy for those in situations somewhat beyond their comprehension; and how they can triumph or they can flounder. – S.L.


(Scribner / $26.00 / 320 pages) 96 IRISH AMERICA APRIL / MAY 2013

ary Robinson made history when she became Ireland’s first female president in 1990. She inspired women across the nation and expanded the boundaries of the position, redefining what it meant to be Ireland’s Head of State. She made unprecedented visits to West Belfast and Buckingham Palace, Somalia and Rwanda. She made a concerted effort to reach out to Ireland’s diaspora, and to those who were marginalized within Irish society. American readers in particular may not be aware of all that Robinson did for Ireland in her lengthy career as a barrister and senator before she became president, or of the important human rights work she has conducted on a global scale since leaving elected office in 1997. Thankfully, her recently released memoir tells all. Written with her daughter, Tessa, Everybody Matters is a sweeping yet meticulously organized account of Robinson’s life – from her childhood in Ballina, Co. Mayo, to her intellectually formative years at Trinity and Harvard, through her presidency and posting as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to her current work with the Mary Robinson Foundation– Climate Change. The former president’s wisdom, humility and passion emanate from the pages as she takes us through her triumphs (bringing the Irish government to task before the European Court of Human Rights in landmark cases; her inaugural speech as president; becoming one of Nelson Mandela’s Elders), and her struggles (being denounced from pulpits across Ireland for her early attempts to legalize contraceptives; her family’s initial disapproval of her marriage to Nick Robinson, a Protestant; the censure she encountered as


U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights for speaking out against the U.S.’s post-9/11 practices). At one point, Robinson laments not having been more diplomatic during her early months with the U.N. If diplomacy was a skill she ever lacked, Robinson now has it in spades, as her writing maintains a careful balance – erring, at times, towards a modesty that can also be read as reticence. But Robinson’s accomplishments speak for themselves. Readers will come away understanding that she is a true hero of modern Ireland – even though she would never say so herself. – S.L. (Walker / $26.00 / 336 pages)

Tracing Your Sligo Ancestors

ames G. Ryan, who pioneered the Roots column in Irish America in 1987, when genealogy research was still in its infancy, has written a book specific to tracing one’s ancestors in Sligo. This beautiful county was particularly badly hit during the Great Famine, which began with the potato blight in 1845. In his introduction, Ryan writes that in a six-year period (1845-51) 30,000 people emigrated from Sligo, many to North America. By 1901 the population had fallen from 181,000 to 84,000 as many more fled. It is the descendants of those emigrants that Ryan had in mind when putting this book together, which is a primer for anyone tracing their Sligo ancestors. Ryan provides detailed lists of useful guides to records available for Sligo, where common surnames include (O’)Hart, (O’)Healy, Brennan, Gallagher, Gilmartin, McDermot and Scanlon. He details both record-keeping practices and the records that are now available to the public, and how to use them. These include Catholic Church records and Ordinance Survey Field records, the latter of which may offer valuable information on how one’s ancestor lived. He also includes specific information on accessing General Register Office records of births, deaths and marriages. In addition to all this




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“how-to” information, Ryan’s book offers interesting tidbits such as the fact that while all non-Catholic marriages were recorded from January 1, 1845, the recording of Catholic marriages didn’t begin for another 20 years. The publisher for Ryan’s book, Flyleaf Press, has also published genealogical research guides for the following counties: Clare, Cork, Donegal, Dublin, Galway, Limerick, May, Roscommon and Westmeath, and more are in preparation. – B.E. (Flyleaf Press / $16.00 / 160 pages)

become mere sound bites of Irish bravery and valor. If there is one overriding theme beyond a pick-me-up catalogue of courageous deeds performed by Irishmen that Newark emphasizes, it is that the Irish are a polyglot lot, found on both sides of the battlefield in most wars since the 19th century, and for as many reasons (practical and ideological) as there are shades of green in Éireann. —A.F. (Thomas Dunne Books / $25.99 / 288 pages)

Suspense The Rage

The Fighting Irish

he Irish have a storied history of participation in virtually every military engagement in which a European or American force was involved since the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Tim Newark, a historian who has published over 15 works of military history, covers all of them in The Fighting Irish, an ambitious chronicle of the Irish soldier at home and abroad. Newark begins at the Boyne and proceeds more-or-less chronologically through major military involvements like Napoleonic Wars, the American Civil War, the Boer Wars, the World Wars, and more recent UN peacekeeping missions and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Using an impressive array of Irish soldiers’ diaries, blogs, personal interviews, memoirs, and official military documents to form his narrative, Newark writes a compelling yet brisk narrative of each engagement through first-hand accounts of one or two Irish soldiers. His brevity, however, leaves little room to interrogate his sources for validity or historical significance relating to a broader Celtic experience in foreign armies. Focusing on military tactics and hyperdescriptive quotes of the battlefield, The Fighting Irish is engaging, but can become repetitive, and at times the historical value of his sources is undercut by the inundating effect of what seem to


he way things had gone, there was no good way out of this, no moral thing to do.” The dichotomy of good vs. evil and all the grey areas in between is at the heart of Gene Kerrigan’s latest crime novel, The Rage. A web of interconnecting storylines, The Rage follows characters from different walks of life as they struggle with the aftermath of Ireland’s economic crisis. For Kerrigan’s protagonist Detective Sergeant Bob Tidey, protecting the innocent and upholding justice has always been his passion; however, it is a task made difficult by the crooked bankers and politicians who have


the money to call the shots. The main conflict arises when Tidey must decide whether to obey his superiors and abandon an old murder investigation that may be linked to his current case involving the death of a crooked banker. If he does, a dead man will take the blame for the murders while those responsible walk free. One of the main characters in The Rage is Vincent Naylor, fresh out of Mountjoy Prison and already on the prowl for his next heist – annoyed that he missed out on getting what he sees as his fair share during Ireland’s boom time. “When he thought about it,” Kerrigan writes, “the big boys [bankers] might have got greedy, but when the shekels are there to be picked up, what else are you gonna do?” With the help of fellow crooks and his brother, Noel, Naylor plans to take as many shekels as he can. Readers may find themselves sympathizing with Naylor and his crew and the dysfunctional past that has brought them to this lifestyle. Almost every character in The Rage has been screwed over by somebody, whether a lover, a banker, a colleague or friend, and each person deals with this betrayal in a different way. What matters, Kerrigan implies, is IA how. – M.M. (Europa Editions / $17.00 / 320 pages)

Children’s Literature – as Gaeilge Tomhais Méid Mo Ghrá Duit For anyone who wants to share the joy of the Irish language with their favorite little ones – or for those who are just starting out as Irish language learners – Candlewick Press has just released an Irish translation of its best-selling children’s book Guess How Much I Love You.Tomhais Méid Mo Ghrá Duit is a beautiful, thoughtful translation. First published in 1994 in the U.K., Guess How Much I Love You was written by Sam McBratney and illustrated by Anita Jeram. Jeram’s charming illustrations are unchanged here, and McBratney’s original concept of a big hare and a little hare expressing their love for each other in increments of increasingly impossible distances is beautifully conveyed as Gaeilge. Readers will love this new version “An bealach ar fad suas go dtí an ghealach – agus ar ais!” – S.L. (Candlewick Press / $9.99 / 32 pages) APRIL / MAY 2013 IRISH AMERICA 97



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{crossword} By Darina Molloy

ACROSS 1 Most recent food scandal revolved around this (9) 4 Tasty buns (7) 7 See 4 down (9) 10 (& 21 down) This U.S. politician’s great-grandfather was literally a blind fiddler (3) 11 (& 14 down, & 9 down) Made history by winning three best actor Oscars (6) 12 Oscar _____: AKA “Blade Runner” (9) 13 Identity (2) 15 Popular sneakers (8) 16 Swim competition (4) 17 Isaac’s son and Jacob’s twin brother in biblical times (4) 18 22 down’s family run this cookery school and restaurant (10) 24 Leinster county (7) 25 See 27 down (6) 26 Can be short for Margaret (3) 28 Ireland’s 40 shades of glas (5) 29 This Niall is in One Direction (5) 30 Content-sharing social network in virtual pinboard form (9) 31 A fruit of the genus Prunus (4) 33 River in Cork (3) 36 Registered nurse (1,1) 37 Slow mollusc (5) 38 Actor Mr. Quinn (5) 41 Go back over or recount (5) 42 (& 23 down) What Richard Did actor (4) 43 See 35 down (6) 44 Actor John C. voices the main hero in Wreck it Ralph (6)

8 9 12 14 16 19 20

DOWN 2 To do with horses (10) 3 The ___ is nigh (3) 4 (& 7 across) Taoiseach Enda Kenny apologized to inhabitants of these institutions (9) 5 ‘Impossibly Beautiful’ singer Ms. Julie _____ (6) 6 This Billy is a popular Scottish comedian (8)

21 22 23 25 26 27

Fool (5) See 11 across (5) To lay a path (4) See 11 across (3) Hometown of 29 across (9) Someone who works with books and information (9) (& 26 down) Giant statue proposed for top of this ‘holy’ mountain (6) See 10 across (5) Ms. Allen - popular Irish chef and TV star (6) See 42 across (6) Picturesque rocky area of Co. Clare (6) See 20 down (7) (& 25 across) His fans call themselves Beliebers (6)

Win a subscription to Irish America magazine Please send your completed crossword puzzle to Irish America, 875 Sixth Avenue, Suite 201, New York, NY 10001, to arrive no later than May 15, 2013. A winner will be drawn from among all correct entries. If there are no correct solutions, the prize will be awarded for the completed puzzle which comes closest in the opinion of our staff. Winner’s name will be published along with the solution in our next issue. Xerox copies are acceptable. Winner of the FEB./MAR. Crossword: Katherine K. Winger, Scranton, PA 98 IRISH AMERICA APRIL / MAY 2013

32 Most common surname in Ireland (6) 34 Emergency room (1, 1) 35 (& 43 across) Recently honored with a special award in Dublin for her work with Druid Theatre Company (5) 39 Nebraska (2) 40 Irish jelly (3)

February / March Solution



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{sláinte} By Edythe Preet

Mother Earth

Edythe Preet writes of the many reasons why Ireland is called the Motherland.




ivilization began when hunter-gatherers learned to cultinently in Irish myth. Celtic goddesses presided over battle, nature, vate grain and evolved into permanent agricultural comhealing, and fertility. Many times, they exhibit opposing themes munities. Since males were the hunters and females the of virginity and sexuality, abundance and destruction, war and gatherers, anthropologists theorize it was most likely peace, life and death. Partnership is a prominent theme, and in women who realized that grain grew from gathered seeds that these relationships, the female is frequently the dominant partner, could be deliberately planted and harvested. The cycle directly an indication of the independence afforded women in early Irish parallels women’s cycle of pregnancy and birth. society. Archaeological evidence indicates that a primordial Earth Like the Christian patriarchal concept of Father, Son and Holy Mother was the center of prehistoric communities’ religious and Spirit, several Celtic goddesses are associated with triplicity, social structure. Carved figures and drawings depicting full-figimplying the three ages of woman: maid, mother, and crone. ured but faceless female forms have been found at numerous Neolithic sites, especially in central Europe where the Celts originated. There the mother goddess was called Danu, and her name was given to the mother of the continent’s eastern rivers – the Danube. Irish myth holds that Danu, also known as Anu, was the earth goddess from whom all life emerged, including the Tuatha De Danaan, or fairy folk. Anu offered fertility, abundance, regeneration and nurturing. Two side-by-side hills in County Kerry are known as The Paps of Anu. To mark the site, the ancient Irish placed mounds of stones on the hillcrests, which viewed from a distance, cause the hills to resemble a woman’s breasts. In the Lebor Gabala (Book of Invasions, transcribed from oral history in 1000 AD), it is recorded that when Anu’s Tuatha de Danaan arrived, they encountered an earlier Celtic population, the Fir Bolg. According to the saga, the Fir Bolg were defeated by the Tuatha De Danaan at the Battle of Moytura, at the Two side-by-side hills in County Kerry are known as The Paps of Anu, the earth goddess. Galway-Mayo border on Beltaine. Now fixed on May 1st, Beltaine was originally celebrated during the full moon midway between Spring Equinox and Brid, or Brighid, is a classic example. A triple goddess, her Summer Solstice to insure an abundant harvest. dominion encompassed the elements of earth, water, and fire Despite their supposed otherworldly powers the Danaan were (planting, caring for, and preparing food). Her dual nature is defeated by the next wave of invading Celts – the Milesians. expressed by her patronage of both smiths (those who fashion Even so, the Book of Invasions records that the Danaan retained killing weapons) and midwives (those who bring new life to the enough magic arts to plague the Milesians by rotting their crops tribe). and sickening their cattle. Finally, a truce meeting was arranged Ireland’s history of reverence for women is today best exembetween Amergin, bard and spokesman for the Milesians, and plified by the national devotion to Mary, Mother of Christ. Like three sister-queens, all daughters of Dagda, the greatest ruler of Danu, Mary is a Great Mother deity, possessing virgin and the Danaan. It was agreed that although the Milesians would rule mother duality. Although Brighid is a popular Irish name for a and the Danaan would retreat to live in fairy raths (hills), the land female child, it is eclipsed by the number of girls named Mary, would always and forever be known by the name of the youngest or a derivative form such as Margaret, Marian, Moura, Molly, Danaan queen – Eire. Meg, Maire, and Moire. Irish Catholics believe that Mary But Eire and Danu are not the only women who figure promiappeared one day in Knock, County Mayo. A cathedral was



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erected there in her honor, and the month of May is dedicated to her worship. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, when millions of Erin’s sons and daughters fled the Great Famine and emigrated to America, many popular songs told of their longing for the green land of their birth. Three of the best known are “Come Back To Erin, Mavourneen, Mavourneen,” “Ireland, I Love You, Acushla Machree,” and “Won’t You Come Back To Mother Machree.” In all, mavourneen, acushla and machree are variants of ‘dearest,’ and it is the bond to mother and motherland for which the singers pine. In 1928, the great Irish American director John Ford, whose father was born in County Galway, produced a silent film called Mother Machree, which is occasionally aired on Turner Classic Movies. The plot tells of an Irish widow, Ellen McHugh, who immigrates to America and joins a carnival, placing her only son,

Brian, in a fashionable school. When his mother’s profession is discovered, the principal forces Ellen to surrender the boy legally into his care. She becomes a housekeeper in the home of a posh society family and rears her employer’s daughter, Edith. Years later on the eve of WWI, Edith and Brian meet and fall in love. Eventually the boy and his mother are reunited, and all ends happily. Since time immemorial women have figured prominently in Irish history and myth. Ireland is Eire’s land. Eire was a queen of the Tuatha de Danaan. The Tuatha de Danaan was ‘the tribe of Danu.’ Danu was the Celt’s Mother Goddess. The way I see it, the Irish are better justified than any other people on earth to call their homeland ‘the motherland.’ Thus, I suggest the following. On Mother’s Day this year while honoring your own dear Mother, take a moment and have a care as well for Eire, Mama Machree IA of us all. Sláinte!

RECIPES During the Middle Ages in Ireland, the third Sunday in Lent was celebrated as ‘Mothering Sunday.’ On that day servants in big manor houses were relieved of their duties so they could attend Mass at their home villages’ ‘mother’ church. After the service they brought pretty wildflower bouquets to their mothers. The day was also celebrated with a very special baked treat called a Simnel Cake. Over the years, the custom lapsed but it has been revived. Making a Simnel Cake is somewhat involved, but do give it a go as the result is delicious!

Simnel Cake

– Personal Recipe Collection ALMOND PASTE 400g icing sugar, sifted 250g ground almonds 1 large egg yolk, beaten lightly 3-4 tablespoons orange juice 5 drops almond essence CAKE 250g plain flour 1 pinch salt 1 teaspoon nutmeg 1 teaspoon cinnamon 280g currants 250g sultanas 110g mixed peel 160g butter 160g caster sugar 3 large eggs 200ml milk, to mix

TOOLS CHECK LIST: a sifter, nest of bowls, food processor or electric beater, spatula, wooden spoon, 9-inch round cake tin, baking paper, brown paper and twine, rolling pin, thin metal skewer. STAGE 1: To make your own almond paste you will need a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Don’t be tempted to use storebought almond paste because its sugar content will turn liquid under the broiler in Step 4.

Place icing sugar and almonds in food processor bowl. Process, slowly dripping in egg yolk, orange juice and almond essence. The mixture should form a pliable paste. Set aside a small portion for balls with which to decorate the cake (Step 4). Roll out the remaining paste into 2 circles that are the approximate size of the baking tin. Set aside.

STAGE 2: Preheat oven to 320°F. Butter the base of a sturdy 9-inch non-stick cake pan and line with baking paper. As the baking period is long (1-1 1/2 hours), prevent the cake drying out by wrapping a double thickness of brown paper around the pan and securing it with twine. Sift flour, salt and spices together, then stir in fruit and peel. Cream butter and sugar thoroughly until light and creamy, then beat in eggs one at a time, until the mixture is fluffy. (Reserve some egg yolk for brushing over top layer of almond paste in Step 4.) Stir flour and fruit into creamed mixture (you may need to add a little milk to give the mixture a dropping consistency).

STAGE 3: Place half the mixture into a greased and lined cake tin. Place one pre-rolled round of almond paste over the top. Cover with remaining cake mixture. Before baking, give the pan of mixture a sharp tap on a firm surface. This settles the mixture and prevents holes from forming in the cake. Bake in the center of the oven for 1-1 1/4 hours or until a thin metal skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out without a trace of stickiness. Let cake settle in baking tin for 10-15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack, peel off paper and leave to cool completely.

STAGE 4: Cover the top of the cake with a second round of almond paste. Roll 11 small balls of paste and place evenly around the top of the cake. Brush the top with a little beaten egg and very lightly brown under a heated broiler until the almond paste turns light golden brown. Remove from broiler and leave to cool. APRIL / MAY 2013 IRISH AMERICA 101



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{music reviews} By Tara Dougherty

Luka Bloom This New Morning t is no secret that Ireland boasts some of the most potent singer-songwriters of modern music. Joining the ranks is Luka Bloom. Bloom has made a career in Ireland with his heartstring-tugging original songs and original interpretations of folk classics. This new record is pleasantly understated, a collection of stories told through song with gentleness and joy. It’s a challenge not to smile throughout This New Morning. Bloom departs his standard just-a-guitar-and-mic approach to welcome legends of the Irish folk scene, among them Glen Hansard, Iarla O Lionaird, Steve Cooney and Rita Connolly. This New Morning is a subdued record. Bloom is a rare master of the vocal whisper; he values the quietness of a song, so often foolishly overlooked by singer-songwriters who seek power constantly. “A Seed Was Sown” is a perfect example of this skill. Bloom is joined by legend Rita Connolly whose ethereal harmonies take this sweet track to an emotional peak. Bloom finds a way to take his indie folk music and give it just a hint of Celtic flavor, enough to make it distinctly Irish without alienating nontrad fans. “Capture a Dream” combines a beautiful Irish flute with a Spanishinfluenced guitar and Bloom’s quiet storytelling to make a mesmerizing track. And of course, it wouldn’t be folk without some toe-tappers. “The Race Runs Me” and “Heart Man” are the highlights of the upbeat tracks which manage to move you with minimal instrumentation. This New Morning is a real accomplishment and could very well be Bloom’s final tool to cracking the American market.


Lúnasa Lúnasa with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra ong lauded as the premier Irish instrumental band, Lúnasa has released a recording of their sold out June 2012 show with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. Lúnasa fans have waited three years for a new release from the beloved band and will be delighted with the album, which offers front row seats to this wonderful performance at Dublin’s National Concert Hall. The project came to be when composer Niall Vallely was asked by RTÉ to compose arrangements for a traditional band. Vallely’s experience in both the traditional and



classical fields made him an ideal candidate. And the fact that Vallely’s brother Ciaran is a piper in Lúnasa created a perfect storm for this concert. Combining the lively thrill of Lúnasa with the awe-inspiring power of one of Ireland’s most celebrated orchestras results in a powerhouse record that will delight Lúnasa fans and entice classical fans into the world of Irish music. The orchestra adds a gusto to the traditional songs that never overpowers Lúnasa’s unique voice; rather, the arrangements seem dedicated only to enhancing it.

Enter The Haggis The Modest Revolution hen this Canadian folk group first came to be in 1996, Enter The Haggis’s unique folk/rock/world/indie fusion was a very different addition to trad collections. After refining their act on the festival circuits of Canada and the U.S., ETH, as they are commonly known to fans, have found a delightful sound with elements of so many genres it’s hard to believe they are only a quintet. With this album, The Modest Revolution, the range of genres is particularly potent. American country vocals crop up on this record, along with reggae horn arrangements and blues harmonica: the band is a musical cornucopia of influences. This often leads to a fairly chaotic sound, but when ETH hits its mark, there is nothing that sounds quite like it. The Modest Revolution is a concept album born from the great hits which drew their inspiration from, of all things, the news. John Lennon’s “Day in the Life” and U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” are both cited as inspiration for this album. The Modest Revolution, the name itself taken from a headline, is based entirely on one edition of The Globe and Mail newspaper. The theme lends itself well to an album more lyrically focused than ETH’s other recent endeavors. “Can’t Trust The News” has the infectious arrangement of 90s pop rock. When combining this throwback staccato vocal with the roots instrumentation of ETH, the catchiness of this track is transported to a different place entirely. Similarly, “Scarecrow” could be easily placed in a trad music playlist or a Dave Matthews tribute album. ETH has a very specific brand of tunes and likely a specific following. Maybe not for every pop fan or every trad fan, but definitely an accomplishIA ment in genre exploration.




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{photo album} Family Pictures

Neither a Nun Nor Married


ast year my mother began to hang old photographs and framed documents on what she calls the “family wall” in her living room. No need for a coat of arms or Céad Míle Fáilte sign when we have the family wall. There’s my Donegal-born paternal grandfather’s naturalization certificate from 1935, which states “British” as his former nationality. There’s my mother’s class photo from St. Attracta’s Lowpark National School, 50 scowling girls in dark dresses. And there’s a large portrait of a smiling young woman with her hair arranged in glossy waves. “Is that Aunt Peggy?” I asked. “Yes,” my mother said. “I think that was taken in a studio in the Bronx, when she lived here.” “Peggy lived in America?” I had not known this, had always pictured her tucked away on the farm in Curry or in the dark house in Charlestown, caring for old people. “Oh, yes,” my mother said. “She lived in New York for seven years, during World War II, but then they fetched her back.” Peggy was a cook, my mother told me, on the estate of a family so wealthy that they had a chauffeur. It was rumored back in Charlestown that Peggy had followed a man to America, but, my mother said, “Nothing was ever said about him after that.” Which makes me all the more curious about a series of snapshots my mother gave me, photos too small and faded to merit a spot on the family wall, but more fascinating than any formal portrait. In the snapshots, 10 young men and women, all Irish undoubtedly, cavort in Central Park, playacting for the camera. They’re dressed in fine clothes for this outing in the park; the men in suits, the women in patterned dresses and high heels. Yet their finery hasn’t stopped them from plopping on the grass, heads on laps. In one picture, a young woman stands behind a young man, her hands over his eyes, while their friends face the camera, bodies huddled close, propriety


forgotten. Arms are slung around shoulders, hands rest assertively on waists. Their laughter is almost audible. They’re tasting life in America, away from the expectations of their families, their villages, their parish priests. In another photo, a standing couple kiss, bent sideways in a showy embrace, the woman’s curly hair masking her features, while the rest of the gang sprawl on the grass, arms linked. (Propriety is not completely forgotten: the girls’ legs are, to a woman, crossed at the ankle.) And in their midst is Peggy. In each photo she is next to a young man with curly hair who looks as if he’s spent the seconds between each pose saying outrageous things to make the girls shriek. He has his arm around Peggy’s waist, pulling her close. In one photo, Peggy’s face is turned to the side. She looks up at the man, while he grins slyly at the camera. One hand snakes around on her midriff, the other encircles her wrist. Peggy’s hands clasp one of his. Is this the young man she followed to America? Or someone else, a fellow worker in the house of the rich family? No names or dates are written on the backs of the photos, but even without those details, the faded images capture a day that Peggy and her companions would have recalled as great craic altogether.

The Visit Charlestown, County Mayo.

It was August, 1977. Our flight from JFK had landed at Shannon the day before, and my parents had already begun the ceremonial relative-visits that would continue for the next three weeks. In the morning we’d stopped at my uncle’s farm a mile outside Charlestown, and a few minutes ago we’d arrived at this row house in town where my mother’s Aunt Peggy lived. As she’d opened the front door, Peggy had been half-laughing, saying breathlessly as she hugged my parents that she’d been expecting us, and wasn’t it grand we were here at last, and was this fine little girl Cecilia, and how delighted she was to finally meet me.

That visit to Ireland was the only time I met Aunt Peggy—her full name was Margaret Henry—so I hang on to the few memories of her that I’ve salvaged. The print dress she wore when she sat next to me in the back seat of our rented Le Car on day trips to Ashford Castle, Cong, and Knock Shrine. Her amazement that I’d changed so quickly into a bathing suit on an Achill Island beach. (My mother explained to her that I’d worn the bathing suit under my clothes, as children usually did in America.) Peggy’s animation as she argued about the merits of the local hurling teams with my male cousins, and my jealousy and bewilderment as I listened, for I knew nothing of hurling. I remember, most of all, the fond regard in Aunt Peggy’s eyes when she spoke to me, an affection I’d done nothing to earn except be born. As she opened the front door to the house that wasn’t hers, she’d been prepared to love me. When we returned to New York, Peggy’s letters to my mother always mentioned me. She asked questions about my dance lessons and how I was doing in school, and wondered at how big I must be getting. By the time my family returned to Ireland ten years later, in 1987, Aunt Peggy had been dead three years. We drove by the row house in town, but couldn’t go in. Eventually, the old couple’s relatives had remembered her, and she’d moved back to the old kip. How did Peggy feel, I wonder, at being called back to Ireland to care for her aging parents, who went into a steep decline as soon as she went home, as if, my mother says, they’d been waiting for “Margit” to return before giving in to infirmity? Did she regret putting away the fur trimmed collars, high heels, and lipstick that she wore when she got off the ship in Cobh harbor? For such vanities were frowned upon in small Irish towns in the late 1940s, just after the war. And what of the young man in the photos? Was Peggy sorry to leave him? My mother remembers that her father sometimes tried matchmaking, had a Continued on page 106


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Peggy, far left, in Central Park, New York, before she moved back to Ireland to take care of her parents.

farmer come round, in the hopes of courting Peggy, but nothing came of that. The farmers with their country ways and farming concerns would not have compared favorably, I think, to the men Peggy met in New York. To the man in the snapshots. Yet Peggy defies my attempts to feel sorry for her. She shakes her head at my fanciful imaginings of the sadness and frustration she must have felt in leaving America and romance in Central Park. She doesn’t recognize the stifled life that I’ve conjured for her in Ireland, for it never existed. My fabrications don’t jibe with the facts before me. The woman I met when I was seven years old was a happy one, loving and lively. As the adults drank tea in the lowceilinged kitchen of the old house, I crept through its dark wallpapered rooms, exploring. The house was not actually Aunt Peggy’s, but had belonged to an elderly couple. Peggy, who was herself approaching seventy, had been their caregiver. From the grownups’ conversation, I’d learned that the old man had died the year before. Just two weeks before our visit, the old woman had died, yet Aunt Peggy remained in the house, waiting for the old couple’s relatives to remember she was there and ask her to leave. When 106 IRISH AMERICA APRIL / MAY 2013

that happened, she’d have to return to what she referred to as “the old kip”— the two-room farmhouse she’d grown up in, and where she’d cared for her parents until they died. That house was away out in Curry, Sligo, down a forgotten boreen where the brambles grew so thickly that a car could barely scrape through, although Aunt Peggy had no car, only a black bicycle. I mulled over Aunt Peggy’s odd living arrangements as I tiptoed up the stairs, which, despite my slight stature, protested noisily with each step I took. At the top of the stairs I paused in the doorway of a bedroom, then took a hesitant step inside. There was furniture in the room, no doubt, and lamps and bric-a-brac, but I saw only the bed. It sat at the center of the room, massive and draped with an ivory-fringed coverlet. The mattress sagged heavily in the middle, and the coverlet fringes reached for the floor like emaciated fingers. I knew instinctively that this bed wasn’t Aunt Peggy’s. The old man who owned the house had lain dying in the bed, and later, the old woman had died there too. Had Peggy

been with the old people as they died? Had she leaned over the bed to hear their last whispered words? In death, I imagined, the old people’s bodies had grown heavy and weighed the mattress down, making it sag. I stood immobilized inside the doorway for a moment, then backed out of the room and skittered downstairs. In the warm kitchen, Aunt Peggy greeted me with a plate of white and pink iced fairy cakes. “Did you have a good poke around?” she asked. I wondered at her cheerfulness. How could she stand to live in such a house, with such a bed, and wouldn’t she feel better if she had a husband to keep her company? Women, I understood, either married or became nuns. It was unsettling that she’d done neither. “Are you going to get married?” I said. Her eyes grew wide for a second, and then she began to laugh, her eyes smiling down at me. “There’s hope for me yet,” she said. Although Aunt Peggy lived out her final years in the little farmhouse down a forgotten boreen, she didn’t molder away there. She found a job as housekeeper for a doctor in Killasser, and rode her bicycle into Charlestown for Mass every Sunday and Holy Day, and tuned in for the hurling and Gaelic football matches on the radio. In letters to my mother, Aunt Peggy wrote about visiting her good friend Winnie, and hitching a ride to town, and a trip to Lourdes, and a night at a dance, and drinking a few whiskies (she called them “hookers”) in the pub, and how some land she sold got a great price that “was the talk of three parishes.” And, of course, I remember Peggy’s peals of laughter at my youthful suggestion that she marry. Perhaps, in that snapshot from long ago, she is not holding the young man’s hand close, but IA prying it away. – Cecilia Donohoe

Please send photographs along with your name, address, phone number, and a brief description, to Sheila Langan at Irish America, 875 Sixth Avenue, Suite 201, New York, NY 10001. If photos are irreplaceable, then please send a good quality reproduction or e-mail the picture at 300 dpi resolution to No photocopies, please. We will pay $65 for each submission that we select.


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