Page 1



12:55 PM

Page 4

IRISH AMERICA February / March 2009

Vol. 24 No. 1


FEATURES 30 RESTORING LISADELL Sharon Ní Chonchúir travels to the famous Lissadell House in Sligo to see how one couple’s dedication has turned a decaying mansion into a thriving tourist spot. 36 A HOUSE IN BLACK, WHITE AND GREEN Denis Bergin delves into Barack Obama’s Irish connections and looks at the Irish and African-American influence on all things Washington. 42 INSIDE THE KENNEDY WHITE HOUSE JFK’s Presidential victory also brought several other IrishAmericans to the corridors of power. Tom Deignan takes a look at the men who made up “The Irish Murphia” in the Kennedy White House. 46 GAELIC GAMES: A NEW FUTURE IN THE CITY BY THE BAY Years of diligent work resulted in the opening of new GAA Fields in San Francisco in December. Chris Ryan reports from Páirc na nGael on Treasure Island. 50 THE TRIUMPH AND THE TRAGEDY Mary Pat Kelly discusses her latest novel, Galway Bay, and tells Patricia Harty why the story is so close to her heart. 56 BECOMING BILLY Trent Kowalik, who plays the lead in Broadway’s Billy Elliot, talks to Bridget English about his rise to stardom and his love of Irish dance.


58 MURDER SHE WROTE Martina Cole talks to Kara Rota about what drives her to write novels about London’s criminal underworld. 70 THE PAIN AND BEAUTY OF HUNGER Steve McQueen’s award-winning feature film Hunger is a tour de force about the last stages of Bobby Sands’ life. By Declan O’Kelly.

70 80

72 THE TIES THAT BIND Donald Keough delivered a memorable speech as guest of honor at the magazine’s annual Business100 Awards, which we are proud to share with our readers. 76 THE POLISH CONNECTION: ARE IRELAND’S POLES FITTING IN? Sharon Ní Chonchúir investigates DEPARTMENTS how Ireland’s largest immigrant 6 Contributors group is integrating into Irish 8 First Word life. 10 Readers Forum 12 News from Ireland 80 MY GRANDMOTHER’S GAZE Kate Flanagan tells the story 16 Hibernia of her grandmother in this 60 Sláinte poignant look at one woman’s 62 Books American story. 64 Music 75 Crossword COVER PHOTO: PETER FOLEY




11:41 AM

Page 6

{contributors} Vol.24 No.1 • February / March 2009

IRISH AMERICA DENIS BERGIN, who writes abut Barack Obama in this issue, has spent most of his professional life as writer, editor and communication consultant. Married to a native of upstate New York, Bergin, who is Irish-born, was a regular visitor to the United States for more than twenty-five years before settling in the Charleston area of South Carolina in 2000. Between 2002 and 2008 he coordinated the James Hoban Commemoration honoring the Kilkenny-born architect and builder of The White House, and he now divides his time between his home in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, and a cottage on the banks of the Grand Canal near Clonmacnoise in Co. Offaly.

BRIDGET ENGLISH, who interviews Trent Kowalik of Billy Elliot fame in this issue, is a graduate of New York University where she received her B.A. in English literature with an emphasis on creative writing and an Irish studies minor. A valued member of the Irish America team, Bridget is a Chicago native. She has a a master’s degree from Brooklyn College, where she currently teaches.

KARA ROTA will receive her B.A. in May from Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, where she is completing her thesis on posthuman ethics. She hopes to one day publish a fraction of the number of novels written by the prolific Martina Cole, interviewed for this issue.


CHRIS RYAN, who reports on the opening of the new GAA fields in San Francisco, is a freelance writer and photographer. He covers travel, politics, and the outdoors, and profiles people of interest. His photographic creations are displayed at Chris lives in Santa Cruz, California.


875 SIXTH AVENUE, SUITE 2100, N.Y., NY 10001 TEL: 212-725-2993 FAX: 212-244-3344 E-MAIL: irishamag @ WEB:

Mortas Cine Pride In Our Heritage

Founding Publisher: Niall O’Dowd Co-Founder/Editor-in-Chief: Patricia Harty Vice President of Marketing: Turlough McConnell Art Director: Marian Fairweather

SHARON NÍ CHONCHÚIR is a regular contributor to Irish America. In this issue she reports on Lissadell House in Sligo and looks at the Polish immigrants in Ireland. Sharon lives and works in West Kerry, Ireland, and much of her writing is concerned with the changing face of modern Irish culture.

Assistant Editor: Declan O’Kelly Copy Editor: John Anderson Advertising & Events Coordinator: Kathleen Overbeck Financial Controller: Kevin M. Mangan Editorial Assistant: Elizabeth Reilly Irish America Magazine ISSN 0884-4240) © by Irish America Inc. Published bi-monthly. Mailing address: P.O. Box 1277, Bellmawr, NJ 080995277. Editorial office: 875 Sixth Avenue, Suite 2100, New York, NY 10001. Telephone: 212 725-2993. Fax: 212-244-3344 E-mail: Subscription rate is $21.95 for one year. Subscription orders: 1-800-5826642. Subscription queries: 1-800-582-6642, (212) 725-2993, ext. 16. 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.


10:59 AM

Page 8

{the first word} PHOTO: KIT DE FEVER

The Comfort of

Tradition & Ritual “The robins came – that’s a sign of luck,” my cousin whispers in my ear as the men start to shovel the clay. Sure enough, I look up and see a pair of robins swoop down over the heads of those gathered and then fly off together. It’s a bright sunny day, but the temperature is below freezing and I worry that the clay will be frozen solid. Perhaps it is. But the men – whom I still think of as young lads – they were boys when they first knew my mother – barely break a sweat as they bend to the job. They have lines on their faces now and children of their own but I see them as they were – boyhood friends of my brothers always about the place. “Your mother would be standing over a pot of potatoes on the stove and she would lift the lid and just add some more to the pot

when she saw us coming,” is how one of them put it. My mother passed away on New Year’s Eve in San Francisco where she lived for the past 20 years. In her final days all she talked about was going home to Knigh. So we brought her. We waked her in the front room, with a fire blazing in the hearth, and the neighbors came, and the cousins from England and Spain, and people I hadn’t seen since I was in primary school, and friends of my young nieces and nephews, and friends of my mother – people who knew her when she worked in Nenagh Hospital. In Carrig Church, the school choir sang and Fr. Slattery gave a nice sermon and my brother Noel gave a great eulogy that spoke of my mother’s long life – her first journey when she was a month old traveling by ship to India and by train to Quetta, on the border of Afghanistan and what is now Pakistan. (My grandfather was a doctor in the Royal Army Medical Corps. and my mother spent her young life at British colonial outposts). She lived in London during the Blitz, and then Tipperary, and emigrated to San Francisco, a widow in her late sixties, to be near her children and grandchildren. Now she had made her final journey and come to rest beside my father (d. 1978) in Knigh graveyard.

My niece Rebecca Harty rests against the Celtic Cross that stands guard over generations of departed ancestors in Knigh graveyard, Co. Tipperary.


In truth, in those last days in San Francisco, as I sat beside my mother’s hospital bed, I wondered why she wanted to go back to Ireland. She had enjoyed her life in San Francisco, and had known grand times in cities and foreign parts before meeting my father and settling in Tipperary. Life was hard – especially on women – in Ireland in the 1950s and 60s, even up to the time she left in the 1980s, the economy was still in the doldrums. But on this day, in this tiny churchyard, just a field away from our family farm where my father’s people have been buried for generations – I know what she found here and why she wanted to come home. I look around me and I see the spirit of a community that had stood together in tough times and is readying itself for tough times again. I take comfort in the symbolism of robins, and the young men who quietly take up the shovels without being asked. And I think that one day at the end of my traveling, I would like to rest here too. Tonight we will eat good food, tell great stories and sing songs into the wee hours, and no one will mention the decision by Dell, the largest employer in the area, to cut 1900 jobs which is a huge blow to workers and their families in this community. (Perhaps America’s new President whose great-great-great grandfather came from this locale will look at the long-standing Ireland-America relationship and rethink the present policy on immigration?) Tonight we will look to the old ways, as we toast the new, and the legacy of our parents and grandparents who made the best of things in the worst of times, and remember, as my mother used to say, “As long as you have your health, you have everything.” IA God bless.



3:40 PM

Page 10

{readers forum}

RELIGION IS RIDICULOUS Imagine my surprise to see the religious and the priests etc. attack Bill Maher for his comments during a recent interview (Oct./Nov. issue). Perhaps after a lifetime of study, reading and a lot of critical analysis, Bill Maher like me has come to the conclusion that religion is indeed ridiculous and has no place in our modern lives. As Irish people we have supported a religion that never actually supported the poor of Ireland, is very active in discrimination of women and had taken on the mantle of the extreme conservatives in denying rights to gay people under the guise that the Bible does not support them. This issue alone shows the Catholic Church for what it really is. Is this a religion to support? I think not. As a man I have never understood how women, who constitute the majority of Catholic supporters, do not feel totally disenfranchised by the very church they support. When I think about the role of women in the church I know there would be no church without them. Yet the male hierarchy does not give them a look in. They are relegated to the servant class of Catholics. When a church institutionalizes racism and denial of civil and religious rights to a certain class of people they should not be supported period. Religion, we are told, appeals to the better angels in all of us; however not in these instances. The Catholic Church is not known worldwide as the champion of the people’s rights; in fact, they are working really hard denying these rights. As for the [writer] who defined being Irish as synonymous with being Catholic, perhaps you might not realize that we were pagans for many centuries and looked to nature for godliness. My namesake Patrick, to quote 10 IRISH AMERICA FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009

Brendan Behan, should have left well enough alone and minded his own business and gone elsewhere with his religion. Bill Maher is not evil, mean-spirited or lacking in class because he does not see a role for religion and because he does not agree with your views of religion or Catholism. There are many of us around who are proud Irish men and women who do not embrace religion and do not see the all important role it has in our society. All we see are the problems it causes. Bill might have stressed his views less stridently, but that is the essence of the man and I for one am glad he shares Irish blood with me. Patrick J. Callaghan Chicago, Illinois

MORE ON MAHER I agree with all of the letters in the Dec./Jan. issue regarding the interview and cover picture of Bill Maher. He has a lot of anger about something but I don't think he’ll be knocked off a horse anytime soon since down deep I think he is a phony. Mike Kelly Barnegat, New Jersey

BILL MAKES ME THINK I do enjoy Bill Maher and think he is an intelligent, funny and insightful individual. However, I think he takes his “unholier” than thou attitude too far by belittling those who do believe in what he does not. But – he makes you think. That’s his job and it's what he does best. I don’t always agree with his opinions but I always enjoy watching his show and listening to his thoughts on politics, religion and any other topics he decides to discuss. Thank God for people like George Carlin, Denis Leary and Bill Maher. Sometimes we need to hear real straight talk presented in a humorous, intelligent and in-your-face way. I like to laugh, I like to think and, being Irish, I like to argue. Bill Johnston Somerset, New Jersey

JOHN MCCORMACK We were delighted to see the excellent pictures and the article on John McCormack (Dec./Jan. issue). My husband and I can listen to a CD of his songs (recorded 1910-1911) all day long – such

depth and beauty they contain! The writer of your article, however, must not have listened to many McCormack’s recordings for he compared him to Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. John McCormack was without peers, and unlike those mentioned he was also an opera singer. Even the fine singing of Bing Crosby does not compare. Suzanne Pruchnicki Bourbonnais, Illinois

A TOUCH OF IRISH Editor Patricia Harty’s succinct philosophy shows in her First Word column “A Tide of Hope” (Dec./Jan issue). It is comforting to know that Presidentelect Obama has a touch of Irish even if it’s not close enough to put an apostrophe after the O. He is doing a lot better in his cabinet selection than I figured. We are losing a capable lady, Governor Janet Napolitano, to his cabinet and I think she will do well for America. Bill O’Brien Paradise Valley, Arizona

ENOUGH OF THE LISTS Your magazine serves as pleasant escape to all things Irish/Irish American. I have to say, however, that I am growing tired of the never ending business oriented lists. If I want to read about business and the people in business I may as well read Forbes or any number of other business oriented magazines. If you must do these lists, limit them to one issue. Save the other five for the arts, history, personality profiles, travel, current events, etc. Patrick Roe Wauwatosa, Wisconsin

CORRECTION In the article on the dedication of the Annie Moore monument (Dec./Jan. issue) which took place at Calvary Cemetery in Woodside, Queens, New York on October 11, the word Calvary was misspelled to read Cavalry. We thank Walter Muldoon of Lowell, Massachusetts for bringing this error to our attention. Send letters to: Irish America, 875 Avenue of the Americas, Suite 2100, NY NY 10001. Or E-mail Please include name, address, and phone number. Letters will be edited for length and clarity.



2:38 PM

Page 12

{ news from ireland} By Frank Shouldice

Economy Slump Sends Govt. Finances Reeling


mid rising unemployment were deferred and public expenditure and a serious downturn in on the stalled decentralization program economic performance, the was also put on hold. Advertising and Irish government now consultancy budgets were cut by 50 faces a complete re-evaluation of its own percent. Some 45 million euros was finances. By the first five months of shaved off the 2008 budget to Overseas 2008, tax returns fell 1.2 billion euros Development Aid. short of returns projected. The situation Following these cuts, the government deteriorated even more rapidly over the next months, so that by the end of the year Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen was discussing a shortfall in the region of 8 billion euros. The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), an independent think-tank, predicts the government deficit will rise to 10.2 percent next year. In one of its gloomiest assessments for decades, the ESRI forecasts 117,000 job losses in 2009, with unemployment set to rise to 9.4 percent from its present 6.9 percent rate. It also predicts a return to net outward migration, estimating that some 50,000 people will emigrate from Ireland next year. The speed of the downturn has surprised many, including the government. Since taking up the office of Taoiseach from Bertie Ahern, Cowen has encountered a series of economic crises in which the Irish state, booming five years ago, now faces a far from certain future. With tax returns for 2008 leavFinance Minister Brian Lenihan. ing government funds far tighter than expected, Finance Minister Brian introduced the budget six weeks earlier Lenihan announced a series of public than usual in an attempt to address some spending cuts prior to the budget. The of the shortfall. However, the budget total package aimed to save 440 million failed to deal with underlying problems euros, with most government departand was widely regarded as a rushed, ments expected to reduce their payroll poorly-planned document. Instead of bill by three percent by the end of this galvanizing the public into a keener year. Pay increases due to senior civil sense of economic reality, it created huge servants, including ministers and judges, public protest by attacking universal


medical care for pensioners and making educational cuts in disadvantaged sectors. Forced to make politically embarrassing U-turns on a number of measures, the government then faced an even greater crisis when insecurity on the worldwide financial markets threatened the very future of Irish banking. After an allnight emergency meeting with the heads of the four major banks, the Taoiseach and Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan announced that the Irish government would guarantee the security of savings of account holders. Smaller banks operating in Ireland challenged the measure on the basis of fair competition, so the government was obliged to extend the scheme to cover all banks. It was a radical and expensive move, exposing the Irish exchequer to a financial risk of 400 billion euros, about double the size of the state’s gross domestic product (GDP). However, the state guarantee on savings was not enough to prevent a steady decline in the value of bank shares. Nor could it ease the ongoing difficulty for Irish banks gaining access to international money markets. In response the Finance Minister announced that the government would recapitalize the banks to the tune of 10 billion euros on a loan from the national pension fund “on terms that will ensure a full return to the taxpayer and to the pension fund. “There will be no exposure to the taxpayer on this because as a result of the good times we do have substantial money amassed in the pension fund, so there is no question of fresh expense being incurred in this operation,” said Lenihan. Drawn heavily into the banking crisis,



2:38 PM

Page 13

the government then found itself dealing with another unexpected problem in agriculture when a serious contamination of animal feed brought the entire pork industry to a halt. The problem was traced to one animal feed provider in Co. Carlow, where machine oil was somehow allowed to get into the feed mix. Although the problem was very localized, the government immediately banned the sale of all Irish pork products until health authorities were satisfied that Irish pork was safe for public consumption. It was an effective response, but many analysts felt the issue could have been dealt with at a local level in the farms affected instead of closing down production at 400 pig farms around the country. Once the scare was averted, pork production resumed for markets at home and abroad, although the cost of what was a very avoidable crisis is estimated at close to 500 million euros. With government finances already stretched, Finance Minister Lenihan faces more difficult days ahead. Every

Small Rise in Divorce Rate


HE number of divorces sought through the courts increased slightly in Ireland last year, according to an annual report by the courts service. The Circuit Court granted 3,658 divorces in 2007, an increase of 7 percent on the previous year. The corresponding figure for divorces granted by the High Court fell to 26 from 47. The number of judicial separations has shown a gradual increase over the years. Last year 1,167 judicial separations were granted by the Circuit Court and a further 18 in the High Court. Under Irish law a couple must live apart for four out of five years before a divorce can be granted. The ‘Family Law Matters’ report also noted a significant change in the gender of applicants seeking divorce and separation. Based on current figures, women are almost twice more likely than men to make a legal application to annul or terminate a marriage.

sion of the LUAS rail network to Dublin airport. Smaller projects have already been put on hold, including a 15-million-euro renovation of the National History Museum on Merrion Street in Dublin. The 150-year-old building has been closed to the public since July 2007 when ten visitors were injured following the sudden collapse of a staircase. With unemployment set to rise and tax returns certain to shrink, the government will inevitably return to borrowing. Despite a period of unprecedented economic growth, public borrowing rose to 13 billion Sign of the times: The once booming Irish economy is facing an uncertain future. euros in 2008. The ESRI forecasts that borrowing will be major capital scheme will be reviewed, closer to 20 billion euros this year and including the proposed rail corridor linknational debt will almost double where it ing Galway and Limerick and the extenstood at the end of 2007.

Historic Cuba Visit Planned


icheál Martin, Minister for Foreign Affairs, will become the first Irish government minister to visit Cuba on an official visit when he travels to Havana early this year. Cuban ambassador in Ireland, Noel Carrillo, described the visit as a continuation of warmer relations between the EU and Cuba. Last year the EU formally restored relations with the island, two years after suspending economic sanctions against the Castro regime. “The visit will no doubt be a historical one since it will be the first visit of a highranking official of the Irish government to my country,” the ambassador told The Irish Times. “Our two countries appreciate the significant contribution that small nations can make in the international scenario and we are very proud of our sovereignty and independence.” It is expected that the minister will meet Raul Castro, who took over as president of Cuba following the retirement of his brother Fidel in 2008. The visit has been penciled in for February and will also include an official visit to Micheál Martin (right), seen here with Intel’s Mexico. Craig Barrett, will visit Cuba this year. FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009 IRISH AMERICA 13



2:38 PM

Page 14

{news from ireland}

Death of Conor CruiseO’Brien


ONOR Cruise-O’Brien, former Labour Party politician and journalist, passed away in Dublin, aged 91.Years after his election to the Dáil (Irish parliament) in 1969, he served as Minister for Posts & Telegraphs in a coalition government and became an outspoken critic of the Provisional IRA. As minister, CruiseO’Brien implemented the controversial Section 31 measure which banned Sinn Féin from being interviewed on RTÉ, the national broadcasting service. Section 31 remained in effect until its suspension in 1993. Although he lost his Dáil seat, Cruise-O’Brien served in the Seanad until 1979 and from there turned his considerable intellect to journalism. For a time he was editor-in-chief of The Observer newspaper in the UK, and he continued to write for a variety of newspapers, including a regular column in the Irish Independent. Politically he took a pro-Unionist line and was opposed to the peace process in Northern Ireland. In 1996 he reentered political life by joining the UK Unionist Party and winning election to the Northern Ireland Forum.


Pressure Grows on Cork Bishop to Resign


R. MICHAEL Mernagh, an Augustinian priest based in Dublin, undertook a march from Cobh, Co. Cork to Dublin as a “walk of atonement” in sympathy for the victims of clerical child sexual abuse. Fr. Mernagh, 70, made this public gesture following the publication of a report into child abuse in the Cork diocese of Cloyne. According to the report by the National Board for the Safeguarding of Children (NBSC), measures taken by Bishop of Cloyne Dr. John Magee fell far short of protecting children from clerical abuse. In one case it was revealed that the gardai (Irish police) were not told the identity of an offending priest until six months after a complaint was made. In another case the diocese was shown to give only minimal information about an alleged abuser. Prior to starting his long march, Fr. Mernagh told RTÉ he met with Bishop Magee. The priest said that he felt the

bishop should resign for failing to deal with the abuse issue. Bishop Magee has intimated he will not be resigning although he takes “full responsibility” for “errors” made in dealing appropriately with child abuse cases within his diocese. During a Mass service on Christmas Eve in Cobh Cathedral, the bishop apologized to victims and said he would ensure that such abuse would not occur again. Mary Flaherty, national director of Children at Risk in Ireland (CARI), suggested “it would be better if he did step aside” because the bishop failed to implement guidelines set up to ensure the protection of children. Cork East Labour TD Sean Sherlock added his voice to calls for Bishop Magee to resign. “If he has apologized, does that imply some guilt on their part and does that mean that justice will prevail and the victims of abuse will get redress?” he asked.

NEWS IN BRIEF • A FORUM set by the government will aim to resolve the bitter dispute

over the Corrib gas refinery in Co. Mayo. Local residents have campaigned against the onshore location by Shell E&P Ireland of a refinery piping gas in from the Corrib field in the Atlantic. The forum, which marks the government’s first direct intervention to try to resolve the controversy, will be chaired by Kerry-born barrister Joe Brosnan. LOCAL authorities in Co. Fermanagh and Co. Cavan have applied to the world heritage agency UNESCO to register the Marble Arch Cave system as a geopark. The system has been developed on the Fermanagh side since 1985, and the proposal to make it a cross-border attraction would greatly expand the scale of the venture. MUNSTER rugby came within four minutes of repeating its famous 1978 victory over the touring All-Blacks. To mark the opening of its newly-built stadium at Thomond Park, Munster hosted New Zealand and almost shocked the Kiwis in a real thriller. With just four minutes to go, the All-Blacks clinched the game 18-16 with a late try, thus depriving Munster of another very famous victory. ROY Keane, once a talisman of Irish international soccer, continues to fascinate the Irish public by sensationally quitting as manager of English club Sunderland. Having succeeded in getting Sunderland into the top flight of English league soccer, the Corkman spent vast amount of money in the transfer market only to see his team slide to the bottom end of the league table. Keane has yet to announce whether he intends to return to soccer management. DESPITE all the talk of a slump in retail sales, Dublin’s Grafton Street has overtaken London and Tokyo to take a top 5 position in the ranking of the world’s most expensive shopping streets. Real estate advisor Cushman & Wakefield produced its 23rd annual report ‘Main Streets Across The World,’ and while New York’s Fifth Avenue remains at the top of the list, it was followed by shopping havens in Hong Kong, Paris, Milan and Dublin.

• • •



2:47 PM

Page 16

{ hibernia }



Bobby’s Bridge


enator Robert R. Kennedy represented New York from 1965 until June 1968 when he was fatally shot in Los Angeles while campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination. On November 19, 2008, forty years after he was assassinated, the Triborough Bridge, which connects Manhattan with the Bronx and Queens, was renamed the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. “It is an honor to join the Kennedy family today to celebrate their beloved father, uncle, brother and husband – a man who served the peo- Top: The Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. Above: Ethel Kennedy and Governor David Paterson ple of our state and nation with dis- unveil the new traffic sign. tinction,” said Governor David Paterson. “Robert F. Kennedy was a law, making possible the renaming of the family, including Robert’s widow Ethel, champion of social justice and human Triborough Bridge as the Robert F. her children and grandchildren; former rights, and his spirit is kept alive by his Kennedy Bridge, which is a fitting tribpresident Bill Clinton; and various politifamily’s continued commitment to those ute to the man and his legacy.” cians, including former New York govercauses. I am particularly pleased to have Governor Paterson was joined on the nor Hugh Carey. had the opportunity to sign this bill into occasion by members of the Kennedy “It was awesome,” Courtney Kennedy,



Robert F. Kennedy has a bridge named in his honor.



2:47 PM

Page 17


Vintage cars cross the bridge as part of the renaming ceremony.

Ethel Kennedy and Mayor Bloomberg at the ceremony.


Robert and Ethel’s daughter, said on the phone to Irish America a couple of days after the naming. “The night before, we were in a cab having flown in from Washington to JFK and as we crossed the bridge on our way into the city they were putting up the sign. Saoirse [her 10-year-old daughter whose father is the Irish activist Paul Hill] said, ‘How cool. When we leave we can ask the driver to take the FDR to the RFK to the JFK!” So what did the cab driver think?

President Bill Clinton and Governor Paterson listen to remarks during the renaming ceremony.

“He said that he hated the idea, that no one would call it that, and that in New York, bridges are named for the places they take people to, like the 59th Street Bridge, not for people,” Courtney reveals with a laugh. “Of course, by the end of the ride he said, ‘Wait a minute, you’re one of them.’ I admitted that we were Bobby’s daughter and granddaughter and he completely fell apart.” It’s very Irish, and also a New York thing, to give nicknames, and Courtney admits that she and her mother, who is

“over the moon” about the renaming, thought that “Bobby’s Bridge” sounded good but that she’d be happy with “the RFK.” And already that’s what the bridge is being called. The bridge renaming coincided with the annual RFK Ripple of Hope dinner that took place at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan that same evening, at which the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Moral Courage was presented to Archbishop IA Desmond Tutu of South Africa. – Patricia Harty


Anne Mulcahy Honored by Concern


erox Chairman and CEO Anne Mulcahy was honored by Concern Worldwide U.S. at the 11th annual Seeds of Concern Dinner at the Plaza Hotel on December 8. Over 600 guests pledged more than $1 million to Concern – also celebrating its 40th anniversary on the night – an incredible amount given the current economic climate. Mulcahy, who was introduced to the crowd by Irish entrepreneur Denis O’Brien, further surprised the charity by donating an extra $250,000 to the organization’s “Innovative Solutions Award,” a new initiative announced by Concern U.S. chairman Tom Moran to find creative ways to combat poverty and to recognize the excellence of Concern employees.“We have different missions, but our DNA is the same.We listen to the people we serve, and we develop programs accordingly,” Mulcahy told the crowd.

Concern Worldwide U.S. chairman Tom Moran; honoree Anne Mulcahy; Concern Worldwide honorary president Fr. Aengus Finucane; Concern Worldwide U.S. executive director Siobhan Walsh and Concern Worldwide CEO Tom Arnold pictured at the Concern Seeds of Hope Dinner at the Plaza Hotel on December 8. Mulcahy was presented with an American eagle sculpture made of Irish bog oak.




3:17 PM

Page 18

{ irish eye on hollywood} By Tom Deignan

Martin Scorsese just can't get enough of the Irish!

Winter, another veteran of the acclaimed HBO show. The schedule of films for this year's Craic Festival of Irish music and movies is set, and it looks like another great opportunity to see a wide range of much-discussed Irish films. The festival will be held March 11 – 14 in Manhattan, and features new, established and experimental Irish films as well as music. Included in this year's Craic lineup is the Cannes Film Festival winner Hunger directed by Steve McQueen and starring Liam Cunningham and Michael Fassbender. The movie explores the hunger strikes which turned men like Bobby Sands into international icons. Also on the Craic bill are 5 Minutes from Heaven starring Liam Neeson, Hippie Hippie Shake starring Cillian Murphy and 32A starring Aidan Quinn. Perhaps the most provocative film on the bill will be a documentary about Gabriel Byrne, in which the famously private star opens up about many of his demons. The documentary was shown at the Galway Film Fleadh in the summer of 2007 and is now making the rounds on Irish TV and at festivals. Byrne reveals, for example, that he struggles with a serious drinking problem related to depression. No wonder Byrne earned raves as James Tyrone on Broadway in Eugene O’Neill’s A Moon for the Famine-era Irish and how they transformed 19th cenMisbegotten. tury New York. The documentary also features Then there was the critically acclaimed The Byrne’s ex-wife Ellen Barkin carDeparted, featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack ing for their children. Nicholson and Matt Damon as Boston Irishmen trying “I don’t miss drinking now at to decide if they are cops, gangsters or both. all,” Byrne says. “But it did lead Next up for Scorsese (set for a fall 2009 release) is me to a place where, had I not Shutter Island, based on a book by Dennis Lehane, who Top: Martin Scorsese is pulled back, it would have led to also wrote Mystic River and whose latest book, The working on several Irish an early grave. I was a periodic Given Day, is an epic about the Boston Irish in the projects. Left: Liam Neeson drinker. I could go off it for weeks early 1920s. Reteaming Scorsese with DiCaprio, stars in 5 Minutes from Heaven at a time, but I could go to a hotel Above: Cillian Murphy stars in Shutter Island is about the search for a murderer in the Hippie Hippie Shake. room and be there for three or four 1950s. days with the curtains closed and After Shutter Island, Scorsese will reportedly direct the phone off the hook." a series pilot for HBO called Boardwalk Empire. It will The Craic Fest is not just about movies. The music series explore the roots of Atlantic City. Acclaimed actor Steve coincides with the South by Southwest Music Festival in Buscemi will reportedly play the lead, a businessman who Texas. Performers such as Paddy Casey, Gemma Hayes, Foy turns to bootlegging during the Prohibition era in which Vance, Fight Like Apes and Screaming Orphans will hit the Boardwalk Empire is set. stage at New York’s Mercury Lounge before heading south. The series also features an Irish immigrant woman who There will also be a free Kids Fleadh on Saturday afterentered into a bad marriage just to escape her parents in noon March 14th. Ireland. Scottish actress Kelly McDonald (who has played Irish characters in numerous films, such as Intermission and One of the great Irish movie success stories in recent memTwo Family House, and was seen more recently as Josh ory was Once, the humble musical about an Irishman and a Brolin's wife in No Country for Old Men) is in talks to play Czech woman falling in love and singing songs. The movie, which starred Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, was a the role. smash hit and eventually brought the duo to the Oscars. Buscemi is not the only Sopranos talent linked to Once is now being turned into a Broadway musical and is Boardwalk Empire. The series has been written by Terrence Just as the legendary director of Raging Bull and Taxi Driver is wrapping up his next movie (based on a novel by Irish-American best seller Dennis Lehane), word is that Scorsese's next project will explore the Irish and their role in the creation of New Jersey's gambling mecca Atlantic City. Best known for exploring the Italian-American underworld, Scorsese has been involved in numerous Irish projects in recent years. There was the epic Gangs of New York in 2004, starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Liam Neeson, which explored the




3:18 PM

Page 19


A movie based on Lynott's life has been postponed following accusations that the film exaggerated Lynott's addictions. The bio-pic was reportedly ready to shoot, and was slated to feature CSI actor Gary Dourdan in the lead role. But former members of Lynott’s band Thin Lizzy insist that the depiction of Lynott be more accurate. Guitarist Scott Gorham was quoted as saying: "There was a lot more to Phil and the band than just taking drugs. It irritates me that the personal stuff overshadows the musical legacy. You only get one shot at getting a movie right. We won't give it the green light until everyone is happy." Lynott died in 1986.

Golden Globe winner Gabriel Byrne seen here as James Tyrone in A Moon for the Misbegotten.

set to premiere during the 2010-11 theatrical season. Ciaran Hinds is set to appear with Paris Hilton in a (for now untitled)

comedy-drama about family and war. As far as we know, everyone will be keeping their clothes on. Allison Janney and Charlotte Rampling will join them in this new film from critics' darling Todd Solondz, best known for Happiness. The Belfast-born Hinds, who was the subject of our February/March cover story last year, has built a strong reputation as a supporting actor in films such as There Will be Blood and Miami Vice. He was seen (or heard) most recently in the animated film Tale of Despereaux. His film The Race to Witch Mountain will also hit theaters this year.

When it first began shooting, the late 1990s Boston mob movie Boondock Saints initially turned Irish-American director Troy Duffy into a rising star. But many snags along the way meant that Duffy had to be satisfied just to see the flick make it into a few theaters. In fact, Duffy’s journey from the heights of promise to the fringe of indy cinema was captured in the subsequent documentary Overnight, which depicted Duffy as a petulant egomaniac. Nevertheless, it looks like the Boondock Saints crew is getting together for a sequel. Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus will star again as Connor and Murphy MacManus, Irish twins at war with the mob, in Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day. Judd Nelson and Peter Fonda are also set to star.

Another Boston Irish filmmaker to watch out for is Mike O'Dea, who was shooting a Boston Irish crime film on a shoestring, put some of the footage on YouTube and got the attention of Hollywood producer Michael Z. Gordon. Ciaran Hinds will share the screen Phil Lynott was a groundbreaking rock with Paris Hilton in the next Todd Initially entitled Townies, the film star, a biracial singer-songwriter from Solondz-directed movie. will now be called Code of Silence. Ireland who changed the face of rock-nWhy? Because Ben Affleck is shooting another Boston mob movie, entitled The Town. roll. But that doesn’t mean it's easy to make a movie about Code of Silence is due to start shooting on St Patrick’s Lynott, who died when he was just 36 following a long Day. struggle with drugs and alcohol. IA FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009 IRISH AMERICA 19



3:12 PM

Page 20


South African Homes Built by Irish Hands


his past November, 2,000 Irish volunteers made it possible for 3,000 South Africans in Khayelitsha, Cape Town to achieve the human right to shelter and security, the ultimate goal of the Niall Mellon Township Trust. The Trust has constructed over 10,000 homes since it was founded in 2002 by property developer, entrepreneur and humanitarian Niall Mellon, only 35 at the time. The Trust offers training in construction skills year-round, providing employment opportunities for 2,000 South Africans,

Irish volunteers celebrate the fruit of their labor with new home owners in Khayelitsha.

home after a week that has changed their own lives and the lives of all those whom they have housed, met, sang and wept with in South Africa.” He Irish volunteers applaud new home continued, “This week they owner Beatrice Sibobi pictured with face a task of describing to their Phamphama Kenqu (9), Luyanda own kinfolk the sight of seeing Sibobi (4) and Samantha Kenqu (11). a child smile as they cross the mostly from the townships in which threshold . . . the incredible houses are built. The Trust’s moment when a house is filled “Building Blitz” is a yearly event in with laughter and it becomes which volunteers build hundreds of their home.” houses in just one week. The Over the past seven years, Zingisa Mondreki in her new home with her children Building Blitz 2008 participants surover 5,000 Irish volunteers Mihle (2) and Tita (4). passed their goal of 250 houses, erecthave played a vital role in the ing 253 homes for families who have mean to those children and their parents NMTT’s Building Blitzes. Upon acceptwaited up to 25 years for a residence. that they are able to walk into a home ing a new house on her family’s behalf, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu that has ceilings and a front door that one woman said, “Both my children have expressed his gratitude and the signifilocks . . . For a long time they won’t HIV. Now this house has given them a cance of the volunteers’ work when he believe it.” future . . . they cannot take the smile off spoke to them in Khayelitsha. “I come on Niall Mellon also emphasized the their faces. We used to fear the rain behalf of those who are now occupying impact that the experience had on the because it made us wet and cold. Not 10,000 beautiful, attractive homes. I Irish participants when he spoke on his anymore! Now I will have to go outside come on behalf of them. Niall, you have return from the Building Blitz. “Many of to see if it is raining. I hope the Irish will IA already left an indelible mark and we our volunteers returned to Ireland uncercome and visit me next year.” – Kara Rota will never be able to express what it must tain of their own futures. They returned 20 IRISH AMERICA FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009



2:51 PM

Page 22


Berlin Museum Honors The Kennedys M


ost Americans, even those who were not yet born, know about John F. Kennedy’s famous words spoken before hundreds of thousands of cheering people in Berlin in 1963. When he said “Ich bin ein Berliner,” Kennedy offered his and America’s solidarity with the people of West Berlin and his words became an iconic phrase of the Cold War. Today, just steps from the Brandenburg Gate, where the American president got his first look at the infamous Berlin Wall, there is a small, elegant museum that aims to make young and old familiar with the lives of this still influential IrishAmerican family and their belief in democracy, human rights, and peace. Simply called The Kennedys, the museum is home to a collection of photographs of public and private moments, memorabilia, and official and private documents of and related to the Kennedy family from the time they left Ireland. A small collection of objects includes the Hermes crocodile leather briefcase that President Kennedy carried with him until the day he died. The museum is operated by Camera Work AG, a corporation that owns one of the world’s most comprehensive collections Interior of The Kennedys museum. of photographs and photo books. They first presented the Kennedy photographs and some objects Part of the exhibition is the continuous in 2004 in their Berlin photo gallery folshowing of two short films with excerpts lowed by an exhibition in Rome the folof President Kennedy’s tour through West lowing year. The success of these exhibiBerlin, which so boosted the morale of tions—with the public and the press— the people of the walled city. For an inspired the creation of a permanent American visitor, watching the response exhibition in Berlin. Once an appropriate of Berliners to our president is a powerful building was found in the Pariser Platz, a emotional experience. The films were professor of American History from the provided to the museum by the John F. John F. Kennedy Institute of the Free Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. University of Berlin, Dr. Andreas Etges, There are also DVDs available at the and his team curated the exhibition. Most museum with two and a half hours of of the 25,000 annual visitors are footage, some that include Kennedy’s Germans, followed by the Irish, British entire speech. That historic visit along and Dutch with Americans accounting with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 for about 20 percent. stand out as the two great peaceful events

in Berlin’s 20th century history. “Both days have formed a distinct picture of Berlin and its citizens in the minds of people around the world,” said museum director Kathy Alberts. A special exhibition during 2009 to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall “will attempt to connect these two events, to show their similarities and their differences,” said Alberts. “The museum hopes to continue our cooperation with the U.S. Embassy on its Literature Series, hosting readings by American authors in the museum.” Alberts, who is half American and half German, majored in North American Studies at the Free University in Berlin and she also spent a year as an exchange student in the United States. IA PHOTO CREDIT: CAMERA WORK


John F. Kennedy, Willy Brandt, and Konrad Adenauer at the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, June 26, 1963.

– Marian Betancourt

The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is seven euros,or half price with a special Berliner city card. Guided tours are available in German and in English. Visit:



6:28 PM

Page 24


BUSINESS 100 Celebration Irish America celebrated its annual Business 100 Awards on Wednesday, November 19, at the newly refurbished Plaza Hotel in New York. Donald Keough, former president of The Coca-Cola Company and current chairman of Allen & Co. was the guest of honor and over thirty-five honorees were present to receive their awards. Photos by Nuala Purcell.

Honoree Deirdre Littlefield, senior vice president of Starr Marine Agency, Inc.; Irish Minister for Social and Family Affairs Mary Hanafin; Irish Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey. Honoree Dave Fitzgerald, CEO of Fitzgerald and Co. with his wife Stacey.

Irish America founding publisher Niall O’Dowd; guest of honor Donald Keough, chairman of Allen & Company; Irish America editor-in-chief Patricia Harty. Honorees Patrick Henry Dowling of Tygris Commercial Finance Group and Michael Beckerich of York Analytical Laboratories, Inc.

Honoree Kathleen Murphy, CEO of ING U.S. Wealth Management; honoree Martin Holleran, CEO of Merryck & Co. USA; Roger Kenny; Kathy Holleran. Honorees Donald Keough and his son Patrick, senior vice president of FD.

Tony Condon, Director of Development, UCD College of Business & Law; honoree James Quinn, president of Tiffany and Co.; honoree John Sharkey, chairman and CEO of Kane, Saunders & Smart. Tourism Ireland Executive Vice President Joe Byrne; honoree Brian Stack, managing director of CIE Tours International.

JFK Trust CEO Sean Reidy made a special presentation to honoree and guest of honor Don Keough. Sara, Mary Lois, and honoree Ted Sullivan, managing director of KMPG LLP.

Honoree Declan Kelly, executive vice president/chief integration officer of FTI Consulting, and Denis Kelleher, CEO of Wall Street Access.


Honoree Michael Muldowney, EVP and CFO of Houghton Mifflin Publishing Company; Boston Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis; Barry O’Callaghan, Chairman, Education Media and Publishing Group.

Irish America marketing interns Kerri Farrell and Maeve Cummings.



4:55 PM

Page 26


Second U.S.-Ireland Forum a Success


able figure for a population of some six million,” McAleese said. “When people who claim Irish descent are included, the number who can be counted as part of our global Irish family rises to an estimated seventy million. These figures are at once both a frightening testament to the searing legacy of forced emigration, and an awesome contemporary resource from which to forge new synergies and

President Mary McAleese addresses the Forum at University College Dublin


ver 400 delegates attended the second annual U.S.Ireland Forum hosted at University College Dublin in early November, which was yet another extraordinary success. The delegates were drawn from Irish politics, business, students, academics and ordinary members of the public. The topics ranged from the role of America in the Obama era to how deep the Irish financial crisis is and how the diaspora might help. The delegates came from as far away as Melbourne, Australia, and there were many from the U.S. Discussions were lively and sometimes contentious as the role of the Irish abroad was analyzed and examined from every angle. President Mary McAleese took the podium at around 3 p.m. on Monday, November 10, at the Global Irish Institute Center, which is smack bang in the middle of this impressive campus. She wowed the crowd with a heartfelt endorsement of the new movement to embrace the Irish diaspora, which is becoming an ever increasing and important part of Irish identity. She highlighted the extraordinary potential of that diaspora as well as the challenges it represents. “Over one million people born on the island of Ireland are estimated to live abroad, a remark-

Niall O’Dowd, Founder and Publisher Irish America magazine, Loretta Brennan Glucksman Chairman of The American Ireland Fund, President Mary McAleese and Hugh Brady, President of UCD. 26 IRISH AMERICA FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009

opportunities for this still new century.” Just a few years back such talk from an Irish president would not have happened. The word diaspora was avoided at all costs. Different views on issues such as Northern Ireland kept many leaders in Irish America and Ireland apart. That is all in the past now. McAleese and her predecessor, Mary Robinson, deserve great praise for highlighting the Irish family worldwide and the extraordinary potential it represents. That potential was the theme of this year’s event, which took place against the backdrop of severe economic times in Ireland and abroad. As much as the country was hyped up during the period of the Celtic Tiger, now it seems to have come down in the manner of a manicdepressive given too much Valium. Rumors swirl that some of Ireland’s richest men are actually broke. One trusted source told me that five of Ireland’s top ten billionaires would be bankrupt if the banks called in their loans. Those same banks are plainly ailing, with Bank of Ireland shares a fraction of their worth during the boom. At such a time the diaspora, especially those in the business, media and political world, becomes even more important. Most other countries are deeply envious of the political clout that Ireland has in America because of that diaspora. In terms of business investment, press coverage and political clout, it is never more important than now that Ireland reaches out. That was the salient point offered by Dr. Hugh Brady, president of University College Dublin, who made clear that the future, in trying times for Ireland, is tied up in many ways to embracing that diaspora and understanding its value to Ireland. The fact that this second forum was held with so many of Ireland’s movers and shakers present is a testament to how the idea has taken hold. The first forum was held in New York last year, jointly hosted by Irish America magazine, University College Dublin and the American Ireland Fund. The Irish government was also an underwriter. Next year the venue has yet to be decided, but there is interest in both Britain and Australia. That is how it should be. This is a global family that is only beginning to explore, like distant cousins, their IA shared heritage. – Niall O’Dowd



4:31 PM

Page 27


McAleese Honored on West Coast Trip Good Night for the Irish at Golden Globes t was a good night for the Irish at the 66th annual Golden Globes held at The Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles on January 11. An A-list gathering celebrated the best in TV and film for the year as economic woes were temporarily forgotten while the stars came out to play. Colin Farrell won his first Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical for his performance in Martin McDonagh’s directorial debut In Bruges. A delighted Farrell quipped “They must have done the (awards) count in Florida.” After thanking McDonagh for not listening to him when he asked not to be considered for the role, the Dubliner paid special tribute to his co-star Brendan Gleeson, who was also nominated in the same category. “This is at least half yours, and when I get off stage I’ll cut it up and you can have a hemisphere,” he said. Dublin-born Gabriel Byrne, who wasn’t at the ceremony, was recognized for his outstanding work on HBO’s In Treatment when he won Best Actor in a Television Series (Drama) – beating out County Cork’s Jonathan Rhys Meyers of The Tudors in the same category. Mickey Rourke, a very popular winner on the night, capped a great comeback year by taking the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Drama for his performance in The Wrestler, while Alec Baldwin picked up another Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Television Series (Comedy or Musical) for his work on 30 Rock. Finally, English director Danny Boyle, who has Irish roots on both sides of his family (his mother was from Ballinasloe in Galway and his father was English-born to an Irish family) won the Golden Globe for Best Director for his work on Slumdog Millionaire.




Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell were both nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a comedy or musical for In Bruges. Colin won.

n a whistle stop tour of the West Coast in early December, which included stops in California, Oregon, and Arizona, President Mary McAleese met representatives of local Irish and Irish-American organizations to strengthen cultural, trade and business links between the two countries. On December 11, The University of San Francisco (USF) awarded President McAleese an honorary doctor of humane letters degree in a special ceremony at the McLaren Conference Center on the USF campus. In a gathering of almost 700 people, USF President Stephen A. Privett described the President as “a leader who exemplifies a dedication to reasoned discourse and working for the common good – two skills we strive to instill in our students. “In honoring President McAleese for her steadfast commitment to the promotion of peace and unity in her homeland of Ireland and around the world, USF underscores its mission to fashion a more humane and just world.” For her part, President McAleese stressed that the recent peace and prosperity in Ireland was linked to the Irish diaspora all over the world, particularly in America, and underlined the key role that education played in the process of regeneration of Ireland. “Our narrative has changed. Thankfully, and in this place it is important to say it, one of the reasons our narrative has President Mary McAleese delivers an changed is largely thanks to address at the McLaren Conference Center widened access to education. That on the USF campus after being awarded an has made a huge, big difference to honorary degree in humane letters. us,” said the President. “I can say, without fear of contradiction in this university, that peace really began to be constructed and to emerge with the best educated and most accomplished generation in our history. It came to us as a feature of our education, of being able to critique ourselves and also construct more imaginative outcomes.” On December 14, President McAleese visited the Irish Cultural Center in Phoenix where she gave a speech on the Irish diaspora. Over 400 people turned up to meet the head of state. She also unveiled a plaque to commemorate her visit on the site Norman McClelland and Bill O’Brien among where a proposed library will be other trustees of the Irish Cultural Center, built at the Center – and where the welcoming President of Ireland Mary plaque and Irish culture will ulti- McAleese to the Center in downtown Phoenix. IA mately find a home. FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009 IRISH AMERICA 27



3:09 PM

Page 28



Unquote “If we go on this way for another 25 years, we won’t have an affordable system of higher education.” Patrick M. Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, which found that college tuition and fees increased 439 percent from 1982 to 2007. – The New York Times

“The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave.” Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the United States attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, commenting on charges against Gov. Rod Blagojevich that he put up for sale his appointment of Barack Obama’s successor in the U.S. Senate. – The New York Times

“When they were little I used to say, ‘Turn that blooming noise down.’ But now they’re pretty good.” Gwenda Evans, mother of The Edge, on U2’s highly anticipated new album. – The Irish Voice

“I assume [Caroline Kennedy] would be tough. She is obviously an intelligent woman with a good family name, but it’s really down to what has she done, what her positions are, and is she really ready to fight for New York.” –Long Island Congressman Peter King speaking to the Irish Voice, on his plan to run for the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton.

“Obama will be great for America around the world.” Bono of U2 at Club 55 in St. Tropez telling ex-pat George Sheinberg. – The New York Post.

“When people tell the story of Illinois politics, Patrick Fitzgerald will unquestionably have a major role. People talk about him as having a lot of guts in a tough job, and it’s a job he seems to like.” – Tim Samuelson, the City of Chicago’s official cultural historian, quoted in a New York Times article about U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

“Everybody knows about Patrick and Bridget but nobody’s ever heard of St. Columbanus. After Patrick, he’s the most important Irish saint.” Fr. Matt Eyerman, pastor of Chicago’s 100-yearold St. Columbanus parish, said as President-elect Barack Obama and his family handed out Thanksgiving dinners to the homeless the day before Thanksgiving in the church parking lot. – The Chicago Sun Times 28 IRISH AMERICA FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009



4:37 PM

Page 30

Restoring A mansion in Sligo steeped in history lay in ruin, until one couple decided to revitalize this jewel of the western landscape of Ireland. Story by Sharon Ní Chonchúir


he old lady held her hands up to the flickering fire as she contemplated the decline of her aristocratic family. All around her, shadows danced on the walls of the drawing room that once hosted celebrated artists and illustrious politicians. It was cold, but hers was the only room in that mansion of more than 70 rooms to be heated on that winter’s night. The rest of Lissadell House lay in darkness while outside what were once world-renowned gardens grew choked with weeds. What had reduced the Gore Booth family, which for generations had been at the center of Irish cultural and political life, to this sorry state? What had caused Lissadell House in County Sligo – home to poets, patriots and philanthropists – to become so dilapidated and decayed? These would have been your thoughts had you visited in the 1990s, but visit today and you’ll witness a revival. The Gore Booths no longer live at Lissadell but their story lives on thanks to the dedication of husband and wife Eddie Walsh 30 IRISH AMERICA FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009

and Constance Cassidy. In the five years since they bought the estate, they have reversed its decline. Lissadell once again houses a family: Eddie, Constance, their seven children and Constance’s sister Isobel. It has also been restored to its former grandeur and opened to the public who are eager to rediscover Lissadell’s rich history. This is what I decided to do one sunny day in August. Arriving at Lissadell, I was welcomed by Isobel who was unstintingly enthusiastic about her job as manager of the estate. “It’s become a labor of love,” she said. “Just look at the coach houses where Caroline Gore Booth set up a soup kitchen during the famine. It was damaged by fire

but we’ve restored it and it now houses the Countess Markievicz exhibition, the tea rooms and the gift shop. Over there are the newly-restored kitchen gardens where we grow fruit for our jams. Then there are the Alpine gardens…” Isobel soon realized she was overwhelming me with information and sent me off on a tour of the house. During the next hour, I learned all about the Gore Booth family. Sir Robert Gore Booth built the house in 1833. A member of the English aristocracy, he commissioned Francis Goodwin, a leading architect of the time, to design the house for his Irish estate, which then totaled more than 30,000 acres. He spent the modern equivalent of 100



4:37 PM

Page 31

Far left: The dining room is adorned by numerous portraits of those who once graced the house. Above: Lissadell House in all its splendor, with Ben Bulben in the distance. Left: The sign on the gate says it all.

million euros and ended up with an austere Georgian mansion set on an estate that at the time was said to be one of the finest in all of Great Britain and Ireland. Sir Robert’s great wealth was matched by his compassion. My tour guide recounted how he was known as one of the only landlords in Ireland not to evict tenants during the famine. An older gen-

tleman who joined me on the tour corrected him by saying that Sir Robert practiced “gentle” evictions. “Ah yes,” said the tour guide. “He had an ‘assisted emigration program.’ He offered tenants who were unable to pay rent the price of a ticket to America along with a ‘landing fee’ – some money to start new lives abroad. A lot of people emigrated thanks to Sir Robert.” Meanwhile, his wife Caroline ran a soup kitchen from their coach house – often serving up to 200 gallons of soup a day. This concern for the poor passed down through the generations of the Gore Booth family. Sir Robert’s son Henry

inherited Lissadell. He was an Arctic explorer and keen hunter. There are still testaments to his hunting prowess in Lissadell House – a stuffed and snarling bear is just one of them. Of Henry’s four children, three were remarkable. Constance was the eldest. She was presented to Queen Victoria’s court in 1887, but soon after marrying Ukrainian Count Markievicz, she embarked on a life as a painter and a patriot. Having studied at Slade in London and at the Académie Julian in Paris, Constance’s artistic work was accomplished. Much of it is on display at Lissadell today. Art, however, was not her vocation in life: politics was. Politically, she was at odds with her Unionist father. She embraced Irish nationalism and was one of the leaders of the 1916 Rising. Later, she became the first female minister in FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009 IRISH AMERICA 31



4:37 PM

Page 32

the world, sitting in the first Dáil. She was also a founding member of Fianna Fáil. Constance’s political stature was recognized at her funeral in 1927. Thousands of people lined the streets of Dublin as her cortege passed by, and Éamon de Valera gave her funeral oration. She is still remembered fondly in Ireland today. Indeed, Constance Cassidy who now owns Lissadell with her husband Eddie Walsh was christened in her memory. “Her name was a large factor in their decision to buy Lissadell,” said her sister, Isobel. The original Constance had two sisters, Mabel and Eva. Eva gained recognition as a poet and as an outspoken suffragette. And finally, there was Constance’s brother Josslyn. He was heir to Lissadell. He did not have his sisters’ political fervor, preferring instead to develop enterprises on his estate. Above: A doggy welcome to the tearoom at Lissadell House. Left: Constance Cassidy, then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Eddie Walsh at the house.

He set up one of the finest horticultural businesses in Europe, exporting seeds all over the world. Under his stewardship, the estate supported more than 200 people. However, Josslyn did inherit his family’s compassion. Under the Wyndham Land Act of 1903, he sold 28,000 acres to his tenants on favorable terms. As they grew up between England and Sligo, these remarkable young people made friendships with prominent Irish personalities who were to become frequent visitors to Lissadell. Among the 1,000 visitors who dined in the house every year were W.B. Yeats, his artist 32 IRISH AMERICA FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009

brother Jack and Maud Gonne. Yeats, who as a young man had made friends with the Gore Booth sisters, was a frequent visitor and is said to have had his own bedroom on the first-floor landing. He remembered the happy times, when he “wandered by the sands of Lissadell” in the celebrated verse: Many a time I think to seek One or the other out and speak Of that old Georgian mansion, mix Pictures of the mind, recall That table and the talk of youth, Two girls in silk kimonos, both Beautiful, one a gazelle.

Their generation was a golden era for the Gore Booths. The next – Josslyn’s four sons and four daughters – were to witness the decline of this grand house and great family. The problems started when Josslyn’s eldest son, Michael, developed mental instability. Josslyn decided that Michael should not inherit the estate outright. Instead, his brother Hugh would help him run it. Tragically, Hugh and another brother, Adrian, were killed in WWII. Josslyn died of grief shortly afterwards. With Michael unable to manage the estate, Lissadell passed into the hands of the Office of the Wards of Court. Three siblings – Gabrielle, Aideen and Angus – remained in the house. They tried to collaborate with the government officials and to continue with the various horticultural businesses being run from Lissadell. However, the relationship between the Gore Booths and the officials grew strained. It eventually deteriorated to the point where the enterprises were closed and the estate fell into disarray. The elegant avenue leading to the


4:45 PM

Page 34

being a family home and to its former self – a house with history and with gardens that work as enterprises and as an amenity for the local community.” Thanks to their hard work, Lissadell House has come back to life. Surrounded by woodland, with Ben Bulben rising majestically behind it and the sandy beaches of Sligo Bay running alongside it, the 400-acre estate is once again humming with activity. The house itself is a marvel. I started my tour in the Billiards Room, a room full of photos and memorabilia of bygone times. There are pictures of Sir Henry and Constance hunting in the

There’s the servants’ hall where they held a weekly dance. There are the pantries, the wine cellars and the sleeping quarters – all the different aspects that made up the life of a servant. But there are signs of new life at Lissadell too. Color photographs of Constance and Eddie’s children are displayed alongside the valuable books, and as our guide shows us around, a teenager with an iPod plugged into his ears runs up the grand staircase to the floor where his family now live. Works of art decorate the walls throughout the house. Some are by Jack Yeats; others are by Constance and Eva

Having reversed the decline of the past 70 years, Eddie Walsh and Constance and Isobel Cassidy have restored one of Ireland’s cultural gems to its rightful glory.

Lissadell lives on. nearby hills and first editions of works by the likes of George Russell lining the bookshelves. The gallery, a formal oval-shaped room with a grand piano and organ, evokes the memories of many musical performances. The Bow Room was one of W.B. Yeats’ favorite rooms. With its bay windows, open fire and comfortable window seats, it’s not difficult to understand why. The dining room is decorated with portraits by Count Markievicz, Constance’s husband. He painted them during a long winter spent at Lissadell and they feature some of the many characters who inhabited the estate, including the game keeper, the woodsman and even Sir Henry’s dog, Flip. Downstairs, the servants’ quarters tells the story of the 40 members of staff who ran this house in its heyday. The kitchen still has its long pine table, some parts worn away by over-arduous application of elbow grease. There are dumb waiters linking the kitchen to the upstairs dining room and a bell system for summoning the staff. 34 IRISH AMERICA FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009

Booth. Sill more are by other artists from the Gore Booth family’s time, and even more are by contemporary artists. “Eddie collects art,” explained Isobel. “He wants to maintain a living link with the local community, artistic and otherwise, just as the Gore Booth family did when they lived here.” The community have responded in kind. Many remember a time when the Gore Booths would open the estate to the public or have heard stories of the family’s many characters. They have come to visit, bringing personal stories and photographs to add to the growing exhibitions. When they come, they see that it’s not only the house that has been restored: the entire estate has been transformed. The kitchen garden is bursting with vegetables, salads, herbs and soft summer fruits. These supply restaurants in Sligo town and are also used to make Lissadell’s own-brand jams and chutneys. The Alpine garden is no longer overgrown. Its rose gardens, stepped ponds and rockeries would make Josslyn proud. Then, there are the coach houses. They are now home to tea houses, a

Countess Markievicz exhibition and an impressive gift shop. “We’ve got other plans too,” said Isobel. “By this time next year, we’ll have an art gallery showing work by local artists, a Yeats museum and a garden museum. We’ll also open up more public walks through the woods and fields. We’ll start a pet farm and we’ll renovate the gardener’s house.” The aim is to make Lissadell as selfsufficient as it once was and to do so in a way that allows it to retain its unique character. Having already spent more than 8 million euros on purchasing and restoring the house and grounds, Eddie and Constance still have a way to go in making it self-sufficient. However, with 30 employees, a growing range of homemade produce and plans to introduce more museums and exhibition spaces, that time can’t be too far off. In the meantime, they can be proud of what they have done to restore its character. Their children, who range in age from 4 to 15, can often be seen helping out on the estate. Locals frequently come to visit, walking on the grounds or catching up with the latest conservation project, just as involved with Lissadell as they were in the past. “We see ourselves as custodians or caretakers,” explained Isobel. Having reversed the decline of the past 70 years, Eddie Walsh and Constance and Isobel Cassidy have restored one of Ireland’s cultural gems to its rightful IA glory. Lissadell lives on. Note: At the time of writing, Lissadell House has entered yet another unexpected chapter in its already rich history. Following a disagreement with Sligo County Council, the owners of Lissadell have decided to close their home to the public. This follows a decision by Sligo County Council to preserve public rights of way along routes through the estate. Edward Walsh and Constance Cassidy maintain that there are no public rights of way over the property. They claim to have verified this prior to purchasing Lissadell in 2003. They have also stated that it would be impossible to continue to operate the house as a tourist destination or as a private home if such public access were to be allowed. “No property whatsoever, let alone a large tourist facility, could be operated on the basis of unregulated, uncontrolled and unfettered access,” they said. Sligo County Council has agreed to enter into discussions with Edward, Constance and local people in an effort to have the matter resolved as soon as possible. We will keep readers updated on all developments in upcoming issues.



11:54 AM

Page 36

A HOUSE IN Black and



Green By Denis Bergin

When Barack Obama enters The White House as the 44th U.S. President, he will find that the Irish and African-American strands of his ancestry have been linked in many other ways throughout the history of the most famous building in the world. On the day he assumes the highest office in the land, Barack Hussein Obama, the descendant of Ohio and Indiana immigrants who came from the borders of Counties Offaly and Tipperary, will join an exclusive club of twenty Presidents who claim Irish ancestry. President Obama’s single Irish great-greatgreat-grandparent puts him at thirteenth position in an informal ranking, alongside James Polk and just ahead of Richard Nixon, whose Quaker immigrant ancestors also came from Ireland to Ohio and Indiana. 36 IRISH AMERICA FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009

But the new president’s foreign-born father admits him to a smaller and more distinguished group of four that up to now has been exclusively Irish (the parents of Andrew Jackson and James Buchanan, and the father of Chester Arthur were all born on the island of Ireland). And unlike many of his Irish-descended presidential predecessors, Barack Obama has a relatively close link to his forebear Fulmoth Kearney, who left Moneygall in County Offaly (then known as King’s County) in 1850.



11:54 AM

Page 37

Left: Barack Obama Below: Obama’s great-grandfather, Ralph Dunham Sr. whose mother was the daughter of the Irish-born Fulmoth Kearney.

arrived in America on the good ship Marmion. Although most of the media attention has focused on Fulmoth, the unusually named mid19th-century immigrant, members of the family were in America from the early 1780s, when the Protestant Kearneys were still prominent in Shinrone, a more extensive King’s County community eight miles north of Moneygall. There the family patriarch, 85-year-old Joseph, was presiding over the decline of a small textile and property empire he had set up with his enterprising brother Michael, a successful Dublin wigFEBRUARY/MARCH 2009 IRISH AMERICA 37


Barack was nine years of age when his greatgrandfather Ralph Waldo Emerson Dunham (Fulmoth’s grandson) died in 1970 at the age of 76. The former Kansas cafe owner and auto mechanic, who had retired from Boeing as an aircraft fitter was well into middle age by the time his Irish mother died in 1936, on the same day as her husband Jacob. Born in 1869, Mary Anne Kearney Dunham, Ralph’s mother, was Fulmoth Kearney’s youngest daughter, and she too was nine years of age when her father died, almost three decades after he had



11:54 AM

Page 38

maker and father of Trinity College estates and moving his family (which the Kearney family lost both parents Provost and later Protestant Bishop of numbered nineteen in total) lock, stock (Charlotte died in 1877 and Fulmoth in Ossory, John Kearney. and barrel to Australia and New Zealand. 1878, while still only in their forties). Joseph’s grandson Thomas (c. 1765In an interesting sidelight, Fulmoth’s Mary Anne was nine and was raised by 1846) was the first to leave Ireland, setUncle Thomas, who died in 1845 in her older married sisters. This situation tling in Baltimore and offering his servicWayne Township, Ohio, at the age of 45, resulted in the sealing of the Dunham cones as a master carpenter (it is tempting to has no recorded spouse, but his will refers nection twelve years later with her marspeculate that he might even have been to a son, Thomas, then living in Ireland, riage to a third brother, 29-year-old Jacob, engaged in building The President’s and to a favorite niece with the fateful who had already established himself as a House). name of Anna Minchin, indicating a condruggist. By 1791 Thomas had married 17-yearnection with the landlord family. Jacob and Mary Anne’s second son, old Sarah Baxley of Fairfax County at Meanwhile Fulmoth Kearney married a one of seven siblings, was Ralph Waldo Baltimore Methodist Church, and within a local girl named Charlotte Holloway. The Emerson Dunham Sr., Barack Obama’s decade they had taken up a land grant in family (which would eventually include great-grandfather. Of Ralph’s brothers Ohio, where they settled in Ross County nine children) later moved to Tipton and sisters, all born before 1900, some near the site of the future county seat of County in Indiana, just south of the preswere still living as late as 1980, and the Chillicothe. There Thomas was joined by ent day city of Kokomo, and north of husband of one died only in 1991. his 23-year-old tailor brother John (1782Indianapolis. Ralph Waldo Emerson Dunham’s son, 1870). Sadly, the story was not all one of hope Stanley Armour Dunham, became the Their brother William, a Moneygall and joy: Fulmoth’s siblings, William and beloved grandfather who with his wife shoemaker and small-scale tenant farmer, Mary Anne, who had come from Ireland Madelyn Payne ‘Toot’ Dunham raised then watched as virtually all his children – as teenagers, died in their twenties in 1855 Barack Obama from the age of ten. Sarah, Thomas, William, Margaret and and 1866 respectively, and his sister Stanley’s life and progress as furniture Francis – emigrated and settled near their Margaret’s husband William Cleary died salesman in Kansas, Texas, Washington uncles in the American Midwest. in 1862. and then Hawaii has been well documentIn Ohio, Francis Kearney’s early efforts By the early 1870s, Fulmoth and ed in his grandson’s books Dreams from at farming were relatively successful so Charlotte Kearney’s eldest daughter My Father and The Audacity of Hope. His that by the time he died in 1848, he had a Phoebe was attracting the attention of a death in 1992 deeply affected the thirtysizable holding along the line between young man whose family had moved one-year-old community activist, who Pickaway and Ross Counties. The Ross from West Virginia to the Tipton commumarried lawyer Michelle Robinson later County lands, located on the North Fork nity some years before. in the same year; three years later, of Paint Creek, he willed to his 54-yearHe was David Dunham, one of the Barack’s mother, Dr. Stanley Ann old brother Joseph, the only one of his seven children of Jacob and Louisa Dunham, died at the age of fifty-four. generation left in Moneygall. Dunham. When he married Phoebe in From these inspiring alliances and devJoseph had inherited his father 1873, they were both nineteen. Three astating losses would grow the strength of William’s shoe-making business on the years later David Dunham’s brother character that was to lead to Barack latter’s death in 1828, and he and his wife Jeptha married Martha Kearney. Obama becoming one of the forty-two Phoebe were well settled in the small Within two years of Martha’s wedding, (George Washington was the exception) King’s County village. They had four children, ranging in ages from twenty-two downwards. Margaret, the eldest, was already married to William Cleary, who was more than twice her age. Her brother Fulmoth, named for his maternal grandfather Fulmoth Donovan of Ballygurteen, was eighteen, and the two younger siblings, William and Mary Anne, were fifteen and eleven respectively. Within a year, Joseph, his wife and family had made the decision to leave Ireland and by 1851 the two parcels of land that made up the smallholding near Moneygall (still known today as ‘Kearney’s Fields’) were put up for public auction by the then landlord, Rev. William Minchin, who lived at nearby Greenhills. The 63-yearold Protestant rector of Dunkerrin President Reagan, whose two paternal great-grandparents came from Ireland, has a pint in a pub in parish was selling his debt-laden Ballyporeen during his visit to the County Tipperary village in 1984. 38 IRISH AMERICA FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009



11:54 AM

Page 39

chief executives who have occupied the most famous residence in the world – one that was built, rebuilt, extended and staffed by Irish and African-Americans, working side by side, during its two-hundred-odd years as executive mansion.

AFRICAN-AMERICAN AND IRISH CONNECTIONS AT THE WHITE HOUSE In 1790, the first plans for the setting out of a street grid in the new capital of the United States involved two interesting characters, both mathematicians: Benjamin Banneker, the AfricanAmerican grandson of Molly Walsh, thought to have been an Irish-born indentured servant, and James Dermott, an Irish-born teacher at an Alexandria school attended by the extended family of George Washington. Banneker’s almost photographic memory of the marker placements in the original survey of the Maryland side of the Potomac River allowed him to recreate for the Ellicott brothers the outlines of streets and circles as conceived by Pierre Charles L’Enfant after the latter’s dismissal by President Washington. Dermott saw opportunity here and moved from his teaching post to becoming an early entrepreneur in the new Federal enclave. His 1792 survey of the capital site gave him an important foothold in the ordering of the early civil works that prepared the way for the construction of the President’s House and the U.S. Capitol. Dermott’s slaves helped to haul the Aquia stone from the barges at the Potomac landing to the elevated site where the executive mansion would rise, but it took another Irishman and his slaves to bring the project to fruition. Kilkenny-born architect James Hoban brought with him the most talented and dependable of his slave carpenters and brick-makers from Charleston SC, where he had run a small construction business and drawing school with fellow-Irishman Pierce Purcell. Hoban and Purcell’s flexible regime ensured that the slaves were recognized for their skills, and for their ability to supervise the less experienced slaves hired from Maryland and Virginia estate owners. Although Hoban maintained a business and a personal household dependent on slave labor to the end of his life, he insisted that on his death the South Carolina

Above: Hoban’s design for The White House, 1792. Left: A portrait of architect James Hoban.

slaves be allowed to remain in the District of Columbia, where a more enlightened regime was in place in a territory largely controlled – then as now – by the U.S. Congress. From the early 1800s, when one-third of the new city’s population was AfricanAmerican, education became more accessible, property rights were extended, and government employment was open to the increasing number of freedmen, who outnumbered slaves almost ten to one by mid-century. In Thomas Jefferson’s time, the Virginian’s relaxed approach to both race and fashion resulted in a strange household at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. While Jefferson shuffled around in stained jacket and slippers, his house staff of freedmen and slaves were turned out in a fetching livery of blue and red ‘with plated buttons and a decorative woven edging in silver.’ Presiding over all was Derry-born major domo Joseph Dougherty, who with his wife Mary and brother Robert, effectively ran a domestic team that also included a French chef, a German butler, and an Irish washerwoman named Biddy O’Boyle. When he assumed the Presidency in 1808, James Madison brought from his Virginia estate an interesting trio who represented the amazing diversity of the

young independent republic. Charles Bizet was a talented French horticulturalist who had looked after the Montpelier landscape; the African-American Paul Jennings was Madison’s trusted personal servant; and Irishman Thomas McGrath was an assistant to Bizet, whom he helped in organizing the vast untamed spaces around the executive mansion. It was McGrath who ‘rescued’ Gilbert Stuart’s famous portrait of George Washington from the impending conflagration when the British slashed and burned their way through Washington City in 1814; and it was James Hoban who returned with his trusted team of Irish and African-American laborers to rebuild The White House. Andrew Jackson brought from his Tennessee estate a highly-regarded personal servant named George Washington Jackson (who, in the manner of the time, shared both name and sleeping quarters with the President) and also employed a doorkeeper named Jemmy O’Neil – both were African-American. Although Thomas Jefferson’s tree plantings in the grounds of the President’s House were beginning to take shape, the destruction of the capital and its largest building by the British in 1814 required that the entire area be re-planned and replanted. It was Jackson who carried out the most ambitious undertaking in this regard, using the services of the Irish-born Jemmy Maher, an Alexandria nursery owner who became the official gardener to Washington City, and some of the slaves he had purchased from Colonel Hebb or brought from his huge compleFEBRUARY/MARCH 2009 IRISH AMERICA 39



11:54 AM

Page 40

ment (150 by the time he died) at ‘The Hermitage.’ In the mid-nineteenth-century administrations from Van Buren to Pierce, the White House door was kept by Kilkennyborn Martin Renehan, a trusted presidential adviser. Renehan became a prominent local grocer when he retired, and enjoyed the custom of many of his former AfricanAmerican colleagues (most of them now unemployed – President James Buchanan, son of a wealthy Donegal-born merchant and the only bachelor to serve in the highest office, decreed that only British subjects should be employed on the staff of his White House). But elsewhere African Americans continued to make inroads into the ranks of paid and respected government employees in Washington, and it was President Andrew Johnson, the grandson of an Antrim-born immigrant, who appointed William Slade, Abraham Lincoln’s personal messenger and friend, as the first African-American steward of the First Residence in the wake of the Civil War. In 1948, when President Truman ordered the gutting of The White House and the restoration of George Washington’s ‘lost’ third floor, the mas-

sive refurbishment was carried out by the construction firm of John McShain, the son of a Derry-born carpenter who emigrated to Philadelphia in 1885. As in the case of the Pentagon, where five years earlier McShain had completed over five million square feet of space for 40,000 employees in less than two years, much of the excavation and structural work was carried out by Irish and AfricanAmericans working side by side. President John F. Kennedy’s appointment of Andrew Hatcher as Associate Press Secretary was the first senior posting of an African-American in the West Wing, at the same time as his wife Jacqueline was planning the famous Rose Garden with Rachel Mellon, wife of the financier Paul, who was the grandson of Tyrone-born Thomas Mellon. The Obama White House may not be as ‘Irish’ as the Kennedy one, but its African-American credentials have already been secured. The day-to-day running of the most high-profile household in the world is in the hands of Chief Usher Admiral Stephen Rochon, a former Coast Guard officer with a passion for historic preservation, and Social Secretary Desiree Rogers, a convent-educated

The Top Twenty


Andrew Jackson James Buchanan Chester Arthur Woodrow Wilson Grover Cleveland

6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Andrew Johnson John F. Kennedy Benjamin Harrison Ronald Reagan Ulysses Grant William McKinley James Polk Barack Obama Richard Nixon

15 Theodore Roosevelt

(both parents born in Ireland) (both parents) (father) (paternal grandparents) (maternal grandfather, maternal great-great-grandmother) (paternal grandfather) (all eight paternal and maternal great-grandparents) (two maternal great-grandfathers) (two paternal great-grandparents) (maternal great-grandmother) (two paternal great-great-grandfathers) (paternal great-great-great-grandfather) (maternal great-great-great-grandfather) (paternal and maternal great-great-greatgreat-grandparents) (maternal great-great-great-great grandparent)

DISTANT OR UNCONFIRMED: 16 George H. Bush 17 Lyndon Johnson 18 Jimmy Carter 19 Leslie (Lynch) King 20 William (Cassidy) Blythe

(at least one Irish ancestor at great-great-great-greatgrandparent level and above) (Irish-born great-great-great-greatgrandparent unconfirmed) (Irish ancestry unconfirmed) (later Gerald Ford: Irish ancestry unconfirmed) (later Bill Clinton: Irish ancestry unconfirmed)


native of New Orleans. And long before the question was raised as to whether an African-American should be elected to lead the nation or run its executive mansion, the question of whether one should ‘rule’ the national capital had been settled, as it has in many other major American cities. In the early years of American independence, there were prominent Irish community leaders in Alexandria (Rathdowney-born John Fitzgerald, a former aide to George Washington), Georgetown (Limerick-born shoemaker and merchant Thomas Corcoran) and Washington City (where Thomas Carbery was one of a handful of Irish council members – with James Hoban – and served as mayor from 1824). But since 1967, when the appropriately named Walter Washington first took office as President of the Board of Commissioners, the head of local government in Washington D.C. has always been from the city’s majority AfricanAmerican population. Forty years on, nearby Baltimore got its first African-American, and first female, mayor in Sheila Dixon, who succeeded Governor-elect and prominent Irishman Martin O’Malley. And so as Barack Obama stands outside the iconic building that will be his home for the foreseeable future, and looks across Lafayette Square at the statue of Andrew Jackson on his rearing steed, he may sense a number of unearthly presences. Some will be the spirits of his revered departed – the parents and grandparents who helped to shape the most traditionshattering figure in American presidential politics since John F. Kennedy. But others may well be the ghosts of all of those prominent Irish and African-American ancestors and pacemakers and builders – and the hundreds of every race and nation who have thronged the hallowed halls of The President’s House during more than two hundred years. They will be looking on in disbelieving fascination at the most momentous gathering since Andrew Jackson threw open the doors to one and all at his infamous inaugural ‘levee,’ when ‘All Creation Went to the White House,’ as it will again IA on January 20, 2009. Note: Genealogical information used in this article is based on preliminary research by Eneclann, and Roger Kearney of Troy, Ohio (including the latter’s transcriptions of tombstone inscriptions and wills), as published on their websites and may be subject to later amendment or revision.



3:42 PM

Page 42

Inside the Kennedy

White House

How the election of JFK brought other Irish-American Catholics to the center of American power. By Tom Deignan

“They have since become a close-knit, highly professional team that is known in Administration circles as the Irish Mafia.’” Time cover story, September 1, 1961

The Irish “Murphia”



Of course, there had been Irish powerbrokers in Washington before Kennedy. Both James Farley and Thomas (the Cork) Corcoran were close aides to Franklin Roosevelt, while Mike Mansfield (the son of Irish immigrants) was elected to the Senate the same year JFK became president. However, the Irish – even when they achieved great power in New York, Boston and Chicago – generally ruled over their native cities,


ow that Barack Obama is officially moving into the White House, many feel a sense of optimism, despite the vast challenges facing America. Such feelings, naturally, recall January of 1961 when, on a bright, frozen Washington morning, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was inaugurated, declaring that “the torch has been passed to a new generation – born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage.” It wasn’t just Kennedy’s speech, youth and good looks that gave people a reason to feel optimistic. It was also the undeniable history of the occasion. Kennedy was the descendant of an Irish Famine survivor and America’s first Catholic president. So, awareness of this “ancient heritage” was inevitably going to trickle down and change the kinds of people at the center of American power. As a trailblazer himself, Kennedy opened doors for those who might otherwise not have made it to the corridors of power. Specifically, Irish American Catholics played a central role in early 1960s Washington. Who were these movers and shakers who were so close to Kennedy, so Hibernian in background and temperament that they came to be called “the Irish mafia”?

Kenneth P. O'Donnell, Special Assistant to the President.

rather than Washington. All that changed with JFK’s election in 1960. The most prominent Irish Americans surrounding Kennedy were David Francis Powers, Dick Donahue, Kenneth O’Donnell and Lawrence O’Brien, a quartet of political wizards who were aiding JFK long before he ran for president. When you also consider that JFK’s brother, Bobby, was one of his closest aides (and his Attorney General), as well as the informal advice often given to JFK by his father, Joe Sr., you see why it was whispered that Kennedy presided over an “Irish Mafia” – or “Murphia,” as Jackie Kennedy once called them. (Kennedy confidant and biographer Theodore Sorensen once commented that despite the jovial nature of the term, the group actually disliked the term “Irish Mafia,” at least initially.)

“Powers” That Be David Powers was the son of Irish immigrants from Cork who settled in Charleston, Massachusetts. Always humble, Powers once said he was merely “a newsboy who met a president,” referring to a childhood job. Powers – “Boston to his fin-



3:42 PM

Page 43


President Kennedy's appearance at New Ross Quay in New Ross, Ireland, 27 June 1963. Among those accompanying him are Vice Chairman of the New Ross Urban Council Gerald O'Donovan, Dave Powers, and US Ambassador to Ireland Matthew McCloskey.

gertips,” according to the Encyclopedia of the Irish in America – first worked for Kennedy in 1946, when JFK ran for Congress. Powers “was recruited to add a sense of working-class realism to what the Harvard-educated Kennedy feared might be perceived as his own lace-curtain credentials as a political candidate,” the Washington Post once noted. Powers himself once said: “While Jack Kennedy was a completely new type of Irish politician himself, having come from such a different background, he was, at bottom, very Irish and he could never hear enough of the old Irish stories.” Meanwhile, in recent years, Kenny O’Donnell’s legacy has grown in prominence, thanks in part to the Hollywood film Thirteen Days. Based on the Cuban Missile Crisis, the film’s star was Kevin Costner who portrayed (you guessed it) Kenny O’Donnell, who tries to mediate between the “hawks” and “doves” in Kennedy’s inner circle. (For what it’s worth, Defense Secretary Bob McNamara later commented that O’Donnell’s role in the movie was “totally fictional.”)

O’Donnell also was from Massachusetts (Worcester). His father was a legendary Holy Cross football coach. Thanks to the GI Bill, O’Donnell attended Harvard where he met Bobby Kennedy, who became his roommate. O’Donnell and the Kennedys “couldn’t gain acceptance into any of the elite clubs because of (their) religion,” Thomas Maier writes in his excellent book The Kennedys: America’s Emerald Kings. Finally, there’s Lawrence O’Brien, whose parents came from Cork. They were a deeply political family. Young Lawrence proudly recalled shaking the hand of Al Smith, when, in 1928, Smith was the first Catholic to run for president as a major party candidate. In 1952, O’Brien served as director for JFK’s Senate run, and was seen as so integral to Kennedy’s victory, that he was a natural to join JFK when he set his eyes on The White House.

The Election The big question during the 1960 presidential race was whether Americans would elect a Catholic for president. If

Kennedy’s Irish inner circle didn’t know this initially, they learned it quickly at a meeting in West Virginia. O’Brien, O’Donnell and Bobby Kennedy asked local voters to discuss any problems the Kennedys might face. A man stood up and said: “There’s only one problem. He’s a Catholic. That’s our goddamned problem.” O’Donnell later recalled: “(RFK) seemed to be in a state of shock. His face was pale as ashes.” Of course, the campaign overcame this issue and won – in no small part thanks to the campaign’s Irish advisers. O’Brien was even put on the cover of Time magazine in September of 1961. “To the Kennedy team, O’Brien was and is more than a skillful political organizer. He has the experience and understanding to serve as a bridge between the Democratic Old Guard and the New Frontier,” the magazine noted. “The bright, eager young men around Jack Kennedy have always baffled and often offended the (old machine) Skeffingtons of Massachusetts; but Larry O’Brien can talk to politicians in their own language and win them over,” Time said. FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009 IRISH AMERICA 43



3:42 PM

Page 44

Bobby Kennedy added: “He was the essential transition man for us with the Old Guard.” O’Donnell, meanwhile, more or less controlled access to Kennedy, whose press secretary Pierre Salinger once dubbed O’Donnell the most powerful man on Kennedy’s staff. Another observer said O’Donnell – nicknamed “the Cobra” for the tight grip he had on access to the president – was Kennedy’s “political right hand, troubleshooter, expediter and devil’s advocate.”

Thirteen Days might have blurred the line between fact and fiction, but Kennedy’s Irish advisers did have a front row seat for the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. In one conversation with Powers, JFK pondered the vast questions of life and death.“Dave, we have had a full life,” Kennedy said, adding that he feared most for the lives of his children. On the brighter side of the Kennedy years, there was his famous trip to Ireland. Interestingly, according to Maier’s book, Kenneth O’Donnell was not exactly sentimental.“It would be a waste of time,” he said, noting that the Cold War remained a demanding issue, and that civil rights also needed to be dealt with. “You’ve got all the Irish votes in this country that you’ll ever get. If you go to Ireland, people will say it’s just a pleasure trip.” JFK responded: “Kenny, let me remind you of something. I am the President of the United States, not you. When I say I want to go to Ireland, it means that I’m going to Ireland. Make the arrangements.”

November 1963 Sadly, having been there for the historic moments of JFK’s brief presidency, the Irish Mafia was also there when it ended. Powers was actually in the car behind Kennedy when he was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963. Powers even helped remove Kennedy’s body from the car. One observer, in Maier’s book, noted that the diverse cultural groups in Kennedy’s inner circle reacted to his death in different ways. “The Irish were having a wake, the Protestants were at a funeral, and the Jews were weeping and carrying on.” Perhaps it’s not surprising that as conspiracies have come to surround JFK’s death, the Irish Americans are said to 44 IRISH AMERICA FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009


The Crisis

President Kennedy and Dave Powers attend Mass on All Saints Day at St. Matthews Church, Washington, DC, 1 November 1961.

Lawrence F. O'Brien, Special Assistant to the President.

have played a role in that, too. After Kennedy was declared dead, doctors reportedly wanted to perform an autopsy in Texas. It has been said, however, that O’Donnell forcefully persuaded doctors to allow the autopsy to instead take place in Washington, raising questions about the accuracy of the proce-

dure. Either way, O’Donnell took the death of Jack – and, in 1968, Bobby very hard. He fell under the sway of alcohol and was just 54 when he died in 1977. His daughter Helen O’Donnell later wrote a book entitled A Common Good: The Friendship of Robert F. Kennedy and Kenneth P. O’Donnell. Powers, meanwhile, became a driving force behind the JFK Library and Museum in Boston. He served as curator when it opened in 1979, and retired in 1994, before dying at the age of 85 in 1998. Finally, O’Brien became chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1968, and later was targeted for investigation by Richard Nixon. O’Brien later left politics and became commissioner of the National Basketball Association, before dying in 1990 at the age of 73. “The Irish,” JFK once said to O’Donnell, “do seem to have an art for government.” The president then paused, considered his company, and added: IA “Perhaps we are both prejudiced.”



12:11 PM

Page 46



Hard times are falling on communities across the country, and even in the affluent San Francisco area, belts are tightening and the economy is in decline. But on a recent December afternoon, on an island in the middle of the Bay, on a plot of land surrounded by cracked concrete and crumbling buildings, a lively celebration was gearing up, one that defied the growing gloom all around.” By the day’s end, Ireland’s 2007 and 2008 Gaelic football All-Stars had faced off against each other in front of over 2,000 fans, and San Francisco’s Gaelic Athletic Association (SFGAA) had formally opened three new, world-class fields, named Páirc na nGael. Players and fans of Gaelic football and hurling are ecstatic. Before the park materialized, they had never had their own base. They were “wandering aimlessly,” with “no real homes . . . a rudderless ship,” according to Pat Uniacke, President of the SFGAA Treasure Island Board of Directors. In just eight months, workers and volunteers turned unused land owned by the U.S. Navy into high-quality pitches, where players can now pass a football or strike a sliotar without tripping in a gopher hole or having to surrender the pitch to other sports. But the new fields on Treasure Island go far beyond sport in their significance to the Bay Area and the Irish-American community. The second phase of the project involves a 25,000-square-foot community center and clubhouse, and will be open to any organization that wishes to use it. The space will host feiseanna, banquets, conferences, and the like and serve as a center where people can gather to socialize and celebrate – a physical hub in an increasingly virtual society. This new foothold for Gaelic games is also a link between families and across decades. Irish President Mary McAleese praised this aspect when she appeared later the same week at the opening ceremony for Páirc na nÓg, the new youth field that is part




12:11 PM

Page 47


A New Future in the City by the Bay STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHRIS RYAN

of the same project. In front of children from 25 area schools dressed in brightly colored football jerseys, McAleese recalled the largely Irish immigrants who came to San Francisco in the 1850s “with so little – but they still had the love of their games. And here we are a century and a half later, in very different times, honoring their memory. To the Irish-American families and the dignitaries, fans, players, and volunteers who attended the opening ceremonies that week, the new GAA center is more than just wellkept grass for games and competition. It’s a knot joining America back to Ireland, and the Irish-American past to its unwritten future – a knot that’s being tied and tightened even as you read.

A Long Time Coming Work was finished on the fields less than a year after the lease was signed, but in a sense they were 155 years in the making. Ever since Irish immigrants played Gaelic games in San Francisco as far back as 1853, they’ve never had fields of their own. In the decades since, participation levels have waxed and waned, largely in relation to the economy here or in Ireland and to the resulting immigration rates. But the sports and the culture have always lived on, in one way or another. McAleese likened it to a baton handed on from generation to generation. That baton has never been dropped, but now – with a home base – Gaelic games are much better positioned to grow. As is the culture at large. John O’Flynn, another key SFGAA board member and chair of the Irish Football Youth League, sees Gaelic games as “a very important cog in the wheel in promoting Irish-American culture.” The games get people together who might not know each other, and those connections last throughout life. Ray O’Flaherty, a native of County Offaly

Left: Two players jump for a high ball during the All-Stars match at Páirc na nGael in San Francisco. Top: President Mary McAleese and her husband Martin mingle with young GAA supporters. Above: Irish-American stars of tomorrow stand ready to welcome the Irish President to the youth field at Páirc na nGael at Treasure Island. February/March 2009 IRISH AMERICA 47



12:12 PM

Page 48

and owner of a popular Irish pub an hour’s drive south in San Jose, considers the games as an important cultural link to bygone days. “It keeps us living with the past, with stuff we all did when we were young people . . . it’s the preservation of our traditions.” Indeed, the desire to preserve Irish culture and pastimes inspired the very creation of the GAA back in 1884 in Thurles, County Tipperary. At the time, hurling and other Gaelic games seemed threatened by British rule and the general dilution of Irish language and identity. Those threats seem distant now, but other things challenge the growth of Gaelic games in the U.S. today: the peri-

odic declines in Irish immigration and competition for the youths from other sports, like soccer. Supporters of the games see Páirc na nGael as a counterforce to those factors, and a unique opportunity to build community. The games also link Irish Americans to their Hibernian roots in another, more direct way. Many of the youths know little of Gaelic culture or of Ireland itself. But every two years or so the GAA raises money to send some of the underage teams back to Ireland to take part in the Féile na nGael, a tournament for youths. “It’s a process of acculturation,” says Liam Reidy of the SFGAA, “to take them home to Ireland where a lot of their parents and grandparents were born and raised.” For many, it’s their first real 48 IRISH AMERICA FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009

Treasure Island is a former naval base on a

fields would not be there today without the labor and equipment offered by volunteers. Alan Coughlan, an electrician from Cork, spent a day and a half each week over the course of eight months “doing anything: laboring, operating machines, electrical work. . . if volunteers didn’t step up, it wouldn’t get done.” Coughlan is looking forward to using the fields with his local club, The Séan Treacys, which won the 2008 North American Senior Football Championship. Volunteer Pat Power from Waterford worked most Saturdays over the course of the project. Power has lived in the States for 32 years and his children all went through the youth program. Kids want an

man-made island nearly a mile square, sitting in the bay halfway between Oakland and San Francisco. The GAA’s 13 acres are surrounded by neglected land and abandoned buildings, but in the background stand the iconic towers of the Bay Bridge and the downtown skyline. And soon, a large-scale, high-tech, eco-conscious “city” is due to spring up around it, a massive development that promises to make the whole island a greener and safer place. The GAA’s $5.2-million project started with a $100,000 donation from an anonymous individual and received two halfmillion-dollar boosts along the way: one from Croke Park (the GAA headquarters in Dublin) for infrastructure like fencing and bleachers, and one from the Irish government to develop the community center. But everyone I spoke to stressed that the

extra connection to their culture, he said, and parents want a link to their kids. He thought it “marvelous to be able to give something back.” The All-Star players certainly appreciated the final product. President McAleese described them as “absolutely thrilled . . . as well they might be, knowing how much love and passion and commitment have gone into every single blade of grass.” According to Pat Uniacke, the fields are “as good as you’ll get in Croke Park or any field in Ireland.” Beyond the devotion of the 300 or so volunteers, the project also benefited from luck. Uniacke reflected, “We were very fortunate in our timing. When we commenced last March the economy had not started to turn down yet.” Since then, he

exposure to Ireland beyond family stories and a Gaelic surname. So what may seem to some like merely sport or competition is in fact a link to the past and a gateway to Ireland. Thanks in part to the new home for Gaelic games on Treasure Island, Irish sport and culture in the region now looks well situated. But there was nothing inevitable about Páirc na nGael. In fact, it owes its development – on a deserted piece of real estate, in the early days of an open-ended recession – to a combination of vision, volunteers, and plain luck.

Leaves of Grass



12:12 PM

Page 49

knows, capital has grown quite scarce. Uniacke added, “We were [also] fortunate that there were so many Irish contractors involved in the business of heavy earthmoving equipment.” Fortune works in mysterious ways. Money to complete the community center and pay off debt will be raised by renting out the fields to other sporting groups in the off-season and throwing fundraisers like “Gaelic Fests,” Gala Nights, et cetera. John O’Flynn reflected on the hard work and planning and what it has achieved. “In our own little parishes in Ireland, we all strived to have our own place to play. We’re doing the same thing here.”

To expand participation among youths, the SFGAA is taking the Gaelic games directly to them. It has convinced Rhythm and Moves, a company which provides physical education curriculum to schools, to adopt Gaelic football as one of their programs. And it has exposed hundreds more kids to it through the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Club of America. In fact, the latter group is active on Treasure Island and through it the GAA has introduced Gaelic football to about 500 disadvantaged kids. And what do they think of it? John O’Flynn, who for 14 years now has been bringing the games to thousands of young people, says kids like Gaelic football because

Italian Americans, Latin Americans, African Americans. They may connect to the Irish community through marriage, or may have the ubiquitous 1/4 or 1/16 Irish heritage. “Gaelic games here amongst Irish, Irish Americans, and other cultures is actually growing now for the first time,” Reidy added. In a city as diverse as San Francisco, in a country comprised of immigrants from many lands, preserving one culture too

Far left: President of the Gaelic Field Development Committee Pat Uniacke says a few words at the opening ceremony. Left: Players from all backgrounds enjoy playing Gaelic games at Páirc na nGael. Above: A proud day for all SFGAA members (including John O’Flynn, third from right) at the official opening of the facility. Top right: The 2008 and 2007 All Stars are led out onto the field by local children. Bottom right: No matter what age, there is always an opportunity to improve your ball skills! All photos by Chris Ryan,

Writing the Future The first major event the fields will see is the Continental Youth Championship in July, the biggest youth GAA event in North America. It connects players throughout the U.S. and Canada – wherever there’s an Irish diaspora that plays Gaelic football or hurling. Over 2,000 young players will compete in 250 games over the course of three days. The event is growing fast, as are Gaelic games among youths in general. This is partly due to a conscious effort to focus on younger players. Liam Reidy concedes, “For generations we were relying on the immigrant influx” from Ireland and “too heavily on adults to play the games.” But now the philosophy is, “Today’s juveniles are tomorrow’s seniors.”

it’s very aerobic, you’re able to move with the ball, “and there’s a lot more scores.” And, he added, “There’s the opportunity to travel.” Organizers hope that many of these youths will go on to play as adults, helping to establish the games better in the long term. Interestingly, their strategy seeks to involve not just more Irish Americans – though they are still doing that, through the Catholic Youth Organization, for example. They’re now more actively inviting everyone to participate in Gaelic games, in part through the groups mentioned above. “When you look at the team sheets now,” Liam Reidy remarked, it’s not just “O’Connells and Ryans and Murphys.” It’s Berillios, Medinas, and so on –

strictly can backfire, detaching it from the larger community and leaving it to grow stale and irrelevant. If culture is valuable – and if it is to stay vital and lively – then it seems it should be shared far and wide. Pat Power appreciates that spirit in his children’s teams. “The kids’ friends come out and play, they’re from diverse backgrounds . . .” It’s not as much about the sport, in the end, as the community it fosters. Speaking to the children gathered on their new pitch, President McAleese summed it up well: “Whether you’re Irish or not . . . it’s a wonderful thing to be able to share the Gaelic games with our friends and with our neighbors.” More than ever, those games and the bonds they create look set to shine, whatIA ever the economic forecast. FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009 IRISH AMERICA 49



12:14 PM

Page 50

The Triumph Mary Pat Kelly’s new novel Galway Bay captures the essence of the Great Starvation and the 19th-century Irish-American experience.

Beautiful Ballynahinch. Above right: Mary Pat Kelly


reland has a terrible history. As a kid in school reading about that history I was always afraid to turn the page; what seemed like a hopeful turn of events always was undone by a traitor or some clever English piece of skulduggery – the Indians weren’t the only ones with broken treaties. So it was with me as Mary Pat Kelly’s new novel, Galway Bay, sat on my bedside table for several months. Mary Pat has a great reputation as a writer and filmmaker — indeed, she’s penned many an article for Irish America — but I kept putting off the book because the Famine, though it happened long before my time, is still painful to me like a scar that throbs when the weather turns.


So, finally, with deadline approaching I picked up the book. And it’s good, in fact, it’s great. Mary Pat has a wonderful knowledge of Irish myth and history and she puts it to good use in this novel. There’s a love story, and a champion horse, also a shifty landlord, and ultimately the Famine, by which time I’m in love with the characters, so I see all the happenings I had known in the history books through their eyes — the Board of Works, the soup kitchens, the starvation, the madness caused by the starvation, and ultimately the escape to America. Galway Bay is a great tale that really takes off on the boat journey to America, to New Orleans to be exact, and



12:14 PM

Page 51

and the


Interview by Patricia Harty

it just gets better as it goes along. Irish-American history – particularly the history of the Irish in Chicago – is vividly and richly explored. In short, it’s a book that should be in every Irish-American household library. I sat down with Mary Pat conveniently at Irish America’s offices recently to talk.

When did you start this project? In some ways, at birth. Growing up in Chicago, I was extremely proud of being Irish. But I realized that being Irish to me was about John Kennedy and Notre Dame. I didn’t have a real sense of what Ireland was or the fact that it was a real place. It was almost a mythical place to me. I read James Joyce in college. That was kind of a beginning, but in 1969 I made my first trip to Ireland. I was traveling with another IrishAmerican woman. We arrived at about one a.m. and we got on a city bus that took you into Dublin proper. I had had trouble in London with the bus conductors because they had this little machine that went “clank” and they would come to you. You were supposed to know where you were going and what the fare was. So we’re on the Irish bus, here comes the conductor with his machine, and we’re looking through our purses, I said, “Excuse me,” or something, and he said, “Would you ever relax, girls, you’re home.” I wasn’t prepared for how physically beautiful Ireland was, how incredible the people were, the conversations. And that was the beginning of my really wanting to learn more about Ireland. When I moved to New York for graduate school, I studied Irish literature and I guess I started to do the formal research in the 1980s. That’s when I thought

Anne, Michael (father of Mary Pat) and Rosemary Kelly circa 1920.




12:14 PM

Page 52

to do the obvious thing, to ask my father’s cousin, who was in her 90s — she lived to be 107. She knew my great-great-grandmother who came over, we think, in 1849 or 1850 with five little children.

Your great-great-grandmother was Honora in the novel? Yes, she was Honora Keeley. And I called the book Galway Bay because she was born in Bearna. The townland was called Freeport, which was right on the shores of Galway Bay. And there was a fishermen’s community there, so I assumed she was the daughter of a fisherman. And for the novel, I could make her whomever I wanted.

I love the way you’ve weaved the mythology in with historic facts and made it all come alive. You must’ve done an awful lot of research. I did. What I’m hoping is that some of these stories will lead readers to do further research. Of course, there are some wonderful academic studies on all of these things. But I wanted this to be popular, just a good story that people could pick up. Also, I know once removed how the myths and history infuse the lives of the people; it’s so natural to them. I tried to have some of that feeling, but I think that’s one of the things we’ve lost, maybe irrevocably. I mean, Irish people still have that sense of history, the landscape and everything, to this day, but for Irish-Americans it’s more . . . we can get to it, but it’s not as natural. On the other hand, it’s a great discovery when you do start to find it.

Sister Mary Erigena Kelly, great-granddaughter of Honora Kelly, with Bertram Kelly Jarchow (on her lap), and (L to R) Luke Murray, Mickey Kelly Murray, Mary Pat Kelly and Homer Murray.

I thought you covered the Famine part very well and the boat journey to New Orleans. Did you go to New Orleans? I did. I just love New Orleans and the whole Irish history there. I loved that they built St. Patrick’s Church. What happened to me was . . . first of all, when you really get into the Famine — I call it the Great Starvation because as everyone knows, it wasn’t a real famine; there was food — it’s so overwhelming. But I used a quote that starts the book; it’s something Agnella told me Honora had said. It’s maybe not word for word, but the gist of it, the way I put it, is “We didn’t die and that annoyed them.” But they had survived so much, because they had the potato. It wasn’t known at the time how nutritious the potato is. The British must’ve been scratching their heads because they’d taken everything away, the land, and here these people are still thriving. But of course when the blight came, that changed. And a million died. That’s overwhelming . . . such a tiny area. But then two million escaped. And I started to wonder, how did they get out? How? We say it very blithely, “Oh, somebody went over and earned money and sent it back.” But how did that happen? Even physically, how did they get the money back? Who did they send it to? There weren’t any mailboxes . . . and if the landlord knew somebody had money, he’d take it. So, that was amazing to me, and that’s what I got into: How did they make this journey? And then, of course, the coffin 52 IRISH AMERICA FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009

Colonel Mulligan of the Irish Brigade.



12:14 PM

Page 53

ships . . . But I love New Orleans, and it was the third-biggest port of entry. After Canada and New York, it was New Orleans. And can you imagine them getting off the boat, cold and tired, and stepping into this beautiful warm place where the people were very hospitable? There were already Irish there. I found a lot of instances where the AfricanAmerican people welcomed the Irish. There was an AfricanAmerican nun called Henriette DeLille who had a ministry to slaves. There was a lot of interconnection between people that today we don’t really realize. My favorite was that the biggest architect in New Orleans, who built all the fancy buildings, was called Gallier, right? Except his name was really Gallagher. Again, we talk about the Famine, we see pictures . . . but [the new arrivals] didn’t miss a beat, they started right in. And they didn’t speak English; they spoke Irish. New Orleans? Good to be French? “Call me Gallier.” But they didn’t lose their identity. The Channel, and other Irish neighborhoods there, are still very strong.

name was changed to Bridgeport because of the bridge there, at the end of the canal. Not to give away too much, but in real life Honora’s grandson was a Kelly, and he was the first real Irish mayor elected, and from Bridgeport. And the Daleys now, are also from Bridgeport. What really impressed me was that no matter how terrible conditions were, they didn’t let it crush their spirit. I was just amazed at that. They unionized and tried to get better

And then the family go on to Chicago – Yes. I liked the idea of them coming up the canal, because it was the Irish that built the Illinois-Michigan Canal and that was what really gave Chicago the chance to be the City of the Century, the central point. And people say, “Yes, the Irish dug the canal.” I found a report by a German engineer who was awestruck by the way the canal had been put together, the way the stones had been fitted, one to another. There were like 20 different [drops] that you had to have, and the skill of the men that built that was phenomenal. There was a horrible mortality rate. By the time Honora and her family come, they can get on the canal boat and land in Chicago.

One thing that tore out my heart was the description of the slaughterhouses where the sons find work.

The Ferris Wheel in Chicago.

That was shocking to me. Because when I looked at the census, my own grandfather, thirteen years old, was working at the meatpacking house. He went on to become a master plumber, which I used to think, “oh well,” until I realized to be a plumber in the 1880s? That was pretty good, very advanced. But he worked at the slaughterhouse with the other children. Another thing that impressed me, when I read the actual accounts of the people . . . Upton Sinclair’s is actually about a Lithuanian family . . . but when you read the accounts by the Irish, yes, there were horrible situations; however, they really created a community in Bridgeport, which was originally called Hardscrabble. The

conditions. Eventually they moved the stockyards away, so they didn’t have to obey the few laws there were, but they didn’t let it destroy their spirit. Whatever they had to do, they did. And that wasn’t what defined them. That was the thing that impressed me too, and it made me understand a little bit about the role of the Church in their lives. And why did they build these churches? The first thing they did was build these magnificent churches. You know, they could have used the money in other ways. But I think they needed to be somewhere that affirmed their identity as they saw themselves. FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009 IRISH AMERICA 53



12:14 PM

Page 54

You also cover the Civil War – the Irish who fought on both sides – and the Fenian invasion of Canada. They enlisted in huge numbers and the slogan was “For the Glory of the Old Land, For the Defense of the New.” The idea was that by fighting in the Civil War, they would not only show their patriotism, but they would get the support of the United States for the liberation of Ireland. There were two Irish regiments in Chicago. They had beautiful flags with shamrocks and “Erin Go Bragh” on them. They had their own stationery. Their only fear was that they weren’t going to get into battle. There was no problem about the draft; they had a huge enlistment. As the war went on and they started to see what the real situation was, they still enlisted, and reenlisted. It was really the [camaraderie] of being together, and the belief that with 50,000 Fenians in the army on both sides, trained in weapons, organized and battle-hardened, they could go on to liberate Ireland. And it was not an impossible dream. In the Chicago History Museum I found the letters of Colonel James Mulligan – an incredible character – and Peter Casey, where they talk about the Fenian meetings. They would make a solemn promise that they wouldn’t talk about the war. So the Southern regiments would leave the battlefield, meet at night in a ravine with the Northern regiment; they would post guards, have their meeting; the next day they’d face each other on the battlefield. Truly incredible. They had these great Fenian Fairs, like in Chicago, where they would give prizes — rosewood pianos — incredible feats of organization. For one week in Chicago, the money received by the theatres was given to the Fenians. So this wasn’t a secret or some hole-in-the-wall thing. The Fenians had the support of the President and a lot of politicians. The deal was, they would go up to Canada; the U.S. would not do anything; they would declare a certain part of Canada a republic and then the United States would recognize them. They would be the government-in-exile from Ireland. They’d already worked out that France would recognize them. They had it all worked out. But there were unfortunate circumstances: they had to move up the date, so when it came time for the invasion they had only 7,000 men instead of 50,000. The saddest thing was that it wasn’t the British that defeated them. It was the American army that stopped them and an America navy captain who fired on them, against orders, as they were crossing Lake Ontario. Then the American army let the British chase them back across the border.

Do you think the Irish understand the Irish-American attraction to Ireland? I don’t think Irish people really understand the emotion that Irish-Americans feel when they connect. Sometimes it might be in a flatfooted way, a cliché way, but it’s very sincere. And what I say to Irish-Americans is, “You don’t even know the half of it. You don’t know the incredible literature and the myths.” It’s a treasure trove. You could spend your whole life discovering just the history of the little place you came from.


You ended up marrying an Irishman.Was Martin able to help you with the book? Very much. Of course I laugh, because before I married Martin I considered myself Irish, now all of a sudden I’m American. I mean, we consider ourselves Irish, but to Irish people, I’m American. He was great as a sounding board, and as far as knowing what rang true. He has it effortlessly, his whole family, his history, but he doesn’t dwell on it. He’s from the north, from County Tyrone. Of course you see [the pride] coming out when Tyrone win the All-Ireland, which they’ve been doing on a regular basis over the past few years. He was great about that, and also he understands Irish America too, and likes it very much. But it was his ear, knowing if it sounded right, if Irish people would say that. And that was really the biggest challenge: to try to make the language true to the time, and also true to what they would say.

Did you feel a connection to Honora through doing this? Yes, I did. I just felt . . . What a woman! I wouldn’t be alive today if she hadn’t conquered incredible obstacles. She was young when she was widowed; she married at 17. She had five children by the time she was 23, 24? The house they lived in is still in Bridgeport; it’s still there.

America is now in another recession, and here we have a Chicago president — I hope we look to our roots, all of us. We were not too proud to do whatever it took to survive, and had a lot of respect for work and what work meant, and knew that money is not the measure of a person. The ability to tell a good story, to live a good life, to be an usher at your church was as important as if you were on Wall Street. I think maybe we’re going to return, to find our center, to find the strength we’ve always had. And maybe realize that we don’t need the trappings, the bling that our society told us was so essential. I think it’s going to be tough. I think that the lesson of the Great Depression is that the poorest will not suffer in the way that they did. Laissez faire is what killed a million people in Ireland. The market, and [the idea] that the market was going to take care of everything, killed a million people. I think this is an awakening from that false thing: that somehow or other there’s this mythical thing called the market and it’s not human beings being greedy and manipulative. So. That’s my hope. And that people buy the book and get inspired. I’d invite everyone to go to my website: Lots of information and music: Mary Deady, a classically trained singer who’s toured with the National Folk Theatre of Ireland, sings songs from the novel. Martin and I will be touring the country, doing signings in March, April and May. Invite us to your community? And for people interested in their own genealogy, I’d be happy to help steer them in the right direction. Email:



12:14 PM

Page 55

An Excerpt from Galway Bay The following excerpt comes from chapter ten of Galway Bay. This scene takes place during the first “partial” failure of the potato crop in 1845. For some of our neighbors, Michael represented a kind of reaching above that made them uneasy: his skill as a piper, his victory in the Galway Races, the breeding of Champion and selling her foals, his dream of a forge. But John Joe Gorman, the Tierneys, the McGuire brothers, and even Neddy Ryan understood what it took to set a ridge and bring forth a ton of potatoes.And no one cut turf in the bog faster or piled it more neatly than Michael. The men of the townland appreciated Michael’s skills and looked to him as a leader—an accomplishment for a fellow here only six years. And this year we’d have our biggest yield ever. But the potatoes were ready now. They could go mealy if left in the ground. The next morning, a fine drizzle broke up the fog. “Come on, Mam!” said Paddy. The boys stood at the door, eager to start the digging. “Where’s your da?” “The great giant Finn McCool’s off to take his morning piss, Mam.” “Paddy!” “That’s what Da told us.” He and Jamesy started to laugh—were still laughing when Da, Granny, Mam, Joseph, and Hughie arrived. Dennis stayed in Bearna with Josie, near her time now. “God bless all here,” Da said. The other families from the townlands had started toward their fields, too, and called out to us—“Good morning, missus!” and,“God bless—a decent day for it, finally!” And the sky was clearing.We should get a lot of the potato crop in today. “I’m running ahead with Joseph,” Paddy shouted. “He’s giving me a go with his hurley.” At eighteen, Joseph was still five feet nothing. Paddy’s nearly up to his shoulder, with the height he gets from the Keeleys and Kellys both—muscled already.A sturdy lad, halfway up the hill, with Jamesy puffing behind. Hughie, good boy that he was, swung Jamesy up on his back and took off after Paddy and Joseph. More like brothers than uncles to my sons. I walked between Mam and Granny, carrying Bridget. Da and Michael were just ahead, deep in talk of some kind.They get on so well. Michael’s part of the Keeley

men now, with his own fine children, his loneliness filled. I took Granny’s hand.“Our own pratties,” I said.“And nothing to do with Jackson or the Scoundrel Pykes or anybody but us. Michael says they keep us safe.” “They do,” Granny said. I heard Joseph and Hughie shouting down to us, but I couldn’t catch their words.And then Paddy and Jamesy were shrieking,“Da, Da, Da!” Michael started running. The boys sounded frightened. I saw Michael reach them, then fall down to the ground. What’s he doing? Where’s that awful smell coming from? Has something died up here? The stench seems to rise from the land itself. Mam and Da and Granny and I were at the ridges now. Paddy ran to me. He lifted up his hands to me, covered in black muck. “The pratties, Mam,” he said.“They’re gone!” Michael and Joseph and Hughie were tearing at the ground. “Here, Mam, take Bridget,” I said, and knelt down next to Michael. “Where are the potatoes?” I said. “Where are they?” He pulled out a great stinking glob and held it out to me.“Here.This.” He shook the filth off his hands, wiped them on the grass, and kept digging. The stalks of all the plants, green the day before, were black and blasted, with slime instead of potatoes under the ground. “This can’t be!” I said.“How could they all die in one night?” “Here, Michael, here’s a good one,” Joseph called,“and another, and another— five solid potatoes up here.” “And a sound ridge over here!” Da shouted.“Look, green patches among the black.” Michael stood up.“Dig the potatoes from the green ones—fast, fast!—before whatever’s doing this spreads. Hurry! Hurry!” Paddy ran to Michael. Mam knelt next to me. Granny carried Bridget a few steps away. Jamesy came to stand at my shoulder. “Mam, Mam, listen.” “I can’t, Jamesy. I’m digging. Help me.” “Listen, listen!” “What?” Now I heard it—echoing from glen to glen. . . .

Galway “Keening,” Granny said. Wailing voices came from every hillside—the neighbors—their potatoes dead and dying, too. The sound stopped us. We were frozen, kneeling in the muck and mire. Michael recovered first.“Dig! Dig! Dig!” he shouted, heading for the high ridge. I crawled to another patch and plunged my hand into the foulsmelling mess. I felt a hard lump—a good potato. But when I grabbed it, the potato fell apart in my hand, oozing through my fingers. “We must dig faster!” Michael yelled. “Get any whole potatoes out! Carry them to the stream, scrub away the muck.” “Michael!” It was our Joseph. “Up here, at the top! They’re all sound!” “Get them out! Get them!” Michael shouted. Granny took Bridget and Jamesy away. A hard rain started. Rivers of evil-smelling mud flooded the ridges, soaking us through. We dug and dug, gagging on the smell. We stopped only when the last of the light went. We carried any whole potatoes to the stream near our cottage to wash them, then rubbed them dry on our clothes and stacked them in the pit. All that we had saved barely covered the bottom. We staggered into the cottage. Granny had boiled up some of the early potatoes, dug up last month. Michael looked into the pot. “Sound! These were sound! And the fields were healthy yesterday. . . .What could have happened? What blight could have hit so fast? How could the potatoes rot overnight?” “We must eat and sleep,” Granny said. “Take one prattie each.” Michael usually eats ten. We ate. I put Mam, Da, Granny, and the children on the straw pallet, and the rest of us collapsed on the floor. I lay down next to Michael. “The ridges behind the long acre might be sound,” he said. They weren’t.Two days of digging and the pit wasn’t half-full. Only the potatoes on the very highest ridges—the ones Michael and Patrick had planted first—had survived the blight. Not enough. Not near enough.

Galway Bay is published by Grand Central. FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009 IRISH AMERICA 55



12:00 PM

Page 56

Becoming Billy: Trent Kowalik’s Journey from Championship Irish Dancer to Broadway Star By Bridget English




itting in the audience watching dancers from The Pirate Queen at Irish America’s Top 100 Gala in 2006, honoree Trent Kowalik never imagined that in just two years it would be him up on a Broadway stage. Even Trent’s mother, Lauretta, has trouble believing that her son has gone from Irish dancing to a starring role in the Broadway production of Billy Elliot. “Who would’ve thought?” she says. Implausible perhaps, but not entirely unexpected. Trent’s early career is impressive. At the age of eleven, he became the youngest American to get to the top of the podium at the 2006 World Irish Dance Championships in Belfast, but the lead role in Billy Elliot requires more than just dancing. Aside from the almost three hours onstage with six or seven dance numbers, Trent must also act, sing and speak in Northern England’s distinctive Geordie accent while bringing the story of a working-class boy caught up in the milieu of a mining town to the audience. These tasks are difficult for most performers, not to mention a thirteen-year-old boy with no prior acting experience. So how did Trent manage to score the Billy part not only in London’s West End production but also on Broadway? At risk of sounding like a cliché, you could argue that Trent was born dancing. When she was pregnant with Trent, Lauretta Kowalik told people how her son was “dancing in the womb” because he moved around so much. Trent was even born with a knot in the umbilical cord, which doctors said was a result of his hyperactivity. Trent grew up in an Irish-American family with three older sisters. Trent’s father, Mike, and mother, Lauretta, are both fourth-generation Irish-American,

David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish who share the role of Billy on Broadway.

with Lauretta’s family coming from County Roscommon. From early on he was surrounded by dance with all three sisters enrolled in Irish dance classes. This environment alone could provoke a young boy to either love or hate dance, but even before he turned three, Trent was discovered wearing his sister’s tap shoes, standing in front of a TV mimicking Michael Flatley’s dance moves. Since he was too young to start Irish dance classes, Trent’s parents enrolled him in dance classes at Dorothy’s School of Dance in Bellmore, Long Island, NY. Under the tutelage of Dorothy Medico, Trent progressed from ballet and tap to hip-hop, jazz and acrobatic tumbling. Here is where the Billy Elliot parallel comes into play, with similarities being drawn between Mrs. Medico and Billy’s colorful dance instructor Mrs. Wilkinson. Trent agrees that the two are a bit alike and hastens to add that Mrs. Medico was with him “every step of the way.” When he turned four, Trent was enrolled in Irish step dancing lessons at

the Inishfree School of Irish Dance in Long Island. Under the instruction of Sean Reagan, he quickly mastered the form, succeeding in regional competitions before moving on to national and world competition and culminating in Belfast’s World Championship win in 2006. Looking back at the competition that brought him that title, Trent is nonchalant. “Once you get out on the stage and start dancing, you forget everything,” he says. It seems, then that Trent was not only born a dancer, but also born to entertain. But how did his experiences with Irish dance competitions translate to a London stage? According to Trent it was hard work but nothing he couldn’t handle. To hear him describe it, acting came fairly easily. “At first it was really hard to do. But it’s another thing once you start doing it more and you feel more like Billy.” Trent had been shown the Billy Elliot movie by his parents before there was any mention of the part in London. Surrounded by girls in both his dance classes at Dorothy’s and his Irish dance lessons, he



12:00 PM

Page 57

related to the character of Billy. “It was a very inspiring movie because I was in a dance class and there were no other boys.” After hearing of the London auditions from New York-based Irish dance instructor Niall O’Leary, Trent decided to give the part a try. One of the most intimidating things about the auditions for Trent was the fact that he’d never seen so many other boys who were great dancers. The other fear he had to face was singing in front of an audience for the first time. “I was nervous at the auditions,” he Trent Kowlalik with his family at Irish America’s 2006 says. “I’d never done anything like Top 100 Gala at the Hilton Theatre on Broadway. that before.” But he is quick to note, “I absolutely loved it by the end of the required for the Billy role? audition. From there I went to two more “Well actually, I started doing ballet auditions and then they finally told me about the same age as I started Irish that I got the part on the West End.” dance,” Trent explains. “I did other types When comparisons between himself of dancing but I was just very focused on and the character Billy Elliot are made, the Irish step dancing.” Trent is quick to note that unlike Billy, he There were some challenges when he has an extremely supportive family. was first starting both ballet with Mrs. Living in London from the fall of 2007 to Mendico and Irish dance at Inishfree. “I spring 2008 to perform in Billy Elliot remember being in ballet class and having proved challenging, as Trent was faced them tell me I was way too stiff in my not only with his first acting gig, but also upper body. Because when I did Irish with being apart from his family for the dancing you have to be really straight and first time. “At first it was really hard,” he stiff in your upper body.” notes, “because my parents weren’t with Clearly, the differences didn’t prove too me, but after a while it sort of became problematic and Trent found that he could home.” It helped that Mike and Lauretta easily shift between the two without mixgot to visit once a month, and Trent was ing up steps. But does he prefer one to the able to establish bonds with other actors others? Not really, though he says he likes who lived with him in the “Billy House” tap for “the fact that you can make your where the younger cast members – the own beat and you get to match your feet to role of Billy was shared by Trent with two the music.” other boys – were looked after by “house Mostly though, Trent loves to dance parents.” because he loves to jump. He even says Trent’s experience in Billy Elliot in his parents gave him a pogo stick one London proved essential when it came Christmas for that reason. After all, time to cast the Broadway Billy. despite his many talents, Trent is a kid at Especially his mastery of the Geordie heart. He loves being back in New York, accent, which he says he just “picked up.” the city he calls his “home town” with the “We had lots of accents and dialect lessupport of his family and friends. sons,” Trent notes, “but when I started in Though he currently lives in an apartLondon I had English accents all around ment in Manhattan to be close to the theme. We actually had some people who ater, Trent gets a chance to go back to his spoke in the Geordie accent. Most of the home in Wantagh, N.Y. on his day off. At cast members were English, but there’s home, Trent says he usually plays video also been an Irish Billy and a Scottish games or goes to his cousin’s house or to Billy.” movie theaters, it all depends on how he’s All right, so Trent has the accent down, feeling that day. Traveling and being away the singing is fine and the dancing is from his family has actually strengthened superb, so what were the other challenges his relationship with his sisters. “When he faced going into the show? And how you don’t see them as much, you apprecidid Irish dance translate to the ballet that is ate them more,” he says.

Trent is certainly appreciating the support from his family these days as the media whirlwind surrounding Billy Elliot reaches a high point. This fall alone Kowalik, along with Billy counterparts Kiril Kulish and David Alvarez, have been interviewed in The New York Times, The Daily News and New York magazine as well as appearing on The Rosie O’Donnell Show and having their pictures featured in Vanity Fair and Vogue. All the newfound fame doesn’t seem to have affected Trent in a negative way. He says that he’s glad he gets to share the spotlight with Alvarez and Kulish because he recognizes that the role would be grueling on his own. And he does his best to keep in touch with old friends from Irish dancing and from the London production through e-mail, facebook and even his own blog. In addition to living in London to perform in Billy, Trent’s dancing has also taken him to Ireland several times to compete in the World Championships in Killarney and in Belfast. While there, Trent got a chance to see a few tourist sites like the Ring of Kerry. When asked how he found the Irish people, Trent answers like any typical thirteen-year-old: “They’re just like us, except for the accents, obviously.” Unlike most thirteen-year-olds, Trent seems to have a sense of a kind of artistic inspiration that takes over when he’s on stage. After practicing the part, Trent claims that he’s now able to channel the Billy character before he goes on stage. “You have to really get yourself in the part before you go on. That way you can really be Billy when you get out there.” At one point in the show, Trent is hoisted into the air to give the illusion of his “flying” over the stage. Trent describes how it was “really scary at first. It felt sort of like a roller coaster, but after doing it a lot, now it feels like a really nice breeze. Like I’m in a fast car that doesn’t have any top on it.” For now, Trent is willing to follow the roller coaster ride and see where acting takes him. Though his Irish dancing days may be past, Trent notes that they are not forgotten. “I’ve always loved Irish step dancing,” he says, “but I think that after doing this part I want to focus more on acting. But IA I’ll always remember it.” FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009 IRISH AMERICA 57


2:34 PM

Page 58

Murder She Wrote

Martina Cole’s novels probe the lives of London's criminal underworld.

By Kara Rota


artina Cole is famous, and quite pleased about it. Her books are notorious for being the most requested in the prison libraries in the UK, and she is consistently referred to as England’s bestselling adult fiction writer. “When I wrote Dangerous Lady, the first book,” she says in a voice that is as full of grit and glamour as her epic six-hundred-page crime dramas, “I never thought it would become as big as it did. I just wanted to see my name on the cover of a book! I didn’t realize it would be on millions of books, you know.” Millions, indeed—Cole has published fifteen novels since 1992, including 2006 BCA Crime Thriller of the Year Best Novel winner The Take and her most recent British publication, The Business: “It’s about a big Irish family




in East London, and one of the daughters succumbs to drugs and prostitution and [it’s about] how the family cope with that, really. I feel like it’s sort of a blow-by-blow account of what happens to people when you get into that world. I never pick nice subjects, unfortunately.” She laughs, but she isn’t joking— Cole’s books are filled with the dark details of London’s criminal underworld, interwoven with her tender and authentic analysis of each character’s essential humanity, from the likeable mob leaders to their long-suffering wives, manipulative mistresses, and innocent (but certainly not naive) children. “I think it gives people an insight into why they are like they are. Most things you read about crime are, sort of—there’s a policeman and they solve the crime. For me it made sense to write from the



2:34 PM

Page 59

point of view of the criminal and find out why they’d done that, why they were like that, not just get them caught. And also, unfortunately, an awful lot of big criminals are very nice people. It’s a means to an end for a lot of people, isn’t it?” Still, she wants it made clear that she isn’t glorifying the things she writes about. “These are cautionary tales. I don’t say, ‘Oh, well, this is the way to live.’ The bad people never really prosper in my books.” There’s a lot of background noise on the other end; I’m speaking to Cole on her cell phone across the ocean as she wraps up another of her recent projects in England. “We’ve just finished filming a series, so we’re all just sitting here drinking champagne.” She’s talking about Lady Killers, released in October 2008 in the UK and the latest of several screen adaptations of her work. Cole’s career has brought her a Cinderella-story sort of success that she has no qualms about embracing. “Writing is something I wanted to do all my life, and it’s given me such a great life . . . every day I appreciate how lucky I am to be able to do what I do. I was an unwed mother and, you know, as a good Catholic girl, which I am, I do appreciate that my life changed dramatically because I was given the opportunity to express myself and enjoy every second of it. I’ve loved my job, and I’m not ashamed to say that. I’ve absolutely loved my job.” Cole’s website pegs her as “the person who tells it like it really is,” and she takes seriously her charge to depict the stories of lives lived invisibly, underground, in another world. “I write about the pitfalls of living in that world. I point out how hard it is to live in that world and what can happen to you if you do live in it and you do something wrong. Also, I think I write from the point of view of the women whose sons and husbands and lovers are in that kind of world, and how that affects you, really. Lots of women— especially the mothers—accept it, don’t they? I write about how devastating it can be when you realize that the person you love more than anyone else in the world is actually a violent thug.” In Close, which will become available in its paperback edition in America by the end of May, this is certainly the case. Following the intergenerational saga of the Brodie family as they rise and fall and rise again in London’s organized crime network, the novel centers on Lily Diamond and spans forty years of her life, from her marriage to the dangerous but fiercely loving Patrick Brodie at sixteen to her complex deathbed relationships with her many children (Patrick Jr., who takes after his father in more than name; Lance, who Lily has never been able to love despite her best attempts; and troubled twins Kathleen and Eileen, to name a few). “I try at times as well to make people realize that whatever we might think of them, they’re still someone’s son or someone’s daughter. There’s still someone who loves them, you know. I believe it’s very hard for parents to believe at times that their children can be that bad. I’m a mother myself, and you love your children very, very much—it’s a very Irish thing, as well, isn’t it?” You don’t have to read much of Cole’s writing to find the

deep connection that she has to all of her characters; intimacy and compassion underlie the graphic violence and emotional trauma on every page. Much of this undoubtedly comes from the parallels that can be drawn between Cole’s protagonists and her personal history: as an Irish girl growing up in a rough part of Essex, Cole was married for the first time at sixteen and alone with a baby (her first child, Christopher, now 31) by nineteen. “I think in many ways it was like growing up in the Bowery in New York. You write about what you know, and how you grow up shapes your environment and your thinking . . . it was part of your life, it was part of where you lived and it was part of what you learned. So you write about what you know, and that’s unfortunately what I knew.” Cole does know what she’s talking about, and it shows. The length of her books allows for the reading of them to be an exercise in immersion; you have to be willing to be enveloped by the world that she creates. This isn’t light reading, and it’s not drugstore fiction; on the contrary, ten pages into Close I was surprised I hadn’t bought it wrapped in plastic based on the explicitness of the language and the disquieting content. But it also isn’t silly, or romanticized, or gratuitous, and four hundred pages later I knew and loved Lil Brodie to some extent in the way that Cole patently does. While not as directly plot-driven as some of her earlier works, Close is a character study in the most interesting sense because of the time that it stretches across: we watch Lily be dealt blow after blow and put herself back together again, and Cole capably guides Lily’s persona to evolve and develop based on her relationships, encounters, adversities, and feats of triumph throughout the novel. Despite Cole’s ability to handle moral ambiguity and incorporate opposing narratives in her writing, she defines her own values in a way that’s staunchly traditional. “I grew up in a very big Irish Catholic family and I’m still a practicing Catholic to this day. I brought both my children up as practicing Catholics. Three years ago my son married a very beautiful Polish girl in Poland and when I found out she was Catholic I was absolutely thrilled. I thought, yeah, fantastic. And I know that sounds terrible in this day and age, but I think you do tend to gravitate towards your own, don’t you?” Cole attributes many of her characters’ loyalties and strengths to their Irishness, as well as her own. “I think that’s the great thing with the Irish; we’re very family-minded, and I think that comes across in my books. [My characters] try to protect the people closest to them. I think most of my books do portray that, you know: you’re trying to protect your own. I think any mother is guilty of that, don’t you? I think it’s what makes mothers mothIA ers, isn’t it?” Martina Cole has sold over eight million copies of her novels. She has roots in Dublin on her mother’s side and in Cork, where she maintains a home, on her father’s. Her cousin, Denis Cregan, was the Lord Mayor of Cork in 2003. Close is currently available in hardcover in the U.S. and will be released in paperback May 26, 2009. Cole’s novel Faces will be released in the U.S. this July. FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009 IRISH AMERICA 59



3:42 PM

Page 60

{sláinte} By Edythe Preet

How Sweet O ne day last summer while inspecting the progress of my vegetable plants, I heard something that sounded like a giant cell phone on vibrator setting. Turning in the direction of the noise and peering under a tangled mass of grapevines, I found myself standing nose-to-buzz with a mass of bees that was considerably larger than a beachball. I freaked. Moving as smoothly as coming face-to-face with approximately 10,000 bees would allow, I made a beeline for my computer, and immediately began surfing the net for a local beekeeping group that could come capture them. Many sites offered ‘bee control’ but they were all exterminators and I had no desire to kill any members of our dwindling bee population. Finally, I found a master beekeeper who promised to rush right over. Less than half an hour later, we traipsed out to where the swarm had been suspended, but they were gone. Not even one stray was lingering in the roses. The beekeeper, who places hives in ‘foster’ gardens all around town, said it had probably been a swarm that had hatched a new queen and while looking for a suitable spot to hive had grown tired and paused to rest. I was much more disappointed than he. My vision of a personal supply of garden-grown golden honey, the original sweet, had up and buzzed off. Until the 12th century when the Normans introduced costly sugared sweetmeats to the Irish table, honey was Ireland’s only known sweet. Golden heather or clover honey was added to bread dough, milk and ale. It was used to baste meat and fish during cooking, and it was served at meals as a dipping sauce. Honey was so important in early Irish society that a section of the Brehon Laws was devoted to bees and beekeeping. There were provisions for swarms found in all locations: in a tree, in a wood, on a lakeshore or other wild place, within an enclosure, on a green, or in a herb garden Honey, the nectar like mine. of the gods. Other laws dealt with the truly puzzling question of who owned the bees and the honey itself. Anyone who found a wild hive was only entitled to part of the honey. The rest had to be shared with the people who owned the land where the Brehon Laws wisely provided for, she was entitled to receive bees gathered their nectar. Even when the honey was gathered either an entire year’s production from their hive, or the swarm from a kept hive, the owner was obliged to turn over a part of of bees itself. Rents and tributes to kings and chieftains were the honey to his neighbors every three years. paid with honey. Two sizes of vessels were used to make these There was also a stipulated penalty to recompense someone payments: a barrel so large that a very strong man could only lift who had been stung. If the victim could prove he had not killed it to his knees, and a smaller container that could be raised over the bee, he was owed a full meal of honeyed food. the head. Children of the poor lived on oaten porridge and butWhen a woman separated from her husband, something the termilk, but the Laws required that the children of kings and




3:42 PM

Page 61

Honey Drizzle ⁄2 1 1 1 2 1 ⁄2 1 ⁄2 1-2 1

cup sugar cup honey tablespoon lemon zest 2-inch cinnamon stick whole cloves teaspoon vanilla cup water tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in lemon juice. Remove cinnamon stick and cloves. Serve warm with pancakes or oatmeal, use to sweeten tea, or drizzle over ice cream. Makes approximately 2 cups. Note: Any unused Honey Drizzle can be stored in the refrigerator, but it is necessary to rewarm it before using again to restore pouring fluidity.


chieftains must be fed daily portions of porridge made with milk and sweetened with as much honey as they could eat. Although honey was used to sweeten and flavor many foods, the majority of any year’s harvest went into a single endeavor: the making of mead, an intoxicating beverage derived from fermented honey. The simple formula only required dissolving honey in water and exposing it to air. Eventually the mixture turned into a potent alcoholic drink. In medieval times the transmutation process was considered magical, but we now know that the chemical change occurs when airborne wild yeast spores feed on honey’s sugar content and cause the liquid to ferment. Long ago, Royal Tara in County Meath was the seat of the High Kings. Heroes and visiting chieftains were honored at great feasts in the mead-hall where they were served cups of golden heather mead infused with the essence of hazelnuts, the nut that was believed to impart wisdom. This delicately flavored beverage is said to have been especially favored by women. In one of Ireland’s most famous myths, The Fate of the Children of Lir, King Lir’s children, Fionnuala and her three brothers, are transformed into swans by their jealous stepmother. One of Fionnuala’s greatest sorrows is her memory of the times when she drank hazelnut mead in her father’s feasting hall. Mention of hazelnut mead also appears in the 10th century story of King Guairc the Hospitable where it is called one of the joys of hermit life. According to a 6th century tale, Saint Madomnoc brought bees to Ireland from Wales. As the story goes, Madomnoc studied with St. David at a monastery in Wales, where he cared for the settlement’s beehives. When the time came for Madomnoc to return home, the bees loved him so much that they followed. Three times, the saint led the swarm back to the monastery. Finally, Saint David blessed the bees and gave them leave to go. When Madomnoc arrived home, he founded Llan Beach Aire, Church of the Beekeepers. The bees flourished in their new home, but ever after no bees were found at Saint David’s monastery. For centuries, Madomnoc’s feast was celebrated on February 13th with honey-flavored foods. Another 6th century legend concerns Saint Gobnait, the Munster patroness of beekeepers whose feast is also celebrated in February. When an invading chieftain and his army descended on Balyvourney intent on stealing cattle, Gobnait met the forces holding her hand in a beehive. At the good saint’s signal, the bees attacked and routed the invaders. After the attackers fled, the bees dutifully returned to the hive. Honey was so important to the Irish that many folk beliefs sprang up about bees. On happy occasions, people included their bees in the celebrations by tying bright ribbons to the hive. One old ditty concerning marriage states: “A maiden in her


It Is!


Honey Lavender Milk Sherbert 2 2 1 1 ⁄2 1

cups milk cups water cup honey teaspoon vanilla tablespoon dried organic lavender buds, slightly crushed

Combine the milk, water, and honey in a medium saucepan. Bring to simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the honey. Once it comes to a boil, whisk in the lavender and vanilla then remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Infuse the mixture for 30 minutes at room temperature, then strain through a fine sieve to remove the lavender buds and chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours. Transfer the mixture to an ice cream machine and freeze according to the manufacturer’s directions. Makes approximately 1 quart.

glory, upon her wedding day, must tell the bees her story, or else they’ll fly away.” Similarly, it was believed that when someone in the household died, it was necessary to tell the bees or they would swarm to another location. An Irish-American pal, when learning I was writing this article, shared the following story with me. He had been living in an old stone farmhouse in New Jersey, and kept bees in the carriage house. When his father-in-law died, he noticed all the bees had swarmed to a small dogwood tree and seemed ready to fly away. “I went out to the tree,” he continued, “reached into the swarm to find the queen, and returned her to the hive. Then I sat on the porch and watched several thousand bees walk single file across the grass and climb back into the carriage house. It was as solemn a funeral procession as I have ever seen.” My pal is a decorated military hero and the soul of truth, so I believe his tale one hundred per cent. I just wish he had been visiting me last summer. Sláinte! IA FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009 IRISH AMERICA 61



12:03 PM

Page 62

{ review of books}

Tom Deignan reviews a selection of recently published books of Irish and Irish-American interest.



he list of hefty novels which explore the terrible time of the Great Hunger continues to grow, and is all the more noteworthy because so many of the works are impressive. In the wake of older classics such as Liam O’Flaherty’s Famine, we’ve had Peter Quinn’s brilliant Banished Children of Eve and Kevin Baker’s Paradise Alley, both of which explored New York City as desperate emigrants were fleeing Ireland. Irish America contributor Mary Pat Kelly is the latest to add to the contemporary canon of Irish Famine novels with Galway Bay. This is an epic story on a grand scale, which explores not just the Famine in Ireland, but a wide range of other events from the era, including the U.S. Civil War and the Fenian invasion of Canada. At the center of Galway Bay are Honora Keeley and her sister Marie. Early on they live what, in many ways, was the timeless life of ancient Ireland – amidst fishermen and farmers who pass ancient songs, stories and traditions on to the next generation. Of course, this way of life is disrupted by the Famine, as well as by the woefully inadequate response of the British government. Honora and Marie (I hope it doesn’t ruin the story to tell you that they both end up widowed) make a vow to survive the calamity and manage to escape to the U.S. with their children. After arriving in New Orleans they head for Chicago in search of Honora’s brother-in-law who is involved in the cause of Irish freedom. Mary Pat Kelly’s knowledge of Irish and American-Irish history is what drives this novel. Her descriptions of the immigrants aboard ship, their journey to the Chicago suburb of Hardscrablble, which later became Bridgeport, and work in the slaughterhouses is especially evocative, as indeed is her coverage of the Irish participation on both sides of the Civil War. Galway Bay, which is based on Kelly’s 62 IRISH AMERICA FEBRUARY / MARCH 2009

family’s own experiences, also offers a glimpse into how women specifically navigated the nightmarish Famine experience and managed to carve out a place for themselves in America. A writer and director of documentaries, and the movie Proud, a story of African-American servicemen in World War II, Kelly is also the author of a previous novel entitled Special Intentions. Galway Bay, though, is clearly a labor of love, not to mention the labor of a lifetime. Kelly has ambitiously attempted to capture the 19th-century Irish-American experience, and manages to help us understand how we are still living with this legacy today.

exploring one of the most infamous voyages in the history of the high seas. Boyne’s novel explores young troublemaker John Jacob Turnstile, whose troubles with the law leave him only one option: to serve as an assistant on a ship bound for Tahiti. That ship is the Bounty, presided over by the notorious Captain Bligh. Mutiny, of course, has been explored in numerous histories, documentaries, novels and films. The most famous version, perhaps, is the early 1960s film starring Irish thespian Richard Harris, Marlon Brando, and Trevor Howard as Bligh. But Boyne attempts to tell a story broader than Bligh’s mistreatment of the crew and its eventual revolt against him. In particular, Boyne offers up a fresh, almost revisionist portrait of Captain Bligh in Mutiny, which is yet another historical highlight from Boyne. ($25.95 / 384 pages / Thomas Dunne Books)

($26.99 / 562 pages / Grand Central)



ohn Boyne has had the kind of meteoric rise most writers would only dream of. At this point, he may best be known for the young-adult novel The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, which explored the Holocaust through the eyes of two children. It was made into a well-received film late last year. There was also the century-spanning Thief of Time, in which Boyne – who clearly has an interest in historical events – presented arguably his most ambitious work to American readers. In the book, a character blessed (or cursed) with eternal life experiences many of the major historical events of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Another noteworthy recent release by Boyne was Crippen. Also based on actual events, Crippen was a deft recreation of a notorious 1910 British murder scandal involving Boyne’s titular doctor. Given this prodigious output, no wonder The Sunday Business Post cited Boyne as one of 40 Irish people under 40 who were likely to be “the movers and shakers who will define the country’s culture, politics, style and economics.” Now, Boyne has written Mutiny: A Novel of the H.M.S. Bounty, a thriller


ndrew M. Greeley has been a towering figure in Irish-American letters for decades now. A best-selling author and novelist and widely published sociologist and columnist, he is a professor at the University of Chicago and the University of Arizona, and as a priest, has made groundbreaking comments regarding the Irish, the clergy and sexuality. Recently, Greeley – who is 80 years old – fell and suffered a serious head injury. Though the prognosis was bleak at first, Greeley’s status has improved dramatically. If all goes well, we might even see the indefatigable Greeley on TV discussing his 17th Blackie Ryan book, which is just out, called The Archbishop in Andalusia. Ryan, of course, is Archbishop John Blackwood Ryan of Chicago. In The Archbishop in Andalusia, Ryan goes to Spain for an academic conference, but once there, learns suspicion is running high that a prominent wealthy widow may be murdered. The tension builds as the widow and various scheming family members unearth bitterness and anger from the past. Meanwhile, on the home front, a nephew of Blackie’s may or may not be trying to delay his wedding, while one of Blackie’s colleagues back in Chicago is ailing.



12:03 PM

Page 63

The Archbishop in Andalusia is yet another informative page-turner from Andrew Greeley. ($24.95 / 269 pages / Forge)


alway crime master Ken Bruen is back with a new thriller that is dark and hard-boiled even by the very high standards he has set in previous novels such as The Guards. Just don’t expect this book to be endorsed by either the Irish or New York police benevolent associations. Bruen’s latest, Once Were Cops, follows an unhinged Irish cop named Matthew Patrick O’Shea who, in typically underhanded Bruen fashion, finagles his way to New York to spend a year working with the NYPD. Once there, “Shea” teams up with an equally disturbed partner, Kurt Browski, who, when not maiming and thieving, is being investigated by Internal Affairs for his close association with known organized-crime figures. Shea’s lies and Browski’s scheming are on a collision course, setting up a chilling conclusion to Once Were Cops. Bruen has always explored the deepest, darkest themes of crime and punishment among cops and criminals. But it is Bruen’s style in Once Were Cops which stands out. It is perhaps his most unsettling performance yet, making even Mickey Spillane’s prose look tame. “Took his legs out with the hurley. Swoosh. I love that sound,” reads one typically gruesome passage. Bruen, best known for his Jack Taylor series, has written another winner for his loyal fans.

($22.95/294 pages / St. Martin’s Minotaur)



broad history of the Irish in America is, arguably, a risky topic for an author these days, even one as esteemed and respected as Notre Dame

professor emeritus Jay P. Dolan. In his Preface to The Irish Americans, Dolan writes that for years he taught a course in Irish-American history, which “kindled in me a desire to learn more about the history of the Irish in America.” Adding that “William Shannon’s book The American Irish, published in 1963, was the last history written for the general reader,” Dolan felt it was time for another such book. But it’s tough to make the case that those in search of IrishAmerican history have had trouble finding it in recent years. Dozens of books, documentaries and more have explored this topic. Still, if anyone is equipped to synthesize these works, and the main themes of the Irish experience in

America, it is Dolan, whose many previous books include The American Catholic Experience: A History from Colonial Times to the Present. Religion, politics and organized labor are among the themes Dolan explores in this roughly chronological exploration which begins with the 1690 Battle of the Boyne. (Though, again, Dolan’s choice to call the 1700 – 1840 era of Irish emigration “The Forgotten Era” is questionable, given that we’ve had numerous full-scale explorations of the Scotch-Irish in recent years.) All in all, though, Dolan’s treatment of major Irish-American themes and figures IA is excellent. ($30 / 352 pages / Bloomsbury)



ake Forest University Press continues its impressive dedication to Irish poetry in all its shapes and forms with The New North: Contemporary Poetry from Northern Ireland edited by Chris Agee. This collection includes work by Moyra Donaldson, Damian Smyth and Andy White, alongside classics by Mebdh McGukian, Paul Muldoon, Ciaran Carson and Seamus Heaney.The bulk of featured poets were all born between 1956 and 1975. Given this collection’s title, it should not be surprising that, while politics and “The Troubles” are featured, many other topics and themes emerge, from technology and globalization to Ireland’s place within Europe. In this sense, the poems and poets offer an insightful, lyrical look into the psyche of 21st-century Northern Ireland. ($19.95 / 301 pages / Wake Forest)


ne of the more unique poetry collections you are likely to look at is The Origami Crow: Journey into Japan,World Cup Summer 2002 by Eamon Carr (a founder of the band Horslips). From its unique layout (dominated by full-page, stark, black and white images) to its insistent exploration of the seemingly unpoetic topic of Ireland’s performance in the 2002 global soccer tournament, Carr has certainly put together a book like few others. Ultimately, this is a modern-day Irishman ruminating on Japan, nature, life, death and, of course, soccer. ($35 / 64 pages / Seven Towers)




3:37 PM

Page 64


The High Priest of Trad Ian Worpole talks to Father Charlie Coen who has seen, inspired and played with some of the best exponents of Irish traditional music. or many years one of my favorite ways to pass a Sunday afternoon was to pop along to the venerable Irish hooley known as Father Charlie’s Rhinecliff session. On the banks of the Hudson River, about two hours north of NYC in the back room of the old crumbling Rhinecliff hotel beneath one bare light bulb, Father Charlie Coen, now Monsignor, hosted and performed with the cream of visiting Irish musicians. Everyone came, and many credited Charlie as one of their first inspirations. These days the hotel is an upscale watering hole that has long seen us off, but Charlie is still going strong, and I recently sat down to play and chat with the man himself.


Tell us about your early days, and how you started playing. I was born and reared in Woodford, a small town in East Galway. We lived on a small farm – father, mother and nine siblings. The older members had moved away before the younger ones were born. My father, along with his brothers, father and uncles, were what were known as “calf jobbers.” They went down to the dairy country of Kerry and south Limerick, bought young calves and brought them back to Galway and sold them. They brought them back by railway and walked them from the closest station, about fifteen miles. Our farm was mostly self-sufficient, we had a little of everything – wheat, oats, barley, potatoes, vegetables, chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks, a horse, an ass, 64 IRISH AMERICA FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009

a few cows and calves, a goat and pigs. In winter it was dark after four o’clock, and the long nights were conducive to music, dancing and storytelling. Heating was poor, with only one fire in the kitchen, so we danced to keep ourselves warm. Going to bed in the unheated rooms with temperatures below freezing was something best forgotten about. Torture. Several of the family played music; my brother Jack was the first to start and he must be credited with the rest of us having a go at it.

When did you come to America? Jack came to America in 1949, my sister Ann came the following year, and I came in 1955 at the age of 21. I had bought a concertina in London, where I worked for a few months, and was able to play a few tunes when I got here. Jack and myself played quite a bit together, mostly by way of him teaching me tunes. He had the great gift of being able to accurately retain everything he ever learned. I can’t say I was so gifted! Jack played a lot for ceilis with Larry Redican and Paddy Reynolds and others. Then Paddy O’Brien, the accordion player, came on the scene, and he and Jack played a lot together, so I got to play with them fairly often.

Your 1976 recording The Branch Line with Jack is a hugely influential record, with many great players crediting it as their first inspiration.Tell us a little about that.

Father Charlie Coen.

In 1976, I came to know Mick Moloney, a great all-round musicologist from County Limerick. He was putting together a group of 25 musicians to perform in Washington for an event sponsored by the Smithsonian Institute called “Old Ways in the New World.” We were joined by another 25 musicians and singers from Ireland and had a wonderful week. From this developed a group known as “The Green Fields of America.” Mick then suggested that Jack and myself make a record. The Branch Line was rather unusual in that it was recorded in one night in Jack’s living room, with scarcely any cuts or repeats. Jack had been working all day and had just arrived home when Mick arrived from Philadelphia with a small recorder loaned from the Smithsonian. It was all done in a few hours. I later recorded an album with Green Linnet on which are some songs sung by a group of children from the first two parishes, on Staten Island, that I served in – St. Paul’s and St. Joseph and Thomas. The record was titled Fr. Charlie.

Have you won many All-Ireland Championships? The children I taught were mostly respon-



3:37 PM

Page 65

Left: Father Coen in the thick of a session at Kate Kearney's cottage, Killarney. Below: Playing in the fields in Glencolumnkille, County Donegal.

What are some of your fondest musical memories, and some of your own favorite performers and influences? I have much to be thankful for to all the musicians who influenced me along the way, beginning with the musicians in my home town of Woodford, Jim and Johnny Conroy and Tommy Gaffey, flute players; Brod Stanley, John Conroy and Michael Joe Tarpey, fiddlers; Connie Hogan, concertina; The Ballinakill, Abbey and Killimor ceili bands. From the radio, Leo Rowsome was the king on the uilleann pipes. In New York there were many – Sean McGlynn, a great friend and accordion player; John Browne, a cousin, was a great fiddler, as were Paddy Reynolds, Andy McCann, Larry Redican; Felix Dolan on the keyboards. The one I most enjoyed playing with, sadly recently deceased, RIP, was Joe

Madden on the accordion. Joe had wonderful “heart” in his music and had wonderful tempo for dancing. Joe invited me to play in his band at the Irish Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. I was delighted, as it was the first time I had played in a big band. I played once with the New York ceili band at the United Irish Counties Feis. We got a first, of course. I like to kid them that that was the only time they got a first, vanity of vanities! I really enjoyed playing with Joe Madden – he had a great repertoire of East Galway tunes, and he was always good for a laugh. He was always very encouraging and really enjoyed playing. He will be sadly missed.

You recently retired from your parish duties. What do you have in mind now? Well, the above has been all about music, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention something about the most important


sible for my entering the music competitions, although I must say I enjoyed competing. The children insisted I enter; they derived some morose delectation from hearing the judges critique the performance. I think I was lucky to be competing at a time when the standard was not so high as it was later. Perhaps I was also helped by the fact that I am seldom nervous in front of a crowd. I don’t know what accounts for that fact, unless maybe my theological discipline of being satisfied with who and what I am, once I have done my best. I think the standard of traditional music at the present time is fantastic, especially among the young folk.

aspect of my life, priesthood. I have greatly enjoyed my 40 years as a priest and would choose it all over again. I often think of a man I met in Lorrha last year who was speaking about the poverty of his youth. “All we had was music, hurling and the faith.” I never really understood until after I became a priest how important the faith was and is to people. It gives them peace and strength and hope and reason to live. I never played a tune that caused people to seriously change their life or lifestyle; but I have had many a one come up to me, some even years later, to tell me how some sermon I had given had saved their marriage, or had an effect on their families or caused them to turn their life around. In fact, every day in the priesthood something like that is happening, and what can be better than helping people find meaning in their life – a meaning that is not temporary but eternal. I retired from the responsibility of being pastor of a parish when I reached the age of 75 this past July, but I hope to continue being active and helping out wherever needed. I hope to continue playing a tune also and maybe have a litIA tle more time for that now. FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009 IRISH AMERICA 65



10:33 AM

Page 66


Happy the Man Who Makes Music for a Living


he Guggenheim Grotto is a band from Ireland that has just released its second album, Happy the Man. Up to November they were a trio until percussionist and pianist Shane Power left to concentrate on his career as a music producer and sound engineer. Now, the Dublinbased duo (Kevin May and Mick Lynch) are playing in three venues in three cities during January to promote Happy the Man (World Café in Philadelphia, The Living Room in New York and Lizard Lounge in Cambridge), before heading on a nationwide tour in February. Their first album Waltzing Alone was a huge hit on iTunes – it went to number one in the folk charts and was regularly played on radio stations WXPN, XM50 and KCRW. The band’s name emanated from a brainstorming session among its members, but in an unusual quirk of coincidence, once they became popular in America, staff from the Guggenheim Museum in New York contacted them to tell them a room in the basement where museum workers got to take a break is actually called “The Guggenheim Grotto.” Happy the Man is laden with songs filled with moments of joyful recollection (“Sunshine Makes Me High,” “Fee Da Da Dee”) and is sprinkled with well-crafted tunes of loss (“Lost Forever” and “Heaven Has a Heart”). Irish America caught up with lead singer Kevin May, originally from Ballinrobe, County Mayo but now living in Dublin, to chat about the new album and plans for 2009.

When will the album be in U.S. 66 IRISH AMERICA FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009


stores and how have you been getting on since Shane left? It is to be released on January 27 in stores and it is currently available digitally on iTunes. When we released the album here in Ireland in September Shane was with us, but at the very start of November, he left. We did a second tour then, an acoustic tour that was just myself and Mick and it will be the two of us from here on in. We are planning to do a lot more touring in the New Year, and [touring] just wasn’t interesting Shane anymore as he is married and I sup-

pose it was time to settle down a bit more.

But Shane leaving was as amicable as breakups go? Oh yeah yeah, I have a hangover today after being drinking with him! Shane is an excellent engineer and producer and you don’t do any producing or engineering when you are driving around America in a car.

How does that affect the live dynamic of the band? We don’t have any plans to add ses-



10:03 AM

Page 68

{music} Kevin May and Mick Lynch

sion musicians to the mix or at Sandymount in Dublin. to put it into a band setting. What we have been doing is working on new things. Before, we would have an acoustic guitar and now we are adding bits and pieces to it. I am playing piano an awful lot more than I have been. Mick has also been playing a porchboard bass. It’s like a stomp board that you would often see guitarists use to tap out a rhythm like a big deep bass drum sound. With these few things we have developed ourselves as a Are you looking forward to two-piece, but it is a lot more sophisthe residency? ticated than it was before. We’ve done nothing like that in the Tell us about the production States before and one thing I am lookand mixing of Happy the Man ing forward to doing is seeing these Shane, myself and Mick produced all cities because a lot of the time you the album together and then once we just drive in, play the venue and drive decided on the arrangement and what out, and you really only know cities instruments were to be used, we by their venues, so I am really looking brought in Ger McDonnell [who has forward to actually spending some worked with acts as diverse as Def time in New York, Boston and Leopard and Martha Wainwright] Philadelphia. who mixed most of the album, while And in February you launch a Shane also mixed some of the songs. nationwide tour? We noticed a huge difference in how Yeah, it looks like we’ll be heading Ger mixed as he gave some of our right across the country and finishing songs a much harder mix than Shane up around Los Angeles somewhere, would normally give, which almost so that is a big trek. We are looking gave it a more radio friendly feel, but forward to it. also made it jump out a lot more. In some songs like “Fee Da Da Dee” it Like Foy Vance and Snow was very evident the way Ger mixed it Patrol, some of your work harder – well, that may not be the has featured on U.S. TV right word – but more immediate.

You do most of the lead vocals but on "Nikita," Mick sings lead. How did that come about? My hero would be Leonard Cohen and I would love to have a voice like his but much to my disappointment I am very much a tenor. "Nikita" was something that Mick and I wrote together. It was inspired by something Leonard Cohen said and I intended it to be a Leonard Cohen style and I wanted it to be a deep voice, and Mick, as much as I envy him for it, can get down there so I conceded that it would be best for him to sing it and he does a fantastic job! 68 IRISH AMERICA FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009

shows (among them One Tree Hill, Men in Trees, Six Degrees and Brothers and Sisters). Is that something you attribute to the iTunes effect, or what would you put it down to? I suppose all these things help one another. I couldn’t say one thing led to another but certainly with our TV shows we have a wonderful publisher, and the work he does for us is just fantastic, so I would put a lot of our TV placement down to him really. It certainly helps when you approach someone and you can list off these things and they go “Aaahh, [these guys] must be worth something!”

How would you describe the tone of the new album? It is definitely more upbeat. The very last song on the album is called “Heaven Has a Heart,” which is a very sad song. We only added it at the end because people were reacting to it very well at gigs that we were playing during the recording of Happy the Man. The reason we were going to leave it off is because we really wanted to make an album that was much more up-tempo from start to finish and happier, just like the title, so we made a conscious effort to keep the tone of this album a lot brighter.

Do you plan to go into the studios again soon or will you spend the year touring and building your fan base? I was just talking to Mick about this – when will we get a chance to record again. Because we are two now we need to explore more of what we are now because it is a different thing. We have got some songs we would like to record but it looks like we are going to be kept very busy [touring], so the answer is as soon as we can, but I am not sure when that will be!

Are you happy to be defined, on iTunes at least, as a folk band? You know, I don’t understand that side of it all. I know it is very important where we are put, but I don’t bother my head with it. I know if we had been put in another category we might not have got a number one in iTunes so I leave it up to the people who are involved in the business side of it. When we sit down we don’t sit down to write a folk album, we sit down to write an album we feel like writing and then after the fact we let people classify it as they see fit. IA To listen to some of The Guggenheim Grotto’s new album and to see if they are playing in a town near you, visit


4:11 PM

Page 70



LEFT: Michael Fassbender as Bobby Sands in Hunger. ABOVE: Director Steve McQueen.

The Pain and Beauty of Hunger Declan O’Kelly discusses Steve McQueen’s film about Bobby Sands’ last days.


unger is a movie about the last six weeks of Bobby Sands’ life. It is directed by Englishman Steve McQueen and stars Michael Fassbender in the lead role. Widely acclaimed, the film has won several awards, the most notable being the 2008 Camera D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Bobby Sands died on May 5, 1981 in the H-Block prison hospital at Long Kesh in Lisburn, County Antrim on the 66th day of his hunger strike. When the prison strike ended on October 3, 1981, nine more men had starved themselves to death. Inmates had gone on hunger strike in a final attempt to be recognized as political prisoners. The protest began in 1976,


when the prisoners refused to wear prison uniforms and went “on the blanket,” going naked or wearing blankets. Prison authorities stripped their cells and left them only with chamber pots. After a number of beatings as prisoners left their cells to “slop out,” the prisoners began a “dirty protest” in 1978 – covering their walls with excrement and refusing to wash. This continued for two years when the first hunger strike began. That first strike ended in autumn 1980 when the British government seemed to concede the prisoners’ demands. However, once the strike was over, the government reverted to its previous stance. The second hunger strike started with Bobby Sands refusing food on March 1, 1981.

The movie covers the blanket protest in blunt and uncompromising detail, leaving nothing to the imagination. The film is over ten minutes old before a word is uttered. The first section deals with the conditions in the prison, followed by the scene between Sands and the priest and culminates with the deterioration and death of Sands from starvation. For McQueen, a Turner Award-winning artist and first-time feature director with Hunger, creating the world inside the H-Block was an integral part of the movie. “That was my main research point. I was looking for things in between the word and the history books, the texture, the smell, the environment that one lived in or was subjected to for four and a half years, as well as prison officers having to go into these extraordinary spaces and then have to go home afterwards,” McQueen told a round-table discussion for press after a screening for the New York Film Festival in November. The film portrays a volatile period in the history of Northern Ireland, but McQueen stresses that his focus is on the characters involved. “My films are about people and human beings. Politicians make the situation and then people have to live in it. I am interested in how people deal with it and I leave politics to the politicians.” In the movie, Michael Fassbender, a German-born actor who moved to



4:12 PM

Page 71


Killarney when he was two and was ing, rehearsing and then more rehearsing, screening about some of the ways that brought up in Ireland, took on the rehearsing, rehearsing. Not letting it take the crew reached out for guidance to porresponsibility of playing one of the iconoff, just leaving it on the runway, to a tray things accurately. ic Irish characters of the 20th century. point where it wasn’t a case of acting or a “One of the sets of people we met Fassbender’s mother is from Larne, case of presenting, it was a case of were the Bobby Sands Trust, who look County Antrim, so he was no stranger to being,” said the director. “That is what I after the archive of his images and writthe North during the Troubles, visiting wanted; I wanted the acting to be a ings, and they gave us a certain amount his mother’s family for the summer and sphere, you could roll it this way or that of help in fixing up interviews,” said school holidays during his youth. way, wherever you roll it, it is a sphere, it Gutch. “They were one of the gatekeepFassbender had to starve himself to is perfect. That is what I wanted it to be.” ers of getting us into the real research of accurately portray the wasting body of As Fassbender transformed himself meeting the [surviving] hunger strikers.” Sands as the hunger strike wore on. He physically for the movie, McQueen’s Gutch also offered an interesting went to Los Angeles, found a place on view of actors also completely changed insight into the writing process of both the beach and shed weight with McQueen and playwright Enda the warmth of the sun on his Walsh, who wrote the screenplay. back. Surviving on nuts, berries “Both Enda and Steve did a and sardines, the six-foot actor huge amount of research. Enda went from 160 to 125 pounds was the other working masterover a ten-week period. mind in Northern Irish history During his preparations for from 1980-1982. Enda’s method the role, the 31-year-old did not was to completely immerse himmeet with the Sands family. self in everything and come up In an interview with Ryan and shake himself off. It was not Tubridy on RTE, he explained following any particular line or why. “I thought it was a little any particular book or source too close to the bone and I didmaterial.” n’t want to bring any emotional The movie premiered in Belfast blurring into my portrayal of the on October 16 and also showed character.” at the London Film Festival. At The weight loss was not the the London premier Liam hardest part for Fassbender; Cunningham told The Guardian instead it was the film’s central what they tried to achieve in the scene between his character and movie. “It was an horrendous a priest, played by Liam ordeal that a man went through, Cunningham. Seventeen and a and the only thing we could do half of the 22-minute-plus with the piece was try to be as honexchange between the two was orable as we could to what his shot in one take, believed to be commitment was. Whether you the longest single take in cinepolitically agree with him or disma history. After some banter agree, the least we could do was to to begin with, the two debate tell, as much as we could, our the moral consequences of a interpretation of a truth.” hunger strike. For Fassbender But can one separate the art this was the pivotal moment for TOP: Michael Fassbender as Bobby Sands and Liam from the politics? The subject Cunningham as Father Dominic Moran. ABOVE: Brian Milligan his character. matter of Hunger stirs up strong as Davey Gillen and Liam McMahon as Gerry Campell. “The real problem and the memories on both sides of the real pressure point was that scene. And during the process of making Hunger. “I political divide in Northern Ireland. In a that was the crux; if that didn’t work, used to think actors were overbred racestatement in May, McQueen tried to capthen everything could fall apart in the horses, a bit temperamental, a bit too ture the essence of what he is trying to film,” Fassbender told Tubridy on the much, actually. But I found out through get across to the viewer: Irish chat show. Cunningham moved in the process that actors are one of those “In Hunger there is no simplistic with Fassbender for a week to master the kinds of people who can translate notion of ‘hero’ or ‘martyr’ or ‘victim.’ scene. At the screening in New York, humanity, and what they have to do in My intention is to provoke debate in the McQueen described the process of getorder to do that is quite remarkable.” audience, to challenge our own morality ting the take right. Exhaustive research was undertaken to through film.” IA “It was about looking at the footage get an accurate sense of the environment Hunger will be released in the with the actors, discussing and talking of that time in Ireland, and producer United States in March by the with the actors and rehearsing, rehearsRobin Gutch told Irish America at the Independent Film Channel. FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009 IRISH AMERICA 71



5:04 PM

Page 72

The Ties That Bind INSPIRE OPTIMISM ABOUT THE FUTURE Donald Keough, who had an illustrious career with The Coca-Cola Company and now serves as chairman of Allen & Co., gave the Keynote Address at Irish America’s Business 100 luncheon at the New York Plaza on November 19.The following are some nuggets from that address about the future and the importance of the special relationship between Ireland and America.

Failure I have written a little book [The Ten Commandments for Business Failure]. I wrote it because it’s about how to fail, and I wrote it because success has always scared me, it’s always worried me, it’s always frightened me, the word — I didn’t allow it to be said any time and any place where I’ve been associated, because success flies on its own wings. And built into the DNA of success are two viruses, you can’t avoid them, they’re built into the very word success. It could happen to people, to companies, to countries, and those are viruses of complacency and arrogance, and they destroy so many successful people and successful companies and successful countries. Even now, for us in this country . . . to think about what success can do to you. Years ago I was asked to speak at a big convention, and it was how to be a winner. And I said, well, I couldn’t come speak about that because I don’t know about that, but I’ll tell you what, I can tell you how to be a loser. And that’s what the book’s about.

The Economy

Donald Keough addresses the crowd at our Business 100 luncheon at the New York Plaza. 72 IRISH AMERICA FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009

What we don’t know – Bernanke doesn’t know it, Paulson doesn’t know, Bush doesn’t know, nobody knows and none of us know. We don’t know really why we got here – we’ve all got ideas. We don’t know whether we’ve found the bottom. We don’t know how wide the bottom is. We don’t know how deep it is and we don’t know how long it will take to rise from it – one year, two years, three years. But I’m an optimist, so I will tell you that it will be sooner than the

pessimists think and it will probably be longer than I think.

The Way Forward We’ll find our way out of this, and in a way it’s good for us because it lets us reset our base and revalue what life is really about. I’m very proud of this country and of its people. Whatever the politics each of us have, yours or mine – we’ve just participated in a long and historic election with a historic outcome. We have a gracious loser. We have a gracious winner. We have a gracious president, sitting president, and an orderly transition that’s happening after a long and tough campaign. No guns, no soldiers, no unrest. And the world looks at this country right now and its people with wonder after this election. Since the Revolutionary War, since the Continental Congress, we’ve continued to enlarge and enhance the meaning of the Declaration of Independence. It hasn’t been easy or swift, but a remarkable Constitution made better with amendments – and finally 75 years later, it dealt with slavery, which took a vicious Civil War and a courageous president. And then we had to struggle for decades about the right of women to vote, and then we participated in two wars we didn’t start to protect the freedom of the world. And then we had an election to determine whether religion would be a test for the presidency and we the people decided no. But then, after a long fight to civil rights victory that went on and on until November 4, 2008, a man of color was elected president of the United States. Listen to me. This would happen



5:04 PM

Page 73

Above: The Grand Ballroom at the New York Plaza which served as the venue for Irish America’s Business 100 awards lunch on November 19, 2008. Right: Sean Reidy, CEO Dunbrody Trust, Wexford, making a presentation of a Wexford Pikeman (marking the 1798 Rebellion) to Donald Keough in recognition of his Wexford ancestors. All photos by Nuala Purcell.

nowhere else in the developed world, and we should be damned proud of it.

Survivor Genes A hundred and sixty years ago an 18year-old kid, my great-great-grandfather Michael arrived on this shore, having left on a dreadful ship from New Ross, Wexford – a county, which along with the rest of Ireland was devastated by the infamous famine that delivered pain and suffering and death during those tragic years, and left us with scars that still remain today. And so today, I think of my 18-year-old grandson – he’s Michael’s great-great-great-grandson. He’s a healthy, bright high school senior on the rise. He’s captain of his football team, wondering where he’s going for college, he’s just one of millions of 18-year-old boys and girls who by an accident of birth were born in this country. You know, this is a great nation. And it’s going to – believe me – it’s going to prove its greatness again through this current economic crisis, just as it has, ladies and gentlemen, for decade after decade over the last two hundred and thirty years.

Ireland & The Diaspora Ireland, like the rest of the world, faces great challenges. But in many ways, the psychological impact of the

downturn in Ireland is severe because of the recent 15/20 year period of the Celtic Tiger, when everybody was on a roll and you almost felt a sense it was going to go on forever. Nothing does. But I do know this, I do know and I have confidence that Taoiseach Brian Cowen and the cabinet can and will successfully confront these challenges, but they need to have the support of the citizenry of the country. And I believe the fact that this taoiseach has commissioned a study of the Irish Diaspora [is key]. The Irish Diaspora, we talk about it as if it’s a studied thing. It’s the millions of people in this country and around the world who left years ago, and it [the Diaspora] can’t last forever. Twenty years from now it’ll probably disappear in the mist of reality. So I believe that Cowen commissioned this study to be certain that we have closer links between Ireland and America. It’s of huge importance. Let me say this, Minister Hanafin [Mary Hanafin Ireland’s Minister for Social and Family Affairs, who was present], you and I are the envy of every country on earth because of the extraordinary network of friends in America that you have, especially in the business community. For too long, in my opinion, this has been sort of an accepted and undervalued asset. And I believe that a strong component of the Irish recovery will come from creating and working hard to create new networks

and business opportunities with that community abroad here in America and in those places around the world, New Zealand and Australia and Argentina and others, where large groups of Irish have emigrated over the years.

Irish Ties That Bind The Coca-Cola Company is building a plant in Wexford, which will create jobs and represents a huge investment. They deserve it because they are in the reigning competition, but it didn’t hurt that the chairman of the Coca-Cola Company was born in Northern Ireland. It didn’t hurt that the executive vice president, Irial Finan, who’s an Irishman, was the head of the study that made the decision. And in a way, it didn’t hurt that my family came from Wexford. Generations ago, remittances from immigrants [to the folks] back home sort of underpinned the Irish economy, as it does in Mexico. So it puts the working FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009 IRISH AMERICA 73



5:04 PM

Page 74

relationship between Ireland and the Irish-American business community, I believe, [in position] to find greater opportunities for Ireland. Your taoiseach will be here in months to meet with our new president, and it’ll be the meeting of two leaders who can both trace – listen to this now – their ancestry back to that little county of Offaly. Did you know that? That connection is pretty important for Ireland. Let me tell you something, in this new era, you use every opportunity you have.

Who We Are Each of you comes to this gathering from a different group, a different dream, each of you is an exciting book about Ireland and about you and about America. Some of you trace your ethnic backgrounds to the Scotch-Irish tradition, with a strong Protestant equity and with a strong linkage to Great Britain. Others of you, like me, trace your roots to Ireland with a strong Catholic linkage. But forget that. We’re all gathered together with a common joy because we share a common Celtic heritage, and each with a personal history in America. You know how lucky we are to be here, we have a one in seventy chance to be here. We won the lottery. And from whatever part of that magical island that we trace our roots to, you and I are the beneficiaries of a remarkable gene pool, think about it. These were people who as young people had the courage to leave; they had the guts to walk away from family and roots, to climb aboard an unknown vessel and to sail to an unknown address in an unknown new America. And they planted their feet and their bodies and their hearts and their souls in the soil of this nation, and they didn’t have a ready-made future. But look at us, we’ve created one. You and your ancestors and mine have helped build America. We’ve nurtured it; we have fought for it and thousands of us died in every war including the Revolutionary War and on both sides of the Civil War into the great wars of the twentieth century and beyond. And so, my friends, each of us is a wonderful Irish story. And a wonderful American story. An Irish-American story. We each have our own story and it’s important that we have it, that we cherish it, that we pass it along to our children and our grandchildren, because the truth is that a family culture and a 74 IRISH AMERICA FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009

company culture and a country culture is a collection of stories. So we need to find ours and to tell ours, and for each of us, today is a new chapter in our story. I’m perhaps the oldest story in the room, so I salute each of you for what you’ve achieved and what you will achieve as leaders of our society. We gather here in a country that is greater than the self-flagellation that we give ourselves, particularly after a tough presidential campaign and severe economic crisis. I’m sick of the barrage of careless faces that pounds us every day through 24-hour media focus, looking

and healthier lives. America is, and still is, a land of hope and promise. And yesterday, today and tomorrow people are standing in lines at our embassies, seeking visas to come here and to touch freedom. [As for] Ireland, that magical island so tucked away that the ancient Romans couldn’t find it! They conquered every land they’d ever found! That magical island that was discovered by the Vikings and the French and the Normans, [by] Saint Patrick, [by] American golfers and Al Gore! That magical island that has brought the world

“And from whatever part of that magical island that we trace our roots to, you and I are the beneficiaries of a remarkable gene pool.” for fall guys instead of searching for solutions. I’m sick of the pundits here and abroad telling us that America, a ray of hope and promise, is now fading into history. Ladies and gentlemen, that is sheer nonsense. In a complex, extremely difficult and dangerous economic crisis, we’re confronting our problems, looking at them head on, and we’ll solve them.

The Future With our global population of six and a half billion people – in the last decade one billion people have moved into the fringes of the middle class for the first time in history, in China, in India, in Brazil and in other countries in the world. And I know that in the next ten years, the world will be better. And twenty years from now, another two billion people will begin to find their way into the middle class. Once you’re there, you have something to protect and save. And I don’t believe that peace is very far from there. At the turn of the century, the twentieth century, the average male could live until he was in his early fifties. When I was born in 1926, it crawled into age 60. Today it’s nearing 80, thank God. And each year because of this remarkable – the greatest medical research in history – most people will live longer

great writers and playwrights and great actors and great composers and great patriots, great entrepreneurs and great religious and political leaders, that island that birthed people who now are exciting, who are entrepreneurial, they have great leadership qualities and they’re graduating some of the brightest and youngest people in the world. That little island that has given us 16 of our only 43 presidents, in both political parties, and some Irish students of the game say it’s 22. That magical island is populated today by a group of people very hopeful of their tomorrow. But Ireland also gave us Patricia Harty and Niall O’Dowd, who brought their wit and wisdom and vision to sort of open the door so that people like those of us sitting in this room could re-find our Irish heritage. Not the stage Irish, with the red nose and the bottle in his hand and the butt of jokes, but you – the American Irish leaders who are a vital part of mainstream America, who are leaders in every facet of our society. That magical little dot on the map, my God, I feel proud and lucky that, like you, I can claim to be a small part of its history, past, present and future, and I feel immensely proud to be here with you today. Congratulations, and God bless you all. IA



12:08 PM

Page 75

{crossword} By Darina Molloy

ACROSS 3 Younger sister of 13 across (5) 5 Familiar French ‘you’ (2) 7 (& 29 across, 22 across) Playwright and director of 9 across (4) 9 New Meryl Streep movie (5) 12 Tough economic times both sides of the Atlantic (9) 13 Older Obama daughter (5) 16 See 14 down (3) 17 (& 31 across) Jailed Canadian newspaper magnate (6) 18 (& 10 down) Italian manager of Irish soccer team (8) 19 Irish apple pie (40 20 See 4 down (5) 22 See 7 across (7) 24 Takes care of children (10) 27 Napoleon was exiled here (4) 29 See 7 across (7) 30 Saoirse Ronan stars in The Lovely ___ (5) 31 See 17 across (5) 34 (& 39 across) First Irish immigrant on Ellis Island (5) 36 ____-on-Shannon in Leitrim (7) 37 “Come over the hills, my bonnie Irish ___” (4) 39 See 34 across (5) 42 Anger (3) 43 This Michael was killed in 1922 (7) 44 ____ O’Hara: late actress mother of Sebastian Barry (4) 45 (& 11 down) U.S. designer opened flagship Dublin store last year (5) 46 Tony Blair has a teaching post at this Ivy League school (4)

DOWN 1 Dutch cheese (4) 2 Opposite of empty (4) 4 Author of the hugely popular Twilight books (9) 6 To make anxious or nervous (7) 8 Bill O’Reilly wrote A Bold, Fresh Piece of ___ (8) 10 See 18 across (10)

11 See 45 across (8) 14 (& 35 down, 16 across) Sugababes song hit for The Saw Doctors (5) 15 See 33 down (7) 21 Artificial channel for water (5) 22 Small crudely built cabin (5) 23 The ‘E’ in RTE (7) 25 Dublin will be city of this in 2012 (7) 26 Opposite of fake (4) 28 Irish for light (5) 31 This saint’s feast day is February 1 (6) 2 Foot bone (5) 33 (& 15 down) Irish finance minister (5)

35 37 38 40 41

See 14 down (3) Stand-in medic (5) ___ Gap in Wicklow (5) Very small (4) Irish for donkey (4)

December / January Solution

Win a subscription to Irish America magazine Please send your completed crossword puzzle to Irish America, 875 Sixth Avenue, Suite 2100, New York, NY 10001, to arrive no later than February 15, 2009. 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 December/January Crossword: Elizabeth Long, Katy, Texas FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009 IRISH AMERICA 75



3:21 PM

Page 76

{ireland today} by Sharon Ní Chonchúir



ince Poland joined the EU in May 2004, two million people have left the country. An estimated 250,000 of them have come to Ireland where they now amount to five percent of the population. In fact, so large is the Polish contingent in Ireland that when the two countries recently met in a soccer match in Croke Park, penalty scorer Stephen Hunt remarked that it was like a home match for the Poles. He compared it to the situation of the Irish flocking to America generations ago. But who are these Poles? What brought them to Ireland? And what is their experience of a country that was once renowned as the land of one hundred thousand welcomes? “Many Polish people are in Ireland but thinking about Poland,” says Tadeusz Szumowski, Poland’s ambassador to Ireland. “They live with other Poles and watch Polish television. They don’t speak English and they don’t know any Irish people.” “There are many misconceptions,” adds Beata Molendowska. “A lot of Irish people think we just take from the country, that we don’t bring anything to it. And a lot of Polish people don’t try to integrate. They gather in certain pubs, shop in Polish shops and remain within the Polish community.” Beata, now living in Cork where she works in the city library, left Poland six years ago after graduating from university. “There was nothing in Poland for me,” she says, bluntly. When I met her, Beata was organizing a photography exhibition. Entitled “As I See It,” it was inspired by immigrant experiences of Ireland. Amateur photographers – Polish, Irish and other nationalities -– contributed a


varied collection of images ranging from children playing hurling to windswept landscapes. “I wanted immigrants to take pictures of Irish culture and Irish people to photograph the changes immigrants have brought,” Beata explains. “I thought if they could see each other in pictures, they might start to think differently. It could be the start of a discussion.” Beata straddles a midway point between the communities. She has Irish friends yet she also has an insight into a Polish community that has not fully engaged with Irish society. She blames a lack of language skills for this. “Most Poles don’t speak English, and because they stay in their small groups, they don’t see the need to learn it.” Beata herself speaks perfect English

and has even begun to develop a Cork accent. “I’m here to stay,” she laughs. Stella Skowrofska is another young Polish woman living in Cork. Since she arrived in 2005, she has been involved with a support group for the Polish community in the city, The group offers help to Poles settling in Ireland, advises on how to find a job and accommodations, and explains employee rights. It also organizes cultural activities such as drama, soccer clubs and even hurling lessons. “It’s about helping each other,” says Stella. “From giving English lessons to helping people with serious problems such as homelessness or alcoholism, we deal with everything you would find in any community of people.” Stella divides the Polish community in Ireland into two groups –- the educated and the uneducated. The latter usually can’t speak English and are involved in manual labor. The one thing that unites them is the preconception they had of Ireland before they arrived. “We saw Ireland as a place of opportunities,” says Stella. For her, this has proved to be true. “I’ve been welcomed by the Irish,” she says. “Maybe even more than I have been by the Poles. “We have lots in common,” she continues. “You had the English. We had the Nazis and the Russians. We’ve both known poverty. We’re Catholic countries. And we both like potatoes!” Despite these shared similarities, Stella has heard of others encountering problems. “Some employers take advantage,” she says. “Especially if people don’t have good English and can’t stand up for themselves.” Overall, her experience of Ireland has been positive. “Life is good here,” she



3:21 PM

Page 77

Romance blossoms between Ian Hurley from Tralee and Joshia Beigalska from Otwock, Poland. Opposite page: Magdalena Wieczorek, editor of Polish Neighbour magazine.

says. Magdalena Wieczorek, a native of Warsaw now living in Dublin, agrees. A trained vocalist, she hoped to break into the Irish music scene. “I thought I’d have the money to realize my dreams in Ireland. I was naïve because it’s not so easy,” she says, laughing. “But you can work and have a good life here, something it is hard to do in Poland.” Magdalena’s work involves editing a magazine called Polish Neighbour. Bursting with news from Poland as well as stories about the Polish in Ireland, this English-language publication has one main aim. “Irish people don’t know much about the Polish,” explains Magdalena. “With so many of us here, we thought it was important to inform them about us.” The magazine, now on its eighth issue, is increasingly popular with readers from both communities, and Magdalena, justifiably proud of this achievement, hopes more of her compatriots will improve their English and engage with the Irish. “Language is vital,” she says. “If you can communicate, you can solve problems — just as we are doing with the magazine.”

And if you can’t communicate? Then you’ll run into serious challenges, according to Kazik Anhalt. Kazik arrived in Ireland with little English six years ago. With no other option, he spent a few years working in the construction industry, which like the hospitality, transport, wholesale, retail and manufacturing industries, relies on Polish manpower. Once Kazik learned English he left the building sites, where he says he encountered many inequities. For the past two years, he has been able to draw on his experience as a manual worker in his job with SIPTU, Ireland’s largest trade union. “I campaign on behalf of all workers in Ireland, including immigrants,” he says. Immigrants are particularly vulnerable to abuses by employers. Some work long hours without being paid overtime. Others are not registered for income tax or social insurance. Many do not get vacation pay. “It’s not true of all employers but there are problems,” says Kazik. “A 2006 report revealed that more than thirty percent of cases taken before the Labour Relations Commission were taken by

immigrants, yet immigrants only make up thirteen percent of the population.” In spite of these depressing statistics, Kazik is hopeful for the future. “I love Ireland,” he says. “It’s a good place to live. What we need to remember is that we are human beings first and workers second. Integration is crucial.” Ewa Rybka and her husband Arek have a suggestion about how integration should be encouraged. Just like the Irish, the Poles have a strong sporting heritage, particularly when it comes to soccer. When Ewa and Arek arrived in Cork in 2003, they immediately became involved in the local league. “Arek set up a Polish team and they won the league twice,” says Ewa. “Then the Polish decided to play between themselves because — I’m sorry to say this! – the level of Irish soccer wasn’t high enough.” This Polish league is now in its third season and includes 13 teams. In fact, so many Poles are involved in the league that Ewa and Arek are considering opening it up to Irish teams once again. “Polish people can be shy, especially if they don’t have good English,” says Ewa. By bringing Irish teams into the competition, they would encourage friendships across the communities. Such as the romance between Joshia Biegalska from Otwock and Ian Hurley from Tralee. Together for two and a half years, this happy couple met in a traditionally Irish way – during a night out in the pub. “I was living in Dingle and he was living in Tralee. We got chatting in the pub one night and within a few months, I moved to Tralee to be with him,” remembers Joshia. In Tralee, she found work in a factory of 1,000 people, where Poles make up 30 percent of the workforce. “I’m constantly surrounded by Polish people as well as Irish people,” she says. So too is Ian, which is something he enjoys. “I think I find it easier to relate to foreigners because I spent time working in America when I was younger,” he says. “It’s funny to think that we are like the Americans now.” If he’s correct, are the Poles like the Irish of long ago? When it comes to their FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009 IRISH AMERICA 77



3:21 PM

Page 78

{ireland today} devotion to their religion, this might well be the case. “Irish religious life is weak today,” says Fr. Krzystof Kupczakiewicz, a Dominican priest based in Tralee, Co. Kerry. “We have approximately 2,000 Poles in Tralee and we get around 400 of them at our Polish services. There are 20,000 Irish people and we see less than 400 of them.” This isn’t the only disparity. The Polish congregation includes children, young people and the elderly. “But Irish congregations are old, mostly in their sixties,” says Fr. Kupczakiewicz. The Polish congregation is also keen to maintain its religious customs. “We have a tradition of blessing food on Easter Saturday and thousands turned up at the service this year,” says Fr. Kupczakiewicz. “The Irish were astonished to see them come with baskets of food to be blessed and eaten on Easter Sunday.” Like many of the others interviewed for this article, Fr. Kupczakiewicz is concerned about integration. His main worry is the language issue but he also thinks the Irish have their part to play. “I don’t know if the Irish are welcoming,” he says. “They are always smiling but what are they thinking inside? So many changes have happened — new houses, jobs and roads. Many of these were brought about by Polish people. I hope the time will come when Irish people appreciate what the Polish have done to develop the country.” In the meantime, what of Poland itself? With so many of its young people leaving, how will it develop? Just as the tide of migration turned in Ireland, so too might it turn in Poland. Perhaps it is already happening. As the Irish construction industry goes into a downturn, there have been reports of many Poles returning home with money in their pockets. Many, however, have decided to stay and they will bring their influence to bear on the Ireland of the future. As Magdalena Wieczorek says, “Integration doesn’t happen from one day to the next. We need time to see who will stay and who will return. It’s not easy to live somewhere that’s not your home. But one thing is for sure: the people who choose to stay will be precious people.” As a nation that experienced mass emigration, this is something we Irish should IA understand. 78 IRISH AMERICA FEBRUARY / MARCH 2008

Top: Stella Skowroƒska who is involved with a support group for the Polish community in Cork City. Above: A Polish store in Cork City.



3:35 PM

Page 80


Sarah Convey in a portrait taken in 1905.

My Grandmother’s Gaze



When I was young I had the habit of staring off into space. We might be sitting at the kitchen table cutting string beans for dinner when I’d go into a trance-like state. My mother, Nora, always said that I reminded her of her mother, who used to do the same thing. I wondered what my grandmother may have been thinking as she stared into space or out the window at the sheep standing in the fine rain. I never knew her. She died in Ireland when my mother was thirteen years old. My grandmother, Sarah Convey, was born in 1876. Her parents, James Convey and Catherine Garvey, were born during or shortly after the Great Famine of 1847. They survived the famine even though County Mayo, in the far west of Ireland, was one of the areas hardest hit by the potato blight. My mother said that her parents told lots of stories about their families, but personal stories of the famine were never handed down by survivors and the “great silence” prevailed down the generations. The fact that Sarah’s parents owned land and had a vegetable garden may account for their survival. Sarah Convey left her home in Swinford, one of thousands of young single Irish women who came to America to work as domestics and sent money home to their families. Her two brothers, Jim and Michael, and her sister, Winnie, were already here.



3:35 PM

Page 81

In the portrait (left), taken at the Carl Wolf Studio in her eggs and butter in the town for tea and sugar, and fabric with Philadelphia in 1905, Sarah wears a beautiful turquoise which she made clothing. Her creativity was part of her life, not Edwardian-style dress, after which I modeled my wedding separate from it, a necessary and integral part of her existence. gown. Either her eyes were a brilliant shade of blue or the phoThrough all this activity, my mother tells me, Sarah Convey tographer thought it a good idea to match her eyes to the dress. always sang around the house. She also wears a gold locket that was Sarah Convey Price was very much a part of the cottage handed down to my Aunt Catherine and industry in Ireland when the women made a living from their lent to me for my wedding day. butter and eggs and their spinning while the men worked the For my wedding dress I chose a chamfarm and cut the turf out of the bog for fuel. The peat fire heatpagne-colored peau de soie fabric and ed the home, and all the meals were cooked in large hanging used a Vogue pattern that mimicked the pots and the breads and pies baked on the stone hearth. Edwardian dress. It had a high collar, My mother always remembered her mother at home singing which I covered in lace, and I altered the aloud as she did her chores. Life was predictable – vegetables front of the bodice to resemble the dress in in the garden, hay in the field, food on the table and a new pair the photograph. There were twenty-one of hob-nailed boots when the old ones wore out. Tom Price buttons down the back, each of which had recited poetry and read the paper to his family by the fire at to be covered in the same fabric. The last night. He also taught the children how to play cards – a game thing I did the night before my wedding called “25.” My grandmother was unhappy with the card day was to sit on top of the dingames, saying that Tom would ing room table, cross-legged turn them into gamblers. like an old tailor, and laboriousWhen the parents wanted to ly cover and sew on those twendiscuss something without the ty-one buttons. children understanding, they Unlike most of the Irish spoke in their native Irish lanwomen who immigrated to guage. America, Sarah Convey did not My mother was in her last stay. Her father back in Ireland year of primary school when became ill and she was called her mother became ill. home to care for him. When he Country people didn’t run to died she inherited the land – the doctor with every ailment good land, adjacent to the River and, after a week or so, she Moy in the village of was feeling better. On the Daranaugh in Swinford. Sunday morning when it was Tom Price was a neighbor in time for church, her mother the village but, as the youngest said to her, “You go ahead Top left: Kate In her wedding dress of four brothers, did not stand to inherit inspired by her grandmother. Above: The now, Nora, you’re faster than me.” any land. He went to England for several cottage in Mayo. When my mother and her brothers, years to work as a laborer. When he had Andy and Michael, were coming back saved enough money, he returned to County Mayo and purdown the road from Mass they saw the priest coming from the chased the land adjoining the Conveys’ land from a widow house. A neighbor boy ran up to her and said, “Noreen, your named Mariah Devaney. Sarah Convey and Tom Price married mother’s dead.” My Uncle Andy told me years later that it was and joined their two parcels of land together. They were both he who found her and that this was the moment he went stone into their late thirties when they began their family. deaf from the shock of it. I suspect that Sarah had a creative soul. Perhaps, when she When Sarah died, Nora was left to take care of her father and stared into space, she was dreaming of something, desiring two brothers. She did not go on to secondary school, even though something, but in her everyday routine she didn’t have the she was an avid reader and wanted to become a teacher. She told leisure to express it. She did, however, keep a vegetable garden me that she used to go out into the fields and practice teaching to and baked bread and rhubarb pies. She spun the wool sheared the stones, and how she would sit on the hill looking toward the from their own sheep, into yarn with which she knitted socks Ox Mountains and long for her mother. and sweaters. She raised chickens and milked cows, and traded It was now left to Nora to bake the bread, make the meals and



Though Sarah Convey did not get to live out her dream in America, her two daughters, Catherine and Nora, followed that dream a generation later.




3:35 PM

Page 82

mend the clothes. She took care of the men new. The thatch is gone and the stone while they took care of the land. deprived of its traditional whitewash Her sister, Catherine, was already in but, other than that, it looks the same as America. She had immigrated at the age of it does in a photograph of my mother on seventeen, had only been gone a few a bicycle leaning against the wall. months when their mother died. She tells Catherine and Nora both settled in the story that the night before she heard Philadelphia. Catherine married a widthe news, her mother came to her in a ower named Tom Rowley from Mayo vision and said, “What are you going to do who had daughters, Florence and Peggy. now, Catherine?” Tom and Catherine had five more chilAunt Winnie, Sarah’s sister, secured a dren: Tom, James, Maureen, Michael and position for Catherine as a cook in a docKevin. Tom died when the youngest was tor’s home on the Main Line in a year old and Catherine became a widow Philadelphia. Catherine sent money and, at thirty-nine. She never remarried and occasionally, a nice dress to her sister, died in April of 2007 at the age of ninetyNora, to wear to the dances. A few years four. My mother, Nora, married Frank later, when a position for governess Flanagan from County Roscommon and became available, Catherine sent for Nora. they had six children: Patricia, Kathleen, Nora was twenty-two by then. It broke Jean, Sally, Frank and Thomas. Frank her father’s heart to see her go. The day Flanagan died in 1977 and Nora passed she left for America, Tom Price stood out in 1998 aged eighty-two. on the fields and would not come to say My siblings and I have no history of goodbye. “going to Grandmom’s house.” Sarah Though Sarah Convey did not get to Convey was long gone by the time we live out her dream in America, her two were born, and our remaining grandpardaughters followed that dream a generaents were an ocean away. But because tion later. Her two sons remained in my mother talked about her, I can see Ireland. Michael, the “black sheep” of the Sarah at the round table in their small family, “took the shilling” one night, no cottage in Mayo, wearing a coarse white doubt over a pint in the pub, and found apron and mixing the dough for the himself next day in the British Army. As scones or churning her butter and then this didn’t suit him, he deserted and was pouring it into the square wooden therefore unable to travel freely between molds. Ireland and England. He lost touch with My connection to my grandmother, the family but occasionally word would Sarah Convey, is summed up in that get back that Michael had been seen. long-ago portrait; sharing the blue of her Top: The author’s mother, Nora Price, Whether he traveled under an assumed eyes, feeling the resolve of her square on a bicycle leaning against the cottage name or simply crossed over on the ferry wall. Above: Nora’s brothers, Michael shoulders, the softness of the auburn hair from England, I’m not sure. But he showed and Andy Price. swept up in a “Gibson Girl” style, knowup one time during my mother’s last trip to ing that she was adventurous – coming Ireland and they were able to spend some all the way to America only to be called time together. home before she could make her life here. And, finally, the privAndy went to work in England as a builder and then returned ilege of knowing that, in me, my mother was reminded of her IA to the land in County Mayo where he built a new house close to own mother. the road. The old stone cottage that belonged to Sarah and Tom Kate Flanagan is a graduate of Boston College and holds a master’s Price still stands back off the road, facing the River Moy. In in Irish Studies. She is a member of the Irish-American Cultural Ireland they have the lovely habit of allowing the old structures Society of South Jersey and lives in Ventnor, New Jersey. to remain instead of tearing them down to make way for the



My connection to my grandmother is summed up in that long-ago portrait; sharing the blue of her eyes, feeling the resolve of her square shoulders.


Irish America February / March 2009  

Featured in this issue is an in-depth exploration of Barack Obama’s Irish connections and those of former White House occupants; a look at t...

Irish America February / March 2009  

Featured in this issue is an in-depth exploration of Barack Obama’s Irish connections and those of former White House occupants; a look at t...