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IRISH AMERICA October/November 2009

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Vol. 24 No. 5

FEATURES 28 REMEMBERING TED KENNEDY Tributes by Niall O’Dowd, Ted Kennedy Jr. and others. 38 A CRAZY YEAR FOR IRISH AMERICA Tom Deignan reflects on the events and figures of 1969. 45 STARS OF THE SOUTH Irish America’s annual celebration of the Irish in the Southern United States.

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60 25 YEARS OF GREAT WRITING Excerpts from 25 interviews with standout writers over the past quarter century. 64 WILLIAM TREVOR: A SCULPTOR OF WORDS Ireland’s top fiction writer speaks with Frank Shouldice. 68 REMEMBERING FRANK MCCOURT Tributes by Colum McCann, Thomas Cahill and others. 79 GRADUATING FROM CHICK LIT Kara Rota interviews J. Courtney Sullivan about her debut novel, Commencement.

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83 AT RAINBOW’S END Cahir O’Doherty talks with Jim Norton and the other stars of Finian’s Rainbow. 86 “A FERVENT MELODY STRUGGLING TO BE HEARD” The legacy of Danny Cassidy. By Peter Quinn. 90 BITS & PIECES SERVED WITH COFFEY Mark Axelrod writes about his correspondence with Brian Coffey.

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93 THE STORY OF DANNY ELLIS How music helped him escape the horrors of an industrial school. By Sharon Ní Chonchúir.

DEPARTMENTS 6 7 8 10 14 27 59

The First Word Contributors Letters News from Ireland Hibernia Quote Unquote Roots

89 96 97 100 102 104 106

Dance Crossword Music Books Sláinte Photo Album The Last Word

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SPECIAL SUPPLEMENTS

41ON THE SCOTS-IRISH TRAIL

Turlough McConnell explores the scenery and coastline of this attraction-packed region of Northern Ireland.

51QUINNIPIAC UNIVERSITY

The school’s commitment to remembering An Gorta Mór, Ireland’s Great Hunger, is examined by Turlough McConnell.


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Look to the

“I've an an elegant legacy / Waitin’ for ye, / ’Tis a rhyme for your lips And a song for your heart, / To sing it whenever / The world falls apart! Look, look / Look to the rainbow. / Follow it over the hill / And the stream. Look, look / Look to the rainbow. / Follow the fellow / Who follows a dream.” – “Look to the Rainbow” lyrics from Finian's Rainbow.

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t seems appropriate that Ted Kennedy and Frank McCourt share the cover with Finian’s Rainbow, which is back for another run on Broadway. Its combination of immigrants’ quest for the American dream, political satire, beautiful lyrics, and social message is one that Ted and Frank would have identified with. You are probably familiar with the songs – “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?,” “Look to the Rainbow” – but there is more to the show than meets the ear. The plot involves an Irishman and his daughter arriving in the mythical Southern state of Missitucky, followed in hot pursuit by a leprechaun whose crock of gold the father has “borrowed.” The land where they bury the gold turns out to be worked by black sharecroppers, who are under threat of eviction for back taxes by the racist Senator Billboard Rawlins. At a crucial point in the plot, Finian’s daughter, Sharon, exclaims angrily at Sen. Rawlins, “I wish you were black, so you would know what it would feel like to be in their skin.” And, since she is unwittingly standing above the buried crock of gold, Sharon gets her wish, and the senator becomes black. That was quite a message to take to the American public in 1947, when the show opened on Broadway. It was also the first time that white and black actors danced together on the Broadway stage. Yip Harburg, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, wrote the book and lyrics, with music by Burton Lane. Harburg was reading James Stephens’ The Crock of Gold, “a beautiful book with all the lovely Irish names and leprechauns” which gave him the idea of using an Irish theme for the show. He said later, “I love Irish literature – James Stephens, Sean O’Casey. I felt easy working with an Irish idea. ” It’s nice to think of standing up for minorities as an “Irish idea.” Certainly, Frank McCourt and Ted Kennedy exemplified the idea that our own history of poverty and discrimination is best put to use when it causes us to have empathy for others. The success of Frank’s unsparing memoir Angela’s Ashes began a huge debate in Ireland, which led to the

6 IRISH AMERICA OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009

PHOTO: KIT DEFEVER

Rainbow

recent Ryan Report that chronicles the abuse suffered by children in industrial schools (see our piece on Danny Ellis in this issue). Frank, who traveled to Haiti with the Irish relief organization Concern Worldwide, was also a key supporter of the Irish Repertory Theater (his wife Ellen heads the board) which showcased Finian’s Rainbow in 2006, the success of which probably served as the impetus for the current Broadway production. The Kennedys, like no other American family – let us not forget Eunice who founded the Special Olympics and Jean who founded Very Special Arts – championed the cause of minorities and immigrants, the disabled, the poor and the neglected. I always thought that they must have had imprinted in their DNA some memories of the troubles that their Irish ancestors went through. And where their own suffering could have made them bitter, it made them more sensitive to the pain of others. Of the many moving tributes to Ted Kennedy, Bob Herbert, writing in the New York Times, struck a chord when he reminded us that Jack Kennedy had been listening to a recording from Finian’s Rainbow when he learned that his sister Kathleen had died in a plane crash in Europe. “Camelot became a metaphor for the Kennedys in the aftermath of Jack’s assassination,” Herbert wrote. “But I always found Finian’s Rainbow to be a more appropriate touchstone for the family, especially the song ‘Look to the Rainbow,’ with the moving lyric, ‘Follow the fellow who follows a dream.’ That was Ted’s message at Bobby’s funeral. The Kennedys counseled us for half a century to be optimistic and to strive harder, to find the resilience to overcome those inevitable moments of tragedy and desolation, and to move steadily toward our better selves, as individuals and as a nation.” Frank and Ted, you shared your gold with all of us. And showed us that the most terrible storms can bring the IA most beautiful rainbows. Mortas Cine.


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{contributors} Vol. 24 No. 5 • October / November 2009

IRISH AMERICA 875 SIXTH AVENUE, SUITE 2100, N.Y., NY 10001 TEL: 212-725-2993 FAX: 212-244-3344 E-MAIL: irishamag @ aol.com WEB: http://www.irishamerica.com

MARK AXELROD, who writes about Brian Coffey, is a Professor of Comparative Literature at Chapman University, Orange, California, and a multiple award winner for his screenwriting and fiction. The director of the John Fowles Center for Creative Writing and a twotime recipient of a United Kingdom Leverhulme Fellowship for Creative Writing, he has published numerous novels and collections of short stories and has taught extensively in Europe and Latin America.

Mortas Cine Pride In Our Heritage

Founding Publisher: Niall O’Dowd

Co-Founder/Editor-in-Chief: Patricia Harty

Art Director: Marian Fairweather

Assistant Editor:

COLUM MCCANN is an award-winning author of literary fiction, born in Dublin, Ireland. His novels include the recently published Let the World Spin, This Side of Brightness and Dancer, which received the Irish Novel of the Year Award in 2003. Colum, who contributes a piece on Frank McCourt, teaches creative writing at Hunter College at the City University of New York and is also a contributor to The New York Times, The New Yorker and GQ, among other publications.

Kara Rota

Vice President of Marketing:

SHARON NÍ CHONCHÚIR is a regular contributor to Irish America. She lives and works in West Kerry, Ireland, and much of her writing is concerned with the changing face of modern Irish culture. She writes on Danny Ellis in this issue.

Kathleen Overbeck

Director of Special Projects: Turlough McConnell

Financial Controller: Kevin M. Mangan

Copy Editor: John Anderson

Editorial Assistants: Tara Dougherty Andrew Phillips

Marketing Intern: Kelly McDerby

Writers at Large: Bridget English and Declan O’Kelly

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: Irishamag@aol.com. 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.

PETER QUINN, who writes on Daniel Cassidy’s How the Irish Invented Slang in this issue, is a novelist and essayist, and a chronicler of Irish America. A third-generation New Yorker whose grandparents were born in Ireland, Quinn is the author of Banished Children of Eve (1994), which won the American Book Award. His latest book is Looking for Jimmy: A Search for Irish America.

FRANK SHOULDICE, who interviewed Irish writer William Trevor for this issue, is a playwright, scriptwriter, director and short story writer. He won the Guinness Allingham Short Story Award for The Gift, which was adapted as a 30-minute TV drama starring Eanna MacLiam and Terry Byrne. He also cowrote In Uncle Robert's Footsteps, which won the Black and White Short Film Award at the Cork Film Festival and was screened at the Sundance Film Festival the following year.

OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 IRISH AMERICA 7


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THE SPORTING WORLD I just received my August/September issue of your magazine in the mail today. I appreciate all the good work that goes into each issue and particularly enjoyed the article about the Irish in baseball. John O’Flynn North Vancouver, British Columbia Author of The History of the Gaelic Athletic Association in Canada (Trafford Publishing)

STOP THE SILENCE? In the August/September edition of Irish America, Paul Hill’s comparison of the fate of the Guildford Four at the hands of the British and the treatment of detained enemy combatants at the hands of the U.S. is quite a stretch. He fails to mention two salient points in his comments. First, the Guildford Four were apprehended during a time when any Irish male or close friend was taken off the street because they lived in a certain area, hung out in a certain pub or worshiped in a certain church. The common thread so many of them had in common was their Irishness, but more importantly their “innocence.” When a group of people hide in caves, hide behind children, do not wear uniforms, sneak around in the shadows, behead captives, and kill our citizens, our government has a responsibility to protect us. Obtaining information by using extreme interrogation techniques is one way to help to protect us. Waterboarding and sleep deprivation are harsh techniques, but we are dealing with a brutal enemy. The “silence” may not be apathy, but approval. Approval of our leaders to do what is necessary to “provide for the common defense.” Carmen J. DiGiacomo Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 8 IRISH AMERICA OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009

Left: Roger Connor, New York’s first baseball star. Center: Gerry Adams at a Unite Ireland Conference in New York. Right: Taking in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

USA & UNITED IRELAND Jane Enwright is wrong. Irish America has a role in helping to achieve a United Ireland, just as Irish America has played a significant part in the Peace Process and indeed every important moment in Irish history for over two hundred years. People have tried, without success, to dismiss and undermine Irish America's activism and impact before – during the Hunger Strikes and in the McBride Principles campaign, for example. There is a big and important role for Irish America, as well as the international community, in bringing about Irish unity. Those who are thinking clearly and looking forward can see it. Unionism has no veto over Irish unity. Currently less than 20 percent of Unionism’s vote (hardly a veto) is necessary for a United Ireland. This number will drop over time. Sinn Féin’s efforts clearly include an outreach to that section of Unionism willing to consider a new future for all of Ireland. Rita O'Hare Sinn Féin Representative to the United States

GREAT MEMORIES I took great delight in reading the June/July issue and editor Patricia Harty’s account of her visit to Holyoke to accept the well-deserved Ambassador Award. She measured the hospitality and heart of our city in the same way Irving Berlin caught the beat of Tin Pan Alley, and the fact that she mentioned the “victory” song of Notre Dame having been composed by Holyoke’s Shea brothers lifted the heart of this citizen. With Patricia’s mention that she first heard of Holyoke from Eoin McKiernan,

I reached for my late husband’s diaries. In the latter part of the 1970’s my husband Phil and I chaired the speaking program of Eoin’s Irish Cultural Institute’s “Irish Fortnight,” a two-week series of lectures from professional Irish people of diverse interests. My husband’s diaries record those blissful days. Thanks for the memories, Patricia. You and yours are always welcome to step on the welcome mat of Holyoke. Mrs. Philip Flanagan Holyoke, Massachusetts

PRISONER’S REQUEST My name is Steve Sherrill and I am currently an inmate in the Texas Prison System in the USA. I am 48 years old, a part-Irish male from Houston, Texas and I played professional poker in Las Vegas. I am also an aspiring fiction writer, but I would like to write/talk with an Irish penpal about everyday life, about our cultures, or anything interesting. I have a wonderful and beautiful daughter (Mickichelle) who made me a grandfather for the first time four years ago with little Brayden. I get letters on a regular basis from my daughter and finger-paintings from my grandson, but it would be nice to correspond with someone from Ireland. In closing, a line in the American movie Seabiscuit from the horse trainer, Tom Smith: “You don’t throw away a whole life just because it’s a IA little banged up.” Steven Michael Sherrill ID # 1442172 Clements Unit 9601 Spur 591 Amarillo, Texas 79107

Send letters to: Irish America, 875 Avenue of the Americas, Suite 2100, NY NY 10001, or e-mail irishamag@aol.com. Please include name, address, and phone number. Letters will be edited for length and clarity.


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{ news from ireland} By Frank Shouldice

Business Says Yes to Lisbon

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USINESS groups have formed an alliance to support a ‘Yes’ vote for the upcoming Lisbon referendum. The Lisbon Treaty aims to streamline procedures at the newlyexpanded European Union, and the public vote is a rerun of last year’s defeated referendum. Opponents to Lisbon are alarmed that Ireland will significantly lose out in the shake-up at Brussels. There are also fears that Lisbon will centralize more power and that member states will have less self-autonomy as a result. Some 18 EU member states have approved the Treaty but no member-state other than Ireland has put it to referendum. It needs full support across all 27 members before it can be ratified. Following a highly embarrassing defeat, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen went back to Brussels seeking a formula that might address concerns raised by the ‘No’ victory. He claimed to have secured legal guarantees on key issues – tax sovereignty, neutrality and social legislation, including abortion. “On that basis, I recommended to the government that we return to the people to seek their approval for Ireland to ratify the treaty and that referendum will take place on 2 October.” However, at second time of asking, the ‘No’ campaigners contend that the Treaty is exactly the same as before and that the Taoiseach’s assurances cannot be taken as firm guarantees. In a declining economic situation, however, a broad variety of employers’ groups, including Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC), the Small Firms Association and the Irish Hotels Federation, have combined to ensure the referendum will be carried in October. “A ‘Yes’ vote will send a positive signal to foreign investors and to our economic trading partners in the EU,” said IBEC general director Danny McCoy. “The successful ratification of the treaty is a vital step on the road to Ireland’s economic recovery.” Jim O’Hara, chief executive of Intel Ireland, has also publicly

backed the ‘Yes’ campaign. “It matters to business that we stay fully connected to Europe. I think it’s a huge issue for this country and it’s very important that business people like me speak out and get the message across to people. And the message is that being center stage as part of Europe has benefited this country hugely in the past and will continue to benefit us in the future.” O’Hara’s public involvement will add clout to the ‘Yes’ campaign. With a total workforce of over 4,000 employees, Intel Ireland is the largest private employer in the country. When the referendum was held last year, all three major political parties – Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party – supported it. However, in a turnout of 45 percent, which is low by Irish standards, the Lisbon Treaty was rejected by 53/47 percent. It was a shock turnaround widely viewed as a strong protest vote against the government. Sinn Féin and the now defunct Libertas party, led by entrepreneur Declan Ganley, led opposition to Lisbon along with a disparate number of independent political figures. However, Sinn Féin suffered a setback at the European elections earlier this year and Ganley withdrew from politics after failing to win an MEP seat for Libertas in Connacht. The ‘Vote No To Lisbon’ campaign was launched in Dublin with Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald joined by Socialist Party MEP Joe Higgins and other independents. Last year’s vote was reported to have damaged Ireland’s standing in Brussels, with some perception that Ireland had benefited greatly from EU assistance in the past and was now obstructing progress for the accession states. It has not helped, however, that the Lisbon Treaty is a particularly tortuous piece of legislation that few people claim to understand. Although the government could expect to face another backlash over its unconvincing stewardship of the economy, growing discomfort at Ireland’s potential isolation in the EU is likely to clinch approval of Lisbon II.

Ministers Targeted for Travel Cuts

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IRST-class flights and extravagant stays at five-star hotels have been prohibited by new rules at the Department of Finance. Government ministers have been instructed to cut travel expenses under guidelines that warn of disciplinary action against those who make unauthorized or

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unduly expensive travel arrangements. John O’Donoghue, former Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism, has come in for heavy criticism for running up a travel bill of over 126,000 pounds in just two years. The amount covers expenses incurred by O’Donoghue, his wife and his private secretary, including stays at exclusive hotels

charging 900 pounds per night. The new measures are also intended to cut spending by executive personnel in semi-state bodies. Last November Rody Molloy resigned as director-general of FáS, the employment training agency, after disclosures that he had traveled first class.


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Ireland Hit by Crime Spree

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Finance Minister Brian Lenihan

Government Bank Faces Stiff Opposition

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HE Irish government is facing mounting opposition to its plans to establish the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA). Under a fiscal rescue policy laid out by Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, NAMA will be set up by the government as a sort of ‘bad bank’ into which Ireland’s main banks can divert toxic loans. The vast majority of these toxic loans are property-related, with creditors falling behind repayments as a result of the collapse in the property market. Under NAMA’s terms the banks will pay a premium for using the ‘bad bank’ facility and all loans will be repaid by creditors over time. The Minister claims this will enable banks to offload toxic loans from their books so that the banking sector can release much-needed funds into the credit-strapped private sector. If the government proposal passes its Dáil vote in September it is anticipated that some 90 billion pounds in bank loans would transfer to NAMA. There is widespread speculation on how the proposed agency will evaluate the properties at the center of the crisis as none are worth the vast sums that developers and speculators originally paid for them. The banks too have been faulted for their part in encouraging a climate of irresponsible lending. Critics of the NAMA plan say that the government is gambling with public money to ensure that unrealistic loans can be repaid. There is a growing suspicion that if the recession continues, developers currently facing bankruptcy will default on these loans. This has led to disquiet that the state would put 90 billion pounds of public money at risk to cover bad loans in an effort to kick-start the economy. In August a group of 46 respected economists co-signed a letter to the Irish Times arguing against the NAMA project. The economists said that the troubled assets were worth only about 30 billion pounds and it would be “economic folly” to go ahead with NAMA in its present form. The Green Party, junior partners in this Fianna Fáil-led coalition, has yet to decide whether it will back the NAMA plan. The Greens will hold internal party meetings to examine the agency plan before announcing its position. Green support for the NAMA package will be crucial as both Fine Gael and Labour have indicated they will oppose the NAMA bill.

INISTER for Justice Dermot Ahern said he was concerned by a spate of knife attacks around the country. He insisted that legislation passed in June will counter the threat of knife crime by enabling gardai to stop and search suspects without requiring a warrant. The maximum penalty for possession of a knife has also been increased from one year to five. However, a number of high-profile knifings has raised public fears that legislation might not be enough. In Dublin’s Phoenix Park (pictured below) the death of a homeless Romanian woman was attributed to stab wounds.Two college students then died in a fracas in Bray, Co.Wicklow when they were involved in an altercation that also left two others seriously injured.The Bray incident followed three separate and unrelated incidents in Co. Mayo. A drug squad garda (policeman) was stabbed while on duty in Westport, another man died from stab wounds in Kiltimagh, and four young men were injured after being assaulted in Ballinrobe.Two of the victims sustained stab wounds. Local Fianna Fáil councillor Damien Ryan reacted angrily to events. “There is no doubt that Ballinrobe, like most small towns in the country at the moment, has a serious drug problem. Greater resources need to be devoted to the drugs and public order problems in the town. It is very hard for the gardai, who are unresourced locally at the moment, to deal with the problem, especially at weekends.” Budget cutbacks at the Department of Justice have reduced garda services in many rural areas throughout Ireland. In Ballinrobe, for example, the local garda station is open for just three hours a day. Calls made outside these hours are diverted to Claremorris garda station, 15 miles away. Arrests have been made in relation to the incidents outside of Dublin. Despite a public outcry following the August attacks, this year’s figures show no increase on 2008. Last year a total of 1,816 knife-related crimes were reported in Ireland.

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{news from ireland} News In Brief • OUTGOING British ambassador to Ireland

David Reddaway said he was “very hopeful” that Queen Elizabeth will visit Ireland “before too long.” The ambassador said his three-year term had been “an amazing experience” and that relations between the two countries had “transformed [to the point of being] now in a really good phase which is irreversible. We are no longer defined by what divides us but defined by the advantages of working together and what we have in common.” . . .

ANDREA Corr, 35-yearold singer with family pop band The Corrs, married Brett Desmond at a lavish but tasteful wedding in Quilty, Co. Clare. The groom is son of billionaire businessman Dermot Desmond. The reception took place at the spectacu- Andrea Corr lar Doonbeg golf complex along the Atlantic coast. A host of celebrities were invited to the ceremony, including Bono of U2 and his wife Ali Hewson, golfer Padraig Harrington, former Glasgow Celtic managers Gordon Strachan and Martin O’Neill, comedian Patrick Kielty and other showbiz personalities. . . .

EMERGENCY welfare support on mortgage relief has almost doubled in the past six months. Almost 14,000 people have applied for assistance because of difficulties in meeting mortgage repayments; another 91,000 people have applied for welfare assistance because they cannot afford to pay rent. . . .

Dublin’s O’Connell Street

Taylor Bound for London Olympics

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ORLD champion boxer Katie Taylor (pictured above) reacted enthusiastically to the decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to allow women’s boxing into competition for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Taylor, a native of Bray, Co.Wicklow, fights at lightweight and is trained by her father Peter.With only five defeats in a career that spans almost 100 fights, she twice won a world title and was European champion on three occasions. “I’m absolutely thrilled,” said the 22-year-old when she was told the news. “This is a dream come true, not only for me but for female boxers throughout the world who have worked so hard to gain Olympic status. Our sport has come on leaps and bounds in recent years and the decision has added a whole new dimension to the sport. “For me personally this is the realization of a lifetime ambition,” she added. “I’ve always wanted to represent Ireland at the Olympics and now I have the opportunity. It’s going to be hard over the next three years. I think a lot of people feel that I’m just going to turn up and win a gold medal. All I can do is try my best to keep going and to improve as a boxer, enjoy my boxing over the next two years and hope that will lead to qualification and Olympic gold.”

Swine Flu Claims Irish Fatalities •

PLANNING authorities have rejected the proposed 13-story development in Dublin’s O’Connell Street. The proposal for the former Carlton Cinema site included a rooftop park, but An Bórd Pleanála said the Chartered Land submission shows “insufficient respect” to the classical form of the capital city’s main street. Developers will submit a revised plan in November.

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NCIDENCE of swine flu has leveled off in Ireland with the number of cases dropping to about 1,500 per week. To date, outbreak of the virus has claimed four fatalities in all of Ireland – two in Northern Ireland and two in the Republic. Of the remaining 75 to be hospitalized in the Republic, four currently require intensive care. “The most important factor is that symptoms are mild in the majority of cases,” deputy chief medical officer Dr. John Devlin told the Irish Times. The Health Service Executive has ordered 7.7 million doses of the pandemic H1N1 vaccine for distribution, and the first batch of vaccines were administered in September. IA


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PEOPLE

| HERITAGE | EVENTS | ARTS | ENTERTAINMENT

Irish America’s 12th

Wall Street 50

The Wall Street 50 dinner took place August 24 at the New York Yacht Club. Bank of America’s Brian Moynihan delivered the keynote address and golfer Padraig Harrington was the guest of honor. The evening was co-hosted by FTI Consulting.

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he annual Wall Street 50 event brought together national leaders from every sector of the financial world. Police commissioner Ray Kelly, Loretta Brennan Glucksman, Chairman of The American Ireland Fund, and many other luminaries from the Irish-American community gathered to celebrate the honorees. Of the evening’s many highlights were the words, excerpted below, offered by Brian Moynihan, Bank of America’s President of Consumer & Small Business Banking, and golfing legend Padraig Harrington. Both encouraged the crowd to accept the challenges that lie ahead and realize that sometimes you have to take a step back in order to move forward. Brian Moynihan: We, as an industry, need to drive the resolution – the “fix,” whether through new legislation, through helping our regulators supervise new products, or by our own internal actions. We need to learn from our mistakes, educate our teams, look to improve our risk management systems, and look to curtail the excesses that got us here. We also must help shape responsible regulation and do it without stifling innovation. One suggestion would be to more carefully regulate levels of leverage by all participants in the markets including companies and consumers. By regulating leverage and thereby requiring more capital, we can ensure that liquidity remains bullet-proof in recessionary times. And we can keep the asset bubbles from forming. We also need to acknowledge – as a society and an industry – that we need to do some things that may cost us in the short run, but will be good for us all in the long. ... Many of us are here because dark economic conditions in the past led our ancestors to brave a tough and unknown voyage to a new land, for a new opportunity. Imagine, at the age of 14, as my wife’s grandmother did, getting on a ship, knowing no one, to travel to a place where she knew no one, all in the name of opportunity – an opportunity which may be to face a long period of indentured work to pay off the voyage. Our relatives braved these challenges because they had to,

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they had little choice. But even then, they seized the opportunity. And that is why we are here tonight. We, like them, now face a hard go to get this all right over the next years. It is going to be hard work and it’s going to be challenging. But when we look at the task ahead, we can take solace, it is clearly not as hard or challenging as our ancestors’ task was to leave Ireland and establish a new life. In addition, we have another benefit to help our efforts – their determination is in our blood. So I say let’s get on with the task at hand. Padraig Harrington: Every day I know I just keep going forward, keep trying to get better. I think that would be my ultimate principle in golf or in life. Many people who were following my career see that I did take a few steps back this year to try and go forward . . . . I came off of winning three majors and I decided to change something [about my swing] that had been bugging me for a while, for a number of years, and my performances dipped because of it. ... But I know that this is part of the process. I know that I’m trying to get better and I will get better. That has always been my mindset. I came out of last year being third in the world feeling like I had peaked, Photos by Nuala Purcell


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{hibernia}

Honoree Kip Condron of AXA Financial, Denis Curran, John Murphy and other guests enjoy the speeches.

Louis Varone, Maureen Moore, honoree Rob Golden of Prudential.

Ted Sullivan and honoree Shaun Kelly, both of K.P.M.G, Andrea Haughian, and Don Spitzer.

Honoree Michael Brewster of Credit Suisse and his wife Margaret.

Honoree Ryan Fennelly of RBC Capital Markets, his wife, Helen, and honoree Sean Kilduff of UBS and his wife Wendy.

New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and golfer Padraig Harrington.

Floral arrangements provided by 1-800-Flowers.

Charlotte Moore & Ciaran O’Reilly of the Irish Repertory Theater.

Attracta Lyndon of Dan Dooley Rent-A-Car, Vincent Cunnane of Shannon Development and Patricia Cunningham of Continental Airlines.

Irish America publisher Niall O’Dowd, Padraig Harrington and Brian Moynihan with their Waterford awards, and Irish America editor-in-chief Patricia Harty.

Denise Richardson, honoree Gavan Corr, Irene McLaughlin Narissi, Dr. Joe Mulvehill, Holly Millea and Donna Daniels. OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 IRISH AMERICA 15


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{hibernia} but now I have the feeling that I can go anywhere and that I haven’t peaked and that in the future I am going to get better and better. That’s what’s important to me. I do believe that now I’m in a position to move forward. I believe that just like FTI when they go in there and rebuild the company, I too have taken myself apart and put it back together, and now we can look forward to times when things are going to get better and improve. Economic times are going through a bit of a low. My golf game has been going through a bit of a low. I believe I’m on my way out and up and I hope all you businessmen are on the way out and up, and I hope you go to new places. IA

Honorees Chris Crotty of Farina, Conor Murphy of MetLife, Patrick Shouvlin of PwC and Michael Farrell of MetLife.

Shannon Development’s Director of Tourism and Marketing Paul Mockler, honoree John Daly and his wife Norah.

Laura Novak, Jeannine Lewan, Padraig Harrington and Aisling Garvey.

James Callahan, Aileen Callahan, Peter Kennedy, and honoree Mary Ann Callahan of Depository Trust.

Keynote speaker Brian Moynihan and editor Patricia Harty.

Kip Condron & Loretta Brennan Glucksman, Chairman of The American Ireland Fund.

Tony Condon of UCD, Siobhain Walsh of Concern and Ed Kenney of Mutual of America.

Honorees Alfred Nunan of Capital One Padraig Harrington, Niall O’Dowd, Bank and Tony O’Callaghan of Credit Suisse and honoree Paul Keary of FTI with Anne Nunan. Consulting, the co-host of the event.

Irish America’s marketing team, Turlough McConnell and Kate Overbeck with Kate’s father John.

The Wall Street 50 honorees pose for a group photo at the New York Yacht Club. Front row from left: Irish America cofounder and editor Patricia Harty; cofounder and publisher Niall O’Dowd; Keynote Speaker Brian Moynihan, Bank of America’s President of Consumer and Small Business Banking; Guest of Honor Padraig Harrington, golfing legend; and FTI Consulting’s Paul Keary.

Bill Flynn and John Fitzpatrick.

Kate Overbeck, Padraig Harrington, and marketing intern Kelly McDerby. PHOTO BY STAN SCHNIER

16 IRISH AMERICA OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009


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IN OUR NEXT ISSUE

Irish America’s 2009 BUSINESS 100 AWARDS JOIN US IN CELEBRATING 25 YEARS OF BRINGING YOU THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST IN BUSINESS

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The 2008 Business 100 awards luncheon, November 19 at The Plaza Hotel in New York.

A hundred and sixty years ago an 18-year-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-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.

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You know, this is a great nation. And believe me, it’s going to prove its greatness again through this economic crisis, just as it has, ladies and gentlemen, for decade after decade over the last two hundred and thirty years. Donald Keough, Keynote Speaker, Irish America’s 2008 Business 100 Luncheon Chairman of Allen & Company and former president of the Coca-Cola Company

For information on Irish America’s 2009 Business 100 or to make a nomination, please call 212-725-2993 ext. 113 or send an email to business100@irishamerica.com.


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{ irish eye on hollywood} By Tom Deignan

In the next couple of years, acclaimed Dublin-born director Jim Sheridan (In the Name of the Father, In America) is planning to tell gritty Irish-American stories about gangsters in Boston and New York. This coming holiday season, however, Sheridan will be releasing Brothers, a dramatic film about a love triangle which will surely get some attention when it comes time to hand out Oscar nominations. Brothers stars Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire. Portman plays a wife whose husband (Maguire) is presumed lost in Iraq. The soldier’s brother (Gyllenhaal) seeks to console the young widow, only to fall in love with the grieving woman. Then it turns out her husband is not dead after all and will soon be returning home. Brothers is Sheridan’s first film since the 2005 biopic of rapper 50 Cent, Get Rich or Die Tryin’. The screenplay for Brothers was written by David Benioff, whose previous work includes the film The 25th Hour, in which Ed Norton played an Irish-American drug dealer at odds with his immigrant dad. After Brothers, Sheridan’s next two projects are Black Mass, which tells the sweeping story of South Boston gangster Whitey Bulger (due out in 2010) and Emerald City, about the Irish mob in Hell’s Kitchen (which may not be released until 2011). Brothers is due in theaters December 4. Also in December, look for The Lovely Bones, based on the best-selling novel by Alice Sebold and starring wunderkind Northern Ireland actress Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, City of Ember), as well as Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz and Susan Sarandon

The Lovely Bones tells the tragic story of 14-year-old Susie Salmon (played by Ronan), who is killed by a neighbor. The rest of the story is told as Susie, uncomfortably perched in the afterlife, watches how her family and friends cope with her loss. The Lovely Bones is directed by Lord of the Rings impresario Peter Jackson. Speaking of Mark Wahlberg, one of the most anticipated upcoming Irish-American films is The Fighter, starring Wahlberg as Irish boxer Mickey Ward. But nearly as compelling as Ward’s unlikely rise to fame is the life story of Richard Farrell, who helped write the screenplay for The Fighter. 18 IRISH AMERICA OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009

From the Irish stronghold of Lowell, Massachusetts, Farrell recounts his struggles with his abusive father as well as drugs in his memoir What’s Left of Us. The movie rights of that memoir have been purchased by the same A-list stars behind The Fighter, including Wahlberg, director David O. Russell (Three Kings) as well as Batman himself, Christian Bale. After helping to write a book called A Criminal and An Irishman: The Inside Story of the Boston Mob-IRA Connection, Farrell worked on the script for The Fighter, which is now shooting on the streets of his hometown, an experience he finds surreal. “I was a junkie, dead on the street, and now here I am, talking to Christian Bale, Mark Wahlberg, and David O. Russell,” he recently said. No word about when shooting will begin on the film of Farrell’s life. Liam Neeson is staying busy. His latest film, a thriller

entitled Chloe, had its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. The film also stars Julianne Moore, who plays a doctor who hires an escort model to seduce her husband (Neeson). The film is directed by celebrated indy auteur Atom Egoyan, best known for The Sweet Hereafter as well as Felicia’s Saoirse Ronan will star Journey, based on Irish writer in The Lovely Bones. William Trevor’s novel. BELOW: Mark Wahlberg will star in The Fighter. Chloe was the film Neeson was shooting when his wife, Natasha Richardson, died following a skiing accident. After Chloe, Neeson will be playing Zeus in a remake of Clash of the Titans and is reportedly starring in a big-screen remake of the 80s TV show The A-Team. Most recently, Neeson signed on to star in Unknown White Male, about a doctor (Neeson) who awakens from a coma to find he has been replaced in his life by another man. Unknown White Male is set to begin filming in January in Berlin. Another movie tinged with tragedy, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was also screened at the Toronto film fest. Directed by Monty Python alum Terry Gilliam, Imaginarium stars Heath Ledger. The movie was still shooting when the young star died. Irish star Colin Farrell was among those who pitched in to help finish the film. Look for Imaginarium in U.S. theaters later this year. Farrell may also do replacement duty in Gilliam’s next film, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Johnny Depp was originally slated to star but has backed out, and Farrell is


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reportedly ready to sign on. The busy Julianne Moore will also star alongside Pierce Brosnan in The Hunter, written and directed by Stanley Tucci and produced by Irish DreamTime, Brosnan’s production company. Set in New York’s exclusive enclave of Westchester County, Brosnan plays a privileged man whose life, suddenly, seems to be slipping away. It’s worth mentioning that Tucci also stars in the aforementioned The Lovely Bones as the murderous neighbor. Also on the film festival circuit in September, Conor McPherson’s new movie The Eclipse, starring Ciaran Hinds and Aidan Quinn, opened the 2009 Los Angeles Irish Film Festival. The supernatural flick also opened the Tribeca Film Festival and is expected to be released in the U.S. later this year. The Quinn family, as a whole, is raising its Hollywood profile behind the camera as well. Acclaimed cinematographer Declan Quinn (Aidan’s brother, whose most recent movie was The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, starring Robin Wright) will soon be serving as cinematographer on a film called Good Ol’ Boy, to be directed by his other brother, Paul Quinn. Talk about all in the family! Declan Quinn is also serving as cinematographer on a documentary about Bob Marley, directed by Jonathan Demme, as well Jim Sheridan’s aforementioned project Black Mass. Declan Quinn is not the only busy Irish-American cinematographer. Seamus Tierney recently earned raves for the film Adam (dubbed “lovingly photographed” by The New York Times) and will soon be working on Burning Palms (with fellow Irish Americans Shannon Doherty and Dylan McDermott), and The Forlorn, about the infamous Donner Party of Western U.S. settlers, which included Irish immigrants and resorted to cannibalism. The Forlorn will be directed by T.J. Martin. Irish actress Fiona Shaw is set to appear in a film by one of the world’s most beloved Irish writers. Shaw, Ben Barnes, Colin Firth and Ben Chapman are set to star in a new version of Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray. So far, the film is set to open in the U.K. in September,

ABOVE: Aidan Quinn in a scene from The Eclipse. LEFT: Ciaran Hinds in The Eclipse. BELOW: Colin Farrell.

though no U.S. date has been confirmed. Shaw will also be seen in director Terrence Malick’s (Thin Red Line, Badlands) long-awaited film Tree of Life, which also stars Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. It is the famously slow-working Malick’s first film since 2005’s The New World, with Colin Farrell. On the DVD front, look for the acclaimed indy horror flick I Sell the Dead. Written and directed by Dubliner Glenn McQuaid and starring Ron Perlman and Dominic Monaghan, the film played in art houses over the summer and earned impressive reviews. On the Hollywood DVD front, Irish actor Michael Fassbender was among the stars of Quentin Tarantino’s killNazi’s film Inglourious Basterds. (Centurion and Jonah Hex are two of Fassbender’s upcoming projects.) British actor Steve Coogan (whose parents were Irish immigrants) has been in films such as Tropic Thunder and the Night at the Museum films. But he became famous for his work on the BBC, which has just released a 14-disc set of Coogan sketches, including his famous creations “Alan Partridge” and “Tony Ferrino.” Finally, the new TV season will see the return of IrishAmerican small-screen veterans Ed O’Neill and Chris O’Donnell. O’Neill, most famous for Married With Children, will star in an ABC sitcom called Modern Family. O’Donnell (Scent of a Woman, Circle of Friends) will appear in NCIS: L.A. alongside LL Cool J. IA OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 IRISH AMERICA 19


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The 100th Anniversary of the Celtic Cross on Grosse Île “Children of the Gael died in the thousands on this island having fled from the laws of the foreign tyrants and an artificial famine in the years 1847-48. God's loyal blessing upon them. Let this monument be a token to their name and honour from the Gaels of America. God Save Ireland.” - Inscription on Celtic Cross, Grosse Île, Canada.

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ugust 15, the Feast of the Assumption, is the annual feast day of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. On that day in 1909 an international crowd of almost 2,000 attended the unveiling of a forty foot Celtic Cross on Grosse Île, the quarantine station where more than 10,000 Irish men, women and children were cared for in the 1840s during the mass immigration to Canada caused by the artificial famine at home. More than 5,000 who were too sick to continue their perilous flight to a better life are buried here. The Ancient Order of Hibernians held a weekend of commemoration to mark the centenary of the cross that began on August 14 with a dinner in Quebec attended by the presidents and vice-presidents of the AOH from Ireland, Quebec,

Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Virginia and Australia. As the granddaughter of Jeremiah Gallagher, of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, who designed the cross and saw to its erection, it was my honor to present the history of the idea of remembrance and its execution. Present were two grandsons of Jeremiah: J. Anthony Conway and Neil O’Gallagher. On Saturday, the 15th, the AOH went en masse to Grosse Île, 30 miles from Quebec City, to fulfill the most earnest part of their three day pilgrimage – the rededication of the Celtic Cross. The open field next to the western cemetery became the open-air church for a noontime Mass officiated by Father Pierre René Coté. It was fitting that a French-Canadian priest celebrate with the Irish, since 40 of his predecessors had

served as chaplains here in 1847, and four among them had died of fever contracted when they attended to the sick. In the afternoon the rededication of the cross at the summit of Telegraph Hill was marked by solemn words from Victor Boyle, president of the Montreal branch of the AOH, who organized the commemoration, and Declan Kelly, the Ambassador of Ireland to Canada. At the end of the day a chunk of granite, long ago broken from the cross in a thunderstorm, was made ready for its journey to Vancouver where it will be incorporated into a monument there. A second day of commemoration by the Irish Protestant Benevolent Society of Montreal was held on Grosse Île August 23, with a rededication of the Anglican chapel, recently restored by that society. – Marianna O’Gallagher

Grosse Île: The rededication of the Celtic Cross memorial to those who died in the Great Hunger.

COURTESY OLIVIA BLANCH

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Medal of Freedom Honors for Kennedy and Robinson

Murder at Duffy’s Cut

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uffy’s Cut, the stretch of railroad tracks west of Philadelphia built on land cleared by 57 newly arrived Irish immigrants from Donegal, Tyrone, and Derry, hired by railroad contractor Philip Duffy in the summer and fall of 1832, is now reportedly the scene of a possible murder. Due to discrimination against Irish immigrants and poor working conditions, all 57 Irishmen died from cholera within two months and were unceremoniously buried in an unmarked mass grave along the railroad without a funeral or death certificates. Frank Watson, a Lutheran pastor who has been working since 2004 with his brother and a team of archaeologists to

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n August 12, President Obama presented sixteen agents of change with the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom award, America’s highest civilian honor. The recipients included Irish Americans Senator Edward Kennedy, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court, and Mary Robinson, the first female President of Ireland from 1990-1997 and a former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, from 1997-2002. While the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and other pro-Israel groups protested Robinson’s award, citing her concern about violations of Palestinian human rights as anti-Israel, Obama stood by his decision to honor her with the Medal of Freedom, and when presenting her with the award, said, “As an advocate for the hungry and the hunted, the forgotten and the ignored, Mary Robinson has not only shone a light on human suffering, but illuminated a better future for our world.” The other 2009 recipients were Nancy Goodman Brinker, Dr. Pedro José Greer Jr., Stephen Hawking, Jack Kemp, Billie Jean Moffitt King, Sidney Poitier, Chita Rivera, Dr. Janet Davidson Rowley, Muhammad Yunus, Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow, Harvey Milk, the Reverend Joseph Lowery, and the Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Ted Kennedy’s daughter Kara accepted the award for him, as his failing health had prevented him from attending the ceremony. President Obama remarked, “There’s a story Ted Kennedy sometimes tells. It's about a boy who sees an old man tossing starfish stranded by a receding tide back into the sea. ‘There are so many,’ asks the boy, ‘what difference can your efforts possibly make?’ The old man studies the starfish in his hand and tosses it to safety, saying: ‘It makes a difference to that one.’ For nearly half a century, Ted Kennedy has been walking that beach, making a difference for that soldier fighting for freedom, that refugee looking for a way home, that senior searching for dignity, that worker striving for opportunity, that student aspiring to college, that family reaching for the American Dream. The life of Senator Edward M. Kennedy has made a difference for us all.” – Kara Rota

unearth the stories, names and tragic fates of these Irish workers, said that at least two of the skulls found in the mass grave have wounds that might suggest blunt-force trauma from an object such as a pickaxe. Possible suspects and motives for the mysterious possible murders are still in very speculative stages. “I will say the one who has the hole in his skull would fit perfectly the end of a pickaxe head, but the anthropologist can’t make a full decision on that. We did also find an odd metallic item that was in there, and we are going to have some tests done on that too.We are not sure, but it might show some sign of a firearm being used,” Watson told IrishCentral.com. “If more evidence turns up of trauma among the rest of them, it sheds a totally different light on the story.” – Kara Rota

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Why Journalists Need Shield Laws U

© YARI FILM GROUP RELEASING.

.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald because lawyers in civil suits — particubeing committed, and we pick up the could take it when he was demolarly those working for the City of paper and we read about it and the press nized as a heartless Southern Chicago — are hauling in reporters to does a remarkable job, particularly invesprosecutor in the movie that fictionalizes make them give up their notes when they tigative reporters, to expose things to the his real-life jailing of New York Times write about, for instance, men who had light of day,” he said. “Reporters are obvireporter Judith Miller. false confessions beaten out of them by ously trying to defend the right to know of What he objected to — he quipped last the police. the public and the right to encourage peoSaturday during our “debate” over a proThanks to a court case called McKevitt ple to come forward and be honest. . . . At posed reporters’ shield law at the vs. Pallasch, which, sorry, I inadvertently the same time, starting with prosecutors American Bar Association convention — provoked by refusing to turn over tapes of from the criminal perspective, we’d like was the prissy name they gave his characinterviews with a witness in a terrorism [to ensure] the public’s right . . . to hear ter, played by Matt Dillon. trial, journalists have few rights to assert evidence and, if it’s in a grand jury, to “I haven’t seen Nothing but the Truth,” when brought into federal court here. We know everything they need to know to Fitzgerald said, “but I have to tell you: I are fine in state court, where a state shield make an informed decision whether to grew up in Brooklyn. And when the . law protects us. charge and to charge the right person with . . character . . . based upon [you] is The idea, I argued to the right crime.” named Patton DuBois, that really Fitzgerald, is that The U.S. House of Representatives hurts. I left a message for [Miller’s whistleblowers should passed a version of the shield law that defense lawyer] Floyd Abrams. I feel comfortable telling allows journalists to fight subpoenas dealsaid, ‘I don’t mind you being in the journalists about coring with both confidential and non-confimovie and playing the judge and ruption in the public or dential sources. An evolving Senate verchanging the facts to make it a sion of the bill covers only lot more one-sided. But having confidential sources (not nonto be called Patton DuBois, confidential sources such as that really hurt.’” the men who claimed to have Miller spent months in jail been beaten by cops), and so for refusing to reveal the name it would be of no use to of a source to Fitzgerald. reporters in these cases. And because the sentence The House and Senate verimposed on the defendant in sions of the bill also differ on the case — Vice President how broadly to define “jourDick Cheney’s chief of staff, nalist.” Do bloggers count? Scooter Libby — was comPresident Obama campaigned muted by President Bush, in favor of a shield law and is Miller ironically was the only expected to sign whatever person jailed in the case. version can pass both houses. “That’s not my fault,” said Walton said he could favor the judge in the case, Reggie a version of the law with adeWalton, who also sat on Above: Matt Dillon and Alan Alda in Nothing but the Truth, a Yari quate exemptions. Fitzgerald Film Group release. Top: U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. Saturday’s panel with took no stand. Here’s my Fitzgerald and me. Walton sentenced private sector so that we can write invesstand: Rent Nothing but the Truth. Yes, it’s Libby to 2 1/2 years in prison and fined tigative stories that often result in a fictionalization. But it persuasively him $250,000 for lying to federal officials Fitzgerald’s prosecution of corrupt offimakes the point that jailing journalists is about leaking CIA agent Valerie Plame’s cials. The fastest way to dry up those the wrong approach. identity to the press after her husband critvaluable leaks, I said, is to send the mesAs Alan Alda, playing a lawyer, icized the Bush administration. sage to sources that the reporter might argues before the Supreme Court in the Criminal cases in which prosecutors later be pressured to give up their names movie: “Imprisoning journalists? That’s order reporters to reveal sources during to avoid going to jail. for other countries. That’s for countries “crises” of “national security” get most Fitzgerald said he accepted that arguwho fear their citizens, not countries IA of the press, but Fitzgerald has never ment to a point. who cherish and protect them.” hauled a reporter into court here in “There are also cases made throughout – Abdon M. Pallasch Chicago. the country, including here in Chicago, Reprinted from The Chicago Sun Times Journalists here need a shield law where we haven’t a clue that a crime is

22 IRISH AMERICA OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009


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Manhattan’s Irish Theatre Festival

Irish playwright Billy Roche performs a story from his collection Tales From Rainwater Pond at the Irish Theatre Festival.

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hen Limerick-born George Heslin, 37, founded his Origin Theatre Company here in Manhattan back in 2002, his goal was to produce exciting new European (often Irish) plays. But by last year Origin’s artistic mission had expanded to include an entire Irish Theatre Festival in Manhattan. It was a mad idea, given all the financial constraints of operating a fledgling festival and considering New York’s distance from the old sod. But it worked. In fact, it’s been such a critical and cultural hit that within a year it has more than doubled in size. Last year’s festival featured 13 plays by Irish writers. This year’s festival will highlight work by 21 playwrights and offer over 26 events, including live Irish theatre and panel discussions with academics and artists from Ireland and the U.S. Just reading the festival program, which runs to 48 pages, gives you an idea of the ambition and scope of the month-long event, which opened September 1. From the beginning Origin’s mission was to produce exciting new American premières of European plays. Last year, to test the waters, the festival was a lively mix of old and new Irish works and classics. This year there are many banner Irish names participating. Plays by Sebastian Barry, Conor McPherson, Dermot Bolger, Paula Meehan, and celebrated Irish playwright and screenwriter Billy Roche are included in the lineup. In Roche’s case it’s a rare opportunity to catch the Wexford-born playwright on a New York stage. Roche’s short stories, taken from his recent collection Tales from Rainwater Pond, attracted widespread interest from readers and fellow writers alike when they were published. One of their most ardent admirers was fellow Irish playwright Conor McPherson, who recently turned one of Roche’s stories into a joltingly weird new film (which he also directed). The Eclipse, starring Aidan Quinn and Ciaran Hinds, which Roche wrote and McPherson co-adapted, wowed audiences at the recent Tribeca

Film Festival in New York and will go on release here later this year (Roche himself makes a cameo appearance as the Festival Director). To some an Irish playwriting festival may be a redundant proposition – doesn’t everyone in Ireland write plays? – but as Heslin’s program amply demonstrates, the diversity of experience and the immediacy of the Irish theatrical voice is as strong as it ever was: stronger now, in fact. – Cahir O’Doherty

William Kennedy Wins O’Neill Award

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FOR MORE INFORMATION, WWW.ONEILLAWARD.ORG

ulitzer Prize-winning author William Kennedy (left) will be presented with the inaugural 2009 Eugene O'Neill Lifetime Achievement Award from the Irish American Writers and Artists, Inc. (IAW&A) in Manhattan on October 16, Eugene O'Neill's birthday. As the first winner of the award, Kennedy is honored for his authorship of the Albany Cycle of novels centered around the Irish-American Phelan family (Legs, Billy Phelan's Greatest Game, and Ironweed) as well as his addi-

tional five novels, three nonfiction works, and two screenplays, not to mention stage plays, essays and children's books. Kennedy won a 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Ironweed. The Eugene O'Neill Lifetime Achievement Award will be given annually to an IrishAmerican writer or other artist whose body of work, like Eugene O'Neill's, represents the pinnacle of creative achievement. William Kennedy remarked, "I never made plans to be Irish, and I never thought of myself as an

Irish-American writer. Just a writer was how I saw it. But after getting this award I’m now irrevocably confirmed as both. I’m abundantly grateful to the Irish American Writers and Artists for singling out my work, and the fact that Eugene O’Neill’s illustrious name goes with it is magical. He was one of my heroes when I began as a writer, and he still is today. His work shines with a perpetual light, as the Irish say in church. This is a wonderful honor." – Kara Rota

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An Irish Welcome

for the Champ!

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housands turned out to welcome Muhammad Ali, 67, to Ennis, County Clare, the birthplace of his great-grandfather, on August 30. The purpose of his and his wife Lonnie’s visit was to inspire awareness and support for the recently established Alltech-Muhammad Ali Center Global Education and Charitable Fund, and also for the Muhammad Ali Center in the Alis’ hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. The former three-time world heavyweight boxing champion was named the first Honorary Freeman of Ennis, for his sport-

Lewis in a non-title bout at Dublin's Croke Park, and he attended the Special Olympics in Ireland in 2003 – the first time it was held outside of the U.S. Alltech Biotechnology organized Ali’s visit to Ireland, which included his attendance at a charity event in Dublin. A civic reception also took place in Waterpark House, Drumbiggle, in the afternoon before Ali embarked on a drive throughout the town to visit the birthplace of his great-grandfather. Greg Roberts, president and CEO of the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, said, “For Muhammad to visit the site where his ancestors lived and to receive the freedom of the town of Ennis is something that is deeply humbling to him as he has such a keen interest in his roots.” Ali, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, did not address the crowd. Ennis Town Council presented an exhibition of Ali memorabilia and worked with Sports Academy International to host an open-air event in the center of Ennis for the duration of the visit. Members of the public viewed the civic reception on a big screen and were presented with various forms of entertainment, including live music. Street entertainment throughout the town infused the streets with energy as this boxing star of yesteryear made a legendary and historic trip to Ireland to IA explore his roots. – Andrew Phillips

Above: Muhammad Ali in Ennis, Co. Clare, where he became the first Honorary Freeman of the town. Right: Muhammad Ali in Ennis with Mayor Frankie Neylon, Dr. Pearse Lyons, president of Alltech, and Ali’s wife Lonnie.

24 IRISH AMERICA OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009

PHOTOS BY MJ KIM

ing achievements and his charitable work. Ali’s ancestor Abe Grady emigrated from his home on the Turnpike Road in Ennis to America in the 1860s. Grady sailed from Cappa Harbour in Kilrush, County Clare, eventually settling in Kentucky, where he married a free-born African-American woman. Their son later married, and one of his daughters was Ali’s mother, Odessa Lee Grady. She married Cassius Clay, and they settled in Louisville, where their son was given his father’s name on his birth in 1942. He changed his name to Muhammad Ali when he converted to the Nation of Islam after winning the world title in 1964. The trip brought back memories of Ali’s other trips to Ireland. In July 1972 he was victorious over Al “Blue”


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Baseball Ireland Celebrates July 4th

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aseball Ireland hosted a special July 4th exhibition game in Dublin. The game was played on a specially commissioned field in front of the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in the Phoenix Park; Ambassador Rooney (pictured above) threw out the ceremonial “first pitch” to open the game. An old rivalry was revisited in a matchup between members of the Irish National Baseball Team and a team which featured some of the top baseball players put together from Baseball Ireland’s Premier Division, known as the “President’s Nine.” Will Beglane, presi-

dent of Baseball Ireland, said of the occasion, “The afternoon allowed us to showcase the great sport of baseball in the heart of Dublin. It gave members of the public the chance to experience baseball as it is meant to be – outside in a park on a summer’s day.” Baseball’s reputation in Ireland has grown significantly in the past number of years. The hub of baseball activity in Ireland today is the Irish National Baseball Facility in Corkagh Park, Clondalkin, West Dublin, which incorporates a regulation-size field and an international standard Little League

field. The fields were made possible by the sponsorship of Irish American Peter O’Malley, former owner and president of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball organization. Having already developed baseball fields in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and China, O'Malley first met with the Irish Baseball & Softball Association in 1994, and pledged $140,000 to the building of an Irish Baseball facility. Building on the site began in June of 1997 and both fields were officially opened for play on July 4th, 1998. – Andrew Phillips

The Murphys Move in to New Home

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ix years of fundraising and construction work paid off on August 19, when the 20-person Murphy family moved into their new house in McDonough, Georgia. John and Jeannette Murphy were already the parents of four when they opened up their home to 23 children with special needs, beginning with the adoption of their daughter Shannon in 1983.Their children have various disabilities, including Down Syndrome, autism, and heart defects. John and Jeannette home school their children while teaching them independence, teamwork, communication, and other skills necessary for them to experience a rewarding and loving childhood and grow into thriving adults.Their previous house, which was 45 years old and cramped for the living, sleeping and organizational space this large family requires, had been renovated multiple times. After Extreme Makeover: Home Edition turned the Murphys down, Keenan’s Kids Foundation founder and Irish America’s Top 100 honoree Don Keenan stepped in and took on the cause, doing the fundraising necessary to build a new house.The Murphys’ new home features adaptive therapy and safety aspects customized to the Murphy children’s needs, including adaptive therapy exercise equipment and a swimming pool, a large recreation room and dance studio, and a new playground. “The Murphy

Don Keenan speaks on move-in day in front of the Murphys and their new house.

family encompasses a wonderful and loving household that most families could only hope to have,” says Keenan. “Now – for the first time – the Murphys’ home is as beautiful on the outside as IA each and every one of the family members is on the inside.” – Kara Rota OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 IRISH AMERICA 25


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Those We Lost PHOTO BY RICHARD RUTLEDGE

Merce Cunningham 1919-2009

The American dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham died at 90 on July 26 at his home in Manhattan. Appearing in every Merce Cunningham Dance Company performance until age 70, he had a career that spanned almost seven decades and changed the world of dance with his visionary and groundbreaking approaches to space and time, most famously his interest in the use of chance and the application of technology to the arts. Born in Centralia, Washington in 1919, of Irish descent on his father’s side, he spent five years as a soloist in Martha Graham’s company before beginning his independent choreography work. He collaborated with composer John Cage from 1944 until Cage’s death in 1992, and the two also maintained a romantic relationship that garnered media curiosity. In 1953 Cunningham founded the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, and in 1964, launched a world tour that brought him international regard. On his 90th birthday, April 19, 2009, he presented his newest work—a ninety-minute composition entitled “Nearly Ninety.” Honors bestowed on Cunningham throughout his career included a Kennedy Center honor in 1985 and a National Medal of the Arts in 1990. In 2000 he received the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize and was named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress. Cunningham is survived by his younger brother, Jack. –Kara Rota

Dominick Dunne 1925-2009

Legendary personality Dominick Dunne 26 IRISH AMERICA OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009

passed away at age 83 on August 26th in Manhattan due to bladder cancer. Dunne, the second of six children, was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1925 to an IrishCatholic family. His career spanned decades—from becoming the vice president of Four Star Television and rubbing elbows with the rich and famous to moving to rural Oregon where he wrote his first book, The Winners, and eventually making his return to the public eye with an article entitled “Justice: A Father’s Account of the Trial of His Daughter’s Killer” for Vanity Fair in 1982 after his daughter was murdered. Dunne continued to contribute to Vanity Fair, and was often photographed with celebrities, who he frequently covered in his work. Perhaps best known for his show Dominick Dunne’s Power, Privilege and Justice on what was then known as Court TV, Dunne extensively covered the O.J. Simpson murder trial in 1994 and 1995— in fact, he flew to Las Vegas in 2008 at the age of 82 to attend Simpson’s robbery trial as well. Dunne, ever tormented by his daughter’s murder, never hid the fact that his sympathy lay with the victims of the trials he covered. Dunne will be remembered for his extensive work, his kind spirit, and his clever wit. He is survived by his sons Griffin and Alex, and his granddaughter, Hannah. –Andrew Phillips

Richard Egan 1936-2009

Richard Egan, businessman and former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, committed suicide on August 24 while suffering from terminal stage 4 lung cancer. He was 73 and also being treated for emphysema, diabetes and high blood pressure. The founder of EMC Corporation, Egan was consistently on Forbes’s lists of the richest men in the world. He became President Bush’s first ambassador to Ireland in March 2001 but left the position in 2002. He graduated from Northeastern University with a degree in engineering in 1961 and was part

of a team that helped develop the Apollo moon mission memory systems. Egan is survived by his wife, Maureen, and five children. –Kara Rota

Gerald Gardner 1926-2009

Gerald H. F. Gardner, an Irishborn geophysicist and mathematician who became known for his social activism and involvement in feminist causes, died at age 83 on July 25 in Pittsburgh. His wife, Jo Ann Evansgardner, who along with Gardner was one of the initial members of First Pittsburgh NOW (a chapter of the National Organization for Women) reported the cause of his death as leukemia. In 1969, Gardner calculated the statistical effects of sex segregation in “Help Wanted” ads on pay differentials and other discriminatory practices against women. First Pittsburgh’s complaint against The Pittsburgh Press went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in 1973 against allowing newspapers to divide job opportunity advertisements by sex. Born in Tullamore, Ireland, in 1926, Gardner studied mathematics and theoretical physics at Trinity College in Dublin and the Carnegie Institute of Technology, where he earned an M.S. before receiving a doctorate in mathematical physics from Princeton. He was an honorary scholar at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Dublin from 1950 to 1955. Working with NOW and the NAACP, Gardner fought against hiring discrimination in the Pittsburgh Police Bureau in 1975. He was on NOW’s national board of directors, and was given an Excellence in Teaching Award from Halliburton in 1984. His wife, whom IA he married in 1950, survives him. –Kara Rota


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Quote Unquote “There is no such thing as a self-made man or woman. Never was, never will be. We are all, as were those in whose footsteps we follow, shaped by the influence and examples of countless others — parents, grandparents, friends, rivals. And by those who wrote the music that moves us to our souls, those whose performance on stage or on the playing field took our breaths away, those who wrote the great charters which are the bedrock of our system of self-government. And so many who, to our benefit, struggled and suffered through times of trouble and grave uncertainty. And by teachers. ... I want to stress as emphatically as I can the immeasurable importance of teachers.” – David McCullough’s commencement address at the University of Oklahoma. – The New York Times

“That’s not how you envisioned your life, that’s not how you envisioned having children, but it happens. Life is not living in the suburbs with a white picket fence.” – Tom Brady on his unconventional family, which includes a two-year-old son with Bridget Moynahan and another baby on the way with his new bride Gisele Bundchen. – The Daily News

“One of my favorite stories is an analogy where this reporter stops by a construction site and interviews three bricklayers. He asks the first bricklayer, ‘What are you doing?’ And he says, ‘Well, I’m making a living laying these bricks.’ The reporter says: ‘Oh, that’s great. That’s very noble.’He asks the next bricklayer, ‘What are you doing?’ And he says: ‘Well, I am practicing the profession of bricklaying. I’m going to be the best bricklayer ever.’ And the reporter asks the third bricklayer, ‘What are you doing?’ And he says, ‘I’m developing a cathedral.’ There is technical exellence and professionalism, but we all want to contribute to making a cathedral.” – Alan R. Mulally, President and CEO of Ford Motor Co., in an interview with The New York Times.

“The most significant aspect of the Kennedys, more important than their reliably liberal politics or Ted’s long list of legislative accomplishments, was their ability to inspire. They offered the blessed gift of hope to millions, year after year and decade after decade. The key to understanding both the influence and the importance of the Kennedys was to pay close attention to what they said and what they tried to accomplish, and not let the depths of meaning in their words and aspirations become obscured by individual failings or shortcomings, the Kennedy Sturm und Drang.” – Bob Herbert writing in an op-ed column in The New York Times.

“Some people were getting unbelievably rich and many others were not.That divide was beginning to become something that was beginning to get under people’s skin.” “People in Ireland need an ideological vision and a way to get back their pride.” “I’m very interested in Ireland repositioning itself on the climate change debate and being in the forefront of advocating climate justice. …I think Ireland is extremely well placed to be a bridge between what’s happening in Silicon Valley and in Africa.” – Mary Robinson speaking to the IN-NYC meeting at the Irish Consulate in Manhattan. – The Irish Voice OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 IRISH AMERICA 27


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REMEMBERING TED

A Great Irish Chieftain Has Passed Niall O’Dowd recalls Senator Kennedy’s work on the peace process and much else.

T

o call you the greatest of all the Kennedys might strike some as lofty rhetoric. But it isn’t. You gave your life to your country, as surely as those patriots of old gave theirs for the United States and your beloved Ireland. A great Irish chieftain has passed. Sure, Jack became president and Bobby became a folk hero. But they never accomplished what you did throughout your life. Protector of the poor, the downtrodden, the voiceless, the needy. Those in pain, those in suffering. The litany goes on. You were there for them – oftentimes you stood alone. That great booming voice, relentless, despite the odds. Yes, you were flawed. Are we all not? But underneath lay a relentless dignity, courage and decency that I never found in another politician living or dead. You will still stand taller in your grave than the critics who hounded you. That was you, Teddy. I was so proud to call you friend. One of my most cherished memories ever will be the call from you as I sat in a Dublin hotel in August 1994. The IRA ceasefire had just been announced. There were no cell phones then – an excited hotel employee came running into the restaurant. “Ted Kennedy is on the phone.” Everybody there applauded. They knew what you had done – you brought peace to Ireland. Without your critical backing for the visa for Gerry Adams from President Clinton in 1994 there would have been no IRA ceasefire. Without you President Clinton would never have had the political muscle to give Gerry Adams the visa that led to that ceasefire and to peace in Ireland. You made Clinton appoint your sister Jean Ambassador to Ireland where she played a key role in the peace play. You were the voice for Ireland on Capitol Hill for a decade, like you were the voice for so many other causes. When you decided Gerry Adams wanted to make peace you brought America with you. It was a huge risk but you took it. I learned then that with Ted Kennedy in your corner everything was possible – even ending a 30-year-old conflict that everyone said was unsolvable. Right on the cusp of the Adams visa, British dirty tricks tried to set up a bogus IRA outfit in San Diego of all places. They called in a fake threat and the president wavered. 28 IRISH AMERICA OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009

You called me around midnight and asked me to get Adams on the phone – to tell him straight that you, Ted Kennedy, would stand by him and vouch for him with the president that very night and the visa would go ahead. Clinton stopped wavering and granted it. It was a huge leap of faith but not to you it wasn’t. You rarely calculated the odds but if it was right you did it – like bringing peace to Ireland. What a politician you were. One of my

Top: Publisher Niall O’Dowd (right) with Senator Kennedy in an early 1980s photo. Above: Senator Kennedy receiving his Irish American of the Year Award 1997 from editor Patricia Harty and Joe Byrne, Tourism Ireland’s Executive Vice President.

fondest memories is the day you and the beautiful Vicki took me campaigning with you during a tough re-election battle against Mitt Romney in Massachusetts in 1994. It was a close race but that day I saw Ted Kennedy the master politician in action. Everywhere you went you were like the character from Cheers, where everybody knew your name. No matter whether they were high up or low down, you grabbed them in that great bear hug, asked about their family, even knew the names of their kids. All day along every street, across every district, I saw the same extraordinary outreach. I had never seen anything like it. You were to the political world born but you created your own legacy as the greatest American to ever serve in the Senate. And boy, could you make a speech! I had the misfortune to precede you on many occasions, when I was organizing the immigration reform rallies over the past few years. We brought 3,000 people to Washington. You came to all our rallies and I often introduced you – and got out of the way as quick as I could. It was like bending before a powerful gale, once you took the podium. Whether it was the “Boys of Wexford” song we always played


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for your entrance, or your deep emotional ties to Ireland, your staffers told me those immigrations rallies’ speeches were among the best speeches you ever made. I think it was because in your heart you identified so profoundly with the underdog, with the undocumented of whatever nationality trying to begin life in America like your great-grandparents from Wexford did right after the Irish famine. You never forgot your roots, your deep identity with the downtrodden and your brothers’ dream that you could help raise people up. Eighteen months ago I testified before your Senate committee on immigration. You turned it into a wonderful dissertation on the role of the Irish in America. As the other senators sat and watched in some bemusement, we ranged over every Irish topic from immigration reform to Northern Ireland to your beloved County Wexford and the news from Ireland. You put on quite a show and the other panelists beside me sat dumbfounded. They had come for a discussion on immigration and instead they got one man’s love of his heritage and his history. How you loved that history. Your siblings told me you were the reincarnation of Honey Fitz, your mother’s father, a great big bluff Boston politician, who masked his political acuteness with a hail fellow well met outlook. You didn’t need to hide your light – you were the brightest in the Senate on great issues such as minimum wage, civil rights, immigration and health reform and the great wars of our times. You opposed Iraq and Vietnam, you saw the dangers of Watergate before anyone else and the promise of Obama before most. A lonely voice often – but so often a visionary one. Your brothers were always with you. You took me around the Kennedy Library one rainy night in Dorchester in the 1990s. You showed me their historical artifacts, and their unbelievable impact not just on American life but on its psyche. I wondered that night how difficult that must have been for you, to always walk in their footsteps, dwell in the shadow of two of the great Americans of the past century. Yet you surpassed them. In his wonderful book Edward Kennedy, A Biography, New York Times writer Adam Clymer argued persuasively that you were not just the greatest senator of your time but of all time. Clymer wrote: “A son of privilege, he has always identified with the poor and the oppressed. The deaths and tragedies around him would have led others to withdraw. He never quits but sails against the wind.” Once more into the breach, Teddy. Some years ago you invited me to a small dinner you were holding for Irish Prime Minister Charles Haughey at your home in Virginia. As the night wore on and the conversation turned to Ireland you had tears in your eyes describing the harsh ocean passage across the Atlantic your forefathers took. It was like they had left yesterday and you understood the pain they must have felt all those years ago on the “bitter bowl of tears” the Atlantic Ocean represented. That ability to empathize, to understand how others felt, to remember and reach out to the downtrodden, the underprivileged and those most in need as you went through life set you apart. Now you are on the long journey home to join Bobby and Joe, and Jack and Eunice and the others. They will greet their kid brother with a smile and a hug, I’m sure, and an acknowledgment that you did not just well but very well. In a famously competitive family, that will be praise indeed. I’d say they are right. IA The Boys of Wexford are finally reunited.

Irish American of the Year ’97 March, 1997: A wonderful night to remember. Luminaries from across the U.S. and Ireland celebrated Ted as Irish American of the Year.

TOP: Northern Ireland SDLP leader John Hume and his wife Pat sit with Senator Kennedy. CENTER: Vicki Kennedy holds the Waterford Crystal peace dove trophy, Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith, and Senator Kennedy. ABOVE: Flutist Sir James Galway, who played at the event, which was held at New York’s Tavern on the Green, with Vicki and Ted Kennedy.

OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 IRISH AMERICA 29


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REMEMBERING TED

TEDDY In His Own Words Excerpted from an interview by Michael Scanlon in Irish America, June, 1991.

I

am called in to meet Ted Kennedy. He wears a bright green tie in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. His office is filled with Irish and Kennedy memorabilia. There is a large Irish flag next to a flag of the Kennedy coat of arms, which depicts three helmets on a white background. Near his desk is an Irish signpost from County Wexford that reads: “Baile ui Dhonnaagin” and underneath, “Duganstown.” There is a little framed note on the wall. “Dear Mother,” it reads, “It is the night before exams… Can I be godfather to the baby? Lots of love.” It was written in 1932 by fourteen-year-old Jack Kennedy on the eve of Ted’s birth. Young Jack wanted to name the new baby George Washington Kennedy because he was born on February 22. Ted Kennedy visited Ireland often. “I’ve been there a total of eight or nine times. I went there once with my son Teddy when he lost his leg to cancer. We rented John Huston’s house in the west. Teddy had several friends with him and I drove them around and took them to the Aran Islands. And the following year, when they were doing a film on Teddy, he insisted on going back to Ireland again.” When asked about his Irish ancestors, he showed a genealogical chart. “We’re Irish on all sides,” he said. “My mother’s mother was Josephine Hannon and my father’s mother was Mary Hickey. And, as you can see, we also have the names Cox and Murphy in the line too.”

He then picked up a framed picture postcard of Boston’s old City Hall with an inset photograph of “Honey Fitz,” his mother’s father. “Grandpa Fitzgerald was one of the very first Irish Catholic Democrats to be elected in New England – first as Mayor of Boston and then as Congressman. He was a colorful and lively figure and very proud of his Irish ancestry and talked a good deal about it. His family was from the west of Ireland. He took my mother back to Ireland when she was young, and a great deal of the Irishness in the family came through him. He liked to sing and there was always a lot of Irish music and, of course, my mother played the piano.” When asked if he thought the Irish had a special predilection for politics and public life, he said, “Yes. It’s partly intuitive. There’s an inherent kind of warmth and enjoyment of people that the Irish have. And then, you know, it is often said that the English wrote the English language but the Irish taught them how to use it. The Irish have this love of literature and music, and these, combined with an emphasis on family and a devotion to freedom in their history, are pretty fundamental ingredients that go into political life. But there’s another part to this, too. The Irish came to politics out of necessity in earlier generations. They saw it as a way of moving upwards and achieving their hopes and aspirations. And the Irish have done that well.” Ted has been described as a liberal, but “the label means nothing,” he said. “I think you have to define yourself and not let anyone else define you. They can put whatever label they want on me but I think

what the people of Massachusetts sense is that I have a tradition of caring about them and their needs. I always tried to exercise my best judgment on issues, and people have a sense of that. I work hard at this office and I am immensely proud to be a senator from that state.” There is a partial listing on the wall of the senator’s office of legislative bills he has sponsored, and when I asked him if there was any bill he was especially proud of, he answered: “Well, I can’t point to any particular bill. I think it’s the overall progress we’ve made for the average citizen. Whether it’s in the area of health where we focused attention on the research of diseases affecting babies and the newborn, or whether it’s improving the quality of education or striking down racial discrimination and barriers to the handicapped. Which one is more or less important than the other? I take pride that in some of these areas we’ve been able to make a difference. Not as much as I would have liked, but nonetheless some. And there’s a lot to do, and we’re looking forward to the battles ahead.” Our interview ended and just as I was about to leave the Senator called me back. He was smiling and said, “You know, I’ll always remember when Jack came back from his trip to Ireland. He really loved that trip. And he loved the film they made of the trip. And when the whole family was up on the Cape for a weekend, he insisted on showing the film in each of our three homes. The first night everybody went to see it at his house. Then the next night he showed the film again at Bob’s house. Fewer people came this second time. Then on the third night, he showed it again at my home and there were just the two of us – me and him – sitting there watching it alone. He loved that film of his trip to Ireland each time he saw it.” Kennedy IA smiles wistfully. “And so did I.”

“On you the carefree younger brother fell a burden a hero would ask to be spared. Everyone is going to make it because you were always there with your love.” –Letter to Ted from Jackie Kennedy Onassis after her daughter Caroline’s wedding. He walked Caroline down the aisle. 30 IRISH AMERICA OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009


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“Her gown had little shamrocks on it, which is something I think her father would have been touched by. It was touching in so many different ways.” – Ted Kennedy commenting on his niece Caroline’s wedding dress. He walked her down the aisle.

Irish Americans of the Century Senator Edward Kennedy wrote the following Foreword for Greatest Irish Americans of the 20th Century, a book edited by Patricia Harty.

A

s this impressive book emphasizes, the ties between America and Ireland run long and deep. It is a privilege to join my sister, Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith, and others in this celebration of the vast contributions that Irish Americans have made to all aspects of our society. All of us in the Kennedy family are especially touched by the great honor bestowed upon President Kennedy. He has always been an inspiration to me in everything I do, and he always will be. His ideals still guide our nation, and they inspire countless citizens to serve their community and their country well. I know that Jack was also deeply inspired by the people of Ireland. As he said in his address to the Irish Parliament in 1962, “It is that quality of the Irish – that remarkable hope, confidence and imagination – that is needed more than ever today.” By honoring him as Irish American of the Century, this book pays tribute to his life and work, and to the enduring ideals he valued so highly. I know that he would be deeply touched by this profound honor. During his stay in Ireland, President Kennedy reflected on the close ties between Ireland and America. As he said in Cork, “What pleases me most about coming here is not only this connection which all of us in America feel with Ireland, even though time and generations may have separated us from this island, but also because I find here in Ireland those qualities which I associate with the best not only of my own country but of all that we are trying to be.” This book commemorates those ties, and ensures that they will continue long into the future. The story of the Irish in America is the story of America itself. The enduring spirit of Irish America is celebrated on every page in this book. The triumphs of the Irish in literature, music, family life, history, politics, and so many other fields are the triumphs of America too, and all of us are very proud of them. IA

“Mother knew this day was coming, but she did not dread it. She accepted it and even welcomed it, not as a leaving but as a returning. She has gone to God and she is home and at this moment she is happily presiding at the heavenly table with both her two Joes, Kathleen, John and Bobby.

“She will be there to welcome the rest of us home some day, of this I have no doubt.” – From Ted’s eulogy for his mother.

The Kennedy family: Back row: Joseph Jr., Eunice, Patricia, Rosemary, John. Front row: Kathleen, Bobby, Ted, Joseph Sr., Rose, and Jean. OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 IRISH AMERICA 31


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REMEMBERING TED

“There’s Nothing You M Ted Jr.’s eulogy for his father.

FROM THE IRISH TIMES, PHOTO BY KEVIN MCMAHON

y name is Ted Kennedy Jr., a name I share with my son, a name I share with my father. Although it hasn’t been easy at times to live with this name, I’ve never been more proud of it than I am today. Your Eminence, thank you for being here. You grace us with your presence. To all the musicians who’ve come here, my father loved the arts and he would be so pleased for your performances today. My heart is filled – and I first want to say thank you – my heart is filled with appreciation and gratitude. To the people of Massachusetts, my father’s loyal staff – in many ways, my dad’s loss is just as great for them as it is for those of us in our family. And to all of my father’s family and friends who have come to pay their respects, listening to people speak about how my father impacted their lives and the deep personal connection that people felt with my dad has been an overwhelming emotional experience. My dad had the greatest friends in the world. All of you here are also my friends, and his greatest gift to me. I love you just as much as he did. Sara Brown, the Taoiseach, President Obama, President Clinton, Secretary Clinton, President Bush, President Carter, you honor my family with your presence here today. I remember how my dad would tell audiences years ago, “I don’t mind not being President, I just mind that someone else is.”

There is much to say, and much will be said, about Ted Kennedy the statesman, the master of the legislative process and bipartisan compromise, workhorse of the Senate, beacon of social justice and protector of the people. There is also much to say and much will be said about my father the man. The storyteller, the lover of costume parties, a practical joker, the accomplished painter. He was a lover of everything French: cheese, wine, and women. He was a mountain climber, navigator, skipper, tactician, airplane pilot, rodeo rider, ski jumper, dog lover, and all-around adven-

turer. Our family vacations left us all injured and exhausted. He was a dinner table debater and devil’s advocate. He was an Irishman and a proud member of the Democratic Party. Here’s one you may not know: Out of Harvard he was a Green Bay Packers recruit but decided to go to law school instead. He was a devout Catholic whose faith helped him survive unbearable losses and whose teachings taught him that he had a

moral obligation to help others in need. He was not perfect, far from it. But my father believed in redemption and he never surrendered. Never stopped trying to right wrongs, be they the results of his own failings or of ours. But today I’m simply compelled to remember Ted Kennedy as my father and my best friend. When I was 12 years old I was diagnosed with bone cancer. A few months after I lost my leg, there was a heavy snowfall over my childhood home outside of Washington, D.C. My father went to the garage to get the old Flexible Flyer and asked me if I wanted to go sledding down the steep driveway. And I was trying to get used to my new artificial leg and the hill was covered with ice and snow. As I struggled to walk, I slipped and fell on the ice and I started to cry and I said “I can’t do this. I’ll never be able to climb that hill.” And he lifted me in his strong, gentle arms and said something I’ll never forget. He said “I know you’ll do it, there is nothing you can’t do. We’re going to climb that hill together, even if it takes us all day.” Sure enough, he held me around my waist and we slowly made it to the top, and, you know, at age 12 losing a leg pretty much seems like the end of the world, but as I climbed onto his back and we flew down the hill that day I knew he was right. I knew I was going to be okay. You see, my father taught me that even our most profound losses are survivable and it is what we do with that loss, our ability to transform it into a positive event, that is one of my father’s greatest lessons. He taught me that nothing is impossible. During the summer months when I was

“He was not perfect, far from it. But my father believed in redemption and he never surrendered.” 32 IRISH AMERICA OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009


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growing up, my father would arrive late in the afternoon from Washington on Fridays and as soon as he got to Cape Cod, he would want to go straight out and practice sailing maneuvers . . . in anticipation of that weekend’s races. And we’d be out late, and the sun would be setting, and family dinner would be getting cold, and we’d still be out there practicing our jibes and spinnaker sets long after everyone else had gone ashore. Well, one night, not another boat in sight on the summer sea, I asked him, “Why are we always the last ones on the water?” “Teddy,” he said, “well, you see, most of the other sailors we race against are smarter and more talented than we are. But the reason why we are going to win is that we are going to work harder than them and we will be better prepared.” And he just wasn’t talking about boating. My father admired perseverance. My father believed that to do a job effectively required a tremendous amount of time and effort. Dad instilled in me also the importance of history and biography. He loved Boston and the amazing writers, and philosophers, and politicians from Massachusetts. He took me and my cousins to the Old North Church, and to Walden Pond, and to the homes of Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne in the Berkshires. He thought that Massachusetts was the greatest place on earth. And he had letters from many of its former senators like Daniel Webster and John Quincy Adams hanging on his walls, inspired by things heroic. He was a Civil War buff. When we were growing up he would pack us all into his car or rented camper and we would travel around to all the great battlefields. I remember he would frequently meet with his friend Shelby Foote at a particular site on the anniversary of a historic battle, just so he could appreciate better what the soldiers must have experienced on that day. He believed that in order to know what to do in the future, you had to understand the past. My father loved other old things. He loved his classic wooden schooner, the Mya, he loved lighthouses and his 1973

Pontiac convertible. My father taught me to treat everyone I meet, no matter what station in life, with the same dignity and respect. He could be discussing arm control with the president at 3 p.m. and meeting with a union carpenter on fair wage legislation or a New Bedford fisherman on fisheries policy at 4:30. I once told him that he accidentally left some money, I remember this when I was a little kid, on the sink in our hotel room. And he replied, “Teddy, let me tell you something. Making beds all day is backbreaking work. The woman who has to clean up after us today has a family to feed.” And that’s just the kind of guy he was. He answered Uncle Joe’s call to patriotism, Uncle Jack’s call to public service, and Bobby’s determination to seek a newer world. Unlike them, he lived to be a grandfather, and knowing what my cousins have been through, I feel grateful that I had my father as long as I did. He even taught me some of life’s harder lessons, such as how to like Republicans. He once told me, “Teddy, Republicans love this country just as much as I do.” I think that he felt like he had something in common with his Republican counterparts: the vagaries of public opinion, the constant scrutiny of the press, the endless campaigning for the next election, but most of all, the incredible shared sacrifice that being in public life demands. He understood the hardship that politics has on a family and the hard work and commitment that it requires. He often brought his Republican colleagues home for dinner and he believed in developing personal relationships and honoring differences. And one of the wonderful experiences that I will remember today is how many of his Republican colleagues are sitting here, right before him. That’s a true testament to the man. And he always told me, “Always be ready to compromise but never compromise on your principles.” He was an idealist and a pragmatist. He was restless but patient. When he learned that a survey of Republican senators named him the Democratic legislator that they most

REUTERS PICTURES

Can’t Do” Above: Ted Kennedy Jr. helps his son, Ted Kennedy III, put on his tie before a special ceremony to confer an honorary Doctor of Laws degree on his father Senator Kennedy at Harvard University on December 1, 2008. Senator Kennedy was unable to attend due to ill health. Opposite page: Ted Jr., on a trip to Ireland with his father in 1974. His father took him for a quiet visit some months after Ted Jr. lost a leg to bone cancer.

wanted to work with, and that John McCain called him the single most effective member of the U.S. Senate, he was so proud because he considered the combination of accolades from your supporters and respect from your sometime political adversaries as one of the ultimate goals of a successful political life. At the end of his life, my dad returned home. He died at the place he loved more than any other, Cape Cod. The last months of my dad’s life were not sad or terrifying, but filled with profound experiences, a series of moments more precious than I could have imagined. He taught me more about humility, vulnerability, and courage than he had taught me in my whole life. Although he lived a full and complete life by any measure, the fact was he wasn’t done. He still had work to do. He was so proud of where we had recently come as a nation, and although I do grieve for what might have been, for what he might have helped us accomplish, I pray today that we can set aside this sadness and instead celebrate all that he was, and did, and stood for. I will try to live up to the high standard that my father set for all of us when he said “The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.” I love you, Dad, and I always will. I IA miss you already. OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 IRISH AMERICA 33


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REMEMBERING TED

A Prayer for God’s Blessing At the graveside service, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick read from a letter Ted Kennedy wrote to Pope Benedict XVI, delivered by President Obama when he visited the Pontiff in July. Cardinal McCarrick also read from the Vatican’s response.

“M

ost Holy Father, I asked President Obama to personally hand-deliver this letter to you. As a man of deep faith himself, he understands how important my Roman Catholic faith is to me, and I am so deeply grateful to him. “I hope this letter finds you in good health. I pray that you have all of God’s blessings as you lead our church and inspire our world during these challenging times. I am writing with deep humility to ask that you pray for me as my own health declines. I was diagnosed with brain cancer more than a year ago, and although I continue treatment, the disease is taking its toll on me. I am 77 years old and preparing for the next passage of life. “I have been blessed to be part of a wonderful family. And both of my parents, particularly my mother, kept our Catholic faith at the center of our lives. That gift of faith has sustained and nurtured and provided solace to me in the darkest hours. I know that I have been an imperfect human being, but with the help of my faith, I have tried to right my path. “I want you to know, Your Holiness, that in my nearly 50 years of elective office, I have done my best to champion the rights of the poor and open doors of economic opportunity. I have worked to welcome the immigrant, to fight discrimination and expand access to health care and education. I have opposed the death penalty and fought to end war. Those are the issues that have motivated me and have been the focus of my work as a United States senator. “I also want you to know that even though I am ill, I’m committed to doing everything I can to achieve access to health care

“I recognize my own shortcomings, the faults in the conduct of my private life. I realize that I alone am responsible for them and I am the one who must confront them.” – Ted Kennedy speaking at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Fall 1991

for everyone in my country. This has been the political cause of my life. I believe in a conscience protection for Catholics in the health field and I’ll continue to advocate for it as my colleagues in the Senate and I work to develop an overall national health policy that guarantees health care for everyone. “I have always tried to be a faithful Catholic, Your Holiness, and though I have fallen short through human failings, I have never failed to believe and respect the fundamental teachings of my faith. I continue to pray for God’s blessings on you and on our church and would be most thankful for your prayers for me.”

C

ardinal McCarrick said Ted Kennedy received a reply from the Vatican two weeks later. He read excerpts aloud. “The Holy Father has read the letter, which you entrusted to President Obama, who kindly presented it to him during their recent meeting. He was saddened to know of your illness, and asked me to assure you of his concern and his spiritual closeness. He is particularly grateful for your promise of prayers for him and for the needs of our universal church. “His Holiness prays that in the days ahead you may be sustained in faith and hope, and granted the precious grace of joyful surrender to the will of God, our merciful Father. He invokes upon you the consolation and peace promised by the risen Savior to all who share in His sufferings and trust in His promise of eternal life. “Commending you and the members of your family to the loving intervention of the blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Father cordially imparts his Apostolic blessing as a pledge of wisdom, IA comfort and strength in the Lord.”

“It hasn’t just been the brothers that have been involved. My sister Eunice in starting the Special Olympics has provided a program that has brought enormous joy to the mentally challenged and to their families, and my sister Jean with the Very Special Arts for the handicapped, and my sister Pat has been equally involved. It’s been a family tradition.”

“Decent healthcare for all Americans.” 34 IRISH AMERICA OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009

– Ted Kennedy in the HBO documentary, Teddy In His Own Words

– Ted at the 1978 Democratic Convention


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PHOTOS: COURTESY SPECIAL OLYMPICS.

AP PHOTO/ELISE AMENDOLA

Left: Police chief Russel Laine (left), and Shawn Heffernan, 27, from Orleans, Mass., carry the Special Olympics torch as the Shriver family follows with the casket of Eunice Kennedy Shriver for her funeral at Saint Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church in Hyannis, Mass., Friday, Aug. 14, 2009. Below left: Eunice and Ted at Timberlawn. Right: Eunice, Ted and Jean at a dinner to celebrate the Special Olympics. Bottom: Eunice with president Mary McAleese and Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the opening of the Special Olympics Games in Ireland in 2003.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver 1921-2009

T

PHOTOS: COURTESY SPECIAL OLYMPICS.

he Kennedy brothers were not the only ones to make a vital and lasting impact on the face of America. Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics, died August 11 at the age of 88. Her younger brother Ted, who died fourteen days after her, said upon her passing, “My earliest memory of Eunice is of a young girl with great humor, sharp wit, and a boundless passion to make a difference. She understood deeply the lesson our mother and father taught us—much is expected of those to whom much has been given. Throughout her extraordinary life, she touched the lives of millions, and for Eunice that was never enough.” Born Eunice Mary Kennedy in Brookline, Massachusetts, Eunice was the fifth of Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. and Rose Kennedy’s nine children. In a lifetime full of service in the name of socially marginalized people, Eunice received a sociology degree from Stanford, then worked in the Special War Problems Division of the Department of State before becoming executive secretary for a juvenile delinquency project in the Department of Justice. She began working at the Penitentiary for Women in Alderson, West Virginia, as a social worker, in 1950, then moved to Chicago the next year to work for the Chicago Juvenile Court and at a shelter for women. In 1953, she married Robert Sargent Shriver Jr., who was the first director of the Peace Corps during John Kennedy’s presidency and was also the Democratic vice-presidential candidate in 1972. Eunice became the executive vice president of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation in 1957, and guided the organization to focus on a goal of improving research, treatment and the societal response to intellectually disabled people. In 1982, she founded the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Center for Community of Caring. Shriver’s deep commitment to working with people with intellectual disabilities stemmed from her close relationship

with her sister Rosemary Kennedy, who was born with mild developmental disabilities and became severely mentally disabled after a failed lobotomy in 1941. Rosemary’s experience inspired Eunice to create the Special Olympics, the basis of which came in 1961, when Eunice transformed the family’s Maryland farm, Timberlawn, into a free day camp for mentally disabled children. Many of the activities were based on things that she and Rosemary had liked to do together, including horseback riding, softball, and swimming. The first Special Olympics games, paid for by the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, took place in Chicago in 1968 and included swimming and track and field events. Now, the Special Olympics have expanded to include approximately 2.5 million participants from over 150 countries. The 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games were hosted in Ireland, the first to be held outside the United States. Eunice was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1984 for her work with those with mental disabilities, as well as the Civitan International World Citizenship Award. She is survived by her husband, her sister Jean, her children Robert III, Timothy, IA Mark, Anthony, and Maria, and 19 grandchildren. – Kara Rota

OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 IRISH AMERICA 35


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REMEMBERING TED “It’s time for Americans to lift their voices now in pride for our immigrant past and in pride for our immigrant future.” – Senator Ted Kennedy

Senator Kennedy, pictured at an Irish Immigration Reform Movement Rally in Washington, D.C., never forgot his immigrant roots.

“I wouldn’t be standing here were it not for Teddy Kennedy,” Biden said. “His death was not unlike his life – overcoming pain and loss with a sense of dignity and pride that is amazing.” Biden took issue with the popular notion that Kennedy’s death represents “the end of an era.” He said, “Take a look at this incredible family.Take a look at this generation of Kennedys that possesses more talent . . . more grit and more grace than I’ve ever seen.” Biden concluded, “Because of you, the dream still lives.” – Vice President Joe Biden, speaking at the wake, told how Senator Kennedy comforted him after his wife and daughter were killed in a car accident, persuaded Biden to remain in the Senate, and became a mentor for him there.

“I would like to personally thank the IrishAmerican community for its heartfelt outpouring of sympathy to the extended Kennedy family. My uncle Teddy loved his Irish heritage with an unbridled passion. One of my most abiding memories is from when the family would gather when my grandmother Rose was sick. He would lead us in a bellowing rendition of “My Wild Irish Rose.” Teddy now rests for eternity beside my father Robert and my Uncle Jack.They rest with a dream and an eternal flame. Some of us will live that dream, some of us will carry that flame, but none of us will let it be extinguished. May their light burn for you as equally as it did for me and may their dream live on.” – Courtney Kennedy in conversation with Irish America. 36 IRISH AMERICA OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009

“Every single one of my brothers and sisters needed a father, and we gained one through Uncle Teddy,” Joseph Kennedy said. “We just needed someone to hang on to, and Uncle Teddy was always there to hang on to.” Speaking directly to Edward Kennedy’s children — Kara, Patrick and Edward Jr. — he said, “You had to share, so we just want to say, ‘Thank you.’ ” – Joseph Kennedy, son of Robert, speaking at Ted’s wake at the Kennedy Library.

“I saw a lot of his political philosophy in those sail boat races. One thing I noticed was that on the boat, as in this country, there was a role for everybody, a place for everybody to contribute. “Second, in the race, as in life, it didn’t matter how strong the forces against you were, so long as you kept driving forward. There was nothing to lose. Maybe you would even come out a winner.” – U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, Ted Kennedy’s son.


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Ireland’s foremost writer of fiction talks to Frank Shouldice.

WILLIAM TREVOR:

ASculptor of F

or writer William Trevor there comes a moment when it’s time to stop. Whether drafting a novel or a short story he arrives at a moment of completion, the point at which all work is done. He will have written, rewritten and reworked elements of the story numerous times, agonized over plot, fussed with characters, toyed with the rhythm and flow of sentences and made a final arbitration on every contentious word. And in the end, if he feels that everything fits like it should, it’s time to just let go. Having typed the manuscript on blue pages using a manual Olivetti typewriter, he will close it and pass the finished draft to his literary agent for release into the conveyance of international publishing. It will be proofread one more time before the manuscript returns as a printed book but after that the author will not look at it again. “I’m never tempted to go back – there’s not an awful lot of point in doing so really,” he says, sounding more like midwife than mother. “You know you’re finished writing a book when you’re getting bored stiff with it.” Novelists are highly diligent before committing to print but William Trevor is especially fastidious in his attention to detail. Clare Alexander, former publisher at Viking, remarked that Trevor’s “process of writing and revising was a private one, more so perhaps than with any other writer I have known.” Readers will be quite unaware of the care he takes of his art. It passes off as a 64 IRISH AMERICA OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009

casual fluency, like a consummate performer whose dedication to rehearsal offstage makes his performance onstage look beguilingly simple. Almost effortless. Now aged 81 years, the Corkborn author is doing publicity interviews for his latest novel, Love and Summer. Set in mid-century rural Ireland, it revisits favored Chekhovian themes – the fragility of marriage, the burden of religious and societal convention and the aching impossibility of love. A slim novel, running at 212 pages, Love and Summer feels like an extended short story, a pocket-sized love drama ripe with desire and longing. Trevor creates a claustrophobic universe out of small town Ireland, but in early stages of drafting the book, he goes far beyond the doomed tryst of protagonists Ellie and Florian. In his mind he plots and creates the full continuum of their lives. Only when he sees the whole picture will he decide where their story should end in print. And so he usually writes far longer than the published book will actually go. “I do an awful lot of rewriting,” he admits. “And I amass an enormous amount of paper compared to the amount of paper that ends up in finished form on the bookshelves. It’s not that the story marks the end of the road for the characters. They have got to go on living in the mind of the reader. “That’s quite an important thing for me, and actually I leave a lot to the reader. This

book is a very good example. Lots of things haven’t happened yet. There’s a whole life ahead for Florian on leaving Ireland; there is a question of whether Ellie is pregnant or not.” Which leaves ajar the possibility of writing a sequel. Is this his intention? “Not at all,” he laughs. “In fact I’ve already done a sequel to it. And then I’ve cut and chopped it down to the point that there’s not a lot there that shouldn’t be there. I’ve taken the characters further and so I know where their journeys will take them – I’ve done that but I’m not going to tell you! Once the book is done you’ve reached the end of a road – but it’s more the end of my road. The characters will go on. “It’s something you do. There’s a point when you have to establish ‘That’s the end.’ It could go on, have a sequel, but all that is another option. That occurs with every novel ever written. It’s a question of order. I’ve found in writing novels and short stories that what you are doing is creating order out of the mess you make. Out of that raw material you hack your way back.”


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Words T

he son of a bank manager, William Trevor Cox was born in Mitchelstown, Co. Cork. The family moved whenever and wherever his father’s job dictated, so the banker’s clutch ended up as commercial gypsies – posted to Enniscorthy, Skibbereen, Youghal, Tipperary and beyond – a constantly shifting landscape of homes, schools, acquaintances. Education was scattered across 13 different schools punctuated by unofficial holidays in between. At the end of an uneasy adolescence – his estranged parents would eventually separate – Trevor graduated in history from Trinity College Dublin. He then switched tracks completely and became a full-time sculptor, something he feels analogous to his subsequent commitment to the written word. For each story the impulse of an original creative idea is his raw material. From this starting point he finds where the idea will take him and then pares it away, continually shaping the narrative by identifying the key elements, developing them and discarding the rest. To fashion the story, he follows the simple adage that

less is more. It’s a slow, methodical process, but the hallmark of Trevor’s writing is a spare, lucid style bereft of extraneous detail. The sculptor may have become a writer, but his 16-year dalliance with clay – he gave it up when he found his work becoming “too abstract” – has certainly informed his approach to print. After marrying his college sweetheart Jane Ryan, to whom he ritually dedicates every book, the couple moved to England. The first of two sons was born in London where Trevor got a job as copywriter – “not a good copywriter and I was very lucky to be kept on.” He reflects warmly on his spell at Notley’s advertising agency as “a rackety time,” but creatively it was a fallow period. Even so – he now laughs at the notion – it was on company time that he penned his first novel, A Standard of Behaviour, in 1958. Some 18 novels later he reflects on his debut as “rubbish.” The idea of secretly writing a novel from the catchy embrace of an advertising agency suggests a scene from Ricky Gervais’ groundbreaking comedy TV series The Office. Trevor is familiar with the series, likes it and sees how fruitful a

setting the workplace can be for a writer. “It’s a very interesting life,” he says. “I had never worked in an office before and at first I found it very different. Looking back, it’s a very rich area – there are a lot of relationships, people brought together to the same place every day, falling in love with the wrong person. I think office life is a great harbor for that kind of thing. There’s something extraordinary about people coming in and sitting in the same office all day and then going home. In the same way, an ordinary house, the domestic side of life at home, is what interests me. The small things.” He might humbly dismiss his first novel, but in writing it the novice author unconsciously established a set of practices he has observed ever since. Copywriters at Notley’s used blue stationery, and from there on blue became the only kind of paper Trevor will use for writing fiction. Alterations are made by cutting and pasting new sections with scissors and glue. Final corrections are made longhand by pencil. “That’s pure affectation,” he responds self-consciously before offering a better OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 IRISH AMERICA 65


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explanation for these practices. “Creature of habit stuff, really. Blue is a very restful colour – I prefer it to white but [the book] ends up on white paper in the end.”

E

ven with a strong suite of novels to his name, the short story is the form with which William Trevor is most associated. He has previously described himself as a short story writer who wrote a few novels rather than a novelist who wrote a few short stories – in fact, he has written hundreds of short stories. Either way, the same process applies. Paring down, paring away, the reductionist appeal of a former sculptor. “I don’t think it’s quite a question of appeal,” he says when asked why he is strongly drawn to the discipline of a short story. “It’s a natural thing, like an athlete – a fella who can run 100 meters but not so good over 220 meters. It’s about finding your length.” Academics have probed deeply into Trevor’s biography in an effort to reason why he continually explores particular themes. Scholarly theses have been written on whether his sensibilities are informed by the fact that he moved from place to place as a child, his Anglo-Irish background, or whether he was emotionally scarred by his parents’ “absolutely appalling marriage” – he once wrote openly about “their shattered relationship” for The New Yorker magazine. He remains curious but resistant to further scrutiny. One senses he is even a little bemused by all the attention. “It’s not fair to condemn interpretations outright, but generally speaking, people do read too much into fiction. They go too far and get the wrong end of the stick.” Instead he delights in referring to Swiss tennis champion Roger Federer or West Indies star cricketer Viv Richards. Sports fans enthralled by their natural brilliance on courts and creases will readily accept that genius does not always invite an explanation. “It’s a comparison I often use because I’m often asked to analyze the reasons behind a book after writing it,” he begins, preferring to avoid the question whenever he can. “People like Federer playing tennis or Richards playing cricket often say they don’t know how they did what they did. And that’s the same for me. You can analyze these things far too much. You can talk about it and talk about it – actually I think you can talk it out completely. I’m very bad at analyzing how I do anything. I’m a storyteller. I just sit 66 IRISH AMERICA OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009

down and write stories. That’s what I do.”

A

s a tutored observer of life he is prepared, however, to acknowledge that his formative years shaped his own perspective. “I think the advantage for me growing up in so many different towns is that what struck me was the difference rather than the similarity between them,” he reflects. “Something to sharpen up the beady eye of the novelist. I think that changing scene of childhood

“I visit Ireland too often not to be used to the ‘new Ireland.’ It’s quite extraordinary and all so different to my childhood. Those changes have been absorbed, but beneath them, with that absorption there are so many faces, names, traits that ring a bell immediately. Superficially, yes, things have changed hugely, but I don’t think a lot has really changed. And the recession now makes it feel like a returning to the 1950’s. There’s still that strange and odd Irish friendliness, something

“People like Federer playing tennis or Richards playing cricket often say they don’t know how they did what they did. And that’s the same for me. You can analyze these things far too much. was very good for me. Nothing was ever settled. Being settled and being happy is probably not the best training for someone who wants to write about the human condition. It’s not much help if it’s too easy. “At the time as a child you just trundled along happily – or in my case, sometimes unhappily because of my parents’ quarrels and the difficulties they had – and if you put it all together it’s a huge tapestry that’s there in the memory. You will always go back to it.” Maybe it is Trevor’s gently formal style – don’t be deceived that his prose can’t pack a punch – but it often feels like he writes with a sort of nostalgia, particularly in his Irish dramas. He’s more provincial than urban, more country than city. One of his most memorable short stories, “The Ballroom of Romance,” was beautifully adapted for RTE (Irish television) by director Pat O’Connor, evoking the simplicity and strictures of a bygone age in a remote country dance hall. Is it easier to write about the past? “No, it’s not,” he replies firmly. “One would be lost without the present. The present is an area, oddly enough, I prefer. I go back to the past quite often, but Ireland today has changed. That’s fascinating. And at such a tremendously speedy rate – I’m sure my father never saw the world in the way I have been able to. And I’m very lucky to be given that opportunity.

that’s unique the world over.” Love and Summer has been nominated for the prestigious Man Booker Prize. On four previous occasions in the past 39 years he has been shortlisted (Mrs Eckdorf in O’Neill’s Hotel, The Children of Dynmouth, Reading Turgenev, and The Story of Lucy Gault) but never won the Booker. With his literary reputation firmly established and his international standing assured, the 2009 destination of this elusive prize will not fret him unduly. “You never want to belittle prizes because they might stop giving them,” he quips wryly, recalling his days as a young sculptor in Dublin when he shared top prize for the International Year of the Political Prisoner art competition in 1952. The award enabled him to continue sculpture and encouraged him to believe he was on the right track. That’s quite a while ago, but the memory of morale-boosting recognition has not left him. Soon afterwards he traded his choice of raw material and has picked up numerous literary accolades along the way. “It’s like giving a sweet to a child,” he suggests with the sort of avuncular wisdom you might expect. Baubles can be very welcome, but in the end it’s all about the work. “Prizes are fine but they aren’t quite as important IA as they might seem to be.” (Love and Summer is published by Viking, $25.95)


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REMEMBERING FRANK TEACHER, WRITER, FRIEND

Why we loved him Tom Cahill, Colum McCann, Peter Quinn and others pay tribute to Frank McCourt saw Frank a couple of weeks before he passed. It was at the Irish Repertory Theatre gala fundraiser in June. He had just finished his last round of chemo. He looked fine. I spoke to him for a couple of minutes but I didn’t say anything that I wanted to say. Frank was my hero and I was in denial. And I didn’t want him to think that I thought he was going to die. I really wanted to believe he was going to beat melanoma the way he had overcome that “miserable childhood.” So instead of telling him how much he meant to me, I said something about Limerick – about driving through a couple of months ago and getting lost and ending up in a very poor area. It was early morning and the houses were buttoned up (and some boarded up) against the rain on one side of the street – on the other there was a field with one miserable horse without the shelter of a tree. “That would be Moycross,” Frank said with a thoughtful expression that said there are places that the Celtic Tiger never laid eyes on. I felt like I had a special connection to Frank because I grew up 30 miles away and Limerick was my city too. But lots of others felt that connection also and now the others were lining up to say hello to him so I moved on. I loved chatting with Frank. He understood what I was trying to say even when I was at my most inarticulate – a scar from growing up in a large family where we finished each other’s sentences with “I know, I know.” Frank did know. Or at least I hope he knew how much I appreciated him. Here’s what I should have said: Dear Frank, Thanks for never turning me down when I asked you for a story and for showing up at our events and talking. Thanks for the quiet pat on the back that said “job well done” when I most needed it. Thanks for showing me that you can overcome anything. That impoverishment can soften a heart and that a sense of humor can overcome much. I will miss you. Miss calling your phone and hearing your voice say, “You have reached the McCourts. Leave your number and we will respond with alacrity.” You always did. – Patricia Harty

I

KIT DEFEVER

“In his work, Frank McCourt made us all more human. Even in the most terrible of times, a blind man gave him the glorious gift of Jonathan Swift. In his life, he didn’t add a single sentence to the dismal story of human lousiness. I will miss him all my days.” – Pete Hamill


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“What he would have wanted would be a scholarship for a poor kid named after him. It would mean something if you educated someone in the spirit of Frank McCourt. But please, no statues.”

2

– Malachy McCourt

1

3

5 1. Frank McCourt with his wife, Ellen. 2. Frank McCourt with Liz Murray of the Homeless to Harvard story. 3. Malachy, Frank and Alfie McCourt. 4. Frank McCourt with Gerry Adams. 5. Patricia Harty speaks at the Top 100 event, while Frank McCourt is honored as Irish American of the Year.

“Frank McCourt was very generous to my husband Martin and me, as his wonderful quote on the cover of Galway Bay shows. Thank God we can read his books – and I find new levels with every reading. That gorgeous simplicity yields more and more. When I'd be up at five in the morning writing Galway Bay I'd listen to the CD of The Irish and How They Got That Way, the show he wrote and performed with The Irish Rep Theatre in New York. Great songs and great Frank. One morning I let it play on long after the end and found that there were a string of takes of Frank saying ‘the brother,’ a reference to Malachy earlier in the piece. Each take is different and full of suppressed and not so suppressed glee. For all his clear-eyed looks at misery, the laugh was always there. He was our big brother who could take it and laugh and make the world less scary. We'll miss him so. Thanks for giving – Mary Pat Kelly us the books, Frank.”

“Frank McCourt’s mesmerizing, haunting account of an Irish Catholic childhood in the slums of Limerick reminded us all of the capacity of the human spirit to triumph over hardship and find humor in the darkest of days. As an Irish American who shared the same birthday and was lucky enough to be his friend, I am grateful for his life and work. He had many stories yet to tell; they will live on through the students he loved to teach. He will be missed, but never forgotten.” – Bill Clinton

4

“His talent was singular – in the spoken word as well as his writing, a master raconteur. Every word he uttered could be comic, if he wanted it that way, and he usually did.” – William Kennedy

“I was privileged to have Frank McCourt as my creative writing teacher at Stuyvesant. Every day he taught us to think for ourselves, from our own experiences. He taught us the magic of language and the poetry of everyday existence. I was blessed to have his encouragement to start an underground newspaper when our school paper was censored, and will never forget going over galleys at the White Horse or Lion’s Head. Rest in peace Mr. McCourt, you will be well missed and deeply remembered.” – Susan Manber, Stuyvesant class of 1981 OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 IRISH AMERICA 69


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REMEMBERING FRANK “Frank McCourt was an exceptional teacher and natural storyteller. He was a gifted and inspiring writer and his books revealed aspects of life in Ireland which touched the hearts of millions.”

“The greatest tribute I can pay Frank McCourt is that he never lost the run of himself (that's Irish for getting too big for his boots). I don't know how many struggling young writers received words of encouragement or book blurbs from Frank. I don't know how many charity events he supported or how much money he secretly slipped to writers in need. I suspect it is quite a lot. He would never say.” – Niall O’Dowd, Publisher, Irish America

“We cannot afford to take it for granted that Ireland will always produce great writers. Frank knew that. He was a fierce champion of younger writers, nurturing talent where he found it. That was the teacher in him.” – Niall Burgess, Consul General of Ireland, to IrishCentral.com

– Gerry Adams

Irish American of the Year Frank McCourt was Irish America’s 1998 Irish American of the Year. When awarded his Waterford trophy on March 13 at the Plaza Hotel, Frank said that he was accepting it on behalf of his mother and father, his brothers, their wives, and “our children and grandchildren.” With his characteristic modesty, Frank said his book came about because he wanted to get it out of his system.

Clockwise from above: Frank McCourt at Irish America’s 1998 Top 100 gala, followed by Martin McGuinness. Frank speaks as Irish American of the Year. Frank is presented with his award by Secretary of Education Richard Riley and publisher Niall O’Dowd. Ellen, Frank and Gerry Adams among the audience at the Top 100.

“One of the many great things about Angela’s Ashes was that it introduced Frank McCourt to the world. And Frank introduced the wider world to the gifts of a true Seanchai - a storyteller whose wit, charm, decency and righteous outrage beamed as large as his smile.” – Terry George 70 IRISH AMERICA OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009


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Frank’s Map Peter Quinn writes that the publication of Angela’s Ashes was “a revolutionary act of truth-telling.”

A

n’t contemptuous of believers in general or Catholics in particular. On a trip we took together to Ireland in 1998, he went to Mass with me on the Sunday morning we landed. He respected the fact that I had reached my own separate peace with the Catholic Church and returned to the sacraments. “It’s a good thing,” he told me, “you’re raising your kids in the Catholic faith. At least they’ll have a map to follow or throw away. In either case, they’ll know where they are.” A fierce anticleric (and it got fiercer the higher you went on the ecclesiastical ladder), Frank admired priests and nuns who served among the weakest and the poor. I remember his special outrage at the murder of Sr. Ita Ford and the other American missionary women in El Salvador, in 1980. Frank took the church at its word. He didn’t write off as incidental the Beatitudes or the command to serve the “least of our brethren,” the marginalized, the despised, the victimized, the stigmatized. When the church didn’t live up to its rhetoric, when it turned arrogant and pompous, when it grew fat and rich, when it spent most of its time nitpicking and excommunicating, when its clergy became the acolytes of power and privilege, Frank’s indignation turned savage. But a part of Frank was always Catholic. He told me that the day he wrote the final pages of Angela’s Ashes was October 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Frank always felt a special bond with Francis, a believer who lived the gospel as well as preached it. “But, you know,” Frank said, “it was a great season altogether for finishing things. October 8 is the feast of St. Bridget [the Swedish queen named after the Irish saint], and a week later, October 15, the feast of Teresa of Avila. A trifecta of a time!” The last social affair I saw him at, Frank informed me that “today is the feast of St. Athanasius, bishop, confessor, and doctor.” How did he know such things? I don’t know. But I do know he had his own map and followed it as best he could. I have every confidence it guided him home. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, And let perpetual light shine upon him. IA

KIT DEFEVER

mong the distinguishing characteristics of Irish Catholics – in America as much as Ireland – was our version of omertà: the code of silence. We never opened our mouths about the church outside the tribe. Most times we didn’t do it among ourselves. The English might have rammed their language down our throats, sneered at our primitiveness and meager mental capabilities, decided that it was better to let us perish or depart for America than to end our starvation – but, we had the One True Faith. When it came to chastity, piety, and moral propriety, they were pigs and we were paragons. Only we weren’t. But however corrupt, cynical, greedy, however imperfect our clergy, however distant and cruel our prelates, any criticism from within was collaboration with the enemy without – Protestants, atheists, nativists, Orangemen, King Billy, and the rest. Frank McCourt, who died last month at seventyeight, loathed the institutional church that he grew up in/under during the ultra-Catholic era of postcolonial Ireland, when Eamon de Valera and crew gave free reign to Eire’s ayatollahs. (In the end, it worked about as well in Ireland as it has in Iran.) Living in squalor and poverty, Frank experienced first-hand the scorn and condescension of the pillars of the Irish-Catholic establishment: Church, State, and the Respectable Classes. (“Respectability and not alcohol,” I once heard the novelist Maureen Howard say, “is the true ‘curse of the Irish”). In Frank’s eyes, an independent Ireland, guided by Holy Mother Church, not only internalized the contempt its colonial masters had once shown for Paddy, Bridget, and their spawn, but cultivated and perfected it. Long before fame arrived, Frank railed against the cruelty visited on the poor and the weak, and the authoritarian brutality of Catholic religious orders and institutions in carrying it out. With the publication of Angela’s Ashes, Frank demolished the old taboo. He hung out the dirty linen for the whole world to see. For this, he was accused by some of wild exaggerations and outright lies. Now he has been given official confirmation in the horror stories chronicled by the Irish government’s Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. The commission itself, I believe, was in part a consequence of Frank’s revolutionary act of truth-telling. But here’s where it gets complicated. Frank was-

“It’s a good thing,” he told me, “you’re raising your kids in the Catholic faith. At least they’ll have a map to follow or throw away. In either case, they’ll know where they are.”

© Commonweal Foundation, reprinted with permission. For subscriptions: www.commonwealmagazine.com OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 IRISH AMERICA 71


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REMEMBERING FRANK

In the Morning, All Will Be Forgiven Colum McCann t is difficult to tell a story about Frank McCourt since the probability is that there’s always someone else around who has a better story to tell – not least Frank himself who could, of course, shape a word better than anyone, and is in all likelihood, right now, making the audience laugh and cry in the vast upstairs. But come song, anyway. Open the windows and whistle him alive a little. Speak, old ghosts. Tell us a story. Say something that has not been said before. Find the man in a sentence that opens other sentences. Search for what belongs. Say that it is our wonder that he was here at all. Say it is our gain that we have his stories. Say that he lit us up from within. Say the best teachers teach us more than they ever know. Say that he taught an intent for words. Say it is a wonder that he had the time to tell us that life has its beauties. Say the dead go with the living and that life rises again from what is gone. Say he wrote in praise of belonging. Say the days have grown quiet behind him and yet the days lean back into laughter. I grew up in Ireland in the mid-1960’s and 1970’s, in the outskirts of Dublin, in a suburban four-bedroom house. My father, a journalist, left home in the early mornings and came back in the late afternoons, poured himself a glass of wine and walked out into his rose garden. My mother, in her spare time, delivered Meals on Wheels in a small yellow Mini Cooper with two black racing stripes. In the evening she sang while she cooked: The boys are all mad about Nelly, she’s the daughter of Officer Kelly. It was a good house, quiet and comfortably middle-class. The milk bottles clinked outside the door every morning. The heavy curtains stilled the draught. We had two fireplaces but we didn’t really use them: the white radiators ticked instead. I attended a Christian Brothers School and apart from a few belts

I

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from a leather strap, I escaped the more insidious aspects of the Catholic Church. For all intents and purposes it was a happy childhood, hardly a good thing for a novelist to acquire, but there it was: nothing much different from what it must have been, I presume, for kids in Sydney, Kent, Ohio, or Stockholm. Yet I always knew there was another sort of history that lurked not far beyond my own. Both my parents had grown up poor: my mother on a small dairy farm in Derry, my father the son of a coal-merchant in Dublin. They had known a different country to the one they opened up to me. Still, they seldom told stories about that particular past. It’s quite possible that they were too busy with the day-to-day of their lives, the paying of the mortgage, the rage of the ordinary. Or perhaps I didn’t ask the right questions. But there was also a quiet sense of reticence, and it wasn’t just in my home, but all around me, in the classroom, in the churches, in the media. In retrospect it was probably a national reticence, a little chain of unspoken memory dragging behind us. Like many Irish people who grew up in the early part of the 20th century, my parents’ generation just didn’t want to talk about the hard times. It could have stemmed from a fear that it all might happen again: More bread or I’ll appear. It wasn’t so much that my parents were willfully silent – I think now that they were probably just lavishing upon us the possibility of the present. We moved on, riding the current, we didn’t look back – the past was another country. Many years later I moved to the United States, then settled in New York, where I stayed, and became a writer. I came home often – I still to this day call Dublin “home” – and one winter afternoon I carried a present for my parents in my suitcase, a signed copy of Angela’s Ashes. To Sean and Sally, Best Wishes, Frank McCourt. They had already read the book of course (all of Ireland had read, picked

through it, canonized it, gutted it, filleted it, sang it). My father was literary editor of the Evening Press, and his son coming home with a personalized copy of Frank McCourt’s memoir filled him with pride. While in New York, I was privileged to have spent time with Frank. I had shared stories with him. We had toured Germany together. We met at parties and charity events in the city. We had become friends. He and his wife Ellen had even written a letter recommending us for our co-op apartment board. The signed copy of Angela’s Ashes went on the mahogany table in the living room. A vase of fresh garden roses sat beside it. Later that same evening I sat outside in my father’s writing shed, at the side of the house, and asked him what he had thought of the controversy surrounding the book. There’d been a hullabaloo in Limerick and some snide British reviews (mostly from Irish critics). My father sat back in his chair and closed his eyes a moment. “Limerick had nothing on Foxrock,” he said, with just a touch of irony: Foxrock was the richest suburb of Ireland, but my father had grown up in a dilapidated tworoom cottage. He allowed himself a silence and then he began to tell me more. I had heard many of the stories before, but never in such detail. Stories of my grandfather, and the coal business, and the horses at Leopardstown, and the greyhounds at Dalymount, and the broken windows in the house in Cornelscourt, and the thrown fists in the yard at Saint Brigid’s, and the empty bottles in the pub down at Cabinteely, and the emptier cupboards at home, and the chairs broken to feed the fire, and the rainy nights with Big Jack Doyle who came over to drink, and the gambling losses on the races at the Curragh, and the time the Black and Tans came with an arrest warrant for my grandfather, and the shouts, and the songs, and the silences, and the thousand everyday torments.


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The beauty was in the details, and now the details lay in between what Frank McCourt’s book had brought us. And so it was that Angela’s Ashes led me into the labyrinth of my own history. I picked it up again from the living room table. It was a third reading, but it still felt new and necessary. I could imagine my own father, the dew still on him, hauling himself along the laneways of Dublin, in shorts and torn shoes, the rain tamping him down, and the desire for his own success sharp in his mouth like salt. Literature enables the ongoing life of memory. A story gives life to other stories. The world turns on the provision of details. Its domino effect connects us. John Berger once said: “Never again will a single story be told as if it were the only one.” On the plain surface, there was not a whole lot to Frank McCourt’s story. He was born in Brooklyn, was brought back to Ireland, where he had what he called his miserable Irish childhood. He returned to New York at the age of 19. Worked odd jobs. Became a celebrated teacher. He wanted to write more than anything else. Through his 30’s, he propped himself up with teaching and the idea that he might, one day, produce a book. By the time he was in his 40’s, he was hard-pushed to carve out time from the teaching life and was scared that, as a writer, he might be a fraud. By the time he was in his 50’s he wasn’t sure he had it anymore. He would sit in the Lion’s Head pub with other writers and he

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would fume at himself that he hadn’t taken the plunge. He loved literature, knew exactly what it meant, was worried that it had passed him by. Then he met Ellen Frey, a public relations agent, and he fell in love with her, married her, his third and final marriage. Ellen knew that if he was to truly love her, he had to write. She also knew that for her to truly love him she must allow him to write. So, he retired from teaching and, in October 1994, at the age of 63, he sat down to create. And like every writer he struggled. But somewhere in the mess of words and the tangle of language and the ruin of pages, his old voice popped up, a childhood voice that rose up from the laneways of Limerick. One can only imagine the process, sitting at his desk on East 18th Street, a board across his lap, writing longhand. The books strewn around the room. The throw of a word to catch another word. The discovery of the voice that lay inside. Hours of escape. The sliding of one paragraph down to the bottom of a page. The head-throw of laughter when he got something right. The fear that nobody at all would read it, that he was trampling on the memory of the dead. But the thing about the voice was that it was entirely honest and the honesty kept him going. It was his story and he was true to the texture of the time. He never felt he was a victim. To be a victim would have been a failure of intelligence. He had to achieve a native state.

That native state included joy and terror and hunger. Frank McCourt became a scholar of what it meant to reconstitute dust. On the day the book was finished he waited for Ellen to come home, so he could type the last lines in her presence: “Isn’t it a great country altogether?” And then: “‘Tis.” They popped a bottle of champagne together. He wasn’t quite sure what he had. But at least he had finished something. Then, much to his amazement, the agent Molly Friedrich came calling, and then Nan Graham, the publisher, and soon the book was sending off sparks. The reviews came in. The New York Times ran a profile. Millions of copies were sold. The awards flowed in, including the Pulitzer Prize. But, more importantly, people connected with the book. They understood. It was a moment of global intimacy. Who would have known that the story of a young boy in Limerick and his Irish childhood would turn our hearts backwards so precisely? Who could have told that that story could have value? Who would have said that the greatest democracy of all was the ability to tell a story from a town that had largely been ignored and a life that could have been forgotten? The details were not only valuable in themselves, but as a form of memory. Frank McCourt – much to his own surprise – was an alternative historian, and the history he had created was one of the previously anonymous, one where he created an inability to forget. The freshest accomplishment of good writing is to make use of what others haven’t quite seen or fathomed yet. This is what Frank McCourt knew by instinct. He wrote Angela’s Ashes never expecting what would happen, but at heart he was writing the story that others found embarrassing, or avuncular, or just plain irretrievable. He was tilting the comfortable balance of Irish story-telling, venturing into the dusty corners where many of our writers hadn’t gone before. He was bearing witness. When Angela’s Ashes hit the shelves in the late 1990’s, Ireland was a country at the threshold of the thoroughly modern. We were pleased with ourselves, comfortably European, enjoying the sound of our own chatter. Traffic jams on the flyovers. Wild salmon on the plates. The ticker tape parade of mortgage rates. The country was on the cusp of becoming one of the wealthiest OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 IRISH AMERICA 73


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nations in the world. Frank’s book arrived like that long-lost relative who knocks on the door during a dinner party, his tie slightly askew and his hands shoved deep in the dark of his pockets. There was a sort of chain lightning to the book. He had another story to tell, and it was a bulwark against forgetting. Angela’s Ashes was both new and old and wise and innocent, all at the same time. In many ways his story reached all the way back to Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, as a guide to the notion that whoever we are is whoever we once were. His next book, ’Tis, continued the story. It made the bridge. He followed it with Teacherman, one of the most magnificently well-shaped memories of the teaching life and what it entails. The best stories are those that don’t nec-

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indeed it did. Now that he is gone, we cannot just make a safe icon out of him. There’s a danger in putting manners on what Frank McCourt did, simply because he was successful. Success breeds an appearance of safety, but what Frank was doing was not safe. It should never be forgotten that he took a risk and that he succeeded at a time when other writers would have laid down their pens. He fought to create. It was all about stamina, desire, perseverance. He caught hold of the old Mark Twain truism that age is an issue of mind over matter – if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. ou could see him at a thousand charity gigs, always his head tilted back with laughter. He liked to break open a bottle of Bushmills and he didn’t mind seeing the

Y

The best stories are those that don’t necessarily want to get told, and then – when they are told – we know that we will never quite hear things the same way again. essarily want to get told, and then – when they are told – we know that we will never quite hear things the same way again. There adheres in all of Frank McCourt’s work a sense of astonished being. Nothing is written in abstraction. He was there at the moment when the thorn entered the skin. He waited for the good bread to come out of the oven. The language had energy and momentum. He could break your heart with a gentle word and then take your head off with the next. He reached into our bodies, touched the funny bone, but didn’t let us get away with simple laughter. There was anger there, too, and pride. And his greatness was a lack of fear. And yet to Frank his own story was the only place he could go. It was entirely natural. There was nothing high-falutin’ about it at all. He was simply just telling himself that his own experience was valuable – not just the life of his mother, his father, his brothers, but the life of the bowsies, the drunks, the gurriers, the merchantmen, the down-and-outs, the toffees, the tinsmiths, the auld ones, the chisellers. He sought out their remembered texture. He brought the old streets alive, the raindrops on the roof. He wrote as if his life depended on it – and 74 IRISH AMERICA OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009

bottom of it. He enjoyed a good Irish song, but he seemed more in tune with jazz. He sent an electricity through a room. He read well and widely. He pored through his Joyce and his Beckett and his Shaw, and he loved the words of the younger writers more than anything. He was generous to a fault. He joked about being a Mega-Mick or a Big-Ass Author, but he was never far from the understanding that literature had power. His name sold books. He wrote more blurbs than anyone else in publishing history. He realized the difficulty that went into creation. He could call upon, as the old joke goes, his 5,000 very most intimate friends. But with Frank it wasn’t actually a joke – he had at least that many. He never turned a request down. He and Ellen traveled widely, all over the world, gathering admirers as they went. There was always something boyish and playful about him. He worked hard, and ceaselessly, but he never forgot where he came from. He had regrets – he wished he had written earlier, that he had said certain things to Angela while she was alive, that he had written a novel – but these were never enough to stall him. In his last couple of weeks, Frank was in

a hospice on 2nd Avenue and 95th Street in New York. He had a room on the 16th floor, where the sunlight poured through the windows. There was a balcony outside where the sounds of the city seemed to hover in homage. All that brash beauty. The Second Avenue subway was being built below. The jackhammer jazz of the city, his city, his place. His family and friends gathered close by. His body was disappearing on him. He could not hear anymore, the melanoma had ravaged him, his eyesight was going, and his speech was all but lost. He had brought a book with him – an old orange-covered Picador edition of James Joyce’s critical essays. He couldn’t read it anymore, but it was there, and that was enough. Unable to chat, he wrote instead on a small white board with a black Magic Marker. He struggled to sit up in bed, propped the board in his lap and painstakingly wrote a few phrases out. There was still a shine to his eyes, and his mind was sharp. It was a lovely thing to see, even in all that wreckage. It took him a long time to put anything down on the white board, but he was able to tell his wife, Ellen, and his daughter, Maggie, and his brothers, Malachy, Alphie, Mike, what they meant to him. It was a great victory – the words would hang on no matter what. When asked what he would confess to, Frank positioned the white board on his lap, and the marker in his hand, and he slowly wrote: “Pride, springing from virtue.” A ripple went around the room. The humor of it, the raw sense of being alive, the little twinkle still in the prose. With every new visitor, his heart moved for them: you could almost see it jump in his shirt. I asked him, on the board, where and when he would go dancing now, and he took ten minutes to write it down, but he said: “Every Sabbath.” In the outer room, we passed around the board and we laughed. There it was, the old McCourt. It would have been enough to think of him dancing every Sabbath, but then he picked up the pen again and wrote, very slowly: “Sabbath upstairs with the J.C. and the Mary M and the 12 hot boys.” And then he wrote: “In the morning all will be forgiven.” A nurse came. Her name was Angela. It was almost enough: Angela. She hadn’t yet read his books, but she promised that she would. Frank sat back in the bed and he smiled. She adjusted his pillows and let him be. There was Angela, going out the door once more. IA And Frank was watching her go.


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REMEMBERING FRANK

How Frank Saved CIVILIZATION

Thomas Cahill

T

This was Patricius’s moment of greatest danger: recognized as a fugitive in a seaside settlement, he could not expect to remain at liberty many minutes more. “Hearing this response, I left them to go to the hut where I was staying, and on the way I began to pray and before I had finished my prayer I heard one of the sailors shouting after me: ‘Come quickly, they’re calling you!’ And right away I returned to them and they began to say to me: ‘Come on board, we’ll take you on trust.’” They even offered their nipples to be sucked, the ancient Irish version of “kiss and make up.” Patricius, too much the Roman for such outré goingson, held back — he says “for fear of God,” but better minds than Patricius’s have succumbed to a confusion of Roman custom and Christian faith. The sailors shrugged: “You can make friends with us however you like.” Patricius jumped on board, and they sailed at once. Frank, a connoisseur of Irish saints, had never heard about the nipples, because Patrick’s pious biographers regularly leave them out. But there they are in Patrick’s honest tale. We talked briefly that night about telling the truth, however odd or embarrassing it may be, and that that is the only point of being a writer of any kind. Soon thereafter I received from an editor friend at Scribner a bound galley of Angela’s Ashes. A bound galley is an early copy of a new book, traditionally sent to those who might provide

“Angela’s Ashes is a chronicle of grown-ups at the mercy of life and children at the mercy of grown-ups, and it is such a marriage of pathos and humor that you never know whether to weep or roar – and find yourself doing both at once. Through each fresh horror of the narrative, you will be made happy by some of the most truly marvelous writing you will ever encounter. . . .” Except for the fact that blurbs must be brief, I would also have said that Angela’s Ashes is very nearly unique in the whole history of autobiography because it is the exquisitely told story of a Tom and Frank at the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference, 2003, Sun Valley, Idaho

very poor child and his family – and the poor seldom get the chance to leave their experiences for the instruction and edification of the rest of us. Ordinarily, because education is denied them, they never even get their hands on the levers of literary power, which is very much a middle-class operation. But the most important thing I could have said is that Frank told the truth. In doing so, he unsettled many, angered not a few, and earned the lasting gratitude of all who read and care about books. He did the one thing a writer must do. Because of this, the shelf that holds his writing will never grow dusty. And it is such shelves that, when all is said and done, constitute civilization. IA Thomas Cahill is the author of How the Irish Saved Civilization, Volume I in his Hinges of History series.

“. . . it is such a marriage of pathos and humor that you never know whether to weep or roar.” OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 IRISH AMERICA 75

BARBI REED, COURTESY SUN VALLEY WRITERS’ CONFERENCE

he first time I met Frank I knew nothing of Angela’s Ashes. It hadn’t been published yet; and though many writers will regale you with disquisitions on their unpublished writings, Frank was not one of these. Our inauspicious encounter occurred in 1995, soon after the publication of How the Irish Saved Civilization. During a reception at Glucksman Ireland House, Frank – at that time a man known principally as the unassuming brother of the more celebrated Malachy – ambled up to me and said without preamble: “I didn’t know about the nipples. I never heard that before.” I knew what he was referring to. In How the Irish I recount a story that Saint Patrick himself tells us in his brief autobiography, The Confession. The teenage Patrick, called Patricius by his family in Roman Britain, had been kidnapped and brought to Ireland in chains. But after six years, he escaped his slave master and fled to a port on the east coast, where the captain denied him passage on the boat he was hoping would bring him to freedom:

blurbs of advance praise to help sell the book to the reading public. Oh no, I thought, not another galley. But I opened it and was captivated by its opening four, now justly famous, paragraphs. I sat down then and there and found I could not stop reading till I had reached the end. I, far less generous than Frank (who has since written enough blurbs to be cited by Guinness), then wrote one of the few blurbs I have ever offered anyone:


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