And on a St. Patrick’s Day when Washington basked under a warm spring sun, Cowen also filled the main guest slot at the Speaker’s Luncheon hosted by Nancy Pelosi and at a reception sponsored by the Irish Embassy.
But it was Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, resplendent in a midnight blue gown and a matching pave diamond set of earrings and necklace, who offered a final coda to those here who worked for many years on the Northern Ireland peace process.
“Peace may be officially established by a vote or an agreement, but it is the real life experiences of people day after day and year after year that cement it,” Clinton told a packed audience at the American Ireland Fund dinner the night before St. Patrick’s Day.
Nodding his head in assent was her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
“Peace has come once and for all to Northern Ireland,” Secretary Clinton declared after receiving the Fund’s annual award.
Cowen, meanwhile, had spent time in Chicago and California before making it to Washington. His ubiquitous theme: there are flexible workers looking for employment back in Ireland.
Cowen clearly has forged a genuine bond with President Obama as the two men spent time comparing economic woes their own domestic political difficulties during a private bilateral in the Oval Office.
“Certainly, in Ireland’s context, the resurgent U.S. economy will be a strong indicator of our return to prosperity,” Cowen told the president as the two men sat before the cameras with a strong early spring sun shinning through the floor to ceiling windows.
“Will you be going to Ireland, Mr. President?” this reporter asked on the Echo’s behalf.
“I would love to be going to Ireland,” President Obama replied with a full smile.
Having the Healthcare reform vote looming, just about anywhere might have been appealing to the man.
“We picked a quiet week to visit,” noted the Taoiseach dryly.
Also in Washington, North ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness were recognized at all the various events for finishing the work on policing and justice.
At the start of the day, Vice President Joseph Biden had the Taoiseach and Mrs. Mary Cowen, along with some of the who’s who in Irish American Washington, over for a St. Patrick’s Day breakfast at the vice presidential home on the grounds of the Naval Observatory.
Biden, an enthusiastic endorser of all things Irish, paused in the festivities to recognize the widow and daughter of the late Edward Kennedy in attendance.
“It’s kind of strange to be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day without the patron saint of all of us,” he said.
The tribute to Kennedy was echoed by the president that evening at the White House reception attended by a number of family members including his widow, Vicki.
Sadness of Kennedy’s absence part, after a decade of efforts to end sectarian strife in a corner of an island across the Atlantic, 2010 proved to be the St. Patrick’s Day where attendees could truly celebrate achievement and heritage while hoping for an economic blossoming to match the daffodil and crocus clusters that added bursts of color amid Washington’s still winterized, brown grass.
And on St. Patrick’s evening at the White House, President Obama pledged his administration’s support for the reform effort stating, “my own commitment to comprehensive immigration reform remains unwavering.”
Just a few feet away, standing directly in front of the presidential lectern, was Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform president Ciaran Staunton, who later warmly welcomed the president’s words.
Schumer and Graham’s Post piece followed a meeting both had with President Obama.
“We expressed our belief that America’s security and economic well-being depend on enacting sensible immigration policies,” the senators wrote.
And the continued: Our plan has four pillars: requiring biometric Social Security cards to ensure that illegal workers cannot get jobs; fulfilling and strengthening our commitments on border security and interior enforcement; creating a process for admitting temporary workers; and implementing a tough but fair path to legalization for those already here.”
That latter category includes thousands of undocumented Irish.
The senators further stated: “For the 11 million immigrants already in this country illegally, we would provide a tough but fair path forward.
In a statement reacting to the Schumer/Graham text, President Obama said a critical next step would be to translate their framework into a legislative proposal, and for Congress to act at the earliest possible opportunity.
“I congratulate Senators Schumer and Graham for their leadership, and pledge to do everything in my power to forge a bipartisan consensus this year on this important issue so we can continue to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform,” the president said.
Another criticism voiced in Ireland was that the “new” De Dannan is just a nominal transition from the Hibernian Rhapsody tour band forged by Gavin a few years ago: Kerry resident Damien Mullane on button accordion, Galway’s Eric Cunningham on bodhran, snare drum, flute, and whistle, Kerry’s Mike Galvin on guitar, and Galway’s Michelle Lally on vocal. (Hibernian Rhapsody pianist Carl Hession, another Galway resident, is the only one who didn’t make the switch.)
I can understand the deep nostalgia and fierce loyalty for the early De Dannan of Gavin, Finn, Charlie Piggott, Johnny “Ringo” McDonagh, and Dolores Keane, as well as later members Jackie Daly, Mairtin O’Connor, Maura O’Connell, and Mary Black. But pining for so-called definitive lineups of a longstanding band flies in the face of reality. Can you think of any well-established Irish traditional band with the same personnel today as at its founding? The Chieftains, Cherish the Ladies, and Altan are all groups now active for a quarter century or more, and each has undergone several changes. Only Paddy Moloney survives from the Chieftains’ first lineup (fiddler Sean Keane joined on “The Chieftains 2″ album), only Joanie Madden and Mary Coogan are holdovers from the initial CTL lineup, and only Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh, Ciaran Curran, and Mark Kelly (part-time) endure from the original Altan lineup.
What matters is not lineup changes but what music is produced as a result of those lineup changes. If the music is good, the changes won’t matter. If the music is not good, posterity will usually seal the fate of the band.
So here’s the only pertinent question: Is the music of the new De Dannan any good? That answer has to be yes, based on what I saw and heard from the band on the night of March 15 at Joe’s Pub, a Greenwich Village destination once deemed insider hip but now just another small venue in lower Manhattan’s music scene.
Any ensemble featuring Gavin ensures itself of excellence on fiddle, and in Joe’s Pub he gave ample proof of his virtuosity. Gavin’s bowing often relies on an intense economy, with tight strokes, accents, and other embellishments yielding a powerful, protean mix of tone, detail, and imagination. His instinct for macro- and micro-improvisation is exceptional, especially when he darts from the melody and then nimbly nestles back in again after a vertiginous flight of fancy. Even when velocity occasionally overwhelms his playing, Gavin’s skill is undeniable and inescapable. A Bach piece linked to the reel “The Lads of Laois,” a medley of three barndances, the blues-inflected jigs “Red-Haired Mary / Hardiman the Fiddler,” and “Wild Irishman” all showcased Gavin’s gift for edgy invention.
The three other instrumentalists in De Dannan are proficient players. Mullane is the latest in a long line of distinguished button accordionists in the band, and his playing is a compelling partner and foil to Gavin’s fiddling. Cunningham’s skill on percussion, flute, and whistle adds depth and breadth to the ensemble’s sound, and an unnamed tune he wrote and performed on whistle indicates he also has an aptitude for composing. Galvin is the rhythm bulwark in the band who brings an extra measure of bluesy bottleneck on occasion to his guitar picking.
Michelle Lally sang a diverse repertoire of songs, including the traditional “Down the Moor”; “If You Love Me,” popularized in 1949 by Edith Piaf; and U.S. folksinger-composer David Mallett’s “Summer of My Dreams,” which former De Dannan lead singer Dolores Keane covered on her solo album “Solid Ground” in 1993.
“Heartbreak Pier,” a song referring historically to a principal emigration port in Cobh, Cork, is a mediocre take — “heartaches and roses, tissues and tears, one last goodbye for a thousand years” — on a painful subject. Lally tended to loll in its emotionalism.
She fared better on Olla Belle Reed’s “High on the Mountain,” a bluegrass staple memorably recorded by Del McCoury and the Dixie Pals in 1972. If “high lonesome” was missing from the overall vocal treatment, it still incorporated bent notes from Galvin on guitar with help from Gavin’s down-home bowing.
The band’s encore began with “My Irish Molly-O,” a 1905 song with which the Flanagan Brothers had a hit in 1928 and De Dannan had a hit in 1981. It’s a smile inducer, as is the Beatles’s “Here Comes the Sun,” performed instrumentally as a trad-style dance tune after the familiar, signature guitar opener.
In a sense De Dannan is as much a brand as a band, and keeping both alive hardly constitutes sacrilege, as some trad pundits in Ireland evidently think. The future of the brand and band will depend on audience reaction, and as a member of the audience this night, my reaction was, for the most part, positive.
Look for a new studio album, now nearly finished, from De Dannan in the coming months.
The announcement followed discussions held at the State Department last week between Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson, Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, North Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister Arlene Foster and Kelly.
The one day conference, will be, according to a statement, “a highly targeted initiative aimed at bringing together the leaders of some of the largest international companies already operating in Northern Ireland with potential investors and other partners.”
A date for the event, which will be hosted by Secretary Clinton, will be finalized in the near future. The hosting of an economic conference dedicated to promoting investment in Northern Ireland and trade between that region and the United States further underlines Secretary Clinton’s belief that economic investment is the best means to build on the political progress that has been made in Northern Ireland in recent weeks and months, the statement added.
The North has attracted more than 800 new jobs in the last six months from international companies, including last week’s announcement by Massachusetts-based Q1 Labs to create up to 50 new jobs in software services in Belfast, it continued.
“”This investment conference is yet another indication of Secretary Clinton’s commitment to building on the peace process in Northern
Ireland and further underlines the U.S. government’s support for the immense progress that has been made in the region in the past several
months”, said Envoy Kelly.
“We stated repeatedly in the last several months that if stability could be guaranteed in terms of the political institutions in Northern Ireland through the successful completion of negotiations on the devolution of policing and justice, then a great opportunity would
exist for the region to move forward quickly with a range of initiatives in the area of economic investment.
“This conference is the latest in a series of initiatives we have undertaken as part of this mission to shine a light on northern
Ireland and all it has to offer as a superb location for foreign direct investment,” he said.
Kelly pointed to a trade mission with representatives of over a dozen companies visiting the U.S. during St. Patrick’s week. They were in the U.S. he said, to showcase what they have to offer to potential investors and partners in the United States.
“Events are taking place in three cities in four days and the world’s attention is focused in a positive way on Northern Ireland this St. Patrick’s day because of all that has been achieved in recent weeks to help move the political institutions forward,” Kelly said.
It was encouraging to see Senator Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham outline their plans for reform in the Washington Post. And it was sobering to see the numbers of people who marched for reform in the nation’s capital on Sunday.
As with all matters in Washington these days, immigration reform is not an easy number though, unlike health care reform, it at least enjoys a meaningful measure of bipartisan support. Also, the passage of health care reform significantly clears the legislative calendar and should allow the parties, and the Obama administration, to devote proper time to an issue that can’t be allowed to simply drift along indefinitely.
As is the case every year, the visitors from Ireland came in droves, many of them on political and economic missions, but also just to have a look at how America marks its very own big Irish day.
The hard times that are in it would lead us to believe that there would be a crimp or two in the celebratory plans of all too many, but that sure wasn’t evident at the White House on St. Patrick’s night; it wasn’t evident on Fifth Avenue earlier in the day, and it wasn’t evident in countless towns and cities across the fifty states.
And as for those parades! The number of them around the nation keeps growing and it is interesting and encouraging to see the pride that organizers of parades take in the longevity as much as the length of their particular marches.
Yes, we have Philadelphia snapping at the heels of New York in the oldest parade stakes, but many, many other parades are now proudly proclaiming a history stretching back in some cases just a handful of years – but laying claim to a history nevertheless.
This is important because, and especially in economically challenged times, people, communities and those who divvy up budgets do sometimes need reminding that there is more so some traditions than just the dollars and cents aspect.
That said, financial reality is hard to ignore, even if just for a day. In the case of the New York Parade there is seemingly an increasing need for community and corporate sponsorship for an event that continues to grow, this despite the city’s stated desire to cut the length of the parade in future years and restrict its time on the avenue.
Good luck with that. It will be interesting indeed to see how New York City and the parade organizers deal with next year’s march, the 250th consecutive, an event that, in easier economic times, would be expected to be the biggest and longest ever. Already there have been calls for the 250th to be given an exemption from the new restrictions. It will be interesting indeed to see what is decided in the coming months.
In time, the Dubliner would join the long line of Irish emigrants who’ve decided to have a go in competition at the ground floor level – the New York Daily News Golden Gloves. And, so far, it’s worked out very well for the heavyweight.
Tomorrow night Hardwick, a native of Coolock in Dublin City, gets into the ring at Madison Square Garden for the final of this year’s Gloves.
“I am getting enormous support,” said the 25-year-old bricklayer. “Even lads who don’t know me are getting behind me. It’s a huge lift.”
Hardwick dedicated his victories in the novice category in February to his friend best Warren O’Connor who was fatally stabbed in Dublin the previous month when he asked people to turn down the noise at a neighbor’s party.
The Yonkers resident was one of 50 who signed up to compete in the heavyweight division.
“I wanted to keep busy,” he said of his decision to keep training after his shoulder injury had healed. “And I enjoy doing it. You can hit a bag and relieve stress.
“I do it for overall fitness and to keep myself off the streets,” Hardwick added.
The film they directed, “The Secret Of Kells,” is a dazzling French / Irish / Belgian co-production that takes us back to medieval Ireland in the time of the great illuminators who toiled for decades to create brilliant biblical manuscripts a half a milennium before the invention of movable type. Their finest work, The Book Of Kells, is one of the great treasures of Celtic culture, a 9th century masterpiece depicting the four gospels of the New Testament, and Moore and Twomey’s film is set in the monastery of Kells at the time that the book was created there.
Their hero is Brendan, a cheerful young apprentice growing up in the care of his uncle, Abbot Cellach (voiced by Brendan Gleeson), a dour man obsessed with fortifying his monastery against attack by Vikings. Away from the watchful eye of Cellach, a motley assortment of monks keeps the boy entertained within the walls that constitute his entire world, as his uncle has forbidden him to leave the monastery.
A surprise visitor arrives at their gate: Brother Aidan, a legendary illuminator from the monastic island of Iona, off the coast of Scotland. Aidan (voiced by Galway’s Druid Theatre icon, Mick Lally, and drawn to look endearingly like Willie Nelson) arrives at Kells fleeing from Viking marauders who sacked the Iona cloister. Hidden in the folds of his cloak are a white cat named Pangur Ban, and the work-in-progress that will become The Book Of Kells. He takes refuge at Kells to complete the book, and his playful demeanor and genial personality charm the young monk Brendan, offering a delightful antidote to the grim tutelage of his uncle, the Abbot. Aidan sees in the boy a real talent and imagination that could help him finish the book as his eyesight fades and his hands become unsteady. To test the boy’s resourcefulness, he sends him on a mission to find ink berries for his quills, and thus begins a dizzying adventure for Brendan that sends him outside the walls and into the forest, in defiance of his uncle’s orders.
“The Secret of Kells” combines hand-drawn art and computer images in an intoxicating riot of color, deftly bouncing from three-dimensional swirls to flatter forms derived from the geometric calligraphy of the book that inspired the film. The Kells forest morphs from verdant fern fronds, spiralling dandelions and towering oaks to misty menace at sundown. Black wolves howl in the undergrowth, terrifying the berry-seeking boy til he’s rescued by a mischievous, bossy wood-nymph named Aisling (voiced by a deadpan Christen Mooney). A magical shape-shifter of the pagan order that existed comfortably alongside the new Christian orthodoxy at a more innocent time for Ireland’s churchmen, Aisling takes the form of a white wolf to protect him. With her help, the boy succeeds on his mission and quickly grows in confidence to become a skilled calligrapher.
Along the way, the film makes important points about the value and beauty of books, the eternal power of the words they contain, and the thrill of allowing a youngster’s imagination to soar unfettered in the creation of art. But the “Kells” message is presented as such exhilerating entertainment that the kids watching won’t even notice that they’re learning a very valuable lesson indeed.
“The Secret Of Kells” is currently screening at IFC at Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village, and City Cinemas Village East on Second Avenue, and will be available on DVD later this year.
But I had no idea about any of that when I immigrated to Louisiana from Belfast six years ago, or that during Hurricane Katrina it would be the strength of the canal walls which was more important than the fact my fellow countrymen had built them.
Tens of books, hundreds of articles and millions of words have been written about Hurricane Katrina. But my book, “Finn McCool’s Football Club: The Birth, Death and Resurrection of a Pub Soccer Team in the City of the Dead” (Pelican Press) looks at the deadly storm from a different angle and tells the story from a unique perspective: the effect it had on the Irish population of New Orleans.
The incredibly violent 2005 hurricane season set all kinds of records. Katrina was the third-most powerful storm ever to hit the U.S. F and five names were retired that year, the most ever. For the record they were Dennis, Katrina, Rita, Stan and Wilma.
There were 28 named hurricanes, so many that scientists ran out of letters and were forced to use the Greek alphabet.
Katrina did an unparalleled amount of damage to the Gulf Coast, killing more than 1,800 people, impacting Louisiana and Mississippi to the tune of an estimated $150 billion and leaving debris strewn over roughly 87,000 square miles in six different states, an area the size of Britain.
The book begins in 2004 when, aged 34, I arrive in the Deep South to start a new life with my North Carolinian wife. At first, it was a struggle to adapt to a place which is both geographically and culturally thousands of miles away from home, but things improve when I discover Finn McCool’s, a pub owned by three exiles from the North.
Stephen and Pauline Patterson had come to New Orleans in the early nineties and looked up a family friend called Stevie Collins who had immigrated there via Florida.
All three ended up working in O’Flaherty’s, an Irish bar and store in the French Quarter. Then, in early 2002, they bought their own bar on Banks Street in an area called Mid-City.
They gutted the structure, tearing down the walls, installing more windows, demolishing the low-hanging ceiling and stripping the frame back to the studs. Renaming it Finn McCool’s, they opened on Friday, July 26 2002. Once I discovered it, the Irish community in the Crescent City begin to play a big part in my life.
Compared to larger places like New York or Boston, the Irish ex-pat scene in the Big Easy is small but tight-knit. Everyone knows everyone else, and I soon became a regular at the bar to watch English and Scottish soccer games at the weekends. Six months after I started going there we formed a pub team.
A dozen of us were gathered there on the morning of Saturday, August 27 2005. Less than 48 hours later one of us was clinging to a roof battling for his life, some were swimming out of the flooded city, while another was forced to loot an ATM machine for cash to bribe a teenager driving a stolen school bus to take him to safety.
Even after escaping a latter day Atlantis many of the Irish immigrants had to live as internal refugees for months while New Orleans was pumped dry. My wife and I relocated to Houston for three months while our team was scattered around the country, with some members even ending up back in Ireland.
When many of the pub regulars finally got back they had lost their jobs, their homes, everything else they had ever owned. Some lost all three.
I weave my story with that of my teammates as we float back to Louisiana and try to rebuild after our lives had been literally washed away. I describe what it was like to live in New Orleans after the hurricane, how it was more like the Wild West in the 19th century than the 21st century in the richest, most-powerful country in the world.
Even simple day-to-day living was hard in the surreal post-Katrina apocalyptic landscape as we struggled to cope in a city devoid of hospitals, schools, traffic lights and trash collection.
But I hope that the book is much more than a depressing hurricane lament or a story about a soccer squad. I examine in depth what it is like to be Irish in America, and investigate the similarities and differences I find moving from Belfast, a place often divided by religion, to New Orleans, a city frequently split along racial lines.
I also look at why it is that the Irish in America feel the need to stick together, and wonder if our yearning to recreate what we left behind at home stops us integrating fully into American society.
The book is also about the importance of friendship. Members of the Irish community go to great lengths in order to help each other out, with those who came through the storm relatively unscathed opening their doors to the less fortunate.
For instance, Galway couple Sean and Carmel Kennedy took in Mike and Marian McInerney, originally from Limerick, and their four young boys after Mike’s home was flooded. Mike said at the time: “men never talk about feelings and ask each other how we are doing with things, but one night Sean and I sat down and put our cards on the table. I told him we couldn’t be living with him too long and he said that he understood that but we could stay as long as we wanted. I felt so much better after that talk, without getting too mushy about it.”
Similarly, Dave Ashton from Manchester, England and his pregnant girlfriend (whose mother had died in the evacuation) moved in with us after their home was flooded, and I show that although disaster may wreck property and buildings, for this resolute, eclectic bunch of ex-pat friends, adversity actually forged and strengthened relationships.
This coming August is the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The city is rebounding but there is still a lot of work to be done. A recent report said there were still more than 70,000 abandoned home in the city, and many areas are even now blighted with flooded and decaying structures.
Finn McCool’s took six feet of water but the three owners practically rebuilt it themselves and it reopened on St. Patrick’s Day, 2006. Since then it has gone from strength to strength and is busier now than before the storm.
By coming back so quickly to a devastated area the bar acted as an anchor to the people in the neighborhood, and the locals have continued to support a business which put down such an early marker that they would rebuild.
The pub soccer club has continued to grow as well and we now have two teams which play in different leagues. Both have won their divisions twice, and some of the originals like me still drag their creaking limbs out of bed every Sunday to play.
Thankfully, the book has received great reviews both here and in the UK and Ireland and already has more than 70 five-star customer reviews on online retailer Amazon.
I met with a Hollywood movie producer who is interested in buying the film rights, and a documentary crew came to Finn’s and produced a six-minute trailer to use to try to get funding to shoot a full-length documentary. The book is available at stores across the nation or from online booksellers. Check out my website, www.stephen-rea.com for more details.
The first St. Baldrick’s Day saw the three having their heads shaved at Jim Brady’s Tavern in the financial district.
Since the inaugural event a decade ago, and the soon after formation of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, the organization has raised more than $57 million dollars for pediatric cancer research. Much of this money was collected by the more than 113,000 “shavees” at the more than 3,450 events that have taken place since 2000.
In commemoration of that first St. Baldrick’s head-shaving event, some of the original shavees will once again get bald for the cause at Jim Brady’s Tavern head-shaving event on Wednsday, St. Patrick’s Day, starting at 3 p.m.
“The battle against childhood cancer has been stepped in recent years as new treatments come on stream but fundraising is a constant necessity,” Tim Kenny, one of the St. Baldrick’s Day founders has stated.
“St. Baldrick’s raises funds for childhood cancer research by hosting worldwide head-shaving events where volunteers shave their heads to stand in solidarity with the kids who typically lose their hair during cancer treatment.
On the first St. Baldrick’s Day, the goal was to raise $17,000 by shaving 17 heads on March 17th.
Meanwhile, this Saturday, March 20, at J.P. Cunningham’s in Mahopac, “shavees” will be gathering for what is considered the big St. Baldrick’s event in Westchester County. Cunningham’s is at 156 East Lake Blvd, and the head shaving starts at 4 p.m.
The J.P. Cunningham’s event has raised over $45,000 in the past three years.