Interview by Karen Butler
[PHOTO: FOX SEARCHLIGHT]
Ireland’s Brendan Gleeson still has a special place in his heart for Gerry Boyle, the debauched cop he played in writer-director John Michael McDonagh’s celebrated comedy “The Guard” three years ago.
Gleeson’s affection for Gerry was evident when he talked to the Irish Echo by phone recently about his latest role, that of the saintly Father James Lavelle in McDonagh’s new film “Calvary.”
Asked what it was like to play a character who was essentially the polar opposite of Gerry, the 59-year-old Dublin native said, “Well, I’m not sure if I’d agree with that particular one.
“I think Gerry hid his light under a bushel a little bit. I think there was more going on with him than we thought. He was quite sensitive in his own way. He was very perceptive and I think he had a hidden hero in him, which kind of emerged in the end. Father James, on the other hand, was somebody who kind of just opened up his heart to be kicked,” Gleeson laughed. “They had different ways of negotiating the world, but I’m not sure if they were 100 miles apart, really. But, certainly, to play somebody who was committed to the good [like Father James,] it’s unusual to get those roles, for me anyway. To actually have a real-life hero, kind of in the Gary Cooper mode, was brilliant. It’s the kind of stuff you always want to do. It’s what I wanted to do when I came into acting. When it’s so kind of layered and it’s not just a simple thing of sticking on a cowboy hat and shooting somebody. You have to go through the whole confrontation with all the various disillusionment that’s around him. So, it was great.”
“I always start with the lead character first,” McDonagh said in a separate phone chat with the Echo. “So, on ‘The Guard,’ I had the idea for the Gerry Boyle character and, on this, I was talking to Brendan when we were finishing up ‘The Guard…’ I was talking about wanting to do a film about a genuinely good person and I was thinking maybe that good person would be a priest because we were assuming there would be a lot of films coming out dealing with the scandals and they would be dealing with bad priests and I thought we should be more original and do the exact opposite and deal with a good one.
“So, that’s where it all started from. I always start with the characters first and then the plot and then whatever the subtext comes out of the story you are trying to tell is all well and good, but the primary goal is to tell a good story.”
Focusing the mind
Set in County Sligo, “Calvary” is about what happens when a man enters Father James’s Catholic Church confessional and tells him he is going to kill him a week hence. The man confides he was molested as a child by a now-dead priest and says he wants to make headlines by slaying an innocent cleric in the pedophile’s stead. Father James spends the week reconnecting with his adult daughter, who is recovering from a suicide attempt, and talking to his parishioners, many of whom are lonely, angry and bitter, until the day arrives when he must meet his fate and possibly sacrifice his life.
So, does Father James immediately know what he should do when faced with this dilemma or does he need the week to decide if he is going to keep his appointment with the man who threatened to kill him?
“I think when he says he doesn’t know, but he is sure he’ll think of something in the week, I think that’s the truth of it, yeah,” Gleeson offered. “It focuses the mind, a death threat. It means that all the issues that he has had and has been struggling with anyway become very focused and I think he wants to find his true light, if you want to put it that way, and to find the best version of himself that he can project and to kind of inhabit that person for the week. I think that’s what he tries to do and, in confronting the actual threat, I feel he understands there is a very real danger of it happening, but that he decides that he is going to believe that he can face it down and it’s his duty to face it down. Because I think it’s all wrapped up, as well, in the fact he understands the pain that has been inflicted on the perpetrator and he wants to absorb some of it.”
Asked if he thinks Father James’s interactions with his parishioners throughout the week cause him to question whether life is worth living or people deserve saving, the actor replied, “I do.”
Gleeson added: “I think that’s the constant battle, yeah. And you’re all the time facing the easy option and possibly the most logical one, which is to say, ‘To hell with it all.’ And they have all capitulated to it and I think his faith is of a particular fundamental strength that he is intent on seeing that out, though. But I think, for sure, there are times when he wilts underneath the weight of it. It’s undeniable that there is a lot of horror in the world and it is very easy to bow underneath it.”
Parents’ humility, faith
In preparing for the role, Gleeson said he looked to the people in his own life who over the years inspired him and taught him how to be the kind of man he wanted to be.
“I think I knew him. I think I accessed all the stuff that would have been maybe when I was growing up as a kid. I kept referring back to my childhood in terms of people I knew,” the actor noted. “Particularly, there was a brother I had who was a great mentor to me and was very generous of spirit. The kind of humility and faith that my parents would have had. Particularly, my mother had a very, very open kind of faith that was very love-based and things like that. I had an aunt, her sister, who was a nun and I remember her coming back from South Africa and she was the most liberal woman I ever met. She knew and understood the issues that were happening down there at the time with apartheid and she was very open-minded. She was very warm. So, I think I accessed all those people who had maybe given me gifts of reassurance and kind of formed in me the notion of what it means to be charitable and optimistic.”
He went on to say another family member also influenced his performance in the film. One of the most memorable scenes in “Calvary” shows Father James visiting in prison an unrepentant murderer played by Gleeson’s real-life son, Domhnall.
Pressed to describe the experience, Gleeson admitted it was “very odd.”
He recalled. “We basically didn’t speak for about a week beforehand and got through it and gave as good as we got to each other on opposite sides of the table.
“It was great when it was over, but it was also something I was kind of looking forward to and to have it in a film of this nature I was, obviously, very, very proud of him. But, also, just it was a real treat to engage with an actor of that quality. I think he did an amazing job on it.”
Director McDonagh remembered capturing those gripping moments on film as being part of a “tough day.”
“That was a very dark scene. It was very intense. We shot it in just one day. It was like a prize fight, I suppose, between two sort of evenly matched opponents in the level of darkness that was going on. I think that was the one day my brother turned up on set,” he added, referring to playwright and filmmaker Martin McDonagh, who directed the elder Gleeson in the movie “In Bruges.” Domhnall also starred in the Broadway production of his play “The Lieutenant of Inishmore,” and both Gleesons appeared in his short film “Six Shooter.”
“[Martin] hadn’t read the script and he turned to me after a few minutes in and he said, ‘I thought this was supposed to be a comedy.’ He didn’t know what was happening at that point,” McDonagh related. “The initial intent with the film, it was meant to be much more of a black comedy type film, but when you get all of these really great actors involved, they find depth to the characters and it becomes a much deeper and much more dramatic movie and much more somber, I suppose. But that’s good.”
Co-starring Chris O’Dowd, Aidan Gillen, Kelly Reilly, David Wilmot, Pat Shortt and David McSavage, “Calvary” is earning rave reviews from critics. It opens is U.S. theaters Friday.
By Mairtin O’Muilleoir firstname.lastname@example.org
A bumper fundraising year for the Irish American Partnership has enabled the Boston-headquartered non-profit to ramp up its support for educational projects in Ireland.
“I am pleased that 77 grants have been awarded since September 2013,” Executive Director Mary Sugrue McAleer told the Irish Echo.
“Today, we are reaching more schools, communities and counties than ever before.”
A unique program which allows donors to select a specific school, village, town or county has proven a game-changer for the Partnership’s fundraising efforts.
Recently, in one of many similar initiatives, Partnership supporter and Abbott Laboratories specialist Paul Doherty returned to his alma mater, St. Oran’s National School, Cockhill, Co. Donegal, to present a $2,500 donation to replenish the school library.
The Partnership also came to the aid of remote rural schools in the west of Ireland which traditionally lack funding to attend the RDS Science Fair in Dublin by providing special travel grants.
Traditionally, the Partnership works closely with the Integrated School movement in the north of Ireland and over the past 12 months has made significant donations to school where Protestant and Catholic children are educated together.
“The generosity of our donors is making a difference,” says McAleer, whose fundraising efforts have been traditionally focused on the greater Boston area and Chicago.
“Thanks to our donors and supporters, we have every reason to be optimistic about the future of Ireland’s young people.”
More about the Irish American Partnership at www.irishap.org, or by following @irishaporg on Twitter.
by Áine Ní Shionnaigh
I like to think that West of Irelanders possess a unique determination and spirit, however, none more so than Lord Jeremy Browne Altamont of Westport House whose passing is deeply mourned this week. Thanks to his unique foresight, Lord Altamont leaves behind an enduring legacy for future generations and beyond. He leaves behind a 400 acre estate that has been in his family for over 300 years which is of enormous cultural, social and historical significance. He was a visionary and a law-changer. He almost certainly inherited some of the fighting spirit of his predecessor, famed pirate queen, Granuaile upon whose castle, the foundations of Westport House are laid. He was an ingenious business man who had no time for titles or splendor. Largely due to his influence, Westport town became known as a tourist location as far back as the 60’s long before ‘tourism’ became a familiar term.
Irelands remaining historic houses are a highly valuable resource. The houses and their contents are physical evidence of a life gone by, another life in another era, they help to define the cultural relationship between Ireland and the rest of the world. These historic houses with their estates, formal gardens, demesnes and parks continue to occupy a central position in the economic, historic and social life of the community in which they are built. The unique aspect of many Irish historic homes is that they are owned by the same family for several generations, thus the artefacts and archives that are contained within are handed down and the owners preserve valuable longstanding relationships with their local communities.
Jeremy Browne was the son of Denis Browne, 10th Marquess of Sligo, and Jose Gauche, and was educated at St. Columba’s College, Dublin and the Royal Agricultural College. His father inherited Westport House in 1951, and as a teenager, Lord Altamont spent his summers in Co Mayo hunting with Burns the gamekeeper, learning about the surrounding countryside. He always felt drawn back to Westport to help his parents, Lord Denis and Lady Jose Altamont to salvage and develop Westport House. The obstacles were immense, but as he wrote in his just published memoir, “A Life At Westport House: 50 Years A-Going: “My family had been through famines and wars, had been born in Westport, lived and died in Westport and at no point had any generation ever ‘given up’. After all, how could he give up, being that he was the 13th great grandson of the famed Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley.
He was married in 1961 to Jennifer June Lushington Cooper. Around this time, Jeremy decided to open the doors of Westport House to the public in an effort to save the historic stately home from decline – a fate way too many other great houses in Ireland have suffered. In the summer of 1960, over 3000 people visited the house. It has since become one of Ireland’s best loved attractions, currently having being visited by over 5 million visitors to date and was recently voted one of the Best Family Visitor Attractions in Ireland by Primary Times magazine. The couple have five daughters – Sheelyn, Karen, Lucinda, Clare and Allanagh. The title now goes to a cousin in Australia but due to Jeremy’s unique foresight, the house and grounds will thankfully be inherited by his five daughters who are all heavily involved in the family business. With the help of former President, Mary Robinson and local solicitor, Michael Egan, Jeremy took a private bill through the Senate in 1993 which successfully challenged the male succession law and ensured that the future of Westport house stayed with its rightful owners, his five daughters.
Grace O’Malley is the most renowned Irish female pirate also known as the Queen of Connacht. She was the chief of the O’Malley clan and ruled the seas around County Mayo. Westport House was actually built on the foundations of one of her castles. There is still an area of her original Castle in the basement of the House, now known as the Dungeons which is on view to visitors. The original house was built by Colonel John Browne, a Jacobite, who partook in the siege o f Limerick, and his wife Maud Burke. Maude Burke was Grace O’Malley’s great-granddaughter. At that time, the tide of the Atlantic Ocean rose and fell against the walls of the house.
The east front of the House as it is today, was built in 1730 by Colonel John Browne’s grandson, 1st Earl of Altamont, who hired the famous German architect Richard Cassels. It is built with the finest limestone taken from the quarry south of the estate farmyard and was executed by local craftsmen. Richard Cassels also designed Carton, Hazelwood, Russborough and Leinster House. Westport House was completed by James Wyatt, one of the great English architects who also laid out the town of Westport. On the south face of the House is the date 1778 and inside many of the ceilings, cornices and fireplaces are examples of his finest work. The Large Dining room is perhaps the finest remaining example of his work. The doors are mahogany, brought back from the family estates in Jamaica. There are still a number of original James Wyatt drawings on show. Other original items on show in Westport House, of particular interest, include a fine collection of old English and Irish silver, including 18th century Irish ‘potato’ or dish rings, Waterford glass, a library with many old Irish books and a Mayo Legion Flag which was brought to Ireland by General Humbert when he invaded the Country in 1798 and has ever since been in Westport House, which was occupied by his troops.
Westport House is located west of the Shannon and is one of Irelands’ most beautiful historic homes open to the public. The house enjoys a superb parkland setting with lake, terraces, wonderful gardens and magnificent views overlooking Clew Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, Achill, Clare Island and Ireland’s holy mountain Croagh Patrick. The grounds also afford a range of backdrops including the lake, woodlands, church and graveyard ruins, waterfalls and terraced gardens. It is a site that should be explored and visitors are guaranteed of a warm welcome and the best in food and Irish hospitality. Visit their website www.westporthouse.ie for more detailed information.
Is minic a cheapaim go bfhuil sort spiorad ag Iarthar na hÉireannaigh , afach, níos mó ná Tiarna Jeremy Browne Altamont, Theach Chathair na Mart a bhfuair bas an tseachtain seo chaite. De bhri a fadbhreathnaitheacht uathúil, d’fhag Tiarna Altamount taobh thiar oidhreacht buaine do na glúnta agus níos faide anonn. Fágann sé taobh thiar de eastát, 400 acra a bhí i lena theaghlach le breis agus 300 bliain a bhfuil tábhacht chultúrtha, shóisialta agus stairiúil ollmhór. Bhí sé ina aislingeach agus dlí-athruite. Ba chuis mhor, cinnte roinnt de na troid spiorad a réamhtheachtaí, banríon bradach, Gráinne Mhaol ar a caisleán, na fothaí Theach Chathair na Mart ag leagan. Bhí sé ina fear gnó nach raibh aon am le haghaidh teidil nó rudai mar sin. Den chuid is mó mar gheall ar a tionchar a imirt, bhí ar a dtugtar baile Chathair na Mart mar shuíomh turasóireachta chomh fada siar leis na 60’s, i bhfad sular tháinig ‘turasóireacht’ téarma an eolas.
Is iad tithe stairiúla na hÉireann atá fágtha acmhainn an-luachmhar. Is iad na tithe agus a bhfuil iontu fianaise fhisiciúil den shaol atá imithe, saol eile i ré eile, cabhraíonn siad an gaol cultúrtha idir Éire agus an chuid eile den domhan a shainiú. Leanann na tithe stairiúla lena n-eastáit, gairdíní foirmiúla, diméinte agus páirceanna a áitiú áit lárnach i saol eacnamaíoch, stairiúla agus sóisialta an phobail ina bhfuil siad tógtha. Is é an ghné ar leith de go leor tithe stairiúla na hÉireann go bhfuil siad ar úinéireacht ag an teaghlach céanna do na glúnta éagsúla, dá bhrí sin an déantáin agus cartlanna nach bhfuil cuimsithe laistigh láimh síos agus na n-úinéirí a chaomhnú caidreamh luachmhar seanbhunaithe lena bpobail áitiúla.
Ba e Jeremy Browne mac Denis Browne, 10 Marcas Shligigh, agus Jose Gauche, bhí a chuid oideachais i gColáiste Naomh Columba, Baile Átha Cliath agus Coláiste Ríoga Talmhaíochta. A athair oidhreacht Teach Chathair na Mart i 1951, agus mar dhéagóir, chaith Tiarna Altamount a samhraí i gCo Mhaigh Eo fiach le Burns, foghlaim mar gheall ar an tuath máguaird. Bhraith sé i gcónaí tharraingt ar ais go dtí Cathair na Mart chun cabhrú lena thuismitheoirí, a Thiarna Denis agus Lady Jose Altamont chun forbairt Teach Chathair na Mart. Ba iad na constaicí ollmhór, ach de réir mar a scríobh sé ina cuimhní cinn díreach foilsithe, “A Saol Ag Teach Chathair na Mart: 50 Bliain ag dul-:” Bhí mo theaghlach a bhí trí cogaí, rugadh iad i gCathair na Mart, bhí cónaí acu agus a fuair siad bás i gCathair na Mart agus ag aon phointe raibh aon ghlúin riamh ‘a thugtar suas’. Tar éis an tsaoil, conas a d’fhéadfadh sé a thabhairt suas, a bheith go raibh sé an ua mór 13ú an Banrion Gráinne Ní Mháille.
Bhí sé pósta i 1961 do Jennifer Meitheamh Lushington Cooper. Timpeall an ama seo, chinn Jeremy le doirse Theach Chathair na Mart ar oscailt don phobal i iarracht a shábháil an bhaile stairiúil maorach ó meath – ar bhealach cinniúint an iomarca tithe móra eile in Éirinn a d’fhulaing. I samhradh na bliana 1960, thug breis is 3,000 duine ar an teach. Tá sé tar éis éirí ó cheann de na nithe is fearr grá hÉireann, faoi láthair tar éis á cuairt ag os cionn 5 milliún cuairteoir go dtí seo agus bhí vótáil le déanaí ar cheann de na díol spéise do thurasóirí Chuairteoirí Teaghlaigh Fearr in Éirinn le Iris Bunscoileanna Times. An lánúin a bhfuil cúigear iníonacha – Sheelyn, Karen, Lucinda, an Chláir agus Allanagh. An teideal Téann anois le col ceathrar san Astráil, ach beidh mar gheall ar fadbhreathnaitheacht uathúil Jeremy, an teach agus na tailte a hoidhreacht buíochas le Dia ag a cúig iníonacha a bhfuil baint acu go léir go mór sa ghnó teaghlaigh. Le cabhair ó iar-Uachtarán, Máire Mhic Róibín agus aturnae áitiúil, Michael Egan, ghlac Jeremy bille príobháideach tríd an Seanad i 1993 a chuir dúshlán go rathúil leis an dlí comharbais na bhfear agus chinntigh gur fhan an todhchaí teach Cathair na Mart lena n-úinéirí dlisteanacha, a cúig iníonacha .
Tá Grace O’Malley bradach na mban is mó cáil in Éirinn ar a dtugtar freisin mar an Banríon Chonnacht. Bhí sí an príomhfheidhmeannach an clan O’Malley agus rialaigh na farraigí mórthimpeall Chontae Mhaigh Eo. Cuireadh Teach Chathair na Mart a tógadh iarbhír ar an dúshraith ar cheann de na h caisleáin. Tá fós limistéar a Caisleán bunaidh san íoslach an Tí, ar a dtugtar anois mar an dungeons atá ar taispeáint do chuairteoirí. Bhí an teach bunaidh tógtha ag Coirnéal John Browne, Seacaibíteacha, a raibh lathair i léigear Luimnigh, agus a bhean chéile Maud Burke. Bhí Maude Burke mór-gariníon Gráinne Ní Mháille ar. Ag an am sin, an taoide ar an Aigéan Atlantach ardaigh agus thit i gcoinne na ballaí an tí.
An os comhair soir an Tí mar atá sé inniu a tógadh, i 1730 ag ua Coirnéal John Browne, an 1 Iarla Altamont, a d’fhostaigh an t-ailtire cáiliúil Gearmáine Richard Cassels. Tá sé tógtha leis an aolchloch fearr a tógadh ón gcairéal dheas de chlós na feirme eastáit agus cuireadh chun báis ag aos ceirde áitiúil. Richard Cassels deartha go maith Carton, Collchoille, Russborough agus Teach Laighean. Cuireadh Teach Chathair na Mart i gcrích ag James Wyatt, ar cheann de na hailtirí mór Béarla a leagtar amach freisin an baile na Mart. Ar an aghaidh ó dheas an Tí é an dáta 1778 agus taobh istigh go leor de na huasteorainneacha, coirnisí agus teallaigh samplaí de a chuid oibre is fearr. Tá an seomra bia Móra dócha gurb é an sampla is fearr atá fágtha ar a chuid oibre. Is iad na doirse mahagaine, a thabhairt ar ais ó na heastáit teaghlaigh i Iamáice. Tá fós roinnt líníochtaí James Wyatt bunaidh ar taispeáint. Míreanna bunaidh eile ar taispeáint i dTeach Chathair na Mart, suim ar leith, tá bailiúchán breá de sean-Béarla agus airgid na hÉireann, lena n-áirítear 18ú haois ‘prátaí’ Gaeilge nó fáinní mhias, gloine Phort Láirge, leabharlann le go leor leabhar d’aois na hÉireann agus Bratach Léigiún Mhaigh Eo a tugadh go hÉirinn ag Ginearál Humbert nuair a tháinig sé ar an tír i 1798 agus bhí riamh ó shin i dTeach Chathair na Mart, a bhí ar áitiú ag a chuid trúpaí.
Teach Chathair na Mart suite taobh thiar den tSionainn agus tá sé ar cheann de na tithe stairiúla is áille na hÉireann ‘ar oscailt don phobal. Taitneamh as an teach suíomh fearann páirce superb le loch, ardáin, gairdíní iontach agus radhairc iontacha breathnú amach ar Chuan Mó, an Aigéan Atlantach, Acaill, Cliara agus sléibhe naofa na hÉireann Cruach Phádraig. Na forais acmhainn freisin raon backdrops n-áirítear an loch, coillearnacha, séipéal agus reilig fothracha, easanna agus gairdíní sraithe. Tá sé an suíomh ba chóir a iniúchadh agus do chuairteoirí a ráthú de fáilte te agus an chuid is fearr i mbia agus fáilteachais na hÉireann. Tabhair cuairt ar a láithreán gréasáin www.westporthouse.ie le haghaidh faisnéis níos mionsonraithe.
Siobhan Lyons has been executive director of the
Irish Immigration Center for five years.
By Peter McDermott
Siobhan Lyons has a problem.
It’s one, though, that is testament to her success as executive director of the Irish Immigration Center of Philadelphia.
“We are working beyond our capacity,” said the Dubliner, who is marking five years as executive director in Upper Darby, Pa.
After she took over, the IIC assumed greater responsibility, in tandem with other such centers around the country, in caring for older members of the Irish community.
“Now, we have 500 seniors on our list and 250 of them are regular participants,” the Dubliner said, referring to events like the weekly lunch on Wednesday.
And the numbers of people seeking and getting help — passport applications, legal advice and visa advice, for example – go up in all categories each year.
“The Irish Immigration Center has made great strides,” Lyons said. “But there’s clearly more of a demand than we can service.”
She added. “And we’ve pretty much outgrown our space. We have to raise more money so we can expand services.”
As part of that process, she would like to increase the full-time staff to three.
“At first, it was me and some volunteers,” she said.
Then, in March 2012, full-time help arrived in the person of Leslie Alcock, a native of County Carlow.
“Siobhan was looking to expand and to hire a social worker. She’d interviewed a few people [in Philadelphia],” Alcock said. “And then reached out to the Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers.”
Paul Dowling of Chicago Irish Immigrant Support suggested as a candidate Alcock, who has a Master’s in social work from University College Dublin.
“I love it. Siobhan is great,” she said. “It’s a great community here. I’ve met wonderful people.”
It’s been Alcock’s first extended period working outside of Ireland. “I really like it in Philadelphia,” she said. “I have the best of both worlds: I live in the city, where there’s a mixture of people, and work out here in Upper Darby where there’s a sense of Irish community.”
Executive Director Lyons was well-traveled even before she reached her late teens. Her father was an Irish diplomat who served in Nairobi, Washington D.C., London and Singapore, among other places when she was young. She studied Arabic for her degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and worked for two years at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin.
Lyons came to Philadelphia initially with her Canadian husband, and after they divorced some years ago she opted to stay.
While she may be far from home, she is geographically closer to it than any other close family member. Her two brothers are based in Singapore, while her sister is in Australia. Her mother is deceased and her father, who is remarried, lives in Malaysia. Her grandmother in County Mayo was the last link to home until her death in 2011. Still, she goes back when she can and traveled to last September’s All Ireland final at Croke Park with a group from Philadelphia’s Irish community.
That community is her focus for most of her waking hours.
Lyons is always concerned about the bigger picture and some of the bigger questions.
“What is the purpose of the Irish community? What does it mean to be Irish American?”
“It needs to be more cohesive and it needs to be more ambitious,” she argued.
“So many millions of people, many of them are working at cross purposes,” Lyons said. “The numbers of Americans who identify as Irish are going down for the first time. What are we going to do about that?”
Irish Americans obviously have a big presence and a lot of clout in the City of Brotherly Love. But Lyons said that there are two kinds of Irish American — those who active in some way, and those who mainly identify as Irish around St. Patrick’s Day.
“What can we to do to increase their engagement?” she said, referring to the latter group.
“There were Irish signers of the Declaration of Independence; the Irish were involved with the Constitution,” Lyons said, adding that Commodore Barry was from Wexford and that William Penn had Cork connections.
“I wonder what people will say in 100 years about our contribution to America today,” Lyons said.
The Irish Immigration Center is located at 7 South Cedar Lane, Upper Darby, Pa. 19082. Tel: 610-789-6355; email: email@example.com.
PHOTO BY PETER MCDERMOTT
By Edward McCann
Frank McCourt peering out from the front door of Leamy’s School on a visit to Limerick City in the summer of 1997. PHOTOCALL
My hero Frank McCourt died five years ago this week, an event that prompted sorrow mixed with the guilty suspicion that I wasn’t really entitled to any. We were strangers, after all, but McCourt was important to me in the unknowing way heroes often are. I once made a sort of pilgrimage to tell him that.
On a spring day in 2007 I took the train from Poughkeepsie to New York City to see McCourt and Calvin Trillin at the 92nd Street Y. The event was part of a reading and performance series but was more like eavesdropping on the men as they chatted in the living room, all of us in the audience like flies on the wall.
The men sat in club chairs flanking a low table and talked about favorite books, about pretentious restaurants (“Le Maison de Casa House”), and about the ham-fisted response to the massive snowstorms that crippled New York City in the 1970s.
“There are still huge piles of snow out in Queens left over from the Lindsey administration,” said McCourt.
From my seat in the darkened auditorium I laughed along with the men, enjoying their sharp wit and the easy warmth of their exchange.
Following a brief Q&A, the men took seats at folding tables in a reception area where guests with books formed two lines before them. Empty handed, I stood in McCourt’s line and watched him smile and chat with his fans, graciously signing his name again and again. I extended my hand as I approached the table.
“Hello, Mr. McCourt; I left your books at home this morning; it seemed a little tacky to haul them all down here for your autograph.”
McCourt smiled and waved his hand in dismissal. “Och, that’s what these things are for.”
“Well, I enjoyed hearing you and Mr. Trillin speak,” I said, “but I really came here today to tell you that something you said in a radio interview years ago really resonated with me and it inspired me to write my own story about my Irish Catholic childhood in Broad Channel, and about my search for the 3-year-old who went missing from our family.”
McCourt folded his hands and tilted his head to one side, waiting.
“The interviewer asked you why, at age 66 and after 30 years in the classroom, you’d decided to write ‘Angela’s Ashes.’ You said, ‘Because if I hadn’t, I’d have gone howling to my grave.”
McCourt’s facial expression said he didn’t recall the words exactly but he certainly agreed with the sentiment.
“That’s pretty good,” he said with a chuckle.
People behind me were waiting. Afraid to fawn or embarrass myself, I didn’t mention the mutual acquaintance I shared with his editor and I refrained from telling him, like others on line before me, how very much I admired his work. But I did manage to say: “When I finish my manuscript I’d like to send it to you with a note reminding you about this conversation. Perhaps you’d let me take you to lunch?”
He squinted at my card before slipping it into his shirt pocket. “Okay,” he said, clutching my hand a second time. “Maybe we can do some howling!”
Walking toward the train I thought about how goofy it was to invite Frank McCourt to lunch. But I was emboldened because I was enamored, and because McCourt was the favorite teacher I never had. Until the morning I learned of his illness, when his brother Malachy told the press “Frank is not expected to live,” the slim possibility of that lunch had still remained: a spring meeting at an outdoor café in the city or perhaps a shared hour or two in the autumn, sharing a pot of tea in Connecticut as warm sunlight filtered through golden leaves overhead.
The night McCourt lay dying a torrential summer storm blew through the Hudson Valley. I imagined him in his bed an hour to the south, tended by family and a hospice nurse while thunder cracked and the lights flickered.
I feel certain he did not howl.
Edward McCann is a professional writer whose features and essays have been published in national magazines and literary journals An award-winning television writer/producer and longtime contributing editor at Country Living, he also writes a blog, “My Rescue Mutt,” which chronicles his adventures with Willie, an 11-pounder from central Louisiana. McCann recently completed a memoir entitled “Finding George.” He lives and writes in New York’s Hudson River Valley.
By Áine Ní Shionnaigh
This week marks the 15th anniversary of the tragic death of John F. Kennedy Junior, only son of President John F. Kennedy. JFK Jr. perished when the light aircraft he was piloting crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. Also on board the flight to Martha’s Vineyard was his wife and sister-in-law. The anniversary prompted me to ponder on the sense of tragedy that befell father and son.
The “Kennedy Curse” refers to the series of tragedies that have befallen the family. This “curse” is more likely, and in part, due to the fame, wealth, and power that brought the Kennedys attention in the first place, rather than anything as mysterious as a “curse.” A sense of tragedy became evident very early on in John Junior’s life. His dad’s state funeral was held on his third birthday. In a moment that became an emotional and iconic image of the 1960s, John stepped forward and rendered a final salute as the flag-draped casket was carried out from the cathedral. At the age of seven, he spent six idyllic weeks in Ireland with his mother and his sister where he visited, among many places, his great great- grandfather’s homestead in Dunganstown, County Wexford, and met with President Eamon de Valera. As an Irish person I will never tire of the subject of the 1963 presidential visit to Ireland, how Ireland embraced him, how he embraced the Irish, and thus began a love affair that will go down in the realms of history.
President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was, and is, someone to aspire to, someone to learn about, and of course, if you are Irish, someone to argue about. Countless books have been written and re-written about the person he was, the image he portrayed, the reforms he fought for, and the abrupt ending that is almost too tragic to comprehend. His assassination left us with the eternal questions:
Where would his thinking have led the country and the world?
What more greatness would he have been capable of achieving?
The tragic ending of President Kennedy’s life, less than five months after he waved goodbye to Ireland, ensured that his memory will never ever fade with the passage of time. To understand fully the magnanimous effect of President Kennedy’s visit to Ireland in those last days of June 1963, one should recall the economic conditions of Ireland at the time. As the 1950s drew to a close, Ireland was in a state of depression, there was shocking and appalling poverty.
Noel Browne‘s book “Against the Tide” gives some accurate insight into what real poverty was. The closed economy rule that had been adopted by de Valera ensured that we remained an island in every sense of the term. In the early 1960s, Sean Lemass began to adopt the “First Program for Economic Expansion” and a chink of light slowly appeared in what was a dark and bleak time. The stage was perfectly set for a visit from one of our own, the ultimate returned immigrant from1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington. His visit epitomized perfectly the coming together of the transatlantic story of Irish America and Ireland. President Kennedy of course meant even more to the Irish in America as he validated who the Irish were. He was the first American president who identified himself as Irish and Catholic and interestingly, there hasn’t been anyone since. In terms of “respectability” for the Irish, the Kennedy influence is unquestionable. So, on the 26th of June, 1963, when President John F Kennedy stepped off the plane in Ireland, Ireland embraced him and he embraced the Irish.
Many history books begin with his grandfather, Patrick, who had worked his way up in Boston and became a saloon owner and a politician. However, the real beginning, the fact that the President’s eight great grandparents were Famine immigrants of course resonated strongly with Kennedy. How could it not? On the subject of emigration, he remarked to the people of New Ross in County Wexford: “When my great grandfather left here to become a cooper in East Boston, he carried nothing with him except two things: a strong religious faith and a strong desire for liberty. I am glad to say that all of his great grandchildren have valued that inheritance”. Also on display in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is the Fitzgerald family Bible brought from Ireland by President Kennedy’s forebears. This same Bible was used when John Fitzgerald Kennedy took his oath of office as 35th President of the United States on January 20, 1961. The Bible is an 1850 edition containing a handwritten chronicle of the Fitzgerald family from 1857 and including a record of the birth of John Fitzgerald Kennedy on May 29, 1917. In 1948, Kennedy wrote a less well known book titled “A Nation of Emigrants.” The coldest cynic could not fail to be warmed by the images of John F. Kennedy, the President of the United States of America, the Harvard-educated great-grandson of Patrick Kennedy, back “home” in his cousin Mary’s cottage in Dunganstown, Co.Wexford cutting cake and having copious cups of tea , being introduced to his relatives.
It was noted at the time that when the crush of chaotic crowds threatened to become overwhelming and the security men stepped in to intervene, the president waved them away with the words “It’s all right, these are my people.” Most poignantly perhaps is that he told people afterwards that, that one Irish day at the hearth of his cousin Mary in Wexford, and indeed, the four days in Ireland as a whole, were the highlight of his life. His speech in Dublin to the Oireachteas was the first Dail Eireann speech ever broadcast. Unbeknownst to everyone at the time, this was the start of Ireland’s genuine economic growth. Kennedy talked about Ireland’s position in the world, he acknowledged that “Yes, you are a small country but……………”
And that is where the story of modern Ireland began: “my friends: Ireland’s hour has come. You have something to give to the world – and that is a future of peace with freedom”. He gave Ireland one thing: he encouraged Ireland to aspire to greatness. In a time of post colonialism, where countries were slowly beginning to crawl out of the claws of colonialism, Kennedy put Ireland at the forefront of this movement.
When President Kennedy returned to the White House after his Irish visit, he was so taken with the Irish experience that he not only bored his staff to death replaying home movies of his Irish trip, he also began to study the Irish language. Perhaps, in the Oval Office, he pored over dictionaries and grammar books and I suspect, even his brilliant mind was perplexed by a language that had so many tenses and clauses. Perhaps he wanted to have the privilege of being able to speak one of the oldest living languages in Europe. In the Irish language, you do not separate what belongs together. President Kennedy recognized this, and appreciated it. His trip to Ireland was transcendent. He arrived as an Irish Norman Fitzgerald, and left as an Irish Gaelic Kennedy. Kennedy had observed the Irish Army Officer Cadets in the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin and talked much about them afterwards.
These same cadets from the Curragh, Co. Kildare were flown over for his funeral to perform the final salute at his graveside. Can there be anything more poignant that the image of these young, uniformed Irishmen performing the final graveside salutes. These same soldiers represented the Irish people that President Kennedy felt compelled to turn back to and say “I’ll be back in springtime.” Little did anyone know, that long before springtime, so many would be standing silent, at a graveside in Arlington Cemetery, bidding President John Fitzgerald Kennedy a final farewell on his last journey home. And that 36 years later, no time at all really, the world would be saying farewell to his only son.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam, agus anam a mhac.
John P. Cahill, second from right, at a campaign event in Greene County, N.Y.
By Peter McDermott
When John P. Cahill says he’s hopeful that it will be a good day on Nov. 4, he’s not referring to the weather.
“We plan to surprise a lot of people,” said the Republican candidate for attorney general of New York State.
Usually incumbency brings a natural advantage, but Republicans sense an opening in the perception that Eric Schneiderman has a rather lower profile than his two immediate predecessors, Andrew Cuomo and Eliot Spitzer, both of whom became governor following their tenures. And the attorney general before Spitzer was Dennis Vacco, a reminder that the Democratic Party hasn’t had a lock on the office in recent memory.
Vacco’s period in office coincided with the first of George Pataki’s three terms as governor. Cahill got most of his political experience during that long GOP occupancy of the state’s top office. He joined the Pataki administration in its second year and served until its end. “I was there when we turned off the lights on Dec. 31, 2006,” he said.
Cahill served first as commissioner of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and then as secretary and chief of staff in Pataki’s office. In May 2005, he was tapped by the governor to oversee the state’s efforts at the World Trade Center site. The New York Times welcomed the move, saying Cahill was an “excellent choice for one of the toughest jobs in the country. Getting all the parties involved in that site to work together and to work in the public interest requires an act of focused political will.”
‘Proactive’ on climate
On the campaign trail, Cahill will likely focus more on his long experience in the environmental policy area. In common with his former boss, he believes that climate change is a serious issue that requires the mitigating efforts of government intervention. They together formed the environmental consultancy firm, the Pataki-Cahill Group.
(Gov. Pataki parts company with most prominent Republicans on the issue. He has co-chaired the Independent Task Force on Global Warming, a project of the Council on Foreign Relations, and focuses on climate-change issues as a member of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations’ General Assembly.)
“I’m very proud we took the lead on climate change. We were very proactive,” Cahill said of the administration he served. He was referring in part to the Pataki initiative that led to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the first multi-state carbon cap and trade program in the country.
More generally, Cahill is using a familiar GOP line of attack: he has contended that Attorney General Schneiderman is not sufficiently pro-business and is “nothing but an adversary” to certain forms of economic development.
He added, however, that “there are probably a whole range of issues that I disagree with Republicans across the country.”
The 55-year-old Cahill said he is asking voters “to look beyond labels to the kinds of policies that are going to best serve New Yorkers.”
As the third of the six children of Margaret, a County Cavan native, and James Cahill, a Manhattan tavern owner who was originally from County Longford, the candidate has a natural sympathy for the plight of immigrants, regardless of their status. “Everybody should be given an opportunity to succeed,” Cahill said.
He supports the Dream Act, believing that the illegal/legal distinction should not apply to children or those who’ve grown up in America.
Cahill and his wife of 27 years, Kim, themselves have four children: John, Meghan and twins Erin and James.
The candidate can trace his interest in the process to family conversations going as far back as the 1960s. “They were about President Kennedy and then Senator Kennedy,” recalled the life-long Yonkers resident. “Growing up we discussed politics around the kitchen table.”
Now that passion finds expression in bringing political ideas to the voters and he is enjoying that new role.
“It’s good to visit cities I haven’t been to in quite some time. That’s the fun part,” he said. “Pretty much every day, I travel to somewhere in the state.”
Cahill said: “We’ve been getting a very good reception.”
by Áine Ní Shionnaigh
Growing up in the West of Ireland, my exposure to the Fourth of July was limited to two iconic movies. As a young child, I remember watching the black and white grainy version of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” where the main star, George M. Cohan, was born on the Fourth of July, a fact which heightened the expectations about his destiny. This movie could not have contrasted more with Oliver Stone’s “Born on the Fourth of July” where as a young adult, I was deeply struck by the contrast between the idea of war and the reality of war. The atmosphere at the Fourth of July parade before Kovic (Tom Cruise) joins the Marines coldly conflicts with the horrific conditions that Kovic finds himself in at the Veterans hospital where he is admitted on his return from Vietnam as a paralyzed veteran. There is a dramatic sense of despair, disillusionment and disappointment. The experience of actually becoming a hero is a serious let-down. Some of the content of this movie became a reality for me this year when I became involved with some veteran organizations to discuss traumatic brain injury issues in conjunction with the Sarah Jane Brain Foundation.
Nine years ago, when I moved to New York City from the West of Ireland, one of the biggest observations I continually made was the sense of patriotism in this great country. I am gradually coming to understand and still learning about the intensity of the relationship between the U.S. and its military. America’s military history is at the core of the formation of the American Republic as we know it today.
The independence celebrated on this July 4th weekend was fought for by many who paid the ultimate price so that Americans could enjoy all the privileges and freedom that come with it. We also celebrate the Irish who fought so valiantly with General George Washington to win the War of Independence. When the American Revolution broke out, both Scotch Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics could be found in every contingent of Washington’s army. According to James O’Boyle’s “Life of George Washington,” one of the most daring group of soldiers during the Revolutionary War were the Green Mountain Boys, led by, among others, two Irishmen named Marion and Pickens. Men lie these later became the pioneers who would venture outside the range of the original 13 colonies and head west. The Scotch Irish from Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania were particularly prominent in the ranks of those Americans who took on and ultimately prevailed against the British. They had grown to love the country they had left, the northern parts of Ireland, and it was an affection that would see them bear arms in a bid to gain independence in their new adopted land. Their efforts did not go unnoticed. When things weren’t looking good for General Washington, he came out with a gem of a quote that showed the pride and trust he had in these sturdy men. “If defeated everywhere else, I will make my stand for liberty, among the Scots-Irish in my native Virginia.” But defeat was not something they had to worry about, and Washington would lead his army to victory and becomes the country’s first president.
In June 1776, representatives of the 13 colonies had weighed a resolution that would declare their independence from Great Britain. On July 2nd, the Continental Congress voted in favor of Independence, and two days later its delegates adopted the Declaration of Independence, a historic document drafted by Thomas Jefferson. One of the signatories was an Irish Catholic whose grandfather was born in Aghtery, a townland in County Offaly, interestingly the same county President Barack Obama traced his Irish roots to and visited in 2011.
Charles Carroll (September 19, 1737 – November 14, 1832), known as Charles Carroll of Carrollton to distinguish him from his similarly named relatives, was a wealthy Maryland planter and an early advocate of independence from Great Britain. He served as a delegate to the Continental Congress and Confederation Congress and later as first United States Senator for Maryland. He was the only Catholic and the longest-lived (and last surviving) signatory of the Declaration of Independence. He died at the age of 95 at his city mansion in the neighborhood of Jonestown in Baltimore.
Carroll was not initially interested in politics and in any event Catholics had been barred from holding office in Maryland. But as the dispute between Great Britain and the colonies intensified, Carroll became a powerful voice for independence. He wrote in the Maryland Gazette under a pseudonym. He became a prominent spokesman against the governor’s proclamation increasing legal fees to state officers and Protestant clergy. Eventually, word spread of the true identity of the columnist and Carroll’s fame and notoriety began to grow. He became a leading opponent of British rule, and served on various committees of correspondence. He also played an important role in the burning in Annapolis harbor of the “Peggy Stewart,” a ship which had been carrying tea to Maryland, and was destroyed on October 19, 1774 as part of the tea party protests.
Charles Carroll was elected to the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, and remained a delegate until 1778. He signed the official document that survives today.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt once noted something that I think speaks of the Irish contribution to the kind of loud and colorful celebration that marks the fourth day of the seventh month.
He told James Cagney: “That’s one thing I’ve always admired about you Irish Americans, you carry your love of country like a flag, right out in the open. It’s a great quality.”
I also greatly admire the love of country that every American possesses.
I hope you all have a wonderful Fourth of July.
Chain of office is perfect calling card
Máirtín Ó Muilleoir in Portland, Ore., during a year that involved the most frenetic engagement ever with America by a Belfast First Citizen. DONAL MCCANN PHOTOGRAPHY (The photographer followed the lord mayor for his year in office. To view the images, go to: http://www.donalmccann.com/BelfastLordMayor.html.)
By Máirtín Ó Muilleoir
For a people whose finest hour was serving notice on the British, Americans have a decidedly inappropriate interest in the imposing solid gold chain of office sported by the Lord Mayor of Belfast.
And that goes right to the top, as I found out when I met President Obama and family during his visit to Belfast at the time of the G8 meeting in Fermanagh last June. “So what’s this all about?” queried the President as he pointed to the chain when I formed a welcome party of one for him in the very bowels of Belfast’s Waterfront Hall.
“Mr President,” I replied, “this is the mayoral chain of office and no matter how high you rise, it’s an item you will never get to wear.”
All of which he took in good sport even as he instructed the sternest and most officious of his security detail — earlier she had admonished me for suggesting I would take a snap with my iPhone — to take our picture together. He also took time out to chat and sign a photograph I had carried home with me from Sandy-devastated Rockaways with the words, “Breezy Point, I admire your courage”. (That signed photo made its way back to the fire station at Breezy, courtesy of then New York City Small Business Commissioner Rob Walsh.)
There was an important lesson there that I was to take with me during the remainder of my term in office: for all its pomp, the chain of office, insured for the best part of a million dollars and dating back to 1782, was the perfect ice-breaker in the corridors of power.
It became my calling card in city halls, state assemblies, governors’ offices and corporate boardrooms across America in what was the most frenetic engagement ever with America by a Belfast First Citizen.
Indeed, that partnership with Irish America was at the very core of my mayoral mission and kicked off with a conference call to Congressman Richie Neal, Democratic Head of Friends of Ireland on Capitol Hill, and Kieran McLoughlin, Chief Executive of the American Ireland Fund, just minutes after I took up office on June 2, 2014.
The focus of that call was jobs because the provision of employment for our citizens remains the burning issue for mayors the world over. And any attempt by Belfast companies to woo investment, build business partnerships, win trade or broker commercial deals begins and ends in the U.S.
It’s not just that America presents a staggering market opportunity for emerging Northern Irish companies but with its talented workforce, common language, stable business environment, and links of history and heritage, Belfast represents the ideal European bridgehead for US businesses.
That’s why within two weeks of my instalment, I was addressing the annual New York-New Belfast Conference at Fordham and presenting the first Belfast Ambassador Awards to Liam Neeson. Sauntering in alone to attend a theatrical opening to the summit, Neeson cut a relaxed but imposing figure who is clearly at home in his adopted city.
Belfast Ambassador Awards didn’t just go to expatriates, they also went to those who had become advocates for Belfast as a location for global high-tech business by their decision to invest there. Thus came a three-day visit to Chicago to address surely the biggest — and rowdiest — gathering in Irish America — the Irish Fellowship Luncheon — which included a race out to the suburb of Northbrook to present a Belfast Ambassador certificate to Seren Gupta, the AllState executive responsible for the bluechip company’s 1400-employee Belfast operation. Like Chris Caldwell, President of Concentrix in Fremont, Calif., who was elevated to Ambassador status in October past, Gupta said he would employ another 1,000 workers in Belfast if we could find him the tech-savvy workforce. Caldwell made good on his promise when he announced those 1,000 jobs and a $10 million headquarters construction project in Belfast in May — the biggest-ever single jobs boost to Belfast.
But not every job bid involves a multi-million pound investment, in October, I had the honor of leading 20 of Belfast’s most ambitious start-ups on the first-ever business mission to Silicon Valley. There they pitched in the famed capita of Venture Capital — Sandhill Road in Palo Alto — and were coached in the secrets of success in the world’s toughest testing place for tech innovation.
Everywhere, we traveled, the famed network of Irish America opened doors and delivered access which would be the envy of visiting Presidents.
How many mayors of European cities would be given the red carpet treatment afforded us across the States? (A few admittedly. I defer, especially, to the new mayor of the metropolis of Paris who snagged a meeting with Mayor de Blasio of New York in late May when his diary was too busy to meet his Belfast counterpart!)
Certainly, it would be unusual for State Governors to make time in their busy schedules for the mayor of a city of 300,000 souls but two did: Governor Jerry Brown of California and Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York. There was a mayoral thing going on at the Governor Brown engagement as he had been mayor of Oakland where our meeting took place but the presence of civil rights veteran Tom Hayden, who flew in from L.A., made it a conversational free-for-all as well. In fact, we ended that meeting in the most appropriate fashion for a Governor proud of his Irish roots: with a sean-nós song by our driver Dónal O’Sullivan, a Cork native long moved to California.
That in turn, highlights the real joy of traversing America: connecting with the heart of Irish America. Yes, reaching out to America was about jobs and opportunities, but it was also a chance to renew a relationship with sons and daughters of those had left Ireland to make a new beginning across the Atlantic.
To see Ireland not only in their faces but also their body language and characteristics, to sense homeland in their sentiment and worldview and to be a part of a renewed connection with the land their ancestors left behind was both thrilling and humbling. And those special moments of reconnection were many: An elderly O’Sullivan, over since the 1960s, who wore his Cork GAA jersey to the Famine Monument in Portand, Ore., proudly shown off to their Belfast visitor; A Farrell, whose father fought for fair play and justice for Northern nationalists in the North, opening his Commissioner office in San Francisco City Hall; an O’Reilly who has brought the courage of the Irish Chieftains of Cavan to a sublime winery in Oregon; a McCormack in Albany, N.Y, who clears the boss’s diary when the mayor of Belfast comes calling because that’s what being Irish means.
Whether holding high office distinguished by ceremonial garb or not, who wouldn’t want to be a link in that chain of unbroken Irish spirit and humanity?