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?
by Áine Ní Shionnaigh
Patrick Donohue is a prominent Irish American lawyer who left his career as a lawyer to change the world for his daughter Sarah Jane, my daughter Grace Anne and countless others in the US and worldwide who have suffered a brain injury. Patrick is the perfect example of someone who has turned a tragedy into a triumph.
In 2007, Patrick set up the Sarah Jane Brain Foundation (SJBF) which is a 501c3 non for profit. The mission of the SJBF is to change the world for Sarah Jane and the millions of other children, youth and young adults who suffer from brain injury and other brain-based disorders by improving services, training and research in this country and beyond. Brain injury in youth can result in widespread impairments in cognition, motor abilities, behavior and social function. The brain remains in a developmental phase until around age 25 so recoveries are possible. However, recovery requires an integrated and individualized approach. There has to be a co-ordination between medical, educational and rehabilitation systems. SJBF’s Advisory Board is comprised of leading experts from the top major medical centers in the US and elsewhere, from Children’s Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School, Mayo Clinic, Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital to name but a few.
In September 2013, SJBF launched the first and only school in New York City to educate and habilitate kids with brain injuries and other brain-based disorders – The International Academy of HOPE (iHOPE). The school currently has 19 students and will grow to 40 by summer 2014. The mission of iHOPE is to be the best school in the world for kids with brain injuries and brain based disorders and to translate it’s knowledge across the country and around the world by establishing other iHOPE schools.
Pediatric brain injury statistics unfortunately include more than half of our young veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with traumatic brain injuries, the average age of a veteran with TBI is about 19.3 years old. Recently the Sarah Jane Brain Foundation and iHOPE honored Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg with the Col. Jack Jacobs Angel Award for his service to our country and for changing the way people think about brain injury. A roadside bomb in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on his 10th deployment, left Sgt Remsburg in a coma for three months, partially paralyzed and brain damaged. His father, Craig, a retired Air Force Reserve firefighter, and stepmother Annie, are his full time caretakers and accompanied him to the school where he lead the iHOPE students in the Pledge of Allegiance. When asked if he would return to war, knowing what he knows now, he replied, “in a heartbeat”. Such bravery and patriotism is not easily found.
The Sarah Jane Brain Foundation recently held a Conference in conjunction with the NFL, the title was “Finding Solutions to the Public Health Crisis” “Mild”/TBI/Concussion in Youth. The main speaker was Dr Sanjay Gupta who is the Chief Medical Correspondent at CNN and also Associate Chief of Neurosurgery at Grady Memorial Hospital. The conference was attended by top medical experts representing the top centers of excellence in Neurology and Sports Medicine from all over the US. The Sarah Jane Brain Foundation is working to prevent, identify, treat and eventually cure Pediatric Acquired Brain injuries which are the no 1 cause of death and disability for youth around the world so needs to be taken more seriously.
iHOPE school and it’s associated Foundation, the SJBF has the chance to change the lives of children and young adults that everyone else has given up on. It gives back hope in situations where hope is diminished.
“Hope is the thing with feathers
that perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all.” (ED)
For more information about the Sarah Jane Brain Foundation, please visit: www.TheBrainProject.org
For more information about the International Academy of Hope, please visit: www.ihopenyc.org
Funeral services for labor leader John “Jack” Ahern will be held Friday through Sunday, from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. at Fairchild Sons Funeral Home, 1201 Franklin Avenue, Garden City, 11503, (516)746-0585.http://www.fairchildfuneral.com/contact-and-directions
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held on Monday, June 23 at 9:45 a.m. at St. Brigid’s Church, 75 Post Avenue, Westbury, Long Island, NY. Interment at Gate of Heaven Cemetery, 10 W Stevens Ave., Hawthorne, in Westchester County.
Ahern, who was Grand Marshal of this year’s New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade, died after a long battle with cancer.
by Áine Ní Shionnaigh
Last week, I referred to a piece of prose “Welcome to Holland”, which employs a metaphor of excitement for a vacation to Italy that becomes a disappointment when the plane lands instead in Holland. “Holland?!?”you say. “What do you mean Holland ?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”
On the 2nd of January 2006, I personally landed in “Holland” when my beautiful daughter, Grace Anne was born. After a beyond perfect pregnancy, in one of the top hospitals in the world, something went terribly wrong and nothing could ever have prepared me for what lay ahead. A few hours after the birth, I heard those dreaded words that no parent should ever have to hear, “I have some bad news for you, your daughter has suffered a severe brain injury. She is currently on life support and it is doubtful if she will make it past day two”. In that instant, my life and the lives of many others changed forever.
The nightmare had begun, what should have been one of the happiest moments of my life, seeing my first born for the first time, became very dark, very quickly. When I saw my daughter she was unrecognizable, covered in a maze of invasive tubes, many taped to her cute little face. I couldn’t hold her or touch her. She was in an induced coma to try to prevent any further damage. I wanted to take her out and run away from the nightmare in which I found myself living. Instead of bonding with my daughter, I was bombarded with medical terminologies, MRIs and CAT scans of my newborn’s brain, where, as one doctor glibly put it “everything had been wiped out”, there was no longer any differentiation between the grey and white matter. I was even dissuaded from pumping my breast milk, advice I ignored as I wasn’t as ready to give up. Through endless meetings with doctors, specialists, a bereavement counsellor, a chaplain, the local funeral undertaker, I struggled so hard to find some small comfort in the idea that Grace Anne was an angel and would always be with me, something that no earthly person could ever be. She was christened on my birthday in the NICU and then the machine was turned off, a few tense moments passed and then Grace Anne revealed her ‘West of Ireland’ determination. She wasn’t quite ready for heaven yet, when the humming of the ventilator subsided, she took her first breath on her own.
I was told a complex multiplicity of medical conditions that my daughter would have. Any single one of these issues would be catastrophic on their own, I was taking in tens if not hundreds of them. I met with many different specialists all dealing with different aspects of Grace Anne’s condition. Any information was of course bad news. She left the hospital on Valentine’s Day with a diagnosis of severe quadriplegic cerebral palsy, severe seizure disorder, severe digestive disorder, severely impacted muscle tone, legally blind, and a myriad more conditions all caused by the brain injury.
One of the most difficult challenges was how to respond to people’s reactions, which is something I may write a book about someday, “What NOT to say to a parent of a child with special needs”. I constantly heard comments such as “such a shame and she is so pretty, she could have been a model”, “ you are great, I could never cope with that”, “God won’t give you a cross you can’t carry”. I ached to rewind my life, to have a life that did not revolve around therapies and doctor appointments and trips to the ER in the middle of the night that ended up being week long hospitalizations. Being a first time parent is an exhausting, puzzling experience anyway under the best circumstances. Being the parent of a child with a disability extends the parameters beyond the place to which most people can relate. The tension created by this isolation exacerbates the all-consuming grief. I was tired beyond belief; there were no answers only endless suggestions, which although well-meaning, become almost painful to hear. The answering machine was always full and I hadn’t the energy to listen to messages. In the beginning I needed to shut the world out to conserve what little energy I had left to look after my special child who also had severe gastric issues which meant she cried constantly all day long. The night was my only reprieve, to sleep and slip into silence. I badly needed extra help, extra kindness, extra compassion but I didn’t know how to ask for it. I had learned to put on as I called it ‘my suit of armor’ to stifle my feelings of absolute grief, sorrow and despair. I was in mourning but I couldn’t mourn the loss as Grace Anne had way more needs than a typical new baby.
Having Grace Anne changed the way I view my life. My priorities changed completely, what used to seem so important is so totally irrelevant now. Grace Anne has a great deal to offer the world. She has taught me the real meaning of unconditional love, happiness, perseverance and determination. Putting aside the medical issues, she is a cute red haired, blue eyed, freckle faced little girl who was born with a happy fighting spirit and seems tuned into a better quality frequency than the rest of us. If I ever take time to cry, she thinks I am laughing and she starts to giggle. I feel there is something deeper here, that she knows love and grief spring from the same well. Grief can wake us up and make us whole in a way we never were before. I almost feel I am a more complete person now than before.
Life did get better and the time came when I began to feel positive and energized again but only and I stress only, because I am lucky enough to live here in the US where it is recognized that the parent of a child with a disability needs professional help to assist them looking after that child. A situation with a child that needs 24hr care is overwhelming. Currently, with the help of my beyond amazing nurses: Diana, Imelda and Valerie, my life has become livable again, I can now see the light again at the end of the tunnel. I don’t want my life or Grace Anne’s life to be defined by her disability. Next week I will tell you all about Grace Anne’s amazing school: iHOPE, the International Academy of Hope, www.ihopenyc.org, which has succeeded in giving hope again to Grace Anne and I. iHOPE has the chance to change the lives of children that everyone else has given up on. Its purpose is to give hope to special children and their families and that it does. Grace Anne and I would love you all to join us at iHOPE on Thursday, June 26th at lunchtime 12 – 2 where I will host a special Irish American luncheon to introduce iHOPE to the Irish American community. I hope to see some of you there. www.ihopenyc.org for details. To be continued next week…..
A Dad with a Difference
by Áine Ní Shionnaigh
“We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. (Victor Frankl, A Man’s Search for Meaning). In my life experience so far, no one has epitomized this ability to turn a personal tragedy into a triumph, better than Patrick Donohue, Irish American, prominent lawyer, finance director, visionary, and Dad of Sarah Jane Donohue.
Patrick and I have something in common: we are both parents of children who suffered a brain injury and we are both 100% committed to helping them live the best lives that they possibly can.
In December 2006 when sending my annual Christmas letter to friends and family back in Ireland, I enclosed a poem as I felt it helped to explain the unexplainable. The poem was titled “Welcome to Holland”, which was written by Emily Kingsley, about having a child with a disability. The essay employs a metaphor of excitement for a vacation to Italy that becomes a disappointment when the plane lands instead in Holland. “Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.” The metaphor is that the trip to Italy is a typical birth and child-raising experience, and that the trip to Holland is the experiencing of having and raising a child with special-needs. “But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.” In the end, however, the reader sees that the ‘trip’ is still well worth it: “But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.”
Interestingly these are the same lines Patrick Donohue recently chose as the opening lines for the short documentary he made to introduce iHOPE, his pioneering new school for children with brain injuries. Nine years ago on June 5th, also Patrick’s own Birthday, Sarah Jane Donohue was born at Manhattan’s Lenox Hill hospital, a healthy, happy baby with stunning brown eyes framed by exotic dark thick lashes. All was well with the world, or so it seemed. Tragically, 5 days later when Sarah Jane was in the safety of her own home, with her parents sleeping in the next room, she was violently shaken by her baby nurse, causing serious injury: breaking both her collarbones, four ribs and causing a severe Pediatric Acquired Brain Injury – PABI. Doctors were shocked at the severity of her injuries. On that night, Sarah Jane’s life and that of her family changed forever.
Gradually Patrick Donohue began a new career “changing the world for Sarah Jane”. He began by setting up a nonprofit advocacy group, The Sarah Jane Brain Foundation in 2007. Then in 2009, he put together an advisory board that drew together 75 experts in the field of brain injury from all over the US and Canada. The mission is to create a model system of care for children and young adults suffering from all Pediatric Acquired Brain Injuries in order to advance our knowledge of the brain fifty years over the next five years. This past September, Patrick founded the first school in NYC for children who have suffered a brain injury, iHOPE, the International Academy of Hope, which is groundbreaking in it’s treatment and approach to children with brain injuries. Sarah Jane attends this school as does my daughter, Grace Anne and it is changing their lives dramatically one day at the time. www.ihopenyc.org www.thebrainproject.org
When we face great challenges in our lives, we have two choices, we can lie down and let the challenge overcome us or we can decide to draw on an inner strength we didn’t know we had and continue our lives, armed with the determination that we are not going to let this adversity define us.
As Joe Biden recently said at an Irish American event here in New York : “there is something uniquely Irish about maintaining hope in light of tragedy, that the Irish know “that to live is to be hurt, but we’re still not afraid to live.”
To be continued next week ……
“Ní mór dúinn dearmad a dhéanamh gur féidir linn brí a fháil sa saol, fiú nuair déileáil le staid gan dóchas, nuair atá os ár gcomhair cinniúint nach féidir a athrú. Chun an méid sin ábhair is finné a iompróidh an acmhainneacht uathúil daonna ag a fearr, a bhfuil a chlaochlú tragóid pearsanta i bua, dul amháin isteach éacht daonna. (Victor Frankl). I mo shaoil go dtí seo, níl aon duine eiseamláir seo cumas chun dul tragóid pearsanta i bua, níos fearr ná Patrick Donohue, Mheiriceánach Éireannach, dlíodóir feiceálach, stiúrthóir airgeadais, aislingeach, agus Daid do Sarah Jane Donohue.
Tá rud éigin i gcoitinne idir Patrick agus mise. Tá páistí speisialta ag an bheirt again, leanaí a d’fhulaing díobháil inchinne agus go bhfuilmuid araon 100% tiománta cabhrú leo cónaí ar an saol is fearr gur féidir leo.
I mí na Nollag 2006 nuair a sheol mé mo litir Nollag bliantúil chuig mo chairde agus mo chlann ar ais in Éirinn, sheol mé dán freisin mar cheap mé gur chabhraigh an dán a mhíniú an rud nach raibh míniú. B’é teideal an dán “Fáilte go dtí an Ollainn”, a bhí scríofa ag Emily Kingsley, i dtaobh a leanbh faoi mhíchumas. Fostaíonn an aiste a meafar de cipíní le haghaidh saoire go dtí an Iodáil a thiocfaidh chun bheith ina díomá nuair a tailte an eitleáin ionad san Ísiltír. “Ollainn?!?” A deir tú. “Cad a dhéanann tú chiallaíonn Ollainn?? Shínigh mé suas don Iodáil! Tá mé ceaptha a bheith san Iodáil. Gach lá mo shaol a bhí mé ag tnúth le dul go dtí an Iodáil.” Is é an meafar go bhfuil an turas go dtí an Iodáil breithe tipiciúil agus taithí tógála leanaí, agus go bhfuil an turas go dtí an Ollainn ag fulaingt bhfuil agus tógála leanaí a bhfuil riachtanais speisialta. “Ach tá gach duine a fhios agat gnóthach ag teacht agus ag dul ón Iodáil … agus tá siad ag caint faoin an am iontach a bhí acu ann. Agus don chuid eile de do shaol, beidh tú ag rá “Tá, go nuair a bhí ceaptha agam a dul. Sin an méid a bhí beartaithe agam.” Sa deireadh, áfach, feictear an léitheoir go bhfuil an ‘turas’ fós fiú go maith é: “Ach … má chaitheann tú do shaol caoineadh ar an bhfíric nach raibh tú go dtí an Iodáil, ní féidir leat a bheith saor chun taitneamh a bhaint as na rudaí an-álainn an-speisialta … faoi Ollainn. “
Suimiúil b’iad na línte céanna a roghnaigh Patrick Donohue le déanaí mar na línte oscailt don chlár faisnéise gairid a rinne sé chun aird a tharraignt ar iHOPE, scoil nua ceannródaíoch do leanaí le gortuithe inchinne. Naoi mbliana ó shin ar 5 Meitheamh, freisin, lá breithe Phádraig féin, a rugadh Sarah Jane Donohue ag Lenox Cnoc ospidéal Manhattan, leanbh sláintiúil, sona, le súile donn doimhne, frámaithe le fabhraí coimhthíocha tiubh dorcha. Bhí gach rud go maith leis an domhan, nó mar sin a dhealraigh sé. Go tragóideach, cúig lá ina dhiaidh sin nuair a bhí Sarah Jane sábháilteacht sa bhaile féin, lena tuismitheoirí ina chodladh sa seomra eile, bhí sí chroitheadh foirtil ag a altra leanbh, is cúis le díobháil thromchúiseach: bhriseadh dá cuid cnámha múineáil, ceithre easnacha agus is cúis le dian Pediatric Gortú Inchinne Faighte – PABI. Bhí ionadh ar na dochtúirí ag an déine a díobhálacha. Ar an oíche sin, d’athraigh saol Sarah Jane agus saol a theaghlaigh go leor.
De réir a chéile thosaigh Patrick slí bheatha nua “ag athrú an domhain le haghaidh Sarah Jane”. Thosaigh sé le grúpa abhcóideacht, An Sarah Jane Brain Foundation i 2007. Ansin i 2009, chuir sé le chéile Bord Comhairleach a tharraing le chéile 75 saineolaithe i réimse an díobháil inchinne ó gach cearn na Stáit Aontaithe agus Ceanada. Is é an misean a chruthú córas múnla cúraim do pháistí agus do dhaoine fásta óga atá ag fulaingt ó gach ‘Acquired Brain Injury’ in ord lenár n-eolas ar an inchinn a chur chun cinn caoga bliain thar na cúig bliana atá romhainn. An Meán Fómhair seo chaite, bunaíodh Patrick an chéad scoil i NYC do leanaí a d’fhulaing díobháil inchinne, iHOPE, an Acadamh Idirnáisiúnta an Dóchais, atá úrnua i sé cóireáil agus cur chuige maidir le leanaí le gortuithe inchinne. Sarah Jane Freastalaíonn Sarah Jane an scoil seo mar a fhreastalaíonn mo ‘níon, Grace Anne agus tá athrú mór tagtha ar a saol cheana féin. www.ihopenyc.org , www.thebrainproject.org
Nuair a bhíonn dúshláin mór againn in ár saol, ní mór dúinn dhá rogha, is féidir linn a luí síos agus lig an dúshlán a shárú linn nó is féidir linn a chinneadh a tharraingt ar neart inmheánach nach raibh a fhios againn a bhí againn agus leanúint ar aghaidh lenár saol, armtha leis an gcinneadh nach bhfuil muid ag dul chun ligean seo angar shainmhíníonn.
Mar a dúirt Joe Biden le déanaí ag ócáid Meiriceánach Éireannach anseo i Nua-Eabhrac: “go bhfuil rud éigin uathúil an Ghaeilge faoi dhóchas a chothabháil i bhfianaise na tragóid, go bhfuil fhios ag na hÉireannaigh” is é sin le cónaí a bheith gortaithe, ach táimid fós nach bhfuil eagla a beo. “
Chun a bheith ar lean an tseachtain seo chugainn ……