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Dublin’s Kennedy sets sail on ‘Titanic’

POSTED ON April 11th  - POSTED IN Arts

Maria Doyle Kennedy and Toby Jones in the miniseries “Titanic,” which will be shown on ABC this weekend.

Irish actress Maria Doyle Kennedy loves how her new “Titanic” miniseries shines a spotlight on the second-class passengers of the doomed luxury liner.

“The second class is never told in Titanic [movies or TV shows.] It’s interesting in itself as a story and storyline, where they were, but also it’s interesting how that reflects on the other classes. It makes the English class system even more complex and nuanced,” the 47-year-old Clontarf-born star told the Irish Echo in a recent phone interview.

Written by “Downton Abbey” and “Gosford Park” scribe Julian Fellowes, “Titanic” is a four-part television event headlined by Kennedy, Linus Roache, Geraldine Somerville, Peter McDonald and Perdita Weeks.  It is set to air on ABC April 14-15 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the famous ship’s sinking.  More than 1,500 people died after the Belfast-built passenger liner struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean on her maiden voyage from Southampton, England to New York. Each of the first three episodes of the miniseries follows a mixture of real and imagined characters in the first-class, second-class and steerage sections of the ship in the time leading up to the crash. The finale pulls together all of the characters as they struggle to survive the historic maritime disaster.

“It is a very strong ensemble piece,” Kennedy said of the small-screen re-telling of the well-known tale. “There are several storylines in a way that Robert Altman did ‘Short Cuts’ and P.T. Anderson did ‘Magnolia.’ It’s all of these stories that overlap and weave together and that was a really interesting thing for me as an actor. It’s a proper ensemble and in some instances your story would be in the forefront and in others your story would be running through the side or the back of somebody else’s and it just seemed like a very interesting way to work for me.”

Best known for her roles on TV’s “The Tudors” and “Dexter,” as well as in the films “The General,” “The Commitments” and “The MatchMaker,” Kennedy plays fictional character Muriel Batley, an Irish woman whose husband John is a London lawyer, in the “Titanic” miniseries.

“The fact that she was fictional and not a real person just had that extra little bit of liberation about it,” explained the Trinity College Dublin graduate. “Toby [Jones, who plays John,] and I could really decide ourselves about our story and our connection and how we really felt about how the relationship had come about and what kind of state it was in. The other thing that was interesting to me is we’re second class so were kind of perfectly positioned in the middle of the boat and in the middle of the English class system, so that was an interesting thing to explore.”

The actress said she felt Muriel was a complicated, well-drawn character because she was highly intelligent and well-spoken, but, because of the time in which she lived, had no real outlet for her talents.

“I think, had she chosen to, she could have been well capable of being a lawyer herself as her husband was,” she reasoned. “But, of course, at the time, women weren’t able to do that. She wasn’t able to be part of the profession. She was mature and married and also, because of her class, she couldn’t accept a job that would have been considered menial or below her — she couldn’t take in washing or look after children. So she had nothing to do with her great intellect and they were unable to have children, so she had nowhere to pour her love. So the idea of having nothing to do with your life, I just can’t imagine how frustrated a clever woman like that would have become.”

Kennedy said her recurring role as the scheming Vera Bates on “Downton Abbey” actually didn’t help her as much as one would think in booking her passage on “Titanic.”

“That almost meant that I didn’t get the part,” she revealed. “They didn’t want to have any more cross-over. They thought that Julian himself was enough of a connection between the two things.”

Kennedy said she met with the project’s producers, who wanted to cast her, but then backed off when they realized she was already working on “Downton Abbey,” a TV drama which begins with a wealthy family’s reaction to the off-screen sinking of Titanic.

However, “Titanic” miniseries director Jon Jones, who was in Budapest scouting locations at the time of Kennedy’s first meeting with the producers, saw an audition tape Kennedy made and knew she was the perfect actress to play Muriel.

“He really liked what I had done, what I had read, so he fought for me. So I was very lucky, but it nearly didn’t work out,” she recalled.

Asked how physically demanding the job was, Kennedy was careful not to give too much away about her plotline.

“I do get pitched into the water, so I did spend quite a lot of days in the water and also, obviously, in sort of full Victorian costume, but it was only a few days. I knew it was coming. We expected it. It’s not like I was working down a mine. I think it would be ungracious for me to complain about that. I hate hearing actors moan,” she laughed.

So, how does the mother of four children, who not only acts, but sings and runs her own record label, balance all of her passions?

“It’s a bit of juggle sometimes,” Kennedy confessed. “But I think anyone who works and has children finds it can be a very tricky juggle. When we go away touring, we try to just do very short bursts, about a maximum of 10 days… as opposed to heading off for two or three months without them. That just wouldn’t work for us at all. So it just means you change it around and do it a little differently maybe than other people do it, and prioritize.  Obviously, you think about the kids first and what they need and then after that we see if we can fit the work in around them. But, so far, we’ve managed to keep it all moving along.”

Kennedy, her musician husband Kieran Kennedy and their band are planning a series of concert dates in the United States later this year. A schedule of shows will be posted on http://www.mariadk.com

 

 

Lambe is enjoying Celtic Woman success

POSTED ON April 4th  - POSTED IN Arts

Lisa Lambe, Máiréad Nesbitt, Susan McFadden and Chloë Agnew of Celtic Woman visited the 86th Floor Observatory at the Empire State Building on their recent trip to New York City.

The Celtic Tiger may be dead, but Celtic Woman roars on. The group’s latest album, appropriately enough named “Believe,” shot to the top of the world music charts—a position occupied by six Celtic Woman albums in a row.

Lisa Lambe, the second most recent addition to the phenomenon begun almost by accident, spoke to us from Celtic Woman’s whistle-stop tour. They play the last of 60 U.S. cities later this month, tour Europe for five months and then possibly return here at Christmastime.

“We’re back to Ireland for a week, before heading off,” Lambe said, speaking in a week in which Celtic Woman packed Radio City Music Hall’s 6,000-seat auditorium and received an award as ambassadors for Ireland from the grand marshal of New York’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, Francis X. Comerford.

“For me to join when the show is at such a peak of success is amazing,” Lambe said. She first worked with some of the originators of Celtic Woman several years ago on the Abbey Theatre’s production of “The Shaughraun,” but her main focus then was on acting, she said.

When an opportunity to join Celtic Woman came over a year ago, she was ready. Lambe knew David Downes, Celtic Woman’s Emmy-award winning producer, and virtuoso fiddler Máiréad Nesbitt, who had been with the group since its inception. Chloë Agnew is now the only one of the original four still with the group. The latest addition is Susan McFadden, who joined in February.

Celtic Woman’s four front women are joined by three backing female vocalists and a band of males, jokingly referred to during the Radio City concert as “our token men.” Dressed in black, against the resplendent women, the male singers and musicians faded to the background. This despite solos by Riverdance-worthy Craig Ashhurst, bagpiper Anthony Byrne who enhanced “Amazing Grace” and Ray Fean, a bodhran player of impressive speed.

Everything about Celtic Woman is quintessentially Irish and female: from the ethereal choreography and lighting to the floaty gowns and long locks, together with the songs evoking pining across the sea or, at least, the distance between two hearts.

Even the ringleted redhead depicted on the cover of the new CD is an artist’s rendition meant to epitomize the Celtic woman, though it’s not Lambe herself, the sole redhead of the group.

The concept group was something of “an experiment,” she agreed. Back in 2004, “everybody got together for one night,” she said referring to the original line-up.

Just as Riverdance took off after a live televised show, so did Celtic Woman. Agnew, the youngest member, who was just 15 at the time, has now been eight years largely on tour. She finished school on the road.

Celtic Woman is riding the wave of popularity being enjoyed by what might be called fusion traditional Irish music, following in the wake of Enya, Riverdance and so on. Indeed Downes, who had the idea for Celtic Woman, is a former musical director of Riverdance.

But, in a world of wannabes, what explains Celtic Woman’s continued place at the top? “It’s like a beautiful cake, there are so many layers: the music, the lighting, the set, the costumes…” All are striking, but Celtic Woman is hard to encapsulate and Lambe trailed off.

Yes, they sang “Danny Boy” at Radio City, an old song that many Irish-born people regard as a received notion of Irishness. However, they also evoked the creative genius of Cirque du Soleil by reinterpreting a “diddley-i” song—just vocalizations, not words—as an argument between young women. The two singers walked down separate aisles of the theater and blasted “da da-DEE-dedanana…” etc., at each other across folded arms.

For further contrast, “A Spacemen Came Traveling,” Chris De Burgh’s 1970s hit, got an entirely new, female energy—or the water element in Daoist philosophy—as the women in their long, silky dresses swayed and waved their outstretched arms to the music.

“I’ve come from a theater background and I try to bring that side, physical theater, in view,” Lambe said. In this, one of her solos, she said, “I was finding if not a trancelike quality, something evocative and mystical.”

That quality also infuses Lambe’s other solo, “Dúlamán” (meaning “channeled wrack,” a type of seaweed). Inspired lighting creates the watery context for this Irish-language song set by the sea, with waves of green light and channels of purple sent out into the auditorium.

As counterbalance, Nesbitt fiddles unto frenzy and Agnew often seems ready to burst off the stage with feeling. Audience members familiar with Twink (AKA Adele King), one  of Ireland’s best known comedic entertainers, will easily see the resemblance with her daughter, the show-stealing Agnew.

A nearly unanimous standing ovation in Radio City suggested that Celtic Woman hit the mark across the emotional spectrum, with 22 varied numbers.

In different concert venues many audience members wear the tour tee-shirts, emblazoned with “Believe,” Lambe observed. “It’s lovely to be surrounded by that word every night.”  Although she noted: “There’s no song called ‘Believe’ on the album.”

Asked why the album is called “Believe” and if it has anything to do with the global crisis, Lambe said, “it probably factored in, though I don’t know. In troubled times, people want moments of reflection and we want to convey inspiration and hope. Thousands of years ago, our ancestors built places like Newgrange that still stand as symbols of faith.”

 

Fairley’s Stark fights her corner in ‘Thrones’

POSTED ON March 28th  - POSTED IN Arts

In HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” Lady Catelyn Stark, played by Michelle Fairley, tries to maintain her family’s ideals in a treacherous world.

Northern Irish actress Michelle Fairley said she was instantly gripped by the blood-soaked story of political intrigue and family treachery the moment she picked up her first script for “Game of Thrones,” the celebrated HBO adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series of fantasy novels.

“I thought: ‘Wow! This is an amazing, complicated, dark, twisted world that all these different characters inhabit and somehow they all fit together,’” Fairley told the Irish Echo in a recent phone interview. “And then once I started to read the books, I realized there is so much history between them all. It’s a proper world. It’s a real world with absolute history and family allegiances and vengeance and death and, in the middle of it, you have these incredibly strong women who appear to be wives, mothers, nurturers, carers, providers and then actually when it comes down to the nails, they’re prepared to fight to the end to save their families, to save their honor, to survive.”

Born in Coleraine and raised in Ballycastle, Fairley has appeared in the films “A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries,” “Hideous Kinky” and “The Others,” and has had roles in the TV shows “The Bill,” “Holby City,” “Heartbeat” and “Inspector Morse.”

She portrays Lady Catelyn Stark, a wise and stout-hearted woman who puts her husband and five children above all, on “Game of Thrones,” a sexy, gritty drama about several families battling for control of a fictional medieval kingdom.

By the end of the series’ first season, most of the male leads have been killed off, including the hot-headed, drunken King Robert Baratheon, played by Mark Addy, and his right-hand man, Catelyn’s reasonable, honest husband, Lord Ned Stark, played by Sean Bean. Also gone from this world are Viserys Targaryen and Khal Drogo, the ambitious, power-hungry characters played by Harry Lloyd and Jason Momoa respectively. The Season 1 bloodshed paves the way for the men’s widows, siblings and children to try to unseat or defend King Joffrey, the ruthless teen-age son of Robert’s wife, Cersei Lannister, played by Lena Headey. Irish actor Jack Gleeson plays Joffrey.

At the heart of the turmoil, Fairley said she sees the Stark family as a grounding force, demonstrating more integrity and mercy than the crown-mad Lannister, Baratheon and Targaryen clans.

“They’re like a touchstone family,” the actress said of the Starks, whom Catelyn helps lead against Joffrey in the new season. “The head of their house is Ned and he is extremely honorable. He is a very complicated character, as well, but ostensibly he has been raising a family to have incredibly good morals. They care about the people they work with. There is a system of honor of how you treat people. Basically, in that cruel, hard world, you have to treat people with respect and what you give out, you get back. It’s a tough world, as well. You will get punished, so you have to be strong within that. They, as a family, try to maintain those ideals within a very complicated, deceitful world and then once Ned goes, you start to see the survival element [taking over] for the rest of them. … So, there’s a bit of rot setting in there, but even though they are changing constantly and evolving, they aren’t becoming immoral. They’re trying to survive and they think what they are doing within that is right.”

So, do cast members of the show live in fear, wondering if the next script will be the death knell for their characters?

“I think everybody is aware that nobody is safe. Everyone is expendable in this world,” Fairley laughed. “From an actor’s point of view, when you’re off on a job like this, it’s pretty clear. They initially tell you, ‘We’ll sign you for this number of years.’ But, basically, they will tell you this is a character who will be in it for five episodes, then they get their head chopped off or they get thrown off a cliff or run over by a horse. As an actor, if you’ve read the books, you know going in exactly what your trajectory is. But having said that, David Benioff and Dan Weiss, the main writers, they may like what you’re doing and decide: ‘Hmmm, we’ll keep you a bit longer. We might change your part.’ They don’t always necessarily stick to the stories in the books.”

Fairley said not knowing definitively where the show might take her is one of her favorite aspects of working on “Game of Thrones.”

“It’s fun and there’s something incredibly brave about a series that kills off main characters instantly,” she noted. “It’s wonderful drama and also it leaves the path open for other characters to come into the fore.  Once you kill a main character like Stark, who is good and the moral compass within the piece, there’s nobody there to rein everybody back, and try to argue for reason and goodness, then you open the world up for mayhem and evil, greed and deceit and treachery. It’s incredibly exciting from a drama point of view.

“I think the audiences love it. You love badness in these characters, as well, because it’s all about survival. It’s a cruel world they live and people will do whatever they have to do to survive,” Fairley added.

Shooting on Season 2 of the series has already been completed in Belfast and Croatia and the first new episode is to air on HBO on Sunday. Joining the ensemble for the sophomore season are Stephen Dillane, Carice van Houten and Liam Cunningham.

Asked if it was bittersweet going back to work without so many of her co-stars from Season 1, Fairley confessed: “If somebody leaves, you miss them terribly, but then, of course, it’s a job of work and you have to keep on going.

“Starting Season 2 after the success of Season 1, there’s extra pressure on you,” she said. “It’s like we have the success, so we have to build on it and we have to work even harder. I think that’s what the audience will see when they start watching Season 2. Not only have we got a lot of new characters, which is incredibly exciting, but also, visually, it looks incredible. The pace is wonderful. There’s a lot of humor in there. It just goes at a rate of knots and you’ve got the old characters, as well, and you know exactly what they are up to.

“It’s naughty; it’s dangerous. I just think it’s fabulous,” Fairley said.

 

The first episode of the second season of “Game of Thrones” will be broadcast on HBO on Sunday at 9 p.m.

 

Supergroup Lúnasa show how they’re different

POSTED ON March 21st  - POSTED IN Arts

Lúnasa are currently on an East Coast tour.

Irish music fans are well aware of the high-quality, well-balanced show that trad supergroup Lúnasa puts on.  Theirs is serious music for the journey, but it’s music that’s couched in an easy playfulness that belies how complex and different what they do really is.  This difference was readily apparent the Monday evening before St. Patrick’s Day at Manhattan’s Highline Ballroom, where the group settled in before a full and engaged audience for two long sets.

The music was brilliant.  Monday’s set list represented their well-crafted and modern ideas about narrative and dynamics in traditional music in a very fulfilling way.  Tunes like the upbeat and percussive “Morning Nightcap” let Sean Smith’s fiddle and Trevor Hutchinson’s bass shine, while Sean, Kevin Crawford and Cillian Vallely’s low whistles on “The Last Pint” illuminated the tune’s beautifully plaintive melody and left the audience dazzled.

Readers will be happy to know the legend of Kevin Crawford’s on-stage banter remains fully intact.  Everyone in his universe is fair game – family, friends, bandmates, snooker adversaries, the odd bits of furniture he’s crashed on over the years – and nobody was left out on Monday.  After entertaining with both his music and words onstage, he seemed to make it a point to talk to nearly everyone who remained after the show, even making special time for a small group of young, talented musicians from the NYC session scene (including two members of the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra).

One of evening’s high points came late in the show’s second half with a Crawford feature on “The Hula Hoop,” a tune set taken from his just-released CD “Carrying the Tune.”  On Monday he was tastefully accompanied by the group’s new guitarist Ed Boyd (ex-Flook).  On the album, he’s joined by John Doyle (guitar and bouzouki), Mick Conneely (bouzouki) and Brian Morrissey (bodhrán). “Carrying the Tune” is an exquisite declaration from the tradition’s top shelf.  Doyle’s percussive approach and expansive harmonic palette is a perfect foil to Crawford’s driving playing, especially on tracks like “The Clare Connection” and “The Dear Irish Boy.”  I highly recommended this CD, and it was great to hear it represented at the Highline show on Monday.

Cillian Vallely provided a couple of the evening’s other musical highlights.  One was an outstanding and sensitively delivered version of the slow air “Port Na bPúcaí” (a tune associated with the Blasket Islands), which was the talk of the line of musicians standing against the back wall.  Vallely also took the lead on “Snowball,” a set that appears on the group’s most recent album “Lá Nua.”  But before they started, Crawford predictably wasted no time in singling out Cillian’s wife Katy in the audience, noting that Vallely wrote “Ciara’s Dance,” the first of the three tunes in the set, and named it after their oldest daughter (who is a dancer herself).  A proud-looking Vallely fired into the tune brilliantly, and was then joined by the rest of the group on the set’s final two tunes, Johnny McCarthy’s “Burning Snowball” and Tommy Cunniffe’s “Road to Reel.”

An impressive band to see live, Lúnasa is on an East Coast tour of the U.S. throughout March.

 

Duo act with subtlety rare for NYC stage

POSTED ON March 14th  - POSTED IN Arts

Amy Conroy and Clare Barrett in “I Heart Alice Heart I."

“I Heart Alice Heart I” * By Amy Conroy * Starring Clare Barrett and Amy Conroy * Irish Arts Center * Through March 17

The Irish Arts Center’s executive director, Aidan Connolly, saw Amy Conroy’s amazingly skilled, endlessly charming two-character play “I Heart Alice Heart I” at last year’s Dublin Theatre Festival and was determined to bring it to New York.

After the Theatre Festival, where Conroy won the Fishamble Award for Best New Writing and her lithe co-star, Clare Barrett, won the Best Female Performance Award, the show moved to the Abbey, Ireland’s National Theatre, where it enjoyed a successful three-week run.

Now the play has arrived in New York, in splendid shape, perhaps ever richer an experience than Connolly thought it was when he saw it in Dublin. The only problem with it is in the title, which places the symbol for the word “hearts” where the word “loves” might be a better fit, not to mention easier to type.

The two young actresses who created the experience, the subtle writer-director Conroy and the deftly charming Clare Barrett, who shares the stage with her for 70 charming, moving minutes, are both new to New York, although the latter played a brief stint in Washington a while back as part of a mixed Irish and American company.

It’s almost impossible to say just how subtle and how effective these young actresses are, playing decades beyond their actual ages as Conroy’s story takes them gracefully into their 60s in the course of an enduring love affair that changes both their lives beyond easy recognition.

Mainly speaking directly to the Irish Arts Center audience, Conroy and Barrett underplay with a subtlety and to a degree that’s very seldom seen on a New York stage.

The result is, of course, that the audience leans forward en masse to devour just about every word that either of them says, even at whisper level, which is sometimes the case.

For reasons known only to her, playwright Conroy has named both of her characters Alice. She is Alice Kinsella, while Barrett is Alice Slattery. The perverse double naming is perhaps slightly confusing to the audience but everything is clarified in good time.

“I Heart Alice Heart I” is so satisfying on just about every level that that modest production deserves a longer New York run than the brief stand the Irish Arts Center promises.

The women are, of course, lesbians, whom we follow through decades of their durable and deeply felt relationship. Alice Slattery, born on the 27th of May, 1948, is the younger; Alice Kinsella was born on the 20th of October, 1946.

Alice Slattery had been born Alice Connolly, but had been married to Liam Slattery. He had died at age 31 of a massive heart attack, leaving her a widow.

It’s somewhat uncertain whether she had had any specifically lesbian experience prior to her encountering Alice Kinsella.

Playwright Conroy has a decided gift for specific detail, which she manages to blend into a smoothly flowing current of remembered details of ordinary life, with references to food and music and movies, all gracefully mixed into an easygoing conversational pattern, with no effort whatever visible.

Conroy described her show as ” fictional but presented as a documentary piece.” Elsewhere, in her introduction, she seems to be attempting to deny that she’s written a play, saying that the “play” between the actors “portraying the Alices is the unwritten script.” She adds slyly that “both of the Alices have been working with the director for nearly a year.”

No matter what image Amy Conroy chooses to suggest, she has in fact written a play, and a very good one, one of the best on any New York stage at the moment, ennobled by two wonderful actresses we haven’t seen before, but who appear to have bright futures.

Enjoying life again after some great news

POSTED ON March 7th  - POSTED IN Arts

Dean and Elaine.

Thanks to everyone who has been in touch regarding my boyfriend’s ill health. I am delighted to announce that Dean got the all-clear a few weeks ago and is currently 100 percent cancer free. We went through eight terrifying months, but it was worth it. Dean’s type of cancer, Sarcoma, is a very aggressive form and so we must remember that there is a risk that his cancer may return but we’ll deal with that if and when it happens. It is very difficult to date someone with cancer as you try your very best to be a “normal” couple but there is a third person in the relationship, cancer, and cancer takes priority as you deal with it.

When Dean got the OK it was like winning the lottery. We were given another chance, a chance that many cancer patients don’t get. I agree with John Lennon’s statement that “Life is what happens to you

while you’re busy making other plans.” I always presumed that I’d meet a guy, we’d date for a few years, move in together, get engaged, get married, have a few kids and live happily ever after! But you have absolutely no control over how things pan out. I had never lived with Dean before and we had planned on being in Ireland together last summer but when Dean became sick I went to be with him.

Now that his chemo and radiotherapy are over, we have our lives back and I can concentrate on my PhD and finish it. During Dean’s treatment I was unable to concentrate on anything else. I am in New York and everything is going well. As I am in the middle of writing my PhD, I have a substitute teacher teaching all my classes this year so I can finish my project.

I’m enjoying my life again as Dean is healthy. I went to Atlantic City last weekend with 10 girls as my friend Jen is moving from New York to

London with her job. She is from Cork and has been living New York for the past five years. She gave me so much support and advice during the tough time last summer. She is an amazing friend. We gave her a good farewell in Atlantic City. She’ll be missed. Good luck in London darling.

The St Patrick’s Season is in full swing here in New York. I love seeing everyone out and about but this year I won’t be attending as many events as I have to focus on my PhD and get it finished. The Irish-American community is unique and advice I always give newly arrived people from Ireland is to get involved in the community at some level. I have been a part of this vibrant community for the past nine years and would not be as happy in New York were it not for it. The support I have gotten and the friendship I have made through it will last a lifetime. I will be attending a number of events during the next few weeks, so make sure and come up and say “hi” if you see me. Until then, slán, x

 

 

Míle buíochas as ucht gach duine a bhí i dteagmháil liom. Tá áthas orm insint díobh go bhfuair mo bhuachaill an All-Clear agus faoi láthair tá sé go hiomlan saor ó ailse. B’ocht mhí fíor-dheacair é agus is ailse an-dáinséarach é Sarcoma agus dá bhrí sin caithfidh muid tuiscint go m’fhéidir go dtiocfaidh sé thar n-ais ach beidh orainn

déileáil le sin má thagann sé thar n-ais. Tá sé iontach deacair siúl amach le duine l’ailse mar tá tú ag iarraidh bheith mar gnáth-lánúin ach tá an tríú duine sa ghaol, an tinneas agus is é sin an rud is tábhachtach. Caithfidh tú dul i ngleic leis.

Nuair a bhfuair Dean an OK, bhí sé ar nós gur bhuaigh muid an crannchur naisiúnta. Tugadh deis eile dúinn, deis nach bhfaigheann mórán daoine agus iad i mbun cóir leighis d’ailse. Aontím leis na ráiteas, “Tarlaíonn do shaol nuair atá tú gnóthach ag déanamh pleananna”. Bhí mise  i gcónaí ag ceapadh go mbuailfeadh mé le fear agus ansin, bheith muid ag siúl amach ar feadh cúpla bliain agus ansin gheobhfahd muid geallta agus ansin pósta agus ansin bheith cúpla páiste again ach ní bhíonn aon smacht agat ar cén chaoi a thiteann rudaí amach agus ba é an chéad uair domsa cónaí le Dean ná nuair a bhí sé i mbun chemotherapy. Bhí méféin agus Dean le bheith in Éirinn don tSamhraidh ach nuair a d’éirigh Dean tinn chuaigh mé chun bheith leis.

Anois go bhfuil an chemo agus radiotherapy thart, tá mo shaol ar ais agam féin agus is féidir liom díriú isteach ar mo Ph D agus críoch a chuir leis. Ní raibheas in ann smaoineamh ar aon rud eile. Táim i Nua Eabhrac anois agus gach rud go breá. Os rud é go bhfuilim ag cur deireadh le o thráchtas Ph D, tá múinteoir ionadaí faighte agam chun mo ranganna Gaeilge a mhúineadh i mbliana. Táim ag baint sult as an saol arís mar go bhfuil an tsláinte go maith ag Dean. Chauigh mé chuig Atlantic City an deireadh Seachtaine seo caite le deichniúr cailín mar go bhfuil mo chara Jen ag bogadh ó Nua Eabhrac go Londain leis an jab. Is as Corcaigh í agus tá sí ina cónaí i Nua Eabhrac le cúig bhliain anuas. Thug sí an méid sin tacaíocht agus comhairle dhom agus Dean tinn, is cara den scoth í. D’fhágamar slán leí le turas iontach go Atlantic City. Bhí an-chraic go deo againn. Go n-éirí leat i Londain a chroí.

Ár ndóigh tá séasúr Lá le Pádraig faoi lán seoil. Is breá liom gach duine a fheiceáil amach ag na himeachtaí ar fad ach i mbliana ní bheidh mé ag freastal ar an méid sin ócáidí mar go gcaithfidh mé díriú ar mo chuid scríobhnóireachta. Is pobal ar leith é an phobail Gael-Mheiriceánaigh agus comhairle a thugaim d’aon duine a bhfuil tar éis bogadh ó Éire go Nua Eabhrac ná bheith páirteach sa phobail gníomhach seo mar is ann a bhfuil mise lonnaithe le beagnach naoi mbliana anois agus tá an phobail ar nós clann mhór áit is féidir tacaíocht a fháil agus cairde iontacha a dhéanamh. Beidh mé ag freastal ar cúpla ócáid anseo agus ansiúd so má fheiceann sibh mé bí cinnte haigh a rá liom. Go dtí sin, slán, x.

O’Rourke brings songs, stories to New York

POSTED ON March 5th  - POSTED IN Arts

Declan O’Rouke.

When the Dubliners celebrated their 50th Anniversary with an appearance on RTE, they were joined on stage by a young Dubliner with a rich voice and an unforgettable head of curly black hair. It was singer-songwriter Declan O’Rourke, who as a boy emigrated from Dublin to Australia with his favorite video tape – the recording of the Dubliners’ 25th Anniversary Concert, in his suitcase.

Pull up the RTE performance on YouTube and you’ll see just how poignant it is and just how good his voice is. But it’s not singing the classic ballads of Ireland that O’Rourke is known for – it’s the stories he tells through his extraordinarily well-crafted songs.  He brought his songs and stories with him to The Irish Arts Center in New York City recently to kick off SongLives, a series curated by Susan McKeon that showcases Ireland’s contemporary songwriters.

The Irish Arts Center’s commitment to supporting artists from all backgrounds was so evident that evening as was the hospitality that the venue is known for. For me, SongLives at the Irish Arts Center with Declan O’Rourke felt like getting a great recommendation on a new band from a close friend. And now it’s my turn to tell my friends about the man with the curly black hair, the rich voice, and the songs that will knock your socks off.

After listening to his songs, you might think that O’Rourke was born singing and playing music, but he actually didn’t start until he was teenager living in Australia. He eventually returned home to Dublin to immerse himself in the lively singer-songwriter open-mic scene. He went on to record three albums and play as the support act for Snow Patrol, Teddy Thompson, Paul Weller and others. But after hearing his moving songs, and noticing his dynamic stage presence, I have no doubt that it’s time for O’Rourke to be the main act. Not just in Ireland, but right here in the tri-state area. And that’s just what he’ll do tonight, Feb. 29, at Stage One at the Fairfield Theatre Company in Connecticut.

Music fans in Fairfield will see why both Paul Weller and Josh Groban have covered his song “Galelio (Someone Like You).” Look out for that song, you’ll melt when you hear it. And be prepared for some sad songs, but not without a little humor mixed in.  Humor and messages about staying true to yourself, and enjoying life – that’s how O’Rourke will pick you up after his most beautifully melancholic songs about hardship and loss. Oh, and the curly hair helps too.

The Irish Arts Center has two more shows in the SongLives series – March 23rd with Michael Brunnock and Brendan O’Shea, and May 11th with Mark Geary and Ann Scott.

For some Irish sounds around town this week pencil in Jameson’s Revenge & Shilelagh Law at the Rockaway Rugby Club on 3/3, and Mary Courtney and Morning Star at O’Brien’s in NYC on 3/4 .

Oscar-nominated McTeer delights at ‘gorgeous’ role

POSTED ON February 22nd  - POSTED IN Arts

Janet McTeer.

Janet McTeer says she was delighted to hear she and her “Albert Nobbs” co-star Glenn Close had been nominated for Oscars for their portrayals of women living and working as men in 19th century Ireland.

“I was surprised [to hear my name announced] and just sat there with bated breath, waiting to see if Glenn was nominated, too, and she was – so that was very exciting. Then I had to go on television and act all calm and collected. Then we went back to Glenn’s house where we did some press together, at which point, we became like two teenagers jumping up and down, ” the Best Supporting Actress nominee told the Irish Echo in a recent telephone interview.

In addition to the incredible joy she feels for being recognized by the film industry for her work and for getting the opportunity to share the experience with Close — who is up for the Best Actress statuette — McTeer said she also is pleased the Oscar glow is drawing attention to a small-budget movie that truly deserves to be seen.

“You do a little film like this that doesn’t have a lot of money behind it and the fact you can put your heart and soul into a project — Glenn has, even more than I have — and then all this attention happens, which hopefully means more people will go see it. It is so thrilling. So thrilling,” said the 50-year-old British actress, who is best known for her performances in the films “Tumbleweeds,” “Songcatcher,” “The Intended,” “Tideland” and “The Woman in Black,” as well as in the TV miniseries “Into the Storm” and the stage dramas “A Doll’s House,”  “Mary Stuart” and “God of Carnage.”

McTeer said she signed up for her role in “Albert Nobbs” after falling in love with the story of an abused young woman who adopts a new identity as Albert, a quiet, hardworking, but lonely hotel waiter in pursuit of a better life in an era when females had little control over their own fates. In the film, McTeer plays Hubert, a housepainter who befriends Close’s Albert and confides he is also a woman living as a man.

“Someone said it takes an ordinary person an extraordinary amount of courage to get through an ordinary day. I like films like that or stories like that — about people just living their lives and how much courage it takes people sometimes to get through life. I felt this is one of those stories,” McTeer explained. “I love the fact that it existed in a time before labels. People were just living their lives, trying to get through and also these people didn’t define themselves as lesbians or cross-dressers or transsexuals or whatever. Hubert was just living the life of Hubert and Albert was just getting by.”

She noted a central message of the film is acceptance.

“To judge somebody because they are a decent person, not because of anything else,” McTeer added.

The actress went on to say Hubert was a “gorgeous part” and deciding to play him was a “no brainer.”

“I wanted Hubert to be, as a function in the piece, everything that Albert wasn’t, everything Albert wanted to be – confident, trying to be fulfilled, happy with who he is, lacks fear, has a great home life. Just a really grounded, happy, confident human being with a great, warm heart,” McTeer recalled.

Close produced and co-wrote the screenplay for “Albert Nobbs,” which is based on a short story by Irish novelist George Moore. Co-starring Brenda Fricker, Brendan Gleeson, Maria Doyle Kennedy and Jonathan Rhys Meyers and directed by Rodrigo Garcia, the film is in theaters now.

McTeer will soon be seen in the fifth and final season of Close’s TV legal drama “Damages.”

Saw Doctors are ready to rock in U.S.

POSTED ON February 15th  - POSTED IN Arts

Leo Moran, left, Davy Carton, center, and their fellow Saw Doctors recently collaborated with Petula Clark on a cover of “Downtown.”

Leo Moran, the lead guitarist and occasional vocalist of the Saw Doctors, is someone who peppers sentences with positives: he uses the word “wonderful” five times and “delighted” twice over the course of a half-hour chat that I have with him on the phone. Taking full advantage of modern technology he phoned me on Skype, from the car-park of the Black Box in Galway City – a venue where the Saw Doctors have often performed. (“An impressive signal,” he noted.)

Clearly Moran is a glass half-full type of person, and with good reason. He is a member of one of the most consistently successful bands in Ireland, which has produced 18 top-30 singles and three number ones. The band’s seventh album, “The Further Adventures of the Saw Doctors” will be released in the U.S. just before St. Patrick’s Day, on March 13; and next week they will embark on a U.S. tour.

Not bad for a group that describes itself as hailing from a “repressed, Catholic, conservative, small-town, agrarian, angst-ridden and showband infested society” – that is, Tuam, Co. Galway. Formed in 1986 the Saw Doctors have been responsible for some of the biggest home-grown hits to grace Irish radio through the 1990s and as recently as last year. “I Useta Lover” is their most familiar single, but “N17,” telling of a young man living in London who would love to be driving back to Galway, has a particular meaning for Irish people who live abroad.

That song has a new resonance at the moment. “Some of the songs we had written back sounded old five years ago but they sound new again,” Moran said. “Particularly ‘N17’; which is a good feeling, to see that they’re connecting with people in the way that they hadn’t for a few years.”

Their most recent hit is a cover of “Downtown”, featuring Petula Clark, who first sang it in the 1960s and in the video looks astonishingly good for her 79 years. After they’d decided to record the song, it emerged that their manager had a connection to Clark. “It turned out that she was interested in singing along with us,” Moran said. “What a privilege to work with a true global musical legend. And the song is fantastic as well.”

Perhaps because of its upbeat brand of nostalgia, the song reached number 2 in the Irish charts over Christmas.

Many of the Saw Doctors’ songs have commented on different aspects of Irish identity. When I asked Moran how he felt about the current crisis in the country, he was able to view even that in a positive light. He acknowledged that many people are seeing real hardship, but noted that the Tiger boom had damaged the sense of community that had been so strong in Ireland before.

“The prosperity thing that happened in the start of the millennium was very false anyway,” he said. “The more affluent they became the more removed they became from each other. There is more of a community spirit, which is something we all grew up with and know and love. So it’s not all a bad thing that we didn’t continue in that false prosperity curve that we were on for so long.”

In one of their most obvious references to Irish society and culture, the band recorded a song entitled “Michael D. Rocking in the Dail” in 1994, celebrating the man who now holds the Irish presidency.  Moran remains loyal to President Higgins, who taught him when he was a student at NUI Galway. “Michael D. opened up our minds to ideas, concepts and parts of the world that we had never known before,” he wrote to me in an email after we spoke. “He’s the right man for the job, plus he’s also highly opinionated and he might speak his mind in some situations where it might not be in his job description – he’s a bit of a punk behind it all.”

The Catholic Church holds a more ambiguous place in The Saw Doctors’ repertoire.  Moran is pleased that the worst activities of representatives of the Catholic Church have been brought to light. “I think the best part of our anger was directed in a humorous way rather than being straight on angry because we don’t seem to be good at being straight on angry.”

“But we did grow up in a very repressed and oppressive kind of a Catholic regime. And to see the bad parts of that blown away was very satisfying for us.” Irish teenagers are much better educated and open-minded than when he was growing up, Moran said.

Despite more than 20 years of performance, the band are ready for their tour of the U.S., which will take them across the continent, incorporating Chicago, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Florida, North Carolina and Iowa as well as Toronto.

And Moran had an optimistic view for Ireland too. “There’s all these macro vocabularies going around – economic crisis and all the words that go with it, all the media hype that it entails, our leaders are going to Germany, and we’re signing up for treaties and all this stuff. And that’s all going on and it’s quite real,” he said.

“But people have to eat their dinner and grow spuds and do a bit of work and meet each other and sing a few songs and have a few drinks. Maybe it’s hard; but people’s spirit and intelligence and creativity will always be there, and good things will always be going on.”

 

The Saw Doctors tour of the US and Canada begins Feb. 22. For more details see http://www.sawdoctors.com/index.php/gigs

 

 

Hinds is ‘amazing’ in spine-chiller: Daniel Radcliff

POSTED ON February 8th  - POSTED IN Arts

Ciarán Hinds stars in ‘The Woman in Black’.

British film star Daniel Radcliffe has nothing but the highest praise for Belfast-born actor Ciarán Hinds, his co-star in the summer blockbuster “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II,” as well as the new release “The Woman in Black.”

In James Watkins’ gripping big-screen adaptation of Susan Hill’s 1983 supernatural suspense novel, “The Woman in Black,” Radcliffe portrays Arthur Kipps, a young Victorian-era London lawyer sent to the English countryside to settle the affairs of a deceased client. He travels to her derelict home on the outskirts of a small village and finds the house is not as empty as he expected. As he speaks to some of the terrified townspeople, he learns their children die shortly after a woman clad in black is spotted by someone at the house at the focus of Kipps’ investigation.

Hinds, an accomplished stage actor who has also appeared in the movies “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance,” “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” “The Debt,” “Eclipse,” “There Will Be Blood,” “Veronica Guerin” and “Road to Perdition,” plays Sam Daily, one of the less superstitious neighbors in “The Woman in Black,” a low-tech, old-fashioned ghost story. Daily tries to help Kipps unravel the mystery, even though he and his wife, played by Janet McTeer, have lost a son of their own under questionable circumstances. The tragedy has left Daily heart-broken and his spouse slightly insane.

In a promotional clip taped on the set of the film and posted on YouTube, Hinds said the relationship between Daily and Kipps is something of a paternal one in nature.

“But you have to understand the man is in denial, as well,” Hinds noted. “[Daily] hasn’t fully faced up to his own grief and history, so it’s not as if he’s fully forthcoming with everything. He’s almost like a guide, but at the same time he’s looking for help, as well.”

The 58-year-old actor went on to describe the movie as “a spine-chiller about an atmosphere that is created by what goes on rather than the things that go bump in the night.”

“You don’t know what’s behind that door. You hear a sound and maybe there’s something, maybe there’s nothing. Maybe it’s your imagination. So, it’s quite psychological, but things do manifest themselves, as well,” he noted.

Radcliffe told the Irish Echo during a roundtable interview with reporters in New York recently he was thrilled to again share the screen with Hinds after having worked with him briefly on “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II.”

“It was an amazing cast, particularly Ciarán,” Radcliffe said of “The Woman in Black.” “Janet is amazing, but I only got to work with her for four days total, but she’s great. Ciarán. I’ve seen loads of amazing actors, but nobody makes it look quite as easy as Ciarán Hinds. Ciarán just has an ease about him and a natural instinct. He’s just amazing. Most actors, you can sort of see a shift or something when they hear the word ‘action’ and Ciarán sort of slides into it and you never see a shift. Suddenly, he’s just acting. It’s just wonderful.”

Hinds also has kind words for his 22-year-old co-star’s first major film performance as an adult.

“Daniel is such an open-hearted person by nature and very committed to what he does,” he said in the online video clip. “This is a great thing for him because he’s got to hold this thing on his own. He’s the protagonist. You see it through him. He’s got to go through the whole emotional journey of it.”

Even though the stars had previously met when Radcliffe was playing the titular wizard and Hinds portrayed Aberforth Dumbledore in the last “Harry Potter” film, the younger actor said they didn’t really get to know each other well until they reunited for “The Woman in Black.”

“We worked together on that brief scene [in ‘Potter’] and got on really well,” Radcliffe recalled. “I really liked him, but it was three days we were filming on that. I’ve filmed with so many actors for that brief scene where they come in, you get to meet him, get to work with him and then they go and you see them at the premiere. And if you got on, then you chat with them. But, with Ciarán, it was actually wonderful because we did that brief scene, then went off and made ‘Woman in Black,’ and then had to re-shoot the scene between me and Ciarán for the ‘Potter’ movie. It was one of the scenes we had to re-shoot. So, that was actually helped a huge amount by the fact that by the time we got back to re-shooting it, we had worked together another 6 ½ weeks. It was great.”

Radcliffe also joked about the one downfall of working with actors of Hinds’ and McTeer’s stature on “The Woman in Black.”

“The combined tallest height in film history of a couple,” Radcliffe groaned. “That was pretty intimidating for little ol’ me, which is why every time I watch the scene – particularly if I’m watching it with someone I know –where I’m talking to Janet outside the mausoleum, I say, ‘I step onto the box; step off of the box.’ Because you can really see the moment where I’m like, ‘Right, I’m tall now.’”

“The Woman in Black” was No. 2 at the North American box office its opening weekend.

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