Page Turner / Edited by Peter McDermott
Connie Roberts signs a copy of “Little Witness.”
PHOTO: PETER MCDERMOTT
”God knows, there’s enough Irish misery to sink the Titanic in this volume,” said Connie Roberts candidly of her debut book, “but there are also poems of love, forgiveness and acceptance.”
In “Little Witness,” the County Offaly immigrant interrogates “memory and history, mine and others’. From my ferocious early childhood with my parents to my years in an industrial school [orphanage] in the Irish Midlands. From the 1943 Cavan orphanage fire, where 35 children perished, to the self-immolation of Peter Tyrrell, a former inmate of Letterfrack Industrial School, in a London park.”
Roberts and all of her 14 siblings grew up in Irish orphanages. She came to the U.S. in 1983 and today teaches creative writing at Hofstra University. Fans of her work include Irish-American writer and the New York Times’ “Our Land” columnist Dan Barry who has commented: “Roberts honors children, holds adults accountable, and finds acceptance, all with a reportorial rigor that, through her soaring language and big-hearted vision, achieves poetic art. This is the poetry of rock-hard experience. It will skin your soul.”
Among her other admirers are her friends at Artists Without Walls, which officially launched “Little Witness” in Manhattan on July 12. For pictures of that event, see the print edition of this week’s Irish Echo, published on Wednesday, the 29th.
Date of birth: Dec. 3, 1962.
Place of birth: Tullamore, Co. Offaly.
Spouse: He would rather remain anonymous.
Children: One son, 11-year-old Aedan Hannigan.
Residence: Merrick, N.Y.
Published works: “Little Witness,” a poetry collection, whose earlier versions won the Patrick Kavanagh Award and the Listowel Writers’ Week Poetry Collection Award.
What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?
Because of the subject matter of “Little Witness,” childhood trauma, it took me 15 years to write this book. It was done in fits and starts; although, like many writers, when I wasn’t writing, I was writing. And when I sat down and bellied up to my desk, I was like a dog at the end of a postman’s trousers: I refused to let go. I’d stick with it for hours, days or weeks, till I got the job (poem) done. I wouldn’t recommend this way of working, however: work/life balance is so much better for you.
As for ideal conditions: 10 p.m., a quiet house, a Starbucks Americano, a (warm) chocolate croissant, and the night stretched out before you.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Write about what’s important to you. If you don’t know what that is, take the time to find out. For some, your subject matter will be foisted upon you; others, you’ll have to do some rooting around.
Name three favorite poets:
Seamus Heaney, Paula Meehan, Molly Peacock.
What book are you currently reading?
I recently finished Belinda McKeon’s novel “Tender” and two Irish poetry collections: Breda Wall Ryan’s “In a Hare’s Eye” and Jane Clarke’s “The River.” I am now reading the anthology “Poetry of Witness”, edited by Carolyn Forche and Duncan Wu (for a poetry of witness course I’m developing at Hofstra). Anne Enright’s “The Green Road” is waiting patiently on my nightstand.
Is there a poem you wish you had written?
Gjertrud Schnackenberg’s “Kremlin of Smoke,” her fictionalized sequence of Chopin’s visit to Stuttgart in 1841, when he heard Warsaw had fallen to the Russians.
If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?
I’d like to go for a cuppa or jar with Seamus Heaney. The night before he died, I dreamt of him (I know!)—I was reading an actual poem I had written a year before in response to his “Tollund Man” and he came up on the stage beside me, smiled a mischievous smile and joined in. (Aren’t dreams great? You get to be a superhero, alongside the real superheroes.) Of course, this dream could just speak to my incredible audacity.
What book changed your life?
“Suffer the Little Children: The Inside Story of Ireland’s Industrial Schools,” by Mary Raftery and Eoin O’Sullivan. It wasn’t so much that it changed my life, but awakened me to my life.
What is your favorite spot in Ireland?
Maisie’s farm, Tubber, Co. Westmeath. Maisie’s parents fostered me at weekends for about a year when I was 7. They lived up a long boreen, in a thatched cottage on a farm. No running water. No TV. Sheep, goats, chickens. I see Maisie’s father furrowing fields with a horse. Her mother pouring the golden grease of the lambs chops from the frying pan over the turnips for dinner. Maisie and I climbing to the heavens on the makeshift swing on the tree out back. It’s a place I visit often in my memory.
You’re Irish if…
when someone asks you if you’ve been “home” lately, you know exactly what they’re talking about.
For more information, go to connierobertspoet.com.
Springfield’s Jeanne Ahern is joining the ICC board
By Irish Echo Staff
Irish culture in western New England is getting a boost with the Irish Cultural Center of Western New England announcing two new members to its board of directors.
Brian Q. Corridan and Jeanne Barnes Ahern, both of Springfield, Mass. joined the board recently, starting out three year terms.
Corridan, well known across the region as the voice of the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day Parade, is President and Chief Operating Officer of Corridan & Co., a Chicopee-based investment firm.
In 2013, Corridan was chosen Holyoke’s parade grand marshal.
Married to Paula Corridan and the father of three, he holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Stonehill College.
“There is quite simply nothing like being an Irish-American,” Corridan said.
“I look forward to taking my heritage to the next step on the board of the Irish Cultural Center.”
Ahern grew up in Framingham in a close-knit Irish-American family, and has lived in Springfield all of her adult life.
Married to Brian Ahern, she holds a bachelor’s degree in social science from Westfield State College.
She is a congressional aide to U.S. Congressman Richard Neal.
Both Neal and Ahern have been strong supporters of the ICC since it was founded in 1999.
“My grandparents came from Ireland. I have a grandmother from Clifden, County Galway, and a grandfather from Donegal,” said Ahern.
“My dad instilled a great interest and love for our Irish heritage, and I’m happy to be a part of the Irish Cultural Center board.”
ICC President, Sean Cahillane, welcomed both Ahern and Corridan to the board, saying their heritage, enthusiasm and love of Irish culture make them positive assets.
“They’re activists in the community, they’re very well respected professionally, and they have strong connections to their Irish heritage,” Cahillane said.
“We’re thrilled to have them on board.”
The Irish Cultural Center was established in 1999 to foster an appreciation of Irish culture in Western New England.
Its mission is to cultivate a connection with Ireland, through the arts, culture, history, language, and heritage.
The center offers opportunities to engage in educational, travel, and social events that promote Irish culture.
For more information, contact the Irish Cultural Center at (413)265-2537, or email email@example.com.
After headlining festivals in the Midwest
next month, the High Kings will travel East.
By Colleen Taylor
When I boarded the train to go see one of my favorite bands last weekend, I travelled with a hypothesis in mind. I wagered that no other group in Ireland today is better able to rejuvenate the Irish music tradition than the High Kings. Although I already had countless interviews, gigs, and albums listens with which to posit my theory, at that stage, it remained conjecture. But after seeing the Kings live at Killarney’s Gleneagle, and after talking with them about their music, I left Kerry with my theory proven beyond doubt. No other band can rival the High Kings for talent of reinterpretation, spirit of tradition, and integrity of purpose. Legacy was what initially brought Finbarr Clancy, Darren Holden, Brian Dunphy and Martin Furey together, and now, after only seven years as the High Kings, they have become a legacy themselves.
“Bringing the music to the forefront again,” Finbarr Clancy told me, was the High Kings’ mission from the start. Clancy, Holden, Dunphy, and Furey grew up immersed in Irish music (their surnames speak for themselves), but before they came together in 2008, Irish music had been eclipsed by popular culture in Ireland. Songs like “The Rocky Road to Dublin” were being pushed out by tracks such as “Sweet Home Alabama.” Instead of Irish folk songs, English and American popular music became the order of the day in public venues across the country. “When we were growing up,” said the son of Finbar Furey, “you could go into any bar and hear Irish music, but by the time we got together, that had gone completely out of fashion… People weren’t playing Irish songs.
“I think that’s why we were put together,” continued Furey, with his three band-mates indicating their agreement, “to keep these songs alive. I honestly think it’s fair to say we’ve changed that.”
It’s most certainly fair. The audience at Killarney’s Gleneagle was packed to the brim with Kerry locals, fans from Cork who had come up for the Gaelic football match, and tourists alike, and yet nearly everyone, no matter their origin or age, sang along with the High Kings as they belted out “The Rising of the Moon,” “Oh Maggie” and the “The Fields of Athenry.” The spirit of the four singers was contagious—energy was bouncing from instrument to instrument, off the walls, between audience members, all culminating in the harmony of Clancy, Dunphy, Holden, and Furey, backed by their enthusiastic fans.
Such palpable, audible energy is musical proof that you get what you give. After all, the High Kings don’t approach their shows like your typical musician or band. When they play, it’s about even more than entertainment and originality: each melody they sing, each chord they strike is imbued with a passion for the history behind the notes. Finbarr Clancy thinks of particular songs, like “Go Lassie Go” and “The Parting Glass,” as familial memorialization: “I was singing with my dad [Bobby Clancy] and uncles since 20 years ago. They’re all gone now, but the songs keep them around. When you sing them, you think of them.” For Dublin native Brian Dunphy, the most meaningful song is “Dublin in the Rare Auld Times,” which the band performed a couple weeks ago to a packed house at Dublin’s prestigious National Concert Hall: “It was an honor to stand on that stage again. My dad, Sean Dunphy, played there for many, many years,” Dunphy said.
But to define the High Kings solely in terms of the past is a mistake. These musicians represent the future as much as they honor history. Although they sing the old songs of the Irish musical tradition, nothing about their music sounds old-fashioned or tired out. Rather, the High Kings take ownership of a distinctive, modernized sound all their own; their harmonies are a trademark, a unique stylization that could not be replicated by any other set of voices. While the Fureys, Clancys, and Dubliners might be the High Kings’ muses, they aren’t equivalent with the band’s self-identity. The High Kings are their own group with an individualized mission and their own, collective musical sensibility. They have taken the old songs and completely revitalized them, grounded them in contemporary music and peppered them with influences from their own various genre interests, which range from Broadway to the Beach Boys. The High Kings’ sound and style is the result of a fortuitous combination of four extremely talented musicians—an animated sound that has one foot in the present and one in the past. It’s a music with echoes that follow you long after their show is done.
It’s not uncommon to leave a High Kings gig with new interests and a sense of tradition you didn’t have when you entered. The four musicians pride themselves on exceeding expectations and changing preconceptions about Irish folk music, particularly for their young audience members. The Oxygen music festival is one of Darren Holden’s favorite examples: “There was a band all the teenagers were listening to that were on before us and after they finished, the tent emptied. But once we went out and hit it, they all came back in again. Then they went out and started buying our CDs.” The range of High Kings fandom—from young to old, Irish to international, newly converted followers to Kingmaniacs that have been there since the band’s start on PBS in 2008—speaks to their versatility and natural talent as a group. Clancy defines the music as “rootsy, bare bones and rough and ready,” which, as Holden explained, allows the band to play any kind of venue, any time. They laughed telling me about a show they improvised at the Hibernian Athletic Club in New York when the electricity went out. When the room went black, the band got off the stage and went down into the audience. Candles were brought out and the people crowded around them as the music continued through the night.
There’s an immense joy for the High Kings when they bring their music abroad, particularly to the States, where people come to their shows with the lyrics to their original tracks already memorized. In fact, the U.S. is the setting of much of the group’s original songwriting. “When we go over to the States, we’re all together, we all have our instruments, and we just end up writing songs because you’re there in the hotel for four days, so you use the time to bounce ideas off each other and see what works,” Clancy said. This band is just as skilled at writing their own Irish folk songs as they are at re-arranging the traditional ones, of which originals like “Oh Maggie” and “Ireland’s Shore” are but two examples. After their original release, “Friends For Life,” in 2013, fans like myself were immediately thirsty for more original High Kings music, and so the band envisions their next album as 50-50 combination: half tried and tested songs, half new releases.
Despite the fact that these musicians have already carved their names in the Irish music annals, and despite the fact that they inspire crowds and re-energize the tradition with every show they play, they still feel their mission is incomplete. For instance, the four musicians particularly want to see a change in Irish radio. They strive for the return of Irish folk music to the airwaves across Ireland, and they want to do more with their own original work, to cultivate more hometown response to their output as songwriters. Still, at the end of the day, it always comes back to the original purpose that joined the four Kings in the first place: the love for tradition that defines them. Darren Holden summed up the band’s principles with modesty and sincerity: “For our era, we like to think we took something that was passed on to us and maybe raised the bar with it a little bit, kept it alive, so that people can look at that and see that’s where you need to take it on in twenty years.” With nods of agreement from his three band-mates, he finished with, “We like to feel like we did it right, that we were respectful while advancing the Irish music.” Anyone who hears the High Kings live knows that they have absolutely raised the bar, and that they have undoubtedly done it right. For every old song they resurrect, they advance two more.
Thirteen instruments, four exquisite voices, creative arrangements, and original harmonies are what make the High Kings a fantastic band, one of Ireland’s best. But it’s statements like the above from Holden, this collective integrity of musical purpose, that really sets these four musicians apart from the rest. Selfless cultural dedication is the High Kings’ secret musical ingredient. It’s why they can play great, energizing music long after the lights have gone out.
If you miss the High Kings live on tour, you’ll be missing something incredible. But luckily the High Kings are doing more U.S. gigs this year than ever before. After headlining the Dublin, Ohio and Milwaukee Irish Festivals next month, they have shows lined up in Buffalo and Syracuse for Aug. 23 and Sept. 11, respectively. Then, in October, they will be in Albany, N.Y., Norfolk, Conn., and Somerville, Mass. Finally, the High Kings have another March 2016 U.S. tour in the works. Check out their dates at thehighkings.com and follow them on Facebook.
Colleen Taylor writes the “Music Notes” column for the Irish Echo.
Film Review / By Michael Gray
Barry Ward and Simone Kirby in a scene from “Jimmy’s Hall.”
SONY PICTURES CLASSICS
Did you hear the one about the Irishman who was deported from his own country? It’s no laughing matter. Those of us who have lived for any length of time on the westerly side of the Atlantic Ocean will likely know someone or other who had a difference of opinion with the authorities here past the expiration date of his visa, and got dispatched out of the jurisdiction, never to return.
Now imagine this happening to an Irishman in his own country. And in his own home county, on his own family’s farm. This was the fate that befell a Leitrim man named Jimmy Gralton in 1933, the only Irish citizen, in the history of the state, to have been deported from Ireland.
And the charges? There were none – not, at least, in any formal sense. Nor a trial, fair or otherwise. Jimmy was perceived as a menace to society, on account of activities in his home parish that had the support of many in his locality, but were not sanctioned by the church. And on the basis that he had assumed American citizenship during an earlier sojourn in New York, he was deemed an undesirable alien by Eamon de Valera’s recently-elected Fianna Fáil government.
He escaped the initial attempt at his mother’s cottage to arrest and deport him, and went on the run. He kept one step ahead of the law for six months, but was then apprehended, taken to Cobh, and put on a transatlantic steamer bound for New York, where he would live out the remainder of his years.
Gralton was born in a crowded cottage on a small farm of poor Leitrim land in the townland of Effrinagh, not far from Carrick-on-Shannon. He left home as a teenager to join the Royal Navy, and travelled round the world for years before landing in New York at the age of 21. His political consciousness was forged here in the heated atmosphere of the workers’ unions’ struggles against the horrendous factory conditions endured by immigrant laborers in the city. He returned to Ireland twice, the first time in 1921 to fight in the war of independence, which left him on the wrong side of the Treaty, and the second time, in 1932, after de Valera’s anti-Treaty party came to power, to settle permanently (or so he believed) on the family acres, and take care of his aged mother.
Jimmy brought back new ideas from New York. To those who like them, new ideas are called progressive, to those who don’t, they are disparaged as new-fangled. For the local priests, Jimmy’s ideas fell into the latter category, and, worse still, were perceived as sowing the seeds of godless communism. He had been a union activist in New York, and on his initial return he built a hall on his family farm as a venue to hold dances, sports events, and readings to educate a rural populace hungry for fresh ideas. To do this without the imprimatur of the Catholic church was deemed an affront to its authority and set Jimmy on a collision course with the local priests and bishops, and ultimately, de Valera’s government. This clash is the subject of a veteran British director Ken Loach’s new film, “Jimmy’s Hall,” a drama set in rural Leitrim at the time of Jimmy’s second return, and shot in that county in Drumsna, not far from Jimmy’s own townland.
The film is a natural progression from Loach’s previous examination of Irish history, the 2006 Cannes Palme D’Or winner “The Wind That Shakes The Barley.” That film asked the question: now that we have an independent Ireland, what kind of Ireland do we want it to be? “Jimmy’s Hall” addresses the conflicts that follow the evolving nature of independence a decade later, when the different factions that forged the new nation vie for pole position at the levers of power. Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward) was a leftist supporter of James Connolly (his hall was officially named Pearse-Connolly Hall) and his beliefs set him at odds with the opposing forces in this new power play – the big landowners who controlled Leitrim’s agriculture industry, and the new minority government of Fianna Fáil, in lockstep with a church authority that was about to consolidate its place at the apex of Ireland’s power structure, with the 1932 Eucharistic Congress.
Add to this potent mix the fact that Jimmy’s music nights at the hall were not just earnest céilí seisiúiní. His years in New York had given him a taste, not just for leftist theory, but for the devil’s music. He was soon spinning jazz 78s on an imported American gramophone, and even teaching a few soft-shoe steps to the thrilled villagers, digging himself into deeper trouble with the parish priest Fr. Sheridan (a malevolent Jim Norton in Loach’s film).
Gralton’s story, adapted for the screen by regular Loach collaborator Paul Laverty from Donal O’Kelly’s play of the same name, has all of the components to make a great drama, and reveal some hidden truths about how we got to be the way we are. Loach even has, by his own modest standards, a lavish budget of €6 million, used to excellent aesthetic effect to show some of Ireland’s less celebrated scenery, in all its lush summer glory. But the film is failed by its cast – too many amateur actors deflate what was in reality a fiery debate about the rights of the landless and the bookless to adequate housing and an education of their choosing. In what should be a pivotal scene, Jimmy attends a meeting to protest the eviction of a family with five children, cast to the roadside when they are unable to pay the rent for their cottage after their crops failed. The motley assortment in attendance of putative IRA men, leftist activists, and concerned villagers mumble and fluff their lines like they hadn’t rehearsed at all. The priest is a despicable cartoon villain who only shows some nuance to his character when he allows, at the conclusion, that the man he had hounded mercilessly out of the country was worthy of some respect for the strength of his convictions. And the actress playing Jimmy’s stoic mother (Aileen Henry), in a small but emotionally significant role, comes across like she is reading her lines off the tablecloth in her cottage. The accents in the film are all over the place – rural Leitrim seems to have a surfeit of tweed-clad, flat-capped Dubliners expounding leftist dialogue in a pre-urban Ireland that seldom saw jackeens venture past the end of their city’s suburban tramlines.
Loach disingenuously soft-pedals his subject’s politics and thus does the real man a disservice – Gralton is agreeably played by Barry Ward as an affable, laddish character, scruffily handsome and self-deprecating, intent only on providing a few novel social options for his fun-starved neighbors in the titular hall. The real-life Jimmy was a leading member of the Workers’ Revolutionary Group in Leitrim, forerunners of the Irish Communist Party, and a force to be reckoned with, delivering firebrand rhetoric in his hall along with the music, poetry and literature events. At a volatile time when Stalin ruled the atheist Soviet Union with a ruthless fist and Hitler’s Nazionalsozialist thugs were about to seize power in Germany, Gralton presented a small but very real threat to the authority of those aligned with the church, the big landowners and the ever-fractious IRA (who were implicated in burning down Jimmy’s Hall on Christmas Eve of 1932, but organized a protest against his expulsion eight months later). Watch the film (currently screening at 11 local cinemas in New York), for the scenery, but for better results, look for Michael Carolan’s fascinating documentary “Deported: the Gralton Story” on Youtube.
Or better yet, seek out Gralton’s grave in Woodlawn Cemetery, and pay your respects to a neglected idealist from the annals of Irish history who deserved better, in life, and on film.
By John Kearns
An occasional carhorn sent a fading note of complaint down the narrow brick walls of Tulip Street. Potholes made the car chassis grunt. A boy shouted. Some big dog’s deep bark seemed to shake the whole block. In her little house, Danielle had gotten used to hearing and yet ignoring it all. She heard her mother’s familiar step, tread, and creak downstairs. With her eyes closed, she could see her mother rushing around the kitchen. Toastsmell roamed into her room. Morning. It had long been morning. Daddy was going away. Back to the Navy. Her nightmare! Maybe this time he would not come back. No, she couldn’t think that. It would never, ever come true. He promised.
Mom clanged utensils against pans and bowls and plates, whisking the eggs, putting a plate of stacked toast upon the table. She had called Danielle more than once, without success. Danielle was not sleeping or sleepy, but she did not want to move. She wanted to stay put, like a plant rooted in hard earth, and forget about her bad dream.
A man’s voice in the kitchen, still strange though Daddy had been back from the Navy for a couple of weeks. She wondered what noises he hears, yet ignores when he is in his bunk at sea and if it is hard to learn to ignore them. The sea noises must be strange: the splashing against the steel walls, the hum of the engine, the cawing seagulls, the scratchy-snoring sailors. It must be weird to sleep below deck, knowing there is the ocean right outside and fish swimming alongside your room. She wondered if the fish could hear the snoring and if they ignored it.
— Danielle! I must have called you a half a dozen times now!
At breakfast, she wanted to ask him about sleeping on the boat. She kept thinking about the splashing, the humming, the cawing, and the snoring, and, about the fish swimming alongside his bedroom. But, she didn’t dare ask. He seemed grouchy. He devoured his eggs and bacon with loudsmacking lips accompanied by snorting nostrils. He took big crunching bites of his toast, which seemed to follow a regular rhythm with his swallowing and his sips of orange juice. He sat up straight in his chair. He had sat that way when he had first gotten leave. He usually kept up the posture for a few days and then seemed to relax. Then he would seem happy to be home. It was as if everything were brand new to him. Or, maybe everything just seemed new and, at the same time, vaguely remembered, like a scene from another life or from a dream he had almost forgotten. Does it take him time to get used to the sea noises after he has been on land and to the land noises after he has been at sea? She wouldn’t dare ask that either.
Now he had reached the restless stage, however, and his posture started to look like a sailor’s again.
— I feel like a fish out of water around here! he had said last night.
Everything was suddenly kept in the wrong place. Everyone slept too much. Mom did not follow his instructions. And, life could not move fast enough. It was clear that he longed for the new life shipping out would bring — new but vaguely remembered, like a scene from another life or from a dream he had almost forgotten. But not that dream. Not her dream! Did he get tired of that life also after a while? Danielle thought so. But now she could see that he burned to be back eating breakfast among the men, with the floor under his feet rolling with the ocean waves.
— Did you sleep well, Danielle? he asked out of the blue.
— Pretty good.
His cold blue eyes squinted at her as he wiped his lips with a paper napkin.
— I thought I heard you yell somethin’, he said. Did you have a nightmare?
The dream! The shock shook her to her bones. How did he know? What should she tell him? She felt so afraid for her daddy. Should she tell him about the dream? But then she was afraid of how he would react. He would think it was just silliness, probably. But, she had yelled something! What had she said? Did he already know what she had dreamed about? Had she given away some secret? She was dying to know.
— What did I say?
— I couldn’t make out the words but you yelled out like you were in trouble or afraid of somethin’.
What could she say? She couldn’t think up any story better than the truth.
— I had a dream about you, Daddy.
— Ha ha! he chuckled. About me, huh?
A storm! A storm! Her daddy on deck. The ship pitching wildly. Up and down. Left and right. Rough waves whitefoamed washing over the side, rising to his knees and ebbing away. Daddy’s feet wet and cold. The wind screaming so loud it drowns his curses. He’s moving away, moving away! Away! Mountains of seawater jump and plunge. The ship shrinks smaller and smaller! Lost! He’ll be lost and gone! Daddy lost and gone!
— Yes, it was very scary. You were on a ship and there was a terrible storm. It was raining cats and dogs and the water was coming up onto the boat and making your feet wet and the wind was blowing and you were getting real mad.
It was strange that she always dreamed of a storm attacking him: never an enemy or a pirate ship or something. She guessed if any humans ever attacked her daddy in a dream, she could just imagine him shooting them and that would be the end of that.
— Ha ha! he laughed again. You had a dream about your old sailor daddy in a storm! Poor Danielle!
How could he laugh, she wondered. He didn’t seem to understand the dream.
— But it was scary, Daddy. I didn’t like the dream at all.
— Ah, it’s nuthin’ for a sailor to get his feet wet and curse at the wind.
He sniggered and snorted.
— But you were in trouble, Daddy.
— Danielle, you know I love bein’ here with you and your mom. But … But, there’s another part of me that thinks my feet have been dry for too long now. Yih know what I mean?
He shuffled his feet underneath the table as if to illustrate his point.
— I have to go back to fightin’ storms and cursin’ at the wind. It’s my way of life.
— I wish it wasn’t. Danielle stomped her right foot. She stared into her plate of eggs for a moment, pouting. It’s too scary with all the storms and big waves.
— Danielle! Her mother shouted. That’s your father you’re talking to!
— Also, I promised to serve in the Navy, her father added. I have to keep my promises — right? There’s only another year to go. Plus, it’s my duty.
— I always hated that word!
Her father chuckled and shuffled his legs about restlessly under the kitchen table. She couldn’t believe it! All he could think about was getting back to sea, even in bad weather, and he didn’t care about what the dream might mean.
As she left the house, she knew her mother was right. He had to pack his things and get ready for shipping out. It was his way. He had explained it many times.
— I don’t know, he would say. I’m restless. I just can’t stay on land all the time. Just be patient and I’ll be back. I will always come back, Danielle.
The sea and the land, the sea and the land. Why did they have to be so separate? Why did one have to be different from the other? It was that way in the Bible. God parted the land from the sea. She wished He hadn’t. But she shouldn’t say that. Why couldn’t Daddy love the land? Maybe there was some place where God hadn’t parted the sea from the land, like an undersea island, like Atlantis. She wished she could go there. Maybe that could be her family’s happy home. Or maybe she could wait there for him, at least, and each time he shipped out, she could watch the hull pass over her and see it go by again when he returned. Then she would know that it was almost time to see him. She could have a garden there and Daddy would love it because it would be land in the sea. But, maybe she could help him love the land more than the sea.
Since the springtime, Danielle’s neighbor, Lena, had been letting her help in her patch of the community garden. She took care of the flowers and planted seeds. She learned how often to water this plant and how often to water that one. She memorized the names: the gladiolas and the tulips and the chrysanthemums and the irises and the orchids and the daisies. Lena had learned them from library books: city people didn’t know much about these things, she said. Some names were hard to pronounce and her mouth and tongue were clumsy like a sailor without his sea legs. But the petals were so pretty and the feel of them in her finger tips made her feel so happy, she didn’t care about the hard words. And, when the flowers were healthy looking and they were drinking up the water she had given them, she could have sworn they smiled at her. She remembered when she was little how she used to wonder how the plants could drink if they didn’t have mouths. Then she learned about roots and saw how God gives them everything they need, even sending people like her and Lena to take care of them when they needed a little extra help.
Danielle had also helped harvest some of the vegetables, picking the tomatoes and some ears of corn. The way the bean stalks climbed up the poles was like magic. They twisted like snakes — only nice snakes with no scary tongues or teeth! And the potatoes were so cute in their hiding spots underneath the broad green leaves and their little hills of dirt. Then there were the herbs which were like peppermint candy only not in a package but right there at your fingertips, little natural treats from God —and all you had to do was take care of them. And taking care of them made her so happy! She wished she were a farmer girl picking fruit and vegetables on a farm — like out in Lancaster where everything was spread out so wide and it seemed like you could look for miles over the fields to the horizon, as if the fields were an ocean of green, like down the shore, like Daddy’s sea. But instead, she was on a small patch of dirt at Tulip and Cumberland surrounded by rowhouses on a hazy afternoon in noisy Port Richmond.
When he had first come home for leave, she had been so excited to tell her father about the plants she had learned about and taken care of so well that he had said:
— You better be careful or you’ll turn into a plant!
But it was hard to stop talking about the garden. She wanted to share this newly discovered world with him. Her mother was pleased about it also, though she was critical of the dirt she dragged home on her clothes. Mom had even said that some of the tomatoes Lena had given her last week were better than Jersey tomatoes!
Lena noticed the effect the garden had had on Danielle.
— Danielle, she said. You love the garden — don’t you?
— Yeah, I do.
— I can tell! You’ve been doin’ a real good job with the flowers and all of the plants.
— Thanks, Lena.
— Well, I’ll tell you what, Lena said with a broad smile. Next planting season, just before spring really starts, I’m going to save you a little patch of dirt right here.
She drew a little square in the air to trace the area of land which would be reserved.
— And I’m going to save it just for you. You can plant some of my seeds there and take care of it and it will be your very own section of the garden.
Her very own section of the garden! Could it be true?! She would take care of it as if it were her baby!
— And, Lena, can I still work on the rest of the garden, too?
Lena patted her protégé on the head.
— You can do as much as you like, sweetheart, as often as your mom let’s you come.
— Lena, thank you so much!
She was so happy with this news that she barely noticed the thunder in the distance as she walked home. While they were having dinner, strong winds began to blow. Then, finally, the rain came. The drops seemed to attack the hot street. The people covered their heads and ran for home or whatever cover they could find. On Action News, they called it a Noreaster. Was it something to do with the Great Northeast? She didn’t know. Anyway, it was something serious. Maybe it would keep her daddy home! God does give us everything we need!
Her bedroom window was left open just a little for some air and she could feel droplets of water blown through the screen. They kissed her feet with lips cold as death. The curtains of her window billowed like the sails of a ship from the olden days. She wondered if her daddy would like to sail in one of them. The stuffed animals and dolls in her room just stared in their usual, empty way, not smart enough to worry about anyone.
He can’t go!
Whenever she closed her eyes: a storm! A storm! Her daddy on deck. The ship pitching wildly. Up and down. Left and right. Rough waves whitefoamed washing over the side, rising to his knees and ebbing away. Daddy’s feet wet and cold. The wind screaming so loud it drowns his curses. He’s moving away, moving away! Away! Mountains of seawater jump and plunge. The ship shrinks smaller and smaller! Lost! He’ll be lost and gone! Daddy lost and gone!
He can’t go!
The Noreaster was a being, an angry giant cloud with wicked blowing lips, blasting, screaming, and roaring. It bombarded the rooftops with hard, wetcold pellets, like countless boys throwing rocks.
Eventually, Danielle fell asleep, though she woke up shivering a couple of times. One time she thought she was on a ship at sea and that her room was tossing and turning. Another time, she had been dreaming that she was a woman about to get married on the grand island of Atlantis and before her wedding the stormy waters washed over the island and took her world away from her. Everything was water and destruction and death.
But, the sun was shining when she woke up and all she could hear were the usual street sounds.
When she came down for breakfast, she saw her father’s bags in the living room. And he was in his uniform.
— But you can’t leave, daddy! she shouted, tears starting to blur her vision of him. What about my dream? What about the storm? It was a Noreaster!
— Oh, sailors are used to storms, sweetie, he chuckled.
— Why are you always laughing? Danielle screamed.
She stomped toward the front door. As she reached it, she turned and shrieked:
— It’s not funny!
She was racing down the street before she knew what she was doing. Her father walked after her, letting her run ahead. She needed to get it out of her system. Besides, he knew exactly where she was going.
When Danielle reached the garden, she stopped dead, panting and wheezing. The vegetables were all right but the flowers … ! The Noreaster had chewed the flower garden to pieces. What had been a patch of earth smiling with color was now a swamp, a wasteland of mud. The flowers were all knocked down and drowned. They weren’t even rooted in the earth anymore. The monster had ravaged her precious plantbabies. Tears came to her eyes before she could even catch her breath. She sat right down on the ground, not even caring about the mud.
An old black lady came over to her. She had seen the lady at the garden before but had never met her.
— What is it, sweetheart? The lady asked. Oh, honey, all your pretty flowers washed away!
She patted her on the hand but Danielle did not respond. Even though it was all muddy, Danielle covered her eyes with her other hand, and wept. Sadness rained down on her harder than the Noreaster had on Lena’s little garden patch. Her tears dropped into the soft earth.
The lady crouched down next to her without getting dirty and shook her head at the little girl’s lost garden of flowers.
— Nothin’ I can say, sweetheart, the lady said. Except it’s God’s will. He give and He take away. The storm gave water to lots of plants that needed it but it destroyed this little patch of flowers. Nature do sloppy work sometime.
She laughed, hoping to get a smile out of the girl who was now sobbing quietly.
— Come on, honey, the lady said. It ain’t so bad. You can grow a lot more pretty flowers. Who knows? Maybe one left even now.
Her eyes carefully explored the wreckage of the garden. Beyond a tiny hill of mud, she saw a dirtied splash of yellow and a healthy green stem rooted in the earth. The flower was bent over with its petals in the mud but it was still alive and healthy.
— Look! Look! she exclaimed. A iris! A pretty yellow iris — still alive!
It was her father’s voice from far away.
He was walking across the street to her garden.
She looked back to the garden and saw where the lady was pointing. There was indeed a beautiful yellow iris, bent over and muddied, but still alive!
— Oh, thank you! Danielle cried.
Her father came up behind her. Danielle bent and plucked the flower out of the earth. Then, smiling through her tears, she handed to her daddy the muddied yellow iris, the survivor of storms.
This is reprinted from the collection “Dreams and Dull Realities” by John Kearns.
John Kearns is treasurer and salon producer for Irish American Writers & Artists, Inc. He the author of the short-story collection, “Dreams and Dull Realities,” and the novel, The World. His novel-in-progress, “Worlds,” was a finalist in the 2002 New Century Writers’ Awards. John has had five full-length and five one-act plays produced in Manhattan, His fiction has appeared in the Medulla Review and Danse Macabre. His poems have appeared in in the North American Review, the Grey Sparrow Journal, Feile-Festa, and the ASBDQ experimental text journal. He has a Master’s Degree in Irish Literature from the Catholic University of America.
Salon Diary / by Jeanne D’Brant and John Kearns
Donie Carroll. PHOTO: KEVIN MCPARTLAND
The IAWA July Salon at Bar Thalia had a solid turnout who sent their support in words and song to founder Malachy McCourt, who had broken his knee. The night featured the return of some familiar faces along with a few first-time presenters and an innovative mother/son poetry performance.
Sarah Fearon read a short piece called “Hurry Up and Relax.” While approaching the July 4th Weekend, a conscious effort is made to go against the city’s grain of “hurry up and relax” by enjoying a weekend of activities and feeling nostalgia for the days when life was more relaxing.
Tom Mahon read a story called “LUCK” from his collection: “Tomorrow Never Came.” A new lieutenant arrives in Vietnam and is sent to replace a platoon leader. The instant he gets off the helicopter, he’s shot. He’s evacuated, and we learn the man he was supposed to replace was killed as well.
Jonathan Goldman read a poem, “Aunt Rose,” from his in-progress suite of poems about his dead relatives, imaginatively titled “Dead Relatives.” The poem alludes to the unknowability of previous generations.
In John Kearns’s excerpt from his novel in progress, “Worlds,” Paul Logan reminisces about a gluttonous day spent in New Orleans, eating beignets and muffulettas and drinking beer while listening to live music from the bars.
In a piece from his one-man play “Cabtivist,” John McDonagh commented that the Upper East Side never changes: no one dies, and the only places they go are to Bloomingdales, psychiatrists and doctor’s appointments.
Bernadette Cullen read two pieces from a series of long poems in development which explore the themes of loss and remembrance.
Suave crooner, Jack DiMonte, sang “On Second Thought,” a poetic ode to the regrets one can experience after a romantic break-up written by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh.
The mother and son poetry team of Maureen Daniels and her son, Asher, was a first-ever for the Salon.
Donie Carroll sang the Wexford song, “The Bantry Girl’s Lament for Johnny” and “Are Ye Right There, Michael?” by Percy French, which appears on Donie’s album, “Divil of a Noise.”
Donie concluded the evening with “Wild Mountain Thyme,” usually sung by Malachy McCourt. The crowd joined in to wish Malachy well and expects to see him soon dancing with the Rockettes!
The next IAW&A Salon will take place on tomorrow night, July 21, at the Cell Theater, 338 West 23rd St., in Manhattan, beginning at 7 p.m. The August salons will be on Wednesday, the 5th, at Bar Thalia (7 p.m.), 2537 Broadway, at 95th Street, and on Tuesday, the 18th, at the Cell Theatre.
Dubliner Gavin Glass’s latest CD “Sunday Songs” has received glowing reviews in Ireland.
By Colleen Taylor
By now, the popularity of American country music in Ireland, particularly in the West, is well established, but lately, I’ve become more aware of the reciprocal creative output resultant from this Irish fandom, particularly within the past five years. Some of Ireland’s best musicians—names like Nathan Carter, Ronan Keating and Mary Duff—are producing great country and Americana music that can hold its own with our homegrown Southern talent. Gavin Glass is yet another example. The American musical influence gives panache and distinction to Glass’s sound, one that provides for an easy-going, beautiful listening experience. Glass has recently released his album “Sunday Songs,” a collection that impels several listens. “Sunday Songs” is not the typical country music cover album: it is something both Irish and American, and all Glass’s own.
Glass is Irish country music’s Dublin constituent. A Dubliner himself, he represents the Eirecana (Irish Americana) genre across the city—a regular at its best music venues, such as Whelan’s, where he launched his new album at the end of last month. The album subsequently received glowing reviews from the Irish Times and fans alike. When he’s not performing solo, Glass also plays with Lisa Hannigan’s band or works as a music producer. But Glass’s time focused on songwriting is his time best spent. This is a musician who knows how to marry poetry with notes.
While his earlier albums, particularly “Myna Birds” (2010), are accomplishments in their own right, this latest and fourth album is his best yet. “Sunday Songs” is his most nostalgic, most emotive and most evocative. Listening to this album is like living in a Western film. Glass makes use of old-time instruments like the steel guitar and classic violin, all the while maintaining a modern interpretive flare. The historical steel guitar, for instance, is complimented by the electric, by moments of a more indie blend of instruments, such as in the more modernized rock song, “Light Heart.” On the other hand, the exquisite title track evokes that quintessentially country swaying rhythm that one associates exclusively with a horse and a cowboy. For me, one of the best on the album is “Better Left Alone.” This song is country through and through. While it exemplifies all of Glass’s own unique interpretation, it nonetheless speaks to the legacy of the country-music tradition throughout the past century. Each of the eight songs achieves a sound that is simultaneously melancholic and carefree, creating a myriad of cultural associations.
So where does the Irish come in? Aside from Glass’s own personal background, it might not be readily identifiable in this strictly Eirecana, country music album. But in my opinion, there is something definitively Irish in the lyrics. “Rise and Fall” starts out with the simple pairing of Glass’s mournful vocals and piano: “Look at us now /still running round/ From all that we were and all that we know.” The tenor of his voice speaks to a culture of balladeers and sad love songs. If you wanted to, you could make an argument for the album’s Irish lineage in the lyrics he writes and the style in which he sings them.
All in all, Gavin Glass proves that Ireland does far more than listen to good American country music. It creates it too. The Eirecana and country-music genres are lucky to have an advocate like Glass. His music is sophisticated and timeless. One cannot listen to “Sunday Songs” without being moved, without falling into reverie. Check Gavin Glass out on Spotify or Facebook.
Colleen Taylor is the Music Notes columnist for the Irish Echo.
By Irish Echo Staff
Larry Kirwan has never been busier, it seems, since his band Black 47 called it a day last fall after 25 years. On this Saturday, his solo career will take a Staten Island twist when he debuts and records “Floating.” The song may be brand new, but it tells a story from the past, specifically one about his great-grandfather, Captain James Moran, and his relationship with the sea. For tickets for the 8 p.m. event at the Noble Maritime Collection, Snug Harbor, go to www.noblemaritime.org/Larry_Kirwan.html.
“My great-grandfather was lost at sea off Penzance along with all of the crew on The City of Bristol SS, Sept. 29, 1898,” Kirwan said. “His body floated north over 150 miles, and the family legend has it that but for the tides he would have come ashore in Wexford rather than directly across the Irish Sea in Pembroke, Wales on Nov. 2, 1898.
“I had always wanted to write the story in some form but didn’t receive the inspiration until playing last year at the Noble Maritime Collection in Snug Harbor, Staten Island,” he said.
And is Mr. Kirwan as busy as ever or does it just seem that way? We asked him about whether he’s taking it easy post-Black 47.
“As regards retirement, I’ve just arrived back from playing in Milwaukee. After the Staten Island gig, I’ll be playing July 23 at Bridge Street Live in Collinsville, Conn., and July 24 at the Bull Run in Shirley, Mass.,” he said.
“One of my musicals is being developed for a major production and I’m in the midst of writing another musical about Iraq. ‘A History of Irish Music’ has just been released as an eBook on Kindle and Nook, etc.
“I’m still doing ‘Celtic Crush’ on SiriusXM every week, and there’s a certain editor at the Irish Echo who demands 700 words of flawless prose for my column every couple of weeks,” he said.
The multi-talented Wexford native added: “A man hardly has time to raise his elbow with a couple of pints!! But I’m thinking strongly of throwing my hat in the ring for the Republican presidential nomination. After all, I have just as much hair as The Donald!”
By Peter McDermott
“When my father came to America, he had a lot to learn,” said Connor Harding in a eulogy at St. Brigid’s Church in Manhattan’s East Village last Tuesday afternoon.
Indeed, Peter Harding was just 18 in 1964. But when the Dún Laoghaire, Co. Dublin, native gained the American knowledge and education he needed, he was always ready to pass it on.
And the architect Harding was the first person to call if there was a problem. “If you wanted business handled, you went to Dad,” Connor Harding said.
Officiating priest at the funeral Mass, the Rev. Peter Meehan, said afterwards: “Peter was the voice of reason during the St. Brigid’s crisis.”
Edwin Torres, chairman of the local Committee to Save St. Brigid’s Church, said: “We will be forever grateful to Peter. It was his knowledge of Building Department laws that gave us our big break.”
After the New York archdiocese proposed to demolish the church completed in 1849, Harding became one of the most active members of Torres’s group. “Many people gave up hope,” Torres said. “Peter didn’t.”
“Those people [the Committee to Save St. Brigid’s Church] really deserve a lot of respect,” said Meehan, a pastor at Church of Our Lady of the Rosary in Downtown Manhattan.
The priest said that clergy, frustrated at the late Cardinal Egan’s “intransigence,” passed on information to Harding during the long stand-off over the church. (An anonymous donation of $20 million saved St. Brigid’s and it reopened in early 2013.)
Not that the Irishman was an active churchgoer. “He was like my immigrant parents,” said Fr. Meehan. “They never darkened the door of a church. But they knew and respected the traditions. They had faith.”
Harding informed Meehan last year that he wanted his funeral Mass to take place at St. Brigid’s. “I said: ‘You better tell somebody else,’” the priest recalled. He was concerned that such a wish could get lost if only one priest in another parish knew about it.
Last September, the architect moved from a New York hospice to be with his elder son Connor and daughter-in-law Heather in North Carolina. “I spoke to him every four weeks or so after he moved,” Meehan said.
Harding died in Hope Mills, N.C., on July 2, and was cremated. Connor Harding traveled with his wife and younger brother Niall Harding, who is a Washington DC resident, for the Mass at St. Brigid’s Church five days later.
Torres heard about the death of his friend just before he flew out of New York on vacation. “I’m heartbroken,” he said upon his return yesterday. Several committee members spent a day with Harding at the hospice last year, Torres remembered.
Extended family joined the Hardings at the St. Brigid’s Mass, as did friends and colleagues from Alcoholics Anonymous. Harding was centrally involved with the World Trade Center group for many years. “He was a well-respected, quiet leader,” Meehan said, adding that Harding did a lot of pro bono work for homeless shelters and addiction centers over the years.
“He wasn’t a perfect man,” Connor Harding said. “But he was a good man.”
Page Turner / Edited by Peter McDermott
PHOTO: EMILIA KRYSZTOFIAK
“Secrets will always out,” the Dublin novelist Dermot Bolger wrote recently. “In the same way as Emily Dickinson’s poems were once the best-kept secret in Massachusetts, Nuala O’Connor’s luminous prose has long been one of Ireland’s most treasured literary secrets. Now, through her superb evocation of 19th century Amherst, an international audience is likely to be held rapt by the sparse lyricism and exactitude of O’Connor’s writing.”
And so it has proven, if “international audience” means admiring fellow writers here in the U.S. Ahead of its publication here this week, several have stepped forward to praise “Miss Emily.”
“The structure of the book is reminiscent of one of Emily Dickinson’s poems, a lyrical dialogue between two voices,” said Stephanie Barron, author of the Jane Austen mystery series.
One of those voices is fictional. Dickinson didn’t have a maid in 1866, and so O’Connor created Ada Concannon, and made her a cousin of one of the poet’s real-life servants later on, Maggie Maher, who was born to immigrants from County Tipperary.
“An original portrayal of Emily Dickinson seen here not just as a lover of words, but as a heroine and friend to a plucky Irish maid who casts a new and sympathetic light on the Belle of Amherst,” said Sheila Kohler, author of “Becoming Jane Eyre.”
“The Bookman’s Tale” author Charlie Lovett wrote: “I lost myself in the beautiful detail of 1860s Amherst, a cast of characters that leapt off the page with life, and the constant reminder that words, properly wielded, can transcend time, transmit love, and, above all, inspire hope.”
O’Connor, a former Irish-language translator, library assistant and arts administrator, will visit Dickinson Country next month for a series of events.
Date of birth: Jan. 14, 1970
Place of birth: Dublin
Spouse: Finbar McLoughlin
Children: Cúán, 21, Finn, 13, Juno, 6.
Residence: Ballinasloe, Co. Galway
Published works: Three novels, four short story collections, three poetry collections, two chapbooks published in Ireland and the U.K. Full time writer since 2004. Up until now has written as Nuala Ní Chonchúir.
What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?
I write in the mornings from about 8.30 a.m. to 2 p.m., while the kids are out at school. I have a desk in the corner of my bedroom. I like peace and quiet – no music, interruptions or radio.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Read like a maniac; write every day; walk a lot; travel as much as possible; listen and take notes. Don’t worry about productivity or what anyone else is doing – write as much as you can when you can. There is no right age or time – do it now.
Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure.
“Silk” by Alessandro Baricco; “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen; “The Country Girls” by Edna O’Brien.
What book are you currently reading?
“Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness” by Jennifer Tseng. Set on an unnamed island (probably a fictional Martha’s Vineyard) it’s about a 41 year old librarian’s obsession with a 17 year old boy. It’s hilarious and beautifully written.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
“Silk” by Alessandro Baricco – such a delicate, fairy tale-like novella about the power and ingenuity of women.
Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.
“On Writing” by Stephen King. Part memoir, part writing guide, I found it fascinating and affirming.
If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?
Flannery O’Connor. I love her cock-eyed humor and penchant for darkness; I love that she kept peacocks. I imagine her conversation would be raucous and incisive.
What book changed your life?
“The Portable Virgin,” Anne Enright’s first short fiction collection. It changed my writing life in the sense that she made me understand that it is possible to write about Irishness in a modern, open way.
What is your favorite spot in Ireland?
Mill Lane in Palmerstown, Dublin, where I grew up – a country idyll on the hems of the city. We spent our childhood in and on the Liffey, swimming, boating, fishing.
You’re Irish if…
You love to make a story out of every small thing.