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Origin Wraps Fourth Irish Festival

POSTED ON October 5th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Darren Healy.

Audiences still tend to be slightly confused by the name of the 1st Irish Theatre Festival, which is understandable considering that its sponsor, the New York-based Origin Theatre Company, this year celebrated the festival’s fourth season.

The event, which refers to itself as the first and only festival in the world dedicated to Irish playwrights, (hence the “1st” and “Irish” in the name) ran for four weeks, starting on Sept. 5 and calling it a day on Oct.r 2, with an awards ceremony following on Oct. 3.

The show which chalked up the greatest number of nominations, four in all, was the Mint Theater Company’s “Temporal Powers.” The play, a little-known drama by Waterford-born playwright Teresa Deevy. The play, written in the early 930s, was recently unearthed by the Mint’s artistic chief, Jonathan Bank, who secured a personal nomination as the play’s director.

In addition to director Bank’s nomination, “Temporal Powers” racked up nominations in the Best Design and Best Production categories, plus a nod for Aidan Redmond, the show’s outstanding leading man, who scored as the late playwright’s conflicted hero, Michael Powers.

Other actors nominated in addition to Redmond were Steve Blount who starred as the reclusive farmer, Hughie Dolan, in Deirdre Kinahan’s eloquent “Bogboy” at the Irish Arts Center, and Darren Healy, who played the frenetic title character, Noah, in playwright Sean McLoughlin’s galvanic “Noah and the Tower Flower,” imported to the Drilling Company Theatre from the Dublin-based Fishamble Company.

Among actresses nominated included veteran performer Ruth Maleczech, who struck a new height as Lucia Joyce, James Joyce’s mentally troubled daughter, in Sharon Fogarty’s “Lucia’s Chapter of Coming Forth by Day.” Other actresses nominated included Sorcha Fox, who played Brigid, the recovering Dublin heroin addict of “Bogboy,” produced by Tall Tales Theatre Company, Navan, and Solstice Arts Centre in collaboration with the Irish Arts Centre. The final nominee in the Best Actress category was  Donna O’Connor, co-author and star of the raucously funny one-performer show, “A Night With George,” a production of the Brassneck Theatre Company of West Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Nominated directors, in addition to Jonathan Bank, included Jo Mangan, who helmed “Bogboy” and Jim Culleton, who shaped the production of  “Noah and the Tower Flower.”

Nominated in the Best Design category, along with “Temporal Powers,” were Mabou Mines’ “Lucia’s Chapters of Coming Forth by Day,” and “Dublin by Lamplight,” at 59E59 Theaters.

This year’s festival was structured around four productions from Ireland and four from America, with six American premieres and one New York premiere. Serving on the 1st Irish 2011 jury were Jacqueline Davis, executive director of  The  New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Playbill’s Harry Haun, film and theatre critic and historian Bernard Carragher, the Irish theatre columnist Kate Kennon, and Sean Noonan, an executive at Mutual of America, where he serves as liaison to New York’s professional theatre.

Unflinching observer

POSTED ON September 28th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Anne Enright.

Anne Enright has developed a reputation for saying the unsayable, which is one reason that people might show up next Monday night at the 92nd St. Y, where she is a guest alongside fellow novelist Michael Ondaatje. Her London Review of Books essay on the “mass paranoia” induced by the disappearance of 4-year-old Madeleine McCann was described as “startlingly explicit” in a profile of the writer in the London Independent.

That same month, October 2007, Enright won the Man Booker Prize for her fourth novel, “The Gathering.” (Ondaatje won in 1992 for “The English Patient”.) It looks at what happens to the Hegartys when their brother Liam dies.  “A melancholic love and rage bubbles just beneath the surface of this Dublin clan, and Enright explores it unflinchingly,” commented the reviewer of Publishers Weekly.

The former RTE television producer and director Enright became a fulltime writer in 1993, a couple of years after she won the Rooney Prize for Literature.            Enright told the Echo that her latest, “The Forgotten Waltz,” is about “Adultery, children, true love in the Irish boom.”


What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?

I write all the time, whenever I get the time, day or evening, at home or on a plane. Or I did for 10 years or so. Since this last book came out I have been taking a break, which is strange and wonderful. Haven’t written a thing. Except, now, this.


What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Everyone fails, that is not the interesting thing about your day.


Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure.

Just this Summer I read “Gilead,” by Marilynne Robinson, “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell and “Eucalyptus” by the Australian writer Murray Bail – all of them were terrific and full of pleasure, both the reader’s and the writer’s.

What book are you currently reading?

See last answer.


Is there a book you wish you had written?

When I am not writing, I can read happily and say “Oh I wish I had written that.” When I am thinking about a book, or have one on the go, I tend to push books away because they are not as “right” as the one I am about to put on the page. But, like many writers, I am always disappointed in my own finished work, and am happy to revere the work of others: I would always look wistfully at “Madame Bovary,” for example, or “Love in the Time of Cholera,” or any number of great books.


Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.

I thought Cormac McCarthy would be too testosterone-bound for me, but when I read “Blood Meridian” there was nothing “pleasantly surprising” about it. His work takes you by storm.


If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?



What book changed your life?

I don’t know if my life has changed.


What is your favorite spot in Ireland?

After 10 years living in Bray I have just recently fallen in love with the seafront; with its view of Killiney and north to Howth.


You’re Irish if . . .

You want to be.


She will be introduced by Belinda McKeon, author of  “Solace.” For details go to


Two plays of note at 1st Irish Festival

POSTED ON September 28th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Mary Murray and Darren Healy in "Noah and the Tower Flower"

Noah and the Tower Flower by Sean McLoughlin • 1st Irish Theatre Festival 2011 • Fishamble: New Play Company (Ireland), co-produced With The Drilling Company • Through October 2, 2011

Sean McLoughlin’s tough-minded urban romance, “Noah and the Tower Flower,” won the Irish Times Best Play Award four years ago. And it is definitely a romance, despite its harshness, particularly when performed by the two extraordinary actors who created the roles.

Those performers, the galvanic Darren Healy and the funny and moving Mary Murray, have been playing Noah and Natalie in far flung locations including Bulgaria, Romania, and now, for the first time, New York, where the play is part of the 1st Irish Theatre Festival 2011.

In McLoughlin’s densely packed work, these two luckless young citizens of Ballymun, a rough part of Dublin, meet in a bar and, on an impulse, adjourn to Natalie’s flat for an encounter which swings wildly from tentative courtship to potentially lethal violence. She is a recovering drug addict, and he is a near-hysterical layabout with only the most fragile grip on normal life, living under the control of his own manic energy.

Director Jim Culleton’s insightful investigation of the characters has resulted in more credible effects than the way such flawed stage figures are usually presented. The effect is both intelligent and powerful.

Natalie lives alone in a modest urban flat, obsessed by the fear that at any moment she may slide back into a life marred by her long-standing addiction to street drugs. She is fragile, but not weak. It would be easy to see her as an individual who, with a little luck, could build a normal life free of harmful entanglements. She is, however, desperately lonely, suffering the pain which extreme isolation can bring.

It is this solitude which causes her to bring Noah home with her, something she would normally never do with a stranger. When she tells Noah how unusual such an action is for her, you believe her without question. And, in his way, so does Noah.

As for Noah, he is clearly someone who has lived more closely to real peril than Natalie has. When he produces a gun he’s been carrying around in a sack with, one assumes, everything he owns, it comes as no surprise, except to Natalie, who still has a measure of innocent credulousness. There is, she reveals, an area of her character which is still naïve.

Natalie and Noah are real-seeming and fully dimensioned. It would be easy indeed to imagine their lives beyond the few brief scenes and moments playwright McLoughlin has provided. That’s something you can’t say of a lot of otherwise admirable plays. The performances by Murray and Healy rank among the genuine achievements of this year’s 1st Irish Theatre Festival.

• • •

Lucia’s Chapters of Coming Forth By Day Written and Directed by Sharon Fogarty • Mabou Mines, 150 First Ave., NYC • First Irish Theatre Festival 2011 • Through October 2, 2011

Ruth Maleczech is one of the finest actresses in New York. She’s also one of the most courageous, as anyone who remembers her performance as “Queen Lear” a couple of decades ago won’t really need to be reminded.

Now she’s back, as part of the current 1st Irish Theater Festival, playing James Joyce’s daughter, Lucia, whose sanity was endlessly in question: she was institutionalized, mainly in Switzerand, for nearly 50 of her 75 years.

Fogarty’s encounter with Lucia Joyce has produced a work of theater which is primarily a monologue, produced here by Mabou Mines as a vehicle for Ruth Maleczech. Paul Kandel, excellent as always, is also sporadically on hand as James Joyce, sometimes merely as a silhouette, sometimes fully fleshed, but almost always as an annoyance to his daughter, who resented his lifelong attempts to maintain a relationship between them.

Sharon Fogarty’s approach to Lucia Joyce is interesting, but not entirely successful. Nor is it particularly compelling.

Whether Joyce’s daughter was in fact insane or merely eccentric is a question which has obsessed scholars for decades, without an acceptable answer having ever been reached.

In Fogarty’s view, Lucia Joyce was, in some areas, a genius. The portmanteau words and expressions which come to her with ease may have convinced her that she had influenced aspects of her father’s writing, but the evidence in Fogarty’s account isn’t particularly convincing.

Fogarty’s production takes full advantage of a set and lighting by Jim Clayburgh and of subtle projections by Julie Archer.

Sharon Fogarty has, over the years, proven herself to be an earnest, gifted writer, and, beyond doubt, Ruth Maleczech is a genuine treasure.

“Lucia’s Chapters of Coming Forth By Day” will probably by of greatest interest to audiences already interested in the work of both women, with emphasis on the always remarkable Ruth Maleczech.



IFNY – Irish Film New York showcases quirky, brilliant Irish talent

POSTED ON September 28th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Jamie Kierans (left) and Demian Bichir star in the new Irish film The Runway.

In any given year, the graph of Irish culture in the U.S. is skewed disproportionately towards the month of March, offering us more options around St Patrick’s Day than any of us could possibly attend, followed by swift decline in excitement when that month is over.

This year is different: Imagine Ireland, a celebration of Irish culture across the full spectrum of the arts, spoils us for choice for the full twelve months of the year, offering music, dance, film and theatre, not just in major coastal cities, but across the country. And now, as the autumn schedule unfolds in these parts, fans of Irish film are treated to a new festival that aspires to become an annual event in NYC.

At the end of the month, Irish Film New York offers a broad range of contemporary Irish features, from drama and documentary to comedy, starring household names and actors who soon will be.

The festival is the brainchild of Niall McKay, a Wicklow native who comes to town from the West Coast with a reputation for getting things done. McKay is the founder and director of San Francisco Irish Film Festival, an event that has been a highlight of the Cali-Irish calendar for more than a decade. McKay recently relocated to NYC, and in an impressively short space of time has put together a three-day salute to the best of current Irish cinema.

The series opens on Friday, Sept. 30, with “Knuckle”, Ian Palmer’s documentary about the brutal sport of bare-knuckle boxing in the Irish Traveller community. Palmer’s cameras followed rival clans for more than a decade to capture the bruises and the glory of their illegal backstreet bouts, and the big money changing hands on the bloody outcome. This underground sport was showcased, in fictional form, by Brad Pitt in Guy Ritchie’s “Snatch,” but Palmer’s “Knuckle” is the real deal.

In lighter vein, Marion Quinn’s “32A” is a coming-of-age dramedy set in Dublin in the 1970s. The title refers to both the lead character’s burgeoning womanhood and her bus route into town in search of devilment. Marion, sibling of a formidable family of filmmakers that includes actor Aidan, director Paul, and cinematographer Declan Quinn, captures the look and feel of Dublin at that time. Her film will appeal tremendously to nostalgists of pre-boom, pre-bust Ireland (and these days, that’s everybody).

The laborious process of raising money to finance a film often results in a director’s theme passing its sell-by date before the film is finished, but Darragh Byrnes’ droll comedy “Parked” is right up-to-the-minute on Ireland’s current economic plight.

The film centers on the travails of returning emigrant, Fred Daly, who lands back in Ireland friendless, broke, and reduced to living in his car. Despondent about the turn things have taken, Fred is cajoled by a fellow car park dweller into giving life and love another try. Colm Meaney, one of a handful of Irish actors always worth the price of admission, plays the hapless lead character, and Finnish actress Milka Ahlroth his love interest. An Irish-Finnish co-production, ‘Parked” was well received at the Helsinki Film Festival.

Ian Power’s “The Runway”, another Irish film with an international flavor, premieres on Saturday night. Power’s oddball comedy dramatizes true events that happened in Ireland in the early 1980s: Mexican pilot Ruben Ocaña, en route from Newark to Shannon in a Gulfstream jet, made an emergency landing at Mallow racecourse in County Cork with his fuel gauge dangerously in the red. Power’s tale morphs him into Colombian Francisco (Bruno Bichir), stranded in Cork after he crash-lands. But Captain Francisco is soon back in the air, thanks to an unlikely friendship with a fatherless local lad, and the resourceful villages who come up with tarmac and aviation fuel to send him on his way.

The Festival closes Sunday night with Tom Hall’s “Sensation,” starring Domhnall Gleason of “Harry Potter” fame. Hall’s film finds Gleason’s character, a loveless farmer, resorting to recompensed romance with an escort who’s been round the block a few times. A routine one-night stand quickly escalates into a tantalizing business proposition. Soon the unlikely pair decides to open a bordello in a quiet country town, much to the chagrin of the locals who want to put a stop to that sort of thing.

Funded by Culture Ireland and NYU Glucksman Ireland House, indefatigable supporters of Irish arts in New York, the IFNY series will be presented at NYU Cantor Film Centre, from Sept. 30 to October 2, on West 8th Street in Manhattan. The screenings will have the filmmakers present for Q and A afterwards. Tickets can be purchased at the box office at that location, or at the IFNY website,


Heaney live!

POSTED ON September 22nd  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Seamus Heaney.

We Irish are very proud of our four Noble laureates in literature: William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney. Irish Americans also have Eugene O’Neill, the only recipient of the prize born in New York City (and not far from Times Square where he was born, the Irish American Writers & Artists will present their lifetime achievement award named for him to the Irish Repertory Theatre on Oct. 17).

But only one of those five geniuses is still with us – and very much so. New Yorkers have a rare opportunity to see and hear Heaney in person on next Monday evening, Sept. 26, at the 92nd Street Y on Lexington Avenue.

The late Jack Holland, the best-selling author and Echo staffer, would have planned on being there for sure. Heaney taught him at school in Belfast in the early 1960s and has mentioned Jack a few times in interviews.

To buy tickets for the event, which is sponsored by Imagine Ireland, go to

Another Irish literary star, Anne Enright, whose “The Gathering” won the Man Booker Prize in 2007, will be the guest at the 92nd Y on the following Monday, Oct. 3, and tickets for that event can also be bought at


Sending a message

I was at home in my apartment in Woodside 10 years ago when the terrorists attacked New York (12 men didn’t return to the neighborhood’s two firehouses). It was soon clear that the voting in that day’s primary would have to be abandoned. I had become a U.S. citizen in May and was looking forward to the whole process of going into a polling station and helping to choose who would square off against Mr. Bloomberg in November.

I began my voting career in the Republic of Ireland, which like most democracies has a prime minister who governs with a parliamentary majority. America, in contrast, has a separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. They are supposed to govern together, as I understand it, but since last year, the House of Representatives has had a GOP majority that is quite right-wing and has tried to make life as difficult as possible for the president.

In a recent article for the online magazine Slate, commentator Jacob Weisberg said that the Republicans in Congress could be divided into three types: fundamentalists, cynics and sheep. The true believers like Rep. Paul Ryan are against increases in government spending in principle. Then there are those who oppose the commander in chief for nakedly political reasons; exhibit A: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s infamous statement: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

Weisberg pointed out that McConnell and Rep. Eric Cantor, along with other leaders and sheep, voted for President Bush’s $156 billion stimulus in 2008. “Back then, they felt some responsibility for the economy. Now it’s Obama’s problem,” he wrote. That’s the part I don’t fully understand. Even though they are supposed to be governing together, and Congress’s approval ratings are lower than his, the buck stops with the president, in Harry Truman’s words.

Once Republicans are away from the hurly burly of politics, however, they tend to take a less cynical view. As Weisberg writes: “Mark Zandi, the Moody’s chief economist who was John McCain’s economic adviser, judged that the Obama stimulus passed in 2009 kept unemployment from rising two percentage points higher. He says that the president’s new proposal would boost GDP by 2 percent and reduce unemployment by 1.9 million jobs.”

Said the Slate writer: “There is no question that the current Republican position [in Congress] is eccentric as a matter of economics.”

I have friends who are unemployed, so I made sure I voted early last Tuesday morning – in the 9th District, where I now live — to send the GOP-controlled House of Representatives a message.  Alas, Republican Bob Turner, who campaigned on sending Obama a message, got 54 percent of the votes.

Some didn’t want it to be about the economy at all. Former Democratic Mayor Ed Koch campaigned for the Catholic Turner against the Orthodox Jewish Democrat David Weprin saying it was referendum on support for Israel. Turner himself, meanwhile, also tried to make it into a referendum on the “Ground Zero mosque,” which he said Weprin and Obama support (as does Koch, but that was kept quiet).

By late Tuesday evening, my friends weren’t any closer to getting a job.


Welcome ‘Guests’ in NYC

POSTED ON September 22nd  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

A young Barry Fitzgerald (right) starred in the 1935 Irish silent film, "Guests of the Nation."

Lincoln Center offers a rare opportunity this week to see a seldom-screened classic of early Irish cinema. Denis Johnston’s 1935 drama “Guests of the Nation” will be shown at the Alice Tully Hall as part of the Imagine Ireland festival, the ongoing celebration of Irish culture that spans theatre, film, music, and architecture, in shows and performances nationwide in the U.S. The Thursday screening of the film will feature the RTE Concert Orchestra, direct from Dublin, playing a score by Irish composer Niall Byrne, commissioned especially for the film. The score premiered at a screening in the National Concert hall in Dublin last week, to considerable acclaim, and now, with the support of the Irish Film Institute, New Yorkers can attend the U.S. premiere. The film will be introduced by TV and film actor, and Ireland’s cultural ambassador to New York City, Gabriel Byrne.

“Guests of The Nation,” despite being made some eight years after the introduction of sound in cinema, was shot as a silent film, hence the commission for the orchestral score. Based on the short story of the same name by renowned Irish writer Frank O’Connor, the film is set in 1921 during Ireland’s war of independence, in which O’Connor had fought as a volunteer in the IRA. A vociferous opponent of the Treaty with Britain that sought to end that conflict and grant a compromised independence, O’Connor was interned for a year by the newly-established Irish Free State government, along with twelve thousand other combatants. O’Connor wrote “Guests of The Nation” less than a decade later, when memories of the conflict against the British, and the Civil War that followed, were still raw wounds in Ireland.

Based on his own experiences of those times, O’Connor’s story centers on the relationship between two IRA volunteers and their prisoners, a pair of English soldiers captured in a skirmish with the British army. The soldiers are to be held captive as collateral in a remote cottage in the countryside while negotiations are conducted for the release of two IRA prisoners from Kilmainham Jail in Dublin. O’Connor had the temerity to depict the hapless English soldiers as likeable human beings, decent chaps behaving stoically in the face of impending death if their counterparts, the IRA prisoners, were to hang. This was a controversial position to take at a time when the national narrative preferred the enemy as faceless, malevolant agents of the Empire.

In the screen version, director and playwright Denis Johnston cast a young Barry Fitzgerald as the more exuberant of the two English captives, who, having embraced local culture during his time in Ireland, entertains his captors with folk tunes on a button accordion. Other notable cast members include a young Cyril Cusack, Johnston’s wife (and mother of their daughter, renowned playwright Jennifer Johnston) Shelah Richards, and Frank O’Connor himself as a Flying Column volunteer. Shot in black and white, and influenced visually by developments in the use of montage in European cinema at the time, the film successfully captures O’Connor’s depiction of the human contradictions and ambivalences that become evident when international conflicts are examined at individual level.

“Guests of The Nation” will be screened at 7 p.m. on Thursday, September 22. Tickets are available from the Alice Tully Hall box office, 212.671.4050, and the Lincoln Center website,


A curious ‘George’

POSTED ON September 21st  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

A Night With George By Donna O’Connor & Brenda Murphy • 1st Irish Festival 2011 • Times Square Arts Center, NYC • Through October 2, 2011)

The solo show, performed by a single actor or actress, aimed directly at the audience, comes equipped with certain predictable problems, the most obvious of which might be described as: “Why are you telling us all this?”

A Night With George, co-written by Brenda Murphy and Donna O’Connor, and performed by the latter, has another problem, which comes close to defeating the show’s effectiveness as the opening production of this year’s edition of 1st Irish Festival. The show started out as a production of the Brassneck Theatre Company in West Belfast, Northern Ireland, and therein lies the problem.

Despite the addition of a slyly titled, page-long “vernacular dictionary for non-Belfast people” tucked into the program at the Times Square Arts Center, where the show is playing, there’s still far too much of Northern Ireland clinging to the endeavor.

The result is that a good deal of what O’Connor, a gifted but unsubtle actress, delivers, often rendered at screech level, is well beyond the comprehension of audience members unfamiliar with the argot of West Belfast.

The “vernacular dictionary,” ever eager to be helpful, “translates” “ascared” as “afraid,” and gives us “Ma” as “Mother” and “Da” as “Father.”

The show’s “George” is, of course, George Clooney, represented by a two-dimensional image of the actor, standing by “silently” through the production’s 90 minutes, well-paced by director Tony Devlin.

Clooney is, O’Connor comments, “a good listener.”

The venture would probably work far more efficiently if O’Connor would take it a bit easy, and try to remember she’s playing a small fourth floor theater space and not a venue the size of Yankee Stadium. At a press performance, the physically ample actress actually made the theater floor shake a bit in response to the redoubtable power of her voice.

O’Connor “plays” a 48-year-old character called “Bridie,” probably based partly on her own complicated life, and partly on that of her “co-writer,” Brenda Murphy, whom she identifies as “a lesbian.” The actress comes across as aggressive, probably too much so, but admirably earnest and open as well.

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to know if the abandonment, the troubles with husband, children, career, and other areas in life, comes from her own past, from Murphy’s, or from from pure invention.

“A Night With George” will have been performed 21 times by the time the “1st Irish Festival” ends on October 2. That should give actress O’Connor, not to mention her director, Tony Devlin, an experienced Belfast actor, sufficient time to rethink their production in terms of New York audiences and the cozy space in which the show is playing.

With a little work, “A Night With George” can easily be transformed into a more effective piece of theater than it is at present. Everything considered, it’s well worth the effort.


Reaching into a terrorist’s mind

POSTED ON September 14th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

John Updike giving the Jefferson Lecture in 2008, the year before his death.

Spoiler Alert: Some key plot details will be revealed here about the 2006 novel under discussion.

A Guardian critic wrote a few years back that the attempts by some of the greatest writers in English – specifically the late John Updike, Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie – to explore the motivations of terrorists were admirable, but ultimately disappointing. Her view was that they relied too much on research and less on imagination.

Still, any work by any of that trio is worth reading, and Updike’s second last novel, “The Terrorist,” is certainly no exception. The central figure is 18-year-old New Jersey native Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy. He idolizes his absent father, an Egyptian who abandoned him when he was three. His mother is Teresa Mulloy, an aspiring Irish-American artist. She was raised Catholic, but no longer practices. (She’s known as Terry, but if there’s any significance in the closeness of her name to Brando’s “On the Waterfront” character, I didn’t get it.) Ahmad, though, has been tutored, since age 11 or 12, by a fundamentalist imam.

Among the other main characters are his school’s guidance counselor Jack Levy, who is Jewish, and Charlie Chehab, a member of the Lebanese Muslim family that owns Excellency Home Furnishings and gives him his first job — as a truck driver. Earlier Ahmad rejects the university track encouraged by Jack in favor of vocational courses recommended by the imam

The humorous and voluble Charlie joins him sometimes in the truck and becomes a mentor of sorts. A history buff, he tells Ahmad about tactics used against the British during the Revolutionary War. At one point in his story, Charlie refers to the Americans as “we.” He may seem to have an ambivalent attitude towards those of his co-religionists who would harm the United States, but the reader feels that that’s just defensiveness. I was taken aback, then, at the juncture at which he recruits Ahmad into a terrorist cell and involves him in a plot to blow up the Lincoln Tunnel. I thought that the great master Updike had erred. But when later it’s revealed that Charlie is a CIA operative executing an elaborate sting (and is killed for his trouble), all is well again with the fictional world. It turns out that Updike’s use of the first person plural in relation to Americans, past and present, is just perfect.


Self-destruct button

Some politicians conduct their personal lives as if it were a game of “Catch me if you can!” Its rules require that they make some effort to cover their tracks. But then you have that new category of public figure, notably two ex-congressman from New York: Anthony Weiner and Chris Lee, that married GOP guy from Upstate who was looking for dating opportunities on Craigslist. They seem to have been saying: “Catch me, please!”            There’s a difference between a reckless streak and a self-destruct button. Both Lee and Weiner had the latter. I was amused, then, that some readers got the idea that I was defending Weiner in an item I wrote a while back about Andrew Breitbart, the conservative online publisher who brought him down. I wasn’t.

That item led to all sorts of misunderstandings, which I attribute to the heated tenor of debate generally in the country. People assume you’re alleging the worst. Anyway, the context was Breitbart mocking the notion of foreign-born thinkers being included in an American studies program. A Chinese curse has it: “May you live in interesting times” and my view is that that helps Herbert Marcuse’s case. He was born into a Jewish family in Berlin in 1898. He left Germany in 1933, and became a U.S. citizen in 1940. Its Marcuse’s leftist ideas that Breitbart really objects to. Welfare queen Ayn Rand’s foreignness, or indeed her atheism, has never been much of a problem for her admirers like Congressman Paul Ryan.

Smart Cooks Look To Smoked Salmon For Easy Meals

POSTED ON September 14th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Irish folk hero Finn McCool, or Fionn mac Cumhaill, may have acquired his gift of wisdom from a salmon, but smart cooks know they can always rely on the rich flavor of smoked salmon for a quick, delicious end-of-summer meal. For these three dishes, buy the best Irish oak-smoked salmon you can find at a good delicatessen or shipped directly from Ireland.




This smoked salmon roll-up, which makes an excellent starter or simple supper, can be assembled in less than

20 minutes. The earthy walnut

vinaigrette is a perfect complement, but for faster preparation, use a good bottled dressing.


Walnut Vinaigrette

3 tablespoons roasted walnut oil

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste



3/4 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons Irish whiskey (optional)

1 pound fresh crabmeat

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

8 slices smoked salmon

3 cups mixed greens

1 avocado, peeled, pitted,

and cut into 8 slices

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Brown soda bread for serving


To make the vinaigrette: Combine the oils, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste in a sealable jar, cover, and shake until blended. Set aside.

To make the roulades: In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise and whiskey, if using. Stir in the crabmeat and fennel seeds. Spread the crabmeat mixture onto the slices of salmon, roll up into cylinder shapes, and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

To serve, divide the mixed greens among 4 salad plates. Place 2 roulades and 2 slices of avocado on each, and sprinkle with the walnuts. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the greens. Serve with brown soda bread. Serves 4



A bit like the roulades, these roll-ups are stuffed with frisée salad and served upright. You can use the walnut vinaigrette recipe or your favorite bottled dressing. Allow 3 slices salmon per person and adjust the amount of greens accordingly.


3 cups mixed greens with frisée

2 to 3 tablespoons dressing

Freshly ground pepper to taste

3 slices smoked salmon per person

Potato salad for serving


In a medium bowl, toss the mixed greens and frisée with about 2 tablespoons of dressing (add more to taste). Season with pepper. Put the smoked salmon slices on a work surface, divide the greens among the slices, and roll up into cylinder shapes. Serve upright with potato salad.



For a warm roulade or “paupiette,” stuff delicate fillets of sole with a mix of crabmeat and smoked salmon with a hint of ginger. Serve them with a buttery chive sauce, a few boiled new potatoes, and a fresh green salad.


Stuffed Sole

1 tablespoon butter

1/4 cup fresh crabmeat

Pinch of fresh ginger

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

6 ounces smoked salmon

Pinch of cayenne pepper

1/2 cup heavy cream

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

12 fillets of sole

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup dry white wine


Chive Sauce

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

1/4 cup fish stock or bottled clam juice

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced

1/2 cup minced fresh chives

Fresh parsley sprigs for garnish


To make the sole: Preheat the oven to 350° F. In a small skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Gently stir in the crabmeat and ginger and cook for about 3 minutes, Stir in half the lemon juice and set aside to cool. In a blender or food processor, process the smoked salmon, remaining lemon juice, cayenne, and cream until smooth. Season the sole with salt and pepper. Spread each fillet with 1 tablespoon of the salmon mixture and top with a spoonful of the crabmeat mixture. Carefully roll the fillets into cylinders and brush with a little lemon juice. Place the fillets in a shallow ovenproof dish with the water and wine, cover with aluminum foil, and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the sole is firm.

To make the sauce: In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, cook the wine, vinegar, and stock or broth for 5 to 7 minutes, or until reduced by half. Add the cream and cook 3 to 5 minutes more, or until further reduced. Whisk in the butter until it melts completely. Stir in the chives.

To serve, spoon the warm sauce onto 4 plates and arrange 3 paupiettes on each. Garnish with a sprig of parsley and serve with boiled potatoes and a mixed salad. Serves 4


Margaret M. Johnson, the author of six Irish cookbooks, is currently writing Flavors of Ireland for

Ambassador International.



The sights – and sounds – linger in the memory

POSTED ON September 7th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

The first voice I heard on the morning of September 11, 2001 was an Irish one – specifically, a Belfast one. After what would be the last truly normal weekend for a decade, with beautiful late summer weather that enticed my Joan and me into a tour of upstate New York, we had returned on the tenth to collect the two friends from Ireland who had just arrived and would be staying in our apartment in Little Italy.

The apartment was less than a mile from Joan’s work, a building that was directly across the street from what would shortly become infamous as Ground Zero.

The evening of Sept. 10 was spent in laughter and song, clinking glasses and reverie with the two former blanket men who were enjoying the freedom of the city. Not long into a new century, a new millennium, there was peace in Ireland and Americans were actively involved in the energized process to create from conflict a just and equitable society. There was no thought that the morrow could bring anything but more progress, and we all went to sleep looking forward to another warm and cloudless day.

On September 11, 2001 I was a Detective Sergeant in the Manhattan South Homicide Squad. It would have been the third day of a three day “swing,” or weekend. Our friends, Zack and Handsome Daithi, were up early and out of the apartment to take in as much of New York City as their time here would allow. I, taking advantage of the time off, tried to sleep in. Suddenly the apartment door burst open and Zack appeared, yelling, “McCabe, a plane just hit one of the towers.” Knowing the messenger, I replied, “Get away, Zack, that’s not funny.” He cried, “I’m serious, McCabe,” and from that moment the world was changed utterly in my sensibility.

Zack rejoined Daithi and both attempted to make their way the short distance, through the cordons being set up, to the site of the World Trade Center. They intended to assist in rescue efforts. They were turned back, and I would not speak to our guests for quite some time. Rising, and knowing my duty, I showered, dressed, and attempted to put my squad together. An accident of this magnitude would require every detective available to assist in the investigation. Then the second plane hit, and the unspeakable became crystal clear. This was no accident, but an orchestrated attack.

Looking back through the years, the images of the ensuing hours, days, weeks, and months are often vivid, sometimes vague, and sometimes just beyond reach.

They can arise unbidden, as non sequiturs in otherwise peaceful or unrelated circumstances. They can cause sudden and intense feelings of anger and sorrow — even feelings of guilt — that so many good and courageous people lost their lives while I, through circumstance, remained physically unscathed. Rarely, tears will spring to my eyes, to be quickly brushed aside, and not acknowledged.

Joan and I went to the roof of our building and briefly watched the disaster unfold, as around us neighbors looked dumbstruck, with horror in their eyes. I contacted my command for instructions as to where to mobilize my squad. I was told to stand by for orders, and continued to reach out for the detectives on my team, a highly skilled and accomplished group comprised of men and women, Americans of Irish, African, Italian, Hispanic and various other heritage. While mobilizing this team, the South Tower came down. I kissed Joan and prepared to leave, and promised to get in touch as soon as I could.

My squad and others assembled on the corner of Church St. and Barclay St. shortly after the North Tower collapsed, then relocated to 99 Church Street, a building that no longer exists, and established a command center. The clear blue sky had become totally obscured, and the grey dust of pulverized concrete filled the air as fires raged everywhere. Seven World Trade Center, which would shortly collapse as well, was entirely obscured above its lower floors. The images which would become my visual memories began to take the form of a perverse sped-up powerpoint: a quick prayer down the block where Fr. Mychal Judge lay at the altar in St. Peter’s; an Emergency Service Sergeant friend who I encountered as he led a single line of E-men from the North Tower, sadly shaking his head when asked how bad were the losses. The twisted skeletal remains of the once majestic towers; buried emergency vehicles; the ebb and flow of firemen and cops leading civilians from the area.

We began setting up temporary morgues and collection areas for the remains of the lost. I recall a man I knew to be of the utmost courage begin to shudder at the sound of jet engines in the sky, the source obscured by smoke and dust. He believed it could have been a second wave of attacks when the word came that the jets were our own Air Force, now in sorties above Manhattan.

As we began to organize operations in our command center, taking head counts and preparing rosters, bringing in supplies and staging vehicles, a construction worker from Tyrone came through the door, stripped to the waist and pushing a hand truck, the cement dust coating his shaved head and the rest of his body, giving him the appearance of an animated statue. “Alright,” he said, “what would ye’s have me do?” His appearance, demeanor, and courage caused a roar of appreciation, and he was set straight to work loading supplies. After hours down at the site, we were ordered to St. Vincent’s Hospital where we were examined, our eyes washed and breathing checked. We then returned to be deployed in many areas.

That day and the ensuing ones are so full of vignettes that they can’t be recalled in this short column, but included liaising at the Medical Examiner’s Office, digging at the site itself, investigating reports of charlatans and souvenir hunters who defiled the site, numerous recoveries and funerals, and supervising large teams of detectives who painstakingly combed through the debris at the Great Kills site in order to bring some solace and acceptance to the bereaved, counter terror investigations, and many other related duties.

The sacrifice and loss of that day will be with us always, and everybody was affected in some significant way. I know very few New Yorkers who were not connected somehow to someone who was lost. When I finally returned home at 2 a.m. on Sept. 12, Joan was waiting in an apartment that was reeking from the smoke of the fires still burning in the near distance. She, who is originally from Louisiana, told me of a neighbor from Baton Rouge who had been killed in the simultaneous attack on the Pentagon.

Many things have changed, and much has happened in the almost 4,000 days since. In harkening back to that period 10 years ago, I always try to recall the success of the massive effort to empty the Towers prior to their collapse, the many thousands who were led from those doomed buildings by the courageous first responders, too many of whom did not survive themselves. I think often of the ever growing list of responders coming down now with rare cancers and the profiteering and politicking surrounding them.

When I most need to, I think of the many civilians lining West Street and their cheers and encouragement as emergency workers entered the area for months after the attacks. I wish that the spirit and solidarity displayed then could be renewed and carried forward as the true legacy of those painful days.



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