Archive : Category

Great at both ends of a grand evening

POSTED ON December 12th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Salon Diary / By Charles Hale

“Artists Without Walls,” a new initiative created by Charles R. Hale, co-founder of the Irish American Writers & Artists salon, was held at Lehman College in the Bronx last week.

Hale came up with the idea when thinking of his own Irish roots, “It’s important we honor our own culture and heritage but I believe the more we adopt a multicultural approach, including collaboration between various cultures, races, religions and ethnic groups, the greater the likelihood that creativity and innovation will occur and flourish.”

Ralph William Boone, a lecturer at Lehman College, who has appeared nationally in numerous musical theater productions such as “Man of La Mancha” and “Show Boat” began by referencing the evening’s theme “Artists Without Walls,” eloquently speaking of Paul Robeson, a heroic figure who was known for pushing though barriers regardless of the consequences.

Ralph William followed with a powerful rendition of a song that is closely associated with Robeson, “Ol’ Man River.”

Dancer Darrah Carr’s website opens with words that perfectly fit the concept of Artists Without Walls: “I source from two genres-traditional Irish step and contemporary modern dance-and provide a meeting place for the cultures of Ireland and America.”

And that was dynamically demonstrated Thursday as she and Christopher Armstrong, together and separately, performed Darrah’s vision of dance called “ModErin,” combining New York modern dance with Irish step dancing. John Redmond’s accordion accompanied Darrah and Christopher.

Novelist and historian, Peter Quinn, played it for laughs and the former speechwriter – he was the chief speechwriter for two New York governors, Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo -demonstrated that he hasn’t lost his touch, dazzling the audience with his knowledge of Bronx history and his rapier-like wit.

“Novelist and historian, Peter Quinn, played it for laughs and the former speechwriter – he was the chief speechwriter for two New York governors, Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo -demonstrated that he hasn’t lost his touch, dazzling the audience with his knowledge of Bronx history and his rapier-like wit.”

Three singers, Tara O’Grady, Niamh Hyland and Liam O’Connell, presented three vastly different styles of song.

Tara swings everything she swings, including Irish traditionals, and she did just that with her “Billie Holiday” take on Danny Boy; Niamh’s big vocal range and bluesy tones were a huge hit with the audience and hip hop artist, Liam, known as L 1 Crackeriffic, cranked it up a couple of notches.  As one attendee said after listening to Liam, “This is the kind of rocking Lehman needed.”

Playwright and novelist, John Kearns, whose play “In the Wilderness” had a run in New York City last summer, brought three actors who performed a scene from the play, perfectly capturing a tightly written scene from John’s compelling work.

Malachy McCourt, no stranger to any Irish cultural event, closed out the evening. He touchingly told of his impoverished childhood, which was filled with misery.

But Malachy’s wit was very much in evidence, as well, as he kept the audience in stitches, segueing from one funny story to the next.

The evening ended with Malachy calling singers Hyland and O’Grady up to the microphone. Together they led the audience in a song many of us have often heard Malachy sing, “Will You Go Lassie Go.”

A great ending to a grand evening.

Colm O’Brien offers new fruit of his work

POSTED ON December 12th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Each time I discover a talented Irish artist who is bringing their music to America it’s like unwrapping a Christmas present.

I admire the packaging, hope that there’s something good inside, tear open the CD track by track and revel in the wonderful feeling of hearing something for the first time.

This week, the discovery was the shiny new CD from the Dublin-born artist, Colm O’Brien.

Currently living in Boston, O’Brien sings from the depths of his soul with a memorable rasp in his voice and serious knack for bringing traditional songs to life and using his strong Celtic roots to inspire great songwriting.

The album, Back to Work?, is the second solo album from O’Brien, a man who has Irish music in his heart and in his blood.

In a recent conversation with O’Brien he spoke of his family’s deep musical heritage – a pipe playing father, a granny who was a championship fiddler, and a mother that sang like an angel. But although he had plenty of instruments at his fingertips as a child, there was one that hooked him.

“The draw of the guitar got me, he said. I always thought it was the perfect instrument because I could play any music that I liked, Irish music, rock and roll, blues”. When I asked him who taught him to play the guitar he said, “Self-taught, I just picked up chords wherever I went” and then he laughed as he told me about the hours he spent hanging out in Dublin guitar shops as a kid waiting for chord strumming shoppers to show him some tricks.

His days in Dublin set Colm O’Brien on a musical journey that would eventually take him to the United States as a member of the five piece rock band, Fatal Flower.

He would later join up with the ballad group Hiring Fair, and Celtic Rock band The Prodigals, but his longing to record his favorite traditional ballads alongside his own original songs led O’Brien to set out on his own and record his first solo album “It Is What It Is” back in 2004, and the highly anticipated, recently released, follow-up “Back to Work?”

Our conversation revealed that O’Brien is quite proud of his most recent project – he had very clear idea of what he wanted it to sound like, spent a lot of time preparing the material, and then got in and out of the studio with fantastic results in just six days.

For O’Brien, beyond his talent and passion, the special ingredient for success is his song choice.

“These are all songs that get me going”, he said. “The album is a reaction to what is going on economically and socially here and around the world. I needed to say something”.

And he says a lot in his songs, about the plight of the undocumented Irish, about greed, and economic hardships, all with the fervor and enthusiasm of the great Irish balladeers that have come before him. Colm O’Brien is back to work for sure, in a big, big way.

To learn more about Colm O’Brien visit and stay tuned for news of a NYC gig in the New Year.


“He says a lot in his songs, about the plight

of the undocumented Irish, about greed, and economic hardships, all with the fervor and enthusiasm of the great Irish balladeers that have come before him. Colm O’Brien is back to work for sure, in a big, big way.”


* My picks for the best Celtic Sounds around town this week: Padraig Allen at The Pig & Whistle in New York City on 12/6, “An Irish Christmas” with Mick Moloney and friends at The Leonard Theatre at Fordham Prep in The Bronx on 12/9, and Eileen Ivers at The Berrie Center at Ramapo College in Mahwah, NJ on 12/9.

Center & Moloney, serve up Christmas treat

POSTED ON December 12th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Traditional Music /

By Daniel Neely

For the past several years, New York City’s Irish Arts Center has presented “An Irish Christmas,” Mick Moloney’s wildly satisfying multi-cultural musical celebration of the winter solstice.

Now a New York holiday season institution, Moloney will once again bring his musical cohort to the Arts Center on Manhattan’s West Side for another baker’s dozen “Irish Christmas” shows.

In so doing, he will treat audiences to a signature holiday tradition that uses song, folklore and performance to celebrate family, friendship and community in a concert series that offers something for everyone.

This year’s cast includes a familiar group of players drawn from music’s upper echelons, including fiddler Athena Tergis, button accordion master Billy McComiskey, fiddle player Liz Hanley, dancer Niall O’Leary, singers Grace Nono and Tamar Korn and the storyteller Macdara Vallely.

In addition, the great piano player Donna Long (who played with Cherish the Ladies, but who has distinguished herself musically in myriad other ways since them) will come up from Baltimore and join the gang for the first time as well.

As always, Moloney gives space in each performance to a special non-musical guest or two.  Some of this year’s visitors will include authors Colum McCann and Malachy McCourt, noted academic Dr. James Murphy and David Mulkins of the Bowery Neighborhood Association.

Moloney never fully tips his hand in advance of these shows, though, so you never know who else will stop by. But you can be sure he has a few surprises in store.

The standard set with these shows is impressively high. Each performance is thoroughly entertaining, and I’ve watched how people leave absolutely glowing.

But because Moloney gathers the best around him, he’s able to find unexpected ways to draw in the audience.

The inclusion of Filipino singer Grace Nono and jazz singer Tamar Korn, for example, brings an impressive variety that lifts the show in its entirety.

In addition, Moloney brought Macdara Vallely in for the first time last year to lead a mummers play during show intermissions. People could not have been more delighted, nor more a part of it, as the plays happened in the lobby with people milling about – it was an absolute hit.

Those interested in holding onto a piece of the show’s magic should pick up “An Irish Christmas, A Musical Solstice Celebration,” the live concert CD that Irish Arts Center released last year.

Many (including my predecessor here at the Echo, as well as several of my colleagues in other local and national Irish media outlets) considered the album to be one of the best Irish Christmas albums out there – so it’s well worth having.

If I may play proud participant for a moment: I worked on the album, both as its production coordinator and as a performer with the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra.

It’s a great document and a testament to the hard work all the artists involved put into this show.  I cannot recommend it more highly.

Staged with an intimacy more reminiscent of someone’s living room than of a midtown Manhattan theatre space, “An Irish Christmas” will run from Friday, December 7 through Saturday, December 22 at the Irish Arts Center in Manhattan (553 West 51st Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues) and will take place at Fordham University on December 9.

Visit to buy tickets online, or call (866)811-4111 to book by phone.

Finally, congratulations to Kathleen Biggins for being inducted into the Museum of the City of New York’s “People’s Hall of Fame.”

Kathleen’s program, “A Thousand Welcomes,” is one of the nation’s most important Irish radio programs and it broadcasts Saturday mornings, 9 a.m.-12 p.m. from Fordham University’s radio station, WFUV 90.7.

Those living outside WFUV’s broadcast area can listen to Biggins live via WFUV’s online stream:

For 26 years, Biggins has used her show to serve the tri-state’s Irish community and all of us here in New York owe her a debt of gratitude. It’s fantastic to see her great work recognized.

Good on you, Kathleen!

Day-Lewis channels 16th prez in ‘Lincoln’

POSTED ON December 4th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Silver Screen /

By Karen Butler

Double Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis has admitted that playing America’s 16th president in “Lincoln” was initially a daunting prospect, but he insisted he found the courage to do so after he discovered through the man’s own words how accessible he was.

Directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Tony Kushner, the film is an adaptation of the book “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It follows the president through the tumultuous four months leading up to his 1865 assassination at the age of 56 and co-stars Sally Field as Lincoln’s wife Mary Todd Lincoln, Tommy Lee Jones as Congressional leader Thaddeus Stevens and David Strathairn as Secretary of State William Seward.

“It’s the man himself that invites you because he was so open and that was one of the most beautiful surprises about getting to know him,” Day-Lewis said of playing Lincoln.

“How insanely accessible that man was in a time that was physically dangerous, in his case, to be accessible,” the 55-year-old actor laughed. “The White House had an ever-open door. People could come and go. I think it was Seward that probably finally said, ‘Enough already!’ Because his open houses were just bedlam. He was accessible. Some part of him was. That became an opening, in a way. One almost felt welcome, so really he put me at my ease, strangely. Having first made me very uneasy, it was him that put me at my ease and gave me the thought, ‘Maybe I could try to do this.’”

The London-born actor, who has held dual British-Irish citizenship since 1993, is the son of celebrated poet Cecil Day-Lewis, husband of writer-director Rebecca Miller and father of three sons. Famously selective about his roles, he has starred in a string of critical darlings including “My Left Foot,” “Last of the Mohicans,” “In the Name of the Father,” “The Boxer,” “Gangs of New York,” “There Will Be Blood” and “Nine.”

Talking about how helpful the Irish-American Goodwin’s tome was as he prepared to play Lincoln, Day-Lewis noted, “I loved everything about that book, so that was a great beginning.

“But reading objective accounts about the life take you so far,” he added. “Most of what becomes more interesting to me at a certain moment is to try and grow towards a subjective understanding of that man’s experience, whoever he may be. In that case, the legacy of his writing was hugely important. You get such as sense of him through his wonderful… not just his speeches, but also stories he told and there are many contemporary accounts of those stories, which seem fairly accurate, give or take. But to get a sense of his thought and the movement through his thought towards a conclusion… that is a unique treasure, to have that available.”

Day-Lewis also praised Kushner’s screenplay for capturing the spirit of such a famous American icon.

“In such a rich way, Tony had already suggested the man through his intellect, through his humor and through his melancholy, both domestically and in public office, the contrast between those two things, which is always something that is like food and drink to me,” he said. “To see someone whose life is lived at one in the same time in that strange paradox of public and private.”

So, what was it like to share the screen with Field?

“The best thing I can say is that it was easy,” Day-Lewis recalled. “It was what it needed to be in the very best sense. I enjoyed every moment that I spent in her company. Even when we were tearing each other’s eyes out, I enjoyed every moment of that because she was real to me.”

The actor confessed it is sometimes difficult to walk away from such a larger-than-life character when the cameras stop rolling.

“You’re not quite sure what to do with yourself when it’s finished,” he said. “The investment is usually — for most of us — if not a total, then close to total, investment of that period of our lives in the process of telling that particular story, so it’s very hard to conceive any kind of life after it. Of course, there is one waiting, usually impatiently. In this particular case, I felt two things at one and the same time. One was a sense of immeasurable privilege at having been able to explore that man’s life and the other directly as a result of that was a sense of great sadness and loss that the time allowed me was now over. There’s never been a human being that I never met that I loved as much as him. Ever. And I doubt there ever will be.”


“Lincoln” is in theaters now.

Recalling simpler time in idyllic neighborhood

POSTED ON December 4th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Between the LInes /

By Peter McDermott

In a 1998 Newsday article about a Queens neighborhood, a local said: “We’re not Utopia, but we’re the closest thing to it.”

He and several others talked up its finer points: “95 percent graduate high school and go on to college, and some of them the best schools in the country,” the man said.

“This is the kind of place where people sit down together for Sunday dinner. Breezy Point is a village within the city,” he added.

It was a different world three years before 9/11 (the neighborhood lost 29 people in that catastrophe) and before Hurricane Irene of 2011 and the tornadoes of this September and the calamitous Hurricane Sandy, which hit on Oct. 29. That last event precipitated a fire that destroyed more than 100 homes in the neighborhood.

If, though, in some ways 1998 seems like yesterday to you and me, consider that a first-time voter who just made the age requirement to vote in this month’s general election was then a 4-year-old.

Only 10 percent of American households had access to the Internet at that time. Most people still didn’t have cell phones in the dying days of the 20th century (in contrast to Ireland where everybody seemed to have one). Freelancers pitched Newsday by U.S. Mail or fax and then followed up with a phone call. I wrote about 20 features in those years for a page that was called “Queens Neighborhoods.” The Breezy Point piece cited above was among them, but the only one for which they called me. Calvin Lawrence (a great editor who has since moved to, another sign of the times) said he had read that, according to 1990 census projections, Breezy Point’s zip code had the highest proportion of people claiming Irish ancestry in the country – 63 percent.

Lawrence, who is African American, knew nothing about the place, which is off the beaten track even by Queens standards, but he was curious and so sent an Irish guy to find out about it.  There were actually very few Irish-born people living there, I recall; the neighborhood, however, defined tight-knit Irish American.

It had been long associated with what one woman described as the “civil service middle-class,” employees in the police and fire departments and the utilities. “But the children of the people who founded the cooperative in the 1960s are professionals,” she said for the piece reprinted in the Irish Echo later in the year.

At least half of all homes flew both the Stars and Stripes and the Irish national flag. A small group of enthusiasts meeting in someone’s house developed an annual arts festival that featured “music, soliloquies, poetry and recitation,” including readings from Yeats and Joyce. Most civic groups had an annual Irish night; the biggest was organized by the 2,800-home Breezy Point cooperative itself.

I heard about its fascinating history, which it shared to an extent with other parts of Rockaway. It began with vacationing Manhattan residents pitching tents at first and then in subsequent years building cottages or bungalows. One man told me that his grandparents built the ninth summer home in Breezy Point back in the 1920s. He remembered barefoot summers in the neighborhood in the 1960s, but in early middle age was living there year-round with his wife and three young children.

Let’s be clear about one thing, however: the near Utopia did not flip over to the other extreme on Oct. 29. Dystopia, at least according to movies and novels, suggests a war of all against all. Instead, we’ve seen people in the city, many of them Irish or Irish American, step up to help their neighbors.

City Harvest executive director Jilly Stephens traveled to Rockaway with a truckload of food supplies last week and reported that the “scope of the storm’s impact is staggering,” but she spoke generally of New Yorkers’ “resilience, spirit and camaraderie” in response to Sandy.

She added: “People’s lives have been turned upside down and their homes turned inside out, and yet they continue to find ways to take care of themselves and others.”

Smith’s collaborations set high standard

POSTED ON December 4th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Traditional Music /

By Daniel Neely


Jesse Smith has been a part of a lot of great albums.  There’s “Think Before You Think” with Danú (2000), his solo album “Jigs and Reels” (2002), the one with the Tap Room Trio (2003), and “Ewe With the Crooked Horn” with Colm Gannon (2010).  Each one of these is a cracker and absolutely worth having, but we can add couple more to the list, “The Rookery” with uilleann piper Emmett Gill and “At My Grandmother’s Knee” with fiddler Mick O’Grady and John Blake.

Both are excellent albums and will have great appeal to fans of traditional music. Smith’s consistent quality shouldn’t be a surprise, as he is perhaps one of the most important and best playing young fiddlers on the scene today.  He grew up in Baltimore, born into both a strong musical community (he learned fiddle from the great Brendan Mulvihill) and a strong musical household (his mother is piano colossus Donna Long and his father John is both a singer and guitar player).  And not only did he have a who’s-who of Irish music passing through his house growing up, he cut his teeth at the fleadhs in the early 1990s, alongside the likes of Tina Lech, Marie Reilly and Matt Mancuso, formidable players all.

Being rooting in some of the most fertile musical soil Irish America has to offer, Smith moved to Ireland in 1998 and joined Danú soon after arriving.  Although his tenure in the band was relatively brief, he was a member when they won their first BBC Radio 2 Folk Award in 2001.  Then, over the next decade and change, he grew into the scene, earned a Master of Arts degree in 2008 from Dundalk Institute of Technology (his thesis was on Michael Coleman) and found a place for himself in “The Music” with some of the brightest players in Ireland.  It’s a terrific story.

“The Rookery,” which builds on this story, is the new album of instrumental music Smith has made with Emmett Gill.  Gill, who was born in London, came through the Pipers Club in Camden, recorded a solo CD “Mountain Groves” in 2007 and is one of two folks (the other being Gerry Clarke) behind Oldtime Records, an intriguing-looking label that reissues music from the 78rpm era.  He is an outstanding player all together and his playing balances with Smith’s wonderfully.  Throughout this album he’s playing a set of C-pitched uilleann pipes (a Koehler and Quinn set if you’re keeping track at home) and I imagine Smith has tuned his fiddle down to suit, which gives this album a rich, dark sound that compliments the duo’s fabulous tempos and swing. This album is consistently good from start to finish.  The playing is tight and the duo presents on it a lovely selection of interesting tune settings.  Their version of “Lillie’s in the Field,” for example, taken from the Francis O’Neill cylinders in the Dunne Family Collection at the Ward Irish Music Archives in Milwaukee, has some lovely, unusual touches that sets it apart from more common versions.  All of the album’s other tunes are curated in a similarly tasteful and informed way.  Both players are featured on their own – Smith on “Yellow Tinker / …” and Gill on the “Kilfenane Jig / …” and each plays brilliantly.

To learn more, visit “At My Grandmother’s Knee,” the other recent album on which Smith features, sets a similarly high musical standard.  There, Smith is playing beside Mick O’Grady and John Blake, two of Smith’s longtime co-conspirators.

Blake, a London native now based in Ireland, is widely considered one of Irish music’s finest accompanists.  Over the years he and Smith have played and recorded extensively together, but the list of artists with whom Blake’s worked with is long and impressive.

His playing adds to this album immeasurably.  O’Grady, however, is the real star of this show.

The Leitrim-born fiddler grew up in County Mayo, and he learned from many of the players there and in Sligo, where Fred Finn and Peter Horan had a particular influence.

However, he left Ireland when he was young to follow work, a move which took him first to England in the 1960s and then the US (Pittsburg and New York) in the 1980s.  He now lives in Dublin, where he hosts (often with Smith) a weekly session at the Cobblestone.

O’Grady’s playing is top-shelf.  He was a featured player on the seminal “Music at Matt Molloy’s” album, and until his 2009 solo song debut “The Long Distance Kid” it was the only way people outside Ireland might have known about his music.

This album changes that.  Comprising mostly instrumental dance music, the album mostly features the trio together.  Tracks like “Humors of Ballyconnell / …” and “Jerry’s Beaver Hat / …” have a rough-hewn drive that will remind many of great house sessions of bygone days.  Other tracks, like O’Grady and Smith’s duet on “Willie Duffy’s Mazurka” and O’Grady’s feature on “Gillian’s Apples” are outstanding and showcase O’Grady’s playing more directly.  O’Grady gets the spotlight on three songs, “Leaving Mayo,” “Castlebar” and “The Philadelphia Lawyer.”  Each is thoughtfully delivered and conveyed with a wisdom appropriate to each song’s subject. For more about “The Rookery,” go to  For information on how to buy “At My Grandmother’s Knee,” contact

Holland is at once hip and traditional

POSTED ON November 23rd  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Traditional Music /

By Daniel Neely


I came across an album in my apartment last week that I really should have gotten to months ago, Gráinne Holland’s “Teanga na nGael” (which translates to the “Language of the Gael”).  I was going through a few things on a bookshelf and BOOM, there it was, so, I had a listen and was really pleasantly surprised – it’s a wonderful vocal album in the Irish language that showcases a fresh and forward looking approach to traditional song. Holland grew up speaking both English and Irish in west Belfast, a largely Irish-speaking area that was recently designated the city’s “Gaeltacht Quarter.”  She fell in love with Irish music at an early age and attended the first Irish-language primary school in Belfast, Bunscoil Phobail Feirst.  This album is very clearly an expression of how and where she grew up, both as a musician and as an Irish speaker in Belfast.

Holland’s voice is charming, and she approaches her repertory with great confidence and conviction.  There’s also a hipness in her music that never seems to overwhelm her traditional outlook.  On a track like “An tSeanbhean Bhocht,” for example, a upbeat musical arrangement and a Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin translation sheds new light on Liam Clancy’s well-known version of “Sean Bhean Bhocht.” In contrast, “Uiseag Bheag Ruaidh” casts a darker tone.  A lullaby from the Isle of Man likely first published in 1896, Holland’s approach here (which features a plaintive clarinet) projects a delicacy that impels her listener’s favor.  A similarly dark and almost strident tone is set on “Báta An tSíl,” a track on which Holland is joined (as she is elsewhere on the album) by uilleann piper John McSherry.  Here, McSherry provides a haunting, ethereal background that communicates the acute heartbreak in this song from the Isle of Barra, Scotland. “Teanga na nGael” was produced by Dónal O’Connor, the son of fiddler Gerry O’Connor.   O’Connor’s imprint here is substantial.  In addition to arranging much of the album’s music, he also features on fiddle, viola, bouzouki, keyboards and tenor guitar.  O’Connor’s steady musical and creative hand is a major reason for this album’s success. Indeed, some of the album’s finest tracks feature both O’Connor and McSherry, a pair with a long-lived musical association.  Among other projects, the duo released their CD “Tripswitch” in 2006, collaborated on guitarist Bob Brozman’s album “Six Days in Down” in 2010 and are currently members of the group “At First Light.”   I point in particular to the album’s opening track, the traditional “A Bhean Údaí Thall” where I think the duo’s talents articulate best with Holland’s.  O’Connor’s punchy arrangement creates an intimate space in which Holland’s voice shines.  He does this by writing spaciously with a punchy McSherry riff at its core.  The lovely vocal harmony that creeps in at song’s end is bracingly unexpected and rounds off what is surely one of the album’s finest tracks. There is much to recommend here, however.  I expect listeners will be very attracted to Holland’s take on Joseph Campbell’s “The Blue Hills Of Antrim / Méilte Cheann Dubhrann.”  Similarly, I think folks will also enjoy “Seanduine Dóite” for its cheery bounce and “Iníon An Bhaoilligh” for its drama. Ultimately, “Teanga na nGael” is an outstanding album from a talented young singer and will interest anyone who loves traditional song.  In addition to her fine musical work, Holland is to be commended for her excellent website, which compliments her CD perfectly.  It includes links to videos, photo galleries, downloadable high-resolution press photos (which is an extremely smart move because it helps people doing the kind of work I’m doing right now), PDF lyrics for all her songs, information about upcoming gigs, project news and, of course, information about how to buy her music.  It’s comprehensive and well put together.



To learn more, visit

Envoy’s memoirs tell of U.S.-Irish tension

POSTED ON November 21st  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Page Turner / Edited by Peter McDermott

In 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt appointed David Gray, a member both of the WASP elite and his own family circle, to be ambassador to Ireland. Officially the U.S. envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary, Gray’s relationship with the host country and Taoiseach Eamon de Valera famously soured early on, though he would remain in the post until the early days of the Cold War in 1947.

“Gray has always been deeply unloved by Irish nationalists. My introduction makes it clear that he became very bitter about Ireland and reached exaggerated conclusions,” Professor Paul Bew said of the Royal Irish Academy’s edition of Gray’s memoirs. “However, it points out that he loved Ireland and had a serious intellectual engagement with it before his appointment. He raises real issues based on documentation in the German archives about Irish foreign policy when the fate of the democratic world was at stake in 1940.”

Editor Bew’s introductory essay to “A Yankee in de Valera’s Ireland” is the latest in a very long, illustrious bibliography that begins with “Land and the National Question in Ireland 1858-1882.” That revisionist 1978 work concentrated as much on the clash of interests between better-off and poorer tenants as on the struggle against landlords.

He teamed up with fellow left-wing academics Henry Patterson and Peter Gibbon to write “Northern Ireland 1921 -1972″ (published in 1979, with several updates and editions since), which was critical of the state, but not from a nationalist perspective.

He was, like Patterson, an early civil rights marcher with Peoples’ Democracy, and was later sometimes identified with the Workers Party, of which Patterson was an active member.

A Guardian profile of Bew in 2004 suggested that with his ability and his Cambridge PhD, he could have had his choice of academic positions, but chose in the mid-1970s to go home to Belfast to teach at Queens University, where he is professor of politics.

He has acted as an informal advisor to former Unionist Party leader David Trimble, but told the Guardian in that profile: “I don’t write as a unionist.” Indeed, the paper also noted that he has written sympathetic biographies of three nationalist leaders: Charles Stewart Parnell, John Redmond and Sean Lemass. The one constant in Bew’s approach, the profile argued, has been his sympathy for those who have sought reconciliation between the two traditions.

Professor Bew, who acted as an historical advisor to the Bloody Sunday Tribunal, was appointed a life peer to the House of Lords in 2007 and sits as a (non-party) crossbencher.

Paul Bew

Date of Birth: Jan. 22, 1950

Place of Birth: Belfast

Spouse: Professor Greta Jones

Children: Dr. John Bew

Residence: Jordanstown, Newtownabbey, Co. Antrim.

Selected Works: “C.S. Parnell,”  1980; “Conflict and Conciliation in Ireland 1890-1910. Parnellites and Radical Agrarians,” 1987; “Ideology and the Irish Question; Ulster Unionism and Irish Nationalism, 1912-16,”(1994);  “John Redmond” (1996);  “Ireland. The Politics of Enmity,”  (2007);  “The Making and Remaking of the Good Friday Agreement,” 2007; “Enigma; A New Life of Charles Stewart Parnell” (2011); Co-Authored with Henry Patterson, “The State in Northern Ireland,” 1921-72  (1979, with Peter Gibbon); “Sean Lemass and the Making of Modern Ireland Dublin,” 1982;  “The British State and the Ulster Crisis,” ; The Dynamics of Irish Politics London (1989, with Ellen Hazelkorn); “Northern Ireland: Between War and Peace  (1997, (with Paul Teague); Co-authored with Gordon Gillespie: “Northern Ireland. A Chronology of the Troubles 1968-1993; “The Northern Ireland Peace Process,” 1996; “Passion and Prejudice: Nationalist/Unionist Conflict in Ulster in the 1930s and the Origins of the Irish Association Belfast,” (1993, with Kenneth Darwin); “A Journey in Ireland 1921″ by Wilford Ewart (with Patrick Maume).

What is your writing routine?

I write everything longhand and then pay someone to type it.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Be obsessive.

What book are you currently reading?

Peter Jay Conradi’s  “A Very English Hero: The Making of Frank Thompson.” This is a biography of the brother of the historian E.P. Thompson. Frank Thompson was a man interesting in his own right. In the SOE, he died in Bulgaria in 1944, tortured by the Fascists after a special operation went wrong.

Is there any book you wish you had written?

Marianne Elliott’s “Wolfe Tone.”

Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by?

Regis Debray’s “Praise be our Lord. The Autobiography.”

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

Edmund Burke.

What book changed your life?

Raymond Williams’s  “Culture and Society.”

What is your favorite spot in Ireland?

The Oval, home of Glentoran Football Club.

Your Irish if…

As Thackeray says: Once you find an Irishman, you will find another not very far away.  I am Irish in that sense.


Yet another ‘great night!’ at Thalia Café

POSTED ON November 21st  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

By Charles Hale

One of the outgrowths and benefits of the Irish American Writers & Artists’ salons has been the increasing number of collaborations among its members.  There were many wonderful presentations before a standing-room-only crowd at the Thalia Cafe, but two fine performances highlighted the collaborative talents of four members – two writers and two singers.

Inspired by a New York Times story about the Brooklyn apartment where she grew up, Karen Daly presented an evocative tribute to her grandmother titled, “Mama’s Window.” Karen pictured her grandmother keeping watch on her from a building on Lincoln Place, and showed how the little girl would come to resemble her grandmother in so many ways.

Karen movingly described her grandparents’ marriage and her grandmother’s desolation at her husband’s death.    The emotion was perfectly expressed when singer Jack Di Monte joined Karen and sang a beautiful rendition of Irving Berlin’s “When I Lost You.” This seamless collaboration resulted from an offhand chat at a prior salon.

Maura Mulligan has read a number of passages from her engaging memoir, “Call of the Lark,” but Maura showed her true roots as a storyteller when she recounted the night she left her home in County Mayo for America, evoking the Ireland of her childhood with images of the turf fire, the boxty and butter-making. Singer Vera Wrenn joined Maura, enhancing the story with a beautiful rendition of “Moonlight in Mayo” and “The Bold Fenian Men.”

Sarah Fearon work-shopped some new comedy material. Some of her ideas included dealing with the beginning of the end of the world, and getting old.  Sarah also riffed on thinking outside the box before we wind up inside the box, and a new discovery revealed from Jesus’ shroud, which suggests that God was originally from New York. And my favorite: Sarah wondered why doctors ask us “What are we doing here today?” From the crowd’s response, a good percentage of Sarah’s material is worth developing.

Our thoughts went to the victims of hurricane Sandy when Maureen Hossbacher read a poignant excerpt from her novel-in-progress, “The Grand March.”  The excerpt, set in Rockaway Beach of the 1950s, introduced us to Nance Moran, a young girl wrangling with the dissonance between sexuality and Catholicism. No doubt many in the captivated audience could relate to similar childhood awakenings and dilemmas.

Malachy McCourt closed the evening with a song, “Isn’t it Grand Boys to be Bloody Well Dead.” After the applause and cheers subsided, Malachy called out “Great night!” Indeed it was.

For more about the Irish American Artists and Writers contact Charles R. Hale at


Doolan’s new passion is Galway venue

POSTED ON November 21st  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure


At the opening night of the Irish Film New York last month, Lelia Doolan was a hard woman to catch. But, eventually she had some time to sit with the Irish Echo in the basement of Glucksman Ireland House where the celebration was taking place, and we talked for 15 minutes before she had to get a taxi uptown to another do.

Doolan was a guest of honor at Irish Film New York, where her documentary “Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey” was a key attraction. Her visit to the U.S. had a dual purpose, though, since she was also raising funds for an art-house movie theatre in Galway.

“We’ve been trying to make this happen for almost 10 years now,” she explained of the project. “We’ve got almost all the funding, we are shy by about a million euros. We think we can make that up and we would love if the public would give us a hand.”

Doolan, now age 78, is a respected public figure in Ireland, and as a young woman was a pioneering element in the nation’s creative scene. Described as “mad, bad and dangerous,” by Dublin’s Catholic archbishop, John Charles McQuaid, she was never afraid to dispute authority.

She won a scholarship to study Brecht at the Free University in Berlin, and worked for almost a decade at Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTE, until she resigned in protest at their political and commercial policies. (She later wrote a book about the experience with two colleagues called “Sit Down and Be Counted.”) Doolan also spent two years as artistic director of the Abbey Theatre, and she holds a PhD in anthropology from Queens University, Belfast.

She spoke about her current passion – the role that indie film could play in the city of Galway. For more than 45 years the city has sustained a film society whose members meet every Sunday night to watch something out of the ordinary. “It’s like having a great meal,” she said. “It’s full of riches, it’s full of nutrition. And it’s provocative, interesting, awkward, something to enable people to be fully human.”

The project ( – which she hopes will gain support from members of the Irish American community – will include three screens, a café, a bar and a bookshop. Doolan said that artists and creative people have not disappointed the country, unlike some other groups. “Of all the people who have let cultures down and societies down, they are mostly economists and bankers and business people,” she said. “Funnily enough in Ireland at least, the artists have not left the country down. They’ve continued to be vibrant and vivid and interesting and fascinating and intriguing.”

Her own most recent production is a film that achieves just that. “Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey” explores the provocative and often inspiring activities of Bernadette McAliskey (née Devlin), a young woman who acquired prominence during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. At the time, Devlin was just 22. In an image from the film showing her with long hair wearing a short dress and coat, with buckled shoes, she looks even younger.

Doolan said the film was not meant to be about McAliskey’s experiences but about her ideas. “She is, like all human beings, multifaceted,” Doolan suggested. “But one of the great qualities of her is she has a great mind. She is very direct; she is very eloquent. She’s got a wonderful sense of humor, and madness, in fact. She is intellectually alive and awake all the time and she’s just a remarkable iconic figure.”

The documentary is a testament both to McAliskey’s actions and Doolan’s determination to record them. She described the film as something of a teaching aid – a reminder, for young people, that some ideas are worth fighting for, and a nudge to reject blander versions of life. “One of the reasons for my making the film, I suppose, was to say, ‘Have courage.’ She had a strong courage,” Doolan said of Bernadette. “But it doesn’t take a lot to stand up for something that you actually believe in.”

By now, it was time for the filmmaker to travel to her next appointment, and she was probably running late.

When it comes to film, art, Ireland and history, Doolan doesn’t keep her eye on the clock. “I could keep talking forever,” she said.

Back to Top