Between the Lines / By Peter McDermott
President de Gaulle on a visit to West Germany in May 1962.
[GERMAN FEDERAL ARCHIVES]
A lot of newsprint was used to convey analysis in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, but one of the best pieces, for me, didn’t require any, because it was published by the online magazine Salon. However, I do also suggest below that Andrew O’Hehir failed to press home his argument.
He wrote: “What happened in Paris this week was a political act. Terrorism is always a political act, or nearly always. Its goals lie in the here-and-now or at least the near future, not in the hereafter.”
O’Hehir, who is Salon’s film critic, continued: “I don’t believe this attack was driven by religious faith on any fundamental level, and to define it as an assault on freedom of speech is far too narrow. Its true target was multicultural democracy in general and the specific version, both more fragile and more successful, found in France in particular.
“If anything, this attack testifies to the power the French model still holds, even in an era of sustained political crisis, social conflict and economic stagnation,” he continued in his Jan. 10 essay. “Amid its evident difficulties, France remains a peaceful, prosperous and culturally vibrant nation with a relatively well integrated and increasingly secular Muslim minority. (As has been widely reported, one of the police officers killed on Wednesday was a Muslim.) That model of democracy — or perhaps we should say that possibility — is exactly what came under attack from the Charlie Hebdo gunmen. Their aim was to pry open that model at a tender spot, expose its contradictions and undermine its stability.”
O’Hehir summarized what for the gunmen might have been a good outcome for the Jan. 7 attack – increased hostility towards French Muslims, which would fuel alienation and the growth of radicalism, and a boost in support for the anti-immigrant National Front, led by Marine Le Pen.
All of this was an interesting overview – and also a refreshing contrast to so much of the punditry seen over the past two weeks. It seems that with every calamitous event – a news story that will still be talked about in 100 years – there’s no shortage of commentators viewing it through the prism of their own obsessions, whether right, left, national, religious, or whatever.
Sometimes this can be tediously predictable. For instance, Glenn Greenwald, a former Salon writer who broke the NSA/Snowden story in the Guardian in 2013, published a series of anti-Semitic cartoons along with his piece in his online magazine, the Intercept.
Greenwald is an absolutist when it comes to First Amendment rights and that’s why he has defended the Citizens United decision on campaign finance handed down by the right-wing majority on the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009. His politics aren’t easy to classify; but, it seems, he wants those elements of the fringe left that he likes to ally with sections of the libertarian right, united by their common goal of sticking it to the man.
His Intercept piece was just a more intelligent, if extreme, articulation of an argument seen a lot in recent days: our politicians and our Western societies are hypocritical when it comes to freedom of speech.
Lure of absolutism
I thought that O’Hehir was perhaps addressing that type of response with this: “Debates about the role of religion in modern society, and the outer limits of free speech, are undeniably seductive. I am liable to get drawn into them at any moment. But when we allow our discussion about a political act, which took place in the familiar context of a Western liberal democracy and whose origins are not especially mysterious, to get sidetracked into grand pronouncements about abstract moral and philosophical categories, we are deliberately clouding the issue and not talking about the things we should be talking about.”
Except that at this juncture, O’Hehir allowed himself a very wooly discussion about freedom of speech at the expense of explaining more clearly why Jan. 7 was an attack on Western democracy, AKA liberal democracy, and more specifically upon the French model he admires. He might have explored what it is that makes French multicultural democracy work and have the, as he qualified it, the “possibility” to evolve and develop and continue to assimilate people who are different.
O’Hehir’s formulation that the Charlie Hebdo attack wasn’t just about freedom of speech is absolutely correct. Indeed, one could argue that it wasn’t about freedom of speech at all, insofar as most radical Islamist violence is not concerned with that issue and we could conceive all sorts of murderous attacks in Paris where it wouldn’t be.
What if the gunmen had slaughtered 10 members of parliament who favored France’s controversial “headscarf ban” or 20 because of the nation’s interventionist foreign policy?
We would hope after such an event that people would hold up signs all over the world saying: “I am the French Republic.”
But one suspects that, for some, it is the “outer limits of free speech” that what’s sexy here, along with the special lure of absolutism.
The First Amendment and Second Amendment absolutists measure freedom in their own ways – ways that seem very limited and not too logical. For instance, it’s possible for a country to cherish and uphold advanced notions of freedom of speech and at the same time treat minorities abominably; and it’s never been much of a problem for dictatorial and authoritarian regimes to tolerate easy access to weaponry in civil society.
The people who poured into Paris’ streets 10 days ago were not just affirming the right to freedom of speech but also the right for a person to do his or her job in a free society without fear of political assassination. And presumably it was a statement in favor of Western democracy – which believes in the open society, in the rule of law, in government by consent, free and fair elections, the right to hold signs in protest and the right to due process.
Do the wealthy get a better shake from our institutions. Yes, they definitely do. But the system works because we adhere and respect those same institutions, even if we want far-reaching change. We can possibly agree that most of the politicians we elect are hypocritical some of the time and some are most of the time. Are we all guilty of hypocrisy in our political attitudes? Not all, but maybe most of us are some of the time.
The absolutists can have a skewed view of our society – our societies – that leaves out the human factor. The fact is that we elect people to parliaments and they restrict and liberalize as they see fit. There’s nothing to stop Christians and Muslims making common cause around a set of blasphemy laws. Would that make our society less free if they were passed? Certainly. But, it would be still free enough for secularists to campaign for their repeal. Just as believers can hope that at some point France can relax its secularity a bit, and not be so hung up about what people wear and nor so uptight about religious symbols on state property. Or, perhaps, it’s the believers who will learn to adapt. Likewise, Greenwald and Citizens United backers will perhaps argue that those who seek to represent the less well-off should raise their fundraising game so as to compete on a level playing field with the rich and powerful.
Battle for Algiers
When discussing and defending French democracy, a little history might be helpful.
It was interesting in this debate over the past two weeks how Algeria, the ancestral homeland of the Charlie Hebdo gunmen, got mentioned by those who see the Muslim as a victim primarily, and how it was avoided by those who see the Muslim as a problem.
France decamped from Vietnam in 1954, and then disengaged without much fuss from Morocco and Tunisia, but the political class, from moderate left to far right, decided to put up a fight in Algeria, not least because it was home to a million people of European heritage. Paris had, since the mid-19th century, considered the city of Algiers and the territory that hugged the Mediterranean coast, in contrast to the arid interior, to be an integral part of the French Union.
But “l’Algérie française” was becoming ungovernable. Fierce and brutal repression of a pro-independence insurgency, including the use of torture on a vast scale, pushed much of the Arab population of 9 million into the arms of the National Liberation Front, or FLN.
A growing political crisis in domestic France brought the return of the leader and great symbol of wartime national resistance, General Charles de Gaulle. After a dozen years of self-imposed political exile, de Gaulle proposed the Fifth Republic. The most notable feature of the Constitution passed on Sept. 28, 1958, was its president possessing strong executive powers. Overnight, France went from a parliamentary system far more chaotic than Ireland’s or Britain’s to having a head of state with rather more constitutional power than that granted to the U.S. president.
De Gaulle assumed the presidency in January 1959. He had said he would back l’Algérie française, but soon came to see it was unsustainable. He broke his election promise; he had a broader mandate to govern France.
The Fifth Republic was less democratic and less free, in more than a theoretical sense, than the Fourth Republic, but it allowed for the decolonization of Algeria and provided the stability that enabled the later growth of the multicultural society that O’Hehir praises.
The right-wing terrorist OAS, which believed de Gaulle had betrayed French Algeria, devised several plots to kill him, but it was an allied group that came closest to succeeding in Paris on the night of Aug. 22, 1962. (Madame de Gaulle was in the car with the president when it was hit by machine-gun fire, and that lack of chivalry was one reason he refused to commute the death sentence of the man who’d planned the attack).
The OAS (in English, the Secret Army Organization) was said, too, to have helped instigate two police massacres of pro-independence Algerian demonstrators in Paris, in October 1961 and February 1962. In the latter incident, scores of victims drowned in the Seine.
Soon, the European “pied noir” population packed its bags for France; meanwhile, the FLN, in its moment of victory, allowed bloodlust free rein.
In his recent excellent biography of Francois Mitterand, the Socialist president of France from 1981 to 1995, Philip Short writes in a footnote: “During the French presidential elections in 2002, 2007 and 2012, where immigration, especially from North Africa, was a major campaign issue, it was widely acknowledged that France’s difficulties in integrating its Arab population, even those born in France of the second and third generation, were rooted in the hatreds and incomprehension sown 50 years earlier during the Algerian war.”
The “anti-imperialist” left preferred to put this front and center in its narrative of Jan. 7, regarding the tragedy as the product of a colonial wound. There’s a strange symmetry here with the position of conservatives who conversely ignore that painful history as a factor and would rather focus on Islam and the “clash of civilizations” as the issue. The right, alas, is somehow blind to the overwhelming evidence that immigrants, including Muslims, adapt over time to the mores of their new countries.
Four percent of the French people identify as Muslim, and lot of them aren’t particularly religious, no more than most of the 51 percent that say they are Roman Catholic.
Overall, the government reports that 8-10 percent are from a Muslim background, which immediately gives us some sense of the complicated picture here.
And this is why Andrew O’Hehir is on the mark here in celebrating France’s multicultural experiment – not merely as it exists now, but the “possibility” of what it could become, in the way that Americans can strive for a “more perfect union.”
You can never talk enough about New York or hear enough about it.
So, no surprise, there’s a new radio show broadcasting weekly from this week and it’s all about New York.
Ah, but through an Irish lens.
The new morning show on WBAI, 99.5 FM kicks off Wednesday, January 7 and is entitled “New York, Thee and We.”
The hosts will be familiar to many. They are John McDonagh, Malachy McCourt and Corey Kilgannon and they will be talking about all things New York and taking phone calls from listeners.
McDonagh, according to a release, has been driving a Yellow Cab in the city for over thirty years, and is well known for his activism and political satire.
Malachy McCourt is at times a professional actor, a saloon keeper, a political candidate, a radio show host who is at times labeled a wit, a published author, a political progressive who is passionate about democracy but all the times a New Yorker.
He is also a loving husband and a father of five, grandfather of eight.
They are joined by weekly guest Corey Kilgannon who has written about the city for The New York Times for twenty years, and pens a weekly column called “Character Study” about the people who make New York City distinctive.
“From bike lanes to horse and carriage from the street to the stables, no one knows the city better,” said the release.
“New York Thee and We” can be heard every Wednesday morning from 10 a.m. to 12 noon on WBAI, 99.5 F.M.
By Ray O’Hanlon
It opened doors but also closed them.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 was passed by Congress and signed into law fifty years ago this year.
And a consequence, though arguably unintended, was that the story of the Irish coming to America would go into a grinding reverse.
Half a century on, thousands of Irish cling to a shadowy American life and the idea of easy legal passage across the Atlantic from Ireland is a dream realized by only a privileged few.
The reform act, also known as the Hart–Celler Act, abolished the National Origins Formula that had been in place in the United States since the Emergency Quota Act of 1921.
It was proposed by Representative Emanuel Celler of New York, co-sponsored by Senator Philip Hart of Michigan, and promoted by, among others, Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts.
The late senator would later state that the act had unintended consequences for the Irish, that being the virtual closing of the “Golden Door” to would-be immigrants from the island.
A number of Irish American community leaders warned at the time of the congressional debate over the bill that while the measure would rightly open immigration to an array of new nationalities, it would also end up discriminating against the Irish. Some Irish American legislators crafted a “set aside” number of visas for the Irish, but this option was not backed by the Irish government of the day.
“The Irish government took the decision to close the loop to stop people leaving the country and coming to America. But they could still go to England anyway,” Ciaran Staunton, chairman of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform said Tuesday as he prepared to travel to Washington D.C. to meet with congressional legislators to discuss the continued plight of the undocumented Irish.
“Our community has paid a high price for it,” he said in reference to the ’65 act, which was signed into law in October of that year by President Lyndon Johnson though it did not actually take full effect until three years later.
Said Staunton: “What would Irish America look like if the door had remained open in 1965? Put it this way, I probably wouldn’t be making this trip to Washington.”
Dr. Desmond O’Neill, of Trinity College Dublin, was presented with the Joseph T. Freeman Award at the 67th annual scientific meeting of the Gerontological Society of America, held in Washington D.C in November. The presentation was made on behalf of GSA by Dr. Marilyn R. Gugliucci, director for Geriatrics Education and Research at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine. DAVID ALEMAN/f-stop Photography [Click on image for larger picture.]
Story by Peter McDermott
Late Matisse. Late Turner. Late Rembrandt.
They were the themes of the big exhibitions in London galleries this past year. So pointed out Dublin geriatrician Dr. Desmond O’Neill, one of world’s leading researchers in his field.
“Arts people are smart and they can see the trends,” he said. “There’s this schlocky phrase that ‘artists are the storm troopers of consciousness.’”
And in this instance, he believes, they’ve detected the seismic shift in attitudes in his profession about aging and increasingly in society at large.
“The narrative has been a simplistic one of loss and decline,” said O’Neill, professor of Medical Gerontology at Trinity College and consultant physician in geriatric and stroke medicine at the Tallaght Hospital campus. “There’s a huge swing back against that.
“We’ve got to recognize growth in later life. And also not only recognize growth, but also the extraordinary abilities of people in later life to cope with the existential problems they have.
“Older drivers have the highest levels of illnesses that might affect driving, yet they’re the safest group of drivers on the road,” O’Neill said.
“So, their adaptive abilities, their mastery of how they engage with their environment, is brilliant.
“Not only that, but if there’s an accident where a child’s in a car and if the grandparents are driving, you halve the risk of serious injury compared to the parents driving them. So they not only bring something to the roads on their own behalf but they bring it on behalf of others,” said O’Neill, whose research is rooted in gerontology and the neurosciences, with a strong emphasis on liaison with the humanities.
There is now a fascinating body of literature on the older worker, according to the Dublin physician.
“If you have come down in the Hudson and survive, do you want an almost 60-year-old with all his life experience or do you want a 25-year-old?” O’Neill said, alluding to Chesley Sullenberger’s successful navigation of Flight 1549 on Jan. 15, 2009.
Research shows, he reported, that older workers have less time off and are more productive than younger colleagues in many jobs.
“Older roofers, for example, seem to spend a little bit more time per tile, but actually get the job done faster because they know the shape of it,” O’Neill said.
Older hotel receptionists, he said, “take a bit long longer on the phone call, but they get more second reservations.”
For the Trinity professor, the American humorist P.J. O’Rourke summed it up best with the title of his 1995 collection: “Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence and a Bad Haircut.”
On the other hand, he doesn’t believe what he labeled the “Pollyannaish” approach suggested in popular books like “Younger Next Year” is helpful.
“People used to talk about ‘successful aging.’ It means that if you didn’t reach the criteria of successful aging, you’d failed,” said O’Neill, who is a married father of seven children from 24 years down to 13.
Henri Matisse did not successfully age in a physical sense. After decades painting standing up, he was forced to adjust his style radically sitting down. “Through his disability, he grew and changed and produced something new,” O’Neill said.
Aging, therefore, must be seen in terms of gain and loss.
“So what we’re actually talking about is ‘optimal aging’ that understands the existential hits that we’re going to take in terms of disability and creates a system that frees you from unnecessary constriction by that disability,” O’Neill said.
That means building more “age-attuned” and livable societies, which are in the longer-term interest of all of us.
One way he promotes this is with his research work for ITN America, a non-profit that “supports sustainable, community-based transportation services for seniors,” both in this country and worldwide.
If the lack of a social-economy transport model in rural and suburban America is one issue about which he has a particular passion, another is the relative scarcity of people like him.
“They don’t recognize them,” he said of geriatricians in the U.S.
The fact that America has so few compared to other industrialized nations is a serious flaw in the system, he believes. He used the hypothetical of example of an ER with two options for the older patient: behind Door A is a geriatrician and behind Door B, the general medical service.
“You reduce the chances of death or going into a nursing home by 25 percent by going into the geriatrician,” O’Neill said.
“It can happen and it can change [in the U.S.]. The Canadians have changed direction,” he said.
So has the mixed public-private system in Australia, where he spent last summer as a visiting professor. “They know that a takes an hour to do a comprehensive geriatric assessment. They pay you A$400 to do it, and if you do it by telemedicine they pay you A$600,” O’Neill said.
In the U.S. however, geriatrician pay and conditions simply don’t match up with the other specialist areas.
“Many who do it here are extraordinary people in the face of this very problem,” he said.
Henri Matisse. [Library of Congress]
O’Neill has come to know some through his attendance each year at the scientific meeting of the Gerontological Society of America, which gathers the nation’s – and some of the world’s – leading experts on the various aspects of aging.
At the most recent, the 67th annual, attended by more than 4,000 people in Washington DC in November, O’Neill was honored with the Samuel T. Freeman Award. It is given to a “prominent physician in the field of aging – both in research and practice – who is a member of the Society’s Health Sciences section.” As part of that, he will give a keynote lecture at the 2015 conference in Orlando.
O’Neill is the first European recipient in the award’s 37-year history. The GSA cited, in particular, his more than 300 peer-reviewed scientific papers and chapters.
The Dubliner is also the author of the 2013 book, “Ageing and Caring,” which is aimed at older people and their adult children, and writes a monthly column for the Irish Times as well as a regular blog for the British Medical Journal.
O’Neill attributes his productivity at least partly to genetics. He’s a speed-reader, just like his mother. She was home-schooled in Sligo by her parents – one a domestic-science instructor and the other an antiquarian who worked for the Land Commission.
“She had an hour of French a day and an hour of Irish a day. She and her two sisters – she’s the surviving sister – would speak the most beautiful Connemara-type Irish,” he remembered.
After careers as a nurse and an Aer Lingus hostess, his mother, between child three and eight, studied to become a doctor. His father, a native Dubliner, was an accountant before becoming a pediatric surgeon.
O’Neill watched his physician parents deal with late-life dementia in his grandparents with a mix of “care and distress.” He considers himself fortunate to have positive memories of his four grandparents and is glad also that his own children have had time with their grandmothers.
He described his upbringing as “supportive and nurturing,” adding “I had a very enriched environment.” It gave him a curiosity that is, he believes, an essential, even defining quality for the geriatrician.
An early influence as an adult was his year in Marseilles with the non-profit Les petit frères des Pauvres (the Little Brothers of the Poor), which aims to relieve isolation and loneliness among seniors.
“Their motto was ‘Flowers Before Bread,’” O’Neill said. “The state will take care of the basics, but who makes you feel special, remembers your birthday, takes you on holidays?
“I remember thinking: ‘That’s trimmings on the cake,’” he said. “But I began to realize that’s what it’s about.”
Slightly above middle
O’Neill summarized one of his research tracks in Ireland thus: “Instead of going in with a music group to a bunch of people in a nursing home or doing painting activities with them, find out what it is they feel they no longer have that they used to have and how can we help with it.”
Seniors can suffer from not just esthetic deprivation but also esthetic injury, he said, “because often in a nursing-home or hospital environment there’s a lot of noise and horrible things on the walls.”
In his view, a “very vibrant arts program” can lift the morale of patients and staff.
O’Neill, who is the director of the National Centre for Arts and Health at Tallaght Hospital, offered by way of a concrete example: “We had a composer in residence in our stroke unit and our Parkinson’s unit.”
Asked where Ireland ranks in the international league table on care for seniors, O’Neill replied: “Somewhere in the middle, possibly slightly above the middle. The Nordic countries are at the top.”
Now all the public hospitals in Ireland have geriatricians, whereas none of the private hospitals has.
“The will is there,” he said about official attitudes. “There’s no doubt.
“We now have geriatricians in acute medical units. There’s a national clinical program for older people. Only Austria, Belgium and Ireland have done this.”
O’Neill added: “The National Aging Strategy is a bit bland and lacks teeth I must say, though we’ve a good minister for older people in Kathleen Lynch from Cork. She is the best one there has been yet. She really has her heart in the right place.”
The U.S.-based Atlantic Philanthropies helps by supporting geriatric and gerontological projects in every university.
Overall, the position of geriatrics has improved since he returned from posts in England in the early 1990s.
“You had to be tough. There was much greater amount of ageism in the system when I arrived. You had to be bloody-minded and ignore it,” he recalled. “Now it’s really changed. It’s respected.
“I’m enjoying working in this area here,” O’Neill said. “If I were reincarnated, I’d be doing it again”
Peter McDermott wrote this article with support from the Journalists in Aging Fellows Program, a project of the Gerontological Society of America and New America Media that is sponsored by AARP.
New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli followed up his triumphant Nov. 4 electoral performance with the most intensive visit yet by a state comptroller to Belfast.
In the city, the comptroller met with community leaders from the unionist and nationalist communities and was briefed on the progress of early-stage companies which benefited from his $15 million investment in March in Crescent Capital — representing the biggest-ever single investment by a state pension fund in a Northern Ireland equity vehicle.
The comptroller also addressed over 500 people gathered for the annual Aisling Awards, the city’s premier awards event, and met with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and British Secretary of State Theresa Villiers.
His first visit to Belfast since 2008 saw the comptroller, who was accompanied by his chief advisor on Ireland, MacBride Principles co-author Pat Doherty, visit the Bombardier Aerospace plant in East Belfast.
For years under fire in Irish America for its religious imbalance in the workforce, Bombardier has pushed the percentage of Catholics in its workforce to just 16.7 percent, even though Belfast now has a marginal Catholic majority.
The comptroller told the Aisling audience that he was determined to keep “the equality agenda” front and center as peace talks, aided by President Obama’s peace envoy Gary Hart, continue at Stormont.
“I met people across Belfast who have suffered and who have issues which must yet be resolved, but I was heartened by the resolve of all sides to move forward,” Di Napoli said.
(Gregory Harrington photo from Daniel D’Ottavio)
By Áine Ní Shionnaigh
Despite being tightly huddled inside a grey hoodie, Gregory Harrington still retains an air of elegance on a damp and dreary pre-Thanksgiving morning when we meet for coffee on the Upper West Side. As he displays apprehension about the impending snow, I chastise him for becoming like a native New Yorker. What he is actually becoming, is Ireland’s most recognized concert violin soloist; one who sweeps listeners away with the emotion of his music, emotion and connection, two words that consistently come up throughout our conversation.
The single most emotive connection that I have experienced in my lifetime was the first time I heard Gregory perform. It was in the opulent Beaux Arts Grand Salon of the JW Marriott Essex House Hotel, he took center stage and eloquently explained the background to the music he was about to play. The piece he appropriately chose for the Guest of Honor, Vice President Joe Biden was from Turlough O’Carolan, a renowned blind Irish fiddler. Joe Biden’s great-great grandfather was also a blind fiddler who immigrated to America. Sitting in the stunned silence as the haunting notes of gypsy and classical harmoniously fused, it was as if the spirit of the previous three generations of Biden’s were reincarnated with each note. Sitting near the Vice President, observing the emotions etched onto his face, I was never as proud to be Irish.
Gregory is as his music: articulate, eloquent, charming, with an underlying intensity. With his intense expression and innate sense of style, he is a modern day fusion of Clarke Gable and Laurence Oliver. He would look as equally at home on the Ralph Lauren runway as he does on stage at Carnegie Hall.
How early did it start for Gregory? At the tender age of 4, he was attending the Dublin Horseshow at the RDS with his mother, a bandstand with a string quartet caught his attention and changed the whole focus of Gregory’s future life. On hearing the violin, Gregory grabbed his mother’s coat sleeve with an intensity that required an immediate response, pointed to the violin and said ‘I want to play that’. Perhaps his mother had an innate intuition that this was not just a young boys passing whim, the very next morning she brought him to McCullough Pigotts on Suffolk Street and bought him a violin, he started lessons a month later. Tragically Gregory lost his very special supportive mother way too soon and way too early in life. She influences him and his music daily. There is an intensity that comes with the struggle to accept the loss of a loved one that never fully recedes and perhaps some of the poignancy of Gregory’s music comes from this. Listening to Gregory’s music, there are many emotions hidden under the surface, and we too are allowed a rare glimpse into our own deepest hidden emotions.
Gregory’s music is a combination of classical and crossover, his first three albums have all had varied focus. His most recent album launched last week is Bach: Transcriptions and Variations. Gregory has taken some of Bach’s most famous violin pieces and created his own arrangements. Gregory’s music can have a hint of edginess that is probably due to the unprecedented creativity that I have only found in Irish souls. He doesn’t feel that things should be categorized. Just because one is a violinist doesn’t mean that one can only play classical music, although Gregory wants to be known as Ireland’s greatest concert violin soloist, which he is already well on the way to becoming, he also wants to live his music life without total boundaries which is why he is also known as Ireland’s leading crossover artist. Thanks to Gregory Harrington I and countless more listeners have become aware that the violin is an instrument of enormous versatility and striking beauty with a nuance of expression that could possibly only be surpassed by the human voice. Gregory’s amazing Dad, James Harrington, who is a great support to Gregory, summed it up perfectly when we chatted at the interval of Gregory’s concert album launch in the IAC, “Aine, I have never heard anyone play a violin like that.”
Bach: Transcriptions and Variations by Gregory Harrington
A great holiday gift, gift with an experience. http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/gregoryharrington1
D’ainneoin a bheith cuachta go docht i gheansai liath, coinníonn Gregory Harrington aer ‘elegant’ fós ar maidin liath agus dur roimh an ‘Thanksgiving’ nuair a bhualamar ar an Taobh Thiar Uachtarach le haghaidh caife. Nuair a thaispeánann sé imní mar gheall ar an sneachta, tosaim ag magadh faoi go bfhuil se cosúil le duine dúchasach as Nua Eabhraic. Ach cad a bhfuil sé ag éirí i ndáiríre é no cheann de na veidhleadóirí clasaiceacha is aitheanta in Éirinn, ceann a scuabadh do dhaoine ar shiúl leis an mothuchain ata ina chuid ceoil, mothuchain agus ceangail, dhá focail a thagann suas go minic i rith ár gcomhrá.
B’é an nasc is chorraitheach amháin a bhfuil taithí agam i mo shaol na an chéad uair a chuala mé Gregory ag seinm a cheol. Bhí sé i Grand Beaux Arts Salon an JW Marriott House Essex Hotel House, Éireannach anaithnid roimhe seo dom, ghlac se lár an aonaigh agus mhínigh sé an cúlra leis an gceol a bhí sé ar tí é a imirt. An dara píosa a bhí le aoi speisialta, ar Leas-Uachtarán Joe Biden a raibh a seanathair mor ina fidléir dall Éireannach a thainig go Meiriceá. Roghnaigh Gregory piosa ceol ó Uí Chearbhalláin, fidléir dall clúiteach ó Céideadh, Co. Ros Comáin. Suí le linn an tost stunned mar a bhí a bhí na nótaí haunting, bhí sé mar má beochta spiorad an trí ghlúin roimhe sin de Biden le gach faoi deara. Ina shuí in aice leis an Leas-Uachtarán, breathnú ar an emotion eitseáilte ar Tá Gregory mar a chuid ceoil: a chur in iúl, eloquent, a fheictear, le déine bhunúsach. Lena léiriú dian agus tuiscint inbheirthe stíl, tá sé ar chomhleá lá nua-aimseartha de Clarke Gable agus Laurence Oliver. Bheadh sé breathnú go cothrom ar an rúidbhealach ‘Ralph Lauren no ar an stad i Halla Carnegie.
Cé chomh luath agus a thosaigh se ? Ag freastal an ‘Dublin Horseshow’ I mhaile Átha Cliath lena mháthair, thug se faoi deara ceathairéad teaghrán ag an Bandstand, agus a d’astraigh an fócas ar fad de shaol Gregory sa todhchaí. Ag éisteacht leis an veidhlín, rug Gregory a mháthar chum cóta le déine a mbeadh gá le freagra láithreach, aird ar an veidhlín agus dúirt ‘Ba mhaith liom e sin a imirt”. B’fhéidir go raibh an intuition inbheirthe nach raibh sé seo ach whim buachaillí óga, an maidin ina dhiadh sin thug sí air Lestor Piggots ar Shráid Parnell agus cheannaigh dó veidhlín agus ceachtanna. Go tragóideach chaill Gregory a mháthair iomasach an-speisialta ar bhealach ró-luath sa saol. Bíonn tionchar í féin ar Gregory agus a cheol gach lá. An duine a bfhuil streachailt acu chun glacadh leis an caillteanas de grá amháin riamh go hiomlán, b’fhéidir roinnt de na cheol Gregory ar a thagann as seo. Éisteacht le ceol Gregory s, tá go leor mothúcháin i bhfolach faoi dhromchla, agus táimid cheadaítear freisin le léargas annamh i ár mothúcháin is doimhne féin i bhfolach.
Today we stand together. Family members and close friends, each with deep personal feelings and memories of Liam Ryan, stand alongside others too young to have known him. All of us can feel anger at his murder.
Surely, it is murder when the vaunted British crown forces arrange killings by loyalist proxies and paid agents. It is murder, even when the murder victim was, like Liam Ryan a Republican, or like Michael Devlin, in the company of a Republican, or as other families here know, the parent or aunt of a Republican.
All of us can be angered by the British policy of murder cover-up.
European Law says that the families of state murder victims have a right to justice. Britain deems such rights null and void when the victims are Republicans, or justice means ending the one-sided immunity or impunity for British troopers or constabulary.
Even today, families of the victims are still denied justice, still denied truth, still stonewalled and still told lies. Even an Ombudsman or Coroner, who makes the mistake of actually trying to get truth, soon finds they will be denied the funds or documents to do it.
All of us – and I do not want to be misinterpreted as speaking about armed actions in the different conditions and circumstances of today – but we are not here for any sorry initiatives, not here to demean his legacy by apologies. All of us are here to honor the memory of a true patriot with pride.
There is today another ongoing round of talks. Last year’s Haass talks have become this year’s Hart talks.
We frequently hear words like parity of esteem and equality. We will not accept a “parody of esteem” where we are expected to hide our grief, our anger, and our pride in this brave soldier, lest we give offense to others who believe Republicans in Ireland are not entitled to such feelings.
To understand Liam Ryan, first understand the times in which he lived. He was born before the British shifted from one party Orange rule, to granting shared space tied to an immovable DUP anchor, where every legitimate demand for justice, as Gregory Campbell so crudely said, can be treated like toilet paper.
Liam was born before civil rights marches. Because he was a Ryan from Ardboe, and where his parents sent him to church and school, that was enough to mark him as suspect, second class and someone the six county state could best do without.
They did their best to send this message with a whole system to deny nationalists jobs, housing, and gerrymander votes. Just to be sure he understood, the crown forces would remind him when they met him on the road.
It is easy to understand why when people speak of the beginnings of civil rights in the Six Counties, they speak of marches in Coalisland or Dungannon or the first housing sit-in by a Tyrone family. It was easy to understand why when British troopers proved they did not come to back civil rights but to impose Internment, and to shoot down those who got in the way at Ballymurphy, or protested in Derry, that Liam came to believe you would not never get civil rights from a regime ready to answer civil right protests with Bloody Sunday. He came to see that the injustices he lived under were no accident but were allowed by the British because they served British interests.
He went to New York where I would come to know him. He found a new life where being a Ryan from Ardboe, did not count against him and indeed often counted for him. He found work with the power company, Con Edison. He had sisters and cousins nearby.
He found an apartment near Gaelic Park where he spent Sundays. He found Tyrone Societies and Clan na Gael. And who could have blamed him if he enjoyed this new life and put thoughts of Tyrone or the six counties behind him, or perhaps attended a few protests outside the British Consulate, or given some money for Republican prisoners.
That was not Liam. You could take Liam Ryan out of Tyrone but never take Tyrone out of Liam Ryan. The struggle and injustices here were never out of his thoughts. His dream was always to live and raise a family in a Tyrone where the injustices he lived under were a thing of the past. He dedicated his life to help make that so.
He worked in Clan na Gael and with Irish Northern Aid. He was one of those men and women from the Six Counties who were a constant inspiration and reminder to all of us. They were the vanguard of everything we in America did to raise money for the families of political prisoners or to build American political support for Irish issues.
He made his home a refuge and landing spot for others. There I would first come to hear of Gerry McGeough. He cannot be here because he is under threat of Internment by License. Gerry McGeough, like Ivor Bell, or Seamus Kearney and others are living reminders that the British will go back thirty or forty years and have no shortage of money to trump up charges against some republicans. They then tell us there is no money to arrest the Bloody Sunday troopers, or give the Ballymurphy Massacre families an inquiry, or take any steps which threaten the blanket immunity or impunity for British troopers and constabulary.
There I first met Lawrence McNally who would die alongside Liam‘s cousin Pete, and Tony Doris. Their car was fired upon until it burst into flames. They still cannot get an Inquest.
I remember asking why Lawrence had given instructions to be buried in Monaghan instead of Tyrone. I was told so that that so he could be buried and mourned without his grave and family being abused by crown forces. The next day I saw Pete Ryan’s family jeered and taunted about barbecues and barely let out of their homes to bury him. How right Lawrence had been.
As he was preparing to come back he was arrested in New York for sending weapons to the IRA. He faced a possible jail sentence. His lawyer, friends including myself, pressured him to apologize as is customary in American courts. He told us he had done no more than one of his relatives who had helped Erskine Childers bring arms into Dublin for the Easter Rising. Finally he agreed to make an apology in the American court.
Liam told the Judge that the only apology he wanted to make was to apologize to the IRA Volunteers who did not get the weapons. Judge Sifton, who had no Irish connections, but who presided over several Irish trials, smiled and said that the Irish accused like Liam were unlike the criminals who came before him and let him go with unsupervised probation.
He came back to Tyrone to open the Battery. I was banned from the North and the British had used my presence to attack a peaceful rally in Belfast. So we could meet in Dublin, or more likely Monaghan, but not in the Battery Bar in Ardboe, County Tyrone.
“We will have you up at the Battery for a free drink,” Liam joked when I telephoned him twenty-five years ago to say I would be traveling to Dublin for weekend meetings between the Irish Northern Aid executive and Sinn Fein leadership.
“Our friends have been about this last week,” he continued. It meant that the Royal Ulster Constabulary, backed by British troopers, had been patrolling heavily in the Ardboe area.
He added, “I may be back in the Bronx with you, but will say more when I see you.”
These words were ominous. For Liam to hint at leaving Ardboe meant that he was under serious threat which he would not talk about on a likely tapped telephone line, but would explain when we met.
I would never see him again. The following evening the crown forces which had been flooding the Ardboe area would suddenly disappear. At closing, as Liam Ryan stood by the door, a loyalist death squad would arrive at precisely the correct time and place.
Liam Ryan would be murdered as he attempted to slam the door shut and protect those patrons still inside. It was taken for granted that the British crown forces had given the intelligence, cleared and shielded the arrival and escape of the murder gang. The RUC would eventually arrive, with smug smiles, not bothering any pretense of sympathy, as they dismissed any chance that anyone might ever be caught or identified.
There was a phrase often used on newscasts about incidents which had “all the hallmarks” of the IRA. Liam’s murder had all the hallmarks of a crown directed collusion murder.
How could crown collusion in so many murders at such a high level of cooperation over so wide an area and so long a time continue without the knowledge and approval of the British at the highest levels?
There is now another round of talks that is supposed to tell us agreed formulas and legal mechanisms to deal with past events like Liam Ryan’s murder.
I cannot speak of him without remembering that he was murdered because he wanted freedom for all of Ireland so deeply. Many hoped that the Good Friday agreement had opened the door to this freedom. It seems clear that the British saw it as a way to nail the door shut.
We are less than eighteen months from the centenary of the Easter Rising, and that pledge of freedom, which Liam Ryan always said should apply as much to Thomas Clarke’s county as anywhere else.
This is an edited version of a recent speech delivered by Martin Galvin in Co. Tyrone at an event commemorating the death of Liam Ryan, Tyrone native and U.S. citizen.
By Joe Biden
My grandfather Ambrose Finnegan always told me, “Never forget where you came from, Joey.”
He wasn’t merely reminding me that I’m from Scranton, Pennsylvania. He was telling me not to forget the journey of my family, and the dreams that inspired them to take on the perilous voyage from Ireland to these shores in the 1840s and 1850s.
The history of the journey of this country has always been the promise that anything is possible.
That’s what attracted wave after wave of immigrants for centuries. And every generation of immigrants has infused this country with new blood, new ideas, a new determination, a new certainty that we will continue to be the land of possibilities.
But right now, our system is broken, and it needs to be fixed. It needs to continue to hold out the promise of possibilities. There are 11 million undocumented people living in the shadows. They hail from across the globe, including an estimated 50,000 from Ireland.
They want what we all want: a decent life for our children, the chance to contribute to a free society, the chance to put down roots and help build the next great American century.
It is long past time to bring these families out of the shadows, to eliminate the daily fear of separation and restore opportunity – and accountability – to millions of people living in our midst.
Over 500 days ago, the United States Senate passed legislation with bipartisan support to improve border security, streamline the immigration process, and establish a firm but fair path to citizenship.
“It is long past time to bring these families out of the shadows, to eliminate the daily fear of separation and restore opportunity – and accountability – to millions of people living in our midst.”
It would be an absolute game-changer for our economy, adding $1.4 trillion to our economy and reducing the deficit by nearly $850 billion over 20 years, and extending the solvency of Social Security by another two years.
Unfortunately, House Republican leadership has refused to allow a fair vote on this legislation, despite support on both sides of the aisle.
That left President Obama with a choice – sit by as families are torn apart and our economic horizons are diminished, or take action within the power granted his office by the United States Constitution. As the President announced on Thursday, he has chosen action.
Following in the tradition of every Republican and Democratic President over the past five decades, President Obama announced that he is using his executive authority to address the nation’s broken immigration system.
The actions President Obama announced on Thursday will crack down on illegal immigration at the border, prioritize the deportation of felons instead of families, and streamline our legal immigration system to boost our economy and promote naturalization.
The President’s action will also provide an opportunity for millions of undocumented individuals who have been in this country for at least five years to come out of the shadows.
This opportunity is not available to everyone. It is for DREAMers who were brought to this country as children. And it is for the parents of children who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.
These parents will have the opportunity to request work authorization and temporary relief from deportation if they come forward and pay their taxes, submit biometric data, pass background checks, pay fees, and show that their child was born on or before the date of the President’s announcement.
The President’s actions will help grow the economy and reduce the deficit, as more workers come out of the shadows and contribute to our economic growth and tax base, and entrepreneurs gain a greater opportunity to innovate and create jobs in the United States.
It remains my fervent hope that Congress will allow a fair vote on a comprehensive immigration reform bill to permanently address our nation’s broken immigration system. That is the only long-term solution.
But the President’s actions are a strong step forward, consistent with the values that built this nation – opportunity, responsibility, family.
These actions are an affirmation that we as a people will never forget where we came from.
Joe Biden is Vice President of the United States
This column was published in the Oct. 22, 2014, issue of the Irish Echo.
By Maura Mulligan
Recently I was invited to read at the Hudson Valley Irish Fest in Peekskill. One of two guest authors, I was honored to be in the line-up with Ray O’ Hanlon author of The South Lawn Plot and editor of this Newspaper. As I dragged my wheelie bag full of books up the hill from the train station to the festival grounds, I suddenly realized that a convent I once lived in stood on the other side of the train tracks.
Memories of zealous, young postulants in long black skirts, devout white-veiled novices, altar candles, celestial singing and burning incense shot through my brain as I walked past kilted pipers and popular bands like “Black 47” preparing to mount an outdoor stage.
In September 1962, I entered the convent of Mount Saint Francis, the entrance of which was now distracting me from this festival. I wanted to get into the spirit of the celebration and focus on fiddlers playing for hard-shoe step dancers and artists transforming children’s faces into butterflies, birds and cats. Most of all, I wanted to focus on my reading.
But as I waited my turn to read, my mind flew back to that chapel (just steps away) when I had knelt along with twenty-five other young women on the hard tiles facing the altar, where we bent forward in prostration as Brides of Christ. The knell of the death bell signaling death to the world had saddened members of the congregation causing sobs and moans to blend with the drone of the organ. My mother, living in Ireland was unable to attend the ceremony. Had she been there, I pictured her turning to the “mourners” and voicing firmly, “Well, for God’s sake, will ye pipe down. They won’t have a care in the world when they’re married to the Lord.” For young Catholic girls at that time, having a vocation to become a nun was highly regarded and treasured.
The excerpt I read at the festival was about my first job as a fourteen -year –old housemaid in what my mother called “a grand house.” But although that experience was about a place in my native County Mayo, the chapter from which the excerpt was taken began in that convent on the other side of the train tracks, the place where I was told, “you have an Irish accent. The children won’t understand you. Off you go to the kitchen.”
And so I was assigned to help the priest’s housekeeper.
A passing train caused me to pause my reading. While I waited for the reverberation to fade, I was sidetracked by flashbacks to a time when that same lonesome horn penetrated the chapel walls where, in a white wedding dress and veil, I walked down the aisle as the organist played Veni Creator Spiritus, while the train horn reminded me that I, and the other young women who joined the order with me, had left the world behind.
After my reading, I watched families enjoy a picnic as they listened to bands like ‘Black 47’ and ‘The Druids’ on an outdoor stage. I looked across the train tracks and saw the entrance to where I had shared meals in silence with the other young nuns in training.
I remembered the evening I became a novice. We were allowed conversation at supper instead of listening to spiritual reading from the works of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and his likes. But as new novices, we were anxious about what would happen when the meal was over. We didn’t want to talk much that evening.
After supper, the workroom with its sewing machines and tables became a waiting room, and the bead room, where the large rosary beads that hung at our sides were strung together, was turned into a barbershop. Sister Mariella, our novitiate equivalent of a class clown tried to joke. “Let’s call this the beauty parlor,” she giggled. No one laughed this time. We sat at the long tables in silence, reading The Lives of The Saints while waiting our turns.
The nun assigned to rendering us bald, sighed loudly when she looked at my shoulder-length, auburn curls. I could tell she did not enjoy cutting young women’s hair off. This act of replacing one’s hair with a veil was supposed to render us less vein. While Sister Eucharia chopped away, I tried to bring Christ’s life and death to mind but felt that my shiny tresses were crying to me from the floor. A part of me was dying, and I was responsible for the murder.
I came to terms with what I called a “temporary vocation” when I left and started a new life some years later.
As I signed copies of my book for people at the festival and listened to singer, Mary Courtney invite guests to come forward and share a song or story. I reminded myself that if it wasn’t for that other life at a time when I was much younger and more idealistic, I would not have this and other stories to tell now.
After the festival, I walked towards the convent gate, not sure if I wanted to open it – to revisit my past. I settled for a long look at the old buildings where the current residents are no longer young, though most are undoubtedly still zealous.
Maura Mulligan’s memoir, “Call of the Lark” was chosen for the Irish-American book club discussion on November 5th
This column was published in the Oct. 29, 2014 issue of the Irish Echo.
By Maura Mulligan
The moment I sat at the table my chair shattered. All four legs and the stretchers connecting them flew in different directions. A little spooked, but unhurt, I took a friend’s hand, lifted myself off the floor and adjusted my goddess costume.
Friends at the table fussed. “Are you hurt? What on earth happened to that chair?” The restaurant manager commanded a staff member to find another chair. He asked if I was okay. “I think so,” I managed.
I celebrate the ancient festival of Samhain with friends every year. Guests dress as someone from our Celtic past and bring the character to life with a story, song or dance.
This was our first time meeting in The Landmark Tavern, a saloon in Hell’s Kitchen that dates back to 1868. I liked the squeaky door that leads to the second floor dining room. The brick fireplace and dark wood furniture made me want to be there on this night of ghosts. Now, I wasn’t so sure anymore.
When my chair was replaced, the wait staff continued taking orders as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. I too, acted as if nothing went wrong. I wasn’t physically hurt, but felt threatened in some way.
Maybe, I thought, the Confederate Civil War soldier who was stabbed in a fight and staggered up to the second floor (where we were) didn’t approve of our using the bathroom where he died in the bathtub that still sits in the middle of the floor. Or maybe George Raft, the Hollywood gangster who roams around the old mahogany bar didn’t like my costume?
While trying to calm myself with a glass of merlot, I thought about the Tavern’s third ghost, the young Irish girl who came here during An Gorta Mór – the famine. She died of cholera on the third floor when this pub was a flophouse. Maybe young ghosts don’t like it when we, the living tell stories about the dead, I mused.
But I didn’t really believe in ghosts. Did I?
As a child in County Mayo, I had asked my grandfather if ghosts were real. “Arragh,” says he, “they are and they aren’t.”
Samhain, according to old Celtic beliefs is the time when the veil between this and the other world is lifted and the dead return to the homes they once occupied. In rural Ireland where I grew up in the 40’s/50’s it was customary to greet the returning spirits with a jack-o-lantern carved out of a turnip.
So, in the company of ghosts real or imagined, yours truly in the guise of the goddess, Danú, most ancient of all Celtic deities, decided it was time to forget about the broken chair and get the festivities started.
Revolutionaries, artists, historical, and mythological figures were they’re waiting to tell their stories. As we recalled our rich heritage, and learned from each other’s research, I tried to concentrate on the presentations but couldn’t help wondering if the resident ghosts had other plans for me.
Lady Wilde, poet, nationalist, and mother of the more famous Oscar, asked how I was feeling. “A little threatened,” I admitted. I talked to Nancy, one of the wait staff, who told me about an occasion when she served two young men who were there for dinner.
“Both water glasses shattered at the same time,” she recalled. “No one was even touching them. The glass went all over the burgers and beer.” Her colleague, Louis confirmed this remembering that he had to clean up the table while Nancy replaced the food and drinks.
Well, that didn’t make me feel any better. Back at the party, I was glad when revolutionaries and warriors showed up. Sword in hand, Cousin Eileen stormed to the fore as the fierce Scottish woman warrior, Scáthach. She, who trained the great legendary hero Cuchulainn, flew in from Dún Scáith (Fort of the Shadows) to tell of her many powers. With her likes around, I felt a wee bit safer.
Some months later I ventured back to the Landmark on a Monday evening and was warmly welcomed and given the best table near the musicians gathered for their weekly seisiún. The manager, Michael was hesitant to speak of possible resident ghosts but he did say that, “people sometimes sense something on that second floor.” He was glad I wasn’t hurt but couldn’t explain why the chair exploded as it did.
October 31st is just around the corner and I am once again making plans for a Samhain party. Although some friends are hesitant about returning to the ghostly pub, it’s my opinion that since Celtic poetry is our theme this year, the ghosts, if they exist, will feel less threatened by the presence of Yeats, Heaney, Burns, Cáitlin Maud and their likes. We aim to have a spooktacular evening.
Maura Mulligan is the author of “Call of the Lark,” a memoir. (Greenpoint Press).