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Illinois vote is good news for undocumented

POSTED ON February 8th  - POSTED IN News & Views


By Breandán Magee

The Illinois House of Representatives made history Tuesday, January 8 as it voted 65 to 46 to approve, by way of a bill, SB 957, a temporary visitors driver’s license (TVDL) for the undocumented.  The Senate had voted last month to approve the bill by 41 to 14, with one abstention.

Illinois is the fifth state in the nation after Tennessee, New Mexico, Washington and Utah to approve such a measure but the only one in recent times to make such a bold move. The bill’s passage has been hailed by immigrant advocates as a milestone for Illinois and a measure of things to come for comprehensive immigration reform in Washington D.C. Other states may take Illinois’ lead and follow.

I was in the chamber for the count. The vote is historic in its reach and is a bell weather for national sentiment on immigration reform and immigrants’ rights. The tide is turning and Americans of all political persuasions see this as a fight for human rights. I am very hopeful looking forward to immigration reform at the national level, but Illinois just made its roads safer and offers the 250,000 undocumented immigrants driving on our roads the chance to get a license and become insured.

The bipartisan bill’s passage was the result of a long campaign that kicked off in the summer and was led by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugee Rights.

ICIRR is an umbrella group of over 130 agencies in Illinois that advocate for immigrants’ rights. It counts CIIS and the Chicago Celts for Immigration Reform as long standing members.

The Irish voice was a loud one in this debate with CIIS and Billy Lawless of the Chicago Celts fielding members for days of action in Springfield and participating in mass call-ins to press legislators to back the measure. CIIS Board President Cyril Regan, and myself spent the last two days before the vote in Springfield with a contingent of grassroots supporters from ICIRR to make the final case to lawmakers that the bill was good for Illinois and for road safety in general.

The vote however was still undecided just before the House convened, with key legislators still unsure as to how they would cast their vote.

Representative Fred Crespo was one such lawmaker who was a definite no before the crucial vote. Regan and I accompanied Fr. Brendan Curran of St. Pius Parish Chicago to the representative’s office with only five minutes to sway him before he rushed off to the final session of the 97th Congress.

It turned out that Crespo, the son of a Puerto Rican Korean War veteran, had been born, baptized and confirmed in St. Pius’s and he graciously listened to the three Irishmen plead the case for the bill.

The bill’s passage would have direct impact on the over 5000 undocumented Irish men and women in Chicagoland, and has stringent controls in place to avoid document fraud.

From the floor of the House an emotive Crespo acknowledged the visit of Fr. Curran and the Irish and thanked them for their passion on the issue. In the end he voted with his conscience and voted yes. Another representative that the trio visited in the eleventh hour was Emily McAsey who had been a no on this issue and had voted consistently against pro-immigrant measures in previous votes. She also listened intently and had questions answered. She had been visibly emotional in previous meetings in her district when undocumented immigrants told their stories of parents deported after being pulled over for a traffic violation. Representative McAsey also voted yes.

In total, 65 lawmakers voted yes after listening to the impassioned debate on the House floor from those opposed and those in favor of the initiative.

Over 400,000 immigrants are deported annually and many such removals are triggered by a routine traffic stop. Anyone apprehended while driving without a license may be booked and brought back to the station where Immigration and Customs Enforcement can put a hold on him/her and begin the deportation process.

Families are torn apart and, as one advocate put it, “we are creating orphans with parents” as U.S. citizen children remain here while one or more of their parents are sent back to their country of origin.

Back in the chamber a gasp of disbelief and elation rang out from the packed public galleries as the final vote flashed up on the electronic screen. Everyone in the chamber knew that history had just been made and the tears followed amid the beaming smiles. For the bill’s supporters, it was a highly-charged crescendo to a long fought campaign.

Immigrant advocates in Illinois had been fighting for this measure for over 13 years. The last time that this proposal came up for a vote in 2007 it was defeated by a handful of votes in the House.

This time around, a strong campaign led by ICIRR and key Irish community leaders built a coalition of supporters who persuaded many legislators to vote in favor.

Key proponents of the bill included Senate President John Cullerton, Representative Eddie Acevedo, Speaker Michael Madigan, House Minority Leader Tom Cross, Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, the Latino Caucus, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Governor Pat Quinn, Former Governor Jim Edgar, Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown, Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran, and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.


“Back in the chamber a gasp of disbelief and elation rang out from the packed public galleries as the final vote flashed up on the electronic screen. Everyone in the chamber knew that history had just been made and the tears followed amid the beaming smiles. For the bill’s supporters, it was a highly-charged crescendo to a long fought campaign.”


This formidable coalition was strengthened by the support of the teachers unions, hospital associations, the labor unions, chambers of commerce, the state police association and the 130 member agencies of ICIRR.

The bill allows any immigrant in Illinois to secure a temporary visitors’ driver’s license if he or she can provide proof of residency in Illinois for the last year, a valid passport or consular ID, and pass all road tests. The license will cost $30 but will appear somewhat different to the regular IL driver’s license. It will be colored purple as opposed to the red of regular licenses.

The TVDL already exists for foreign nationals who are here on student visas or temporary work visas. It will not be valid for proof of identity to board a plane or enter a federal building and will be marked “not valid for identification.” It can, however, be used as a bond card in the event that the holder is pulled over by a police officer and given that it is the same TVDL available to foreign students and visa holders, law enforcement cannot assume that the holder is undocumented.

The Secretary of State estimates that the new licenses move will cost $800,000 in its first year, but even if only 30,000 of the estimated 250,000 undocumented drivers apply and pay the $30 fee, the initiative will be revenue neutral and may even turn a profit. This was a key provision for many lawmakers concerned about the dire fiscal problems faced by the state of Illinois.

Supporters of this bill took a moment to savor its passage, but in true form those committed to immigration reform met just two days after the vote to chart the course ahead for a federal bill to legalize the estimated 12 million undocumented workers in our country. I was among those present who declared that 2013 must be the year that Congress acts.

I believe we should be prepared in this session of Congress to see the same momentum build as in 2007, with large marches here in Chicago and in Washington, D.C. The president has stated that immigration reform will be his top priority after the fiscal cliff and we are ready to mobilize and support him in that endeavor.

The stage has now been set with Illinois’ historic passage of SB 957 and with Republicans in the U.S. Congress mouthing words of compromise on immigration reform – this after an unprecedented Latino voter turn-out in favor of Democrats and their pro-immigrant platform – the signs are good.

The Irish have been center stage in this debate as it has raged throughout the years, and they will continue to punch above their weight to do. As organizer Rebecca Shi of ICIRR said: “whatever it takes.”

That fighting Irish spirit and Celtic tenacity has brought generations of Irish immigrants to these shores in search of a better life and today’s generation deserve no less a chance at the American dream. Today, Irish proponents of immigration reform stand shoulder-to-shoulder with all immigrants in the melting pot spirit that defines what it means to be American.

Times and politics may change, but American ideals do not. SB 957 goes a long way to proving it.


Breandán Magee is the Executive

Director of Chicago Irish Immigrant Support.

Inez McCormack: an appreciation

POSTED ON February 8th  - POSTED IN News & Views


By Vinny McCormack

In 1960 an awkward lanky seventeen-year-old called Inez Murphy left her home in Cultra County Down to work as a junior clerk in the Northern Ireland Civil Service. In spite of her name, she came from a Protestant background. It is a safe bet that her fellow clerks were also almost exclusively Protestant; and a certainty that all at that

lowly level were women.

She was touched by the generosity of her colleagues who encouraged her to continue her education, and went out of their way to secure her access to textbooks for her exams; but she was perplexed that this generosity lay side by side with a contempt and fear for their “disloyal” fellow citizens. Inez was to spend her adult life seeking the generosity in people, and willing it to swamp the bitterness.

At lunch times she would attend ballroom dance classes, until her frugal resources made the choice for her: it was eat or dance, and it was a close run thing.

A cousin of hers was the last RUC officer to die in the 1958-62 campaign of the IRA. She wondered as a teenager what had brought people to kill a lad who had joined the RUC to escape life on the family farm.

In later years, my wife Inez McCormack would laughingly say that she was “the worst civil servant in the world.” Yet her A-levels finally took her to Magee College in Derry in 1964, when the fateful decision to site the North’s second University in Coleraine was taken by the unionist administration. It was her first taste of street politics, and a lesson in the nature of exclusion and abuse of power.

Challenging these were to be themes of her public life.

As her partner, I was to see sides of Inez that were unknown to most others. The awkward teenager had turned into a tall, willowy adult. On Saturdays she would go to Biba Boutique in Chelsea, and in return for modeling she would come home in a Mary Quant dress.

“Every woman should be able to buy a well designed dress for a fiver, and go out on a Saturday and enjoy themselves,” she’d say.

She understood that for women, looking good was an important part of liberation. Cheap, glamorous clothes had to be part of the deal.

On our return to Northern Ireland in late 1968 we found a situation transformed by the burgeoning Civil Rights marches.

“We were living through a historical defining moment,” she wrote many years later.

“Change was in the air, and we were on the move… Change comes about from an assertion, and ownership of the process, by those who most need the change. I am large. I contain multitudes.”


“For many years Inez had a nightshirt that had large wings coming out at the shoulder blades. It said: “Spread your Wings and Fly.” Inez showed more than a generation of women workers to value themselves, and their essential contribution to the health and educational services. She showed them how to spread their wings and fly.”


I have always thought that line could have been written specifically for Inez. She was large in every sense; large in her vision of what was possible, or as she once said, what was “utterly doable now.” The number and variety of causes she gave herself to were remarkable. She recruited members of Irish Language group Glor na nGael into her union, only to find herself confronting the power of the British state, whose attempt to politically vet the organization’s staff was not only illegal but exposed the members to threats to their lives.

Against the odds, she won.

The campaign to demolish Divis Flats showed how Inez enabled poorly educated women to challenge the humiliation of inhuman housing conditions. In that campaign the residents invited Labour MP Peter Archer to meet them. The authorities advised him not to attend, as his safety could not be guaranteed. I recall thinking, as they made their way across the rubble-strewn courtyard to the meeting, that they would make a perfect target for a sniper.

Then there were the union struggles such as the Health Service Strike of 1982; or the role she played in Mary Robinson’s visit to West Belfast in 1993. By ending the isolation of republicans, this paved the way for Sinn Féin to engage in serious talks both internally and externally; and her work in shaping the economic and social elements of the Good Friday Agreement. I recall also her acceptance of the invitation by Irish-American trade unionists to become a signatory of the Sean MacBride Principles of Fair Employment. She accepted only after great thought, and discussion with me. I advised her to accept, as she had exhausted all internal remedies for change. She gave herself to the campaign with her usual selflessness.

What began as a lonely campaign, with Inez vilified at home, but galvanizing Irish-American opinion, ended with President Clinton signing the principles into U.S. law in 1998.

As with all of her struggles, what began as strategic alliances ended by forming deep and abiding friendships, like her friendship with the late Terry Enright, environmental and human rights activist.

The campaigns I have talked about only scratch the surface of her contribution. What they shared was a belief in the innate generosity of people, driven by justice, decency, equality. On our final holiday together she pinned a note to a wishing tree. It said “Love and laughter to my grandchildren.” Her last role, and her greatest and

most cherished: grandmother to Maisie and Jamie.

Once in the mid-seventies we were driving through North Belfast in a dark grim foggy evening. The weather chiming with the bitter times. She asked me to stop the car and disappeared in the direction of a dim light. She came back with a bag of shopping. I asked her what she had got. She said: “Bread, milk and sugar.” I replied we had got them all at home. She said. “I just wanted to give the shop some trade. They looked as if they could be doing with it.”

She felt that she was most effective when operating from behind the scenes. Sometimes she did so in order to protect individuals and groups who might have been at risk had their work with Inez been known. Of threats to her own health and security she was oblivious.

I believe that her remarkable record was only beginning to be recognized recently.

Inez had no religious beliefs; but she was brought up in the Church of Ireland, and she took seriously the Protestant values of individual conscience and personal responsibility. In recent years she addressed quite a number of middle class groups, mainly or exclusively Protestant, and gently reminded them of their responsibility to behave in ways that recognized the dignity of all.

How are we to sum up the many remarkable aspects of such a remarkable woman?

I said that Inez had no religious beliefs. Of course, we share a common religious legacy such as belief in Guardian Angels. In many ways, Inez functioned as a Guardian Angel to many individuals and groups. Her broad back was ready to absorb the blows meant for them.

For many years Inez had a nightshirt that had large wings coming out at the shoulder blades. It said: “Spread your Wings and Fly.” Inez showed more than a generation of women workers to value themselves, and their essential contribution to the health and educational services. She showed them how to spread their wings and fly.

Once I drove Inez to a union meeting for low paid public service employees. After the meeting Inez was energized as if electricity were flowing through her.

“That’s something I love about this job,” she said – “organizing poorly paid women.”

Inez got involved with the trade union movement when she was suspended from her social worker job in West Belfast in 1972 for daring to challenge the way desperately poor people were treated. She had the good fortune to fall in with two male English trade unionists, John Coulthard and Alan Fisher of the National Union of Public Employees. Alan was the head of the union.

He once memorably said: “Inez always tells me what she is doing. I am glad to say she always waits until she has done it.”

Alan did not hesitate to demand her release on a number of occasions when she was arrested by the British Army while on union business. At Inez’s funeral, local writer Nell McCafferty told me a story about Inez’s trade union approach.

She would get Catholic and Protestant women to talk about sex and marriage. Amid ribald laughter, they would soon figure out how much they had in common. Soon laughter would give way to serious consideration of shared experiences of pain, poverty and ill health, and a determination to defend public services with access free to all.

Inez has often been referred to as a “human rights activist” or “equality campaigner” or “trade union leader.” These were true, but she expanded these roles, finding new and original ways to explore the relationship between rights, equality and justice.

All of these flowered in her work over the last five years of her life in the Participation and Practice of Rights organization. She was so proud of the young and talented team engaged in the project. They engaged with those who had been affected by housing and health issues to effectively speak for themselves and present their cases in public forums.

Inez was an essentially private person. Of course, she was flattered when Meryl Streep played her on stage in Broadway – and she milked the publicity for all it was worth in her pursuit of equality and participation.

Inez died in her seventieth year. In those years she showed us how to live. And in her last illness, with the help of staff at the Foyle Hospice in her adopted home of Derry, she showed us how to die.

Ali meets Fighting Irishmen in Phoenix

POSTED ON February 8th  - POSTED IN News & Views


By Irish Echo Staff

It will be a winning combination. Boxing legend Muhammad Ali will this week pay tribute to Irish boxers of yore at the McClelland Irish Library in Phoenix, Arizona.

Ali will be on hand to help open the Phoenix phase of the globally touring “Fighting Irishmen” exhibit at the library which is housed at the city’s Irish Cultural Center.

Ali’s maternal great-grandfather, Abe Grady, was born in County Clare, and immigrated to the U.S. in the 1860s. The “greatest” was, in recent years, honored by Grady’s home town of Ennis.

The Fighting Irishmen exhibit, created by New York real estate company owner, James J. Houlihan, first opened in 2006 at the Irish Arts Center in Manhattan, the venue for which it was first specifically created.

The exhibit explores the contributions of Irish amateur and professional boxers over the last 200 years, and features a treasure trove of gloves, robes, posters and a myriad of artifacts.

The exhibit was moved in 2007 to the South Street Seaport Museum in lower Manhattan. In 2008, it was featured at the John Burns Library at Boston College, and in 2009 the exhibit traveled across the Atlantic and appeared in the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh, County Tyrone. In 2010, the exhibit was on display at Croke Park at the GAA Museum in Dublin and by 2011 it was at the Sports Arena at the University of Limerick.

The Phoenix exhibit will run through May on Tuesdays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Wednesdays 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. plus additional times to be announced.

The opening reception will honor Muhammad Ali as well as local boxing officials and celebrities.Special guests include Bob O’Neill, Boston College Burns Library; exhibit curator Jim Houlihan, and Dennis O’Connell, executive director of the Arizona Boxing & MMA Commission. Jimmy Walker, chairman and founder of the Celebrity Fight Night Foundation, will acknowledge Ali and his wife. Head Librarian Chas Moore and library founder Norman McClelland will also be on hand for the opening which will include a video tribute to Ali and the Irish family roots of his great-grandfather, who grew up in Ennis, a sister city of Phoenix.

There are a number of items in the exhibit from Ali who fought, and won, at Croke Park in Dublin in 1972 and was honored in Ennis in 2009. the exhibit will include an array of robes, gloves, boxing bags, prints, photographs, painting and film footage of Celtic prize-fighters from 1820 to the present day.

Objects on display will include pieces from sporting greats such as John L. Sullivan, Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, Barry McGuigan, Freddie Gilroy, Bobby Cassidy, Gerry Cooney, Wayne McCullough, Billy Graham, Billy Conn, Frank Moran, John Duddy, Maureen Shea and many more.

Ballymena-born actor Liam Neeson, honorary chair and long-time supporter of the Irish Arts Center, has also loaned personal items from his amateur boxing career to the exhibit, including the gloves given to him by Olympic boxer Freddie Gilroy.

The mission of the Irish Cultural Center in Phoenix is to provide a link between the people of Arizona and the people of Ireland and other Celtic cultures.

Programs, classes, festivals, exhibitions and special events are offered in history, music, art, dance, literature, drama, crafts, language, travel, sports and traditional activities.

The center campus includes the Great Hall, cottage, gift shop, famine memorial and now the McClelland Irish Library, which opened in October 2012 after more than five years of planning.

The three-story building, which is modeled after an Irish castle, houses a book and periodical collection with several reading rooms, archive, genealogy research centre, classroom, board room, exhibition gallery and an permanent exhibition of the Book of Kells. The Academy of Irish and Celtic Studies is housed in the lower level of the building.

The center and library are owned by the City of Phoenix and operated through public-private partnership with the Irish Cultural and Learning Foundation, Inc., a non-profit corporation.

More on the library at and on the enter at For future Fighting Irishmen exhibit hosting opportunities, contact James Houlihan, Houlihan-Parnes Realtors (914)694-6070 or

World changes forever in one night

POSTED ON February 7th  - POSTED IN IE, News & Views

The life of frequent Irish Echo contributor Patrick Fenton and his family was turned upside down by Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 29. In this essay in diary format, he recounts his experience in the weeks after Hurricane Sandy hit.


I live right next to a wide canal in Massapequa, Long Island. Just a few feet from it. On maps it’s called the Massapequa River. It makes a short turn around a wide bend and flows into the Great South Bay, which is just around the corner from me. I’m a long way from the Irish, working-class tenements of Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn where I grew up in the late 1940s and into the ‘50s.

The storm grabbed me by the neck and totally destroyed the first floor of the high ranch I own. Massive destruction everywhere. My daughter Kelly and my grandson Miguel live there. Five feet of water in the streets, cars floating everywhere with lights flashing, boats thrown around on lawns like kids’ toys. Everything is gone, and now the first floor has been stripped down to the bare studs by a contractor. Every stove, washer refrigerator, beds, boiler, furniture gone. It’s all out on the front lawn now.

Over three feet of water came rushing in from both sides of the house, front and back and turned over the refrigerator and every piece of furniture. If we hadn’t evacuated hastily the night before we could have died there. After a midnight check of the bulk head outside my door I saw the water starting to slowly pour over it. It gave me an awful feeling and I knew right away that we were in trouble.

I walked up the block to the corner and I watched the water coming up from the sewers and starting to come more and more down our block, Neptune Place. It was like an eerie scene from a movie. I got my wife and daughter, who were in their pajamas moving, and told them we have to leave tonight. Right now. Don’t hesitate. I called the Best Western on Sunrise Highway. They had two rooms left for the night and they would hold them for us.

The neighborhood looks like a war zone at night now, convoys of Army helicopters flying low over the canal, darkness everywhere, a Military Police truck moving through the street. For 18 nights we were without gas, electricity, heat. We tried staying on the second floor for three nights, reading books by candle light, but it got so cold even with four blankets on, we had to leave again.

“John,” one of the neighbors who rode it out, and regretted it, says he saw a 40-foot boat come out of the Great South Bay and float down our street, and then when the tide finally started to release Sandy’s grip on us, it simply swirled around and sailed back out to God knows where. All of these tough canal people who have lived next to the canals for generations and look out at storms with a glass of scotch in hand and a concerned stare before bedding down had their world changed forever this night. But they’re strong people, and they see life through their own eyes.


“John, one of the neighbors who rode it out, and regretted it, says he saw a 40-foot boat come out of the Great South Bay and float down our street, and then when the tide finally started to release Sandy’s grip on us, it simply swirled around and sailed back out to God knows where.”


As the water rose higher and higher in the street and started to flow in through his front door, John retreated to the highest floor in the house and watched as he saw a scene he had to hope he would never ever witness again in his lifetime. He watched from his window as two huge trees on the side of my house got felled and made an awful sound as they took up huge slabs of my concrete, leaving behind two 16-foot root balls and craters and crushed boats, and fences. He said they went down about midnight.

At the same time a full-size Boston Whaler was being tipped over and dumped off of the bulk head in front of my house, whole entire docks, two of them with three tied up ski jets on them were ripped away and pulled across the canal, boats and all. For days after the hurricane huge wooden docks would come floating down our canal.


Dropped into Vonnegut


I have been living in three different places since it hit. We made it out the first night to the Best Western on Sunrise Highway at about midnight. First night there a huge utility pole fell on the hotel and we were without lights, heat, hot showers again. They didn’t have a generator. After two nights of this, we moved again.

I’m living in a basement in North Massapequa right now, and have been spending my days calling insurance adjusters, contractors, FEMA. I have flood insurance so after a long while I should be okay. I told my daughter that I will rebuild better than ever, and we will. And I’ll figure that out. But it’s going to take time.

We are all okay — Kelly my daughter doing such great work getting us signed up for assistance, my wife the same, but we have seen a lot of things, disaster scenes, nobody should have to see or live through. I spent one cold afternoon in a disaster tent city set up by FEMA in Cedar Creek Park in next door Seaford to check on my application for FEMA assistance. Waiting on cold metal chairs with a group of other people for my name to be called. And wondering how I wound up here.  It’s like someone picked me up from my normal world of writing and hanging out, and dropped me from the sky here into the gloomy world of a Kurt Vonnegut novel. “So it goes.”

It was a huge, white circus-type tent with rows and rows of long, portable tables with phones on them   hooked up to FEMA’s computers, portable heaters blowing through the coldness of the tent. And outside rows and rows of mobile insurance trailers were lined up under the gray sky, Red Cross trucks giving hot meals and blankets to those who needed them. And off on a hill at the back of the park, shower trailers and trailers where you could do some laundry. The misery and loneliness on the faces of the people coming in and out of that tent is something I will never forget. It humbles you.

But my creative strength is coming back, and that’s a good thing. So is my sense of humor. Every now an then when my daughter Kelly accomplishes something new for us with FEMA or some other disaster agency and we are settled down by candle light for the night with a glass of wine, I turn to her and say, “you’re doing a heck of a job, Brownie.” I say the same thing to my wife Patricia and we all smile.

I walked down my block the other day in late evening, and I took a few pictures of refrigerators and personal belongings spray painted with messages for FEMA. Maybe for a story when I get my feet back on the ground, I thought. And then I thought, it’s coming back, the need and urge to write, to be creative. To record. And it made me feel good inside.

In the beginning, Kelly said to me, “I know you will write about this, Dad. I know it.” Not now I won’t, I told her. I just can’t think about writing now. It hurts too much.


Continues on page 17


Continued from page 16


At first strange, scary stories of destruction were coming in, rumors then. But most of them turned out to be true or very close to it. One night I walked out in the darkness to stand on the balcony of the hotel and drink a can of Budweiser, and a tall, blond woman in her 50s was standing there smoking a cigarette and staring out at the pitch black night. She lived in the next shore town over from mine she said, Seaford, a mostly working-class hamlet where Irish families have lived in the same small capes next to the canals for generations. Many of their houses were converted summer bungalows. On weekends and special family events like Holy Communions and Catholic Confirmations they celebrate in the White Whale Restaurant on the side of one of the canals. And I wonder if it’s still there now.

What do you here? I asked her. She had a cell phone that was actually working. Ours wasn’t, and the hotel phones were all dead. “I heard that the height of the water in the streets is now over five feet, and it’s rising. It’s going to go over six feet. It is. There are no more boats in Seaford,” she said. “They’re all gone now and nobody knows where they went, probably out to the Great South Bay.” True or partly true, her last statement sounding so sure, put a cold chill in me, a profound sadness.


Stories coming in


I can’t ever bear to listen to the stories or see the pictures of what happened to the Rockaways, to Long Beach, to Staten Island, to Gerritson Beach in Brooklyn . And the total destruction of Breezy Point, left to look like Dresden now after the war. And all that beauty gone now, the beauty of the two-mile boardwalk of Jones Beach, and Long Beach, ripped up and looking like a roller coaster now. And memories come rushing back of drinking summer beers on the Rockaway Boardwalk when I was young and slow dancing with Irish nurses in Fitzgerald’s bar on 108th Street to Tommy Edward’s “It’s All in the Game,” so safe then in their arms.


“We were first generation Irish stock whose roots started in places like the city of Galway where my father was born in an attached house on the Long Walk, a fishing village, and my grandmother was a fisher woman. Tough Irish who lived off the sea.”


And the White House bar drinking with Jacky Malone from Windsor Terrace, and the Irish Circle.  It seemed like we were always laughing then, so young, so hopeful of our futures. And why wouldn’t we be? We were educated in Windsor Terrace’s Holy Name parochial school, and we were educated on the streets of 17th Street and 9th Avenue.

And we were first generation Irish stock whose roots started in places like the city of Galway where my father was born in an attached house on the Long Walk, a fishing village, and my grandmother was a fisher woman. Tough Irish who lived off the sea. Some, like my grandfather,  died from it. They even had their own “Fisher King” who watched the markets each morning where the woman sold fish. And my mother lived in a thatched cottage with a house full of kids on a pig farm in nearby Willamstown, a small farming village that didn’t get electricity until the mid 1950s when she was long gone to America’s Brooklyn.

Stories coming in from as far away as Spring Lake, New Jersey, now, another “Irish Riviera.” They’re from my first cousin Jo Ann McGuirk and her husband Eddy. “The board walk is all gone now,” she says. It’s a huge pile, a mountain of summer memories and loss, pushed together next to the Jersey Shore by pay loaders. Yesterday as I was driving alone down Merrick Road the Billy Joel song came on with the lyrics, “Seen the lights go out on Broadway, I saw the Empire State laid low..”, and I had to bite hard on my lip not to cry.

After it all happened, one of my first thoughts was, I want to be in a safe place again. I thought about how great it would be to stand in Farrell’s Bar on 16th Street in the old neighborhood, beer in hand, talking to Jacky Malone, a retired cop that I grew up with on 17th Street. He never left the neighborhood. And some afternoons you’ll find him still standing down next to the side entrance of the bar where we drank together so long ago when we were young. And as soon as I get my feet back on the ground, I’m going to rush right back there and do that. It’s always home there for me, always home.



Massive hunt after Garda is gunned down

POSTED ON February 5th  - POSTED IN News & Views


By Sean Lehane

A massive manhunt continues in Ireland this week after a Garda detective was ruthlessly gunned down outside Dundalk, County Louth during a robbery of money being moved from a credit union to a bank.

Garda Adrian Donohoe was shot in the head as he and a colleague approached the robbery gang. The detectives had been escorting the money shipment. The shooting took place after dark. Detective Donohoe was armed but reportedly had not drawn his weapon when he was shot.

The shooting took place during a robbery of Lordship Credit Union in Bellurgan, Jenkinstown. The thieves got away with just €4,000 and left €40,00 at the scene.

The money was part of a cash collection from four credit unions in the area which Donohoe and his colleague were escorting to be deposited in a bank in Dundalk.

Gardaí say that at least four men were involved in the robbery. The gang members were armed with a shotgun, handgun and hammer; they had their faces covered and were wearing tracksuits. A car found burned out in South Armagh across the border is thought to have been the getaway car.

Detective Garda Donohoe’s widow Caroline and two brothers also serve in the force. He leaves behind a son and daughter. Local Gardaí have returned early from leave to help catch the killers.

Detectives are working on the theory that the robbery was carried out by criminals and not dissident republicans.

The gang blocked the exit of the credit union car park and shot Garda Donohoe, 41, in the head when he got out of his car. Detective Garda Joe Ryan was held at gunpoint while the robbery took place.

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan said there were up to four people involved in the raid.

“How many were involved beyond that will remain to be seen,” he said. “We will put all our energy into finding out precisely who was behind this robbery.

“It is too early to speculate whether there was a subversive element to this or whether they are ordinary criminals.”

TD for County Louth, Gerry Adams, condemned the killing.

“I am shocked at this crime. I extend my deepest sympathies to his family and colleagues and appeal to those with information about this crime to co-operate with the gardaí.”

The funeral of Detective Garda Donohoe will take place in Dundalk on Wednesday.

The parish priest of Lordship and Ballymascanlon said the community is still in shock with what happened.


Historic evening

POSTED ON February 5th  - POSTED IN News & Views



By Peter McDermott

The quiet conversations in the line outside St. Brigid’s were mainly in Spanish. Then a teenage choir member bounded towards an open side door.  “If you can’t get in,” she shouted in English to a friend behind her, “call me!”

Most waiting on Sunday evening wondered if they would be in the congregation for St. Brigid’s reopening Mass. The crowd was huge around the corner on 8th Street.

Ed Torres, an usher before the church was closed in 2001 and a prominent activist in the campaign to save it, emerged from the front door to reassure people: “You will all be let in momentarily,” he said.

When a reporter relayed this message to Sonia Maldanado on 8th Street, she said: “I hope so.”  Her children were baptized in the historic church on Avenue B, and made their first communions and were confirmed there.

New Jersey-based author and academic Christine Kinealy said she came in for the opening because of its links to the Famine but also because “it’s such a great story to hear that it was rescued and restored.”

Gina Sheehan, Carmel McCarthy and Alice Sullivan were there from the LAOH, Div. 6. “The biggest question we’ve been discussing is: who is the donor?” said one of them. “I’d like to meet him and marry him,” said another.

Madeline (De Martino) De Amicis came in from Staten Island with her husband John. Her parents were married there as were her aunts and uncles, and a grandparent founded the Holy Name Society.

Mike Guedes, who was in line holding a toddler, had came down from Putnam County. His mother-in-law is a parishioner at St. Emeric’s, which was merging officially with the new St. Brigid’s. Was he confident of getting in with his family? “We’ll see what happens,” he said.

Bridget and James Cagney from Woodside started lighting candles in St. Brigid’s after they arrived in America in 1967. “I was so excited last night, I couldn’t sleep,” Bridget Cagney said. “Even if we don’t get in, just to experience this is wonderful.”

“That’s a good way to look at it,” said Guedes, who was standing in front of her.

In the end, everyone did get in, filling the 650-capacity building. They were delighted with what they saw and experienced. Those who had campaigned to save the church were so overjoyed that they weren’t too bothered by what one described as the official “Soviet-style rewriting of St. Brigid’s history.”

“It was lovely,” was the most commonly heard summation of the Mass and the evening.

Home after cheating death in Algeria

POSTED ON January 30th  - POSTED IN News & Views


By Anthony Neeson

A Belfast man who survived last week’s Algerian hostage crisis has returned home to his family.

Stephen McFaul (36) from Andersonstown in the west of the city had explosives strapped to his neck during his captivity when Islamist militants took over the gas plant where he worked in In Amenas.

Releasing a statement through the Police Service of Northern Ireland on Monday night, McFaul said his thoughts were with those who died. Latest figures suggest at least 37 foreign hostages from eight different countries were killed during the four day operation to free those held.

Mr. McFaul escaped from his captors on the second day of the hostage drama.

His break for freedom happened after Semtex explosives were strapped to the Belfast man and several other hostages, this before they were put in a number of four wheel drive vehicles by their captors.

When this convoy tried to leave the compound Algerian attack helicopters opened fire with guns and rockets.

Mr. McFaul later told his family that four vehicles were hit by the bombardment. His own crashed, allowing him and others to escape.

Brian McFaul said his brother phoned his wife Angela as soon as he was released to tell her he was safe and had been taken to a secure location.

“She said: ‘Stephen’s free, he’s going to phone the house here, now’.”

“At this stage we don’t know how he gained his freedom, whether he was let go or he escaped.”

He said Stephen’s 13-year-old son Dylan went through a lot during the hours of his father’s captivity.

“He found it hard to sleep and was worrying. The poor child went through a lot for somebody his age for the past 48 hours. It has been hard for us all, not knowing from one moment to the next whether he was still alive or not.”

Brian McFaul said the family had received support from the Irish government’s Department of Foreign Affairs Department and Sinn Féin West Belfast MP, Paul Maskey.

Tánasite Eamon Gilmore said: “I am extremely thankful and relieved to learn that the Irish national who was a hostage in Algeria has made contact with his family and is safe.

“I spoke with his family yesterday, and I know how relieved they will be that he is well after his ordeal. This is the news that we all wanted to hear. At the same time, my thoughts are with the other oil-field workers who are caught up in this terrible situation and with their families who are also waiting for news at this difficult time.

West Belfast MP, Paul Maskey, said he was delighted that Stephen was free.

“There is huge relief that he is safe and well. He has been very much in the thoughts and prayers of the West Belfast community who will also be delighted with this good news. Our thoughts are with the other hostages’ families and especially those that have lost loved ones throughout the whole episode.

“The McFaul family are now looking forward to having him home and want to thank everyone for their support, best wishes and prayers.”



Al Smith IV dons his sash

POSTED ON January 30th  - POSTED IN News & Views


By Ray O’Hanlon

Alfred E. Smith IV was installed as Grand Marshal of the 252nd annual New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Thursday evening of last week at a ceremony in the New York Athletic Club in Manhattan.

Smith used the opportunity to pay homage to his great grandfather Al Smith, four-term New York governor, U.S. presidential candidate and the parade grand marshal in 1925.

Describing his famed great grandfather as a man who was a friend to everyone, the 2013 grand marshal thanked all in the room for the honor bestowed on him and said he was greatly looking forward to leading this year’s parade, which will take place on Saturday, March 16 – this as the New York march never takes place on a Sunday.

“I am honored to follow in my great grandfather’s footsteps leading the Irish community up Fifth Avenue on March 16th in what is known as the greatest parade in the world,” said Smith.     Fourteen aides to the grand marshal for this year’s parade were also introduced and honored at the installation.

Cardinal Edward Egan, grand marshal in 2002, began the ceremony with an invocation; Dr. John Lahey, vice chairman of the parade and president of Quinnipiac University, introduced all of the honored guests, while Hilary Beirne, chairman of the St Patrick’s Day Foundation, and executive secretary of the parade committee, addressed the audience concerning the establishment of the fundraising foundation and outlined some of the future aspirations for the parade.

Parade committee chairman, John Dunleavy, presented Mr. Smith with the official grand marshal’s Sash on an evening that also included an address to the gathering by Irish Consul General in New York, Noel Kilkenny.

The parade, which this year will be dedicated to the Covenant House children’s charity, starts at 44th Street and proceeds to 79th Street on Fifth Avenue. It will step off on March 16 at 11 a.m.




POSTED ON January 30th  - POSTED IN News & Views


Frank McCourt, in the wake of his success with “Angela’s Ashes,” felt that any Irish person who fails to jot down his or her story was beyond an eejit.

So what are you waiting for?

I didn’t set out to write my own memoir, “Green Suede Shoes.” Truth is, I was having problems following-up a mildly successful novel when my publisher suggested that I throw a few stories around a dozen Black 47 songs and use the result as a stop-gap.

One thing led to another and after a couple of tales I found myself shoveling through the murky past trying to make sense of an un-sensible life. Unbeknownst, however, I had overcome the first major hurdle to all memoir writing – where to begin?

Right at the beginning, says you! Fair enough, but it’s a rough old trek uphill when your first sentence is, “I was born in the back streets of Ballyhaunis” or “I drew my first breath in Brooklyn.”

I would suggest that you don the old thinking cap and hone in on the first event in your life that continues to have an ongoing effect on you. I was lucky in that I had already written a song, “Life’s Like That, Isn’t It,” about waiting with my mother for my father’s return home from sea.

It was a beautiful summer morning and as the three of us walked up the Main Street of old Wexford town I heard a long lonely trumpet note and a few steps later saw a guitar in a shop window. Crazy as it may seem, I might not be writing this had it not been for that morning stroll.

I bet something similar happened in your life; you just have to dig deeply enough. If you already know then it’s time you got out the pen and paper or fired up the computer.

You’ll be amazed at what you’ll uncover. The revelations will be painful, joyous, humbling and even hilarious, but they will never be less than interesting, especially as you veer off on tangents you had forgotten existed.

Things will begin to make sense; now and then you’ll even find that adjustments can be made to your current compass, moral and otherwise.

One dilemma you’ll hit early on: how truthful should you be, for full disclosure will hurt many of those around you – and is unvarnished truth worth the pain you’ll cause?

I don’t think so; besides you’ll be up to your neck dealing with the truth about yourself. To paraphrase Pete Seeger – what you leave out may improve what you decide to leave in.

Now you may consider that you have no writing skills to speak of and you may be right. But I guarantee that by the time you get to the end of your story your penmanship will have improved markedly, and you will look at other writers with a new appreciation.

On the other hand, the very slow, methodical act of writing will cause you to question facts that you have always taken for granted. Memory is, indeed, subjective; and anyway, even in autobiography one should never let awkward details get in the way of a good tale. A little seasoning only adds to the stew.

You may never write an “Angela’s Ashes” but you will tell your story – and even more importantly – leave an account of your family history. How many times have you heard the lament – “if only I had asked my parents or grandparents while they were alive?”

In this age of haste and anxiety we have barely time to ask the time of day, and God save us if the jolting vapidity of Facebook and Twitter become the sole narrative of our family history.

Maybe Frank McCourt wasn’t referring to fame or money at all when he declared that every Irish person should write a memoir. Perhaps he meant that in the act of confronting our lives we simply leave an echo of our times for those who come behind us.

Groups still pressing in BC case

POSTED ON January 30th  - POSTED IN News & Views

By Irish Echo Staff

Against the backdrop of President’s Obama’s new term and the new Congress, the coalition of Irish-American groups to the fore in the Boston College archives case is, according to a statement, “vigorously pursuing their three year campaign to convince Attorney General Eric H. Holder and Secretary of State Clinton that the British request for Irish records at Boston College is wrong.’

The request “constitutes a violation of the U.S.-U.K. Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, violates American values of justice, contradicts British assurances and undermines the Irish peace process which is the settled public policy of three U.S presidents,” said the leaders of the AOH, IAUC and Brehon Law Society.

“We recognize that Britain is a valued partner in the investigation and prosecution of major money laundering, drug trafficking and terrorist crimes. This request, however, for records in Boston College, and presumably in aid of a 1972 criminal investigation that never happened, is a misuse of MLAT and an abuse of American goodwill and trust,” stated Ancient Order of Hibernians National President, Brendan Moore.

Robert Dunne, President of the Brehon Law Society added: “Just last month Prime Minister Cameron described the Police Service of northern Ireland collaboration with loyalist terrorists in 1989 to kill attorney Patrick Finucane as “shocking” and “appalling”. This is the police force that has requested these subpoenas. Until the re-hiring of retired PSNI officers (some of whom may well have been in on the collusion to kill Finucane), the PSNI had shown more transparency and professionalism. This request suggests the ‘bad old days’ have returned.”

The President of the Irish-American Unity Conference, Thomas J. Burke Jr., who is an attorney based in Denver, observed: “The ‘special relationship’ invariably comes under the most stress and closest scrutiny when Britain’s actions or inaction in Ireland are involved.

But this episode is purely an American issue. We are asking Mr. Holder not to rubber stamp the request, but to scrutinize more carefully the purposes of MLAT and to engage in a more in depth dialogue with the Department of State as MLAT provides.”

Litigation involving the researchers of the Belfast Project and Boston College in opposition to the request of Attorney General Holder argues not only that this request is a misuse of MLAT, but that important constitutionally protected academic and journalistic freedoms are also involved. A Writ of Certiorari is currently being reviewed in the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.

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