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‘Pillow’ examines love, betrayal, trust

POSTED ON February 9th  - POSTED IN News & Views

Pillow CarolRosegg

Jacqueline Kealy, John McConnell and Brona Crehan in “Pillow on the Stairs” at the Cell Theatre this month. [Click on image for larger view.]


By Peter McDermott

After readings and workshop tryouts in 2014, all of the advice offered to playwright Brona Crehan could be boiled down to: “Do a full staging.”

Now, an off-Broadway production of her “Pillow on the Stairs” is at hand. Crehan herself will play one of the three roles at the Cell Theatre on West 23rd Street from Feb. 11 through Feb. 28, alongside Jacqueline Kealy and John McConnell.

“What follows creates a web of secrets and denials that binds this trio of ordinary, flawed individuals together for a lifetime,” announces the publicist’s handout about the subject matter, adding that it’s an “intimate story about love, loyalty, betrayal, and trust.”

The Dublin-born playwright said the starting point for the John Keating-directed play is: “Ever wonder what your life would be like if you had made one decision differently?”

“People have been very enthusiastic and supportive,” Crehan added.

“I’m wearing a number of hats. I’m producing and all that goes with that,” said the married mother of 8-year-old and soon to be 6-year-old sons. “It’s been quite a learning experience.

“I’ve surprised myself with fundraising,” she said. “I’ve never liked to ask for money.”

But she was impressed with the philosophy of the Irish Arts Center’s Pauline Turley, who said: “If you don’t ask the question, the answer is always going to be no.”

Actors Kealy and McConnell did not say “no” to Crehan when she came calling. She knows the pair, who are husband and wife, going back to 1996 when they were on stage in “The Lobby,” written by fellow Dublin-born playwright, Don Creedon. She was also introduced to another of the production’s actors Dave Davitt, who later became her husband.

“So, Don has a lot to answer for,” Crehan deadpanned

Performance of “Pillow on the Stairs” are, beginning Feb. 11, on Wednesdays, Thursday and Fridays at 7 p.m., with an additional performance on Saturday, Feb. 28. Tickets are $30, available at 800-838-3006 or

Can Hollywood handle the truth?

POSTED ON February 4th  - POSTED IN News & Views

Between the Lines / By Peter McDermott

lbj, mlk

Lyndon Johnson with Dr. Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders in 1964. [Click on image for larger view.]



A friend emailed from Ireland recently to say: “I was looking forward to seeing Tom Wilkinson’s portrayal of LBJ. I don’t think I’ll bother now.”

He directed me to a blog at the New York Review of Books penned by Elizabeth Drew. “By distorting an essential truth about the relationship between Lyndon Johnson and Dr. Martin Luther King over the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” she wrote, “‘Selma’ has opened a very large and overdue debate over whether and how much truth the movie industry owes to the public.”

My friend, being passionate about both history and politics as well as intellectually serious, believes it owes it a lot.

Drew continued: “The clear implication is that Johnson was opposed to a voting rights bill, period, and that he had to be persuaded by King. This story has now been propagated to millions of viewers, to the point where young people in movie houses boo Johnson’s name.

“But there was no struggle. This is pure fiction,” she said.

Drew wrote what some consider the best book ever on Watergate – “Washington Journal,” first published in 1974 when she was 39, and reissued by Overlook Press last summer. As a meticulous political commentator with a long memory, her criticism of historical inaccuracy carries some weight. She had this to say in the same blog post about a work telling the story of a series of encounters that took place in 1977. “Both the play and the movie ‘Frost/Nixon’ base the plot on a historical falsehood: Nixon agonizingly utters a confession he didn’t make; in fact it turns what he actually said on its head by leaving out some crucial works.”

Two decades ago, Anthony Summers, the County Waterford-based author of a much admired book about the Kennedy assassination, “Conspiracy,” took exception to Oliver Stone’s “JFK.” He said that the director could have made just as fine a movie by sticking to the facts.

Stone, though, has a peculiar relationship with facts. Interviewed on Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now” at the time of the 50th anniversary, he made two ridiculously contradictory statements about the Zapruder film, which Goodman failed to call him on.

I’ll admit that I can be a bore sometimes about such things. Recently, when I raised my issues about Stone’s version with someone who writes about cinema, he said: “Yeah, but ‘JFK’ is a bloody great film.” And many believe the same thing about Alan Parker’s “Mississippi Burning,” which at the time of its release in 1988, a Time magazine columnist labeled a “cinematic lynching of the truth.”

Movie people, when defending their treatment of historical material, say that they are not documentarians, which is the position of “Selma” director Ava DuVernay. When you’re telling a real story, you’ve got to be creative, they say.

Then, there are those who feel that when telling a fictional story, you have to get real. James Joyce, for example, would often contact his connections back home to ask about some detail or other when writing “Ulysses.” You could see he’d have made a hard-core American Civil War reenactor, obsessing about buttons and threads and ensuring that the correct regional foods be consumed before a “battle.”

One could imagine, too, Joyce enjoying the atmospheric “Lincoln,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis, at least until being tripped up by some inaccuracy or other. It might be the moment when the president is introduced to two wounded soldiers, one of whom is called Kevin.

“Kevin?” he’d shriek.

There are 2,731 male Kevins listed in the 1940 U.S. Census, a small fraction of the number around today. But, the 1860 U.S. Census lists precisely four. Three of them, to be sure, were Irish immigrants of military age, and the fourth a baby, but it’s not a name any self-regarding reenactor would choose.

So, everyone has his or her own ideas about authenticity. DuVernay’s film is about history from below. She is not interested in another white-man-as-savior story. And so LBJ is a composite stand-in for all the well-meaning liberal politicians, including JFK, who dragged their heels on voting rights.

Amy Davidson of the New Yorker is among those who has defended DuVernay. “Her film is fair to Johnson; the portrayal is multifaceted and respectful,” Davidson wrote in a blog, “and fully cognizant of his essential commitment to civil rights. What ‘Selma’ is not, though, is cartoonish or deferential. Is that, again, the problem?”

Indeed, is it even possible to be “fair” to a complex, large-than-life figure like LBJ? Robert Caro has written four volumes so far of his “The Years of Lyndon Johnson” (he has yet to reach the events of Selma) and you might think he’s the last word on the 36th president. But not everybody finds his psychoanalytical take on him so compelling. Caro might respond – in the manner of DuVernay and most authors and filmmakers in the same position – “There’s just no pleasing some people.”


An artist in new surroundings

POSTED ON February 4th  - POSTED IN News & Views

breezy point

“Breezy Point” by Lisa O’Donnell, 2014, oil on board, 48 inches x 36 inches [Click on image for larger view.]

Clifden, Co. Galway, artist Lisa O’Donnell moved from London to New York in the summer of 2014 to research material for her art practice and to complete a three-month residency at New York Artist and Residency Foundation (NARS) in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. In this piece she recounts her experiences and explains the background to one important outcome of her time in the city, “Trasatlantcha,” her collaborative project with New York artist Maeve D’Arcy, which opens next week at the Irish Arts Center.

After three years living in London where I completed my Master of Fine Art at Central Saint Martins, I found myself on a path to New York. It seemed to be a natural progression from the work I had been making in London where I made paintings based on archived photographs and film footage relating to the Irish in London during the 1970s and ‘80s. The 1980s became the focus because many of my relatives had moved to London in that period and shared stories and experiences with me. Also on the MFA course I met New York artist Maeve D’Arcy who influenced my decision to develop the work about New York when she recommended an abundance of information and resources to research.

The move to New York was initially quite a shock to the system. Life as an artist and newbie to the city offered many challenges and new experiences — some good, some bad, some mad. But, I think it is important for people, especially artists, to force themselves out of their comfort zones and into new surroundings where they are faced with an array of experiences that develop them personally and creatively.

I spent the summer months before the residency collecting images, information and general research that served as the starting point and subject matter for the paintings created during the residency at NARS. I collected source material from the archives of The American Irish Historical Society and this newspaper. I am interested in the possibility that paintings are more effective than documentary photographs when interpreting history and memory. I explore how painting can represent these blurred and fragmented subjects, in this instance, relating to the “New Irish” in New York during the 1980s and early ‘90s. I narrowed it down to this period as it seems to be the last significant period of immigration. I tend to focus on smaller stories and images that reflect the social and cultural tendencies of the time. I steer clear of overly political images, not because I feel them unrelated or uninteresting, but because I don’t want to make sensational paintings. Also I feel these “smaller” more personal images/stories can be just as representative of political and serious issues of the time. The idea of the personal as well as collective memory and experience is important. I am interested in how these black and white documentary images can be raised from the archives and explored and transformed in a poetic way through painting.

The residency at NARS offered me an invaluable period of time and studio space to develop my work as well as the opportunity to be surrounded by many talented artists from New York and all over the world. The program offered professional development through panel discussions, artist talks and regularly scheduled studio visits with New York art professionals. We had the chance to meet with curators, critics, art historians, and gallerists to discuss our work in an intimate setting. During the residency I participated in a group exhibition at the NARS gallery and also a spoken word exhibition curated by Alessandro Facente who is the special projects curator at NARS.

New York similarly to London has many challenges artists have to face: how to support themselves financially; how to find one’s place and keep it, in a city and society that is constantly and rapidly confronted by gentrification and marginalization. None the less, artists, and creative people searching for motivation, inspiration and opportunity are drawn to New York’s energy despite the obstacles. The world class museums and galleries are on a par with London but there is something unique about New York and how art is extremely concentrated in certain areas: the rows of galleries in Chelsea, the clusters in the Lower East Side or Bushwick or Long Island City. Also, I found a really great spirit of do-it-yourself among the artists I have met in New York, whether it is organizing their own exhibitions, critique groups, talks, happenings or creating new audiences for their work. This is something I found really invigorating and it induced great momentum in my practice.

The results of the project will be on show in “Trasatlantcha,” a two-person exhibition with Maeve at the Irish Arts Center in New York from next Tuesday evening through April 2015. The premise of this exhibition consists not only of the physical work on show but the idea of bringing together two artists from two different places with two different experiences of the diaspora, exploring their associated histories and memories through their separate visual-art practices. Conversations about transience and their overlapping have been central to their dialogue, hence it is particularly poignant that this show will travel from New York to Ireland for the Clifden Arts Festival in September 2015.

“Trasatlantcha,” by Maeve D’Arcy and Lisa O’Donnell opened on Feb. 3 at the Irish Arts Center, 553 West 51 St., New York. Jonathan Goodman, a professor of Pratt Institute, moderated a discussion with the two artists at the opening. Gallery viewings by appointment Monday-Friday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 212-757-3318.


New Orleans fundraising for wounded Garda

POSTED ON January 29th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

Hanrahan jpg






By Irish Echo Staff

The Irish American community in New Orleans is rallying to the aid of Brian Hanrahan, the Limerick-based Garda who was shot and seriously wounded in a mugging in the city early Tuesday.

Garda Hanrahan is recovering from his wounds in hospital and has been visited by Ireland’s Honorary Consul in the city, Judge James McKay.

McKay is also a member of the National Board of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the AOH is among those organization now spearheading a fundraising drive for Garda Hanrahan.

“Regrettably, Garda Hanrahan met a criminal element in our city. I am pleased that he is now meeting the compassion and support for which the Irish community in New Orleans is world-renowned,” Judge McKay said in a release Thursday.

In addition to the Hibernians, the New Orleans Emerald Society and Irish Network New Orleans are involved in the fundraising effort.

On Sunday, Feb. 1, there will be a fundraiser at the Irish House on St. Charles Avenue, while donations can also be made to the AOH Police Officer Fund, PO Box 19569, New Orleans, LA 70179-0569.

Garda Hanrahan, 31, is being treated in the intensive care unit at University Hospital after surgery to remove a bullet in his back. His wife, Emma, has flown to New Orleans to be with her husband. The couple have one child.

Garda Hanrahan, who is stationed in Newcastle West, Co. Limerick, was shot twice, in the lower back and thigh. His father, with whom he was on a driving holiday, had returned to their hotel and Garda Hanrahan was alone when attacked.

Hanrahan, a native of Killenaule, County Tipperary, stood up to his attacker, who had demanded money. When Hanrahan refused, he was shot twice, before his assailant fled on foot with $200 in cash that Hanrahan had withdrawn from an ATM.

The Times Picayune website, reported: According to the NOPD, Hanrahan and his father told police they were drinking together in the French Quarter until about 4 a.m., when the dad decided to call it a night and return to their hotel. Hanrahan told police he stayed out, eventually meeting an unknown man who offered to take him to a party. Hanrahan first stopped to withdraw $200 from an ATM.

A source familiar with the investigation said the men walked approximately two miles to the intersection of New Orleans and North Tonti streets, an often dark two-mile walk that would have taken approximately 40 minutes if started from the middle of Bourbon Street. Hanrahan told police once they arrived on New Orleans Street, a second man approached and demanded his money.

Hanrahan said he refused, and the man pulled a gun and shot him twice. The suspects went through the victim’s pockets, removed the $200, and fled together on foot, police said. Responding officers said they found Hanrahan laying in the driveway of a home on New Orleans Street, bleeding from the gunshot wounds.

Hanrahan was unable to provide a description of the gunman, police said.

“It’s very unfortunate,” NOPD Chief Michael Harrison said of Hanrahan’s shooting. “We feel this way about every citizen involved in a shooting.”

An attack on French democracy

POSTED ON January 21st  - POSTED IN News & Views

Between the Lines / By Peter McDermott

de gaulle

President de Gaulle on a visit to West Germany in May 1962.


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.”

Trio takes NY to FM

POSTED ON January 15th  - POSTED IN News & Views

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.

The 50 year lockout

POSTED ON January 13th  - POSTED IN News & Views

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.
Liberty jpg 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.”

Aging sees growth, loss: O’Neill

POSTED ON January 6th  - POSTED IN News & Views

GSA 2014

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.”


Social-economy model

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

Henri Matisse.  [Library of Congress]


Keynote lecture

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.

DiNapoli’s barnstorming Belfast visit

POSTED ON December 23rd  - POSTED IN News & Views

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.

Violinist Harrington pulls the heart strings

POSTED ON December 17th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

Gregory Harrington - pic Daniel D'Ottavio

(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. * facebook * @harringtonmusic 


 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.

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