By Máirtín Ó Muilleoir
Maine Irish prove that blood is thicker than water with DNA research
A pioneering Irish American Maine group is encouraging its members to turn the other cheek in order to explore their Irish roots.
For in one of Irish America’s most ambitious heritage projects, mouth scrapings containing the DNA — the unique genetic code of all humans — have now been collected from over 200 members of the Maine Irish Heritage Center.
Billed the Maine Gaeltacht program, the initiative has helped trace relatives of many of the Centre’s members both in Maine and in the Conamara Gaeltacht in Co Galway, once home to the majority of the Pine Tree State Irish, and has helped adoptees identify their birth parents.
“We have made fantastic strides in a short time,” says project facilitator Margaret Feeney LaCombe who is heading up the DNA research — and has spent the past 20 years digging up her own past! “We strongly feel that this project is of significant importance to the Irish community both in the United States and in our native Ireland. Researching Irish roots can prove to be very frustrating due to so many records having been destroyed. The genealogy team at the Maine Irish Heritage Centre began the DNA project with the simple goal of helping us to connect with living relatives that we were unable to locate using the old fashioned paper trail. We are overwhelmed with the progress we have made.”
Based in the former St Dominic’s Catholic Church in the West End of Portland, Maine — once a solidly Irish area of the city — the Maine Irish Heritage Centre was taken over by the Irish community in 2003 and re-opened in 2008 as the epicentre of all things Irish in a state where one in six trace their roots back to the Emerald Isle. Arguably, the most beautiful Irish American centre in the country, the preserved St Dominic’s Church is now home to regular Irish events as well as the groundbreaking DNA project.
“Our Library and Genealogy Center is proud to house over 2,000 volumes devoted to Irish genealogy, history, art, literature and language,” says Feeney LaCombe. “Our volunteer genealogists have assisted people with researching their roots since the Center was opened in 2003.To further the study we travel to Ireland each year to gather targeted DNA within the confines of County Galway. In this way, we are able to connect the Maine Irish with the Irish who remain in Galway.”
Using $99 swab kits to collect DNA samples from inside the cheek, the Maine Irish Heritage Center has now fed the DNA of over 200 members into the Maine Gaeltacht project database with the world’s largest DNA genealogy site Family Tree DNA. The results can help families in Ireland trace long-lost relatives whose ancestors travelled to the US and help the Maine Irish identify their own family connections.
Adds project co-ordinator Deb Gellerson: “Each year, our members return to Ireland to collect more samples in the Conamara Gaeltacht. Our volunteers have tromped through fields in Ireland collecting DNA samples from farmers and sheep herders. They take the test willingly, feeling proud that they are able to be part of gluing together the bond that binds us all. They have shared with us that they are glad that we are preserving their heritage and they thank us for being proud to be Irish.”
Readers can find out more about the Maine Irish Heritage Center and the Maine Gaeltacht genealogy project, at www.maineirish.com.
By Áine Ní Shionnaigh
It is important to clarify what the movie is not about: it’s not about the Catholic Church, it’s not about child abuse, it’s not about the role of a priest, it’s not about life in a rural West of Ireland community. The central theme of this movie could just as easily be based in the midst of NYC or on a remote hilltop village in Nepal. It runs so deep. It is about the fundamental need within all of us to experience love and goodness in our lives and what happens when we don’t. It also addresses the abuse of power, how a position of privilege can be used to redeem people or destroy them.
The central role played by Brendan Gleeson is that of a priest, Fr James Lavelle. However, the priest’s role could easily be transferred to anyone in a position of privilege.
He is a person people look towards; they also use him as a punch bag literally and figuratively. Interestingly the priest is portrayed as a non judgmental, compassionate person, who has already faced his own trials, he is a recovering alcoholic, he is widowed, and his only daughter is suicidal and feels abandoned. He faced his own fears and is therefore able to help others face theirs. He’s not in denial himself. He is a man who has been challenged to face his deepest fears. He has been stripped, hence the symbolism of his almost Spartan like existence in a remote fishing village.
The stereotype has been flipped. It is not about sin, it is about virtue. It is the parishioners that need redemption. Through Father Lavelle’s non-judgmental eyes, he can see that fear is at the root of all their inadequacies: fear of abandonment, fear of being unloved, fear of death. They try to fill the void by desperately scratching for love in all the wrong places leading to addictions to drugs, sex, materialism, which only perpetuate their problems. A lesson for all of us how we perpetuate our problems by using denial as a means of self protection. His parishioners are probably where Fr Lavelle himself was a few years previously, using alcohol to numb his pain.
The authentic West of Ireland scenery is spectacular: dramatic and daunting. There is a ruggedness and rawness to the scenery that reflects the internal turmoil in each and every one of us. Throughout the movie, there are various shots of Ben Bulben in all its menacing magnitude, casting it’s huge shadow over the community below, symbolizing how pain in our own lives can completely overshadow us. The ebbing tide of the ocean symbolized for me the continuity of life, how we flow in and out of each other’s lives like waves, leaving each other permanently altered.
What speaks volumes to me in this movie is what it portrays. It portrays the priest in a good light. Although the opening line mentions the unmentionable, child abuse by a cleric, the movie focuses more on the pain Father Lavelle feels for the abused rather than the anger directed at him in the place of the abuser. The priest tries to absorb the pain of his parishioners and innocently takes the blame of the Church as a whole on his shoulders. Another one of the opening lines is very telling: “I’m going to kill you because you’ve done nothing wrong.” One of the most poignant points of pain in the movie is when Father Lavelle innocently befriends a little girl who is on her way down to the beach. The violent reaction of the girl’s father when he sees her talking to a priest etches a permanent expression of pain into Fr Lavelle’s already furrowed brow. He is at his lowest point.
Gleeson’s presence on screen immediately transforms and elevates any film. He deserves more than an Oscar for this portrayal. His face is like an open wound. What deepens Gleeson’s appeal is his physicality. He stands tall above his community both in feet and in honor. He is a large figure looming above everyone dramatized by the black soutane he wears. Again he is reminiscent of Ben Bulben, the huge mountain range that dominates the community. He is broad, barrel chested, protective, fierce almost but kind. Every furrow on his deeply furrowed brow and every whisker on his over bearded face all contribute to his changing expressions of emotions, usually pain which is almost like a flicker of recognition. Every furrow symbolizes a pain of a member of his community. He is genuine. Actors don’t come in a purer form than Gleeson. To compare Gleeson’s leading role in Calvary to his leading roles in ‘In Bruges’ and ‘The Guard’ almost trivialize his role in this movie. Playing Father James Lavelle is a cathartic role for Gleeson.
‘Calvary’ is about the fundamental journey that we are all on: the internal struggle within all of us, pain and fear, isolation and recovery, strength and weakness. It is a beautifully written and produced film, extraordinary in its multifaceted and layered structure. It continually challenges the eternal question, how to maintain hope in a not so hopeful world. It is compulsory viewing.
Published in the May 29-June 4, 2014, issue of the Irish Echo
Between the Lines / By Peter McDermott
There is a type in public life that sounds like a preternaturally clever 17-year-old.
It’s part of MIT Prof. Noam Chomsky’s peculiar charm, for instance, that even in his 80s, he’s still the adolescent challenging his elders with his new-found wisdom. He’s brilliant, you think, and has great potential, but when he matures a little he’ll find out that there are other dimensions to the real world.
It’s the same with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. You might not normally see him in the same frame as Chomsky, but they both possess a natural genius. Alas for the left, the MIT professor’s is in the area of linguistics theory, whereas Roberts’s is his ability to strategize for and lead the conservative majority on the United States Supreme Court.
There’s the same ignoring of reality, too, with the clever arguments – as we’ve seen in the McCutcheon case, which removed important limits in election finance. That follows the hugely controversial Citizens United decision four years ago. With each new radical decision, long-time Supreme Court correspondents always manage to sound not surprised and yet flabbergasted.
For Roberts, suitcases full of $1,000 bills are protected speech. For most of the rest of us – 80 percent, polls suggest — it’s the naked buying of influence, and is tantamount to corruption. (Roberts has narrowed his definition of corruption to bribery. The “quid pro quo” has to be provable – a smoking gun is not enough.) People used to say “money talks.” Now it screams, thanks to the Roberts court.
Previously the Supreme Court had been concerned with even the appearance of corruption. That’s because the large-scale buying of influence, and the appearance of corruption undermines the average citizen’s faith in the democratic system. We know that from history.
Justice Stephen Breyer said the concept of “free speech” doesn’t exist in a vacuum. In his dissent for the moderate/liberal minority of four on the court, he wrote: “Where enough money calls the tune, the general public will not be heard. Insofar as corruption cuts the link between political thought and political action, a free marketplace of political ideas loses its point.”
The better off you are in our society, or in any society, the more clout you have. That’s a given. You have connections, influence and status. You’re more likely to get your way than the guy who has little or no money. That’s the case before a single dollar is spent on the political process.
Think of Mr. Potter in the post-war classic and perennial Christmas favorite “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I’m sure the police chief answers when he calls. What, then, if you gave him the green light to exercise his “right to free speech” in elections? Bedford Falls would still be a free society. You could give Mr. Potter the finger as he passed in his Rolls on Main Street, and not get dragged off to jail. That would be protected speech. The banker, for his part, would be free to return the gesture.
Also protected, however, according to the Supreme Court, would be Mr. Potter’s ability to influence elections. He could use his cash to frame the issues and to help handpick the leading candidates. Bedford Falls, thus, would be Pottersville before any formal renaming could take place. What could George Bailey do about that?
PHOTO: Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Interview by Karen Butler
[PHOTO: FOX SEARCHLIGHT]
Ireland’s Brendan Gleeson still has a special place in his heart for Gerry Boyle, the debauched cop he played in writer-director John Michael McDonagh’s celebrated comedy “The Guard” three years ago.
Gleeson’s affection for Gerry was evident when he talked to the Irish Echo by phone recently about his latest role, that of the saintly Father James Lavelle in McDonagh’s new film “Calvary.”
Asked what it was like to play a character who was essentially the polar opposite of Gerry, the 59-year-old Dublin native said, “Well, I’m not sure if I’d agree with that particular one.
“I think Gerry hid his light under a bushel a little bit. I think there was more going on with him than we thought. He was quite sensitive in his own way. He was very perceptive and I think he had a hidden hero in him, which kind of emerged in the end. Father James, on the other hand, was somebody who kind of just opened up his heart to be kicked,” Gleeson laughed. “They had different ways of negotiating the world, but I’m not sure if they were 100 miles apart, really. But, certainly, to play somebody who was committed to the good [like Father James,] it’s unusual to get those roles, for me anyway. To actually have a real-life hero, kind of in the Gary Cooper mode, was brilliant. It’s the kind of stuff you always want to do. It’s what I wanted to do when I came into acting. When it’s so kind of layered and it’s not just a simple thing of sticking on a cowboy hat and shooting somebody. You have to go through the whole confrontation with all the various disillusionment that’s around him. So, it was great.”
“I always start with the lead character first,” McDonagh said in a separate phone chat with the Echo. “So, on ‘The Guard,’ I had the idea for the Gerry Boyle character and, on this, I was talking to Brendan when we were finishing up ‘The Guard…’ I was talking about wanting to do a film about a genuinely good person and I was thinking maybe that good person would be a priest because we were assuming there would be a lot of films coming out dealing with the scandals and they would be dealing with bad priests and I thought we should be more original and do the exact opposite and deal with a good one.
“So, that’s where it all started from. I always start with the characters first and then the plot and then whatever the subtext comes out of the story you are trying to tell is all well and good, but the primary goal is to tell a good story.”
Focusing the mind
Set in County Sligo, “Calvary” is about what happens when a man enters Father James’s Catholic Church confessional and tells him he is going to kill him a week hence. The man confides he was molested as a child by a now-dead priest and says he wants to make headlines by slaying an innocent cleric in the pedophile’s stead. Father James spends the week reconnecting with his adult daughter, who is recovering from a suicide attempt, and talking to his parishioners, many of whom are lonely, angry and bitter, until the day arrives when he must meet his fate and possibly sacrifice his life.
So, does Father James immediately know what he should do when faced with this dilemma or does he need the week to decide if he is going to keep his appointment with the man who threatened to kill him?
“I think when he says he doesn’t know, but he is sure he’ll think of something in the week, I think that’s the truth of it, yeah,” Gleeson offered. “It focuses the mind, a death threat. It means that all the issues that he has had and has been struggling with anyway become very focused and I think he wants to find his true light, if you want to put it that way, and to find the best version of himself that he can project and to kind of inhabit that person for the week. I think that’s what he tries to do and, in confronting the actual threat, I feel he understands there is a very real danger of it happening, but that he decides that he is going to believe that he can face it down and it’s his duty to face it down. Because I think it’s all wrapped up, as well, in the fact he understands the pain that has been inflicted on the perpetrator and he wants to absorb some of it.”
Asked if he thinks Father James’s interactions with his parishioners throughout the week cause him to question whether life is worth living or people deserve saving, the actor replied, “I do.”
Gleeson added: “I think that’s the constant battle, yeah. And you’re all the time facing the easy option and possibly the most logical one, which is to say, ‘To hell with it all.’ And they have all capitulated to it and I think his faith is of a particular fundamental strength that he is intent on seeing that out, though. But I think, for sure, there are times when he wilts underneath the weight of it. It’s undeniable that there is a lot of horror in the world and it is very easy to bow underneath it.”
Parents’ humility, faith
In preparing for the role, Gleeson said he looked to the people in his own life who over the years inspired him and taught him how to be the kind of man he wanted to be.
“I think I knew him. I think I accessed all the stuff that would have been maybe when I was growing up as a kid. I kept referring back to my childhood in terms of people I knew,” the actor noted. “Particularly, there was a brother I had who was a great mentor to me and was very generous of spirit. The kind of humility and faith that my parents would have had. Particularly, my mother had a very, very open kind of faith that was very love-based and things like that. I had an aunt, her sister, who was a nun and I remember her coming back from South Africa and she was the most liberal woman I ever met. She knew and understood the issues that were happening down there at the time with apartheid and she was very open-minded. She was very warm. So, I think I accessed all those people who had maybe given me gifts of reassurance and kind of formed in me the notion of what it means to be charitable and optimistic.”
He went on to say another family member also influenced his performance in the film. One of the most memorable scenes in “Calvary” shows Father James visiting in prison an unrepentant murderer played by Gleeson’s real-life son, Domhnall.
Pressed to describe the experience, Gleeson admitted it was “very odd.”
He recalled. “We basically didn’t speak for about a week beforehand and got through it and gave as good as we got to each other on opposite sides of the table.
“It was great when it was over, but it was also something I was kind of looking forward to and to have it in a film of this nature I was, obviously, very, very proud of him. But, also, just it was a real treat to engage with an actor of that quality. I think he did an amazing job on it.”
Director McDonagh remembered capturing those gripping moments on film as being part of a “tough day.”
“That was a very dark scene. It was very intense. We shot it in just one day. It was like a prize fight, I suppose, between two sort of evenly matched opponents in the level of darkness that was going on. I think that was the one day my brother turned up on set,” he added, referring to playwright and filmmaker Martin McDonagh, who directed the elder Gleeson in the movie “In Bruges.” Domhnall also starred in the Broadway production of his play “The Lieutenant of Inishmore,” and both Gleesons appeared in his short film “Six Shooter.”
“[Martin] hadn’t read the script and he turned to me after a few minutes in and he said, ‘I thought this was supposed to be a comedy.’ He didn’t know what was happening at that point,” McDonagh related. “The initial intent with the film, it was meant to be much more of a black comedy type film, but when you get all of these really great actors involved, they find depth to the characters and it becomes a much deeper and much more dramatic movie and much more somber, I suppose. But that’s good.”
Co-starring Chris O’Dowd, Aidan Gillen, Kelly Reilly, David Wilmot, Pat Shortt and David McSavage, “Calvary” is earning rave reviews from critics. It opens is U.S. theaters Friday.
By Mairtin O’Muilleoir email@example.com
A bumper fundraising year for the Irish American Partnership has enabled the Boston-headquartered non-profit to ramp up its support for educational projects in Ireland.
“I am pleased that 77 grants have been awarded since September 2013,” Executive Director Mary Sugrue McAleer told the Irish Echo.
“Today, we are reaching more schools, communities and counties than ever before.”
A unique program which allows donors to select a specific school, village, town or county has proven a game-changer for the Partnership’s fundraising efforts.
Recently, in one of many similar initiatives, Partnership supporter and Abbott Laboratories specialist Paul Doherty returned to his alma mater, St. Oran’s National School, Cockhill, Co. Donegal, to present a $2,500 donation to replenish the school library.
The Partnership also came to the aid of remote rural schools in the west of Ireland which traditionally lack funding to attend the RDS Science Fair in Dublin by providing special travel grants.
Traditionally, the Partnership works closely with the Integrated School movement in the north of Ireland and over the past 12 months has made significant donations to school where Protestant and Catholic children are educated together.
“The generosity of our donors is making a difference,” says McAleer, whose fundraising efforts have been traditionally focused on the greater Boston area and Chicago.
“Thanks to our donors and supporters, we have every reason to be optimistic about the future of Ireland’s young people.”
More about the Irish American Partnership at www.irishap.org, or by following @irishaporg on Twitter.
by Áine Ní Shionnaigh
I like to think that West of Irelanders possess a unique determination and spirit, however, none more so than Lord Jeremy Browne Altamont of Westport House whose passing is deeply mourned this week. Thanks to his unique foresight, Lord Altamont leaves behind an enduring legacy for future generations and beyond. He leaves behind a 400 acre estate that has been in his family for over 300 years which is of enormous cultural, social and historical significance. He was a visionary and a law-changer. He almost certainly inherited some of the fighting spirit of his predecessor, famed pirate queen, Granuaile upon whose castle, the foundations of Westport House are laid. He was an ingenious business man who had no time for titles or splendor. Largely due to his influence, Westport town became known as a tourist location as far back as the 60’s long before ‘tourism’ became a familiar term.
Irelands remaining historic houses are a highly valuable resource. The houses and their contents are physical evidence of a life gone by, another life in another era, they help to define the cultural relationship between Ireland and the rest of the world. These historic houses with their estates, formal gardens, demesnes and parks continue to occupy a central position in the economic, historic and social life of the community in which they are built. The unique aspect of many Irish historic homes is that they are owned by the same family for several generations, thus the artefacts and archives that are contained within are handed down and the owners preserve valuable longstanding relationships with their local communities.
Jeremy Browne was the son of Denis Browne, 10th Marquess of Sligo, and Jose Gauche, and was educated at St. Columba’s College, Dublin and the Royal Agricultural College. His father inherited Westport House in 1951, and as a teenager, Lord Altamont spent his summers in Co Mayo hunting with Burns the gamekeeper, learning about the surrounding countryside. He always felt drawn back to Westport to help his parents, Lord Denis and Lady Jose Altamont to salvage and develop Westport House. The obstacles were immense, but as he wrote in his just published memoir, “A Life At Westport House: 50 Years A-Going: “My family had been through famines and wars, had been born in Westport, lived and died in Westport and at no point had any generation ever ‘given up’. After all, how could he give up, being that he was the 13th great grandson of the famed Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley.
He was married in 1961 to Jennifer June Lushington Cooper. Around this time, Jeremy decided to open the doors of Westport House to the public in an effort to save the historic stately home from decline – a fate way too many other great houses in Ireland have suffered. In the summer of 1960, over 3000 people visited the house. It has since become one of Ireland’s best loved attractions, currently having being visited by over 5 million visitors to date and was recently voted one of the Best Family Visitor Attractions in Ireland by Primary Times magazine. The couple have five daughters – Sheelyn, Karen, Lucinda, Clare and Allanagh. The title now goes to a cousin in Australia but due to Jeremy’s unique foresight, the house and grounds will thankfully be inherited by his five daughters who are all heavily involved in the family business. With the help of former President, Mary Robinson and local solicitor, Michael Egan, Jeremy took a private bill through the Senate in 1993 which successfully challenged the male succession law and ensured that the future of Westport house stayed with its rightful owners, his five daughters.
Grace O’Malley is the most renowned Irish female pirate also known as the Queen of Connacht. She was the chief of the O’Malley clan and ruled the seas around County Mayo. Westport House was actually built on the foundations of one of her castles. There is still an area of her original Castle in the basement of the House, now known as the Dungeons which is on view to visitors. The original house was built by Colonel John Browne, a Jacobite, who partook in the siege o f Limerick, and his wife Maud Burke. Maude Burke was Grace O’Malley’s great-granddaughter. At that time, the tide of the Atlantic Ocean rose and fell against the walls of the house.
The east front of the House as it is today, was built in 1730 by Colonel John Browne’s grandson, 1st Earl of Altamont, who hired the famous German architect Richard Cassels. It is built with the finest limestone taken from the quarry south of the estate farmyard and was executed by local craftsmen. Richard Cassels also designed Carton, Hazelwood, Russborough and Leinster House. Westport House was completed by James Wyatt, one of the great English architects who also laid out the town of Westport. On the south face of the House is the date 1778 and inside many of the ceilings, cornices and fireplaces are examples of his finest work. The Large Dining room is perhaps the finest remaining example of his work. The doors are mahogany, brought back from the family estates in Jamaica. There are still a number of original James Wyatt drawings on show. Other original items on show in Westport House, of particular interest, include a fine collection of old English and Irish silver, including 18th century Irish ‘potato’ or dish rings, Waterford glass, a library with many old Irish books and a Mayo Legion Flag which was brought to Ireland by General Humbert when he invaded the Country in 1798 and has ever since been in Westport House, which was occupied by his troops.
Westport House is located west of the Shannon and is one of Irelands’ most beautiful historic homes open to the public. The house enjoys a superb parkland setting with lake, terraces, wonderful gardens and magnificent views overlooking Clew Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, Achill, Clare Island and Ireland’s holy mountain Croagh Patrick. The grounds also afford a range of backdrops including the lake, woodlands, church and graveyard ruins, waterfalls and terraced gardens. It is a site that should be explored and visitors are guaranteed of a warm welcome and the best in food and Irish hospitality. Visit their website www.westporthouse.ie for more detailed information.
Is minic a cheapaim go bfhuil sort spiorad ag Iarthar na hÉireannaigh , afach, níos mó ná Tiarna Jeremy Browne Altamont, Theach Chathair na Mart a bhfuair bas an tseachtain seo chaite. De bhri a fadbhreathnaitheacht uathúil, d’fhag Tiarna Altamount taobh thiar oidhreacht buaine do na glúnta agus níos faide anonn. Fágann sé taobh thiar de eastát, 400 acra a bhí i lena theaghlach le breis agus 300 bliain a bhfuil tábhacht chultúrtha, shóisialta agus stairiúil ollmhór. Bhí sé ina aislingeach agus dlí-athruite. Ba chuis mhor, cinnte roinnt de na troid spiorad a réamhtheachtaí, banríon bradach, Gráinne Mhaol ar a caisleán, na fothaí Theach Chathair na Mart ag leagan. Bhí sé ina fear gnó nach raibh aon am le haghaidh teidil nó rudai mar sin. Den chuid is mó mar gheall ar a tionchar a imirt, bhí ar a dtugtar baile Chathair na Mart mar shuíomh turasóireachta chomh fada siar leis na 60’s, i bhfad sular tháinig ‘turasóireacht’ téarma an eolas.
Is iad tithe stairiúla na hÉireann atá fágtha acmhainn an-luachmhar. Is iad na tithe agus a bhfuil iontu fianaise fhisiciúil den shaol atá imithe, saol eile i ré eile, cabhraíonn siad an gaol cultúrtha idir Éire agus an chuid eile den domhan a shainiú. Leanann na tithe stairiúla lena n-eastáit, gairdíní foirmiúla, diméinte agus páirceanna a áitiú áit lárnach i saol eacnamaíoch, stairiúla agus sóisialta an phobail ina bhfuil siad tógtha. Is é an ghné ar leith de go leor tithe stairiúla na hÉireann go bhfuil siad ar úinéireacht ag an teaghlach céanna do na glúnta éagsúla, dá bhrí sin an déantáin agus cartlanna nach bhfuil cuimsithe laistigh láimh síos agus na n-úinéirí a chaomhnú caidreamh luachmhar seanbhunaithe lena bpobail áitiúla.
Ba e Jeremy Browne mac Denis Browne, 10 Marcas Shligigh, agus Jose Gauche, bhí a chuid oideachais i gColáiste Naomh Columba, Baile Átha Cliath agus Coláiste Ríoga Talmhaíochta. A athair oidhreacht Teach Chathair na Mart i 1951, agus mar dhéagóir, chaith Tiarna Altamount a samhraí i gCo Mhaigh Eo fiach le Burns, foghlaim mar gheall ar an tuath máguaird. Bhraith sé i gcónaí tharraingt ar ais go dtí Cathair na Mart chun cabhrú lena thuismitheoirí, a Thiarna Denis agus Lady Jose Altamont chun forbairt Teach Chathair na Mart. Ba iad na constaicí ollmhór, ach de réir mar a scríobh sé ina cuimhní cinn díreach foilsithe, “A Saol Ag Teach Chathair na Mart: 50 Bliain ag dul-:” Bhí mo theaghlach a bhí trí cogaí, rugadh iad i gCathair na Mart, bhí cónaí acu agus a fuair siad bás i gCathair na Mart agus ag aon phointe raibh aon ghlúin riamh ‘a thugtar suas’. Tar éis an tsaoil, conas a d’fhéadfadh sé a thabhairt suas, a bheith go raibh sé an ua mór 13ú an Banrion Gráinne Ní Mháille.
Bhí sé pósta i 1961 do Jennifer Meitheamh Lushington Cooper. Timpeall an ama seo, chinn Jeremy le doirse Theach Chathair na Mart ar oscailt don phobal i iarracht a shábháil an bhaile stairiúil maorach ó meath – ar bhealach cinniúint an iomarca tithe móra eile in Éirinn a d’fhulaing. I samhradh na bliana 1960, thug breis is 3,000 duine ar an teach. Tá sé tar éis éirí ó cheann de na nithe is fearr grá hÉireann, faoi láthair tar éis á cuairt ag os cionn 5 milliún cuairteoir go dtí seo agus bhí vótáil le déanaí ar cheann de na díol spéise do thurasóirí Chuairteoirí Teaghlaigh Fearr in Éirinn le Iris Bunscoileanna Times. An lánúin a bhfuil cúigear iníonacha – Sheelyn, Karen, Lucinda, an Chláir agus Allanagh. An teideal Téann anois le col ceathrar san Astráil, ach beidh mar gheall ar fadbhreathnaitheacht uathúil Jeremy, an teach agus na tailte a hoidhreacht buíochas le Dia ag a cúig iníonacha a bhfuil baint acu go léir go mór sa ghnó teaghlaigh. Le cabhair ó iar-Uachtarán, Máire Mhic Róibín agus aturnae áitiúil, Michael Egan, ghlac Jeremy bille príobháideach tríd an Seanad i 1993 a chuir dúshlán go rathúil leis an dlí comharbais na bhfear agus chinntigh gur fhan an todhchaí teach Cathair na Mart lena n-úinéirí dlisteanacha, a cúig iníonacha .
Tá Grace O’Malley bradach na mban is mó cáil in Éirinn ar a dtugtar freisin mar an Banríon Chonnacht. Bhí sí an príomhfheidhmeannach an clan O’Malley agus rialaigh na farraigí mórthimpeall Chontae Mhaigh Eo. Cuireadh Teach Chathair na Mart a tógadh iarbhír ar an dúshraith ar cheann de na h caisleáin. Tá fós limistéar a Caisleán bunaidh san íoslach an Tí, ar a dtugtar anois mar an dungeons atá ar taispeáint do chuairteoirí. Bhí an teach bunaidh tógtha ag Coirnéal John Browne, Seacaibíteacha, a raibh lathair i léigear Luimnigh, agus a bhean chéile Maud Burke. Bhí Maude Burke mór-gariníon Gráinne Ní Mháille ar. Ag an am sin, an taoide ar an Aigéan Atlantach ardaigh agus thit i gcoinne na ballaí an tí.
An os comhair soir an Tí mar atá sé inniu a tógadh, i 1730 ag ua Coirnéal John Browne, an 1 Iarla Altamont, a d’fhostaigh an t-ailtire cáiliúil Gearmáine Richard Cassels. Tá sé tógtha leis an aolchloch fearr a tógadh ón gcairéal dheas de chlós na feirme eastáit agus cuireadh chun báis ag aos ceirde áitiúil. Richard Cassels deartha go maith Carton, Collchoille, Russborough agus Teach Laighean. Cuireadh Teach Chathair na Mart i gcrích ag James Wyatt, ar cheann de na hailtirí mór Béarla a leagtar amach freisin an baile na Mart. Ar an aghaidh ó dheas an Tí é an dáta 1778 agus taobh istigh go leor de na huasteorainneacha, coirnisí agus teallaigh samplaí de a chuid oibre is fearr. Tá an seomra bia Móra dócha gurb é an sampla is fearr atá fágtha ar a chuid oibre. Is iad na doirse mahagaine, a thabhairt ar ais ó na heastáit teaghlaigh i Iamáice. Tá fós roinnt líníochtaí James Wyatt bunaidh ar taispeáint. Míreanna bunaidh eile ar taispeáint i dTeach Chathair na Mart, suim ar leith, tá bailiúchán breá de sean-Béarla agus airgid na hÉireann, lena n-áirítear 18ú haois ‘prátaí’ Gaeilge nó fáinní mhias, gloine Phort Láirge, leabharlann le go leor leabhar d’aois na hÉireann agus Bratach Léigiún Mhaigh Eo a tugadh go hÉirinn ag Ginearál Humbert nuair a tháinig sé ar an tír i 1798 agus bhí riamh ó shin i dTeach Chathair na Mart, a bhí ar áitiú ag a chuid trúpaí.
Teach Chathair na Mart suite taobh thiar den tSionainn agus tá sé ar cheann de na tithe stairiúla is áille na hÉireann ‘ar oscailt don phobal. Taitneamh as an teach suíomh fearann páirce superb le loch, ardáin, gairdíní iontach agus radhairc iontacha breathnú amach ar Chuan Mó, an Aigéan Atlantach, Acaill, Cliara agus sléibhe naofa na hÉireann Cruach Phádraig. Na forais acmhainn freisin raon backdrops n-áirítear an loch, coillearnacha, séipéal agus reilig fothracha, easanna agus gairdíní sraithe. Tá sé an suíomh ba chóir a iniúchadh agus do chuairteoirí a ráthú de fáilte te agus an chuid is fearr i mbia agus fáilteachais na hÉireann. Tabhair cuairt ar a láithreán gréasáin www.westporthouse.ie le haghaidh faisnéis níos mionsonraithe.
Siobhan Lyons has been executive director of the
Irish Immigration Center for five years.
By Peter McDermott
Siobhan Lyons has a problem.
It’s one, though, that is testament to her success as executive director of the Irish Immigration Center of Philadelphia.
“We are working beyond our capacity,” said the Dubliner, who is marking five years as executive director in Upper Darby, Pa.
After she took over, the IIC assumed greater responsibility, in tandem with other such centers around the country, in caring for older members of the Irish community.
“Now, we have 500 seniors on our list and 250 of them are regular participants,” the Dubliner said, referring to events like the weekly lunch on Wednesday.
And the numbers of people seeking and getting help — passport applications, legal advice and visa advice, for example – go up in all categories each year.
“The Irish Immigration Center has made great strides,” Lyons said. “But there’s clearly more of a demand than we can service.”
She added. “And we’ve pretty much outgrown our space. We have to raise more money so we can expand services.”
As part of that process, she would like to increase the full-time staff to three.
“At first, it was me and some volunteers,” she said.
Then, in March 2012, full-time help arrived in the person of Leslie Alcock, a native of County Carlow.
“Siobhan was looking to expand and to hire a social worker. She’d interviewed a few people [in Philadelphia],” Alcock said. “And then reached out to the Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers.”
Paul Dowling of Chicago Irish Immigrant Support suggested as a candidate Alcock, who has a Master’s in social work from University College Dublin.
“I love it. Siobhan is great,” she said. “It’s a great community here. I’ve met wonderful people.”
It’s been Alcock’s first extended period working outside of Ireland. “I really like it in Philadelphia,” she said. “I have the best of both worlds: I live in the city, where there’s a mixture of people, and work out here in Upper Darby where there’s a sense of Irish community.”
Executive Director Lyons was well-traveled even before she reached her late teens. Her father was an Irish diplomat who served in Nairobi, Washington D.C., London and Singapore, among other places when she was young. She studied Arabic for her degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and worked for two years at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin.
Lyons came to Philadelphia initially with her Canadian husband, and after they divorced some years ago she opted to stay.
While she may be far from home, she is geographically closer to it than any other close family member. Her two brothers are based in Singapore, while her sister is in Australia. Her mother is deceased and her father, who is remarried, lives in Malaysia. Her grandmother in County Mayo was the last link to home until her death in 2011. Still, she goes back when she can and traveled to last September’s All Ireland final at Croke Park with a group from Philadelphia’s Irish community.
That community is her focus for most of her waking hours.
Lyons is always concerned about the bigger picture and some of the bigger questions.
“What is the purpose of the Irish community? What does it mean to be Irish American?”
“It needs to be more cohesive and it needs to be more ambitious,” she argued.
“So many millions of people, many of them are working at cross purposes,” Lyons said. “The numbers of Americans who identify as Irish are going down for the first time. What are we going to do about that?”
Irish Americans obviously have a big presence and a lot of clout in the City of Brotherly Love. But Lyons said that there are two kinds of Irish American — those who active in some way, and those who mainly identify as Irish around St. Patrick’s Day.
“What can we to do to increase their engagement?” she said, referring to the latter group.
“There were Irish signers of the Declaration of Independence; the Irish were involved with the Constitution,” Lyons said, adding that Commodore Barry was from Wexford and that William Penn had Cork connections.
“I wonder what people will say in 100 years about our contribution to America today,” Lyons said.
The Irish Immigration Center is located at 7 South Cedar Lane, Upper Darby, Pa. 19082. Tel: 610-789-6355; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
PHOTO BY PETER MCDERMOTT
By Edward McCann
Frank McCourt peering out from the front door of Leamy’s School on a visit to Limerick City in the summer of 1997. PHOTOCALL
My hero Frank McCourt died five years ago this week, an event that prompted sorrow mixed with the guilty suspicion that I wasn’t really entitled to any. We were strangers, after all, but McCourt was important to me in the unknowing way heroes often are. I once made a sort of pilgrimage to tell him that.
On a spring day in 2007 I took the train from Poughkeepsie to New York City to see McCourt and Calvin Trillin at the 92nd Street Y. The event was part of a reading and performance series but was more like eavesdropping on the men as they chatted in the living room, all of us in the audience like flies on the wall.
The men sat in club chairs flanking a low table and talked about favorite books, about pretentious restaurants (“Le Maison de Casa House”), and about the ham-fisted response to the massive snowstorms that crippled New York City in the 1970s.
“There are still huge piles of snow out in Queens left over from the Lindsey administration,” said McCourt.
From my seat in the darkened auditorium I laughed along with the men, enjoying their sharp wit and the easy warmth of their exchange.
Following a brief Q&A, the men took seats at folding tables in a reception area where guests with books formed two lines before them. Empty handed, I stood in McCourt’s line and watched him smile and chat with his fans, graciously signing his name again and again. I extended my hand as I approached the table.
“Hello, Mr. McCourt; I left your books at home this morning; it seemed a little tacky to haul them all down here for your autograph.”
McCourt smiled and waved his hand in dismissal. “Och, that’s what these things are for.”
“Well, I enjoyed hearing you and Mr. Trillin speak,” I said, “but I really came here today to tell you that something you said in a radio interview years ago really resonated with me and it inspired me to write my own story about my Irish Catholic childhood in Broad Channel, and about my search for the 3-year-old who went missing from our family.”
McCourt folded his hands and tilted his head to one side, waiting.
“The interviewer asked you why, at age 66 and after 30 years in the classroom, you’d decided to write ‘Angela’s Ashes.’ You said, ‘Because if I hadn’t, I’d have gone howling to my grave.”
McCourt’s facial expression said he didn’t recall the words exactly but he certainly agreed with the sentiment.
“That’s pretty good,” he said with a chuckle.
People behind me were waiting. Afraid to fawn or embarrass myself, I didn’t mention the mutual acquaintance I shared with his editor and I refrained from telling him, like others on line before me, how very much I admired his work. But I did manage to say: “When I finish my manuscript I’d like to send it to you with a note reminding you about this conversation. Perhaps you’d let me take you to lunch?”
He squinted at my card before slipping it into his shirt pocket. “Okay,” he said, clutching my hand a second time. “Maybe we can do some howling!”
Walking toward the train I thought about how goofy it was to invite Frank McCourt to lunch. But I was emboldened because I was enamored, and because McCourt was the favorite teacher I never had. Until the morning I learned of his illness, when his brother Malachy told the press “Frank is not expected to live,” the slim possibility of that lunch had still remained: a spring meeting at an outdoor café in the city or perhaps a shared hour or two in the autumn, sharing a pot of tea in Connecticut as warm sunlight filtered through golden leaves overhead.
The night McCourt lay dying a torrential summer storm blew through the Hudson Valley. I imagined him in his bed an hour to the south, tended by family and a hospice nurse while thunder cracked and the lights flickered.
I feel certain he did not howl.
Edward McCann is a professional writer whose features and essays have been published in national magazines and literary journals An award-winning television writer/producer and longtime contributing editor at Country Living, he also writes a blog, “My Rescue Mutt,” which chronicles his adventures with Willie, an 11-pounder from central Louisiana. McCann recently completed a memoir entitled “Finding George.” He lives and writes in New York’s Hudson River Valley.
By Áine Ní Shionnaigh
This week marks the 15th anniversary of the tragic death of John F. Kennedy Junior, only son of President John F. Kennedy. JFK Jr. perished when the light aircraft he was piloting crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. Also on board the flight to Martha’s Vineyard was his wife and sister-in-law. The anniversary prompted me to ponder on the sense of tragedy that befell father and son.
The “Kennedy Curse” refers to the series of tragedies that have befallen the family. This “curse” is more likely, and in part, due to the fame, wealth, and power that brought the Kennedys attention in the first place, rather than anything as mysterious as a “curse.” A sense of tragedy became evident very early on in John Junior’s life. His dad’s state funeral was held on his third birthday. In a moment that became an emotional and iconic image of the 1960s, John stepped forward and rendered a final salute as the flag-draped casket was carried out from the cathedral. At the age of seven, he spent six idyllic weeks in Ireland with his mother and his sister where he visited, among many places, his great great- grandfather’s homestead in Dunganstown, County Wexford, and met with President Eamon de Valera. As an Irish person I will never tire of the subject of the 1963 presidential visit to Ireland, how Ireland embraced him, how he embraced the Irish, and thus began a love affair that will go down in the realms of history.
President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was, and is, someone to aspire to, someone to learn about, and of course, if you are Irish, someone to argue about. Countless books have been written and re-written about the person he was, the image he portrayed, the reforms he fought for, and the abrupt ending that is almost too tragic to comprehend. His assassination left us with the eternal questions:
Where would his thinking have led the country and the world?
What more greatness would he have been capable of achieving?
The tragic ending of President Kennedy’s life, less than five months after he waved goodbye to Ireland, ensured that his memory will never ever fade with the passage of time. To understand fully the magnanimous effect of President Kennedy’s visit to Ireland in those last days of June 1963, one should recall the economic conditions of Ireland at the time. As the 1950s drew to a close, Ireland was in a state of depression, there was shocking and appalling poverty.
Noel Browne‘s book “Against the Tide” gives some accurate insight into what real poverty was. The closed economy rule that had been adopted by de Valera ensured that we remained an island in every sense of the term. In the early 1960s, Sean Lemass began to adopt the “First Program for Economic Expansion” and a chink of light slowly appeared in what was a dark and bleak time. The stage was perfectly set for a visit from one of our own, the ultimate returned immigrant from1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington. His visit epitomized perfectly the coming together of the transatlantic story of Irish America and Ireland. President Kennedy of course meant even more to the Irish in America as he validated who the Irish were. He was the first American president who identified himself as Irish and Catholic and interestingly, there hasn’t been anyone since. In terms of “respectability” for the Irish, the Kennedy influence is unquestionable. So, on the 26th of June, 1963, when President John F Kennedy stepped off the plane in Ireland, Ireland embraced him and he embraced the Irish.
Many history books begin with his grandfather, Patrick, who had worked his way up in Boston and became a saloon owner and a politician. However, the real beginning, the fact that the President’s eight great grandparents were Famine immigrants of course resonated strongly with Kennedy. How could it not? On the subject of emigration, he remarked to the people of New Ross in County Wexford: “When my great grandfather left here to become a cooper in East Boston, he carried nothing with him except two things: a strong religious faith and a strong desire for liberty. I am glad to say that all of his great grandchildren have valued that inheritance”. Also on display in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is the Fitzgerald family Bible brought from Ireland by President Kennedy’s forebears. This same Bible was used when John Fitzgerald Kennedy took his oath of office as 35th President of the United States on January 20, 1961. The Bible is an 1850 edition containing a handwritten chronicle of the Fitzgerald family from 1857 and including a record of the birth of John Fitzgerald Kennedy on May 29, 1917. In 1948, Kennedy wrote a less well known book titled “A Nation of Emigrants.” The coldest cynic could not fail to be warmed by the images of John F. Kennedy, the President of the United States of America, the Harvard-educated great-grandson of Patrick Kennedy, back “home” in his cousin Mary’s cottage in Dunganstown, Co.Wexford cutting cake and having copious cups of tea , being introduced to his relatives.
It was noted at the time that when the crush of chaotic crowds threatened to become overwhelming and the security men stepped in to intervene, the president waved them away with the words “It’s all right, these are my people.” Most poignantly perhaps is that he told people afterwards that, that one Irish day at the hearth of his cousin Mary in Wexford, and indeed, the four days in Ireland as a whole, were the highlight of his life. His speech in Dublin to the Oireachteas was the first Dail Eireann speech ever broadcast. Unbeknownst to everyone at the time, this was the start of Ireland’s genuine economic growth. Kennedy talked about Ireland’s position in the world, he acknowledged that “Yes, you are a small country but……………”
And that is where the story of modern Ireland began: “my friends: Ireland’s hour has come. You have something to give to the world – and that is a future of peace with freedom”. He gave Ireland one thing: he encouraged Ireland to aspire to greatness. In a time of post colonialism, where countries were slowly beginning to crawl out of the claws of colonialism, Kennedy put Ireland at the forefront of this movement.
When President Kennedy returned to the White House after his Irish visit, he was so taken with the Irish experience that he not only bored his staff to death replaying home movies of his Irish trip, he also began to study the Irish language. Perhaps, in the Oval Office, he pored over dictionaries and grammar books and I suspect, even his brilliant mind was perplexed by a language that had so many tenses and clauses. Perhaps he wanted to have the privilege of being able to speak one of the oldest living languages in Europe. In the Irish language, you do not separate what belongs together. President Kennedy recognized this, and appreciated it. His trip to Ireland was transcendent. He arrived as an Irish Norman Fitzgerald, and left as an Irish Gaelic Kennedy. Kennedy had observed the Irish Army Officer Cadets in the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin and talked much about them afterwards.
These same cadets from the Curragh, Co. Kildare were flown over for his funeral to perform the final salute at his graveside. Can there be anything more poignant that the image of these young, uniformed Irishmen performing the final graveside salutes. These same soldiers represented the Irish people that President Kennedy felt compelled to turn back to and say “I’ll be back in springtime.” Little did anyone know, that long before springtime, so many would be standing silent, at a graveside in Arlington Cemetery, bidding President John Fitzgerald Kennedy a final farewell on his last journey home. And that 36 years later, no time at all really, the world would be saying farewell to his only son.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam, agus anam a mhac.