By Peter McDermott
Enda Kenny was elected taoiseach last week with the backing of 117 TDs and just 27 opposing. That vote recalled another whopping Dáil margin in the fall of 2008 – 124 to 18, on the decision to guarantee the banks’ losses.
All of the 18 were Labour TDs, whose leader Eamon Gilmore said that the guarantee amounted to the biggest welfare check in history. During the recent campaign, the Labour Party ran an ad depicting Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Green and Sinn Féin TDs as sheep who’d been herded into a bad decision.
Then come the day of the election count, the newscasters and analysts talked about a “watershed” election after which nothing would be the same. They even mentioned “realignment,” but not the one that’s been hoped for by the left for generations. There simply wasn’t the great breakthrough for Labour that some of its adherents had hoped for and thought it deserved.
The election was indeed “historic,” given the collapse of the Fianna Fáil vote to 17.4 percent from 41.6 in 2007. The big question for the commentariat was whether that party, which had governed Ireland aside from occasional breaks since 1932, could ever again be reconstructed as a major force. The consensus seemed to be a negative one from Fianna Fail’s perspective: its best hope was to remarket itself as a “niche” party.
Labour itself was once a niche party in a conservative country, drawing support mainly from left-leaning workers in Dublin and farm laborers in Leinster. It has routinely fallen well short of its desire to become much more than that, but has also defied the worst prognoses of others.
On Feb. 25, 2011, the party did better than its rivals in one particular category – the increase in share of the first-preference vote since the last general election. It had a swing of 9.3 percentage points to 19.4 percent (winning 37 seats), whereas Fine Gael’s was 8.8 percent to 36.1. Then came the inevitable deal between the two.
Charlie Haughey, that great expert on ethical matters, once commented that when Labour wrestled with its conscience Labour always won. That is: rather than resisting the lures of office and staying in opposition to build its forces, it would always accept ministries in a Fine Gael-led government. However, when Haughey was safely gone, it did share power with Fianna Fáil. That was after the 1992 election – the last time it got close to the 20 percent mark.
Labour shifted gears in 1994 and changed the government without the benefit of an election by cobbling together an alliance with Fine Gael and Democratic Left (of which Gilmore and his immediate predecessor as Labour leader, the new communications minister Pat Rabbitte, were members).
This time, there were calls by one union leader for Labour to keep “its nerve” and lead in opposition a left bloc, which would include those independents close to it, Sinn Fein and the five-seat United Left Alliance.
But the last thing most other union leaders – and most voters — wanted was Fine Gael governing with the help of right-wing independents. Instead, what they did get, a “national government” of sorts, has already lifted spirits in a demoralized nation.
The anti-coalition argument within Labour was always rigorously logical, but it ran up against one important impulse: senior politicians want to serve at cabinet and sub-cabinet levels. (Note how the crooked Haughey portrayed the desire of clean politicians to get things done as somehow morally suspect.) And Labour’s elected representatives get less opportunity than many of their socialist counterparts in Europe. For instance, the new government’s deputy head, who turns 56 next month, had no cabinet experience before last week. Now Eamon Gilmore joins that illustrious band of former student radicals who’ve become foreign ministers.
Some critical voices were raised at his party’s special conference last Sunday, but the deal went through with ease. Changes in demographics and the world economy over the past few decades left social democracy everywhere scrambling for coherence and in Ireland forced Labour to worry more about survival and less about the appropriateness of coalition with parties to its right.
The tendency of center-left parties has been to travel light ideologically lest too many specific policies provide easy targets for the right, while still emphasizing social protection and egalitarianism. (British Labour politician Gerald Kaufman famously referred to his party’s left-wing manifesto in the 1983 election as the “longest suicide note in history.”)
Yet, it’s obvious enough that an urbanized, secularized Ireland has moved left. That can even be seen in the composition of Labour’s top leadership. Gilmore and Rabbitte started their electoral careers with the Workers Party. Joan Burton, who grew up in a working-class Dublin neighborhood, cut her political teeth as a Labour left-winger, and the new “super junior minister” from Longford-Westmeath Willie Penrose, who will sit in on cabinet meetings, also began his career on the party’s anti-coalition wing. Of the new Labour ministers only Ruairi Quinn and Brendan Howlin came from the party’s old guard. Even the allocation of junior ministries has favored those with Labour left and Democratic Left backgrounds.
And what of the other elements in a potential left bloc? Sinn Féin, now with 14 seats, is still very much in the process of defining itself in the South. It made significant gains, jumping from 6.9 to 9.9 percent of the first-preference vote, but failed to increase its support in Dublin since the last local elections. It has situated itself on the left of Labour on the economy, though the latter is still perceived as by far the most socially liberal of Ireland’s parties.
Some of Sinn Féin’s leaders might now wonder if moving to a populist centrist position would be the best course for their party. There, it could more effectively compete with Fianna Fáil as it tries to win back votes that went to Fine Gael and independents on Feb. 25. However, while vote maximization might aid its all-Ireland perspective, many among the rank and file in the Republic would likely resist such a shift.
Then there is the United Left Alliance, which is essentially a coalition of two rival Trotskyist parties. It would be a highly unstable element in any left bloc that’s seeking to position itself as a government in waiting. The ULA, for instance, would refuse any discussion of participation in a coalition that involved Fianna Fáil, even as a very junior partner.
One suspects that while Sinn Féin will make common cause with independents of varying hues, especially those who might otherwise be close to Labour, they will very soon get tired of the ULA.
The opposition left promise battles on property taxes. Yet, supporters of the government could argue such taxes are progressive, unlike sales taxes, which Fine Gael favors. Another “stealth” tax are water charges – which Labour has flip flopped on. Policies in that area, including the installation of meters, would bring Ireland in line with other European countries.
The more general criticism that this new government represents more of the same in terms of austerity will have greater resonance. So, Labour’s leaders will hope that, for once, the voters find the argument that things would be a lot worse if they weren’t in government a compelling one.
Junior partners in government can get punished badly by their erstwhile voters. Labour knows that well from its own past and as do politicians associated with Fianna Fáil’s most recent collaborators, the Progressive Democrats and the Greens.
A lot depends on the government’s ability to project itself as a reforming and competent administration, in contrast to the last one – a “national government” that’s doing all it can in a crisis not of its making. Meanwhile, Labour members will want their party to develop its own voice in government, notwithstanding the principle of collective responsibility, one that is fighting for the interests of its voters.
Their party has one psychological advantage that it didn’t have before: it’s the largest in the Dublin area, where it has two seats in almost in every constituency. Those newly minted members of the Dáil will be aware that realigning Irish politics depends on their solidifying and even extending their base in the capital. And while they know that both the far left and Sinn Féin are fully expecting to make gains at their expense, they will be as concerned about any revival of a party that was all but wiped out. Finishing off Fianna Fáil in Dublin for good might be all the motivation that Labour needs.
By Peter McDermott
Artist John Spinks has called his work showing at the Brooklyn Public Library a “conversation with a dead man.”
“Letters from Wallsend” are full of news about soccer, the weather and the family back in the Northeast of England.
When the day came for the artist to ask his parent if he could read those letters that he’d sent him back from New York, he was very disappointed to hear that they’d been consigned to the fire.
“He was of a generation,” he said of Cecil Spinks who died in Newcastle in 1992.
“I was going through a divorce and so on,” the artist added, explaining his widowed father didn’t want discussion of such things lying around.
However, the older man’s letters to America are routinely incorporated into his Irish-born son’s art.
“It’s my revenge,” Spinks said.
In contrast to his father, he said, his mother, a nurse by profession, only ever wrote the same letter: “Say your prayers and keep off the drink.”
Lucy Sheedy met her future husband when she was nursing his mother. Her first successful pregnancy, after two miscarriages, led to the 1946 birth of the future artist. She was in her native Ennis, Co. Clare, at the time. “It was just for the confinement,” said John Spinks, who will become a grandfather later this year. The family moved on, first to Surrey and then to his father’s native Northeast. “But there was six weeks every year back in Clare,” he said. “And I did Irish dancing in Newcastle. Everybody we knew seemed to be Irish.”
Meanwhile his father inculcated in him a passion for Newcastle United, which won the FA Cup in 1951, 1952 and 1955, and although the club has done little to justify hero-worship in the intervening decades, he still sees almost every game on TV.
The elder Spinks, who joined the army in his mid-teens in the 1920s and was mobilized again at the beginning of World War II, worked in positions in stores that were beneath his intellectual abilities, according to his son.
“He was a voracious reader,” John Spinks said. “Particularly books about nature. He was a countryman in his sensibility.”
These days by way of tribute, he places his father’s handwritten lines alongside printed text from some of the masters of English literature. “I like to put him in with heavy hitters like Dafoe and Beckett,” he said.
The exhibition at the Brooklyn Public Library – which features also the work of some of the borough’s leading photographers and a book-cover artist and writer – also gave Spinks the opportunity to cooperate with some long-time friends in his old neighborhood in Brooklyn.
“For 17 years, I had a studio in Dumbo. This was long before gentrification,” he said. “There’s a pizza place down there near Gleason’s Gym run by the Leonardi brothers – old-school Brooklyn Italians. I loved those guys and it was reciprocal.”
“And when the neighborhood changed, they were still there keepin’ it real,” he said.
Spinks moved south to a new studio in Clinton Hill, where he now lives with his wife Andrea, but he kept in touch with the Leonardis.
“Every Christmas, I’d take them a ‘pizza’ that I’d made. These were tondos — 12-inch round paintings/collages with a composition roughly built around ‘slices’ of imagery. I’d deliver them in a pizza box. It became a ritual.
“Anyway, last time I made one using envelopes my dad had sent me over the years showing various addresses I’d lived in the city. I combined this with slices of map showing their Front Street location,” Spinks said.
He thought it a good idea to include that most recent “pizza” for the library exhibit with the note underneath saying “From the collection of the Leonardi family.”
“The lads were delighted to lend the work back to me until April,” he said.
Another social contact led to his current commission. One Saturday, while watching a Premier League game in Mr. Dennehy’s bar on Manhattan’s Carmine Street, he struck up a conversation with the staunch Everton supporter sitting beside him. James Reynolds, an Irish American, told him about his letters from his granduncle in Donegal, Henry McCandless.
“I told him I’d definitely have a look at them,” he recalled.
Spinks liked what Reynolds showed him. “There are a lot of good one-liners,” he said. “I knew my father very well, so it’s exciting watching another personality, someone I didn’t know, take shape from these letters.
“I’m having a ball with it,” Spinks said.
“Letters from Wallsend” is on view through April 9 at Brooklyn Public Library, 10 Grand Army Plaza. John Spinks’s web site is www.newpainters.com.
By Peter McDermott
Back in the latter half of the 1980s when novelist Kevin Holohan had his first real job, he discovered he had something in common with his boss. The latter, who was the manager-owner of an English-language school in Spain’s La Mancha region and a married father of two young sons, would trade stories with his young employee about their respective school days.
They recalled the misery, the grimness of it all, the brutality, the drudgery and, Holohan said, “the general joylessness with which they ground you through the whole process.”
“They” referred to the Irish Christian Brothers. Both men had spent their formative years in Dublin at schools run and staffed by the religious order.
The most positive aspect of the experience, Holohan believes now, was the camaraderie it induced in the students.
“As Mel Brooks says, your best defense against these people is to make fun of them,” he said. And that survival technique is the starting point for “The Brothers’ Lot,” his debut novel published this month.
“I tried to write outrage. It was too harsh,” said Holohan, who lives with his wife and young son in Brooklyn.
The book he did eventually write is “mordantly funny” according to a review in Publishers’ Weekly. In advance praise, novelist Tim McLaughlin agreed with the adjective, though substituted the adverb “screamingly,” while another, Preston L. Allen, used “wickedly.”
It’s no surprise, then, that fellow University College Dublin graduate Joseph O’Connor suggested Holohan’s fictional world shows the influences of both Flann O’Brien and Monty Python. “The Brothers’ Lot” author agreed and added the name of writer Mervyn Peake.
Holohan said that his “allegorical satire,” which is set in Dublin during some unspecified post-World War II decade, is only “very slightly based” on his own experience. However, it’s clear that a significant percentage of adult Irish males would recognize the Brothers of Godly Coercion School for Young Boys of Meager Means.
He knew from comparing notes with his boss in Spain, who went to a school on the south side of Dublin, and his only siblings, brothers 14 and 10 years his senior, who preceded him to O’Connell Schools in the North Inner City, that the Christian Brothers’ repression had only eased slightly over the decades.
“A lot of things were fairly static; they hadn’t changed,” he said. “The similarities were really striking. Corporal punishment, sarcasm and belittlement were the norm.
“Even in the 1970s and ’80s there was this weird feeling that there was an apparatus underneath the surface, and that if you really screwed up you could get into that machinery and you could conceivably end up somewhere like Letterfrack,” said Holohan, referring to one of the most notorious of the Christian Brothers-run industrial schools. “It was always dangled there as a possibility.
“It should be possible to educate kids without them having a pit of dread in their stomachs. I remember feeling that. Not every day: there were some days you didn’t care,” Holohan said.
By mid-century, the Christian Brothers had reached the apex of their prestige. They were credited with having educated the revolutionary generation — including future heads of government like W.T. Cosgrave and Sean Lemass, and a head of state, President Sean T. O’Kelly — as well as most of the country’s administrators.
The newly independent state in 1922 had given the order every encouragement in continuing its role of educating boys from the lower middle-classes and the more prosperous sections of the working class. It was left to the more exclusive schools run by priestly orders such as the Jesuits and the Holy Ghost Fathers to train people for the professions.
The Christian Brothers stuck rigidly to their task and seemed unable to adapt to changing times. “The attitude was: the smart ones will go into the civil service or the ESB and the others will get a trade or become messenger boys,” Holohan said. There seemed little real encouragement for boys to aspire to a college education. By the same token, he added, the brothers resented the extension of free education to high schools because it meant bringing in “the gurriers from the flats in the surrounding streets.”
The novelist said: “They believed that throwing Latin and physics at these kids was a complete waste of time, but they did it anyway.”
But then the brothers sometimes gave the impression that educating anybody was almost too much work. His parents heard at a PTA meeting that their middle son’s class was “worthless and unteachable.” Holohan’s father, a civil servant, said: “If that’s what you’re saying about an entire group of young men, then you need to question the teaching that’s going on here.”
In the post-1960s era, parents were increasingly more likely to demand accountability, but in crucial respects they were from similar backgrounds and shared the worldview of the Christian Brothers. Holohan’s late father was a native of County Laois, while his mother is from County Tipperary.
“They were transplants who were never fully comfortable in Dublin,” he said. “I think that was fairly common at the time.”
For young city people, it seemed that all authority figures were from the country. “It was if a garrison of cops, priests and teachers had been sent to re-Gaelicize the Pale,” Holohan said. “It was if we weren’t Irish enough or not Irish in the right way.
“It was a Catholic nationalism that was starting to implode, but its effects were still quite corrosive,” he said.
For the novelist, the Christian Brothers were themselves victims of the system. They’d been plucked from their home environments at age 14 in most cases and could not return for seven years, though their parents could visit them.
“But there were teachers who lived in the real world who had children themselves who should have known better than to subscribe to this,” he said.
“In a twisted way it was character building,” said the novelist whose closest friendships date from his school days, “but that character might have been built in less stressful ways.
“I came out of it literate and numerate,” Holohan said. “It should have been achieved with less trauma and pain.”
“The Brothers’ Lot” ($15.95) is published in paperback by Akashic Books.
PHOTO BY PETER MCDERMOTT
By Ray O’Hanlon
Many supporters of the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade felt inclined to boo the city’s decision to reduce the length of the March 17 parade of parades, this despite the fact that this year’s is the landmark 250th such gathering in honor of St. Patrick.
But the biggest boo this year could well end up being directed at the New York City Department of Education, which has mandated citywide high school level parent teacher meetings beginning at 6 p.m. on the evening of the 17th.
This means that the many city teachers of Irish heritage, and there are indeed many, will have scant opportunity to celebrate the big day given that it’s not an official holiday to begin with.
“We will be working then working,” said one teacher who preferred not to be identified.
Unlike many public school kids who take a “sick” day to attend the Manhattan parade, teachers turn up for work on a day that is arguably the biggest unofficial holiday in the city, and indeed nation.
Now it will be classes followed by the meetings which are listed by the DOE to continue until 8.30 p.m. and could well last longer
“This was unnecessary,” said the unhappy teacher. “It would not have happened to any other ethnic or racial group,” he said before confirming that he would play by the rules and show up at his school.
The teacher said he was still hopeful that schools chancellor Cathie Black, who is Chicago-born of Irish heritage, might move the meetings to another night.
Books / By Peter McDermott
If there were to be a designated literary crossroads of America, then the junction at Fulton Street and South Portland Avenue in Brooklyn would be a leading contender. Jessica Stockton Bagnulo and Rebecca Fitting opened Greenlight Bookstore there in the heart of a borough known both for its literary roots and also for its living authors.
Several reside in historic Fort Greene, which nowadays is a vibrant, racially integrated neighborhood. Among them is the Indian-American Jhumpa Lahiri and Jennifer Egan, whose critically acclaimed “A Visit of from the Goon Squad” was launched at Greenlight last summer.
Now it’s the turn of Dubliner Kevin Holohan, a neighborhood customer, whose debut novel “The Brothers’ Lot” will be launched at the store on Thursday evening of next week.
“Greenlight is a welcoming, vital and vibrant part of Fort Greene,” Holohan said. “Its thoughtful and eclectic book selections make it possible to still stumble across something fascinating and unexpected.”
Browsing is one of the joys of the bookstore that the online experience can’t replicate and just one reason why Greenlight’s founders are optimistic about the future of the independents in the era of Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
There are, of course, skeptics, including one writer, a fan, in the Village Voice who said the “idea of opening a bookstore is akin to opening a typewriter shop at the beginning of the dot-com era.”
The difference is that the people of Fort Greene didn’t ask for a typewriter shop, but they did say in surveys that they needed a bookstore.
Bagnulo, who lives in the neighborhood with her husband Michael, rose to the challenge. She and Fitting announced their business plan in the fall of 2008. Then the crash hit, putting paid to their chances of getting a bank loan. So they reached out to people in the community. They raised $70,000 in small loans and added that to their personal savings, a grant from the Brooklyn library system and a $346,000 loan from the World Trade Center Small Business Recovery Fund.
“For every $100 you spend at an independently owned business, $68 will stay in the community,” says the Greenlight Bookstore website. “Did you know that when you spend the same amount at a national chain, only $43 stays in the community?”
Bagnulo isn’t looking for just any sort of loyalty. “We don’t want people to come because they feel that they should,” she said. “We want to give them a very good experience.”
The California native combined the best practices of the previous bookstores she’d worked in. “The same with Rebecca,” she said of her partner who had a career as a sales representative with Random House.
“We wanted to create a beautiful space where people could feel a sense of community and connection,” she said.
That space is 2,000 square feet, a manageable “human scale,” said Bagnulo, not a warehouse-like outlet favored by the chains, but not too small either.
“The old model of clutter had its charm,” she said, “But in a new store everything has to be accessible and in the right place.
“We were committed to the idea that you have to run a bookstore as a business. It’s not a hobby,” she added.
They employ staff members who regard themselves as professional booksellers, people who love reading and talking about books, not the equivalent of “the snarky record store clerk.”
The independents know they can’t compete with Barnes & Noble or Amazon’s special offers, but they can offer other things, such as frequent events. Greenlight Books has several each week, which help customers, the co-owner believes, “rediscover the value of community.”
With the Borders chain going into bankruptcy, Bagnulo has been asked a lot in recent weeks about bookstore viability. She believes, though, news of the independents’ demise has been exaggerated by media. Indeed, of her favorite bookstores in her 17 years in New York, only one, Coliseum Books, has closed, and it had a particular challenge establishing itself at its last Midtown location.
Bagnulo argued that rather than being their undoing new technologies help the independents. “We’re working 24 hours a day,” Bagnulo said, referring to the website (the doors at 686 Fulton St. are open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily).
And despite the radical shift towards digital, certain things won’t change. “A book is a beautiful gift for kids. Parents want to give this beautiful object. Images on the screen just aren’t the same,” Bagnulo said.
Children, for their part, seem to love being in the children’s section of a well-organized bookstore. And places like Greenlight have a calming and generally positive effect on adults, too. That’s their biggest advantage.
“People feel they want to be part of the store,” Bagnulo said. “That it’s their store.”
The launch of Kevin Holohan’s “The Brothers’ Lot” takes place on March 10, at 7:30 p.m. at Greenlight Bookstore, 686 Fulton St., Brooklyn. For more information go to www.greenlightbookstore.com. [PHOTO BY PETER MCDERMOTT]
By Susan Falvella Garraty
Washington, D.C. – It being March a basketball analogy well applies. It has been a full court press in recent days that has resuscitated the chances for U.S. funding for the International Fund for Ireland.
The Irish Embassy in Washington played offense and is credited with expert lobbying efforts to potentially reclaim some funding for the IFI in the Continuing Resolution bill and also in next year’s 2012 Budget.
Long time congressional supporters including congressmen Richard Neal (D-MA) and Peter King (R-NY) were the defenders and helped soften up a determined cadre of Republicans who had vowed, with Fox anchor Glenn Beck cheering from the sidelines, to zero out any further funding for the IFI.
Although figures remain fluid, the $17 Million originally designated for the IFI for 2011 – which had been stricken from the Republican leaderships’ budget proposal, has been reinserted into a short term Continuing Resolution which is expected to pass the House and Senate, thus keeping the U.S. Government operating for the next two weeks.
The actual final amount may be markedly reduced. Regardless of the ultimate outcome of the spending measure, it is a victory that supporters of the IFI managed to carve out support for it and to also have its 2012 funding transferred into the State Department’s budget, this is as opposed to the IFI’s current presentation as a stand alone “earmark.”
Republicans here even got an earful from Pat the Cope Gallagher (MEP) who contacted key members in the House to try and persuade them to restore funding.
“We’ve asked them to consider supporting it for another few years or so,” Cope told Donegal-based Highland Radio.
The IFI was scheduled to wind down in 2010, but Dublin, Belfast, and London all re-thought the matter when it became apparent that the U.S. would actually withdraw its contribution.
The White House is also offering to fund its support. Just last month, President Obama’s newly named observer to the fund, Daniel Hynes, joined in for the quarterly meeting. The International Fund for Ireland was established in 1986 and receives contributions from the United States, the European Union, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Former head of the Fund Willie McCarter told local reporters, “The IFI has been responsible for catering over 50,000 jobs in many areas where they have been badly needed.” He said it offered hope for future across the country.
McCarter disagreed with opponents of the fund who have complained about everything from the administration costs to the worthiness of some grant recipients. Just how much the IFI could receive remains undetermined, but clearly its supporters have rallied to have something for its coffers.
By Peter McDermott
You know you’re on the map if National Geographic magazine says you are. By that measure, people should be able to find their way to Joe Hurley’s 12th Annual All-Star Irish Rock Revue at the Highline Ballroom on March 12.
Last year, the famous magazine rated the event the “#2 star attraction” in a piece entitled “The 10 best places to celebrate the St. Patrick’s Season in America.”
“If I’d known that it would be 12 years, I would have given it a much shorter title,” Hurley said. “That’s for certain.”
The simplicity of Hurley’s idea – to have mainly non-Irish performers sing Irish rock and folk standards – has long struck a chord with the city’s mainstream media.
The “Irish Songbook” has included the Undertones, the Dubliners, Elvis Costello, the Pogues, Morrissey, John Lydon (Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols), Dusty Springfield, U2, Stiff Little Fingers, Dexy’s Midnight Runners and Sinead O’Connor.
“The songbook is of Ireland but for everyone,” said Hurley, who will lead his own band, the Gents, on the night. “New Yorkers from all backgrounds singing them: That’s what the show is about. There’s no other songbook that translates so well across the world.
“The performers will include a core group of top New York City stars from punk legends to Tony-winning Broadway stars to rising local singers.
“There’ll be a fantastic mix of Grammy award winners, Oscar winners and a National Book Award winner, Colum McCann,” Hurley added about this year’s four-hour extravaganza.
Among the many confirmed guests in the above categories are Dolores “LaLa” Brooks of the Crystals and Bob Dylan’s long-serving sideman Tony Garnier. The “Beehive Queen” Christine Ohlman, the lead vocalist of the “Saturday Night Live” band, will also make a return performance.
“There are a greater number of unannounced guests this year,” he said.
Among them are an act that is soon to be inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, a special guest from Ireland about to tour the U.S. and a “New York guitar legend” who will play the late Gary Moore’s Gibson Les Paul.
Moore died on Feb. 6, and the Irish Rock Revue will pay a special tribute to him and his Thin Lizzy front man Phil Lynott, whose 25th anniversary occurred in January.
Last year, backed by a video montage, Hurley and guests honored three people who had passed away in the previous 12 months: punk rocker and poet Jim Carroll, author Frank McCourt and folk musician Liam Clancy.
Hurley’s late soccer heroes George Best and Bobby Moore usually get a mention at some point. The London-born rocker made a pilgrimage to Best’s grave at Roselawn Cemetery in East Belfast in one of several trips to Ireland last year.
It’s been an extraordinarily busy time for the Manhattan-based musician. Among the notable highlights was his narration with Johnny Depp of the audio-book version of Keith Richards’ “Life.”
Hurley found that he liked the Rolling Stone’s memoir. “When you read the book, you feel that Keith’s sitting in his favorite armchair, reflecting on and sharing his wild ride and his life with just you,” he said.
And the critics in turn admired his work on it. “Hurley captures the voice of Richards throughout, narrating in a gritty growl that is spot on,” said Publishers’ Weekly, adding praise for his and Depp’s “wise, charming, and textured narration.”
“A very talented Hurley reads the bulk of this with a rough British accent and lots of brio,” the Cleveland Daily News said.
Hurley has also continued his collaboration with McCann and he expects the Dublin-born novelist to sing a song from the Highline stage a week from Saturday.
Literature is heard from Irish Rock Revue stage, too. Last year, for instance, Irish Consul General Niall Burgess read poetry in both Irish and English.
“I’ve asked Noel [Kilkenny, Burgess's successor] to come down this year,” Hurley said.
For its founder, the revue isn’t just about the music.
“The appeal of it is that the Irish are the great storytellers and everyone loves a good story,” he said.
The Irish Rock Revue will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 12 at the Highline Ballroom, 431 West 16th St. (between streets 9th and 10th Avenues). Doors open at 6 p.m. and the event will end at 10:45. Proceeds will go to the Bowery Mission.
Irish women have the highest fertility rate in the EU, but the birthrate here still remains below the level needed to replace the population, the Irish Times reports.
Latest figures published today reveal there were 73,996 children born in Ireland in 2008.
This was up 2,607 or 3.7 per cent from 2007, and up 20,027 or 37.1 per cent since 1998, according to the Central Statistics Office Vital Statistics report.
The average number of children per woman increased from 2.05 in 2007 to 2.07 in 2008 – just below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman.
This is the fertility rate that must be maintained to replace the population in the absence of migration.
According to the CSO, the number of babies born in 2008 was the highest since 1980 when there were 74,064 births, the only year in the 20th century to have a higher birth rate.
Before that, the highest number of births was in 1892, when there were 74,029 births in Ireland (excluding Northern Ireland).
It is the third consecutive annual increase in the number of births. The birth rate was 16.7 per 1,000 of the population compared with 16.5 in 2007 and 14.6 in 1998.
The CSO noted an “important shift” in the age structure of fertility after 1993.
Prior to that date, the highest fertility rate was for women aged 25 to 29. After that year, it shifted to the 30-34 age group.
Nearly 22 per cent of births in 2008 were to mothers of non-Irish nationality. The number of births outside marriage was 24,732 or 33.4 per cent.
Boston’s Four Green Fields Pub & Restaurant is hosting Echo editor Ray O’Hanlon on Saturday, February 26, for a reading of his new novel, “The South Lawn Plot,” an historical thriller set in two centuries and on four continents. The reading, to be followed by a discussion, begins at 7 p.m. and is free to the public.
Bestselling writer Pete Hamill has described “The South Lawn Plot” as a “wonderful work, with a layered, hard-driving narrative, vivid characters, abiding mysteries and the past that has not passed.”
The hardcover is published by Boston-based GemmaMedia which publishes an a range of books including fiction, cultural memoir, journalism, and current affairs.
Four Green Fields, Boston’s newest pub, opened on February 11 and is named for a song by the late Irish ballad singer Tommy Makem. It features a spacious first floor restaurant with an oyster bar, an upstairs lounge named for Irish-American boxing champ John L. Sullivan, and an authentic Irish thatched cottage.
Four Green Fields is at One Boston Place and is just steps away from the Boston Irish Famine Memorial and other local Irish landmarks along the Irish Heritage Trail. For details call (617) 367-4747.
By Peter McDermott
Producer Trish Adlesic has one ambition for her film “Gasland”: that it makes a difference. Winning the Oscar in the Best Documentary category on Sunday night would certainly help in that regard.
“Gasland” has its roots in a request director Josh Fox got to lease his land in Pennsylvania for drilling. The film chronicles Fox’s cross-country investigative odyssey searching for the truth about natural gas and its extraction.
Pittsburgh native Adlesic has seen and liked all of the other nominated documentaries — “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” “Inside Job,” “Restrepo” and “Waste Land.”
“Most of the buzz seems to be around ‘Gasland’ and ‘Inside Job’ [Charles Ferguson's look at the financial meltdown of 2008],” she said.
“‘Inside Job’ is flawless, but the difference between ours and the others is that it’s about a present-tense situation,” added Adlesic, who is the locations manager of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”
She is aware that it’s become an issue in the land of her maternal ancestors and indeed has accepted an invitation to show “Gasland” at the Guth Gafa International Documentary Film Festival in Donegal this year.
“I’ve visited eight times. To me, Ireland is the most precious plant in the world,” she said. “It would be travesty if it happened there.”
She hopes that “Gasland” can aid in the building of social movements protesting drilling. “It’s a real David vs. Goliath story,” she said of the documentary.
For now, Adlesic, the youngest of her parents’ six children, is focused on Sunday’s ceremony. “Finding the right dress is turning out to be more difficult than making the movie,” she said laughing.
“We’re over the moon,” Adlesic added about the Oscar nod. “We never thought we’d get his far.”