By Orla O’Sullivan
“Who’s Your Daddy?” * By and starring Johnny O’Callaghan * Directed by Tom Ormeny at the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 W. 22nd St. NYC * Playing Wednesday through Sundays through May 12 (with a possibility of an extension) * Tickets through 212-727-2737 or www.irishrep.org.
The story of a gay man trying to adopt a child might seem to be of narrow interest. However, anyone seeing this first play by Dubliner Johnny O’Callaghan can see why his solo show won accolades at its debut in Los Angeles in 2011 and at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe festival.
Anyone who has an Irish mammy, a quirky family, an interest in language, children, global development, or simply a badly judged love affair in their past can relate to the hilarious, moving and tension-filled tale O’Callaghan tells in “Who’s Your Daddy?” The show stands out from most others this reviewer has seen in years.
Within moments of O’Callaghan’s first utterance that he’s “haunted” by his parents “and they’re not even dead!” you’re laughing and confident of great things to come. Impressions of his chain-smoking, politically incorrect mother whose favorite color is “n**** brown” quickly give way to the main story—a trip to Uganda that O’Callaghan fell into at a low point in his life.
The unemployed actor’s chance encounter with an acquaintance bound for Africa leads to him leaving California before he knows it. “Maybe I should have Googled Uganda!” O’Callaghan told himself the night he arrived after passing militia mimed throat-slitting of the “Mzungu!” or “white man”.
Unexpectedly, Uganda’s life-and-death realities shook O’Callaghan from the suicidal fantasies he had in L.A.
The neglected yet exuberant children in the orphanage spoke to him. Scabby, ashen, and malnourished, they shared a mud floor with snakes and rats. One toddler climbed into O’Callaghan’s lap, fascinated by the red hairs on his arms. O’Callaghan heard a voice: “This is your son.” The boy, Benson, has a birthmark — like the map of Ireland, O’Callaghan thought — in the white of one eye.
O’Callaghan had long dreamt that he was pregnant, waking as he searched for his child’s birthmark.
Still, he tried to shake the crazy notion of adopting Benson. Then, one night, he said, “I dream of Benson graduating Harvard medical school and wake knowing I’m going to adopt him”.
O’Callaghan left for L.A., as planned, having hired a Ugandan lawyer to process the adoption.
But that’s only the start of the story. One obstacle after another stood in his way: from his single, gay (actually, bi-sexual) status; to Benson’s HIV status; to African bureaucrats on the take. Will he, won’t he? It’s gripping drama.
There’s lot of light relief, too. The stern judge, who finally decides his case, became suddenly starstruck when he learnt O’Callaghan was an actor. “What might I have seen you in?” he booms. O’Callaghan (pathetically): “Stargate Atlantis.”
There’s the family intervention by phone. Different members try to dissuade him, from his sister declaring him a “pedophile” to his father attesting that, “being a parent is bloody awful.”
In a dejected moment, O’Callaghan internalizes his family’s negative voices, reproaching himself with a rhetorical question: “Who do you think you are, Angelina Jolie?” Later, there’s a nice in-joke with the audience when O’Callaghan assures the earnest Californian social worker that, yes, his family will have a baby shower for him.
Tom Ormeny adds nice directorial touches, such as having O’Callaghan hang, apelike, from an overhead pipe at one point when he is in the orphanage near the jungle.
A beautiful set by Charlie Corcoran vividly evokes Africa even before the show starts. The silhouette of an Acacia tree, a species so associated with Africa, dominates a horizon painted on the back wall. It lies beyond a honeycomb wall that conveys a dusty dryness. Switches in lighting (Michael O’Connor) shift the emphasis from background to foreground, as O’Callaghan relocates from Africa to the U.S.
So much to praise, so little space…
By Orla O’Sullivan
Freud said the Irish were “one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever.”
Nonetheless, Irish-American Alison Fraser is drawn to analysis. In the upcoming play “Love Therapy” the Tony-nominated actress plays an Irish woman whose path collides with a young therapist, while in real life she has written a thesis analyzing what she describes as casual racism towards the Irish.
Why, over the centuries, have Freud and others of his ilk, felt free to dispense, “socially acceptable anti-Irish rhetoric.” Fraser asks in her 2010 BA in English Literature thesis from Fordham University, “No Irish Need Apply.”
Fraser’s questionable argument is that “[T]he blame starts with… Gerald of Wales… a pro-Norman churchman… in the late 12th century.”
Maybe it’s simply that the victors write history and the Irish were in the shadow of the colonizers, whether next door to Britain or on arrival to the WASP-dominated U.S.
Fraser’s wide-ranging discussion comes into its own when she focuses a relative prominent in New York theater circles of the 19th century, partly because he did his best to “pass” as British.
Lawrence Barrett, born in Patterson, N.J., in 1838, changed his name from Brannigan, which itself was modified from Branagan, the Irish name of the Natick, Mass., branch of the family from which Fraser hails.
Barrett was manager of the most famous actor of the day, Edwin Booth, and photos of the two of them can be seen in Booth’s former home, now the Players Club in Manhattan’s Gramercy Park. Edwin’s even more famous brother President Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth is also photographed.
Try though he might to distance himself from his roots, Barrett still found himself tarnished by his “Celtic temperament” in the press. (He was also, one could say, literally erased from history. When a once prominent painting of him was sold by the Players Club in recent times it was not replaced by a copy – unlike other original portraits sold, Fraser notes.)
Another tidbit is that an old theater superstition—not to utter “Macbeth” within the theater—came from the Irish. Fraser tells how ethnic tensions came to a head in The Astor Place Riot of 1849, when 10,000 Irish men rioted at a performance of “Macbeth” by an English actor, killing 31 people.
Fraser’s direct experience of the Macbeth curse came while she was performing in “Gypsy” on Broadway. Many inexplicable ills befell the production after author-director Arthur Laurents uttered “Macbeth,” Fraser said, and Patti Lupone, who was hit by falling lights, had to prevail on him to do as superstition dictates to lift the curse. (FYI, that’s run outside the theatre, spin three times, spit, swear, and ask permission to be let back in.)
Her latest play, “Love Therapy,” opens on April 29th at the DR2 Theatre, 101 East 15th St., NYC.
By Frieda Klotz
Overcrowded workhouses, soup kitchens that closed when they were needed most, a neglectful British administration and a population decimated by illness and starvation.
More than 150 years after the Irish famine, the Great Hunger of 1845-52 remains one of the most far reaching and tragic events in Ireland’s history. The Famine drastically shrank the country’s population, initiated a trend in emigration that remains in place today, and had lasting cultural and social effects.
It raises questions that are still unanswered, and last weekend, historians, students, and members of the public gathered at Fordham University to discuss them.
The impassioned dialogue that ensued showed how controversial the tragedy remains.
The aim of the two-day Irish Famine Tribunal, at Fordham University Law School, was to explore issues of culpability. On Saturday, two opposing teams of law students, from Dublin City University and Fordham Law School, argued over Britain’s role. Did the famine constitute genocide, in modern terms? Were British actions tantamount to crimes against humanity?
Three eminent legal experts adjudicated the presentations, John G. Ingram, acting justice of Kings County Supreme Court, William Schabas, professor of International Law at Middlesex University, and Adrian Hardiman, a judge of the Irish Supreme Court.
On Sunday, three historians, Tim Pat Coogan, John Kelly and Ruan O’Donnell, discussed their research on the subject.
Over the course of the two-day event, those present shared a wealth of data and knowledge, and the conversation that ensued was lively. History and historians were as much under scrutiny as anyone else.
“Quite simply, we plan to explore, through the adversarial process, culpability for the Irish Famine,” said moderator James Cullen in his introduction.
“Today’s contest will not be burdened by preconditions, political views or academic censorship.”
Tim Pat Coogan, who published a book on the famine last year called “The Famine Plot: England’s Role in Ireland’s Tragedy,” suggested that subsequent descriptions have filtered out the trauma that it caused.
An ideological hesitance exists around talking about the famine, he argued, and revisionist historians have moved away from questions of blame, a process he described as a “sanitation of Irish history.”
By presenting it in economic terms, revisionists forget that they are talking about death – “death in its most hideous manifestations, its cruelest form.”
Coogan painted a persuasive picture of just how impoverished Irish people were at that time. Many lived in miserable conditions, inhabiting mud huts that had one door and smoke emerging from a hole in the roof. A large proportion of the population relied almost wholly on the potato for sustenance.
Several of the politicians sitting in the British cabinet were Irish landlords, he said.
“There is no doubt that people knew that Ireland was a disaster waiting to happen.”
The famine decreased the number of people living on the land, and fitted with a desire among British politicians to bring down the number of small- holdings in Ireland, Coogan explained. Emigration also played a part in Britain’s policies for reducing congestion. He said the psychological effects of colonialism are still apparent in Irish people today.
Whether the UN’s definition of genocide could retrospectively apply to Britain gave rise to a specific legal debate. The UN describes genocide as an act “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
For Coogan, the answer was certain: “What happened, I would submit, is accurately and pithily described in one word, genocide.”
John Kelly, an independent scholar and author of “The Graves Are Walking,” emphatically disagreed: while Britain’s actions were terrible and neglectful they
did not embody genocide. Judged by the UN standard, “the case against Britain becomes less compelling judged by UN standards,” he said.
One thing that was clear from the tribunal was how emotive and wide-ranging the Irish Famine’s history is. Several speakers noted the difficulty that seems to exist for Irish people about addressing the country’s past. Many felt that silence had reigned too long over this issue.
Mary Pat Kelly, a writer whose family came to Chicago during the famine, explored the subject through fiction in her book “Galway Bay.” She is now writing a screenplay for a mini-series based on her book with Naomi Sheridan.
The Famine holds a key place in the history of the Irish-American diaspora, and Kelly thought a dimension not addressed at the tribunal was the dogged strength of
the Irish who survived and came to the U.S. It is important not to end the story with emigration and death, she said, but also to celebrate those who possessed “the will and intelligence and determination to survive, and to basically build this country.”
Like many of those who attended the tribunal, Kelly felt that the event had sparked a vital conversation.
“I do think there is validity in looking at the past through a different lens,” she said.
“I think the most important thing is that it’s being talked about.”
A verdict arising from the tribunal will be delivered later in the year.
Between the Lines / By Peter McDermott
In an article last week, the New York Times referred to a team named “Sunderland United.” That to a soccer fan grates as much as the “Yankee White Sox” would to a devotee of baseball. Maybe the writer thought he was as likely to be right as wrong. In fact, there are only three Uniteds in the 20-club Premier League: West Ham, Newcastle and leaders Manchester – though the last of those requires “United” for identification, as there is also a Manchester City, now in 2nd place. The Times did make the correction online by saying that Sunderland had been “imprecisely” named, which was itself imprecise; “inaccurately” would’ve been accurate.
In any case, the London correspondent was reporting on the controversy that blew up after the firing of manager Martin O’Neill and the hiring of Paolo Di Canio, who has alleged fascist views. The Irish Times’ long-time Rome correspondent Paddy Agnew wrote this past weekend: “His track record as a Mussolini enthusiast is long established.”
BBC Online kindly put this in some historical context for soccer fans, many of whom likely weren’t listening at school when it was covered or haven’t gotten to it yet.
“Mussolini’s hard-line authoritarian rule – exemplified by his armed Blackshirts forces – stamped down on left-wing politics and democratic values,” said the Beeb, “as well as forwarding nationalistic policies which promoted Italian sovereignty and tradition.”
That’s pretty basic stuff. Well, you’d think. But in America, this is what we get from folks like Glenn Beck: liberals are bad, fascists and Nazis are bad – liberals are Nazis and fascists. Only recently, Ben Shapiro of Breitbart News labeled the Nazis a “left-wing” movement in a radio interview with Sean Hannity, which, unlike “Sunderland United,” was not an honest mistake.One might as well say Nazism was a Catholic movement. Like the church it was officially critical of both communism and capitalism, but like the church it actually didn’t do anything to seriously undermine the latter. The Nazi movement used “socialist” to try to broaden its appeal, just as the church issued “social” encyclicals. Hitler and Goebbels both were raised Catholics. And so on.
Or, you could say that the Nazis were a pagan movement because… well, actually, come to think it: yes, lots of Nazi leaders were enthusiastic, born-again pagans, rather more than were practicing Catholics. They were obsessed with “Nordic folkways” just like your neo-pagans are today. That hardly makes the two synonymous.
Last week, the Feds came calling for New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, who happens to be a neo-pagan of some sort, in addition to being a Republican. (Not that he’d listen to me – Republicans or pagans don’t usually – but I’d go the insanity route here and wear to court a set of those Viking horns my Dublin-supporting brother-in-law puts on his kids’ heads for games at Croke Park.)
Maybe it was a premonition of some sort, but last summer at a rally supporting 32-ounce sodas, Halloran appeared to reference a famous statement by anti-Nazi pastor Martin Niemöller. “When the mayor went after salt, nobody said anything,” he said. “When the mayor went after MSG, everyone was quiet. When the mayor required us to post the information about the calorie counts in everything, no one said a word. When we banned smoking inside restaurants, everyone said, ‘Hey, it’s fine.’ Well, today, it’s your soda.”
What Niemöller actually said, according to a version posted on the website of the foundation in his name, was: “First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the socialists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Niemöller eventually spent eight years in concentration camps, but he was one of those many Protestant churchmen who initially welcomed the Nazis as a bulwark against the liberalizing and atheistic tendencies of the Weimer Republic. On his rise to power, Hitler wrested votes from the established nationalist and conservative parties, which were disproportionately rural, middle-class and Protestant in their bases of support. However, in the Nazis’ increasingly good showing in German elections in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the two demographics that proved most obviously resistant to their charms were workers organized into unions, who loyally voted for the left-wing parties, and Catholics, who continued to back the Center Party.
We don’t the have the laws against Holocaust denial they have in some European countries, but it’s certainly considered beyond the pale of decency to deny or minimize the enormity of that crime. Shouldn’t the basic facts of the lead up to that chapter in world history be sacrosanct – while allowing for differences in emphasis and interpretation, which is the stuff of historical writing and debate? Have our culture and media become so debased that someone like Shapiro can treat the 1920s and 1930s as a blank slate for purely propagandistic ends?
Perhaps, more generally, we can’t do much about the trivialization of 20th century history, but it gets to a point when it just becomes ridiculous, as with the above-mentioned Big Gulp controversy. Either implicitly (again, see above) or explicitly, Mayor Bloomberg, who was born to a Jewish family during World War II, got called a Nazi by people angry that they had to buy two 16-ounce sodas instead of a 32-ounce. Go figure.
Published in the Irish Echo on March 20, 2013
By Orla O’Sullivan
Had her parents not sent her to Paris as a reward for her decision to become a nun, deferred for a year, Ireland would not have had in Mary Robinson as its first female president, nor the United Nations a formidable High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“Paris,” Mrs. Robinson, with a laugh, “of course, that changed everything,” she said as she spoke in New York’s Cooper Union about the path her life took after she abandoned plans to join the clergy.
The historic New York venue was Robinson’s fourth and final stop in a U.S. tour to promote her memoir, “Everybody Matters; My Life Giving Voice.”
Mrs. Robinson received a standing ovation from the crowd of about 300 people who came out in a downpour.
Still, there were substantially fewer present in New York than the “huge audiences” she had received in Philadelphia, Boston and St. Louis in the past fortnight, according to her husband, Nick Robinson.
Mrs. Robinson, now 68, spoke for about an hour, barely glancing at notes. Without reading from her memoir, she fluidly traced the line from lawyer to senator to Irish president, and on to the world stage – shining a spotlight on everything from famine to genocide and, most recently, what she terms “climate justice.”
Robinson’s discussion encompassed everything from the deadly serious, such as the “travesty” in Syria, to humorous reminiscences. Among the latter was that she and some of her brothers rented an apartment, as students, in the house where Oscar Wilde was born.
“It was renamed during our time as ‘Wilde House’ but that had more to do with my brothers,” said the woman who admitted to being the type who “sat at the front of class.”
Today, Robinson heads the Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice. The foundation, which focuses on how the world’s poorest are hit hardest by environmental degradation, was established in 2011.
Mrs. Robinson also remains active in world politics, as a member of the Elders, an independent group formed by Nelson Mandela.
A recipient of multiple awards, including one from President Obama, Mrs. Robinson spoke from the spot where Abraham Lincoln made a speech that helped paved his path to the presidency: the Great Hall of Cooper Union.
Jamshed Bharucha, president of the free university in Manhattan, noted, in introducing her, that other agents of change hosted over the centuries in Cooper Union included Michael Collins and Fenian rebels before him.
The changes for which Mrs. Robinson advocated from an early age put her outside mainstream Irish society. She jokingly referred to the “modest proposals” she put before the Irish Law Society, as the first female undergraduate to address it: access to contraception, and the decriminalization of homosexuality and suicide.
A few years later, a senator at age 25 and the wife of Nick, with whom she studied law in Trinity College, Mrs. Robinson found herself “denounced from pulpits” and “feeling wobbly walking down Grafton St… I was used to being well regarded.”
She was the recipient of so much hate mail, Mr. Robinson burnt it, “something,” she said, “we both very much now regret because it was a great record of social history.”
The odds from bookmakers were “a hundred to one against” her when she reluctantly accepted the Labor Party’s invitation to run as its presidential candidate – drawn, she said, by the possibilities to influence constitutional law, thereby making more of a previously merely ceremonial role.
She famously thanked “mná na hÉireann” (women of Ireland) for their support In her 1990 acceptance speech. “So many wives didn’t tell their husbands or daughters their fathers that they’d voted for me,” she said.
One such woman came to shake Mrs. Robinson’s hand, years ago in Boise. “You were my number one,” she said, “when I told my father he nearly killed me!”
Another term Mrs. Robinson brought to common use was “the diaspora.” Standing before some of that diaspora just ahead of St. Patrick’s Day, she said, “Now, it’s got to the stage of having Irish people come home for a ‘Gathering.’”
Asked afterwards if she thought The Gathering 2013, an initiative to attract visitors to Ireland this year had cheapened her intended emphasis on Ireland’s often forgotten emigrants, Mrs. Robinson said no.
“I know there’s a lot of criticism of The Gathering, but I think it’s an Irish thing to look to friends and neighbors to help when times are bad.”
Among the diaspora represented in Cooper Union was Anne Heavey, a retired nurse from Athlone, who, despite ill health, braved the elements to see Ireland’s former president.
“You’d be proud of Mary,” she said.
By Peter McDermott
Some have it that the Irish built New York. In the case of Jim Rodgers’s family it could be said to be literally true.
His great-great-grandfather Cornelius Gallagher established a business empire that, among other achievements, provided most of the sand that was used in the construction of Manhattan north of 14th street and it made him extraordinarily wealthy
“He was a billionaire in modern terms,” Rodgers estimated of an ancestor who was 85 when he died in 1932.
“The charm of his character was his thorough naturalness, [and] perhaps it was this that carried him so triumphantly through his career,” said an obituary published by the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. “In all, he was a lovable character and an affectionate friend.”
If this Famine-era immigrant born to a Donegal family wasn’t exactly “old money,” he was based in a part of Long Island that suggested he was. The patriarch had an address at East 38th Street in Manhattan, but summered at Port Washington on the North Shore with his wife Annie, his children and their families.
“This was a time when only a very few old WASP families went out to the Hamptons,” said Rodgers, the married father of two teenage children.
Instead, the action was on the North Shore. The newly affluent and famous, like F. Scott Fitzgerald, lived on Great Neck, which the novelist fictionalized as “West Egg” in “The Great Gatsby.” But he did go to parties across the bay on the Sands Point peninsula, or old-moneyed “East Egg” in the novel, which is where the love of Gatsby’s life, Daisy Buchanan, grew up and where the real-life Gallaghers were based.
“This was someone whom I was interested in since I was 15,” he said of the “Gatsby” author. When he read biographies as an adult, he saw a possible connection to his family.
“I like to think that Fitzgerald went to the Gallaghers’,” he said, referring primarily to the home of his great-grandfather Peter and his wife Mimi.
“They were a colorful family that partied for 100 years, because there was always money,” Rodgers said of the Gallagher clan. “They knew how to make money and they knew how to spend it.
“They were a family of raconteurs,” he added. By the time he came along the stories remained, but the money, for the most part, had been spent.
Rodgers is a downtown Manhattan lawyer who has completed two as yet unpublished novels. A popular reader at both the Irish American Writers & Artists salon and its spinoff Artists Without Walls, he writes about his world and what he knows. And while he’s fascinated by and feels close to the Gallaghers, he hasn’t been tempted to fictionalize their sprawling multi-generational story. For one thing, it might be a little too melodramatic for his literary style.
In or around 1926, his great-grandfather Peter C. Gallagher Sr. died in circumstances that were never made public. There were two main conflicting stories or theories. One was that he fell or was pushed in front of a subway train. The other, passed on to Rodgers by his mother, rings truer for him. In that version, Peter fell and hit his head off of the side of a yacht during a fight with one of his three brothers. One point of tension was Mimi, Peter’s wife, whom the brother had once loved, too.
The widowed Mimi (formerly Alice Mae Murray), who was born into an allied clan involved in the business, became the matriarch after Cornelius and Annie passed away. She made sure that her two sons – Rodgers’s grandfather Peter C. Gallagher Jr. and John Murray Gallagher — would assume key roles in the running of the business.
A generation later, after Peter’s death in the late 1950s, the neighbors on the North Shore said: “Enough!”
Rodgers said: “They [the Gallaghers] had stripped the dunes at Port Washington.” Articles in the local press ran with headlines like “The rape of the sand dunes.”
Emphasis on fun
His mother’s brothers and her cousins sold Gallagher Brothers Sand & Gravel in 1960 and went into the shipyard business. That went bankrupt in the 1990s, but some family members made a “tidy sum” by selling the lease of the dry dock and shipyard to IKEA for its store at Red Hook in Brooklyn.
Rodgers’s mother, the former Helen “Chickie” Gallagher, grew up in the 1930s and ’40s, spending one part of the year in Palm Beach, Fla., and the other in New York. She went to elite Catholic schools in both places.
The Gallaghers belonged to a group of wealthy Irish Catholic families on the Upper East Side that had intermarried and were otherwise interconnected over the generations.
The emphasis was always on fun. “My mother’s was the last generation to enjoy that lifestyle,” Rodgers said. During Chickie Gallagher’s high school and college days, parties often meant 20 or more friends staying overnight.
“I thought she’d exaggerated some of it, but a friend of hers confirmed to me it was all true,” he added.
The Gallaghers had servants, of course, including a chauffeur named Eddie Dillon, whose body, when his time came, was entombed in the Gallagher plot. Rodgers later learned that the family retainer he knew as a child had changed his name from Halpern to avoid discrimination as a driver.
“The family claimed he was the only Jew buried in Calvary,” he said.
Chickie met her future husband, James H. Rodgers Jr., in Westhampton, where the family had been spending its summers since the late 1940s. He was from a Catholic family in New Jersey of English, Scottish and Irish heritage. “His father had a company, but they weren’t wealthy like the Gallaghers,” said his son. The young couple married in 1955.
“My father really loved and respected the Gallaghers,” Jim Rodgers Jr. said.
Rodgers Sr. was sorry that his seven children didn’t know his parents-in-law – they both died in their 50s – but he was a keen observer who could relate what he’d seen and heard. And his wife, brothers-in-laws and sisters-in-laws were there, too, and so the storytelling and the laughter continued.
“Thanksgiving was always with the Gallagher family,” Rodgers said of a 1960s and ‘70s childhood. “Christmases were spent with my father’s side.”
Despite the family’s profile and wealth, Rodgers’s mother hadn’t known about the most public and controversial episode in the family’s business history. In 1920, Goodwin-Gallagher Sand and Gravel Corporation and allied companies were prosecuted by the Justice Department under the terms of the Sherman Antitrust Act.
A story in the New York Times on Dec. 20 of that year ran with a subhead: “Eleven Individuals and Four Corporations accused of plot to Control Sand Trade.” The charge was they had established their own “Board of Trade” and that it fixed prices. Rodgers said that it’s clear from press interviews that his great-grandfather Peter and his brothers John, Joseph and Frank didn’t understand quite what they were doing wrong. (Their father, Cornelius Gallagher, had recently retired.)
The Times reported: “The indictments charge that for three years the sand dealers named in the indictment have dug ‘Cow-bay’ sand on Long Island for use throughout a great part of Connecticut, New York and New Jersey.”
“As a lawyer, I understand the legalities. But you can see that there’s a disconnect with them. They just didn’t get it,” Rodgers said. “But they paid the fine.
“I find it a source of pride, a weird source of pride, that a child of the Famine had such a monopoly,” he said.
A new company, Gallagher Brothers Sand and Gravel, was formed after the dismantling of the old one. Rodgers has no information about what Mimi Gallagher’s brothers-in-law did after she established control of the company, but he believes it’s likely they continued to make money.
Reviewing the arc of the family’s history, he said: “Goodwin-Gallagher or Gallagher Brothers supplied the bulk of the sand and gravel for most of what was built north of 14th Street, including the subways, the Queensboro Bridge, the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center.”
“I don’t know if we can confirm if Cornelius came over because of the Famine,” Rodgers said of the patriarch.
The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick obituary said his birth took place on July 4, 1845. The New York Times, in a news report announcing his death, suggested he was born the following year and added that he left Ireland as a child.
“He was essentially a New Yorker, having lived all his life in the old Twenty-first Ward, where as a boy, early education was received at a public school on East 25th Street,” the Friendly Sons’ obit reported.
“He saw his father lay out streets from 26th Street to 40th Street,” it continued.
It’s not clear, however, if “lay out” meant the father was a ditch digger or that he had a more supervisory role.
“It has been recorded that he [Cornelius] brought sand and gravel from Long Island by schooner, first in 1866,” the Friendly Sons obit said.
Gallagher bought out the competition that was hauling sand and gravel from the bluffs of Port Washington, and then merged with another sand king named Goodwin.
“From the hardy stock from which he sprang Mr. Gallagher inherited an iron constitution, capable of great physical endurance and a capacity for hard, continuous work,” the Friendly Sons added.
His wasn’t the only hard work being done. At one point, the business was shipping in 800 Italian immigrant workers from the Lower East Side. The Italians, in time, preferred to live nearby and a school was built. The workers’ side of the story also gets its due at Port Washington Public Library with the help of oral histories. Some of them record the same positive attitude towards Cornelius Gallagher that is evident in the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick obituary.
Rodgers said there were two surprises for him, his siblings and his cousins from the recently discovered Times news report and the Friendly Sons Gallagher obituary. The first was that the business empire went well beyond sand and gravel.
The obituary said: “He was vice-president of, and one of three who organized the National Conduit & Cable Company. To him much credit is due for the perfecting of lighting cables for traction and lighting purposes, as well as the completing and laying of the Broadway cable with its famous ‘Post-Office loop.’
“He installed underground cable systems for telegraph and telephone companies as well as for the fire and police departments when the pole system was removed from our streets and the underground plan substituted,” it said. “His fame spread to London, England, when he directed the first complete line from Beggars Bush to the Glasgow Bank of England. He was president of the Norristown, Bridgeport & Conshohocken Traction & Trolley Co., which in later years was known as the Philadelphia Traction System.”
The Times reported that National Conduit & Cable Company was sold to a Wall Street syndicate in 1917 for $8 million ($134 million in today’s money), of which Gallagher got a reported quarter.
The second surprise was the headline of the Times news report: “C. GALLAGHER DEAD; HONORED BY POPE. The subhead read: “Made Knight of St. Gregory by Pius XI in Recognition of his Activities as Layman.”
“We had no idea he was religious,” Rodgers said, referring to his generation of Gallagher cousins.
The Friendly Sons described him as a “devoted husband, a loving father and a distinguished Catholic gentleman.”
Seven months later, Cornelius’s great-granddaughter Chickie was born. When she was undergoing cancer surgery in 1989, Jim Rodgers and his father were told by doctors that they should leave and come back later. They anxiously paced the pathways of Carl Schurz Park near Gracie Mansion. Then, the older man spotted something out on the East River that immediately lifted his spirits. He declared it a good sign.
And indeed, Jim Rodgers Sr. lived another 15 years and his wife Chickie survives him. What the elder Rodgers saw was a tug boat pulling an old barge. As it got closer, the barge’s lettering, which had faded over the decades, became more visible. Finally he could read: “Gallagher Bros.”
“For Love” * Written by Laoisa Sexton * Directed by Tim Ruddy * Starring John Duddy, Jo Kinsella, Georgina McKevitt, Laoisa Sexton * at the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd St., NYC * Playing Wednesdays through Sundays through April 5 * Contact: 212-727-2737 or online at www.irishrep.org.
Theater / By Orla O’Sullivan
“For Love” is aptly described in its publicity materials as “a dark blue romantic comedy.” There are, literally, no holds barred and it’s laugh-out-loud funny, especially in the raunchy-gone-wrong scenes.
Underneath, however, there’s a sadness. None of the characters get what they want—had they any idea what that is.
The ever-present underbelly is conveyed in part by the situation of sexual encounters outside the zoo railings at night. Along with many animal references in the play, it’s a reminder of our generally unacknowledged bestial side.
That setting also brings to mind the observation that marriage is like a fence with those inside trying to get out, those outside trying to get in.
We have two cheating spouses and two single women, afraid that they are running out of time to meet someone. All go to great lengths “for love”– or so they believe.
All sublimate or thwart their opportunities for intimacy. Bee, played by playwright Laoisa Sexton, lives vicariously through her son. Narcissistic Tina (Georgina McKevitt) is more married to shopping than her husband. Hunky Aiden (John Duddy) is a cheat and horny Val (Jo Kinsella) is fixated on meeting the right physical type.
The married characters, Tina and Aiden, are not married to each other, but their lives and those of Val and Bee, are woven together.
The writing feels quintessentially female, more texture than line. By the time the play ends little has happened. The characters don’t know themselves much better than at the beginning. But it’s interesting fodder for thought on our own misguided fumblings toward true connection. The play is also nuanced, acknowledging men denied tenderness, craving cuddles, as well as women with voracious sexual appetites.
“For Love” was, understandably, a hit at last year’s First Irish Theatre Festival, where it made its debut. After its current run at The Irish Repertory Theatre, it goes on tour in the U.K. and Ireland.
Actress Jo Kinsella won the 1st Irish Achievement Award last fall in part for her role as Val. Indeed, earthy Val and the other female characters —flinty Tina and naive Bee –are very well played.
The closest thing to a climax comes when Bee, who was a mother at 14, becomes a granny at 32. Before this push towards maturity, she observes earlier in the play: “I’m younger than I think I ought to be by now. You know what I mean?”
The characters’ growing pains are fun to watch, through a half-wince. One of the nicely directed scenes is the hilarious sexual encounter between Aiden and Tina, an obsessive-compulsive character too germaphobic to kiss and too rigid to allow her hair to be ruffled in the act.
The air is electrified during the first erotic act between Val and Bee. Their genuine feeling gives failed hope of something more than a utilitarian exchange in the case of these characters.
But a scene soon after signals more dashed hope. As the couple part, we see Aiden pick up the baby seat that was obscured by the dark.
“He’s very f*****g married – married with a kid!” Val reminds Bee later in one of many arguments in their otherwise very close friendship.
That phone call scene makes good use of a cinematic split-screen effect. But if “For Love” were the movies, this emigrant is left hoping it’s not cinéma vérité. Even allowing that the play shows very much a working-class slice of Irish life, does it really reflect the “new normal” ushered in by the Celtic Tiger? If so, that’s depressing.
By Peter McDermott
The new pope is the first Francis, the first non-European in 1,000 years, the first Latin American, and the first, more generally, from the developing or “Third World.” But the most intriguing for many is the fact that he’s the first Jesuit.
A couple of decades back, the Society of Jesus, as the order is formally known, was out of favor at the Vatican. The reason was the group’s identification with Liberation Theology, particularly in the Americas.
When lowly officials in the church in the United States were warning about the child sexual abuse scandal that would hit, Rome wasn’t listening, argues Pulitizer Prize-winning journalist Michael D’Antonio in his forthcoming book “Mortal Sins.” Instead, in the 1980s, the church’s energies were focused on rooting out theological dissent.
The Vatican moved in on the Jesuits when its superior general, the Rev. Pedro Arrupe, was incapacitated by a stroke in 1981.
The Rev. Michael O’Sullivan S.J., a lecturer at All Hallows College in Dublin, said the Society of Jesus was told for a long time that it wasn’t “ready” to run its own affairs and might never be.
“Now after just a few years, it’s providing the pope,” he said.
Although the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio is described as a moderate, his elevation has buoyed the Limerick City-born O’Sullivan and other progressive members of the Society of Jesus.
“The choice of a Jesuit will give Jesuits a bit more confidence in themselves, in what they do,” he said, “and perhaps they’ll feel they are being appreciated, that there’s value in what they do and in what they bring to the church’s mission in the world.”
O’Sullivan, who campaigned for human rights in Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship and was forced to leave there in the mid-1980s, said Francis’s impact has already been a positive one in Ireland. “His message has been hopeful, encouraging and uplifting,” he said in a telephone interview last Friday.
The Rev. Joseph Mulligan, who was born in New York and moved to the Midwest with his family when in his early teens, is another Jesuit with Latin American experience impressed with the new pontiff.
He said that it’s “very positive that Pope Francis has a friendly, pastoral way of relating to people, along with a good sense of humor.
“Let us pray for Pope Francis, as he himself requested shortly after being elected, and live out the gospel as best we can with the help of the Spirit,” he said. “We are all members of the Body of Christ.”
When still in his 20s, Mulligan served two years of a five-year sentence in a Michigan prison arising out an action in which draft cards were seized and destroyed. He was paroled in 1972 and in the following decade moved to live with the Jesuit community in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. His friendship with a fellow Irish-American Jesuit from the Midwest, Jim Carney, was an influence.
As reportedly previously in the Echo, Mulligan has been campaigning for more information about Carney who was 58 when he disappeared in 1983 in Honduras, near the Nicaraguan border. Some credible eyewitness accounts suggest the World War II veteran was killed in custody by troops.
Now Pope Francis’s actions during the military dictatorship in Argentina have been receiving a lot of scrutiny. In one incident in particular, some allege that two fellow Jesuits who’d been kidnapped by the military were “delivered” to the generals. The priests worked with the poor in the slums, and both later said that they felt Bergoglio, the head or provincial of the Jesuits in Argentina, should have endorsed their work publicly.
“You could say he was too careful,” O’Sullivan said, but added, “It’s a high-stakes game working under a military dictatorship.
“These are judgment calls,” he said. “I’ve no doubt that his heart is in the right place.”
He said the pope has been criticized because he hasn’t talked enough about the years 1976 through 1983, when the Argentine junta was in power. But the Jesuit suggested it might be better that the church doesn’t reveal the good things that it did – hiding people, for instance — because it doesn’t know if it might be called upon to do so again
O’Sullivan’s experience in Chile helps him understand the predicament that Bergoglio faced as Jesuit provincial and later as bishop. “It was a similar situation to what obtained in Argentina,” he said.
But there was one crucial difference between the two countries: the conservatism of the hierarchy in Argentina. “That would have made it more difficult for him,” he said. “We had a more progressive church in Chile.”
The church globally, he said, was aware of the clout the Polish hierarchy exerted in Europe because it held together.
“And the bishops are more protected if the regime sees you have a lot of people behind you,” he said.
O’Sullivan believes that in principle it’s right to take a stand, but he recalled two conversations that put the pressures Pope Francis I faced under the Argentine junta in more context.
The first was with his local bishop after he’d been summoned. “We shared with one another how we saw things,” remembered O’Sullivan, the co-editor with Bernadette Flanagan of a 2012-published book on spirituality. The bishop wanted him to be more cautious with regard to his advocacy for the poor and for human rights.
“I felt he could have taken a stronger stand,” he said.
“The bishop said to me: ‘I’m responsible for what happens.’
“The effect on other people had to be considered,” O’Sullivan said.
That was also at the heart of the second conversation. The provincial of the Jesuits in Chile told him that he was putting the entire Society of Jesus in the country in jeopardy.
“And he wasn’t a conservative man,” he said. But O’Sullivan’s immediate response was: “That seems over the top to me.”
When it became clear that O’Sullivan wasn’t going to be intimidated by the military, homes of his friends were torched and then lay leaders in the community were subjected to harassment. Eventually it was agreed that O’Sullivan would leave Chile.
He learned subsequently that different versions of the tactic were used by military dictatorships throughout Latin America. The Rev. Kevin O’Higgins, a Dublin-born Jesuit, told him that in Paraguay if a college professor took a stand or said something deemed subversive in class, individual students could be taken away by the military.
Of the “serious” allegations leveled at the new pope, Mulligan said: “I am only beginning to study this matter, so I do not yet have an opinion.”
However, he pointed to reports that the Argentine bishops have apologized for their failings during military rule and that one of the Jesuit priests at the center of the kidnapping controversy, the Rev. Francisco Jalics, had reconciled with Pope Francis some years ago. (The other, Orlando Yorio, is deceased.)
According to estimates, almost 900 religious died violently while struggling for justice in Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s. The highest profile cases took place in El Salvador: the murders of four Maryknoll nuns from the U.S. in 1980 and of six local Jesuits nine years later. The best-known martyr is Archbishop Óscar Romero, who was killed by the nation’s military on March 24, 1980.
Before his appointment as archbishop two years earlier, Romero’s reputation was that of a theological conservative, much like the new pope.
“With regard to church doctrine, particularly moral theology, he is conservative,” Mulligan said of Francis I. “We could not have expected otherwise, given the cardinals who have been appointed in recent decades.”
But the native New Yorker is “grateful that we now have a pope from Latin America and one who has had close personal and pastoral contact with the poor and marginalized of Argentina. I am also encouraged by his statements about human rights and ‘social sin.’”
Mulligan said: “And his relatively simple life-style and eschewal of privileges is a good example for all of us.”
The life of frequent Irish Echo contributor Patrick Fenton and his family was turned upside down by Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 29. In this essay in diary format, he recounts his experience in the weeks after Hurricane Sandy hit.
I live right next to a wide canal in Massapequa, Long Island. Just a few feet from it. On maps it’s called the Massapequa River. It makes a short turn around a wide bend and flows into the Great South Bay, which is just around the corner from me. I’m a long way from the Irish, working-class tenements of Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn where I grew up in the late 1940s and into the ‘50s.
The storm grabbed me by the neck and totally destroyed the first floor of the high ranch I own. Massive destruction everywhere. My daughter Kelly and my grandson Miguel live there. Five feet of water in the streets, cars floating everywhere with lights flashing, boats thrown around on lawns like kids’ toys. Everything is gone, and now the first floor has been stripped down to the bare studs by a contractor. Every stove, washer refrigerator, beds, boiler, furniture gone. It’s all out on the front lawn now.
Over three feet of water came rushing in from both sides of the house, front and back and turned over the refrigerator and every piece of furniture. If we hadn’t evacuated hastily the night before we could have died there. After a midnight check of the bulk head outside my door I saw the water starting to slowly pour over it. It gave me an awful feeling and I knew right away that we were in trouble.
I walked up the block to the corner and I watched the water coming up from the sewers and starting to come more and more down our block, Neptune Place. It was like an eerie scene from a movie. I got my wife and daughter, who were in their pajamas moving, and told them we have to leave tonight. Right now. Don’t hesitate. I called the Best Western on Sunrise Highway. They had two rooms left for the night and they would hold them for us.
The neighborhood looks like a war zone at night now, convoys of Army helicopters flying low over the canal, darkness everywhere, a Military Police truck moving through the street. For 18 nights we were without gas, electricity, heat. We tried staying on the second floor for three nights, reading books by candle light, but it got so cold even with four blankets on, we had to leave again.
“John,” one of the neighbors who rode it out, and regretted it, says he saw a 40-foot boat come out of the Great South Bay and float down our street, and then when the tide finally started to release Sandy’s grip on us, it simply swirled around and sailed back out to God knows where. All of these tough canal people who have lived next to the canals for generations and look out at storms with a glass of scotch in hand and a concerned stare before bedding down had their world changed forever this night. But they’re strong people, and they see life through their own eyes.
“John, one of the neighbors who rode it out, and regretted it, says he saw a 40-foot boat come out of the Great South Bay and float down our street, and then when the tide finally started to release Sandy’s grip on us, it simply swirled around and sailed back out to God knows where.”
As the water rose higher and higher in the street and started to flow in through his front door, John retreated to the highest floor in the house and watched as he saw a scene he had to hope he would never ever witness again in his lifetime. He watched from his window as two huge trees on the side of my house got felled and made an awful sound as they took up huge slabs of my concrete, leaving behind two 16-foot root balls and craters and crushed boats, and fences. He said they went down about midnight.
At the same time a full-size Boston Whaler was being tipped over and dumped off of the bulk head in front of my house, whole entire docks, two of them with three tied up ski jets on them were ripped away and pulled across the canal, boats and all. For days after the hurricane huge wooden docks would come floating down our canal.
Dropped into Vonnegut
I have been living in three different places since it hit. We made it out the first night to the Best Western on Sunrise Highway at about midnight. First night there a huge utility pole fell on the hotel and we were without lights, heat, hot showers again. They didn’t have a generator. After two nights of this, we moved again.
I’m living in a basement in North Massapequa right now, and have been spending my days calling insurance adjusters, contractors, FEMA. I have flood insurance so after a long while I should be okay. I told my daughter that I will rebuild better than ever, and we will. And I’ll figure that out. But it’s going to take time.
We are all okay — Kelly my daughter doing such great work getting us signed up for assistance, my wife the same, but we have seen a lot of things, disaster scenes, nobody should have to see or live through. I spent one cold afternoon in a disaster tent city set up by FEMA in Cedar Creek Park in next door Seaford to check on my application for FEMA assistance. Waiting on cold metal chairs with a group of other people for my name to be called. And wondering how I wound up here. It’s like someone picked me up from my normal world of writing and hanging out, and dropped me from the sky here into the gloomy world of a Kurt Vonnegut novel. “So it goes.”
It was a huge, white circus-type tent with rows and rows of long, portable tables with phones on them hooked up to FEMA’s computers, portable heaters blowing through the coldness of the tent. And outside rows and rows of mobile insurance trailers were lined up under the gray sky, Red Cross trucks giving hot meals and blankets to those who needed them. And off on a hill at the back of the park, shower trailers and trailers where you could do some laundry. The misery and loneliness on the faces of the people coming in and out of that tent is something I will never forget. It humbles you.
But my creative strength is coming back, and that’s a good thing. So is my sense of humor. Every now an then when my daughter Kelly accomplishes something new for us with FEMA or some other disaster agency and we are settled down by candle light for the night with a glass of wine, I turn to her and say, “you’re doing a heck of a job, Brownie.” I say the same thing to my wife Patricia and we all smile.
I walked down my block the other day in late evening, and I took a few pictures of refrigerators and personal belongings spray painted with messages for FEMA. Maybe for a story when I get my feet back on the ground, I thought. And then I thought, it’s coming back, the need and urge to write, to be creative. To record. And it made me feel good inside.
In the beginning, Kelly said to me, “I know you will write about this, Dad. I know it.” Not now I won’t, I told her. I just can’t think about writing now. It hurts too much.
Continues on page 17
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At first strange, scary stories of destruction were coming in, rumors then. But most of them turned out to be true or very close to it. One night I walked out in the darkness to stand on the balcony of the hotel and drink a can of Budweiser, and a tall, blond woman in her 50s was standing there smoking a cigarette and staring out at the pitch black night. She lived in the next shore town over from mine she said, Seaford, a mostly working-class hamlet where Irish families have lived in the same small capes next to the canals for generations. Many of their houses were converted summer bungalows. On weekends and special family events like Holy Communions and Catholic Confirmations they celebrate in the White Whale Restaurant on the side of one of the canals. And I wonder if it’s still there now.
What do you here? I asked her. She had a cell phone that was actually working. Ours wasn’t, and the hotel phones were all dead. “I heard that the height of the water in the streets is now over five feet, and it’s rising. It’s going to go over six feet. It is. There are no more boats in Seaford,” she said. “They’re all gone now and nobody knows where they went, probably out to the Great South Bay.” True or partly true, her last statement sounding so sure, put a cold chill in me, a profound sadness.
Stories coming in
I can’t ever bear to listen to the stories or see the pictures of what happened to the Rockaways, to Long Beach, to Staten Island, to Gerritson Beach in Brooklyn . And the total destruction of Breezy Point, left to look like Dresden now after the war. And all that beauty gone now, the beauty of the two-mile boardwalk of Jones Beach, and Long Beach, ripped up and looking like a roller coaster now. And memories come rushing back of drinking summer beers on the Rockaway Boardwalk when I was young and slow dancing with Irish nurses in Fitzgerald’s bar on 108th Street to Tommy Edward’s “It’s All in the Game,” so safe then in their arms.
“We were first generation Irish stock whose roots started in places like the city of Galway where my father was born in an attached house on the Long Walk, a fishing village, and my grandmother was a fisher woman. Tough Irish who lived off the sea.”
And the White House bar drinking with Jacky Malone from Windsor Terrace, and the Irish Circle. It seemed like we were always laughing then, so young, so hopeful of our futures. And why wouldn’t we be? We were educated in Windsor Terrace’s Holy Name parochial school, and we were educated on the streets of 17th Street and 9th Avenue.
And we were first generation Irish stock whose roots started in places like the city of Galway where my father was born in an attached house on the Long Walk, a fishing village, and my grandmother was a fisher woman. Tough Irish who lived off the sea. Some, like my grandfather, died from it. They even had their own “Fisher King” who watched the markets each morning where the woman sold fish. And my mother lived in a thatched cottage with a house full of kids on a pig farm in nearby Willamstown, a small farming village that didn’t get electricity until the mid 1950s when she was long gone to America’s Brooklyn.
Stories coming in from as far away as Spring Lake, New Jersey, now, another “Irish Riviera.” They’re from my first cousin Jo Ann McGuirk and her husband Eddy. “The board walk is all gone now,” she says. It’s a huge pile, a mountain of summer memories and loss, pushed together next to the Jersey Shore by pay loaders. Yesterday as I was driving alone down Merrick Road the Billy Joel song came on with the lyrics, “Seen the lights go out on Broadway, I saw the Empire State laid low..”, and I had to bite hard on my lip not to cry.
After it all happened, one of my first thoughts was, I want to be in a safe place again. I thought about how great it would be to stand in Farrell’s Bar on 16th Street in the old neighborhood, beer in hand, talking to Jacky Malone, a retired cop that I grew up with on 17th Street. He never left the neighborhood. And some afternoons you’ll find him still standing down next to the side entrance of the bar where we drank together so long ago when we were young. And as soon as I get my feet back on the ground, I’m going to rush right back there and do that. It’s always home there for me, always home.
Page Turner / By Peter McDermott
The protagonist in Yvonne Cassidy’s second novel “What Might Have Been Me” has a decision to make that is a familiar one to young immigrants – and a particularly difficult one if the person is illegal: whether to commit long term to their country of residence.
After 11 years, however, Carla Matthews is brought abruptly to that crossroads with the news that her mother back in Dublin has been diagnosed with Altzheimer’s disease. Carla herself tells the story of how she came to New York for a summer job, but fell in love with Eddie, a musician, and the city itself, and opted not to return home to college. “A decade later though,” Cassidy said, “Carla’s life is not where it’s supposed to be.” They haven’t moved on much: he’s still in the band and she’s still waiting tables. Eddie is willing to marry her to aid her legalization, but the relationship is hardly ideal.
“What Might Have Been Me” is something of a change of pace for Cassidy, whose debut novel, “The Other Boy,” was a thriller. Both won praise from the critics. The second novel offers insights into family dynamics, the Sunday Times says, “the different reactions to loss, the fear and guilt, the problems with communication. Cassidy’s vivid and authoritative depiction of Alzheimer’s confronts clichés and misinformation about the disease that still abound.”
Cassidy writes in her acknowledgements: “I dedicated this novel in part to my grandmother, Sarah Bowe, who passed away in 2001 after a long battle with Altzheimer’s. It was a disease that seemed to be shrouded in silence, and I knew that I wanted to write about it, to incorporate it somehow in the story of one of my characters.”
In the fall of 2011, the novelist began “dismantling” (as she describes the packing of boxes) her life in Dublin to make a commitment to New York. That commitment involves helping some of the most city’s most disadvantaged. She works part time for Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, the emergency feeding program. “I teach creative writing to homeless people,” Cassidy said. “Seeing their dedication to their writing and how much it means to them to have their voices heard is truly inspirational.”
The Yvonne Cassidy File
Date of birth: May 2, 1974
Place of birth: Dublin,
Partner: Danielle Mazzeo
Residence: Upper West Side, Manhattan.
Published works: “The Other Boy”(2010) and “What Might Have Been Me.”
What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?
My ideal writing day starts outside – walking or running in the park gives me time to reflect on my characters and what scene I want to write that day. Although I have a writing desk in my apartment, I rarely write there – I usually go to the library on 42nd Street or even Starbucks. While some writers need absolute silence, I find the energy of other people feeds my work.
Since I’ve been published, I’ve had to let go of my ideal writing conditions and write whenever I find the time – which sometimes means jotting down lines of dialogue while I’m on the subway.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Remember to have fun with your writing – loosen the reins a bit, silence the voice that tells you “it’s not good enough.” Drop the “shoulds” and write what feels right for you. Let your work take the shape it’s going to take. This will help you to find your own voice, which is the most important thing for any writer.
Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure.
“The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole” by Sue Townsend; “Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt; “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett.
What book are you currently reading?
“The Blackwater Lightship” by Colm Toibin.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
“The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger.
Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.
“Room” by Emma Donoghue. I didn’t expect to be so gripped by the characters and to, literally, not be able to put it down at certain points.
If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?
Raymond Carver. I’d love to sit down and chat with him over a coffee about his writing and his life. He was published late and in one of his essays he talks about having had “two lives,” which is something I relate to.
What book changed your life?
I’d have to say “The Catcher in the Rye” because reading it as a teenager was the first time I realised that novels could be written like that – as a conversation between the author and the reader, rather than being so formal and distant. That was the first time I remember thinking that one day maybe I, too, could write a novel.
What is your favorite spot in Ireland?
The West Coast. Donegal is my favorite county – I love the beaches and the rugged coastline.
For more information about “What Might Have Been Me” and its author go to www.yvonnecassidy.com.