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“The firefighter – from Boyle to Brooklyn and beyond”

POSTED ON October 15th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

by Áine Ní Shionnaigh

Growing up in a small town of less than 2000 in the West of Ireland, my exposure to emergency services was limited.  However, the house I grew up in was located directly across from the local firehouse, or as we called it in Ireland, the fire station.  A few times a week, an unearthly siren howled through my house scaring the daylights out of me, especially during the dead of night.  It was in the days before cell phones so the siren would signal the firemen of the town to come to the fire station. Most fires were relatively un-serious: chimney fires or overheated car engines. One fire however stays embedded in my memory, early on Christmas Eve morning, a fire accelerated by Christmas tree lights destroyed the house two doors up from me, our local firemen tried desperately to save the family but the mother and her two young sons tragically lost their lives. 

Always a book lover, one of my first books was a flat hard backed book about a fire station; one colorful picture depicted the daily routine of the firemen sliding down the pole from their living quarters overhead.   For years I tried in vain to peek into the darkness of the Boyle fire station to see the pole but was never rewarded with as much as a glimpse. In later years I sadly realized there never was a pole as the fire station was a single storey building and my beloved book was probably based on a firehouse in Brooklyn, New York rather than in Boyle, Co Roscommon.

Ireland was the only foreign country to declare a national day of mourning, following 9/11. I spent much of that day with my class, we organized a local prayer service and I saw another side of my 35 boisterous boys. In the days, weeks and months following the tragedy and horror of 9/11, all of the paintings and drawings hanging on the walls of my classroom in Athlone, Co Westmeath depicted the bravery of the firemen and policemen of NYC.  These FDNY and NYPD officers had very quickly replaced the Superman, Spiderman, and Hollywood heroes of my 5th and 6th grade schoolboys.

In the freezing first days of January 2005, I moved to NYC where the Irish are intricately woven into the very fibers of the place and I quickly realized the extent of the Irish and Irish American extraordinary tradition of rushing to the aid of others in times of distress.  On the Upper East Side of Manhattan, I found myself again in close proximity to a fire house, where I often stopped on the way home to silently offer a prayer for their lost members whose fading photographs adorned the windows. I hoped the glimmer from the melted novena candles symbolized some hope in this life for their loved ones left behind and in the next for the ones who were cruelly taken away.    

On the fateful day of 9/11, the FDNY lost 341 firefighters and 2 paramedics, there were 75 firehouses in which at least one member was killed. The FDNY also lost its department chief, first deputy commissioner, one of its marshals, one of its chaplains, the beyond saintly Mychal Judge whose parents came from Keshcarrigan, Co Leitrim, as well as other administrative or specialty personnel. Shortly after the battalion chief of Battalion 1 witnessed American Airlines flight 11 crash into the North Tower, a multiple alarm incident was radioed. For the first time in over 30 years, all off duty firefighters were recalled. One off duty fire officer that day had swapped two twelve hour shifts with two colleagues so he could drop his mother to the airport for her return flight to Ireland. However on seeing the first tower burning from his rooftop, he immediately headed into Manhattan where he and his colleagues entered burning debris to pull out the trapped and injured. On that fateful day, Sean Cummins lost 87 colleagues, including the two men he swapped shifts with. I was honored to meet Sean recently at the Manhattan Club at the inaugural Irish Echo’s First Responder’s Awards where along with Niall O’Shaughnessy, he received the ‘Teamwork Award’.  

The daily sacrifice of  FDNY officers, more appropriately known as ‘The Bravest’ is staggering, never more so than on 9/11 when the waste of lives is still too much to bear. Thirteen years later, the sense of devastation is still palpable amongst the brothers of the FDNY. They along with the survivors of all the people who were lost on that fateful day are forever wounded. On a fateful fall day in 2001, ordinary men were asked to do extraordinary deeds. Some are still with us, some are not and we will never forget those who are not. Ar dheis Dhe go mbeidh a anam dhilis. 

Ag fás suas i mbaile beag le níos lú ná 2000 daoine in Iarthar na hÉireann, bhí mo tacaiocht den sheirbhísí éigeandála go leor teoranta. Mar sin féin,  bhi an teach a d’fhás mé suas I, lonnaithe go díreach trasna ón teach dóiteáin, nó mar a iarr muid é in Éirinn, on stáisiún dóiteáin. Cúpla uair sa tseachtain, chulathas siren minadurtha ag sileadh trí mo theach ag baineadh geit mor asam, is cuma cé chomh minic a chuala mé é, go háirithe le linn marbh na hoíche. Bhí sé sna laethanta roimh teileafóin phóca, ba comhartha e an siren, fir dóiteáin an bhaile chun teacht go dti an stáisiún dóiteáin. Bhí formhór na tinte sách unserious: tinte simléir nó innill gluaisteán ro the. Tine amháin, áfach, ata saite i m’aigne fos, go luath ar maidin Oíche Nollag, tine luathaithe ag soilse crann Nollag scriosta an teach dhá doirse suas uaim, rinne ár fir dóiteáin áitiúla gach iarracht an chlann a shábháil ach chaill an mháthair agus a bheirt mhac óg a saol.

I gcónaí i ngra le leabhar, bhí ar cheann de mo chéad leabhar leabhar árasán tacaíocht crua faoi stáisiún dóiteáin; pictiúr amháin ildaite a léirítear an ghnáthamh laethúil de na firemen sleamhnú síos an cuaille as a n-áitribh chónaithe lastuas. Ar feadh na mblianta, bhiodh mé ag peipeail isteach tri dorchadas an stáisiúin dóiteáin iMainistir na Buille chun an cuaille a fheiceáil  ach bhí riamh bronntar leis an oiread agus is le léargas. Sna blianta ina dhiaidh sin thuig mé brónach nach raibh cuaille ann riabh mar a bhí an stáisiún dóiteáin foirgneamh aon stór agus is dócha go raibh mo leabhar bunaithe ar teach dóiteáin i Brooklyn, Nua-Eabhrac seachas i Mainistir na Búille, Co Roscomáin.

 

Sa bhliain 2001, sna laethanta, seachtainí agus míonna tar éis an tragóid de 9/11, gach ceann de na pictiúir agus líníochtaí a bhi ag crochadh ar na ballaí de mo sheomra ranga i mBaile Átha Luain, Co na hIarmhí,  léirítear fir dóiteáin agus póilíní. Bhí na hoifigigh FDNY agus an NYPD ionad go han-tapa na laochra Superman, Spiderman, agus Hollywood mo buachilli scoile o ghrád  5 agus 6 ghrád.

Sa chéad lá ceomhar Eanáir 2005, d’astraigh mé go dtí Nua Eabhraic agus go tapa thuig méid an traidisiún urghnách Meiriceánach hÉireann ag brostaigh chun cabhair a thabhairt do dhaoine eile in am an anacair. Ar an Taobh Thoir Uachtarach de Manhattan, fuair mé mé féin arís i gheall ar chomh gar do theach dóiteáin, nuair a stop mé go minic ar an mbealach abhaile a chur ar fáil go ciúin paidir dá mbaill caillte agus a ngaolta a bhfuil a grianghraif cuireadh bród ar thaobh tosaigh an firehouse le mall coinneal Novena dhó.

Ar an fateful lá de 9/11, chaill an FDNY 341 comhraiceoirí dóiteáin agus 2 paraimhíochaineoirí, bhí 75 firehouses inar maraíodh comhalta amháin ar a laghad. An FDNY caillte chomh maith go bhfuil sé príomhfheidhmeannach roinn, coimisinéir leas-chéad, ar cheann de na sé ar marascail, ar cheann de na sé ar séiplíneach, an níos faide saintly Mychal Breitheamh a tháinig ó Ceis Charraigín, Co Liatroma do thuismitheoirí, chomh maith le pearsanra riaracháin nó speisialtachta eile. Go gairid i ndiaidh an príomhfheidhmeannach cathlán de Cathlán 1 chonaic American Airlines eitilt 11 tuairteála isteach sa Túr Thuaidh, bhí radioed teagmhas aláraim il, laistigh de na uair an chloig romhainn bhí 121 cuideachtaí inneall, 62 cuideachtaí dréimire agus 27 oifigigh dóiteáin imscaradh chun an ardán. Don chéad uair i níos mó ná 30 bliain, rinneadh athghairm ar gach comhraiceoirí dóiteáin ar dualgas.

Oifigeach dóiteáin amháin ar dualgas a bhí Mhalartaigh an lá sin dá déag shifts uair an chloig le dhá chomhghleacaithe sin d’fhéadfadh sé titim a mháthair leis an aerfort as a eitilt ar ais go hÉirinn. Ach ar féachaint ar an túr chéad dó as a rooftop, i gceannas sé láithreach i Manhattan áit curtha isteach sé féin agus a chomhghleacaithe a dhó smionagar a tharraingt amach na gafa agus gortaithe. Ar an lá sin fateful, chaill Sean Cummins 87 chomhghleacaithe, lena n-áirítear an bheirt fhear bhabhtáil sé shifts leis. Ba mhór an onóir dom bualadh Sean déanaí ag an Club Manhattan ag Gradaim Echo hÉireann Chéad Fhreagróir ar tionscnaimh nuair a fuair sé an? Gradam do?. Ar lá Titim chinniúnach i 2001, iarradh ngnáthnós fir a dhéanamh gníomhais neamhghnách. Tá cuid acu fós le linn, nach bhfuil roinnt, agus ní bheidh muid dearmad iad siúd nach bhfuil. Ar dheis Leitir dul mbeidh ar dhilis trá.

Mayor Marty Walsh of Boston rolls out red carpet for Golden Bridges

POSTED ON October 9th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

Marty Walsh in Belfast (1024x682)

 

 

As the Golden Bridges conference gets underway in Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh has extended a hearty céad míle fáilte to delegates arriving from northwest Ireland and Belfast to forge new  partnerships with leaders of Irish America.

In a statement welcoming the sixth annual conference to Boston, he said:

“I am thrilled to welcome the Golden Bridges conference to Boston, having just experienced the power of our city’s connection to Ireland as I never have before. My visit to Ireland in September was transformative on both a personal and a public level.

“As the son of Irish emigrants, it was meaningful for me to make Ireland my first international destination as Mayor of Boston. I came to a deeper understanding of my bond, and Boston’s relationship, with Ireland. And I gained a new appreciation for the strength we can draw from a transatlantic partnership as we move forward together in the global economy.

“Boston’s character owes much to the Northwest of Ireland. A rich tradition of cultural, political, and economic exchange between our two cities reaches down to the present day. Ulster has supplied Boston with leaders in business, in the arts, and in scholarship. And Boston’s thriving network of Irish organizations have hosted Ireland’s leaders, supported its economic development, and funded schools of all traditions. We share a deep bond.

“For a city like Boston, built by immigrants, an international relationship can have the strength of a family bond—because that’s what it really is. That’s why in Boston we are so deeply invested in our heritage. We never forget what immigration provided us, by way of our values, our resilience, and our love of family.

“In a time of great change, these relationships and these values have never been more important. That’s why our relationship to Ireland must be about more than nostalgic memories. It must be an active relationship, deeply understood and continuously renewed. Above all, this conference is an opportunity to strengthen this bond that means so much to all of our communities.”

Irish Center is jewel in Maine crown

POSTED ON September 15th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

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By Matthew Jude Barker

letters@irishecho.com

If you meander your way down historic State Street approaching Portland’s working waterfront, you will come across a beautiful old, redbrick church building, now the Maine Irish Heritage Center. On Monday nights you can hear the haunting wails of a practicing Irish bagpiper. It would be easy to think, for a moment, you were back in time, but the center is on the peninsula of Maine’s largest, busiest, and most modern city.

   The MIHC is housed in the former St. Dominic Catholic Church in Portland, the focal point of the Irish and Catholic community for almost 175 years. Opened in 2002, the non-profit center has made tremendous progress, especially in the last five years. It is home to a first-rate genealogical research library, as well as a library open to the public that contains over two-thousand items and which will soon be a part of Maine Interlibrary Loan. The center is also home to the John Ford Center; the Irish American Club of Maine, its founding member; the Governor Joseph E. Brennan Press Collection; A Company of Girls; the Claddagh Mhor Pipe Band; and the local Ancient Order of Hibernians. The MIHC is affiliated with the American Irish Repertory Ensemble; the Stillson School of Irish Dance; the Maine Police Emerald Society; and the Portland Hurling Club. All of these groups march together in a large St. Patrick’s Day parade on Commercial Street that grows with each passing year.

   Throughout the year the MIHC sponsors or hosts many varied events and programs, including Irish ceili (dance), Irish language, and tin whistle classes; St. Patrick’s Day parades and open houses; genealogy classes and the Maine Gaeltacht DNA Project; the Duchas Lecture Series; the Celtic Christmas Fair; Bloomsday (James Joyce) events; weddings and receptions; book launchings and talks; Labor Day breakfasts; the annual “Not-So-Silent” auction; St. Dominic’s Parish/School reunions; Civil War and other historical lectures; and the Claddagh Award Celebration. This last event is held annually to honor “an individual of Irish heritage from Maine who has generously served our community and made us all proud of our Irish roots.”  Past recipients have included Senator George J. Mitchell, a native of Waterville, Maine, and US Congressman and Maine Governor Joseph E. Brennan, a native of Portland.  As Board Chair Mary McAleney stated, “The success of these events allows the MIHC to fulfill its mission to protect, preserve and restore the historic landmark that was St. Dominic’s,” as well as “provide a center for Maine’s diverse communities to share their cultural experiences through education programs and community events.”

   The John Ford Center at the MIHC houses memorabilia related to the celebrated Hollywood director who was baptized as John Martin Feeney at St. Dominic’s in 1894 and who was an altar boy at the church. Ford lectures and film festivals are held periodically.

   The genealogical and historical research library houses a large obituary collection; yearbooks and directories; St. Dominic’s School registers; a Knights of Columbus collection; old photographs of local Irish families and school classes; family history files; transcription endeavors; old newspapers; artifacts; and manuscripts. Everything in the library has been generously donated over the years.  Volunteer genealogists at the center are available, for a fee, to consult on family history and DNA test results. They have access to an Irish DNA project that has over two-hundred participants, genealogy websites, and a genealogical database of 125, 000 Maine and New England Irish.

   The former St. Dominic Church, home of the MIHC, was built in the Greek Revival tradition and finished in 1892. It was designated in 1970 as part of the National Register of Historic Places in the State of Maine. It is on the location of the first Catholic church built in southern Maine, the original St. Dominic’s, where Mass was first celebrated in 1828.

   The story of the Irish in Maine is a rich and varied one that continues to be studied and written about. Irish emigrants have settled in the Pine Tree State since the early 1700s and sizable Irish communities were to be found throughout the state, including in Bangor, Boothbay, Benedicta, Brewer, Calais, Houlton, Brunswick, Bath, Eastport, Ellsworth, Newcastle, North Whitefield, Pembroke, Lewiston, Auburn, Westbrook, Biddeford, South Portland, and, of course, Portland. According to many accounts, there are 250, 000 people who claim Irish ancestry in Maine.

    Visitors from all over New England and North America annually visit the MIHC; many are natives and former residents. A lot seek some knowledge of their ancestry; others are attracted to the beautiful setting or come to attend the plethora of events that are held throughout the year. But all agree that the Maine Irish Heritage Center is one of the most attractive and premier Irish heritage centers in the country.

    The center is staffed almost entirely by volunteers. As Board member Patricia J. McBride said, “We simply could not offer all of the wonderful events, programs, and educational opportunities that we do without the help of our wonderful volunteers; they are the heart and soul of this place.” And as James Walsh, a co-founder, said, “MIHC’s success comes from the warm, welcoming atmosphere—it’s always, ‘Come in and let’s talk!’”

FMI:

Phone:  207-780-0118

Email: irishhc@maine.rr.com

Website: www.maineirish.com 

 

Matthew Jude Barker

Portland, Maine

mjudebark@gmail.com

207-409-4107 

Sweet memories of Forest Hills in ’64

POSTED ON September 11th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

Beatles 1964

The Beatles in 1964. [LIBRARY OF CONGRESS]

A remembrance by Frances Scanlon, published in the Irish Echo, Aug. 27, 2014

Aug. 29:  just another date in time; maybe, maybe not.

A quick glance at any “This Day in History” listing for Aug. 29, 1964 will invariably note the presence of the Beatles on tour in New York. Similarly, 1958 will be highlighted as the birth date of Michael Jackson alongside the death of Eamon de Valera in 1975, not to be up-staged by Shays’ Rebellion, an armed uprising of Massachusetts farmers, in 1786.

Time is a fungible good, no doubt about it.

It’s also a funny thing, that intersection of memory and history – sometimes a sweet, sometimes a sour spot.

Assuredly on the night of Aug. 29, 1964, what living soul could have ever predicted that the Beatles would ironically perform their last concert before paying fans in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park exactly two years later to the date?

I believe some things take seemingly so long for actualization to us mere mortals if for no other good reason than to remind us that forever is a very short time in the lead-up to eternity.

For example, as a teenager engulfed in the heart-stammering throes of Beatle-mania in 1964, the night of Aug. 29 was longed for more than the release of Walt Disney’s “Mary Poppins” and Mickey Mantle’s tying Babe Ruth’s career strikeout record (1,330), both of which came to pass on that weekend, as well.

Listen:  do you want to know a secret?

On Saturday night, Aug. 29, 1964, dressed in the innocence of imagination, with a sweater of expectation, penny loafers of unparalleled excitation and madras walking shorts of purity’s length, I was fetched and ferried in a Gold Cadillac, courtesy of the parent of my classmate, Elizabeth Fox, to the West Side Tennis Club, in Forest Hills, Queens.

Elizabeth and myself were embarking on a life changing experience: we knew it, were ready for it, and what a magical mystery ride indeed!

Within the intimacy of Forest Hills Stadium and 15,998 other screaming fans, we witnessed the Beatles perform their standard live set of 12 songs, including “All My Loving,” “She Loves You”, “Can’t Buy Me Love”, in other words, everything we wanted to hear but couldn’t and didn’t really care as “A Hard Day’s Night” echoed in the reverb.

The fact that the opening acts, in order of appearance were: the Bill Black Combo, the Exciters, the Righteous Brothers and Jackie DeShannon phased us not, a nod to the heady legal intoxication that adolescence wrought, fueled by the unstoppable passion of desire realized.

But not quite and not so fast.

Elizabeth and myself needed a memento, not a trifle like a ticket stub or some such.  A collectible beyond all others – something that only we two might share with the Beatles, as well.

On the august grounds surrounding that living jukebox that very night we encountered a grounds keeper who instantly – upon recognizing that we were still in the grip of Beatles frenzy and in direct reply to our plaintive cry  “Is there anything we can take home?” – cautioned us to await his return.

In a lifetime of satiated desires none seeming took longer nor perhaps still more satisfying to our youthful eyes than what beckoned:  that kindly gentleman’s return with two pieces of cake from the larger sheet cake that the Beatles had just then enjoyed in the Tudor-style members-only 1913 clubhouse.

What Elizabeth and myself neither then appreciated nor knew experientially was that within the prior 24 hour time-frame, the Beatles had encountered Bob Dylan and cannabis, simultaneously, for the very first time in a hotel room at the Delmonico, after their Friday night’s performance at Forest Hills Stadium.

If that inhalation lived up to reputation, then any lingering residue might have sweetened the Beatles’ taste buds for that wee decorative party favor.

Elizabeth and myself declined the generous offer to immediately partake of the sweet and instead implored that guardian of our desire to return with the wee pastry enclosed in silver foil where it remained – courtesy of the indulgence of our respective parents – for exactly one year hence in the upper berth of our family refrigerators.

Even though “A Hard Day’s Night,” the 1964 black-and-white comedy film directed by Richard Lester was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Screenplay Best Score (Adaptation), for myself and Elizabeth, nothing could ever imitate the cinéma vérité of that very sweet day’s night, not then, not now, not ever.

 

 

At Last, An Oscar for Maureen

POSTED ON September 1st  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

Maureen OHara
 

 

 

 

By Ray O’Hanlon
rohanlon@irishecho.com

It’s the news that her legions of fans around the world have been waiting for.
Actress Maureen O’Hara is to be recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with a life time achievement Oscar.
Admirers of the Dublin-born O’Hara, who is currently living in Idaho, have been campaigning for years to have her stellar career properly acknowledged by way of an academy award.
O’Hara, who is 94 and told the Echo in an interview a few years ago that she was determined to live until one hundred, will receive the award at the Academy’s 6th Annual Governors Awards in Hollywood on November 8.
“The Governors Awards allow us to reflect upon not the year in film, but the achievements of a lifetime,” said Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs.
The award, an Oscar statuette, is intended “to honor extraordinary distinction in lifetime achievement, exceptional contributions to the state of motion picture arts and sciences, or for outstanding service to the Academy.”
O’Hara enjoyed a long and distinguished film career with movies such “How Green Was My Valley,” “Miracle on 34th Street” and of course the classic “The Quiet Man,” one of a number of films in which she starred opposite John Wayne.

It’s Kansas, but not as you know it

POSTED ON August 25th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

Find the PDF version here: Irish Echo August 20, 2014 page 9

 

Kansas

By Evan Short

It’s a little known fact but Kansas City, Missouri, is a city with a huge Irish American heritage and a staggering 250,000 people living within its confines tracing a history back to the old country. So it’s no wonder then that the annual Kansas City Irish Fest (KCIF) is among the best attended Irish American festivals in the fifty states, with 90,000 people expected to attend the 2014 event from August 29-31. Although it has only been going around 11 years in its current guise, KCIF has been able to establish itself as one of the foremost events in Irish America. There is no one more proud of how far the KCIF has come in a short time than Craig Duke.

This year’s president was born in Belfast, and moved to the U.S. at the age of 23. He says becoming festival president has been a dream come true, and he is particularly looking forward to the Labor Day weekend’s events as the North of Ireland has been chosen as the festival theme for 2014.

“Every year we pick something to concentrate on that that would be from the Irish woman to sports, stuff like that. This year, with me being from Belfast, that was one thing I pushed on them, to try and emphasize Northern Ireland. “We are going to cover everything from medicine, science, industry, the Titanic, Massey Ferguson – people don’t realize the tractor was invented in Northern Ireland. Then you have the inflatable tire invented in Belfast by Dunlop, and writers like CS Lewis and Jonathan Swift.”

The jewel in the six counties showcase will be the DeLorean motor car, he says. “Stuff like that. People don’t realize it was made in Belfast.” The pride in Craig’s voice as he talks about the festival is evident.

Craig DukeAlthough he has a demanding day job, as Senior Deputy Chief of the Kansas City, Kansas, Fire  Department, the married father of two says the hours spent working on the festival are a joy. “That’s something I really enjoy. The KCIF has been going on 11 years. It started off as two smaller festivals in different parts of town, and then we thought we would do better if we joined forces and became one big one. “The new one, singular, now does more to expose people to the cultural side of Ireland.” Modern Ireland features to a greater extent that the fairy tale image of the country, he says. “Last year we opened up an area called the Cultural Café. We hooked up digitally with the Omagh Jazz Festival on the Internet. People were Skyping and able to questions – there’s a huge Irish contingency here.”

Keli O’Neill Wenzel from the KCIF organizing committee says the focus on contemporary Ireland helps to keep relationships going, as generations become further removed from their relatives who emigrated 150 years ago. “We want to hit on facts that are contemporary, and not just about history. We always have a lot of heritage and culture and genealogy which is very important, but one thing our festival is really trying to pick up on is more the contemporary, and Ireland today. “That’s so the younger folks are connecting. For example, I am a fifth generation, so it’s so far beyond me that it’s now more about  loving the culture as saying ‘that’s where I’m from.’” Craig says that this is how they are able to keep the young people engaged with the festival. “We are one of the biggest festivals in the States, but at 60 I’m the oldest on the board, the rest are all young people. That’s a big strength.” For more information visit www.kcirishfest.com

Maine Irish find kin with DNA

POSTED ON August 8th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

     BeckyHitchcock 20140728_185731 

July 30, 2014

By Máirtín Ó Muilleoir

Maine Irish prove that blood is thicker than water with DNA research

A pioneering Irish American Maine group is encouraging its members to turn the other cheek in order to explore their Irish roots.

For in one of Irish America’s most ambitious heritage projects, mouth scrapings containing the DNA — the unique genetic code of all humans — have now been collected from over 200 members of the Maine Irish Heritage Center.

Billed the Maine Gaeltacht program, the initiative has helped trace relatives of many of the Centre’s members both in Maine and in the Conamara Gaeltacht in Co Galway, once home to the majority of the Pine Tree State Irish, and has helped adoptees identify their birth parents.

“We have made fantastic strides in a short time,” says project facilitator Margaret Feeney LaCombe who is heading up the DNA research — and has spent the past 20 years digging up her own past! “We strongly feel that this project is of significant importance to the Irish community both in the United States and in our native Ireland. Researching Irish roots can prove to be very frustrating due to so many records having been destroyed. The genealogy team at the Maine Irish Heritage Centre began the DNA project with the simple goal of helping us to connect with living relatives that we were unable to locate using the old fashioned paper trail. We are overwhelmed with the progress we have made.”

Based in the former St Dominic’s Catholic Church in the West End of Portland, Maine — once a solidly Irish area of the city — the Maine Irish Heritage Centre was taken over by the Irish community in 2003 and re-opened in 2008 as the epicentre of all things Irish in a state where one in six trace their roots back to the Emerald Isle. Arguably, the most beautiful Irish American centre in the country, the preserved St Dominic’s Church is now home to regular Irish events as well as the groundbreaking DNA project.

“Our Library and Genealogy Center is proud to house over 2,000 volumes devoted to Irish genealogy, history, art, literature and language,” says Feeney LaCombe. “Our volunteer genealogists have assisted people with researching their roots since the Center was opened in 2003.To further the study we travel to Ireland each year to gather targeted DNA within the confines of County Galway.  In this way, we are able to connect the Maine Irish with the Irish who remain in Galway.”

Using $99 swab kits to collect DNA samples from inside the cheek, the Maine Irish Heritage Center has now fed the DNA of over 200 members into the Maine Gaeltacht project database with the world’s largest DNA genealogy site Family Tree DNA. The results can help families in Ireland trace long-lost relatives whose ancestors travelled to the US and help the Maine Irish identify their own family connections.

Adds project co-ordinator Deb Gellerson: “Each year, our members return to Ireland to collect more samples in the Conamara Gaeltacht. Our volunteers have tromped through fields in Ireland collecting DNA samples from farmers and sheep herders.  They take the test willingly, feeling proud that they are able to be part of gluing together the bond that binds us all.  They have shared with us that they are glad that we are preserving their heritage and they thank us for being proud to be Irish.”

Readers can find out more about the Maine Irish Heritage Center and the Maine Gaeltacht genealogy project, at www.maineirish.com.

‘Calvary’ and Gleeson a must-see

POSTED ON August 7th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

IRISH ECHO

 

 

 

 

 

By Áine Ní Shionnaigh

link to page 6 here

On Thursday last I attended a special screening of Calvary as part of the Tribeca Film Festival www.tribecafilmfestival.com in conjunction with Craicfest www.thecraicfest.com

It is important to clarify what the movie is not about: it’s not about the Catholic Church, it’s not about child abuse, it’s not about the role of a priest, it’s not about life in a rural West of Ireland community. The central theme of this movie could just as easily be based in the midst of NYC or on a remote hilltop village in Nepal. It runs so deep. It is about the fundamental need within all of us to experience love and goodness in our lives and what happens when we don’t. It also addresses the abuse of power, how a position of privilege can be used to redeem people or destroy them.

The central role played by Brendan Gleeson is that of a priest, Fr James Lavelle. However, the priest’s role could easily be transferred to anyone in a position of privilege.

He is a person people look towards; they also use him as a punch bag literally and figuratively. Interestingly the priest is portrayed as a non judgmental, compassionate person, who has already faced his own trials, he is a recovering alcoholic, he is widowed, and his only daughter is suicidal and feels abandoned.  He faced his own fears and is therefore able to help others face theirs. He’s not in denial himself. He is a man who has been challenged to face his deepest fears. He has been stripped, hence the symbolism of his almost Spartan like existence in a remote fishing village.

The stereotype has been flipped. It is not about sin, it is about virtue. It is the parishioners that need redemption. Through Father Lavelle’s non-judgmental eyes, he can see that fear is at the root of all their inadequacies: fear of abandonment, fear of being unloved, fear of death. They try to fill the void by desperately scratching for love in all the wrong places leading to addictions to drugs, sex, materialism, which only perpetuate their problems. A lesson for all of us how we perpetuate our problems by using denial as a means of self protection. His parishioners are probably where Fr Lavelle himself was a few years previously, using alcohol to numb his pain.

The authentic West of Ireland scenery is spectacular: dramatic and daunting. There is a ruggedness and rawness to the scenery that reflects the internal turmoil in each and every one of us. Throughout the movie, there are various shots of Ben Bulben in all its menacing magnitude, casting it’s huge shadow over the community below, symbolizing how pain in our own lives can completely overshadow us. The ebbing tide of the ocean symbolized for me the continuity of life, how we flow in and out of each other’s lives like waves, leaving each other permanently altered.

What speaks volumes to me in this movie is what it portrays. It portrays the priest in a good light.  Although the opening line mentions the unmentionable, child abuse by a cleric, the movie focuses more on the pain Father Lavelle feels for the abused rather than the anger directed at him in the place of the abuser. The priest tries to absorb the pain of his parishioners and innocently takes the blame of the Church as a whole on his shoulders. Another one of the opening lines is very telling: “I’m going to kill you because you’ve done nothing wrong.” One of the most poignant points of pain in the movie is when Father Lavelle innocently befriends a little girl who is on her way down to the beach. The violent reaction of the girl’s father when he sees her talking to a priest etches a permanent expression of pain into Fr Lavelle’s already furrowed brow. He is at his lowest point.

Gleeson’s presence on screen immediately transforms and elevates any film. He deserves more than an Oscar for this portrayal. His face is like an open wound. What deepens Gleeson’s appeal is his physicality. He stands tall above his community both in feet and in honor. He is a large figure looming above everyone dramatized by the black soutane he wears.  Again he is reminiscent of Ben Bulben, the huge mountain range that dominates the community.  He is broad, barrel chested, protective, fierce almost but kind. Every furrow on his deeply furrowed brow and every whisker on his over bearded face all contribute to his changing expressions of emotions, usually pain which is almost like a flicker of recognition. Every furrow symbolizes a pain of a member of his community. He is genuine. Actors don’t come in a purer form than Gleeson. To compare Gleeson’s leading role in Calvary to his leading roles in ‘In Bruges’ and ‘The Guard’ almost trivialize his role in this movie. Playing Father James Lavelle is a cathartic role for Gleeson.

‘Calvary’ is about the fundamental journey that we are all on: the internal struggle within all of us, pain and fear, isolation and recovery, strength and weakness. It is a beautifully written and produced film, extraordinary in its multifaceted and layered structure. It continually challenges the eternal question, how to maintain hope in a not so hopeful world. It is compulsory viewing.

Preserving a Mayo and Irish Tresasure

POSTED ON July 23rd  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

by Áine Ní Shionnaigh

July 23 page 6 & 7

I like to think that West of Irelanders possess a unique determination and spirit, however, none more so than Lord Jeremy Browne Altamont of Westport House whose passing is deeply mourned this week. Thanks to his unique foresight, Lord Altamont leaves behind an enduring legacy for future generations and beyond. He leaves behind a 400 acre estate that has been in his family for over 300 years which is of enormous cultural, social and historical significance.  He was a visionary and a law-changer.  He almost certainly inherited some of the fighting spirit of his predecessor, famed pirate queen, Granuaile upon whose castle, the foundations of Westport House are laid. He was an ingenious business man who had no time for titles or splendor. Largely due to his influence, Westport town became known as a tourist location as far back as the 60’s long before ‘tourism’ became a familiar term.

Irelands remaining historic houses are a highly valuable resource. The houses and their contents are physical evidence of a life gone by, another life in another era, they help to define the cultural relationship between Ireland and the rest of the world. These historic houses with their estates, formal gardens, demesnes and parks continue to occupy a central position in the economic, historic and social life of the community in which they are built. The unique aspect of many Irish historic homes is that they are owned by the same family for several generations, thus the artefacts and archives that are contained within are handed down and the owners preserve valuable longstanding relationships with their local communities.

Jeremy Browne was the son of Denis Browne, 10th Marquess of Sligo, and Jose Gauche, and was educated at St. Columba’s College, Dublin and the Royal Agricultural College. His father inherited Westport House in 1951, and as a teenager, Lord Altamont spent his summers in Co Mayo hunting with Burns the gamekeeper, learning about the surrounding countryside. He always felt drawn back to Westport to help his parents, Lord Denis and Lady Jose Altamont to salvage and develop Westport House. The obstacles were immense, but as he wrote in his just published memoir, “A Life At Westport House: 50 Years A-Going: “My family had been through famines and wars, had been born in Westport, lived and died in Westport and at no point had any generation ever ‘given up’. After all, how could he give up, being that he was the 13th great grandson of the famed Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley.

He was married in 1961 to Jennifer June Lushington Cooper.  Around this time, Jeremy decided to open the doors of Westport House to the public in an effort to save the historic stately home from decline – a fate way too many other great houses in Ireland have suffered. In the summer of 1960, over 3000 people visited the house. It has since become one of Ireland’s best loved attractions, currently having being visited by over 5 million visitors  to date and was recently voted one of the Best Family Visitor Attractions in Ireland by Primary Times magazine. The couple have five daughters – Sheelyn, Karen, Lucinda, Clare and Allanagh. The title now goes to a cousin in Australia but due to Jeremy’s unique foresight, the house and grounds will thankfully be inherited by his five daughters who are all heavily involved in the family business. With the help of former President, Mary Robinson and local solicitor, Michael Egan, Jeremy took a private bill through the Senate in 1993 which successfully challenged the male succession law and ensured that the future of Westport house stayed with its rightful owners, his five daughters.

Grace O’Malley is the most renowned Irish female pirate also known as the Queen of Connacht. She was the chief of the O’Malley clan and ruled the seas around County Mayo. Westport House was actually built on the foundations of one of her castles. There is still an area of her original Castle in the basement of the House, now known as the Dungeons which is on view to visitors. The original house was built by Colonel John Browne, a Jacobite, who partook in the siege o f Limerick, and his wife Maud Burke. Maude Burke was Grace O’Malley’s great-granddaughter. At that time, the tide of the Atlantic Ocean rose and fell against the walls of the house.

The east front of the House as it is today, was built in 1730 by Colonel John Browne’s grandson, 1st Earl of Altamont, who hired the famous German architect Richard Cassels. It is built with the finest limestone taken from the quarry south of the estate farmyard and was executed by local craftsmen. Richard Cassels also designed Carton, Hazelwood, Russborough and Leinster House. Westport House was completed by James Wyatt, one of the great English architects who also laid out the town of Westport. On the south face of the House is the date 1778 and inside many of the ceilings, cornices and fireplaces are examples of his finest work. The Large Dining room is perhaps the finest remaining example of his work. The doors are mahogany, brought back from the family estates in Jamaica. There are still a number of original James Wyatt drawings on show.  Other original items on show in Westport House, of particular interest, include a fine collection of old English and Irish silver, including 18th century Irish ‘potato’ or dish rings, Waterford glass, a library with many old Irish books and a Mayo Legion Flag which was brought to Ireland by General Humbert when he invaded the Country in 1798 and has ever since been in Westport House, which was occupied by his troops.

Westport House is located west of the Shannon and is one of Irelands’ most beautiful historic homes open to the public. The house enjoys a superb parkland setting with lake, terraces, wonderful gardens and magnificent views overlooking Clew Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, Achill, Clare Island and Ireland’s holy mountain Croagh Patrick. The grounds also afford a range of backdrops including the lake, woodlands, church and graveyard ruins, waterfalls and terraced gardens.  It is a site that should be explored and visitors are guaranteed of a warm welcome and the best in food and Irish hospitality.  Visit their website www.westporthouse.ie for more detailed information.

Is minic a cheapaim go bfhuil sort spiorad ag Iarthar na hÉireannaigh , afach, níos mó ná Tiarna Jeremy Browne Altamont, Theach Chathair na Mart a bhfuair bas an tseachtain seo chaite. De bhri a fadbhreathnaitheacht uathúil, d’fhag Tiarna Altamount taobh thiar oidhreacht buaine do na glúnta agus níos faide anonn. Fágann sé taobh thiar de eastát, 400 acra a bhí i lena theaghlach le breis agus 300 bliain a bhfuil tábhacht chultúrtha, shóisialta agus stairiúil ollmhór. Bhí sé ina aislingeach agus dlí-athruite. Ba chuis mhor,  cinnte roinnt de na troid spiorad a réamhtheachtaí, banríon bradach, Gráinne Mhaol ar a caisleán, na fothaí Theach Chathair na Mart ag leagan. Bhí sé ina fear gnó nach raibh aon am le haghaidh teidil nó rudai mar sin. Den chuid is mó mar gheall ar a tionchar a imirt, bhí ar a dtugtar baile Chathair na Mart mar shuíomh turasóireachta chomh fada siar leis na 60’s, i bhfad sular tháinig ‘turasóireacht’ téarma an eolas.

Is iad tithe stairiúla na hÉireann  atá fágtha acmhainn an-luachmhar. Is iad na tithe agus a bhfuil iontu fianaise fhisiciúil den shaol atá imithe, saol eile i ré eile, cabhraíonn siad an gaol cultúrtha idir Éire agus an chuid eile den domhan a shainiú. Leanann na tithe stairiúla lena n-eastáit, gairdíní foirmiúla, diméinte agus páirceanna a áitiú áit lárnach i saol eacnamaíoch, stairiúla agus sóisialta an phobail ina bhfuil siad tógtha. Is é an ghné ar leith de go leor tithe stairiúla na hÉireann go bhfuil siad ar úinéireacht ag an teaghlach céanna do na glúnta éagsúla, dá bhrí sin an déantáin agus cartlanna nach bhfuil cuimsithe laistigh láimh síos agus na n-úinéirí a chaomhnú caidreamh luachmhar seanbhunaithe lena bpobail áitiúla.

Ba e Jeremy Browne mac Denis Browne, 10 Marcas Shligigh, agus Jose Gauche,  bhí a chuid oideachais i gColáiste Naomh Columba, Baile Átha Cliath agus Coláiste Ríoga Talmhaíochta. A athair oidhreacht Teach Chathair na Mart i 1951, agus mar dhéagóir, chaith Tiarna Altamount a samhraí i gCo Mhaigh Eo fiach le Burns, foghlaim mar gheall ar an tuath máguaird. Bhraith sé i gcónaí tharraingt ar ais go dtí Cathair na Mart chun cabhrú lena thuismitheoirí, a Thiarna Denis agus Lady Jose Altamont chun forbairt Teach Chathair na Mart. Ba iad na constaicí ollmhór, ach de réir mar a scríobh sé ina cuimhní cinn díreach foilsithe, “A Saol Ag Teach Chathair na Mart: 50 Bliain ag dul-:” Bhí mo theaghlach a bhí trí cogaí, rugadh iad i gCathair na Mart, bhí cónaí acu agus a fuair siad bás i gCathair na Mart agus ag aon phointe raibh aon ghlúin riamh ‘a thugtar suas’. Tar éis an tsaoil, conas a d’fhéadfadh sé a thabhairt suas, a bheith go raibh sé an ua mór 13ú an Banrion Gráinne Ní Mháille.

Bhí sé pósta i 1961 do Jennifer Meitheamh Lushington Cooper. Timpeall an ama seo, chinn Jeremy le doirse Theach Chathair na Mart ar oscailt don phobal i iarracht a shábháil an bhaile stairiúil maorach ó meath – ar bhealach cinniúint an iomarca tithe móra eile in Éirinn a d’fhulaing. I samhradh na bliana 1960, thug breis is 3,000 duine ar an teach. Tá sé tar éis éirí ó cheann de na nithe is fearr grá hÉireann, faoi láthair tar éis á cuairt ag os cionn 5 milliún cuairteoir go dtí seo agus bhí vótáil le déanaí ar cheann de na díol spéise do thurasóirí Chuairteoirí Teaghlaigh Fearr in Éirinn le Iris Bunscoileanna Times.  An lánúin a bhfuil cúigear iníonacha – Sheelyn, Karen, Lucinda, an Chláir agus Allanagh. An teideal Téann anois le col ceathrar san Astráil, ach beidh mar gheall ar fadbhreathnaitheacht uathúil Jeremy, an teach agus na tailte a hoidhreacht buíochas le Dia ag a cúig iníonacha a bhfuil baint acu go léir go mór sa ghnó teaghlaigh. Le cabhair ó iar-Uachtarán, Máire Mhic Róibín agus aturnae áitiúil, Michael Egan, ghlac Jeremy bille príobháideach tríd an Seanad i 1993 a chuir dúshlán go rathúil leis an dlí comharbais na bhfear agus chinntigh gur fhan an todhchaí teach Cathair na Mart lena n-úinéirí dlisteanacha, a cúig iníonacha .

Tá Grace O’Malley bradach na mban is mó cáil in Éirinn ar a dtugtar freisin mar an Banríon Chonnacht. Bhí sí an príomhfheidhmeannach an clan O’Malley agus rialaigh na farraigí mórthimpeall Chontae Mhaigh Eo. Cuireadh Teach Chathair na Mart a tógadh iarbhír ar an dúshraith ar cheann de na h caisleáin. Tá fós limistéar a Caisleán bunaidh san íoslach an Tí, ar a dtugtar anois mar an dungeons atá ar taispeáint do chuairteoirí. Bhí an teach bunaidh tógtha ag Coirnéal John Browne, Seacaibíteacha, a raibh lathair i léigear Luimnigh, agus a bhean chéile Maud Burke. Bhí Maude Burke mór-gariníon Gráinne Ní Mháille ar. Ag an am sin, an taoide ar an Aigéan Atlantach ardaigh agus thit i gcoinne na ballaí an tí.

An os comhair soir an Tí mar atá sé inniu a tógadh, i 1730 ag ua Coirnéal John Browne, an 1 Iarla Altamont, a d’fhostaigh an t-ailtire cáiliúil Gearmáine Richard Cassels. Tá sé tógtha leis an aolchloch fearr a tógadh ón gcairéal dheas de chlós na feirme eastáit agus cuireadh chun báis ag aos ceirde áitiúil. Richard Cassels deartha go maith Carton, Collchoille, Russborough agus Teach Laighean. Cuireadh Teach Chathair na Mart i gcrích ag James Wyatt, ar cheann de na hailtirí mór Béarla a leagtar amach freisin an baile na Mart. Ar an aghaidh ó dheas an Tí é an dáta 1778 agus taobh istigh go leor de na huasteorainneacha, coirnisí agus teallaigh samplaí de a chuid oibre is fearr. Tá an seomra bia Móra dócha gurb é an sampla is fearr atá fágtha ar a chuid oibre. Is iad na doirse mahagaine, a thabhairt ar ais ó na heastáit teaghlaigh i Iamáice. Tá fós roinnt líníochtaí James Wyatt bunaidh ar taispeáint. Míreanna bunaidh eile ar taispeáint i dTeach Chathair na Mart, suim ar leith, tá bailiúchán breá de sean-Béarla agus airgid na hÉireann, lena n-áirítear 18ú haois ‘prátaí’ Gaeilge nó fáinní mhias, gloine Phort Láirge, leabharlann le go leor leabhar d’aois na hÉireann agus Bratach Léigiún Mhaigh Eo a tugadh go hÉirinn ag Ginearál Humbert nuair a tháinig sé ar an tír i 1798 agus bhí riamh ó shin i dTeach Chathair na Mart, a bhí ar áitiú ag a chuid trúpaí.

Teach Chathair na Mart suite taobh thiar den tSionainn agus tá sé ar cheann de na tithe stairiúla is áille na hÉireann ‘ar oscailt don phobal. Taitneamh as an teach suíomh fearann páirce superb le loch, ardáin, gairdíní iontach agus radhairc iontacha breathnú amach ar Chuan Mó, an Aigéan Atlantach, Acaill, Cliara agus sléibhe naofa na hÉireann Cruach Phádraig. Na forais acmhainn freisin raon backdrops n-áirítear an loch, coillearnacha, séipéal agus reilig fothracha, easanna agus gairdíní sraithe. Tá sé an suíomh ba chóir a iniúchadh agus do chuairteoirí a ráthú de fáilte te agus an chuid is fearr i mbia agus fáilteachais na hÉireann. Tabhair cuairt ar a láithreán gréasáin  www.westporthouse.ie  le haghaidh faisnéis níos mionsonraithe.

Remembering a father and his son

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

 

pic page 12 pics

 

By Áine Ní Shionnaigh

This week marks the 15th anniversary of the tragic death of John F. Kennedy Junior, only son of President John F. Kennedy. JFK Jr. perished when the light aircraft he was piloting crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. Also on board the flight to Martha’s Vineyard was his wife and sister-in-law.  The anniversary prompted me to ponder on the sense of tragedy that befell father and son.

The “Kennedy Curse” refers to the series of tragedies that have befallen the family. This “curse” is more likely, and in part, due to the fame, wealth, and power that brought the Kennedys attention in the first place, rather than anything as mysterious as a “curse.”  A sense of tragedy became evident very early on in John Junior’s life. His dad’s state funeral was held on his third birthday. In a moment that became an emotional and iconic image of the 1960s, John stepped forward and rendered a final salute as the flag-draped casket was carried out from the cathedral. At the age of seven, he spent six idyllic weeks in Ireland with his mother and his sister where he visited, among many places, his great great- grandfather’s homestead in Dunganstown, County Wexford, and met with President Eamon de Valera. As an Irish person I will never tire of the subject of the 1963 presidential visit to Ireland, how Ireland embraced him, how he embraced the Irish, and thus began a love affair that will go down in the realms of history.

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was, and is, someone to aspire to, someone to learn about, and of course, if you are Irish, someone to argue about. Countless books have been written and re-written about the person he was, the image he portrayed, the reforms he fought for, and the abrupt ending that is almost too tragic to comprehend. His assassination left us with the eternal questions:

Where would his thinking have led the country and the world?

What more greatness would he have been capable of achieving?

The tragic ending of President Kennedy’s life, less than five months after he waved goodbye to Ireland, ensured that his memory will never ever fade with the passage of time. To understand fully the magnanimous effect of President Kennedy’s visit to Ireland in those last days of June 1963, one should recall the economic conditions of Ireland at the time. As the 1950s drew to a close, Ireland was in a state of depression, there was shocking and appalling poverty.

Noel Browne‘s book “Against the Tide” gives some accurate insight into what real poverty was. The closed economy rule that had been adopted by de Valera ensured that we remained an island in every sense of the term. In the early 1960s, Sean Lemass began to adopt the “First Program for Economic Expansion” and a chink of light slowly appeared in what was a dark and bleak time. The stage was perfectly set for a visit from one of our own, the ultimate returned immigrant from1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington. His visit epitomized perfectly the coming together of the transatlantic story of Irish America and Ireland. President Kennedy of course meant even more to the Irish in America as he validated who the Irish were. He was the first American president who identified himself as Irish and Catholic and interestingly, there hasn’t been anyone since. In terms of “respectability” for the Irish, the Kennedy influence is unquestionable. So, on the 26th of June, 1963, when President John F Kennedy stepped off the plane in Ireland, Ireland embraced him and he embraced the Irish.

Many history books begin with his grandfather, Patrick, who had worked his way up in Boston and became a saloon owner and a politician. However, the real beginning, the fact that the President’s eight great grandparents were Famine immigrants of course resonated strongly with Kennedy. How could it not? On the subject of emigration, he remarked to the people of New Ross in County Wexford: “When my great grandfather left here to become a cooper in East Boston, he carried nothing with him except two things: a strong religious faith and a strong desire for liberty. I am glad to say that all of his great grandchildren have valued that inheritance”. Also on display in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is the Fitzgerald family Bible brought from Ireland by President Kennedy’s forebears. This same Bible was used when John Fitzgerald Kennedy took his oath of office as 35th President of the United States on January 20, 1961. The Bible is an 1850 edition containing a handwritten chronicle of the Fitzgerald family from 1857 and including a record of the birth of John Fitzgerald Kennedy on May 29, 1917. In 1948, Kennedy wrote a less well known book titled “A Nation of Emigrants.” The coldest cynic could not fail to be warmed by the images of John F. Kennedy, the President of the United States of America, the Harvard-educated great-grandson of Patrick Kennedy, back “home” in his cousin Mary’s cottage in Dunganstown, Co.Wexford cutting cake and having copious cups of tea , being introduced to his relatives.

It was noted at the time that when the crush of chaotic crowds threatened to become overwhelming and the security men stepped in to intervene, the president waved them away with the words “It’s all right, these are my people.” Most poignantly perhaps is that he told people afterwards that, that one Irish day at the hearth of his cousin Mary in Wexford, and indeed, the four days in Ireland as a whole, were the highlight of his life. His speech in Dublin to the Oireachteas was the first Dail Eireann speech ever broadcast. Unbeknownst to everyone at the time, this was the start of Ireland’s genuine economic growth. Kennedy talked about Ireland’s position in the world, he acknowledged that “Yes, you are a small country but……………”

And that is where the story of modern Ireland began: “my friends: Ireland’s hour has come. You have something to give to the world – and that is a future of peace with freedom”. He gave Ireland one thing: he encouraged Ireland to aspire to greatness. In a time of post colonialism, where countries were slowly beginning to crawl out of the claws of colonialism, Kennedy put Ireland at the forefront of this movement.

When President Kennedy returned to the White House after his Irish visit, he was so taken with the Irish experience that he not only bored his staff to death replaying home movies of his Irish trip, he also began to study the Irish language. Perhaps, in the Oval Office, he pored over dictionaries and grammar books and I suspect, even his brilliant mind was perplexed by a language that had so many tenses and clauses. Perhaps he wanted to have the privilege of being able to speak one of the oldest living languages in Europe. In the Irish language, you do not separate what belongs together. President Kennedy recognized this, and appreciated it. His trip to Ireland was transcendent. He arrived as an Irish Norman Fitzgerald, and left as an Irish Gaelic Kennedy. Kennedy had observed the Irish Army Officer Cadets in the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin and talked much about them afterwards.

These same cadets from the Curragh, Co. Kildare were flown over for his funeral to perform the final salute at his graveside. Can there be anything more poignant that the image of these young, uniformed Irishmen performing the final graveside salutes. These same soldiers represented the Irish people that President Kennedy felt compelled to turn back to and say “I’ll be back in springtime.” Little did anyone know, that long before springtime, so many would be standing silent, at a graveside in Arlington Cemetery, bidding President John Fitzgerald Kennedy a final farewell on his last journey home. And that 36 years later, no time at all really, the world would be saying farewell to his only son.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam, agus anam a mhac.

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