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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.

Irish Pride on the Fourth of July

POSTED ON July 2nd  - POSTED IN News, News & Views, Opinion

by Áine Ní Shionnaigh

Growing up in the West of Ireland, my exposure to the Fourth of July was limited to two iconic movies. As a young child, I remember watching the black and white grainy version of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” where the main star, George M. Cohan, was born on the Fourth of July, a fact which heightened the expectations about his destiny. This movie could not have contrasted more with Oliver Stone’s “Born on the Fourth of July” where as a young adult, I was deeply struck by the contrast between the idea of war and the reality of war. The atmosphere at the Fourth of July parade before Kovic (Tom Cruise) joins the Marines coldly conflicts with the horrific conditions that Kovic finds himself in at the Veterans hospital where he is admitted on his return from Vietnam as a paralyzed veteran. There is a dramatic sense of despair, disillusionment and disappointment. The experience of actually becoming a hero is a serious let-down. Some of the content of this movie became a reality for me this year when I became involved with some veteran organizations to discuss traumatic brain injury issues in conjunction with the Sarah Jane Brain Foundation.

Nine years ago, when I moved to New York City from the West of Ireland, one of the biggest observations I continually made was the sense of patriotism in this great country. I am gradually coming to understand and still learning about the intensity of the relationship between the U.S. and its military. America’s military history is at the core of the formation of the American Republic as we know it today.

The independence celebrated on this July 4th weekend was fought for by many who paid the ultimate price so that Americans could enjoy all the privileges and freedom that come with it. We also celebrate the Irish who fought so valiantly with General George Washington to win the War of Independence. When the American Revolution broke out, both Scotch Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics could be found in every contingent of Washington’s army. According to James O’Boyle’s “Life of George Washington,” one of the most daring group of soldiers during the Revolutionary War were the Green Mountain Boys, led by, among others, two Irishmen named Marion and Pickens. Men lie these later became the pioneers who would venture outside the range of the original 13 colonies and head west. The Scotch Irish from Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania were particularly prominent in the ranks of those Americans who took on and ultimately prevailed against the British. They had grown to love the country they had left, the northern parts of Ireland, and it was an affection that would see them bear arms in a bid to gain independence in their new adopted land. Their efforts did not go unnoticed. When things weren’t looking good for General Washington, he came out with a gem of a quote that showed the pride and trust he had in these sturdy men. “If defeated everywhere else, I will make my stand for liberty, among the Scots-Irish in my native Virginia.” But defeat was not something they had to worry about, and Washington would lead his army to victory and becomes the country’s first president.

In June 1776, representatives of the 13 colonies had weighed a resolution that would declare their independence from Great Britain. On July 2nd, the Continental Congress voted in favor of Independence, and two days later its delegates adopted the Declaration of Independence, a historic document drafted by Thomas Jefferson. One of the signatories was an Irish Catholic whose grandfather was born in Aghtery, a townland in County Offaly, interestingly the same county President Barack Obama traced his Irish roots to and visited in 2011.

Charles Carroll (September 19, 1737 – November 14, 1832), known as Charles Carroll of Carrollton to distinguish him from his similarly named relatives, was a wealthy Maryland planter and an early advocate of independence from Great Britain. He served as a delegate to the Continental Congress and Confederation Congress and later as first United States Senator for Maryland. He was the only Catholic and the longest-lived (and last surviving) signatory of the Declaration of Independence. He died at the age of 95 at his city mansion in the neighborhood of Jonestown in Baltimore.

Carroll was not initially interested in politics and in any event Catholics had been barred from holding office in Maryland. But as the dispute between Great Britain and the colonies intensified, Carroll became a powerful voice for independence. He wrote in the Maryland Gazette under a pseudonym. He became a prominent spokesman against the governor’s proclamation increasing legal fees to state officers and Protestant clergy. Eventually, word spread of the true identity of the columnist and Carroll’s fame and notoriety began to grow. He became a leading opponent of British rule, and served on various committees of correspondence. He also played an important role in the burning in Annapolis harbor of the “Peggy Stewart,” a ship which had been carrying tea to Maryland, and was destroyed on October 19, 1774 as part of the tea party protests.

Charles Carroll was elected to the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, and remained a delegate until 1778. He signed the official document that survives today.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt once noted something that I think speaks of the Irish contribution to the kind of loud and colorful celebration that marks the fourth day of the seventh month.

He told James Cagney: “That’s one thing I’ve always admired about you Irish Americans, you carry your love of country like a flag, right out in the open. It’s a great quality.”

I also greatly admire the love of country that every American possesses.

I hope you all have a wonderful Fourth of July.

IMG_5515    Sgt Cory Remsburg and Aine at iHope

by Áine Ní Shionnaigh

Patrick Donohue is a prominent Irish American lawyer who left his career as a lawyer to change the world for his daughter Sarah Jane, my daughter Grace Anne and countless others in the US and worldwide who have suffered a brain injury. Patrick is the perfect example of someone who has turned a tragedy into a triumph.

In 2007, Patrick set up the Sarah Jane Brain Foundation (SJBF) which is a 501c3 non for profit. The mission of the SJBF is to change the world for Sarah Jane and the millions of other children, youth and young adults who suffer from brain injury and other brain-based disorders by improving services, training and research in this country and beyond. Brain injury in youth can result in widespread impairments in cognition, motor abilities, behavior and social function. The brain remains in a developmental phase until around age 25 so recoveries are possible. However, recovery requires an integrated and individualized approach. There has to be a co-ordination between medical, educational and rehabilitation systems. SJBF’s Advisory Board is comprised of leading experts from the top major medical centers in the US and elsewhere, from Children’s Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School, Mayo Clinic, Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital to name but a few.

In September 2013, SJBF launched the first and only school in New York City to educate and habilitate kids with brain injuries and other brain-based disorders – The International Academy of HOPE (iHOPE). The school currently has 19 students and will grow to 40 by summer 2014. The mission of iHOPE is to be the best school in the world for kids with brain injuries and brain based disorders and to translate it’s knowledge across the country and around the world by establishing other iHOPE schools.

Pediatric brain injury statistics unfortunately include more than half of our young veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with traumatic brain injuries, the average age of a veteran with TBI is about 19.3 years old. Recently the Sarah Jane Brain Foundation and iHOPE honored Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg with the Col. Jack Jacobs Angel Award for his service to our country and for changing the way people think about brain injury. A roadside bomb in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on his 10th deployment, left Sgt Remsburg in a coma for three months, partially paralyzed and brain damaged. His father, Craig, a retired Air Force Reserve firefighter, and stepmother Annie, are his full time caretakers and accompanied him to the school where he lead the iHOPE students in the Pledge of Allegiance. When asked if he would return to war, knowing what he knows now, he replied, “in a heartbeat”. Such bravery and patriotism is not easily found.

The Sarah Jane Brain Foundation recently held a Conference in conjunction with the NFL, the title was “Finding Solutions to the Public Health Crisis” “Mild”/TBI/Concussion in Youth. The main speaker was Dr Sanjay Gupta who is the Chief Medical Correspondent at CNN and also Associate Chief of Neurosurgery at Grady Memorial Hospital. The conference was attended by top medical experts representing the top centers of excellence in Neurology and Sports Medicine from all over the US. The Sarah Jane Brain Foundation is working to prevent, identify, treat and eventually cure Pediatric Acquired Brain injuries which are the no 1 cause of death and disability for youth around the world so needs to be taken more seriously.

iHOPE school and it’s associated Foundation, the SJBF has the chance to change the lives of children and young adults that everyone else has given up on. It gives back hope in situations where hope is diminished.

“Hope is the thing with feathers

that perches in the soul,

And sings the tune–without the words,

And never stops at all.” (ED)

For more information about the Sarah Jane Brain Foundation, please visit: www.TheBrainProject.org

For more information about the International Academy of Hope, please visit: www.ihopenyc.org

The Sarah Jane Brain Foundation and The International Academy of HOPE

POSTED ON June 24th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views, Opinion

Funeral Services for Jack Ahearn

POSTED ON June 20th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views, Opinion

 

Funeral services for labor leader John “Jack” Ahern will be held Friday through Sunday, from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. at Fairchild Sons Funeral Home, 1201 Franklin Avenue, Garden City, 11503, (516)746-0585.http://www.fairchildfuneral.com/contact-and-directions

A Mass of Christian Burial will be held on Monday, June 23 at 9:45 a.m. at St. Brigid’s Church, 75 Post Avenue, Westbury, Long Island, NY.  Interment at Gate of Heaven Cemetery, 10 W Stevens Ave., Hawthorne, in Westchester County.

Ahern, who was Grand Marshal of this year’s New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade, died after a long battle with cancer.

 

 

When Grace Anne found Hope

POSTED ON June 17th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views, Opinion

Created with Nokia Smart Cam

by Áine Ní Shionnaigh

Last week, I referred to a piece of prose “Welcome to Holland”, which employs a metaphor of excitement for a vacation to Italy that becomes a disappointment when the plane lands instead in Holland. “Holland?!?”you say. “What do you mean Holland ?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

On the 2nd of January 2006, I personally landed in “Holland” when my beautiful daughter, Grace Anne was born. After a beyond perfect pregnancy, in one of the top hospitals in the world, something went terribly wrong and nothing could ever have prepared me for what lay ahead. A few hours after the birth, I heard those dreaded words that no parent should ever have to hear, “I have some bad news for you, your daughter has suffered a severe brain injury. She is currently on life support and it is doubtful if she will make it past day two”. In that instant, my life and the lives of many others changed forever.

The nightmare had begun, what should have been one of the happiest moments of my life, seeing my first born for the first time, became very dark, very quickly. When I saw my daughter she was unrecognizable, covered in a maze of invasive tubes, many taped to her cute little face. I couldn’t hold her or touch her. She was in an induced coma to try to prevent any further damage. I wanted to take her out and run away from the nightmare in which I found myself living. Instead of bonding with my daughter, I was bombarded with medical terminologies,  MRIs and CAT scans of my newborn’s brain, where, as one doctor glibly put it “everything had been wiped out”, there was no longer any differentiation between the grey and white matter. I was even dissuaded from pumping my breast milk, advice I ignored as I wasn’t as ready to give up. Through endless meetings with doctors, specialists, a bereavement counsellor, a chaplain, the local funeral undertaker, I struggled so hard to find some small comfort in the idea that Grace Anne was an angel and would always be with me, something that no earthly person could ever be. She was christened on my birthday in the NICU and then the machine was turned off, a few tense moments passed and then Grace Anne revealed her ‘West of Ireland’ determination. She wasn’t quite ready for heaven yet, when the humming of the ventilator subsided, she took her first breath on her own.

I was told a complex multiplicity of medical conditions that my daughter would have. Any single one of these issues would be catastrophic on their own, I was taking in tens if not hundreds of them. I met with many different specialists all dealing with different aspects of Grace Anne’s condition. Any information was of course bad news. She left the hospital on Valentine’s Day with a diagnosis of severe quadriplegic cerebral palsy, severe seizure disorder, severe digestive disorder, severely impacted muscle tone, legally blind, and a myriad more conditions all caused by the brain injury.

One of the most difficult challenges was how to respond to people’s reactions, which is something I may write a book about someday, “What NOT to say to a parent of a child with special needs”. I constantly heard comments such as “such a shame and she is so pretty, she could have been a model”, “ you are great, I could never cope with that”, “God won’t give you a cross you can’t carry”. I ached to rewind my life, to have a life that did not revolve around therapies and doctor appointments and trips to the ER in the middle of the night that ended up being week long hospitalizations. Being a first time parent is an exhausting, puzzling experience anyway under the best circumstances. Being the parent of a child with a disability extends the parameters beyond the place to which most people can relate. The tension created by this isolation exacerbates the all-consuming grief. I was tired beyond belief; there were no answers only endless suggestions, which although well-meaning, become almost painful to hear. The answering machine was always full and I hadn’t the energy to listen to messages. In the beginning I needed to shut the world out to conserve what little energy I had left to look after my special child who also had severe gastric issues which meant she cried constantly all day long. The night was my only reprieve, to sleep and slip into silence.  I badly needed extra help, extra kindness, extra compassion but I didn’t know how to ask for it. I had learned to put on as I called it ‘my suit of armor’ to stifle my feelings of absolute grief, sorrow and despair. I was in mourning but I couldn’t mourn the loss as Grace Anne had way more needs than a typical new baby.

Having Grace Anne changed the way I view my life. My priorities changed completely, what used to seem so important is so totally irrelevant now. Grace Anne has a great deal to offer the world. She has taught me the real meaning of unconditional love, happiness, perseverance and determination. Putting aside the medical issues, she is a cute red haired, blue eyed, freckle faced little girl who was born with a happy fighting spirit and seems tuned into a better quality frequency than the rest of us. If I ever take time to cry, she thinks I am laughing and she starts to giggle. I feel there is something deeper here, that she knows love and grief spring from the same well. Grief can wake us up and make us whole in a way we never were before. I almost feel I am a more complete person now than before.

Life did get better and the time came when I began to feel positive and energized again but only and I stress only, because I am lucky enough to live here in the US where it is recognized that the parent of a child with a disability needs professional help to assist them looking after that child. A situation with a child that needs 24hr care is overwhelming.  Currently, with the help of my beyond amazing nurses: Diana, Imelda and Valerie, my life has become livable again, I can now see the light again at the end of the tunnel. I don’t want my life or Grace Anne’s life to be defined by her disability. Next week I will tell you all about Grace Anne’s amazing school: iHOPE, the International Academy of Hope, www.ihopenyc.org, which has succeeded in giving hope again to Grace Anne and I. iHOPE has the chance to change the lives of children that everyone else has given up on. Its purpose is to give hope to special children and their families and that it does. Grace Anne and I would love you all to join us at iHOPE on Thursday, June 26th at lunchtime 12 – 2 where I will host a special Irish American luncheon to introduce iHOPE to the Irish American community. I hope to see some of you there. www.ihopenyc.org for details. To be continued next week…..

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