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Violinist Harrington pulls the heart strings

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

Gregory Harrington - pic Daniel D'Ottavio

(Gregory Harrington photo from Daniel D’Ottavio)

By Áine Ní Shionnaigh

Despite being tightly huddled inside a grey hoodie, Gregory Harrington still retains an air of elegance on a damp and dreary pre-Thanksgiving morning when we meet for coffee on the Upper West Side. As he displays apprehension about the impending snow, I chastise him for becoming like a native New Yorker. What he is actually becoming, is Ireland’s most recognized concert violin soloist; one who sweeps listeners away with the emotion of his music, emotion and connection, two words that consistently come up throughout our conversation. 

The single most emotive connection that I have experienced in my lifetime was the first time I heard Gregory perform. It was in the opulent Beaux Arts Grand Salon of the JW Marriott Essex House Hotel, he took center stage and eloquently explained the background to the music he was about to play. The piece he appropriately chose for the Guest of Honor, Vice President Joe Biden was from Turlough O’Carolan, a renowned blind Irish fiddler. Joe Biden’s great-great grandfather was also a blind fiddler who immigrated to America. Sitting in the stunned silence as the haunting notes of gypsy and classical harmoniously fused, it was as if the spirit of the previous three generations of Biden’s were reincarnated with each note. Sitting near the Vice President, observing the emotions etched onto his face, I was never as proud to be Irish.  

Gregory is as his music: articulate, eloquent, charming, with an underlying intensity. With his intense expression and innate sense of style, he is a modern day fusion of Clarke Gable and Laurence Oliver. He would look as equally at home on the Ralph Lauren runway as he does on stage at Carnegie Hall. 

How early did it start for Gregory? At the tender age of 4, he was attending the Dublin Horseshow at the RDS with his mother, a bandstand with a string quartet caught his attention and changed the whole focus of Gregory’s future life. On hearing the violin, Gregory grabbed his mother’s coat sleeve with an intensity that required an immediate response, pointed to the violin and said ‘I want to play that’. Perhaps his mother had an innate intuition that this was not just a young boys passing whim, the very next morning she brought him to McCullough Pigotts on Suffolk Street and bought him a violin, he started lessons a month later. Tragically Gregory lost his very special supportive mother way too soon and way too early in life. She influences him and his music daily. There is an intensity that comes with the struggle to accept the loss of a loved one that never fully recedes and perhaps some of the poignancy of Gregory’s music comes from this. Listening to Gregory’s music, there are many emotions hidden under the surface, and we too are allowed a rare glimpse into our own deepest hidden emotions. 

Gregory’s music is a combination of classical and crossover, his first three albums have all had varied focus. His most recent album launched last week is Bach: Transcriptions and Variations. Gregory has taken some of Bach’s most famous violin pieces and created his own arrangements. Gregory’s music can have a hint of edginess that is probably due to the unprecedented creativity that I have only found in Irish souls. He doesn’t feel that things should be categorized. Just because one is a violinist doesn’t mean that one can only play classical music, although Gregory wants to be known as Ireland’s greatest concert violin soloist, which he is already well on the way to becoming, he also wants to live his music life without total boundaries which is why he is also known as Ireland’s leading crossover artist. Thanks to Gregory Harrington I and countless more listeners have become aware that the violin is an instrument of enormous versatility and striking beauty with a nuance of expression that could possibly only be surpassed by the human voice. Gregory’s amazing Dad, James Harrington, who is a great support to Gregory, summed it up perfectly when we chatted at the interval of Gregory’s concert album launch in the IAC, “Aine, I have never heard anyone play a violin like that.” 

Bach: Transcriptions and Variations by Gregory Harrington  

A great holiday gift, gift with an experience. http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/gregoryharrington1

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/bach-transcriptions-variations/id918608449 

gregoryharrington.com * facebook * @harringtonmusic 

AS GAEILGE

 D’ainneoin a bheith cuachta go docht i gheansai liath, coinníonn Gregory Harrington aer ‘elegant’ fós ar maidin liath agus dur roimh an ‘Thanksgiving’ nuair a bhualamar ar an Taobh Thiar Uachtarach le haghaidh caife. Nuair a thaispeánann sé imní mar gheall ar an sneachta, tosaim ag magadh faoi go bfhuil se cosúil le duine dúchasach as Nua Eabhraic. Ach cad a bhfuil sé ag éirí i ndáiríre é no cheann de na veidhleadóirí clasaiceacha is aitheanta in Éirinn, ceann a scuabadh do dhaoine ar shiúl leis an mothuchain ata ina chuid ceoil, mothuchain agus ceangail, dhá focail a thagann suas go minic i rith ár gcomhrá.

B’é an nasc is chorraitheach amháin a bhfuil taithí agam i mo shaol na an chéad uair a chuala mé Gregory ag seinm a cheol. Bhí sé i Grand Beaux Arts Salon an JW Marriott House Essex Hotel House, Éireannach anaithnid roimhe seo dom, ghlac se lár an aonaigh agus mhínigh sé an cúlra leis an gceol a bhí sé ar tí é a imirt. An dara píosa a bhí le aoi speisialta, ar Leas-Uachtarán Joe Biden a raibh a seanathair mor ina fidléir dall Éireannach a thainig go Meiriceá. Roghnaigh Gregory piosa ceol ó Uí Chearbhalláin, fidléir dall clúiteach ó Céideadh, Co. Ros Comáin. Suí le linn an tost stunned mar a bhí a bhí na nótaí haunting, bhí sé mar má beochta spiorad an trí ghlúin roimhe sin de Biden le gach faoi deara. Ina shuí in aice leis an Leas-Uachtarán, breathnú ar an emotion eitseáilte ar Tá Gregory mar a chuid ceoil: a chur in iúl, eloquent, a fheictear, le déine bhunúsach. Lena léiriú dian agus tuiscint inbheirthe stíl, tá sé ar chomhleá lá nua-aimseartha de Clarke Gable agus Laurence Oliver. Bheadh sé breathnú go cothrom ar an rúidbhealach ‘Ralph Lauren no ar an stad i Halla Carnegie.

Cé chomh luath agus a thosaigh se ? Ag freastal an ‘Dublin Horseshow’ I mhaile Átha Cliath lena mháthair, thug se faoi deara ceathairéad teaghrán ag an Bandstand, agus a d’astraigh an fócas ar fad de shaol Gregory sa todhchaí. Ag éisteacht leis an veidhlín, rug Gregory a mháthar chum cóta le déine a mbeadh gá le freagra láithreach, aird ar an veidhlín agus dúirt ‘Ba mhaith liom e sin a imirt”. B’fhéidir go raibh an intuition inbheirthe nach raibh sé seo ach whim buachaillí óga, an maidin ina dhiadh sin thug sí air Lestor Piggots ar Shráid Parnell agus cheannaigh dó veidhlín agus ceachtanna. Go tragóideach chaill Gregory a mháthair iomasach an-speisialta ar bhealach ró-luath sa saol. Bíonn tionchar í féin ar Gregory agus a cheol gach lá. An duine a bfhuil streachailt acu chun glacadh leis an caillteanas de grá amháin riamh go hiomlán, b’fhéidir roinnt de na cheol Gregory ar a thagann as seo. Éisteacht le ceol Gregory s, tá go leor mothúcháin i bhfolach faoi dhromchla, agus táimid cheadaítear freisin le léargas annamh i ár mothúcháin is doimhne féin i bhfolach.

Ray O’Hanlon, recipient of the 2014 William Butler Yeats Award

POSTED ON November 5th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views, Opinion

By Áine Ní Shionnaigh

Driving across the iconic George Washington Bridge on Saturday evening last, leaving the twinkling lights of Manhattan behind, the panoramic Palisades peer back at me through the darkness, and hesitatingly welcoming me to North Jersey. My usual vision of the broad expanse of the historic Hudson River is limited somewhat by driving rain and wind.  I mourn the loss of endless summer evenings which have been bluntly replaced by this November blackness.  Crossing the world’s busiest motor vehicle bridge, I can’t help but contrast it with the bridge in the center of my hometown of Boyle which has been the subject for countless photographs, postcards and publications since it was first built as a wooden structure in the 1750’s. The scale of one when juxtaposed with the other is hard to comprehend. The Boyle Bridge, although historical and picturesque is more akin to a bump in the road, its span accommodating on average three vehicles at one time.  It is easy to see why in 1981, 50 years after the George Washington Bridge was built, it was designated as a Natural Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, largely due to the imposing exposed steel grafts.

Once over the bridge and officially in Jersey, the tempo changes, the GPS system kicks in out of necessity, the scenery is quickly forgotten as I scan the highway for exits. Surprisingly quickly, I reach my destination, the Graycliff Manor in Moonachie where the Bergen Council of Irish Associations of Greater Bergen County are holding their 2014 Grand Marshal Quentin Kennedy Jr’s Dinner and Celebration of Irish Culture.

I am greeted by the usual ‘Are you here for the Irish event?’ when exiting the car. Someday I’ll cause confusion by turning up for the Italian night! On entering the salubrious surrounding of the Graycliff, I am almost overwhelmed by the sea of Irish faces, 260 to be exact. As I’m looking for a seat, a woman passes me by with that open friendly countenance that is commonplace in the West of Ireland.  I can’t resist remarking if she is from the West of Ireland, not only is she from the West, she is from the same County, County Roscommon and in fact she comes from Arigna which is just a few miles down the road from me.  As is typical of  West of Ireland hospitality, within a few minutes of meeting Mary Cullen , I am seated at a table in the corner in the midst of her all-embracing family, busy chatting about Doherty’s bakery in Boyle where Mary and one of her sisters, Kathleen worked. Her husband has been ousted from his seat to make space for me, it turns out he is one of tonight’s honorees; the recipient of The Turlough O’Carolan Award for Musical Achievement, James Joseph Higgins. Jimmy immigrated to the United States in February 1957 from Coleraine, Co Derry, where he was born and raised and started playing the bagpipes at the tender age of 12. Upon coming to the Unites States he played with many bands and in 1986, he founded the Bergen Irish Pipe Band and became the piping instructor and organizer. Since moving to Bergen County, over 42 years ago, Jimmy has been involved in a huge variety of Irish activities and has been such a great addition to Bergen County.

The second honoree of the night is Carmel Quinn who is the recipient of the 2014 Humanitarian Award. Carmel has spent the last five decades captivating the American public as a singer, comedienne, storyteller and humanitarian. She was born and educated in Ireland. She began performing locally in theaters, dance halls and went on to work for the BBC in Great Britain. In 1954 she immigrated to the United States where she began to appear as a regular guest on the Arthur Godfrey radio and TV programs. Following this she became a frequent guest on the top national TV shows, recorded numerous albums, acted in numerous stage productions, performed for John F Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson but more important than all that , she is a wonderful humanitarian donating so much of her time and money to charities in Ireland and the US. As I marvel at her youthful complexion, I realize it is probably more due to the fact that she carries out on a daily basis the best Irish tradition, helping those in need and serving as a shining example for the rest of us.

And our very own Ray O’Hanlon, well known editor of the Irish Echo and acclaimed author of two books, The New Irish Americans and The South Lawn Plot, is the recipient of the 2014 William Butler Yeats Award. O’Hanlon has a particular interest in the immigration issue, which his 1998 nonfiction book deals with from his first-hand experience of same. Ray is very proud to be the editor of the oldest Irish American newspaper in the country, which still provides a valuable connection for over 100,000 Irish, a connection which is not available on more ‘instant’ internet websites. His book ‘The New Irish Americans’ was the recipient of a Washington Irving Book Award.

All in all it was a wonderful night, organized by a wonderful organization. There was great entertainment provided by The Ridgewood Dance Academy and The Bergen Irish Pipe Band.

The Council of Irish Associations of Greater Bergen County strengthens Irish American culture in Northern New Jersey. In 1980, George P Gunning led a meeting in Paramus Park mall where various organizations gathered together and discussed the possibility of forming a Council. The Council was formed that evening and George P Gunning served as the first President.  The Council’s first St Patrick’s Day parade was held on March 14th 1982, the 2015 parade will mark their 34th anniversary. The council operates as a 501©(3) charitable organization. Maith thu to all involved.

“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.

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