Those We Lost

From Left: Rick Cluchey, Aidan Higgins, Christy O'Connor, Jr.
From Left: Rick Cluchey, Aidan Higgins, Christy O'Connor, Jr.

By Irish America Staff
February / March 2016

Rick Cluchey

1933 – 2015

On February 2, 1955, the man who would become one of Samuel Beckett’s greatest protegés, got into a car in Los Angeles with a loaded gun. Rick Cluchey robbed and accidentally shot the driver, was caught, and subsequently sentenced to life in San Quentin Prison without the possibility of parole. It was through this violent episode that he was to find his calling in theater, especially as a interpreter, director, and actor for the works of Samuel Beckett.

When the San Francisco Actors Workshop performed Waiting for Godot at San Quentin in November 1957, Cluchey was not allowed out of his cell. He was a skilled boxer, violent, and seen as an escape threat. But he heard Godot through the public address system, and it inspired in him and his prisonmates a redemptive and creative streak that would ultimately secure his release from prison.

Cluchey became a leading member in a theater troupe comprised of San Quentin inmates which focused heavily on Beckett’s work. Cluchey eventually authored his own play, The Cage, which played a role in helping Cluchey leave prison on parole. It was also due to this play that he met his second wife, Barbara Bladen, who reviewed a prison performance of the play for The San Mateo Times. Their love story became the basis for the film Weeds, starring Nick Nolte.

Out of prison, Cluchey formed a theater company, Barbwire Theater, which was comprised of other ex-cons. He continued to be recognized as a great talent – even by his ultimate inspiration, Beckett, whom Cluchey met in the 1970s. The two developed a collaborative friendship that saw Cluchey work as assistant director to Beckett and act in many performances, including Krapp’s Last Tape and Endgame, some of which Beckett himself directed.

Born as Douglas Charles Cluchey on Dec. 5, 1933, Cluchey married three times. He died on Dec. 28 and is survived by his four children and his wife, Nora Masterson. – R. Bryan Willits

Aidan Higgins

1927 – 2015

Irish fiction writer Aidan Higgins died December 27th, 2015 at the age of 88. Despite being relatively unknown to American audiences, his work was critically lauded and poet Derek Mahon referred to him as “the missing link between high modernism and the present.”

Higgins was born in Celbridge, Co. Kildare on March 3, 1927 and attended Clongowes Wood College (immortalized by the school’s most famous alumnus, James Joyce, in his semi-autobiographical bildungsroman, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). After school, he worked as a copywriter for a Dublin advertising agency before moving to London and later traveling throughout Europe and Africa.

In 1960, Samuel Beckett recommended Higgins’ first collection of short stories, Felo de Se, to John Calder, his London publisher. Langrishe, Go Down, Higgins’s 1966 novel, details the lives of four spinster sisters living in a decaying Big House, and was lauded by the Irish Times as “the best Irish novel since At Swim-Two-Birds and the novels of Beckett.” The novel won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and was adapted for television with a screenplay by acclaimed English playwright Harold Pinter.

In 1981, he helped found Aosdána, an Irish artists’ association supported by the Arts Council of Ireland.

Higgins made his home in Kinsale, Co. Cork, where he settled in 1986 with writer and journalist Alannah Hopkin. The two married in 1997. In addition to his wife, Higgins is survived by three children and several grandchildren. – Julia Brodsky

Christy O’Connor Jr.

1948 – 2016

Legendary golfer Christy O’Connor, Jr. died unexpectedly in his sleep early January while acationing in the Canary Islands. He was 67.

O’Connor boasted a long career on the course with 17 professional wins. He also competed twice in the famed Ryder Cup, and it was his 1989 Ryder Cup performance at The Belfry that earned him the accolades of colleagues and commentators alike when he managed a commanding shot on the 18th hole from 235 yards, landing the ball just four feet from the flag. Just before the shot, he was encouraged by his teammate, Tony Jacklin, who told O’Connor, “Come on, one more good swing for Ireland.” The subsequent shot sealed O’Connor’s victory over future U.S. Masters champion Fred Couples, ultimately helping the European team retain the cup.

In 2010 O’Connor referred to the shot, famously executed with the ever tetchy two-iron, as “the greatest shot” he ever made and “the most emotional moment” of his professional life.

Born August 19, 1948 in Knocknacarra, County Galway, the young O’Connor remembered a difficult upbringing with school lessons bookended by farm work in the early mornings and often late into the night. He still managed to squeeze in a few holes where he could and become a professional golfer at the age of 19. O’Connor was also the nephew of his namesake, another great Irish golf legend.

Irish President Michael D. Higgins said O’Connor was “an iconic figure in golf” and that he “represented his country and its people on the international stage with distinction, dignity and great humour.” Taoiseach Enda Kenny said O’Connor’s passing “will be a source of great sadness to many Irish people and all golfing fans in Ireland and across Europe.”

O’Connor is survived by his wife Ann, his son Nigel, and daughter Ann. He is predeceased by another son, Darren, for whom O’Connor often prayed. At O’Connor’s funeral, Father Michael Kelly said that he “spoke openly and confidently of his conviction that he would meet Darren again.” – R. Bryan Willits

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