The First Word:
Friendship, Love & Loyalty
“We never know how high we are until we are called to rise; and then, if we are true to our plan, our statures touch the skies.”
Putting this issue of Irish America together has been an extraordinarily moving experience.
There are stories that made us cry.
Stories of incredible courage.
And stories that brought us hope.
And through it all we got to connect with some amazing people whose shared experiences are documented in the following pages.
We hope that you will read every profile in this issue. They are in no particular order but I promise you will find inspiration, and hope, and security in the knowledge that people are capable of great goodness.
We picked those featured on our cover because they are representative of the many wonderful people involved in the rescue operation. Firefighter Danny Foley, Ironworker Joe Mooney, Policeman Paul McCormack, Fr. Brian Jordan who blessed the giant cross formed by two beams that the ironworkers pulled from the rubble, Matt Galvin of the NYPD Emerald Pipe and Drums Band, who played at so many memorials, Kerry McGinnis who helped reunite people with their pets, and Stormy who is standing in for the many search and rescue dogs.
It was very moving to meet all of these people, especially Danny Foley, who reluctantly came along to the photo shoot. His father told him he should because, “They were nice to your brother Tommy.” We have a special place in our hearts here at Irish America for Tommy, one of the firefighters lost on September 11. When we honored him a few years back with a Top 100 award for an amazing rescue, he shrugged off the hero stuff, saying he was just doing his job. “If anyone asks, I just tell them I’m Irish,” he said.
So many of the firefighters killed in the collapse of the towers were Irish, and as we mourn them we take pride in their bravery. For more on the history of the FDNY read Pete Hamill’s “In the Line of Duty” which we reprint in this issue.
Working on this commemorative issue put us in touch with the Downey family. Just as I was having a difficult time with captions for a piece written by Brian Rohan on Chief Ray Downey, his son, Joe, called and was able to help. I am sure it was a bit of divine intervention on the part of the man the other firefighters called “God” because of his supreme authority on the job.
Downey’s story, and the story by Keith Kelly on officer Moira Smith, who also had a zest for life, are representative of the 343 firefighters, 90 of whom had brothers in the department, 23 police officers and 37 Port Authority police who were killed.
We can’t hear these statistics often enough. Not in a sorrowful way, but to remind us that there are people out there who put themselves on the line for us every day.
“We have to look for the good,” Mary Geraghty tells me.
Peter Foley, who contributed so many photographs of firefighters to this issue, documented the bravery of men like Mary’s husband, Lieutenant Edward Geraghty. We will never forget them. Mary’s son, Connor, 14, has started a petition for a national Firefighters Day, not just for his dad but for all firefighters. Connor says, “They’ve always been heroes and now we need to recognize them.”
We were lucky to have on board Kit DeFever, who not only took the cover shot, but the one of the Irish American ironworkers for Georgina Brennan’s piece on the rescue and recovery operation. Again, it was our privilege to meet the ironworkers, a wonderful bunch of guys, so masculine and rock solid, and yet so kind and good. The sort of men you would want around in an emergency.
Putting this issue together gave us a chance to reconnect with the Irish in Canada, specifically the people of Gander and the surrounding hamlets, who opened their hearts and homes to many thousands of stranded passengers.
Lynn Tierney’s office helped us find photographs of firefighters and background information. And her assistant Paul Iannizzotto, delivered them to us personally.
As a Deputy Commissioner for the FDNY, Lynn had the task of writing eulogies for her firefighter colleagues, including her friend Bill Feehan. His story is one of many we plan to bring to you in future issues. Lynn told us of listening to “Long Journey Home,” the soundtrack to the PBS documentary on the Irish in America, as she wrote the eulogies late into the night.
The many experiences of the Irish are touched on in this poignant album, with its songs of emigration, famine, and other hardships suffered as they made their way in the New World.
Produced by Paddy Moloney of The Chieftains, the album opens with Van Morrison singing “Shenandoah,” a sea-shanty with Irish and African roots that brings to mind the Civil War, the Irish Brigade and The Zouaves, a much decorated unit comprised largely of Irish firefighters from New York. The title song, composed and sung by Elvis Costello, is particularly poignant when you think of the firefighters at the World Trade Center and the image of the Irish and American flags merging:
“…As you ascend the ladder
look out below where you tread
for the colors bled as they overflowed
red, white and blue, green, white and gold.”
Over 200 Claddagh rings were found in the rubble of the World Trade Center, one of the many facts gleaned from Dennis Smith’s book, Report from Ground Zero, an excerpt from which runs in this issue. It was of the Claddagh that Moira Smith’s husband, Jim, spoke at her memorial. The design is emblazoned on a ferry named in her honor. The heart represents the hearts of all mankind and that which gives everlasting music to the Gael. The hands clasped around the heart stand for Friendship, Love, and Loyalty, these are the qualities that got us through tough times before, and they will again. ♦