The Fist Word:
A Touch of the Poet

Patricia Harty - Editor-in-Chief.

By Patricia Harty, Editor-in-Chief
June / July 2002

By standing shoulder to shoulder, hope for the future will triumph over the hurt of the past.”

– President of Ireland, Mary McAleese

℘℘℘

We were delighted to see Jennifer Connelly (cover story) take home the Oscar for her performance in A Beautiful Mind. Connelly is not only a beautiful star, but she’s also a hell of an actress with a great mind. In this interview with Penelope Dening, she talks about her time at Yale, her trip to Ireland and her fascination with Irish literature.

Of course, it would have been a double-header for the Irish if Russell Crowe had won the best actor award, him having Irish ancestors, but that didn’t happen.

Crowe, who starred as Connelly’s husband, schizophrenic mathematician John Nash, did, however, receive BAFTA’s Best Actor Award (the British Academy Awards). In his acceptance speech, the Australian actor was moved to quote Irish poet Patrick’s Kavanagh’s poem “Sanctity”:

“To be a poet and not know the trade,/To be a lover and repel all women;/Twin ironies by which great saints are made,/The agonizing pincer-jaws of heaven.”

Unfortunately, in the televised broadcast of the awards, the poem was cut, which caused Crowe to lose his temper and rough up the program’s director, Malcolm Gerrie.

How had Crowe happened upon the Kavanagh poem? Was it through the auspices of the Irish Christian Brothers who are big educators in Australia? As it turns out, it was Irish-born actor Richard Harris who had given Crowe the poem. (Harris worked with Crowe on Gladiator, for which Crowe did win the Academy Award in 2001).

Methinks Kavanagh, who died in 1967, would have gotten a great kick out of the ruckus and the subsequent international media coverage which has renewed interest in the Monaghan man’s poetry.

The fiasco is surely worthy of a William Kennedy novel. His latest book, Roscoe, as with his previous works “acknowledges the absurd imperfection of human beings.” It is, as Pete Hamill reflects in his review, “a very Irish attitude created by the high-minded hypocrisies of generations of British rulers.”

Kennedy, as his interview with Tom Deignan attests, is foremost an American writer, yet the world he creates, peopled as it is with Irish-American characters — those hardscrabble descendants of Famine immigrants — is very Irish.

The author of such works as Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game and Legs joined Arthur Miller, Studs Terkel, and others on stage at Lincoln Center recently to pay tribute to another great American writer with Irish roots, John Steinbeck. Through Kennedy I met the author’s son, Tom Steinbeck, who fondly recalled the trip to Ireland he made with his father, written about in this issue by Jim Dwyer.

It is something how Ireland can continue to influence its sons and daughters generations removed from its shores. As John Steinbeck said, “Irish blood doesn’t water down very well; the strain must be very strong.”

“I am American but when I write Ireland liberates me,” Tom Flanagan once said in an interview with Irish America. Sadly, Flanagan passed away last March, soon after attending St. Partick’s Day festivities in New York City. Poet Seamus Heaney wrote an elegant eulogy of his friend for the New York Review of Books, which we are pleased to reprint here.

In Flanagan’s work, as with many Irish novelists, artists. dramatists, and poets, the great conflicts and dispossessions in Ireland’s history are central. (One of the best long poems on the subject is Patrick Kavanagh’s The Great Hunger). It is a theme that is examined here again by artist Robert Ballagh, who talks to Elizabeth Martin about his latest work and recent exhibition at The Irish Arts Center in New York, which explored the relationship between the land and language and the Irish.

September 11 was one more blow in the epic saga of the Irish, as we are reminded in Lynn Tierney’s profile of Fire Chief Bill Feehan — one of the many Irish Americans who, in the words of Irish President Mary McAleese, when called upon “faced the test with no thought for themselves.”

McAleese reflected on the ties that bind our two countries together when she attended our “Tribute to the Spirit of America,” in March, at which we commemorated those we lost and celebrated the efforts of the rescue workers. As we’d envisioned, it was an evening in the best tradition of an Irish wake.

Paddy Moloney played a couple of laments on his tin whistle. Little Collier Willmer from North Carolina danced for us. Irish tenor Ronan Tynan sang for us, as did Cathie Ryan. It was an evening that brought Irish and Irish-American together and cemented the bonds between the two.

The President brought the evening to a close when she presented awards to representatives of the FDNY, the PAPD and the NYPD, and told those gathered:

“The generations who went before them would be proud of a modern generation who have known the easy times and comfort of prosperity but who when tested, chose the hardest road of all.” We hope you enjoy this, our summer reading issue, with its heavy focus on literature and the arts. We continue, as always, at Irish America, to explore the relationship between the Irish-born and the American Irish, and foster understanding between the two. In the words of the Irish President, “By standing shoulder to shoulder, hope for the future will triumph over the hurt of the past.” ♦

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