The First Word: Happy Birthday To Us!
“We choose to go to the moon and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
– President John F. Kennedy.
Exactly 20 years ago when we set out to explore the story of the Irish in America we used Mortas Cine — Pride in Our Heritage — as our motto. Every article that has appeared in our magazine over the years flows from this guiding principle.
We couldn’t be more proud of Commander Eileen Collins and her Discovery crew, and we are delighted to celebrate our anniversary with a cover story on Eileen, who as Georgina Brennan discovers, is as down to earth as they come.
In fact, when you take into account crew members James Kelly and Stephen Robinson (we will bring you interviews with both in future issues), there was a pretty strong Irish presence on the Discovery Crew, which is fitting. After all, it was John F. Kennedy’s dream that sent that first mission to the moon.
This spirit of adventure and exploration, perhaps born out of necessity, is one we have encountered many times over the years in stories of the Irish as they spread out across the country in search of the American Dream. We find them prospecting for gold in Nevada, building canals in New Orleans, and working on the railroads.
I like to think that it’s that same spirit that prompted Niall O’Dowd and me to move from San Francisco to New York in 1985 to found Irish America.
For our birthday celebration we have a mélange of twenties — moments in history, movies, books and recordings, and clips from our top interviews. And there is a common thread that links all our stories. On our book list, for instance, you will find Ship Fever, Andrea Barrett’s story of the famine Irish landing in Grosse Ile in Canada in 1847, the worst year of the famine. In a 1995 interview (excerpted in this issue) Senator George Mitchell, the man who helped bring about the Good Friday Agreement, talks of Grosse Ile and the early Irish settlements in Maine. “They walked to Maine,” he told me, “meeting vigilante groups along the border.”
Those early immigrants didn’t have much, but wherever they went they took their music with them. As our list of 20 recordings by Irish-Americans shows, the music not only survived but thrived. And today’s young Irish-American musicians are as skilled and knowledgeable as their Irish counterparts.
In our movie section you will find Raoul Walsh’s Regeneration, which conveys the harsh conditions that led some impoverished Irish immigrants to turn to a life of crime.
T.J. English, a founding member of Irish America’s team, has written extensively on this subject, first in Irish America and then in notable books, including his recently published Paddy Whacked: The Untold Story of the Irish-American Gangster. We are delighted to welcome T.J. back to the pages of Irish America. In this issue, he writes about growing up Irish-American with a name like English.
Angela’s Ashes author Frank McCourt, a longtime friend of the magazine, writes about the days before he became famous, when he taught school and acted in a play called The Tunnel by Terry George.
And Terry George, who is the director/writer of such movies as Some Mother’s Son about the 1981 Hunger Strike, and last year’s Academy Award-nominated Hotel Rwanda, writes in a personal way about the death toll The Troubles exacted in Northern Ireland.
In our original proposal for Irish America, we listed helping to find a solution to the problems in Northern Ireland as one of our aims. Over the ensuing years I have witnessed efforts by Irish-Americans, including our publisher Niall O’Dowd, in achieving this goal. At a recent lunch in New York hosted by Mutual of America’s Bill Flynn, with Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness and others in attendance, we celebrated the IRA’s announcement that they would begin “dumping” weapons. I couldn’t have asked for a better anniversary present.