First Word: America The Beautiful
We are treated to a bevy of Irish beauties in this issue – from Miss USA to the Rose of Tralee. And not to get sentimental (I think it’s part of being Irish, or at least my genetic code, to get more sentimental as I get older), the fact that this year’s Rose, Kathyrn Anne Feeney, is from Queensland, Australia, really struck a chord.
As readers will know, I have a fierce attachment to the Irish immigrants who went before, taking to the boats, seeking out new lives in New York and New England and California, and Australia. Perhaps it comes from my days as one of the undocumented, working in the same jobs as earlier generations of Irish women (my first job in the U.S. was as a chambermaid, and later a waitress) that fuels this connection to the past.
It might explain why at our recent Wall Street 50 event in the beautiful New York Yacht Club, the replicas of sailing ships moved me to talk about the boat journey that those Famine Irish made. (It was later pointed out to me that Celtic Tiger Ireland has left the Famine behind, and maybe I should too!)
But I can’t help it. I feel a great joy when the descendants of those Irish who left during hard times make it back to tell their story and reconnect with the homeplace. “It helps us to hold on to where we’ve come from and it keeps the ties to home alive,” says Kathyn Anne Feeney. (See Sharon Ni Chonchúir’s story on the Roses pg. 32).
For the Texas Rose, Erin Barnard, it was an opportunity for her grandfather Patrick and his brother Martin to visit Ireland for the first time, and discover that they had a great-uncle (their grandfather’s brother) they hadn’t know about. “Now we’ve found lots of new relatives,” says Erin.
There are a myriad such stories. In our cover interview Miss USA, Kentucky’s Tara Conner, tells Declan O’Kelly of her affinity for her grandfather Johnny Conner and her great-grandmother Granny Conner, whose grandfather Lawrence Conner immigrated from Dublin in 1782.
Both Tara and North Carolina’s Chelsea Cooley (Miss USA, 2005) embody the term Southern Belle (check out our Stars of the South feature, pg. 45), but what is truly beautiful about both these young women is how they use their celebrity to raise money for breast cancer research, and such organizations as Best Buddies, which promotes friendships between people with disabilities and their non-disabled peers.
“One must suffer to be beautiful,” my mother would remind me often. And in this issue we see examples of the kind of beauty that comes from courage and compassion, and yes, suffering.
It abounds in the Rockaway Beach community of Queens, New York, which hosts an annual party for the troops (pg. 29). (Surely, there is no more inspiring sight than a double amputee on water skis?) And you only have to look at the face of FDNY Lt. Mickey Kross (page 62). to see the kind of beauty that comes from being trapped under half a million tons of rubble, and surviving to see that first shaft of sunlight after hours in darkness.
I met Mickey (one of 12 firefighters to survive the collapse of the North Tower) at Kit DeFever’s studio. Kit (who also took our cover photo of Tara) was photographing the men and women of the 9/11 Families Association for an exhibit now on display at The Tribute Center. We are proud to run sonic of those photos in this issue.
The Tribute Center (see Michelle Harty’s story pg. 61), was put together by the Families Association to help us understand the full impact of 9/11.
“Our personal stories put a face on the sorrow, but also join in the celebration of so many wonderful lives and the spirit of unity that marked the recovery effort and today hinds us all together,” says Lee Ielpi, co-founder of The Tribute Center, and former firefighter who lost his son, Jonathan, also a firefighter.
It is a very moving memorial, which, through the use of photographs, video and personal artifacts, brings home the enormity of the tragedy. I find it both poignant and fitting that the music accompanying the film segment on the search-and-recovery operation is from Long Journey Home, the documentary on the Irish in America. Lynn Tierney, president of the Center and former FDNY Deputy Commissioner, listened to and found solace in this music (composed by Paddy Moloney of The Chieftains), as she wrote up the many obituaries for her colleagues in the days following 9/11.
One of the quotes used in the Tribute Center is from Patrick Ryan, CEO of Aon Corporation, which lost 176 employees on 9/11. (Aon is Irish for one).
“Suffering together reminds us of the truth of our humanity. It reminds us that no one of us is truly alone. We are interconnected,” Ryan said.
It is this connection, this humanity, show of strength, joy in living, and sharing of personal stories – past and present – that “bind us all together” and help us go on. This interconnection, this going on, and helping others on the way, are what truly make America beautiful. ♦