What Are You Like?
Mary Pat Kelly
By Cliodhna Joyce-Daly, Editorial Assistant
February / March 2015
Author Mary Pat Kelly weaves historical characters such as Maud Gonne, William Butler Yeats, Countess Markievicz, Michael Collins, and Eamon de Valera, as well as Gabrielle Chanel, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, and Nora Barnacle, into her new novel Of Irish Blood, a vivid and compelling story inspired by the life of her great-aunt, and the sequel to her best-selling and critically praised novel Galway Bay.
As an author and filmmaker, Mary Pat Kelly has told various stories connected to Ireland. Her award-winning PBS documentaries and accompanying books include To Live for Ireland, a portrait of Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume and the political party he led; Home Away from Home: The Yanks in Ireland, a history of U.S. forces in Northern Ireland during World War II; and Proudly We Served: The Men of the USS Mason, a portrayal of the only African-American sailors to take a World War II warship into combat, whose first foreign port was Belfast. She wrote and directed the dramatic feature film Proud, starring Ossie Davis and Stephen Rea, based on the USS Mason story.
She’s also written such books as Martin Scorsese: The First Decade and Martin Scorsese: A Journey; Good to Go: The Rescue of Scott O’Grady from Bosnia; and a novel, Special Intentions. She is a frequent contributor to Irish America magazine.
Mary Pat Kelly worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter for Paramount and Columbia Pictures and in New York City as an associate producer with Good Morning America and Saturday Night Live, and wrote the book and lyrics for the musical Abby’s Song. She received her Ph.D. from the City University of New York.
Born and raised in Chicago, she lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side with her husband, app developer Martin Sheerin from County Tyrone.
What is your current state of mind?
Optimistic – happy my new book Of Irish Blood is out, which means I’m really finished writing it.
Do you have one extravagance?
I love to have fresh flowers in my house. A fellow named Herbie used to sell the leftovers from the flower market on the street very cheap on Fridays. It became my way of celebrating the weekend.
Who are your heroes?
The women of 1916. Not only the famous ones, like Maud Gonne MacBride and Constance Markievicz, but the Sheehy sisters, Helena Moloney and the poets, like Alice Milligan and Ethna Carbery.
What’s on your bedside table?
The Liar’s Wife by Mary Gordon.
What is your earliest memory?
My mother bringing my sister Randy home from the hospital a few days after she was born. Three sisters and a brother followed.
Best advice ever received?
“Hold on, Mary, just hold on,” from my husband, Martin Sheerin
Do you have a hidden talent?
I know the lyrics of hundreds of show tunes. Only wish I could sing them. A good voice is a great gift.
Quality you seek in friends?
Quality you deplore in others?
Judging. Criticism kills.
I had the chance to teach in Zambia when I was 24, but it was a two-year commitment and I was afraid of being homesick. Now, two years go by in a flash.
Your idea of a perfect day?
Up before dawn, a cup of french roast decaf coffee, actually doing some writing to the sound of classical music and then a walk by the river, lunch with a family member or friend, dinner with my husband Martin and a good book.
Your favorite part of Ireland?
I can’t pick one. I love Galway, especially Bearna and Carna, but I also need to go to Derry and Donegal. I have always had a great time at Shannon Airport duty free, especially now that it has been refurbished.
Your favorite place outside of Ireland?
I love NY and my own W 86 St., but a part of my heart will always be in Chicago. And in the summer, I still visit my childhood place – Three Lakes, Wisconsin.
Your most treasured possession?
My father’s tweed hat, which we bought in Millars of Clifden in 1979. They don’t make them anymore. When I put it on I feel my father’s spirit.
Favorite opening piece of music, book or play?
The opening lines of Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes.
What or who was your grand passion?
My husband, Martin. I was 40 when I met him and didn’t expect to marry anyone and here we are almost 30 years later.
First play or film that you saw?
Finian’s Rainbow at Cardinal Stepinac High School in Chicago. Interestingly, Alan Alda and Jon Voight, were both in the play.
Favorite character you’ve written?
Honora Keeley Kelly, my great-great-grandmother, the heroine of Galway Bay.
A movie that you will watch again and again?
The Quiet Man.
Your favorite sound?
The whispering pines that surround Medicine Lake in Three Lakes, Wisconsin.
A turf fire.
Wild salmon, mashed potatoes and green beans.
Your proudest moment?
When I was the guest of honor at the U.S. Marine Corps Birthday Ball in Stuttgart, Germany in 2004. I was chosen because I’d renewed the link between the Marines and Derry established when 500 of them served there during WWII. I did a documentary called Home Away from Home: The Yanks in Ireland for PBS about that period. During recent years I worked to bring serving Marines to Ireland from their base in Germany so they could learn more about this history. They stayed at Beech Hill House Hotel, site of the WWII camp, and always had a wonderful time. In return they invited me to become what they said was the first non-military woman to be the guest of honor at a Marine Corps Birthday Ball. They did not count Eleanor Roosevelt, because she was the wife of Commander and Chief. It was humbling and thrilling.
What question do you wish someone would ask you?
Aren’t you glad you have your mother’s genes? She’s 94 and she is a marvel.
How would you like to be remembered?
As someone who loved Ireland and Irish America and tried to tell stories of both.
As you look back on life, is there a moment that stands out that you return to often?
I guess the moment I stood on the shores of Galway Bay and knew that after 40 years of searching I’d found my particular piece of Ireland, the place my great-great-grandmother was born – Bearna, Freeport, Co. Galway. ♦