April May 2003 Issue – Irish America https://irishamerica.com Irish America Magazine Sat, 20 Jul 2019 03:40:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.10 82361074 Irish American of the Year: Michael Flatley https://irishamerica.com/2003/04/irish-american-of-the-year-michael-flatley/ https://irishamerica.com/2003/04/irish-american-of-the-year-michael-flatley/#respond Tue, 01 Apr 2003 07:59:26 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=40640 Read more..]]> For what he has done for the world of Irish dance, Irish America is proud to honor Michael Flatley as our Irish American of the Year. Flatley talked to Debbie McGoldrick about his extraordinary journey and what’s next on the cards.


It’s hard to remember the days when Irish stepdancing wasn’t in vogue, when it wasn’t scintillating and sublime and sexy, when it wasn’t a global powerhouse that boasts earnings in the billions.

Michael Flatley, though, can certainly recall the times spent on the “pay your dues” circuit, traveling the country as a warmup for headliners like the Chieftains, desperately trying to sell to a wider audience the progressive brand of Irish dance he had been creating and performing for what seemed like an age.

Flatley, after all, didn’t make his everlasting mark on the world stage until well into his thirties. There were many lean years until the advent of Riverdance, the revolutionary Irish dance extravaganza that ushered in a new and exciting era for the art form when the show and Flatley, its flamboyant star, were unleashed on an unsuspecting but rapturous public in 1994.

Flatley in Lord of the Dance.

His time had finally come and not a moment too soon. “I’ve got no regrets,” Flatley told Irish America during a recent interview. “It’s been a hard road but a good road. Even the hard times are the best learning experience in the world.”

Flatley, 43, has clearly taken his lessons to heart. The kid from Chicago who started dancing at an early age now presides over a multi-million-dollar business empire anchored by his signature show Lord of the Dance, which he created from scratch in 1996, just after his departure from Riverdance.

Flatley and his dance troupe.

Lord of the Dance currently has three troupes performing around the world, and Flatley’s London-based Unicorn Entertainment company owns all the merchandising and video rights, and other lucrative spin-offs. The show has grossed hundreds of millions since its launch in 1996, and is one of the most recognized entertainment brands in the world.

But naturally, there’s more – there always is with Michael Flatley. Though he’s retired – for now, at least – from performing, Flatley’s world is a place where there will always be new horizons to conquer. His projects for the coming year include breaking ground on an Irish casino on land he’s purchased on the Las Vegas strip, a Broadway opening for Lord of the Dance, tinkering with a film script, and making an album of flute music. There’s always room for “pushing the envelope further and further. After all,” he adds, “nothing exceeds like excess.”

Flatley with his famous dance company.

The Early Days

Flatley’s story isn’t exactly a rags to riches tale. He and his four siblings – a brother and three sisters – were born and raised in Chicago, where his father, Michael Senior, originally from County Sligo, owned a successful construction company. Michael’s mother, Eilish, a native of County Carlow, was a stepdancer of note in her day, and her son was determined to follow in her footsteps, even if Irish dance was a rather unorthodox pursuit for a young boy growing up in Chicago’s South Side.

Flatley with his parents, Michael and Eilish Flatley.

He started formal lessons at 11, relatively late for someone with aspirations as grand as Flatley’s. He quickly made up for lost time, winning his first Irish World Dance Championship when he was 17. He wrapped up his competitive career with an astounding 168 championships in various events, a record that hasn’t come close to being matched.

Medals and accolades were fine, but not nearly enough to quench his burning desire to be the best-known Irish dancer in the world. Actually, that wouldn’t have been a hard goal to achieve at the time – when he graduated high school in 1977 there were hardly any outlets at all for professional Irish dancers, and the thought of one actually becoming a household name was unheard of.

Flatley hugs his father.

Flatley opened a dance school in Chicago, but teaching wasn’t his thing, so he eventually closed up shop. All he wanted to do was perform, and show the world how captivating the unique brand of Irish dance he liked to showcase – lots of body movement, plenty of outward emotion – could actually be.

“I always saw it differently. Even when I was competing I would always see things differently,” he says.

“You go to Ireland and people have so much pride and passion and personality, and they’re oozing with character, and it’s such a contradiction that they dance like this (he makes a stiff upper body move). I can understand it in competition, but when I got off stage I just wanted to cut loose. I remember the first time I did the Moonwalk on tour with the Chieftains and everyone just started screaming, and I knew there was no turning back. Dancing like that was too much fun.”

But in the 1980s, it was never a way to make a serious mark on the world. Flatley toured with the famous Irish traditional act the Chieftains, and did other side gigs, “just trying to get things kick started,” he says. He also married his Polish girlfriend – they’ve been divorced for several years – and based himself in California. But nothing much was really happening – not until Riverdance, that is.

By now the story has been often told – Flatley and another Irish-American dance star, Jean Butler, were asked to perform in 1994 as the intermission act for an annual European song contest called the Eurovision, which was being staged that year in Dublin. Their seven-minute high-octane routine was an intoxicating combination of revolutionary dance skill and breathtaking stage presence.

Irish dance hasn’t been the same since. Riverdance was expanded into a full-length feature show, featuring an original musical score and plenty of souped-up dance that was choreographed by Flatley. The production was an instant hit when it debuted in Dublin in 1995, with Flatley, naturally, as the star attraction.

All his dreams were coming true. He was finally famous, he was making plenty of money; people couldn’t stop talking about the way he danced. Life couldn’t be better…so he thought.

But then came the crash. Flatley and the Riverdance management team had an acrimonious parting of the ways on the eve of the show’s first sell-out London engagement in 1995; they claimed their star developed an out-of-control ego. He said he just wanted to maintain some sort of creative control over the show he helped to develop that quickly turned into a monster commercial and critical hit.

Riverdance replaced Flatley, and the show took London by storm. Flatley was devastated, wondering how it went so wrong so quickly.

It’s not an episode he cares to talk much about now, but he has nothing but words of praise for the show. “There’s been a lot of water under the bridge,” he says. “I don’t have any hard feelings now. I wouldn’t be where I am today if all of that didn’t happen, you know.”

There was also something else lurking in Flatley’s mind – an idea for another Irish show that would be even glitzier and edgier than Riverdance, one that he would create and choreograph from top to bottom, one that he would primarily finance and own. Given the overwhelming popularity of Riverdance, it seemed like there could be room for another show. Thus came Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance in the summer of 1996. And Flatley was right – there certainly was more than enough room for the two shows.

Lord of the Dance

“I always wanted to do something that was completely Irish,” says Flatley. “I wanted it to be a simple storyline, to have a whole range of colors and ideas and feelings, a good versus evil story, and that’s how Lord of the Dance ended up.”

After unveiling his baby at the Point Theatre in Dublin to enthusiastic audiences, Flatley hit the road, selling out in places like Wembley Arena in London, Madison Square Garden in New York, and cities all over the world. Michael Flatley was back with a bang, and he hasn’t looked back.

Flatley meeting Prince Charles after the Wembley concert in 1997.

“From an artistic point of view, Lord of the Dance has given me a chance to express myself and bring to the world stage all of the ideas I’ve had in my head for a lot of years, which is real important to me,” he says. “And after all these years we’ve kept it clean and fresh and worked hard at maintaining the quality.”

There are currently three Lord troupes touring the world. Flatley, who has spent practically his whole life dancing at breakneck speed, bid adieu to the stage in the summer of 2001, after wrapping up a tour of the U.S. with his Feet of Flames spectacular, which is probably best described as Lord of the Dance on speed. But that desire to connect with audiences is brewing again, even though the physical toll at this stage of Flatley’s life is substantial. “I miss it and I would love to perform again,” he offers. “Right now I’ve got an offer on the table from China; they want me to perform in September. So we’re looking at that, and other cities like Tokyo and Moscow. China is a great place to go. Very few people get to perform there.”

Standing next to a promotional poster for his show.

Though Flatley is intensely involved in his show’s business end of things, it’s obvious he’s not ready to spend the rest of his life crunching numbers.

Since the start of 2003, he’s been working out in Barbados. Though he’s always been a fitness buff, there’s a new urgency to his routine.

Flatley is deep into planning a new show that he says he will likely star in. With the millions he’s already earned, he could easily sit back and enjoy a luxurious retirement, but he’s just not ready to call it a day.

“I’ve been working on doing a really cool new kind of Irish-American show with a big patriotic American finish, kind of a ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’, with great numbers,” he says. “I’ve been working on this for two years, and it’s pretty much time to pull the trigger. It will be a brand new, bigger and brighter version of what we do, with an American theme threading through it. People underestimate how powerful Irish America is.”

There is no definitive date for the production’s debut, though. Flatley, like everyone else, is waiting to see if war breaks out in Iraq.

“I think I have to put it on hold until the war is over,” he feels. “I have to be careful. The last thing you want in this day and age is anything that could be perceived as political.”

No matter. There are other projects that consume Flatley’s days. Lord of the Dance will likely make its Broadway debut this summer. Flatley was contacted by the Nederlander family, owners of the Gershwin Theater – ironically, that’s where Riverdance was housed during its Broadway run – about staging a limited run, and he’s excited.

“It’ll be great, we’re in the final negotiations now,” he says. “More than ever we’re getting calls from all over the world for the show, and we’re completely booked for the rest of the year and well into the next.”

Flatley, who is also an All-Ireland flute champion, has almost completed an album of flute music that will be released later this year, and the project has been a welcome diversion.

“It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for quite some time,” he reveals. “It’s very progressive and brings Irish music onto a different stage. Some people may follow it and many may not, but if nothing else we need to shake the trees and see what falls.

“There’s a dance track, and some rock-and-roll and blues and reggae; all kinds of things, really. But it’s mainly a traditional Irish album. I’ve got some great backing musicians, and we will probably make a video for MTV for at least one of the tracks.

“I’ve always loved playing the flute. It gives me great clarity. It helps me to think.”

Flatley is still interested in making a film, an idea he’s had on the backburner for quite some time, and he’s always toying with a screenplay.

“The script changes by the minute,” he says. “I’m so tired of seeing these Irish movies that are so depressing, with people cursing and shooting each other. I’m always a fan of doing something upscale and classier. The film won’t be my life story. We’ll see. It’s something that will happen when it happens.”

Posing for a photo.

Las Vegas

Michael Flatley. Las Vegas. The two, with their devotion to excess and razzmatazz, are a perfect match.

Last November, Flatley inked a record deal with the Venetian hotel and casino on the Las Vegas strip. A troupe of Lord of the Dance is now housed in the Venetian, and will be resident for five years in a room specially tailored for the production. The price tag? A cool $250 million into Flatley’s coffers.

“Thank God,” he says. “It was a great deal for us and it’s doing so well there. One of the things about being in a resident show is that we can do things there that we can’t do when we’re touring. When we’re moving it around it’s twice as hard to do anything different. We’ve changed the show a lot, and I’m so proud of it.”

Flatley also purchased 16 acres of land on the strip last year, where the old Frontier hotel was located. He’s in the process of raising $600 to $800 million in financing to build an Irish-American-themed casino that will boast 2,200 hotel rooms and 100,000 square feet of gambling space.

“Right across the street is one of Steve Wynn’s casinos, and next to me is Donald Trump’s, so I’ll be sandwiched between those two boys. It’ll be interesting,” says Flatley.

“I want to have something Irish on the strip. I think we deserve to have a powerful presence there. I’ve designed most of it already, and I’m well on the way to securing the financing. I’m working with the architect that did Caesar’s Palace, so it’s great. We’re hoping to break ground in the fall, and then it’ll take about two years to complete.”

The Castlehyde

Flatley’s life isn’t entirely all work and no play, however. He spends most of the year living in his palatial French Riviera retreat. Some years back he also spent millions on an historical Irish castle in County Cork called Castlehyde. He’s currently renovating the structure and combating extremely strict planning regulations because of the estate’s landmarked status.

“I always joke that it’s easier to get permission from planners in Las Vegas to build a casino than approval in Cork to build a set of steps in Castlehyde,” Flatley laughs. “But that’s okay. Castlehyde is gorgeous. It’s a great feeling once you’re there. I had dinner with (former Irish Prime Minister) Albert Reynolds recently. We were talking about Castlehyde and he said I couldn’t have bought a more important structure in Ireland.”

Once renovations are complete, Flatley says he will live full-time in Castlehyde. “Ireland is the only place for me,” he says.

There’s another reason for that – last summer Flatley became engaged to his long-term girlfriend Lisa Murphy from Dublin. “So I did,” he says shyly. “Lisa is doing great. She puts up with a lot from me. She knows my life is mostly business and I don’t get to see her very often, but that’s just how life is.”

Flatley and his fiancée Lisa Murphy. (Photo: Brian Mc Evoy.)

Flatley wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s come such a long way from Chicago, and the journey, though it’s had its ups and downs, has been exciting through and through.

He’d prefer that others judge how he’s helped to utterly change the way Irish dance is perceived throughout the world. “Time will judge, I guess,” he offers. “I think if nothing else I’ve encouraged people to take chances and to go a little farther, do more things, for better or worse. The world now knows that the Irish are here, and we’re here to stay.”  ♦

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First Word: The Things They Carried https://irishamerica.com/2003/04/first-word-the-things-they-carried/ https://irishamerica.com/2003/04/first-word-the-things-they-carried/#respond Tue, 01 Apr 2003 07:58:57 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=40661 Read more..]]> “The Irish carry their culture around with them like snails with their houses on their backs.”

– Denis Clarke


Let me start with an apology. I’m sorry if some of your favorites are not on this list. I’m sorry that some of my own favorites are not on this list. Indeed, there are one or two on this list that I don’t think I would enjoy having a pint with. But overall I have to say that those profiled in the following pages are some of the noblest of our race. They have shown true grit, and compassion, and sheer genius in some cases. I believe that the microcosm of Irish America presented here – a snapshot of who we are as a people at the beginning of the 21st century – is a mosaic to be proud of.

Alison MacDonald Duncan of the Scottish National Party complained to me recently that, whereas the Scots seem to disappear into whatever place they find themselves, the Irish are one of the most visible ethnic groups. We refuse to lie quiet.

In olden days we built our houses in a circle so that we could converse over the half doors. That same half door when taken off the hinges served the purpose of being a platform to dance on. That humble platform generations later would launch onto the world stage the genius of Michael Flatley who has made it hip to be an Irish dancer.

In honoring Flatley – dancer, member of Mensa, world-champion flautist, who has inspired thousands of young dancers to follow his lead (three young Irish-American dancers were world champions in their categories last year) – we are reminded of the influence that Irish Americans have had, not only on American society, but in preserving Irish culture. Irish fiddler Liz Carroll out of Chicago, profiled in this issue, is a link to the musicians of the 50s such as Michael Coleman, whose recordings made in New York and Chicago made their way back to Ireland, influencing the style of play and even reviving Irish traditional music.

At this time of year especially, I recall the words of the late historian Denis Clarke, who said the Irish carry their culture around with them like snails with their houses on their backs.

And I think of those Irish carrying their music and dance with them into the mining camps and across the country as they built the railroads. Heirlooms to be passed down that didn’t take up space in travel trunks.

I like to think that these early Irish immigrants, having known life’s struggles, also passed down a compassionate heart. Certainly those involved in community and children’s issues, education, and public service exhibit some of the best traits of the Irish.

While those such as Super Bowl-winner John Lynch, and boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward remind us that the Irish once used sports to reach the first rung of the ladder. It’s the sort of thing that a writer such as Pete Hamill is wont to remind us.

And speaking of writers, those of you who read Tim O’Brien will recognize my headline as the title of a book of short stories that he wrote about his time serving in Vietnam. The story in this issue of John “Stork” Lynch, the young Air Force pilot, reminds us of all those young men and women in the military who are in our prayers. In our prayers, too, is Eileen Collins, who will command the next shuttle mission to space.

It wouldn’t be a Top 100 list without remembering those we lost: Doc. McFadden, who the last time I saw him was giving out free patches and encouraging people to give up smoking. Lucy Grealy was an intense, tiny package of bravery and determination. Richard Harris was always entertaining. And Rosemary Clooney, who, though ill, was still singing right up until the end. Their spirits live on.

Wishing you joy in your Irish heritage in this St. Patrick’s season, and always.  ♦

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Jeanie Sets Sail for New World https://irishamerica.com/2003/04/jeanie-sets-sail-for-new-world/ https://irishamerica.com/2003/04/jeanie-sets-sail-for-new-world/#respond Tue, 01 Apr 2003 07:57:41 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=40664 Read more..]]> After many false starts, the Jeanie Johnston famine ship replica is on its way to the United States.


If there is a symbol of the trials and tribulations of getting the Irish replica famine ship Jeanie Johnston to sea on its homage to history, Tom Kindre is the poster boy.

When Tom McCarthy, the captain of the ship, quizzed him on crewing across the Atlantic, the member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary revealed he was in his 70s.

“Not too high up in the 70s, I hope,” said the captain.

“I certainly hope not,” Kindre replied.

He was 79 at the time. He was 81 on February 16, when the Jeanie Johnston finally nudged out of Fenit Harbour, almost three years after her maiden voyage was scheduled.

The ship set out for Tenerife, with plans to cross the ocean for an anticipated April 17 arrival in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Over those interminable delays, the New Jersey octogenarian wondered if his dream would ever be fulfilled. Just getting the square-rigged barque built was a massive undertaking.

Dogged by scores of setbacks, it looked to be as improbable a project as an 81-year-old making the crossing.

And just as it was a link to the past for Kindre, as his grandmother had left Cork in 1863 at age 16 to come to the United States, the Jeanie Johnston project is a massive gesture to the waves of Irish immigration brought on by the Famine of the mid-1800s.

“It is a symbol of the Irish Diaspora and Ireland’s contributions to America,” said Denis Breen, the CEO of the project, who joined in mid-December as the initiative was rescued from turbulent financial waters. “There are 29 crew aged 17 to 80 and they are from the United States, Ireland, north and south, and Canada.” Northern Ireland politician John Hume describes the project as “a powerful symbol of peace and reconciliation.”

With funding from the International Fund for Ireland, the initial stages of the project saw young people from unionist and nationalist communities in Belfast working alongside peers from Dublin and Tralee.

Tom Kindre presents a plaque from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary to Jeanie’s captain, Tom McCarthy.

They took direction from shipwrights drafted from around the world to recreate the Jeanie Johnston, the ship that made 16 crossings carrying over 2,500 Irish immigrants and, remarkably, never lost a passenger.

The ship was built in Quebec in 1846 and carried its first human cargo on April 24, 1848 when 193 passengers fled the famine for Canada. During the famine years, some 3,000 voyages like this carried more than 650,000 Irish people to the United States and Canada.

It was unprecedented, horribly wrenching as families were pulled apart and a terrible human tragedy. In 1847 alone, according to research, it is estimated that 30 percent of the 100,000 who set off for Canadian ports on the “coffin ships” contracted typhus and two thirds of those died, either at sea or after arrival in Canada.

Getting the replica Jeanie Johnston built, seaworthy, fitted, and manned was a wholly different ordeal, but one which nearly floundered on a few occasions.

In an ongoing log that Kindre kept as he awaited his date to relive history, he noted that “few realize the problems involved in building a 19th-century ship in the 21st century.

“First, there’s the wood – just the right cuts of Austrian larch and Irish oak for the frames and planking. One shipment wasn’t the best, so it was rejected. That meant going back to the woods, searching for new trees and cutting.”

The raw materials were one thing, but the expertise to take it, shape it, and fashion a craft that would pass modern tests for seaworthiness was another set of difficulties.

A diligent crewman at work.

“There are only so many left in the world who know the old techniques,” wrote Kindre, “and they had to be sought out and induced to come to Ireland.”

These craftsmen then taught and supervised trainees from Ireland, Northern Ireland, the U.S., and Canada.

If the Atlantic was “the bowl of tears” for sick, disheartened, and dying passengers on many famine ships, the trials in dry-dock were the hardest passage for project organizers.

There were huge cost overruns and in some corners the Jeanie Johnston was dismissed as a moving and important concept gone terribly wrong.

But as CEO Breen stressed, it was a project too important to Irish history to be allowed to fail. He predicts it will be a major draw as it makes its way up the Eastern seaboard this spring and summer.

With some 40 million Americans of Irish descent related to this period of vast immigration, it is hard to believe otherwise.

Like pilgrimages to Ellis Island, a visit to this ship should be another rite of passage for Irish descendants.

The Jeanie Johnston will likely whip up emotions by evoking pictures of voyages that averaged 45 days with small rations of food, no bathroom facilities, and no privacy.

For the then princely sum of three pounds, ten shillings, half a year’s salary for a working man, passengers got to lie four to a six-foot square bunk, beds in two decks.

Word quickly made its way back across the Atlantic to relatives that they should hasten to make a claim to a top bunk for the crossing or suffer the seasickness of those who lay above them.

The Jeanie Johnston certainly offers no Disney-esque romanticism, just the grim reality of crossings in which up to 250 people shared one stove and rations (according to original ship’s records) were meted out in measures of 2.5 pounds of bread or biscuits, one pound of flour, five pounds of oatmeal, and 21 quarts of water for the entire ship each week.

Moreover, in turbulent seas, the stove could not be used and the flour and meal were often taken uncooked.

The ship, however, was remarkable in that it was served by a doctor, Richard Blennerhassett, who was so dedicated to his calling that no passenger on the Jeanie Johnston perished on its 16 crossings.

Sadly, he died of cholera contracted on another ship a few years later, at just 36.

With modern engines to power her in the absence of wind, and modern technology and medicine, the 2003 crew face no privations, merely the whimsy of the elements.

As bosun Tom Harding noted in a February 21 observation, “although we are now back in strong gales and huge seas there is no turning back. This ship is going to fulfill its planned destiny and to any doubters we can only wish you could hear our rigging sing, `U.S.A. we’re on our way, from an Ireland crone of age’.”

A close-up view of the Jeanie Johnston’s masts.

Captain Tom McCarthy, meantime, made an electronic ship’s log entry on February 25 which summed up the voyage’s status.

“At present we are in 39 / 47 north 14 / 20 w, about 250 miles West North West of Lisbon, steering SW and motoring, but strong west winds are due and hopefully we will be having a good sail south again before nightfall.

“The crew have now all found their sea legs and the desire to be in port has taken a back seat. They all do their eight-hour watches each day in addition to cleaning stations (the happy hour) when the ship is scrubbed from truck to keel. A clean ship is a happy ship.” Also, each day a rota works to give the cook a hand. Each day all hands attend a lecture given by one of the professional crew on different Maritime topics – discussions on seamanship navigation, etc.

“In the evenings reading, chatting, videos and a few beers are the main ways of taking it easy. The devil doesn’t tempt the idle mind onboard this Lady.”

Plans for stops in the United States begin with West Palm Beach from April 17 to 28, Savannah, Georgia from May 2 to 12, and Charleston, South Carolina May 15 to 19.

The ship will be open for visitors to experience what it would have been like aboard an Irish emigrant ship during famine time and there will also be sail training opportunities with the possibility of joining the ship between West Palm Beach and Savannah and between Savannah and Charleston.

Details will be available on the website https://jeaniejohnston.ie/www.jeaniejohnston.ie.

Future plans for the ship aren’t set yet, but it is expected to visit the Chesapeake area in May, the Delaware area in June and the New York and Boston area in July of 2003. It will then visit north of Boston and right up into Canada, home of the original Jeanie Johnston, during August and September.

It will return home to Ireland in October.  ♦

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Troubled Images at Boston College https://irishamerica.com/2003/04/troubled-images-at-boston-college/ https://irishamerica.com/2003/04/troubled-images-at-boston-college/#respond Tue, 01 Apr 2003 07:56:15 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=40672 Read more..]]> A powerful new exhibit of propaganda posters from the bloody conflict in Northern Ireland kicks off an international tour in Boston this March.

Boston College’s John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections has assembled 70 posters of political and terrorist propaganda created during The Troubles, representing all sides of the war.

“This exhibition brings home to people, in the starkest manner possible, what has been going on in Northern Ireland for the past 30 years,” said B.C. Burns Librarian Robert O’Neill.

Entitled “Troubled Images,” samples of work include loyalist paramilitary recruitment posters as well as posters commemorating key events on the Republican side, such as the early 1980s hunger strikes and the terrible events of Bloody Sunday in Derry. Organizers point out that these artifacts were often literally torn from lampposts, walls, and other public areas over the course of the past three decades.

“Troubled Images” is coming to Boston College after a year-long show at Linen Hall Library, the oldest library in Belfast. Linen Hall houses what is known as the Northern Ireland Political Collection, from which “Troubled Images” has been drawn. The Sunday Times of London noted that the exhibition “has enthralled so many foreign visitors that it is going on a world tour of universities and educational institutions with a view of giving people a flavor of the divisions that tore the province apart.”

Following its run at Boston College, which lasts until April 15, “Troubled Images” will move on to the Meridian International Centre in Washington (from May-June 2003), the State Library of New Hampshire (July-August), the Glucksman Ireland House in New York City (September-early October), the Graduate School of International Relations, University of Denver (late October-November), with later dates to be confirmed at the University of Milwaukee, the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, California, the Ireland Institute in Pittsburgh, and a Montreal venue to be announced.  ♦

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Arizona’s Grand Marshal Cowboy https://irishamerica.com/2003/04/arizonas-grand-marshal-cowboy/ https://irishamerica.com/2003/04/arizonas-grand-marshal-cowboy/#respond Tue, 01 Apr 2003 07:55:09 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=40677 Read more..]]> Howard “Bill” O’Brien, a living legend among Irish cowboys, will lead the Phoenix St. Patrick’s Day parade in Arizona as the Grand Marshal. The 80-year-old replica of John Wayne has been so busy raising funds for the Irish Cultural and Learning Foundation in Phoenix that he has almost neglected the Irish Cowboys Association, an organization that he founded in 1997. Said O’Brien, “We like to get all the cowboys together. We’ve got no meetings to go to, and there aren’t any membership dues.” Of course, these kind of formalities would be too restrictive for the cowboys, who spend one week per year riding along the Mexican border. For O’Brien, this trek has been a tradition for over 35 years.

His love for Mexican culture has led him to become an expert on Irish-Mexican history. He founded the Los Patricios de Arizona group, which recognizes the deep friendships established in 1846 when the San Patricios, a band of 250 immigrant Irish soldiers, deserted from the U.S. army and fought for Mexico.

O’Brien was born and raised in Los Angeles before he decided to flee the nest and hitchhike out to Arizona at the age of 16 in 1938. His plans to start ranching and follow his dream of being a cowboy were soon foiled by his mother. “She was a real Irish mother. She followed me out to Arizona and made me go back to high school. I had no choice,” he admitted. He went on to study at University of Arizona’s college of agriculture before he was shipped off to serve in World War II. After returning from the war he finished his degree and finally got the chance to start his life as a full-time cowboy and cattle rancher.

O’Brien’s family originally hails from County Clare. He and his wife Sada traveled over to Ireland in 1998 to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. That was quite a celebration, he assured Irish America, but perhaps not as large a party as Arizona’s St. Patrick’s Day. Just three days after his 80th birthday, O’Brien sighed, “You always think you’re a great cowboy, and then you meet a better one.”  ♦

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Model Behavior from Irish Women https://irishamerica.com/2003/04/model-behavior-from-irish-women/ https://irishamerica.com/2003/04/model-behavior-from-irish-women/#respond Tue, 01 Apr 2003 07:54:22 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=40684 Read more..]]> Although they are more accustomed to runways and photo studios than microphones and podiums, Irish supermodels Jane Bradbury and Caitríona Balfe are both leading the way in fighting for causes they believe in.

Caitríona Balfe is strongly opposed to the war in Iraq and is spearheading the anti-war movement in the fashion industry. When Irish America spoke to her, she was busy distributing anti-war t-shirts that she designed at Milan’s Fashion Week. The Dublin-born beauty said, “I had the t-shirts printed in New York, where I live, and all the models will be wearing them this week. We have so many different women from so many different countries and we want to say that we believe in peace.” Balfe’s anti-war stance has been given much attention by the media, and knowing that the world is watching, she has put a lot of thought into the message of the t-shirt. The back of the shirt reads “give peace a chance” and each model will write the translation for peace into her own language on the front. Said Balfe, “I am involved in various other causes, but this is my priority at the moment.”

Model Caitríona Balfe.

Not surprisingly, she and her fellow Irish supermodel Jane Bradbury know each other through their charity work. The two met up recently in Dublin at a function for Ali Hewson’s Chernobyl Children’s Project. Bradbury, who hails from Kildare but has lived in New York for almost six years, has been a tireless charity globe-trotter over the years. With Irish relief organization GOAL, she has visited and worked on projects in India, Cambodia, and Kosovo. This year she plans to help out one of her friends, the Czech model Tereza Maxova, who has founded a charity based in Prague. Bradbury also has plans to travel to Africa to help out her brother, who is spending a year working for the community in Uganda. When she’s not traveling far and wide helping the poor, she is also building on her acting career. She had a small role in Roman Polanski’s The Ninth Gate and is currently on the audition circuit. But one of her major priorities is her charity work. Said Bradbury, “I believe that to those that are given a lot, a lot is expected.”  ♦

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New Movie from Neil Jordan https://irishamerica.com/2003/04/new-movie-from-neil-jordan/ https://irishamerica.com/2003/04/new-movie-from-neil-jordan/#respond Tue, 01 Apr 2003 07:53:55 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=40690 Read more..]]> Irish director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Interview With the Vampire, The End of the Affair) has always had a thing for offbeat dramas. So we should expect interesting things from his latest turn as director / screenwriter: The Good Thief. It opens April 16, but New York movie lovers can get an early peek of the flick at the New York City International Film Fleadh on March 20.

The Good Thief is the story of an aging gambler (played by Nick Nolte) named Bob Montagnet who inhabits his own grimy corner of the Nice underworld. This is a seedy universe, made all the worse by the easy availability of drugs and gambling – two bad habits Montagnet knows more than a thing or two about.

It gets to the point where Montagnet stages a casino heist, with the help of his accomplices Raoul (Gerard Darmon) and Paulo (Said Taghmaoui) to end a long streak of bad luck.

Someone, however, has tipped off the authorities. They, in the long run, could be the least of Montagnet’s troubles. As it is, his friendship with a cop has been stretched to the breaking point and a club owner turns against him when Montagnet attempts to protect a local prostitute. Meanwhile, the gang of criminal “experts” whom Montagnet hand-picks to execute his crime are all too vulnerable to the local temptations.

Jordan’s latest film was inspired by the Jean Pierre Melville classic Bob le Flambeur and is being touted as a clever caper rich with deception and duplicity. The Good Thief generated lots of buzz at the recent Toronto Film Festival. It also stars Jason Flemyng, Tcheky Karyo, Ryan Phillippe, and Ralph Fiennes as an art dealer and fencer suggestively named Tony Angel. Up next for Jordan is a swords-and-sandals epic based on Homer’s Greek classic, The Odyssey.  ♦

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Mitchell Honored by Northern Women https://irishamerica.com/2003/04/mitchell-honored-by-northern-women/ https://irishamerica.com/2003/04/mitchell-honored-by-northern-women/#respond Tue, 01 Apr 2003 07:52:08 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=40693 Read more..]]> Former Senator George Mitchell was honored for his tireless work for peace in Ireland at the Northern Ireland Women’s Initiative (NIWI) January 21 in New York. NIWI founder and president Maureen Murray said, “The Northern Ireland Women’s Initiative is honored to have Senator Mitchell’s support in our efforts to promote full and equal participation of women in the political leadership of Northern Ireland. In doing so the Senator continues to promotes the fulfillment of the Good Friday Agreement and its promise to the people of Northern Ireland.” Over 70 people attended the fundraiser. Celebrities included Ciaran Hinds, Liam Neeson, and Natasha Richardson were on the host committee.  ♦

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The Cork Choral Festival https://irishamerica.com/2003/04/the-cork-choral-festival/ https://irishamerica.com/2003/04/the-cork-choral-festival/#respond Tue, 01 Apr 2003 07:51:16 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=40697 Read more..]]> The 49th annual Cork International Choral Festival kicks off May 1 with some 5,000 participants from all over the world expected to flock to Cork.

Choirs participating will come not only from Cork and across Ireland, but also from Russia, Switzerland, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Sweden, Finland, Italy, Norway, and Wales. A highly anticipated competition for youth choirs also brings in talented performers under the age of 24.

Founded in 1954 to develop choral music in Ireland, the Cork festival is touted as one of Europe’s premier international choral festivals and is well known for its high competitive standards.

Each year top amateur international choirs compete for the prestigious Fleischmann International Trophy. Choirs also have an opportunity to perform in a range of activities presented over the course of the weekend, including church and outdoor performances. A nightly festival club is also organized to allow participants to meet informally.

Separate competitions for light, jazz, and popular music are also open to competing choir groups.

The opening concert is May 1 at City Hall, featuring Cork’s own Mary Hegarty performing with the Guinness Choir and Hibernian Orchestra. All in all, the festival is hosting 70 events throughout Cork city and the county.

The festival is not just a prized cultural event that provides a showcase for this durable European art form. It also provides a major boost to the Cork economy, bringing in an estimated two million euros’ worth of business. Already, organizers say, guesthouses and hotels are filling up with bookings from participants and music fans.  ♦

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Re-Imagining Ireland Conference https://irishamerica.com/2003/04/re-imagining-ireland-conference/ https://irishamerica.com/2003/04/re-imagining-ireland-conference/#respond Tue, 01 Apr 2003 07:50:58 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=40701 Read more..]]> Frank McCourt, Roddy Doyle, Mick Moloney and Irish America publisher Niall O’Dowd will be among the Irish writers, artists, and historians to converge in Charlottesville, Virginia in May for a three-day gathering entitled “Re-Imagining Ireland”.

Described as a “town meeting” on the state of Ireland, organizers say the conference will explore Ireland as a modern, prosperous, yet traditional culture. Ireland’s president Mary McAleese will perform the opening ceremonies.

Subtitled “Transformations of Identity in a Global Context,” the event will take place May 7-10, with more than 100 journalists, writers, politicians, artists, scholars, musicians, and citizen activists discussing the past, present, and future of the Emerald Isle.

Produced by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (VFH), the conference will feature events at various locations in downtown Charlottesville, and at the University of Virginia.

Key questions that participants hope to address are: Who are the Irish and where does Ireland stand in a global context? Where is Ireland going and how do its people view their course in the 21st century? How can the Irish, or any people, come to respect cultural diversity, bridge social divides, and find peace, bringing all sections of a society together in a process of reconciliation and development? How has Ireland affected the course of world history – and, in particular, shaped the social, economic, and political character of America? Concerts, film screenings, theater, exhibitions, and poetry readings will also be included as part of the event.

The conference is open to the public. and individual tickets will be available for performance events.

A related documentary – co-produced by Academy Award-winning Paul Wagner Productions and RTÉ – will eventually be broadcast to millions. And a volume of essays written by Re-Imagining Ireland consultants and published by the University of Virginia Press will also be released.  ♦

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