April May 2004 Issue – Irish America https://irishamerica.com Irish America Magazine Mon, 15 Jul 2019 20:00:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.10 82361074 Irish American of the Year John Sweeney: Defending America’s Workers https://irishamerica.com/2004/04/irish-american-of-the-year-john-sweeney-defending-americas-workers/ https://irishamerica.com/2004/04/irish-american-of-the-year-john-sweeney-defending-americas-workers/#respond Thu, 01 Apr 2004 14:59:19 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=31219 Read more..]]> Sitting with me in the sleek conference room of the AFL-CIO’s executive suite overlooking the White House, John Sweeney presents a striking contrast to his surroundings. Portly in his suspenders and rumpled shirt with his jacket nowhere in sight, he appears totally unassuming. It would be easy to underestimate the man at first glance. The only way to gauge his emotions is by his passionate discourse on the present government, and right now he’s on a roll.

“What we’re seeing today is an administration that is probably the worst on working family issues and certainly the most anti-union that we’ve seen since Herbert Hoover. We’ve had Republican administrations where we’re on different sides during the election, but after the election we at least attempted to work together on issues,” Sweeney asserts.

“If you look at the present policies, whether it’s tax or trade, or even the current situation where they’re looking for an economic recovery that’s really jobless, they’re not focused on dealing with employment, dealing with the loss of jobs. But the job loss, especially in the manufacturing industries, has been in the millions in the past two years,” he continues.

Sweeney was elected president of the AFL-CIO in 1995. It marked a high point in a career, and lifetime, devoted to social justice and organized labor. Formed in 1955 with the merger of the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations, the AFL-CIO is the umbrella organization for 64 member unions working in almost every part of the economy and has a membership of more than 13 million American workers.

For many years organized labor suffered from the perception that unions were corrupt and didn’t serve the actual interests of workers. The Nov./Dec. 2002 issue of the National Right to Work Newsletter (an anti-union organization) called the AFL-CIO “a multibillion dollar, forced dues empire,” and referred to Sweeney as a “a tin-eared dictator” out of step with the real concerns of American workers. Still, in spite of its detractors, the AFL-CIO added almost a million new members in the past two years.

And to the foes of organized labor, Sweeney hats proved a shrewd opponent using surprise, spontaneity and no shortage of creativity to drive his points home. To celebrate his election as president of the AFL-CIO in 1995, he led an impromptu march up Fashion Avenue in New York City to protest wages and working conditions in the garment industry. He’s been known to even buy stock in a company in order to attend the shareholders’ conference and confront the company president on labor issues and he averages about one arrest per year for acts of civil disobedience.

“I have enormous respect for John Sweeney,” states Senator Edward Kennedy. “The AFL-CIO’s voice as a powerful advocate for progressive public policy and the interests of working families is due largely to the strong leadership and determination of John Sweeney, and all Americans are in his debt.”

In a 1997 interview with The New Republic, political consultant Don Sweitzer compared Sweeney to guerilla leader Che Guevara, “He is an old-fashioned, confrontational union organizer who is not afraid to use unpopular methods to get to the bottom line.”

“We had to do things differently,” Sweeney acknowledges. “Everything around us wats changing. In the 1994 election we saw what Newt Gingrich was able to do and if anything it scared the hell out of us. So I set out to build a stronger labor movement. We had to grow. If we didn’t we weren’t going to be effective politically, and we weren’t going to be effective in terms of collective bargaining in different industries.

“We could never match the opposition in terms of money,” he continues, “but we had people power and we started a campaign to raise the focus among grassroots activists and rank and file workers. In Clinton’s 1992 election, union households were about 16 or 17 percent of the total electorate. We realized that that had to increase. So in 2000 with Gore’s election, we increased the percentage from 16 to 26 percent of union households who voted.”

The AFL-CIO also encouraged its members to run for political office. “We’re now up to about 5,000 people [in office]; they’re in state legislatures, they’re in city councils, boards of education and three are members of Congress,” Sweeney proudly reports, adding, “Although we haven’t endorsed a political candidate [for the 2004 presidential election] we’re out there training workers to be involved in the campaign and they can go and work for any candidate they want.”

Now serving his third term as president, John Sweeney was raised on the teething ring of organized labor.

Born in the Bronx, the oldest of four children of immigrants from County Leitrim, Sweeney credits his passion for social justice to family, faith, and his Irish heritage. “Growing up in this happy, very modest home, family, faith, and heritage were important to us. [My parents] were both Irish immigrants, so we grew up in that culture, and social justice was a big thing. It was something that I felt very strongly about, and in my youngest days I could draw the contrast between my father being a member of the union and my mother a domestic worker with no union, and no benefits.”

Sweeney’s father, James, a city bus driver, wats a dedicated member of the Transport Workers’ Union and a huge fan of its founder, another Irish immigrant, Kerry-born Mike Quill. “We grew up in an atmosphere of him relating his improvements on the job to his union membership,” Sweeney recalls. “I remember we’d go to Rockaway Beach in the summertime and rent a cottage there. My father couldn’t join us all the time because he could only get a week’s vacation or ten days at a time. But I remember [one year] he said, `I can stay two weeks. Our last contract gave me so many more days of vacation time.'”

As a teenager Sweeney attended union meetings and activities with his dad and campaigned for labor candidates at election time. He went on to study economics at Iona College in New Rochelle, New York, the first in his family to attend college, and worked his way through school in a union job as a grave digger. Unable to find work with any of the unions after graduation, he did a brief stint at IBM before landing a position as a research assistant with the Ladies Garment Workers Union. “I was making ninety dollars a week at IBM,” he recalls. “The garment workers offered sixty dollars and I jumped at it.”

In 1961 he joined the Service Employees International Union in New York City as a union representative. Working his way up through the ranks, Sweeney was elected president in 1980. Under his leadership the SEIU’s membership rose from 625,000 to 1.1 million at a time when union membership was declining overall. In 1995, he drew national attention when he led striking janitors in a sit-in on the 14th Street Bridge in Washington D.C. during morning rash hour.

It was Sweeney’s success with the SEIU that prompted other labor leaders to nominate him for the presidency of the AFL-CIO.

Throughout the 1980s the AFL-CIO’s membership steadily declined along with the political weight it carded on Capitol Hill. Sweeney’s history of activism and agitation seemed to be just the thing needed to rejuvenate the federation and he was elected to the office in 1995.

Once in power, Sweeney embarked on a massive campaign to enlist new members, earmarking one-third of the AFL-CIO’s annual budget for this effort, and to politicize the masses. Long believed to be the bastion of white men, the union underwent a facelift under Sweeney with new leadership opportunities for women and minorities.

“We had to change the perception of our members. They had to be more knowledgeable and educated about the labor movement, about the issues, and we also had to change the perception of the public,” Sweeney recalls.

The struggle for an ideal is invariably uphill, requiring equal doses of inspiration and pragmatism. For Sweeney, the ideal is social justice. Throughout his life he has been a tireless advocate for workers’ rights: fair wages, good jobs, health care, retirement security and corporate accountability. It’s all part of the American dream — the dream of Sweeney’s own immigrant parents.

“Our country’s been built by immigrant workers, we’re all immigrants or the product of immigrants,” Sweeney points out. “And we’re all very proud of our roots, but the way we’re treating the present millions of immigrant workers in our country is a disgrace. Immigrant workers are being exploited even more than they have ever been in our country.”

The only solution to the immigration problem right now is to have true immigration reform, Sweeney asserts. “[Reform] which guarantees every worker the protection of the law to prevent them from being exploited. If these workers are in a low wage job, they should be getting whatever the legal minimum wage is and not something below that. If they’re working overtime, they should be entitled to overtime pay.”

To draw attention to the plight of immigrant and undocumented workers, the AFL-CIO sponsored the Immigrant workers Freedom Rides last October. Modeled after the Freedom Rides during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, these demonstrations drew scores of buses from across the country to rallies in Washington, D.C. and New York.

The issue gets raised about whether immigrants are going to replace workers in current jobs, Sweeney acknowledges. “I know workers in some industries are nervous about that. But it’s safe to say that millions of immigrant workers are working in some of the lowest paid service jobs, farm jobs, domestic workers, office building cleaners, hotel and restaurant workers and so on. They’re not depriving anyone of a job, those are jobs that are available, and I think that the paranoia has to be relieved. Policy makers who know that this is the situation have to stop using that as an argument against the legalization of immigration. [We need to] solve the legalization question, the amnesty question, and deal with these workers as human beings. Don’t pit them against someone who was born in this country.”

The traditional view of labor as a bastion for the preservation of American jobs might seem increasingly irrelevant in a world moving toward globalization, but not John Sweeney’s labor.

He feel that the AFL-CIO’s demands for social justice are more necessary than ever in a post-NAFTA world. Ten years after the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the country is debating its costs and benefits. The AFL-CIO opposed the agreement along with the Central American Free Trade Agreement and the Free Trade Areas of the Americas Agreement, and Sweeney explains why:

“Our message is that trade agreements have to include core labor standards and environmental initiatives. Ten years ago we opposed NAFTA because it really didn’t provide for core labor standards or environmental protections. We’re talking about workers in those countries having the ability to assemble, to organize, to fight child labor, and forced labor. These are basic human rights that the ILO [International Labor Organization], and the United Nations have adopted and we think that these basic rights should be in every country and we should do everything in our trading negotiations to try and strengthen that.

“We’re as concerned about the developing world as anybody else is,” Sweeney asserts, “and we have to deal with the issues of the developing world. One of the ways we can deal with it is in terms of trade and also paying more attention to debt relief for developing countries. We recognize the fact that trade is very important to our country, to the economy, and to our trading partners. If we can protect capital and we can protect property rights in our trade agreements, there’s no reason that we can’t make it work for working families. We’re not talking about imposing our economy, our minimum wage, or our standards on our trading partners. Globalization is here to stay and it’s going to continue to grow. We’re more involved globally than we’ve ever been because that’s the direction that business and public policy are going.”

And here in the U.S. Sweeney says the need for a stronger voice for labor is as dire now as it ever was. “Half the people in this country who are in jobs that fall into the category of worker, not management, would join a union if they had the opportunity. It’s not about whether a union has approached them, although that’s part of it, it’s about their employers really put pressure on them not to join a union. There are thousands of cases each year where workers are fired because they are stimulating union organizing activities,” he emphasizes.

“Just look at Homeland Security,” Sweeney continues. “They have increased the number of airport screeners, which is necessary, but they won’t allow them to join unions, they have disallowed them any opportunity to organize. They have excluded 700,000 defense workers who will not be allowed to join unions or to participate in collective bargaining.”

And while Sweeney recognizes that there have been some modest improvements in some areas in terms of the economy, the job situation is bad, he says. “We have displaced steelworkers whose plants have closed and they’re flipping hamburgers at McDonald’s part-time. That’s really a disaster for our country,” he declares firmly.

With the primary season heating up, and the AFL-CIO preparing to endorse a presidential nominee, Sweeney says his ideal president would be “one who would focus on the broad diversity and demographics of our country and address the issue of workers and their families.” He adds, “We have to have a country that’s productive, that is going to be successful in business and the economy and give everybody the hope, the dream of having a good decent life, with education, health, retirement security and a decent standard of living. We’ve done that before and we certainly, as the strongest industrial country in the world, and the strongest democracy, have the ability and potential to do it again.”

In a 1997 interview with Irish America, Sweeney described the America of his childhood: “There was the feeling that if you worked hard, you could get your decent share, you were able to afford certain things, you could get your kids educated. You may have been poor or a member of the working class, but there was still this feeling of hope.”

Now, more than seven years later, Sweeney states, “I would add to that quote that you could expect a decent retirement.” Retirement security is no longer a sure thing for anyone and Sweeney blames corporate greed.

“The Enron situation was an example. Here were people who were decently paid, enjoyed their work, played by the rules, paid their taxes, raised their families, moved up in the company, got promoted and overnight were thrown out on the street. They lost their retirement — hundreds of thousands of dollars in many cases — lost their homes and college funds. That’s a national disgrace.” In the wake of the Enron debacle, Sweeney and the AFL-CIO succeeded in negotiating a settlement for workers for a total of approximately 35 million dollars.

It’s victories like this that sustain him, improving the lives of all Americans, one worker at a time, one family at a time. “The best part of this job is the satisfaction in helping workers,” he points out. “In my earliest days if I could get somebody his job back after he was terminated, or organize a new worker who was making minimum wage and double his salary and his benefits as a result, I was happy. This is very satisfying kind of work,” he asserts. “Whatever the problems are, there’s not a day when I am not eager and really anxious to get to work.”

Note: Some weeks after this interview the AFL-CIO endorsed Presidential candidate John Kerry. ♦

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First Word: Everyday Heroes https://irishamerica.com/2004/04/first-word-everyday-heroes/ https://irishamerica.com/2004/04/first-word-everyday-heroes/#respond Thu, 01 Apr 2004 14:58:05 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=31223 Read more..]]> Congratulations to our Top 100 and to our Irish-American of the Year John J. Sweeney. In honoring Sweeney we honor a great labor leader who has three million workers under the umbrella of the AFL-CIO. We also take pride in the history of the Irish in the labor movement — by 1900 it’s estimated that 50 of the 110 labor unions were headed by Irish or Irish-Americans. We reflect back too, on the Irish men and women who emigrated to America to seek a better life — those hardscrabble ancestors who eked out a living in bottom-of-the-heap employment and risked their jobs, and sometimes their lives, to join a movement that would improve the lot for everyone.

We remember Terence Powderly, son of Irish immigrants, who transformed the Knights of Labor into the first national industrial union with more than 700,000 members. In the 1800’s, far in advance for the period, he sought the inclusion of blacks, women and Hispanics for fully-fledged membership in his trade union. We also remember Mother Jones, born in Cork, who organized the miners and the miners’ wives, and who in 1903, to dramatize the case for abolishing child labor, led the “children’s crusade,” a caravan of striking children from the textile mills of Kensington, Pennsylvania, to President Theodore Roosevelt’s home in Long Island, New York. “I’m not a humanitarian. I’m a hell-raiser,” said Jones.

The Molly Maguires, the Irish miners who believed that a violent campaign against mine owners and officials was the only way to bring about change, also come to mind, as do Peter McGuire and Matthew Maguire, one or the other of whom created Labor Day. Peter was general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor. He is largely credited with having been the first to suggest that a day be dedicated to American workers and their accomplishments. But many believe that it was Matthew Maguire, who was secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York in 1882, who first proposed the holiday.

As a kid John Sweeney knew how much the extra-days’ vacation that the Transport Workers’ Union of America negotiated for his bus driver father meant to his family, and so we remember Mike Quill, the Kerryman who founded the union in 1934 when times were tough and the 12-hour, 7-day work week was all too common. “We were no experts in the field of labor organization, but we had something in common with our fellow workers. We were all poor — we were all overworked — we were all victims of the 84-hour week. In fact, we were all so low down on the economic and social ladder that we had nowhere to go but up,” Quill is remembered as saying.

Today the Irish in America are as likely to head up a Fortune 500 company as they are to be a union member. In fact, early in his career Sweeney gave up a job at IBM and took a pay cut for a union job. But while conditions may have changed for the Irish, they have not changed for many of today’s immigrants. Like the Irish of the last century, they come seeking a better life and all too often they end up with starvation wages and nightmarish conditions. Sweeney and his union are trying to change that. Documented or undocumented, he believes that workers deserve the protection of the law. And in 2003 the AFL-CIO organized the Freedom Buses, which fanned out across the United States spreading the message of legalization for the more than eight million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and better protections of workplace rights for all workers.

In giving voice to the voiceless, John J. Sweeney follows in the great tradition of Irish men and women, everyday heroes who fought to make this country a better place for all. He embodies the best kind of Irishman, in that his knowledge of past injustices waged against the Irish has not made him bitter; rather it’s given him the impetus to reach out a helping hand to others. We are proud to name him Irish-American of the Year. ♦

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St. Patrick’s Day, A World Away https://irishamerica.com/2004/04/st-patricks-day-a-world-away/ https://irishamerica.com/2004/04/st-patricks-day-a-world-away/#respond Thu, 01 Apr 2004 14:57:45 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=31254 Read more..]]> Honolulu hosts the very last St. Patrick’s Day parade on earth every year. No other parade is held closer to the International Dateline. It has an eclectic look with Polynesian school bands, Chinese lion dancers, beauty queens of various Pacific Island nationalities and even representatives of the British-themed Fox and Hounds Pub &Grub marching along-side Irish elements.

As Matthew FitzGerald, organizer of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick’s annual Emerald Ball, puts it, the Irish could never go it alone in Hawaii anyway. They’re too few in number to reject any help offered to carry off a celebration.

The March 17 parade owes its very start to a non-Irishman. Former Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi, who hails from Italian stock in Hartford, Connecticut, kick-started the event in 1969.

That ended the closest thing Hawaii’s ever experienced to an Irish rebel movement. Dan Sullivan, a native of Worcester, Massachusetts who’s been in Hawaii for 33 years, recalls he was one of a group of Irish insurgents who stayed one step ahead of the law while, under the cover of darkness, painting an illegal green line down the center of Waikiki Beach’s main drag, Kalakaua Avenue.

Sullivan, a retired Department of Education employee, remains at large in Honolulu. He’s a well-known organizer with the Clan Na Gael and Wild Shamrock associations in Hawaii.

The parade has had its share of Celtic eccentricity over the past three decades. Jack Sullivan (no relation to Dan), who left heavily Irish Brighton, Massachusetts, in 1957, cavorts through Waikiki as a leprechaun. He wields a shillelagh, wears green knickers, vest and elfin shoes and goes to the extreme of painting his tongue green.

“What’s wonderful is the love and aloha everyone shares here with the Irish on March 17,” said Sullivan.

“Jig This!” School of Irish Dance stepdancers in Waikiki’s Kapiolani Park.

Donegal native John Ferguson, clad in an aloha shirt, serves up everything from Guinness to Bunratty Poteen from behind the counter at his downtown Honolulu Ferguson’s Irish Pub. He sees strong sociocultural similarities between Hawaii and Ireland. “Ah, it’s all the same here except the weather,” said Ferguson, whose place is across the street from the harbor. “It’s the same kind of slow pace here.”

Belfast native Noel Trainor agrees. He’s general manager of Hawaii’s largest hotel (also one of the world’s largest with 3,000 rooms on 22 acres), the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki. “The people are socially the same here as in Ireland — they love to be with people,” said Trainor, who came to the hotel in 1984. “They will `talk story’ all day with you.”

Ferguson said he knew his small, intimate pub across the street from the harbor would go over well when he opened it three years ago. Despite his lack of space, Ferguson often invites Hawaii’s only step-dancing group to hold ceilis there.

“It’s so narrow inside we have to dance by the bathroom door,” chuckled locally-born Annette Murphy Johansson, who organized the group four years ago. Johansson (whose husband is from Sweden) runs the Jig This! School of Irish Dance. She has about 40 members ranging in age from five to 45, representing a rainbow of national origins. One of her best dancers is Thai-German Melanie Held. The group is sometimes accompanied by promising 15-year-old dancer/fiddler Audrey Knuth, whose parents moved here from Washington D.C.

Waikiki Beach has two Irish pubs. Connecticut native Bill Comerford and Rhode Island native Fred Remington, co-owners of the Irish Rose Saloon and Kelley O’Neil’s, will give a gig to any vacationing Irish musician.

Comerford and Remington also recently acquired O’Toole’s, an establishment on the outskirts of Honolulu’s Chinatown with the look of a Dublin watering hole.

Murphy’s Bar and Grill, located across the street from O’Toole’s, has been in operation as an Irish-themed establishment since 1987 and hosts an annual St. Patrick’s Day block party.

John Ferguson from Donegal in his Irish pub in Honolulu.

Celtic influence in Hawaii extends to Maui where Mulligan’s Irish Pub and Restaurant holds a traditional session every Sunday night. Manager Kevin O’Kennedy plays the pennywhistle.

True to Hawaii’s multi-ethnic Celtic thrust, the state’s most experienced and talented Irish fiddler happens to be a Cherokee-French clinical psychologist.

Lisa Hancock Gomes who grew up in Woodstock, New York, has studied under fiddle legend Martin Hayes and has played at the Willie Clancy Festival. “Irish music resonates deep inside people,” said Gomes. “You don’t have to be Irish to appreciate the music.”

The Irish are known to have been in Hawaii as early as 1794. The first two governors after statehood were Irish-Americans William F. Quinn (1959-62) and the late John A. Burns (1962-74). Maurice J. Sullivan, who founded Foodland, the state’s first supermarket, immigrated from Clare. He eventually opened 100 retail stores in Hawaii before his death in 1998.

The current Honolulu police chief, Lee D. Donohue, is Irish-Korean. Donohue is representative of the islands’ cultural melting pot, which has produced a number of prominent “hapa,” or mixed racial background, Irish-Americans.

Jacksonville Jaguars offensive lineman Chris Naeole, born and raised on the north shore of Oahu, is Hawaiian-Irish. Former Baywatch actor and Honolulu native Jason Momoa is also Hawaiian-Irish with some German mixed in. Yet another Honolulu native often in the news, New York Mets outfielder Benny Agbayani, claims Irish in his blood along with Filipino, Samoan and Chinese. But the Irish-American who probably had the most universal impact on Hawaii was a Brooklyn-raised tough named John Joseph Patrick Ryan. He was better known as Jack Lord, whose Hawaii Five-0 series ran for 12 seasons on CBS and did wonders for the state’s economy. He died in 1998.

Today’s residents of Irish heritage represent only 5.9 percent of Hawaii’s population. But, as in every other part of the world touched by the Gaels, the Irish of the 50th state have made their presence known.


Something Hawaii has in common with Ireland is extensive mythology with similar characters. Both Ireland and Hawaii have “little people.” Native Hawaiians attribute just as many magical powers and good deeds to the “menehunes” as the Irish do to the leprechauns.

The menehunes are never seen and that’s because legend has it they do their best work at night. Many ancient stoneworks are supposed to have been crafted by the Polynesian wee folk who worked by the light of the moon.

Additionally, Ireland has the banshee and Hawaii has Madame Pele, the volcano goddess who is prone to sudden fury, devouring land and structures with molten lava, and sometimes appearing as an ominous old woman on dark, lonely highways. The traditional way of appeasing Madame Pele is by dropping a bottle of gin into the volcano. ♦

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Noth and Meaney, No Bad Apples https://irishamerica.com/2004/04/noth-and-meaney-no-bad-apples/ https://irishamerica.com/2004/04/noth-and-meaney-no-bad-apples/#respond Thu, 01 Apr 2004 14:56:17 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=31258 Read more..]]> Bad Apple, a fast-paced drama with dark comedic overtones, based on the novel by Anthony Bruno, had its premiere in New York City and aired on February 16 on TNT.

Chris Noth and Colm Meaney play two FBI agents trying to bring down a loan-sharking business run by the mob.

Things become increasingly intense after a series of crosses and double-crosses leave both agents at the mercy of their targets. But that doesn’t prevent the sexual tension from heating up, as one of the agents (Noth) gets tangled up with his informant’s sister.

Noth, by the way, made his first stage appearance at the Irish Arts Center in Manhattan. ♦

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You Raise Me Up’s Irish Connection https://irishamerica.com/2004/04/you-raise-me-ups-irish-connection/ https://irishamerica.com/2004/04/you-raise-me-ups-irish-connection/#respond Thu, 01 Apr 2004 14:55:18 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=31262 Read more..]]> With U.S. sales in excess of 2 million units, popular music phenomenon Josh Groban (22) has stormed to the No. 1 position on the prestigious Billboard Top 100 album charts, and Irish composer and novelist Brendan Graham is partly responsible for getting him there. Closer, Groban’s second album, produced by David Foster, features the hit single “You Raise Me Up,” with lyrics by Graham and music by Norway’s Rolf Lovland. The song has captured the hearts of millions of music fans in America, through Groban’s performance at the Superbowl XXXVIII in Houston, Texas. In a special tribute to the crew of the Space Shuttle, Columbia. Groban was joined on the field, by the crew of the next Space Shuttle, STS-114.

Groban, who has watched his popularity soar since an appearance on the TV show Ally McBeal and the release of his extraordinarily successful 2001 debut album Josh Groban, will visit Ireland in March.

Meanwhile, Brendan Graham, whose other compositions include “Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears” and “The Fairhaired Boy” — the single from Dervish’s current album Spirit — has also found success as a writer. His novels, The Whitest Flower and The Element of Fire, are published by HarperCollins. He is currently working to deadline on The Brightest Day, The Darkest Night — a novel of the Irish in the American Civil War — set for an October 2004 publication. ♦

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Lord’s Castle Problem https://irishamerica.com/2004/04/lords-castle-problem/ https://irishamerica.com/2004/04/lords-castle-problem/#respond Thu, 01 Apr 2004 14:54:03 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=31267 Read more..]]> Lord of the Dance King Michael Flatley has shut down all renovation work on Castlehyde, his multi-million dollar castle in Co. Cork because he’s fed up with combating Cork County Council.

Flatley bought the 19th century castle on the banks of the River Blackwater for four million euros five years ago, but his renovations have been dogged by controversy and extremely strict planning regulations because of the castle’s landmarked status.

The wealthy star has already spent a reported $30 million on the castle, and it was expected that he would marry his fiancée Lisa Murphy there this coming summer, but now some of the completed work may have to be redone because it is in breach of planning laws.

Cork County Council allowed Flatley to retain many of the changes he made to the castle when he applied for planning permission after the work was done. However, permission for additional features — a gymnasium and two decorative ponds — was refused. And now the entire project is under review by the planning board. If he loses the action Flatley could be forced to remove his extensive and multi-faceted renovations. ♦

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To Know Here and There https://irishamerica.com/2004/04/to-know-here-and-there/ https://irishamerica.com/2004/04/to-know-here-and-there/#respond Thu, 01 Apr 2004 14:52:06 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=31269 Read more..]]> To Know Here and There is my thesis project undertaken while studying for my MFA in Photography and Related Media at the School of Visual Arts in New York. It is a continuation of my ongoing exploration of the subject’s identification with place. With this work I depict the connection with one’s homeland as tied to the people of that place. Taking the form of pairs, images taken in my native Galway, Ireland are paired with images taken in New York City. As an Irish person now living in New York I am photographing my parents, those people left behind, and presenting them as an embodiment of the concept of `Home’ while still emphasizing place as an important shaper of that `Home’.

In all of these photographs my parents are physically present in both environments. Visualizing my parents in both Ireland and New York blurs the line between which place is really home and begs the question: What is home? How do we reconcile ourselves with place so as to understand that which is unfamiliar? While in New York they refer to Ireland by the mimicking of pose and gesture, and vice versa. I am interested in exploring this experience, particular to New York and the immigrant, of living somewhere in the middle. Here the environment is malleable, a hybrid of two or many more worlds. However, the variations that occur within this mimicking indicate that while in one place they are not in the other. My parents both transform and are transformed by their environment. This is in response to the continual transformation of such New York City spaces by those many people seeking home here.

This is to investigate also both the physical and metaphoric integration and separation of person and place.

The writer Frank O’Connor once said, “There is something in the short story at its most characteristic — something we do not often find in the novel — an intense awareness of human loneliness.”

Photography too, I believe, has the potential for that kind of awareness. In the very simplest of terms I attempt to find my parents by making pictures of them in New York as they were and are in Ireland. It is those small connections to home that help to bear separation and to close distance. These images are small things, small connections (like flashlights winking at one another across a gap). They are an attempt to fill a stage.

This project springs from separation and yet it illustrates in contradiction photography’s capacity to bring together and to illuminate hope and togetherness in its subjects. In leaving my parents behind they have become something new together. In leaving them I too have become something new, which creates hope.

This I believe is the essence of all leavings. ♦

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Hats Off to Johnny! https://irishamerica.com/2004/04/hats-off-to-johnny/ https://irishamerica.com/2004/04/hats-off-to-johnny/#respond Thu, 01 Apr 2004 14:50:02 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=31278 Read more..]]> John Daly made a spectacular birdie to win a three-man play-off at the Buick Invitational in San Diego, claiming his first PGA Tour victory in nearly nine years.

The 37-year-old had not won in 189 PGA Tour events since his British Open win in 1995.

With a 100-foot bunker shot that trickled within four inches of the cup, Daly birdied the 18th hole Sunday, February 15, to win the Invitational in a three-man playoff,

“It’s the greatest,” Daly told reporters, fighting back tears. “I’ve had a lot of ups and downs. Geez, this is sweet.”

Daly’s “ups and downs” include a trip to alcohol rehab, three divorces and his fourth wife being brought up on drug charges just days after giving birth to his first son.

“I take my hat off to Johnny. He’s been through a lot. To see him win is great,” said Chris Riley, whom Daly narrowly out shot to win the Buick Invitational in Riley’s home town of San Diego.

Daly won $1.1 million for his fifth PGA Tour victory. He won his first PGA championship in 1991, when he was the ninth alternate and drove through the night to Indiana after Nick Price withdrew. ♦

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Chernobyl Oscar Win https://irishamerica.com/2004/04/chernobyl-oscar-win/ https://irishamerica.com/2004/04/chernobyl-oscar-win/#respond Thu, 01 Apr 2004 14:49:15 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=31281 Read more..]]> Illuminating the plight of the victims of the Chernobyl disaster, filmmaker Maryann DeLco took home an Oscar for Chernobyl Heart, which won Best Short Subject Documentary.

Chernobyl Heart is a film about the effects of radiation on the children of Belarus 16 years after the accident at Chernobyl’s nuclear reactor. It features the work of the Chernobyl Children’s Project, an Irish organization set up by Adi Roche in 1991. When she received her Oscar, DeLco said that Roche should be up on stage with her.

DeLco shot the film over a two-year period in Belarus, the country most seriously contaminated by the Chernobyl accident. It documents the terrible effects of radiation and the high levels of cancer, birth defects, and heart conditions suffered by the region’s children.

Chemobyl Children’s Project has delivered over Euro50 million in direct and indirect humanitarian and medical aid to the Chernobyl region, providing life-saving operations, and taking children — approximately 1,200 each year — out of their contaminated environment for a summer holiday with a host family in Ireland.

After DeLeo’s Academy win, Adi Roche said, “It is a very great honor for our organization to be associated with an Oscar-winning documentary. We hope that the exposure gained for this great win will help re-focus attention on the continuing desperate plight of the victims and survivors of the Chernobyl disaster.”

Chernobyl Children’s Project has long been supported by Ali Hewson, Bono’s wife, and by U2 — notably with the release of the single “The Sweetest Thing” in 1998. ♦

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Irish Director’s New Film About Burning Man https://irishamerica.com/2004/04/irish-directors-new-film-about-burning-man/ https://irishamerica.com/2004/04/irish-directors-new-film-about-burning-man/#respond Thu, 01 Apr 2004 14:47:23 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=31285 Read more..]]> “Every year, a virtual city is erected and then destroyed, leaving no trace it was ever there.” So begins the new documentary Confessions of a Burning Man by Irish filmmaker Paul Barnett and his directing partner, UnSu Lee about the week-long arts festival in Black Rock City, Nevada. Founded by artist Larry Harvey in 1990, Burning Man attracts around 30,000 revelers each year who make the pilgrimage to the desert to participate in the festival’s alternate universe. For that week, Black Rock City is the third largest city in Nevada, with residents hailing from every corner of the globe, including Ireland. In fact, according to Barnett, Irish visitors are the second largest contingent at Burning Man.

People come to Burning Man, which is described as “an experiment in temporary community dedicated to radical self expression” for the scene, which is equal parts circus, rave and Woodstock in the wild west. Artists take advantage of the vast amount of space available to construct pieces on a grand scale rife with symbolism: enormous sculptures and fire-breathing machines, as well as mobilized pieces (a pirate ship built around a bus was an audience favorite). Partly derived from Celtic lore, the festival is named after the collosal wooden statue that is set aflame during the enromous ceremony culminating the festivities.

Many people go simply for the party aspect, too. Burning Man has a reputation for being a mostly white, hippie event complete with drugs, sex, music, and daily yoga classes. No money is used and vending is strictly forbidden. Any type of exchange is done on what is called a “gift” system, and every daily act is considered an act of artistic expression.

Each year, Burning Man’s organizers choose a specific theme. For the year the film was made, the theme was the seven stages of man from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, which Barnett mirrored in the selection of his subjects. In the group was a rich heiress, a cynical cab driver, a filmmaker from the ghetto and an accident survivor/actress described by Barnett as “emotionally vulnerable” — all bringing to the experience their unique perspectives and emotional baggage. Watching the group adapt to the sparse, brutal living conditions in the unforgiving terrain of the Nevada desert is often uncomfortable. The film, shot on a mixture of digital video and 16 mm with a perfectly-suited ethereal original score is beautiful to watch.

Confessions of a Burning Man will be released nationwide in early 2004. Lee and Barnett are currently collaborating on the documentary Cracking the Coporate Code. ♦

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