April May 2007 Issue – Irish America https://irishamerica.com Irish America Magazine Thu, 18 Jul 2019 14:56:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.10 82361074 The Pirate Queen https://irishamerica.com/2007/04/the-pirate-queen/ https://irishamerica.com/2007/04/the-pirate-queen/#comments Sun, 01 Apr 2007 09:30:44 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=10800 Read more..]]> The producers of The Pirate Queen, husband-and-wife team Moya Doherty and John McColgan, talk to Cahir O’Doherty.

Between the first draft and the opening night the challenge of mounting a Broadway musical on the scale of The Pirate Queen is a high-wire act of artistic daring that few of us will ever have the courage or good fortune to make in our lives.

Prior to the show’s opening night I talked to its two Irish producers, John McColgan and wife Moya Doherty, in the sumptuous VIP room of the Hilton Theatre on Broadway.

“High risk, high rewards,” says McColgan with a smile. His wife nods. “There’s a very famous gentleman of the theater called Jimmy Nederlander,” she continues by way of illustration. “One day a perky young journalist asked him, ‘Jimmy how do you become a millionaire in the theater?’ He replied, ‘Well it’s easy, you just have to start off as a billionaire.’”

Joking aside, The Pirate Queen is an ambitious undertaking. In terms of its scope and scale it surpasses everything the successful producing couple have attempted before, even the multi-award-winning international phenomenon Riverdance.

“We asked ourselves what do we do to raise the bar after Riverdance?” McColgan admits. “We wanted to do something epic that was Irish, that was historical and something that was attractive to the best composers.”

The result is an exhilarating new musical with soaring melodies and spectacular set pieces that chronicles the life and loves of Grace O’Malley, the fiery Irish chieftain who stood up to Queen Elizabeth and the entirely male-dominated world of the 1500s. Despite the legends that persist about her, Grace O’Malley was not a mythological figure, but a real person, a fact that is foremost in the minds of the creators of the show.

“Grace O’Malley was a woman way ahead of her time. She and Queen Elizabeth were almost exact contemporaries. They were both the sons their fathers never had, and they gained power in an age when it was absolutely unknown for women to have power,” says Doherty.

The audacity of O’Malley, who took her ships to London to meet with the Queen to discuss British incursions in her Irish territory, was an act of courage and defiance that underlined her character in the show.

“The sheer madness of her visit is astounding,” comments Doherty. “Elizabeth has been dogged by this Irish woman who always fights and wins. Grace is outsmarting them all the time and is a thorn in Elizabeth’s side. And for her to sail up the River Thames in her ship was extraordinary. To write a letter to Elizabeth directly and to go over the head of the governor general seeking an audience with the Queen was extraordinary too.”

To bring a story of this magnitude to the stage was also thought by some to be “sheer madness.”

“We forget sometimes that it is an enormous undertaking,” says McColgan. “And if we’d known how hard it was we might not have bothered,” adds Doherty with a heartfelt laugh. “There aren’t that many theatre producers like ourselves – producers who are also the principal investors,” she adds. “Nowadays it’s the big corporations who are in the business of producing new musicals. And it may very well be that in the future it becomes impossible for an independent producer to mount a show unless they go the off-Broadway route with something small.”

The greatest challenge the couple faced was getting the composer Claude-Michel Schönberg to come on board. A Hungarian Jew who grew up in Brittany, Schönberg (who together with his writing partner Alain Boublil, created the legendary Broadway shows Les Misérables and Miss Saigon) was already very familiar with Celtic music.

Other accidents of fate helped them, too. Schönberg loved the idea of an ensemble with an orchestra that included ethnic instruments played from the heart. “The musical concept excited him, the pipes excited him, the bodhrán, the tin whistle – all those Celtic sounds. The idea of writing for that, the music that comes out of that landscape. That was probably the single most attractive thing, the catalyst that made him want to do it,” says McColgan.

“Schönberg would also say that he is a modern composer, not a composer of Irish music, and so you will hear very definitely the signature of his music,” says Doherty. “There are echoes of Miss Saigon. And then there are also moments when it is massively Irish in its sounds. He takes the fiddles and he weaves it into the score representing Ireland as a country.”

Says McColgan: “When you hear the overture I think it’s one of the most beautiful I’ve ever heard. The sound of the whistle and the pipes is instantly evocative and moving. He’s a storytelling composer and to him the instruments are characters of Ireland, characters of antiquity. I think he’s done that well,” says McColgan.

The Pirate Queen role, they both admit, is an extraordinarily difficult part to play. “Vocally you have to be incredibly talented, skilled and strong,” says Doherty. “I think we have been incredibly fortunate in Stephanie J. Block [winner of the 2006 Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actress] because she has a really powerful voice. With the new song at the opening of Act One, a song called ‘Woman’ – our composer now knows the voice he’s writing for – and it’s wonderful to see how that has helped the show.”

Speaking of the research she did for the part of Grace O’Malley, Stephanie J. Block is refreshingly candid: “I just did what everyone does these days – I googled her and found every book that had ever been written about her. I spoke in depth with our producers John and Moya, too. There’s not a whole lot of Irish documentation on her because she was a woman and such a rebel – and I guess at the time she was someone that Ireland was very proud of. But the English documented her meeting with Queen Elizabeth. I found that documentation really important – they got to the heart of who this woman was.”

In early previews in Chicago some audience members were a little confused by who was fighting whom. “It was a historical world that they did not understand, so we refocused. We had to simplify complex ideas and make them easier to grasp,” says McColgan.

“It’s a musical and not a history lesson,’ says McColgan wisely. “I think it has to be underpinned by a sense of reality, because these things did actually happen, but in a musical, complex ideas and themes need to be accessible.’

Doherty adds: “I think that we paint pictures of the O’Malley clan as pirates and fishermen and traders and that they are going about their daily lives and then suddenly there is a massive opposing force to deal with. Suddenly they are being stripped. There is one scene in the second act called ‘Surrender’ which depicts Irish chieftains effectively taking the Queen’s shilling because that’s the only way that they can save themselves. There is famine and starvation and their crops are shipped to England, including all the natural resources.”

“In the end we show the pyrrhic victory of Elizabeth giving O’Malley back her land and her ships for the duration of her life,” says McColgan. “It was a personal more than a political decision between two women. We know the Battle of Kinsale follows. Grace knew that, while she got everything back, as soon as Elizabeth died it was over. She won but it was over.”

Grace O’Malley died in 1602, just two years before the Battle of Kinsale and the Flight of the Earls. Alongside Hugh O’Neill in the north she was one of the last Gaelic leaders. Historian Anne Chambers, an O’Malley scholar, recently unearthed the Court documents that detailed O’Malley’s meeting with Elizabeth which showed that since neither could speak each other’s languages they conversed in Latin.

One of the issues that arose during the production was the reliance on English historical documents to recreate the history, costumes and conflicts of the era. When they looked at the 16th-century portraits of Irish chieftains drawn by Dürer, for example, they could discern an air of condescension, even a possible attempt to lampoon a people the artist had little in common with. “We had to create our own interpretation that was as free of an agenda as possible,” says Colgan.

The couple’s original plan was to open the show in Dublin and then go to the West End. But as they moved forward they decided that North America had been fantastic for Riverdance, being the place where most producers want to produce, because of the potential.

Says McColgan: “The world recognizes the Broadway hit as a brand that can travel anywhere. If you take the risk of opening in the most highly competitive shop window in the world, you can go forward.”

The biggest challenge still facing them is getting out the message that the show is in town and that it’s opening soon on Broadway. “With all the other shows that are vying for attention, how do you let people know that it’s coming to a nearby theatre? Again high risk, high reward.”

Grace O’Malley herself would have approved of their daring. To open on Broadway is almost unheard of today, and their cast and crew on the show were the first to tell them: “They said you’re like old-fashioned Broadway producers who have the heart, who develop and care about the project,” says McColgan. “They couldn’t believe that we were in the rehearsal room every day and giving input to every element of the show. Over the years on Broadway, producers have been subsumed and even replaced by investors. The moneymen are obviously important to the process, but we have a passion for this show that transcends mere financial investment. It means something to us; it has a unique voice and an integrity. It’s different from Mary Poppins, it’s different from Legally Blonde. It has a distinct cultural and creative voice that differentiates it, and that’s the hope that when people come in they’ll tell their neighbor and their other neighbor and then we’ll have a hit.”

Previews for The Pirate Queen begin March 6th at the Hilton Theatre, 213 West 42nd Street.

Moya Doherty and John McColgan were awarded Irish America’s Entertainment Lifetime Achievement Award for their continuing contribution to the world of entertainment. ♦

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The First Word: That Time of Year! https://irishamerica.com/2007/04/the-first-word-that-time-of-year/ https://irishamerica.com/2007/04/the-first-word-that-time-of-year/#respond Sun, 01 Apr 2007 09:29:26 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=10811 Read more..]]> Mórtas Cine. Pride in our heritage! It’s that time of year, and thought we don’t need an occasion to feel pleased to be Irish, it’s kind of nice to be the center of attention as the St. Patrick’s season rolls around. We can look forward to reruns of The Quiet Man, watch the Irish Tenors and The Celtic Women, and enjoy Visions of Ireland, which showcases scenery that is so gorgeous, it makes one wonder why one ever left. And, of course, the Parades!

Reading Maeve Binchey’s essay on what it was like when St. Patrick’s Day was a Holy Day of Obligation, I found myself singing, “There’s a dear little plant that grows in our isle, ’twas St. Patrick himself sure that set it, and the sun on his labor with pleasure did smile, and the dew from his eye often wet it.” (Dew from his eye! – is that where we get all the rain?) Maeve pretty much sums up what St. Patrick’s Day was like in the Ireland I grew up in. We sang hymns and went to mass, usually wearing a green ribbon with a gold-colored cardboard harp stuck on it. The shamrock – fresh-picked from the front lawn and usually wet (with dew!) – was reserved for the adults.

My favorite St. Patrick story, which pops unbidden into my head every year around this time, is the one of his conversion of a local chieftain. In order to get down to the task at hand, Patrick stuck his staff in the ground but actually he stuck it in the foot of the chieftain, who said nothing – never complained throughout the whole ceremony – because he thought it was part and parcel of the conversion.

St. Patrick’s Day of yesteryear, as Maeve so rightly points out, had none of the pageantry (or the buffoonery) that it is now associated with, but it was special nonetheless. And it’s a special time of year for us at Irish America. We celebrate our heritage with out Top 100 Irish-Americans. Our honorees are smart, kind, entertaining, and even hilariously funny, and writing about them (and a special thank-you to all the writers who contributed, and the readers who sent in their nominations) gave me a real boost, and renewed my faith, not just in Irish America, but in the human spirit.

Our Lifetime Achievement Award in Entertainment goes to Moya Doherty and John McColgan, the producers of The Pirate Queen, the new music and dance extravaganza based on the story of Grace O’Malley , the Irish chieftain who ruled the waves back in the 17th century and stood up to Queen Elizabeth I. She was quite a woman, our Grace, full of courage and spit and fire, and we are proud to add her (posthumously, of course) to our Top 100. Our ancestors had to have had large doses of that same fighting spirit to survive. Particularly, those who took the boat journey to America. Their spirits live on in the profiles in the following pages. Not only do we have the grandest parades here in America, we have the greatest people and our Top 100 truly give us something to be proud of. ♦

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Sinn Féin Endorses PSNI https://irishamerica.com/2007/04/sinn-fein-endorses-psni/ https://irishamerica.com/2007/04/sinn-fein-endorses-psni/#respond Sun, 01 Apr 2007 09:28:03 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=10818 Read more..]]> Sinn Féin voted to support the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) – formerly the RUC – at an extraordinary Ard Fheis (party congress) attended by nearly 1,000 delegates in Dublin. The motion was carried by over 90 percent of the vote.

Prior to the Ard Fheis Sinn Féin refused to participate on the PSNI policing board. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) cited this position as grounds to block power-sharing with the republican party and the impasse threatened to scupper the March 7 Assembly elections.

“The decision we have taken today is truly historic,” declared Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams. “This is one of the most important debates in the history of republicanism and of this country. Let’s not be upset by how others respond to today’s decision. The higher they build their barriers the stronger we become,” he added in a clear reference to anticipating a DUP response to Sinn Féin’s policy change.

The vote came after six hours of debate and a series of public meetings held in nationalist communities across Northern Ireland. Hardline republicans, including the Continuity IRA, objected vehemently to the proposal but the majority of ard fheis delegates endorsed the direction given by the party leadership.

Days before the historic meeting Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan published a report castigating the RUC special branch for colluding with UVF loyalist paramilitaries through the 1980’s and 90’s♦ in the murder of Catholics and nationalists. Adams used O’Loan’s damning report as evidence that collaboration between the police force and loyalist gangs should never happen again. Supporting the PSNI and participating in the policing board would enable republicans to prevent such a recurrence, he said.

Meanwhile the peace dividend of IRA ceasefire was felt in the republican heartland of Crossmaglen, South Armagh. The despised watchtower of a heavily fortified British Army base was removed and the land which the British Army seized from the adjacent GAA club is to be returned.

The tower was built in 1992 by the Royal Engineers to overlook the town and act as a guiding point for army helicopters flying in and out of the joint army/police base. Under a timetable of reducing troop numbers to a complement of 5,000 in Northern Ireland the British army will withdraw completely from the base by the end of March. From then on Crossmaglen station will be used solely by the PSNI.

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The Irish Channel Salutes St. Patrick https://irishamerica.com/2007/04/the-irish-channel-salutes-st-patrick/ https://irishamerica.com/2007/04/the-irish-channel-salutes-st-patrick/#respond Sun, 01 Apr 2007 09:27:27 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=10822 Read more..]]> With multiple events spotlighting the Irish heritage of New Orleans on St. Patrick’s Day, the largest and one of the more historic is the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Club, which this year marks its 60th anniversary of parading through the streets of some of the city’s historically Irish neighborhoods. With over 3,000 people either marching in formal attire to the sounds of bagpipes or lining the sides of the 30 double-decker floats, the members don’t necessarily lead, but rather accentuate the celebration of the throngs who line the streets.

Richard Burke, the current President and son of one of the club’s founders says, “The parade started in 1947, with only about 300 people marching in tails. Today, most of the people who parade are either of Irish heritage or have some connection to the Irish Channel neighborhood. It’s really just a way for all the old neighborhood folks to get back together.”

The energy, of that day in early spring in the deep south, is enhanced by the thousands of green and white long beads thrown to the eager crowds, who one would think would have had their fill from the two weeks of Lenten festival Mardi Gras parades.

Furthering the spectacle along the mansions of the Garden District and historic Magazine Street, are the untold thousands of cabbages, carrots, potatoes and even the errant brisket tossed from the floats. In 2006, a crew of three siblings who ride annually got creative and figured that certain ingredients for a traditional cabbage dinner were missing and threw sticks of butter.

Burke explains, “We started out throwing green and silver doubloons and beads, but people started looking for things more Irish and the cabbage kind of evolved into the signature throw. We actually used to throw them, but the city forced us to start handing them out for fear of injuries.”

Billy Arnold, President of the Algiers Irish Rebels a sub-Krewe that marches in the parade further details, “Throwing cabbages has been going on since I was a kid riding in the parade. Our Krewe, which is around 300 people, tossed over 870 sacks of cabbages last year. That’s almost 44,000 pounds of cabbage for us alone.”

In the city, it has become a tradition to cook up all that cabbage in the evening after the parade.

As the parade winds through the heart of the Irish Channel, it passes the corner of Third and Magazine where just down the street one of the city’s most madcap block parties envelops Parasol’s Bar and the surrounding neighborhood in a mass of celebratory green.

Opened in 1952, the unassuming Parasol’s Bar belies the fact that it beats the soul of the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. The street party originated in the mid-1960’s with the original owner Louis Passhour and a few friends getting together to enjoy the day. Over time it has morphed into the destination for revelers. The current owner of the bar, Jeffrey Carreras states, “Its just gotten bigger and bigger. It’s easily a couple of thousand people in the few blocks surrounding the bar, enough people to consume at least 30 kegs. We even have about ten to twelve guys from the New York Port Authority who fly down to celebrate every year. They come in and march in formation playing their bagpipes. It’s truly great. The only year they’ve missed in recent history was the St. Patrick’s Day after 9/11.”

The parade wasn’t even stopped for the St. Patrick’s Day after Katrina. According to Burke, “It was especially important for us to get together after the storm in 2005. People were ready and needed to parade. That year was one of our biggest years for participation. It was a tremendous turnout.”

There is also a serious side to all of the day’s events. The parade starts with a formal mass at the historic St. Alphonsus Church, and over the year’s they have expanded their activities to include fundraisers for several charities, including the St. Michael’s Special School. Burke adds, “It’s a privilege for us. We’ve helped raise thousands of dollars for this school and their 2-300 children who are, how should I say it, just special.” ♦

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Hizzoner https://irishamerica.com/2007/04/hizzoner/ https://irishamerica.com/2007/04/hizzoner/#respond Sun, 01 Apr 2007 09:26:03 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=10827 Read more..]]> Mayor Richard J. Daley is back among us – live on the Chicago stage

It’s him. The legendary Mayor Richard J. Daley, in the opening scene, kneeling to take morning communion as the priest says with a slight Irish accent, “The Lard be with you.”

Daley, his hair slicked back, his jowls motionless, solemnly in responds in Bridgeportese along with his minions standing behind him: “An also which-oo.’”

The national press is flocking to the big downtown musical production of the Broadway-bound Pirate Queen, but the surprise hit Hizzoner about more recent Irish-American history keeps getting its run extended at the small Prop Theater on Chicago’s northwest side.

Neil Giuntoli, an actor and writer who appeared in The Shawshank Redemption, Memphis Belle, Seinfeld, Ally McBeal, and CSI among other movies and television shows “channels” – that’s the only word for it — the late mayor to the point that the audience really believes he is back standing among them, ordering police to “shoot to kill” arsonists after Martin Luther King’s assassination; vowing not to let hippies disrupt the ‘68 Democratic convention. Sun-Times Theater critic Hedy Weiss and columnist Mike Royko’s widow Judy both used the word “channeling” after seeing the play.

Giuntoli is a product of Chicago and a great-nephew of Mayor wAnton Cermak, a Bohemian-American political genius who assembled the machine of ethnic voters that allowed Daley to spend 21 years in power. After only two years in office, Cermak was killed by a bullet meant for Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the two rode in a car together in Miami in 1933. (On Feb. 28, Daley’s son Richard M. will in all likliehood be re-elected to a term that will see him eclipse his father’s 21 years in office.)

But a play about Cermak? Who’d come to see it? Instead, Giuntoli wrote about the mayor he grew up with. And while he lays bare all Daley’s faults, it’s clear he has a reverence for the autocrat who never moved out of his modest bungalow and who clearly loved HIS city.

He appears on the verge of tears as his aides present with a model of the John Hancock Building, which would precede the Sears Tower as the city’s tallest.

Beaming and choking on his words, Daley says this is the kind of world-class development he wants to put Chicago on the map.

“Not bad for a cupla Irish kids from Bridgeport, eh?” he chuckles to his aide Matt Danaher. They all smile as the lights fade and he says, “Yeah, I can feel it: 1968 is going to be a great year for Chicago!”

Daley offers unapologetic deathbed defenses of his handling of the riots. He appears offended when a young theology student named Jesse Jackson balks at what he considers his generous offer of a job as a toll collector on the Chicago Skyway.

Danaher and Daley’s city council floor leader Ald. Tom Keane (Disclosure: Keane was my great-uncle. Actor Whit Spurgeon does a fair job portraying Uncle Tom though it’s not quite channeling) get indicted in federal corruption probes but Daley is never implicated in any schemes.

In interviews over pints after the play at Chief O’Neill’s Pub just across the street from the Prop, and at the Abbey Pub a few doors down, Giuntoli confesses to a real affection for Daley that comes through in the play.

He read the best books written about Daley, including Royko’s “Boss.” And he used creative license to write the dialogue as it probably happened between Daley, Keane, Danaher and others behind closed doors.

If Irish-Americans are looking for a good play from Chicago to go national, this is the one. ♦

 

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Irish Eye on Hollywood https://irishamerica.com/2007/04/irish-eye-on-hollywood-20/ https://irishamerica.com/2007/04/irish-eye-on-hollywood-20/#respond Sun, 01 Apr 2007 09:25:54 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=10832 Read more..]]> March marks the release of two big Cillian Murphy films. First there is the American release of the Irish Civil War drama The Wind that Shakes the Barley, which won major praise at the recent Sundance Film Festival.  Wind is easily one of the most highly anticipated Irish movies to come out in years.

March 16 is also the release date for Murphy’s Sunshine, a sci-fi thriller which also stars Troy Garrity, son of Irish-American activist-politician Tom Hayden (and Jane Fonda).

Recently, the Cork-born Murphy gave a revealing interview to Premiere magazine, in which he talked about all things Irish.

He noted, for example, that Wind’s acclaimed director Ken Loach does not reveal his scripts to his actors.  So, Murphy was asked if it was risky to take this role, given that it might have delved into risky political territory.

“I tend to agree with Ken’s politics anyway. So I knew that I would be in the right hands,” said Murphy, who re-teamed with 28 Days Later director Danny Boyle to make Sunshine.

Murphy continued: “I didn’t even know [Wind] was going to be about the civil war. I just thought it was going to be the War of Independence. And then as we went along, it became clear that it was going to be about the split.”

Asked if he believed IRA violence was necessary, Murphy said: “I think that when a nation or a country is repressed, they will rise up. Someone said, ‘Sovereignty can’t be given. It has to be taken.’ I believe in that. But it was a lot simpler back then. There’s a very fine line now between a freedom fighter and a terrorist, and it’s very tricky. They [The Troubles] are part of our history. That conflict will always feed us, the Irish people, creatively, and there’s nothing you can do about that.

“You have this nation of poets, in a way, and then this centuries-old struggle. So it’s good combination for art, I guess, but not for the people that had to live through it.”

Murphy even revealed that a 17-year-old cousin of his was killed as part of the Irish conflict

“The two main political parties in Ireland trace their roots back to this split. And it’s never really been dealt with, that specific time. I mean, Michael Collins is the closest, but that was more about the myth of the man, where this is just about real people.”

Speaking of Sundance, another big Irish winner at Robert Redford’s filmfest was the small Irish film Once, starring The Frames singer Glen Hansard and Czech singer Marketa Irglova. Once, a musical love story set in Dublin, won the World Cinema Audience Award for drama.

After Sundance, Fox Searchlight acquired North American rights to Once, which director/writer John Carney (Bachelors Walk, On the Edge), shot in Dublin for about $100,000.

As for more seasoned Irish directors, Paddy Breathnach (best known for Man About Dog and I Went Down) will be releasing a new movie called Shrooms, about a group of American teens who trek to Ireland on a quest for magic mushrooms.

Pierce Brosnan, of course, has left James Bond far behind.  But that doesn’t mean he’s done playing dashing, debonair globetrotters. Brosnan recently confirmed that he will be making a sequel to his 1999 smash hit The Thomas Crown Affair.

Thomas Crown 2, for all intents and purposes, will happen. “Come hell or high water, we’re going to do it,” Brosnan recently said.

Now, this will be a little complicated. Brosnan’s first Thomas Crown (co-starring Rene Russo) was based on a 1968 Steve McQueen-Faye Dunaway movie.  The Thomas Crown follow-up will reportedly be based on the 1964 Peter Ustinov movie Topaki, which was about the theft of a precious knife from a Turkish museum.

So the new Thomas Crown movie – for now known as The Topaki Affair – is a sequel to a remake based on another movie.

“(Topaki) is much loved by people who love that genre of film, and it has a sentimental resonance to it. So we just took Thomas Crown off the shelf, kind of dusted it off, and took Topaki, which is much loved, and is also in the MGM library, so it didn’t cost us anything,” Brosnan was quoted as saying.

Until the Thomas Crown sequel begins shooting, Brosnan can be seen in the upcoming Butterfly on a Wheel, which he produced as well as stars in.

The thriller is about a husband and wife whose lives are shattered by a ruthless kidnapper, played by Brosnan, who apparently remains attracted to dark material. Look for Brosnan’s recent critically acclaimed dramatic turn in Seraphim Falls opposite fellow Irish thesp Liam Neeson when it becomes available on DVD.

The always versatile Belfast actor Ciaran Hinds made another movie earlier this year called Amazing Grace, which was about William Wilberforce’s efforts to end slavery and the slave trade in the British empire.

Next year, Hinds will expand into big time voice over work, lending his talents to the Tale of Despereaux, about a pack of mice who live in a castle and dream big. Kevin Kline, William H. Macy and Sigourney Weaver will also voice Tale of Despereaux.

New details about the much-anticipated Jodie Foster/Neil Jordan movie The Brave One are emerging. Due out in September, The Brave One is about a New York radio host who is attacked in Central Park, and must recover physically and emotionally.

“It started out as basically being the conventional, vigilante genre movie,” Foster was recently quoted as saying.  “But it became more of an existential movie: What’s the process of becoming another person that you wouldn’t even recognize?”

Jordan (The Crying Game, Michael Collins) has said: “It’s also a very American story.  It’s about violence.  It’s kind of an organized anarchy in a way, this country.”

Variety has reported that budding starlet Dakota Fanning will star alongside her sister Elle in Hurricane Mary. According to Variety, the film “tells the true story of an Irish-American mother, played by Patricia Clarkson, who fought a long battle for the rights of her handicapped yet gifted daughters to have a public school education.”

Rory Kennedy, meanwhile, has made another powerful documentary, Ghosts of Abu Ghraib. It’s an inside look at the abuses that occurred at the infamous Iraqi prison in 2003. Ghosts aired on HBO in February, but will air again and later be available on DVD.

This follows previous Kennedy studies of Appalachian poverty (American Hollow) and women struggling with addiction (Women of Substance). Rory is one of Robert F. Kennedy’s daughters.

Acclaimed director David Fincher is getting lots of attention for his current movie Zodiac.  His next project, starring Brad Pitt, is based on a story by great Irish-American author F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is about a 50-year-old man (played by Pitt) who begins to age backwards, which is to say, grows younger. Complications ensue when he falls in love with a character played by Cate Blanchett. Benjamin Button is not due out until next year.

On to TV, while NBC’s The Black Donnellys has been getting all of the Irish-American attention on TV, Eddie Cahill and the numerous CSI shows continue to roll along. Cahill is one of the stars of CSI: NY, and recently told USA Weekend about his Irish-American family, which prepared him well for his TV career.

“I always wanted to be a cop,” said Cahill. “A lot of guys I looked up to were cops, including my grandfather. It’s still something I think about.”

What’s one thing that would improve CSI: NY? Ironically, the show is not shot in Cahill’s native city. “The only thing that would be somewhat better is if we shot in New York,” said the 29 year old Cahill.

Finally, Donal Louge “son of Irish immigrants” is currently staring in the ABC show Knights of Prosperity, and has numerous films coming out in the coming year. But Logue may still best be known for the sitcom Grounded for Life. All four seasons of the show “featuring Logue and Megyn Price as Irish Catholic New Yorkers raising three kids” are now available on DVD. ♦

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The West’s Awake https://irishamerica.com/2007/04/the-wests-awake/ https://irishamerica.com/2007/04/the-wests-awake/#respond Sun, 01 Apr 2007 09:24:27 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=10882 Read more..]]> Bucking a century-old trend, the West of Ireland now appeals to Americans and U.S. companies to come live, work and set up businesses there.

Reversing a century-old trend of emigration from the West of Ireland to the U.S., the Western Development Commission (WDC), the state body charged with promoting the economic and social development of the Western Region, is spreading its Look West message to the U.S., and highlighting the advantages of its successful economy and the great quality of life.

Speaking to Irish America, Gillian Buckley, WDC’s CEO, said, “The Western Region is a great place to live, work, visit and do business. The success of the Irish economy has greatly benefited the West. In fact I’d go so far as to say that the region has been transformed. There is a dramatic change from the West of Ireland that many previous generations were forced to leave due to poor economic circumstances. It is now a modern, progressive society with an economy that offers a great quality of life but has retained its sense of community and neighborliness.”

Buckley added, “Our work includes promoting the West, as a great place to live, work and do business. We do this pri- marily through our Look West campaign and by working in partnership with other state agencies and the private sector to communicate the message that the West is very much open for business. The Look West website  has been very successful in drawing attention to the benefits of life in the West, and almost 150,000 people have accessed the site since its launch in 2005.

The West of Ireland is a pro-enterprise environment, with low levels of corporation tax and high levels of productivity. Within the region there are already several leading world and U.S. companies operating very successfully in sectors including medical devices, financial services, life sciences and software development. These include Hewlett Packard, Boston Scientific, Abbott, Baxter, MBNA, and Pramerica.

“As well as the region being attractive from an economic and taxation perspective, employers have been rewarded with a highly-educated work force and there is significant demand from young educated people to work in the region. Our research shows that 65 percent of those who have registered a desire to relocate are under 35, with 77 percent of them having a third or fourth level qualification,” stated Buckley. People are attracted to the better quality of life which the area offers. For many the move is a positive career choice, with the majority of respondents already working in leading industries including financial services, medical devices and ICT. There is a synergy between the needs of U.S. companies wishing to expand overseas and the desire among educated young people to work in the West.

In the last four years the West experienced an increase in population for the first time since the famine, with an increase of 40,000 people from inward migration to the region.

Americans have shown a clear interest in the Look West message, and thousands of them spoke to the WDC about the move at the Fás Jobs Ireland event in New York in 2006.

The West enjoys a clean environment, wonderful scenery, a great range of sporting and leisure activities, and better value for money housing than in other parts of Ireland. It is also a great place to raise a family, with more family time, smaller class sizes and a greater sense of security and community.

It is a vibrant, exciting place to live and work, with bustling gateway cities, thriving towns, regenerated rural areas and continuing infrastructural improvements in roads, airports and telecommunications.

Buckley concluded, “The West of Ireland has a lot to offer to U.S. based companies whose expansion plans will depend in part on the availability of a well educated work force and who wish to operate in an attractive business environment.”

For more information on the West of Ireland Development Commission check out the following websites: http://www.wdc.ie and www.lookwest.ie ♦

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Those We Lost https://irishamerica.com/2007/04/those-we-lost-12/ https://irishamerica.com/2007/04/those-we-lost-12/#comments Sun, 01 Apr 2007 09:23:43 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=10885 Read more..]]> A tribute to some of the fine Irish-Americans who touched our  lives

Of the thousands of men and women who have given their lives in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the deaths of three young Irish-Americans from the New York area brought home the terrible price of war. The funeral of Captain John F. McKenna took place on August 25 at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Brooklyn. McKenna was born in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn and went to Bishop Ford Catholic High School. In 1998, he joined the Marine Corps, continuing a family tradition that included his grandfather and uncle, who died in WWII. John was killed alongside fellow Irish-American Lance Corporal Michael D. Glover, 28, in Fallujah, Iraq on August 15. Lance Corporal Glover, from Rockaway, New York, was a nephew of former FDNY Chief Pete Hayden’s wife Rita. Sergeant James J. Regan, 26, of Manhasset, New York, died February 9, 2007, in northern Iraq of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle while he was on combat patrol. Regan excelled in lacrosse at Chaminade High School and at Duke University before he joined the U.S. Army Rangers. At a service on February 16, he was remembered by his parents, sisters, fiancée and teammates, as the ultimate team man, for his undertakings on and off the field. “You couldn’t ask for a better person” said Jack Moran, who coached Regan in high school. Regan was the third Chaminade High School grad to die in Iraq and the second Duke athlete from Long Island to die there. Marine Lieutenant Matthew Lynch, 25, of Jericho, was killed by a roadside bomb on October 30, 2004. The total number of combat deaths in the U.S. armed forces as of February, 2007, is 3,150.

 

Johnny Gibson

John Anthony “Johnny” Gibson, a former world-record holder in the 400-meter hurdles, died in January, 2007. He was 101. Gibson, who was born in Greenwich Village, New York, moved to New Jersey when he was 6 months old. He was 5 when his father died. He attended Bloomfield High School (N.J.) and then Fordham University at night, working days as a messenger on Wall Street, and training whenever he found the time, using park benches as hurdles. In 1927, Gibson won the college 400-meter hurdles in the Penn Relays in 55.2 seconds, beating Lord David Burghley of Britain. After the race, some officials tried to have Gibson disqualified contending that he was ineligible because he was a night student at Fordham. The matter was dropped when Burghley said that Gibson won fairly and he would not accept the first-place medal no matter what they ruled. That same year in London, Burghley set a world record of 54.2 seconds. Gibson broke Burghley’s record and set a new world record of 52.6 at the national championships in Lincoln, Nebraska on the same day. After coaching Fordham’s freshman track team in the mid-1930’s, Gibson moved on to Seton Hall where he coached from 1946 until he retired in 1972. His best athletes included Andy Stanfield, a sprinter who won two Olympic gold medals. Gibson, himself, narrowly missed qualifying for the final of the 400-meter hurdles at the 1928 Olympics, after which the demands of work forced him to quit racing. He is survived by two sons, three daughters, a sister, 19 grandchildren, 46 great-grandchildren, and five great-great-grandchildren. His wife of 67 years, the former Dorothy Croughan, died in 1997.

 

Peter Boyle

Everybody Loves Raymond star Peter Boyle, died on December 12, 2006. He was 71. The versatile actor, who played Raymond’s dad, Frank Barone, on the long-running comedy series, had been suffering from multiple myeloma and heart disease.  Boyle, whose father, Peter Sr., was a TV personality in Philadelphia, was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania, on October 18, 1935 to a staunchly Irish Catholic family. Before becoming an actor Boyle spent three years with the Christian Brothers during the 1950s. “I prayed so hard I had calluses on my knees,” he said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. Boyle made his mark in such unforgettable films as Taxi Driver, The Candidate and Young Frankenstein. He also appeared in NYPD Blue and won an Emmy for a guest appearance on The X-Files. But he will be best remembered for the cantankerous patriarch he played on Everybody Loves Raymond, for which he received seven Emmy nominations. Ray Romano said, “The fact that he could play a convincing curmudgeon on the show, but in reality be such a compassionate and thoughtful person, is a true testament to his talent…I feel very lucky to have known and shared great experiences with Peter, and I will miss him forever.” A devoted family man, Boyle is survived by his wife Lorraine Alterman, and two daughters, Lucy and Amy.

 

Dennis Duggan

Dennis Duggan, one of the most beloved and respected members of the “Mick clique,” a generation of New York City pavement-pounding Irish journalists, passed away on April 20, 2006. He was 78. He died in St. Vincent’s Hospital after a long illness. Duggan’s parents, Irish immigrants, Michael and Anne, settled in Detroit before their son came East and landed a $42-a-week copyboy job at The Daily Mirror. After stints at The New York Times and the Daily News, Duggan joined Newsday in 1967, where since 1985 he penned the “About New York” column, which he used to report on the best and worst that the city had to offer. He wrote about the mighty and the modest, and was a strong defender of working people, particularly firefighters and cops. His last column, published Feb. 28, 2006, was about a man who lost his son on 9/11 who, like Duggan, had come to question the war in Iraq. “When I visited him at St. Vincent’s, he quoted Yeats and the McCourt brothers, and he joked about his own bad luck,” Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, told Newsday. “He left his visitors smiling.”

 

Barnard Hughes

Irish America lost one of its finest actors on July 11, 2006 when Barnard Hughes died in New York City, just six days before his 91st birthday. The Tony and Emmy-award-winning actor featured in a host of movies including Midnight Cowboy, The Lost Boys and The Cradle Will Rock, and more than 400 Broadway shows. But he is best remembered for his starring role in Da, the first Irish play to win a Tony Award. The play, by Hugh Leonard, which opened on Broadway in 1978, tells the story of a New York playwright who goes back to Ireland to bury his father and is visited by his ghost. The New York Times described Hughes’ portrayal of the father as “masterly in the role of a lifetime, working with every jewel in place.” Born in Bedford Hills, New York to Irish immigrant parents, Hughes made his Broadway debut in 1935 in Herself Mrs. Patrick Crowley. After serving in the U.S. Army in World War II, Hughes returned to acting. He received a Best Featured Actor Tony nomination for his 1973 performance as Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing, but would wait another five years for his career-defining role in Da. Hughes’ last Broadway appearance was in 1999 in Noel Coward’s Waiting in the Wings. Hughes is survived by his wife, Helen Stenborg, his son, Doug Hughes, an acclaimed director who won a Tony Award for his direction of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, a daughter Laura Hughes, and a grandson Samuel Hughes Rubin.

 

Thomas Manton

Tom Manton, a former New York City councilman and U.S. congressman who was chairman of the influential Queens Democratic organization for 20 years, passed away on July 22, 2006. He was 73. An old-school politician, who was a police officer and a Marine before becoming a lawyer, Representative Manton made sure his own people were looked after and that New York interests were kept high on the priority list. He was also a very proud Irishman who traced his family roots back to County Galway. Whenever Irish issues surfaced over the years, Manton, whose parents were Irish immigrants, was there in Congress, especially on Northern Ireland; he was a fearless advocate for Irish unity. At the White House St. Patrick’s Day celebrations a few years ago, he spoke to Niall O’Dowd, of the I.R.A. ceasefire, and Gerry Adams U.S. visit. “You know, I have spent a lifetime in politics,” he told O’Dowd, “and that was one of my greatest days. That we could do something like this for the country where my people came from was one of my proudest moments.”

 

Kenneth McCabe

Kenneth McCabe, a legend among crime fighters, died on February 19, 2006, after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 59. McCabe was a member of the New York Police Department for 18 years, and then for 20 years worked as an organized crime investigator for the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan. He spent years conducting surveillance of the mob, and his work provided the groundwork for dozens of successful prosecutions, including those of the late mob boss John Gotti and his brother Peter, that have left New York City’s Mafia families weakened to the point of extinction. Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame/Lewis Libby leak investigation, who worked with McCabe in Manhattan, was quoted in The New York Times, saying: “If you went to ask him a name of somebody involved in organized crime, not only did he know the person, but he might have arrested him once or twice, or been to his house.” McCabe’s professionalism and courteous manner won him the respect of colleagues and even the mobsters he arrested. Mob informant Michael (Mikey Scars) DiLeonardo paid tribute to McCabe during his testimony at John A. (Junior) Gotti’s federal kidnapping trial a couple of weeks after McCabe’s death. Asked to identify a surveillance shot, DiLeonardo guessed that it was probably taken by McCabe. “He was relentless,” DiLeonardo said. McCabe, who stood 6-feet, 6-inches, was reared in Park Slope, Brooklyn and attended Cathedral High School before playing power forward for Loyola College in Maryland. He is survived by his wife, Kathleen Moriarty, whom he married in 1968; three daughters, Kerry, Kristen and Kelly (a prosecutor in the office of the Brooklyn district attorney), a son Kenneth Jr., sisters Rosemary and Anne Marie, brothers John and James, and five grandchildren. ♦

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Book Corner https://irishamerica.com/2007/04/book-corner/ https://irishamerica.com/2007/04/book-corner/#respond Sun, 01 Apr 2007 09:22:46 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=10891 Read more..]]> Tom Deignan reviews the latest Irish and Irish-American books

 

Recommended: 

Nothing But an Unfinished Song: Bobby Sands, The Irish Hunger Striker Who Ignited a Generation

It’s been 25 years since Bobby Sands and his fellow Irish nationalists launched their hunger strikes in 1981, which resulted in Sands’s death after 66 days. That may seem like a long time ago, but as author Denis O’Hearn makes clear in his powerful new biography Nothing But an Unfinished Song, the hunger strikes are still with us today in the fragile peace process still unfolding in Northern Ireland. O’Hearn’s book, which is subtitled Bobby Sands, The Irish Hunger Striker Who Ignited a Generation, follows Sands from when he was first arrested in the early 1970s. In ’76, Sands and others went “on the blanket;” protesting their treatment as common criminals, they refused to wear uniforms and wore blankets instead, in an attempt to regain their previous status of political prisoners. Attempts to break the protest by brutalization of prisoners saw the escalation to the “dirty protest” of 1978 when repeated beatings during “slop-out” led to prisoners living in squalor by smearing excrement on the walls. Few knew such a gesture would escalate into a crisis for the likes of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, while captivating revolutionaries such as Fidel Castro and Nelson Mandela. (There had been an earlier hunger strike in the autumn of 1980, which had ended when the British government appeared to concede to prisoners’ demands. When that strike was over, the government reverted to its previous stance.) O’Hearn’s chronicle of Sands (who was quite a talented writer and musician) is powerful enough, but this book’s strength is that it offers a broader view of English and Irish politics. An Irish-American professor at Queen’s College in Belfast, O’Hearn argues that Sands’s eventual death was the start of a process which brought Irish nationalists into the mainstream of political debate about the future of Northern Ireland. True, some readers might like to read more about how Irish America was inspired and outraged by the hunger strikes, but there is plenty of compelling new material in this book to move almost any reader with an interest in Irish history and politics.

($16.95 / 448 pages / Nation Books)

Fiction:

Paula Spencer

After novels about grungy Irish blues bands and coming-of-age boys, Roddy Doyle surprised readers with his 1996 bestseller The Woman Who Walked into Doors, about a woman trapped in an abusive marriage. In his latest novel, Doyle resurrects the main character from Doors. In fact, the book is named Paula Spencer and catches up with this character now that she is sober and a grandmother. Paula is trying to reconcile with her son, who is living with his own substance-abuse problems. Her oldest daughter seems a model of the Celtic Tiger generation “a successful businesswoman,” but under intense pressure. The newfound prosperity of Ireland, meanwhile, affects Paula’s own day-to-day life. Though she still works hard, she is also managing to make a little money for herself – a new experience, to say the least. Paula Spencer is a quieter novel than The Woman Who Walked into Doors, with simple things such as parent-teacher conferences providing the drama. Still, Doyle is to be credited for never taking the easy way out: Paula, for example, is still able to admit she craves booze, despite the trouble it caused her. Doyle also does not give Paula a clichéd miserable childhood to explain away her problems. Paula Spencer may not be made into a movie as The Commitments and The Snapper were. But Doyle can still dazzle readers.

($24.95 / 288 pages / Viking)

Mothers and Sons

Colm Toibin’s body of work is so impressive and wide ranging that he has transcended the title of mere “author.” Aside from brilliant fiction such as his recent biographical novel of Henry James (The Master) and The Blackwater Lightship, Toibin has also written or edited anthologies of Irish fiction, revisionist explorations of the Irish famine and a meditation on the state of Catholicism in Europe. Toibin returns to fiction with his latest book Mothers and Sons, but he is still trying something different. This time he has written a collection of short stories. The title outlines the main theme of Toibin’s stories, though there is great diversity of character, form, language, even length in this collection. In “The Use of Reason,” a lifelong criminal is nearly exposed by his own mother, while “A Priest in the Family” can be seen as a morality tale involving child abuse and Mother Ireland.

($24 / 288 pages / Scribner)

Biography:

Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride

Billy the Kid was famously slain by Sheriff Pat Garrett at the age of 21 in New Mexico and became an icon of the West. But legend has it that his parents were Irish immigrants from the slums of the Bowery in New York City. Michael Wallis (author of Route 66 and Pretty Boy) does his best to separate fact from fiction in Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride. Wallis, incidentally, is quite an interesting character: he hosts the PBS series American Roads and has done voice work for Hollywood films such as Cars.

($25.95 / 288 Pages / W.W. Norton)

Nonfiction:

Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland

Bryan Sykes is a professor of human genetics at Oxford University and also operates a company that traces human genetic backgrounds. Think of him as a CSI detective for history buffs. Sykes tackles the Irish genetic code in his new book Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland. He traces the genetic makeup of many royal families, even those distant descendants who live all around the world in the 21st century. Sykes (author of The Seven Daughters of Eve) conducted a ten-year DNA survey that involved 10,000 volunteers, seeking the genetic makeup of British Islanders and their offspring. Sykes also provides historical context and color, visiting Welsh caves and vividly describing burial rituals from thousands of years ago. A highlight for American readers is the chapter devoted to the genetics (and royal bloodlines) of the Irish in the U.S.

($26.95 / 320 Pages / W.W. Norton)

The Prendergast Letters: Correspondence from Famine-Era Ireland, 1840-1850

Some great novels about the experience of the Irish famine have come out in recent years, such as Kevin Baker’s Paradise Alley and, more recently, The Law of Dreams by Peter Behrens. However, The Prendergast Letters: Correspondence from Famine-Era Ireland, 1840-1850 (from the manuscript collections at Boston College’s John J. Burns Library) offers readers the actual words and experiences of a single family from Kerry. Not unlike The Diary of Anne Frank, the details of the letters seem mundane (weather reports, check cashing and gossip appear alongside comments of a more political nature), but because we know of the looming horror, these observations seem all the more striking. James and Elizabeth Prendergast raised six children in Milltown, County Kerry. These 48 letters were sent to children who left Ireland for Boston. “What comforts I anticipate at the thoughts of embracing each and everyone of you so long parted from me,” Elizabeth wrote in 1850. The Prendergast Letters also includes essays by historian Ruth-Ann Harris and genealogist Marie Daly, which provide valuable context.

($29.95 / 202 pages / University of Massachusetts Press)

The Wearing of the Green: A History of St. Patrick’s Day

Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, a paperback edition of The Wearing of the Green: A History of St. Patrick’s Day has been released. This book (first released in 2002) doesn’t quite live up to its far-reaching title. Both authors are academics, and it shows. Daryl Adair is a Lecturer in Sports Humanities in the Centre for Sports Studies at the University of Canberra, Australia, while Michael Cronin is Senior Research Fellow in the History Department at De Montfort University, Leicester, England. For a book about boisterous celebration, the tone of this book is extremely analytical. Still, it does offer some useful facts about how St. Patrick’s Day has developed into a global holiday, celebrated in Ireland, America, Australia, Canada and Britain.

($19.95 / 328 pages / Routledge)

In Search of Ireland’s Heroes

Carmel McCaffrey reached a wide audience writing the companion book to the PBS special In Search of Ancient Ireland. Now comes a follow-up, In Search of Ireland’s Heroes. This is a broad, chronological overview of the past 10 centuries or so. Much of this might seem familiar to some readers, but for those looking to brush up on the basics of Irish history, this is as good a general history as any. The recurring theme of this book is Irish conflict with England, which has defined the Irish experience going back to the 12th century. McCaffrey is to be credited for lively narrative writing, while offering insightful portraits of towering historical figures such as King Dermot MacMurrough, Oliver Cromwell, Charles Stewart Parnell and, more recently, Pearse, De Valera and Collins. McCaffrey does not rely solely upon previously published summaries, but instead gives readers plenty of material drawn directly from letters, political records and other documents from the era.

($26.95 / 290 pages / Ivan R. Dee)

Memoir

A Great Feast of Light

John Doyle’s excellent memoir A Great Feast of Light combines recent history with coming-of- age angst and ultimately captures how Ireland was transformed when TV became more widespread in the early 1960s. Doyle’s portrait of everyday life in Nenagh, Tipperary alone is vivid. He skillfully expands his narrative outward, exploring sex, poverty, civil rights and more. All of these topics are seen through the prism of television, how it depicted, reflected and ultimately changed Ireland and the world. The “boob tube,” in Doyle’s mind, delivered subtly subversive messages to Irish audiences, changing a culture stubbornly clinging (Doyle believes) to the past. Who would have believed Gunsmoke, Monty Python and The Man From UNCLE could do such a thing? But if you don’t believe it, read A Great Feast of Light.

($15.95 / 321 pages / Carroll & Graf)

I Never Knew That About Ireland

I Never Knew That About Ireland is a great St. Patrick’s Day gift book. Flipping through it offers up a bounty of trivia, facts and figures about Ireland, its landscape and its most famous figures. Author Christopher Winn is a former question writer for the TV hit The Weakest Link, so he knows his way around trivia.

($24.95 / 320 pages / Thomas Dunne) ♦

 

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New York City Redux https://irishamerica.com/2007/04/new-york-city-redux/ https://irishamerica.com/2007/04/new-york-city-redux/#respond Sun, 01 Apr 2007 09:21:35 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=10898 Read more..]]> Music Columnist Ian Worpole chronicles his return to the Big Apple

Having spent a rowdy ten years in a cheap loft in Tribeca, New York City (Cheap! It wasn’t quite yet an oxymoron twenty years ago), with two small children and an irate landlord, it was time to move north to Woodstock, a quaint hamlet known for its arts colony and a certain concert that took place in 1964.

We had, in fact, missed the glory days, when Bob Dylan holed up with The Band and produced The Basement Tapes and three or four of the greatest albums ever recorded, and Van the Man [Morrison] ambled irritably down the street, along with John Martyn, Paul Butterfield, Nico, well, you get the picture. But it was still pretty easy living, and at the local Tinker Street Café, Rick Danko of The Band would still show up, sometimes with Garth Hudson and Levon Helm sitting in, and we couldn’t believe our luck.

Rick passed away a few years ago, but Levon still holds the fort with regular “Midnight Ramble” concerts at his house/studio that attract the likes of Emmylou Harris and Elvis Costello and whoever else is in town.

So there was, and is, plenty of good music to be had out in what can only be described as the country. Just a couple of hours away by car, The Iron Horse and Calvin Theatre in Northampton are great venues, hosting Richard Thompson, Paul Brady, Norah Jones in her disguise as a member of The Willies, and even closer to home, the Egg in Albany, is another great spot to see performers of the caliber of Nanci Griffith and all manner of touring Irish bands. But my daughters grew up. The cats, dogs, guinea pigs and various reptiles came and mostly went, and with the empty nest syndrome creeping up on me, New York City once again beckoned. This time, a small apartment on 94th Street of a size that would fit into my Tribeca kitchen, at a mere four times the price. So after hauling mattresses, pots, pans and a toothbrush up six flights of stairs, it was time to check out what had lured me back – the music scene.

I’d received an invite from the folks at Compass Records to a multi-band concert celebrating Folklore Productions’ 50th year in business, so I ambled, albeit a little stiffly, down to the Metropolitan Room on W. 22nd St., and happened upon a night of sparkling talent, which, along with a few pints of Guinness, banished the mattress hauling to a distant memory.

As I took my seat The Battlefield Band, was having a blast on stage. This band, with the bagpipes as its signature sound, is to Scottish traditional music as John Mayall is to the blues. After 20 years of nurturing the best Scottish players – John McCusker and Karine Polwart amongst others – and with Alan Reid, the sole founding member remaining, the band is still a driving force whose latest album, The Road of Tears, is a thematic rumination on emigration and displacement.

With pipes echoing, blues man Eric Bibb was up next, and as he and pals The Campbell Brothers launched into a searing set that had the entire audience literally jumping in place (I WANT YOU TO JUMP FOR JOY!!! and we did). I patted myself on the back – it was great to be back. After we’d gathered our breath, Dervish took the stage, and my joy was complete. Cathy Jordan is the consummate front-woman. An impish figure with a Sligo lilt and a driving bodhrán style, Jordan holds the audience rapt with her introductions to tunes and songs, both traditional and contemporary. A current favorite is her rendition of Dylan’s “Boots of Spanish Leather” which, in fact, she debuted in 2001 at a 60th birthday party held in Dylan’s honor in Dublin . With the distinctive sounds of mandola and bouzouki in tandem, whistles, flutes, a fiddle and concertina that create a true wall of sound, Dervish should wow the viewers of 2007’s Eurovision Song Contest, for indeed they have been chosen to represent Ireland in this venerable annual institution. Good luck in Helsinki, Dervish!

The last act of the evening was a young cajun band, the Pine Leaf Boys, a raucous quintet fronted by two virtuoso multi-instrumentalists, Wilson Savoy (fiddle, concertina, piano, vocals) and Cedric Watson (the same). All smiles and enthusiasm, one would never have guessed, as I found out later, their trip from Louisiana by van had been fraught with difficulties, culminating in a NYC parking ticket, which, at my last count, runs about $115. Okay, so it’s not quite perfect here but don’t be put off, guys, you were sensational, and we want you back!

Sometime around midnight, the night’s music ringing in my ears, I hop a cab over to Avenue B, to a bar called Mona’s (such is its self-assuredness there isn’t even a hint of a sign outside). Now remember, this is Monday night – up in dear old Woodstock everyone is long tucked away in their beds – but Mona’s is hopping, some of Dervish are here, a couple of Lúnasa guys and the regular session players are whooping it up in the back; the night seems barely begun. I manage to hang in there until about three a.m., wave farewell to some pals hunched over their instruments and head up Second Avenue to my new home. At seven a.m. the sunshine and sirens come blasting through the curtainless windows; my head pounding, I ponder the world as it appears after four hours’ sleep. Nothing a cup of tea won’t fix – boy, its good to be back.

For more information on Folklore Productions, which is dedicated to promoting and nurturing folk and blues music, and whose artists include John Renbourn, Lúnasa, Flook, Dervish, Martin Hayes, Alison Brown, Doc Watson, to name a few, check out (www.folkloreproductions.com♦

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