April May 2008 Issue – Irish America https://irishamerica.com Irish America Magazine Sat, 20 Jul 2019 03:40:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.10 82361074 Irish American of the Year: Thomas Moran https://irishamerica.com/2008/04/irish-american-of-the-year-thomas-moran/ https://irishamerica.com/2008/04/irish-american-of-the-year-thomas-moran/#respond Tue, 01 Apr 2008 12:00:53 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=8954 Read more..]]> The name Moran is a derivative of the Irish word mór meaning big. Tom Moran, our somewhat reluctant Irish American of the Year (I suspect he agreed to accept the honor in the hopes that it would draw attention to Concern Worldwide), is big by name and big by nature. He looks like a line backer – the kind of guy you would want in your first line of defense. And for many people, especially in Africa, he is just that – the smiling, red-haired white guy who comes to visit and goes away leaving them better off.

Tom, who has achieved great success as a businessman – he’s chairman, president and CEO of the insurance giant Mutual of America – is also chairman of Concern Worldwide U.S., the Irish-born relief organization that operates in 30 of the poorest countries in the world.
In addition to Concern, Tom has contributed to many humanitarian and community causes, and has used his quiet style of diplomacy to promote peace in Northern Ireland. He serves on a number of boards, including Aer Lingus, the North American Advisory Board of the Michael Smurfit Graduate School of Business at University College Dublin (UCD), the Taoiseach’s Economic Advisory Board, the American Cancer Society Foundation and the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.

Married to Joan, whose family, the Maloneys and Burkes have roots in counties Clare and Limerick, Tom was born on Staten Island, New  York in 1952, to an Italian-Irish-American mother and an Irish-American father. He has a brother Jack and a sister Bess. And is quick to point out that his Italian grandfather was a lover of all things Irish, especially Peggy O’Neill, his wife, Tom’s grandmother. He will tell you just as fast that it was Bill Flynn, the then chairman of Mutual of America, who introduced him to the notion that it was time for peace in Northern Ireland. Tom was on board in a heartbeat, mostly behind the scenes where he nudged, cajoled, and made friends on all sides – getting his point across with humor and persistence.

The quotes in the following pages say much about the high regard in which Tom Moran is held by his contemporaries. He himself shies away from the limelight. When he is the center of attention, he draws the focus to others – the life lessons he learned working alongside Benny the hot dog man at Nathan’s, or from the guys in the garage he met driving a cab during his college years. In his spare time, he still likes to drive – one of his several motorbikes.

He would much rather be out for a spin than be interviewed, but he was, as always, gracious when  I sat down with him recently.

Tell me about your early mentors.
Actually, it goes back to grammar school and not being able to speak until the first or second grade. The good nuns of the Daughters of Divine Charity on Staten Island worked with me and got me to speak, and put up with me the years that I couldn’t.  I owe them a great deal, they were terrific, and I still support them when I can.

Then  at 14, I began my working career with a job as a janitor at my high school. Many of the lessons I learned from the full-time janitors, Arty, Frank and Dominic, are still with me. All of them were ancient, I thought. I realize now that they probably hadn’t reach 50 years of age. But what I learned from each of them is that every job is deserving of respect. Dominic and I used to take turns mowing the football field, and at 14, I had a great deal of energy, yet I could never get the field mowed in the time that Dominic did, and he always looked like he was going so slow. But it was the fact that he understood the rhythm of the job and had respect for the job, that I still had to learn. I believe, to this day, that every job has a certain rhythm to it, and that every job is deserving of respect.

Following my janitorial experience, I worked as the French fries man at Nathan’s, a short-order cook at a dental factory and as a cemetery worker. All of these experiences reinforced what I had already learned at the age of 14.

At Nathan’s, I worked alongside Benny the hot dog man. In addition to being the very best at his trade, Benny knew how to make his job fun, singing out “A pound of bread, a pound of meat, and all the mustard you can eat.” The sense of pride and joy he had in his job made all of us enjoy our own jobs that much more.

Didn’t you also drive a cab?
It might have been while driving a taxi at two o’clock in the morning during my college years that I developed my passionate belief in the greatness of our country, and the power of the American Dream. I came to understand how hard people are willing to work under what, at times, can be extreme conditions, just because of the promise of a better life for their kids.

Everyone I met at the garage, while waiting for my cab to come in from the day shift, was hoping for something more from life, either for themselves or their children. And, it is only in the United States of America that those dreams can be realized.

When did you join Mutual?
I started at Mutual of America in 1975. I had a very important position at the time [smiles].Whenever a pension was sold, I’d paperclip anything that needed to be signed. My boss at the time was Juana Luna, and she’s still a dear friend of mine, still working at Mutual today. She always made me feel as if I was important to the company. And when there was a pile of contracts that had been paperclipped, I was sent to have them signed, by then president Bill Flynn. What was remarkable, and again another great lesson for me, was that Bill always took the time to ask me how I thought the company was doing. It made me feel as if I was important to the company and that he genuinely cared about what I had to say. In fact, he was probably using the time to sign the contracts, but he always had a way about him that each of us understood how important we were to the company. We also understood that if there was ever a time that we were in need, Bill would be there for us.

At the Concern dinner, Elie Wiesel said that while he has come across “humanity” in individuals, the first time he came across it in an entire organization was when he encountered Mutual of America.

Mutual of America is the only corporate board that Elie serves on. He sees us as a unique organization that genuinely cares about making a difference, and that there is, very much, a soul to Mutual of America. In my opinion, that soul was first created by the organizers of the company, and nurtured and developed by Bill Flynn in his years there. Hopefully now with my time, I also care deeply about the same issues, which are all involved with making the world a better place. And each and every one of our employees share in that commitment. One hundred percent of our employees participate in some kind of philanthropy, either through volunteering their time or making donations. We are a company that is as proud of what we do outside of the industry as we are with what we accomplish in the industry.

I once heard you say something like “Real strength does not come from how tall you stand or if you can stand at all.”
I’ve been a long supporter – since 1992 – of the National Center for Disability Services, now known as ABILITIES, and the Henry Viscardi School, which is a combined pre-school, grammar school, and high school for young people who have physical disabilities. Much like the disabled people I have met in other parts of the world, these are people who show great strength and dignity. I think our society has still not fully accepted the contribution that can be made by disabled persons, and the Viscardi school does a wonderful job of developing teaching techniques that will ultimately be put into the mainstream schools, and will benefit all of our society, not simply disabled children. These children are going to make great contributions, and have made great contributions, and will continue to do so if given the chance.

I also know that Mutual of America is a sponsor of public television.
We’re very influenced by our traditional client base, which is the not-for- profit sector, and that client base also cares about making a difference in the world. Public Broadcasting is the one opportunity where a voice is given to the really significant issues facing our country and our society, and it’s for that reason that Mutual of America has aligned itself with Public Broadcasting. Bill Moyers, we are his sole corporate underwriter and have been for more than a decade, and the relationship is one that we take a great deal of pride in. Not because we agree with everything Bill may say on a particular show at a particular time, but because we know that when he expresses an opinion it is thought-provoking and encourages people to engage in deeper discussion of that important issue. Similarly, we are the corporate underwriter for Religion and Ethics News Weekly, The Open Mind and Wide Angle; each of them in their own way promotes the idea that important issues deserve good and thorough discussion. We don’t all have to agree on every issue, but if we can engage in discussion of the issues we will be a better society for it.

This kind of “open discussion” philosophy is what you and Bill Flynn put into place when you became involved in the North of Ireland peace effort, and invited the leaders of different parties to speak in New York at the Mutual of America building.
For me, one of the great privileges of working at Mutual of America was to get to know and become friends and work with Bill Flynn.  And what is incredible about Bill is that anything that excites him, he shares. And I was lucky enough that he shared Northern Ireland with me. As a result of that, I developed great friendships across all divides in the North of Ireland, and those friendships hopefully led to my playing a supportive role with Bill in the good will that was needed to bring peace to the people in the North. But the peace process is, in my opinion, still in a very early stage, and it is now very much going to depend on the development of a viable economy. The children today grow up without the same reality of violence their parents had, but they still don’t have the reality of opportunity that’s needed for them to have a great future. And they deserve to have that, they’re great people on all sides.

So when did you first visit Ireland?
I first visited in 1970. I met a couple of guys at Doherty’s Bar and Grill on Staten Island and they invited me over. I had a great time. It was an exciting time with good friends, but the truth of it is my real passion for Ireland came after being able to go there with Bill Flynn and Bill Barry and seeing the great relationships they had already developed.

Your wife Joan also has Irish roots. Where did you two meet?
After working at Mutual for a year, I managed to get a two month leave of absence and traveled around Europe.  When I got back, I was told about a pretty Irish-American girl who worked on the other side of the office. It was 1976 and that girl was Joan. After dating for several years, I finally convinced her to marry me in 1983. She still works at the company and, today, is in charge of all of our technology. She’s my best friend and partner. We just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. When we first got married there was a question about our both working at Mutual. Bill Flynn finally agreed to it because, as he says, he wasn’t sure I’d be able to find another job.

How did you become involved with Concern Worldwide?
It’s a long story involving a late night with Father Aengus Finucane [co-founder] and Siobhan Walsh [U.S. Executive Director]. They invited me to get involved and from that point, I first became a donor and then I became more informed and more passionate about the work Concern was doing in the poorest countries in the world. I was then asked to go on the board. Initially I said I didn’t have the time, but I was convinced by John Scanlon [then chairman of the U.S. board], and as soon as I said I would, he had a massive heart attack and died. I then became Concern’s chairman of the board. It was pretty much by default, but it was the best thing that has happened to me. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Haiti, Rwanda, and the Congo. And each trip I’ve learned something new about the work of Concern and each trip I’ve been more impressed. With each trip my belief  is confirmed that every parent wants a better life for their child as their primary reason for existence.

From these trips and seeing such extreme poverty, do you come away with any sense of hope or are you just completely devastated by it?
I visited Niger, which is the poorest country in the world, and I saw people who are full of life and excitement, and dignity and deserving of respect, and optimism. And when you meet people like that, how can you be anything less than optimistic for them? And I’ve learned that in some of the poorest countries of the world there is incredible generosity, they will share whatever they have, and they share their spirit with you, and it’s such a powerful spirit they have. And I often think of the Irish surviving the Hunger and the powerful spirit they had. You see the same thing in Africa today. An incredible group of people, and instead of coming away depressed and despondent you come away filled with hope for the world, because this is the future of the world, and I have every confidence in their ability to overcome the adversities that they face.

The New York dinner (Dec. 5) was a record fundraiser for Concern.
This was the first year that we hit the threshold of one million dollars raised and it is because of all the people who genuinely care about Concern, and because of all of the staff under the leadership of Siobhan Walsh, and it’s because of the passion that Ed Kenney [Executive Vice President of External Affairs for Mutual of America] has for Concern and the work that he did to make sure that that room was filled beyond capacity. It was an exciting dinner. It was right that it should be the threshold dinner because we had as our honoree Elie Wiesel, who spoke about what it means to have “concern.” He spoke with the experience of a Holocaust survivor, but I think, most importantly, he spoke with the faith of a man who knows that hope is possible even in the worst of cases.

You and Elie Wiesel share something, in that neither of you like to be the center of attention, and he actually mentioned on that night that the only reason he was there was out of respect for you.
So now I should be punished for this! [Laughs].

I know that you very much prefer to stay behind the scenes.
It’s less that I would prefer to be behind the scenes and more that there are other people who are deserving of the attention. Whether it’s Concern – when you get exposed to the people of Concern you realize how insignificant your role actually is – or the peace process in Northern Ireland where my role was as a cheerleader for those that were interested in doing the right thing. The reality is that it’s the people whose lives are on the line that deserve the credit for things that have gotten done. It’s the courage and vision of a Gerry Adams. It’s the wisdom of a Rev. Ian Paisley, who after so many years realized that this was the place for him to be. It is all the people, David Ervine [Progressive Unionist Party leader] who always spoke so eloquently about the need for a better solution, and challenged not just Nationalists but Unionists and his own Loyalists to stretch themselves to see his vision of what the future could and should be.

I know that you had a great deal of respect for David Ervine.
One of the great losses, in my opinion, was the untimely death of David Ervine [Jan. 2007]. He died way too young, in his early fifties. He played such a great role. At his funeral there were 600 people in the church, 300 gathered downstairs where the pastor had set up speakers and another 3,000 lining the streets outside. And when you looked out at the church filled with friend and foe alike, you couldn’t help but be moved by the great influence that David had exercised as the leader of one of the smallest political parties on the island, but his voice was one of the loudest heard. His brother commented at the funeral that in death David had achieved what he strived for in life. And that was a reference to the fact that Gerry Adams was seated alongside representatives of the Ulster Unionist Party and the Progressive  Unionist Party, and it was the first time that Gerry had been in this part of Belfast and certainly the first time he had been at the church. It was an incredible experience. I consider one of the great riches of my life was having David for a friend. Today a foundation has been set up – the David Ervine Foundation – to promote education in East Belfast in the Loyalist areas so that young people will have opportunities other than violence to advance themselves.

You have also been involved on the education front in Ireland.
I had the privilege of chairing the Smurfit School of Business at University College, Dublin (UCD). It gave me a chance to meet an incredible group of people who, in my opinion, were responsible for the roar of the Celtic Tiger.

And just as education played such an indelible role in the development of the Irish economy, it will play the same role for the North of Ireland. And Queens University was just made a part of the Russell Group, which is the equivalent of an Ivy League school, a ranking largely attributed to the great reputation and the great quality provided and the research that is done  there. I’m convinced that Queens University will play a major part in the economic development of the North.

Can you tell me a little bit about your Irish ancestors?
I am of both Irish and Italian descent. On my father’s side my great-great-grandparents were married in Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, there’s not much record beyond the marriage. And according to my grandfather’s notes his grandfather left Ireland because he was on the run from the constabulary and ended up in Hume, England where my great-grandfather was born, and a year after that he came to the States. On my mother’s side my Italian grandfather came from just outside Salerno, Italy. His name was Arturo Quaranta, and he married Peggy O’Neill, whose family came from Kesh, County Fermanagh.

Did you learn a love of politics from your father?
My father is an absolute Democrat and is right now suffering with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, but he will argue politics with the best of them. I fully expect before this presidential election is over I will see him on Meet the Press. He’s quite an amazing man.

How do you see America’s role in the world?
As you travel around the world you realize what an incredible influence the United States has and the potential that we have to do great good in the most difficult of situations. The peace process in Northern Ireland was greatly supported by the government of the United States, which believed that peace was possible and made it clear that it would be supportive of any efforts for peace. In Sri Lanka we heard stories about the U.S. military that came immediately following the tsunami to rebuild schools. In Africa, in the poorest countries, what a great sense of pride it is to see the Concern workers taking the bags marked U.S. AID, and to know that the U.S. has supported efforts to keep children alive and to provide for a better existence and a better life. It’s awfully easy sometimes to see the negative sides of our world, but I think that those who have traveled and understood and heard from the people who suffer the most, recognize how powerful our country is for the good.

Thank you, Tom.

In the words of friends, colleagues, and admirers of Tom Moran:

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair: “Your contribution to peace in Northern Ireland has been exceptional. The affection and esteem in which you are held by political parties representing both traditions there, as well as the British and Irish governments, is a testament to your unstinting commitment and wise counsel over many years.”

Tom Arnold, CEO Concern Worldwide & Fr. Aengus Finucane, Honorary President, Concern Worldwide: “Tom’s commitment to help others is at the heart of his being. We have seen how much he cares for Concern and its work to help the poorest of the poor. No one more warmly encapsulates and lives the caring ‘people to people’ mantra as our dear friend Tom does in helping bridge the cruel divide between the greatly blessed in society and the neediest – at home and in remote regions of the world.” – Tom Arnold, CEO, Concern Worldwide & Fr. Aengus Finucane, Honorary President, Concern Worldwide

Gerry Adams, President, Sinn Féin: “Chomhgairdeas –

Congratulations to Tom on receiving this justly deserved Irish American of the Year award.

Tá aithne mhaith agam ar Tom agus tá dul chun cinn ollmhór déanta aige ar son an próseas síochana in Éirinn. 

I have known Tom Moran many years. His quiet, dedicated support for the Irish peace process contributed significantly to the progress and advances that have been made in recent years.

I want to thank him for that. I also want to commend and thank Tom for his exceptional work in Ireland, America and in the poor regions of the developing world, which has brought real change and hope to so many people’s lives.”

The Rt. Hon. Dr. Ian Paisley, MP MLA, First Minister: “We were delighted to hear that you have been honored as this year’s Irish American of the Year by Irish America magazine. You have earned this award with all your hard work, commitment, and dedication in helping us over the years. As our society continues with its transition we have found your advice and support invaluable. Congratulations on this well-earned achievement and we look forward to continuing our work with you in the future.”

The Rt. Hon. Shaun Woodward, MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland: “Tom Moran has played and continues to play a vital role in bringing peace and prosperity to the people of Northern Ireland. His work in North America to further joint cooperation has been as significant as it has been distinguished.”

Sir Hugh Orde, Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland: “Tom Moran’s support for effective policing in Northern Ireland and the Patten Report has been critical to helping generate support for and a greater understanding of policing in the United States. He is a good friend and I am delighted to note that he has been recognized. His contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process has been substantial.”

An Taoiseach Bernie Ahern: “Ireland is prosperous and at peace, thanks in part to the tireless effort an commitment of a few outstanding Irish Americans. Tom Moran is one of these. He is rightly known and honored for the role he has played in  Northern Ireland as a trusted and influential voice with republicans, unionists, and loyalists alike. I particularly value his advice and insight as a key member of our Ireland America Economic Advisory Board. But Tom’s reach and influence extend well beyond Ireland – particularly through his work with Concern in some of the world’s poorest countries. I am happy to have this opportunity to salute a great Irish American.” ♦

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The First Word: America’s Gung-ho Spirit https://irishamerica.com/2008/04/the-first-word-americas-gung-ho-spirit/ https://irishamerica.com/2008/04/the-first-word-americas-gung-ho-spirit/#respond Tue, 01 Apr 2008 11:59:28 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=8959 Read more..]]> Niall O’Dowd first introduced to me the idea that it was time for peace in Northern Ireland. I was living in San Francisco at the time and working for The Irishman (a newspaper Niall had founded). Frankly, I was doubtful. I had gone to the demonstrations outside the British Consulate during that terrible spring and summer of 1981. Bobby Sands, who had begun his hunger strike in March, died in May, and from then through September he was followed in death by nine others.

I really thought that there was so much pain and bitterness that people would never find a way forward.

Yet, when Niall sat down to draw up a prospectus for a new magazine in March 1985, he wrote “[Irish America] will have a powerful role to play in ensuring that Irish-American opinion on major issues, such as the North of Ireland, is put across in a reasoned, intelligently argued fashion. We expect that the magazine will have a crucial role to play in establishing and shaping the new Irish-American consciousness and that it will have a major impact in the U.S. and Ireland in terms of making that consciousness known.”

There are so many different elements to the peace process. As Tom Moran our Irish-American of the Year has said,  “the reality is that people whose lives are on the line deserve the credit for things that have gotten done.” But the Irish-American dimension has been a key element too. And in this issue we salute many of those involved in helping to lay the groundwork for the new power-sharing government Northern Ireland now enjoys. (You won’t find Niall O’Dowd’s name among them – nepotism prevents it – but he played his part.)

I have lived in America long enough now that I feel that I am of two countries – Ireland and America; they both come together nicely in that special place called Irish America – a place where I have witnessed great things. I’ve been privy not just to the protest marches but to the Irish-American Forum (Sept. 1992) where candidate Bill Clinton first promised a U.S. visa for Gerry Adams. I was at the Waldorf-Astoria to witness Adams’s first visit to New York (Feb. 1994), and at the White House Economic Conference (May 1995) which brought together leaders and community people from all of Ireland. I was there, too, in Derry and Belfast when President Clinton made his first visit to Northern Ireland (Nov. 1995). And throughout the peace process, I cannot count the number of times that I visited the offices of Mutual of America where Bill Flynn and Tom Moran hosted politicians and community leaders from all sides of the Northern divide.

More recently, and with the feeling that a long journey had finally come to an end and the promised land was within reach, I attended two events in New York City in honor of the first joint visit to the U.S. by Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness, Northern Ireland’s First Minister and Deputy First Minister. As I wondered at the force that had brought it about, I was reminded of an interview I did years ago with then newly elected president of Ireland Mary Robinson – the first politician, in my opinion, to truly understand the Irish diaspora and to “put a light in the window” for us. She talked about her year at Harvard – how she had been infused with the “gung-ho” spirit of Americans. It was that same gung-ho spirit that helped bring about the peace process – that, and the belief that peace was possible.

This is a country of great people –  it’s easy to forget that sometimes. But a look at  the wonderful profiles of those on this year’s Top 100 list is proof positive. America is the stuff that dreams are made of – out of grit and hard work and sometimes out of the belief that the impossible just takes a little longer.  And so, in this election year as the focus is more often on what’s wrong with America than what’s right, let us think of the caliber of the people who built this country, and of the American spirit and gung-ho attitude that can move mountains. It helped move 800 years of intransigence in Northern Ireland. It can fix whatever’s not right here at home.

Mortas Cine.

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Top Honors for Sir James Galway and Lady Jeanne https://irishamerica.com/2008/04/top-honors-for-sir-james-galway-and-lady-jeanne/ https://irishamerica.com/2008/04/top-honors-for-sir-james-galway-and-lady-jeanne/#respond Tue, 01 Apr 2008 11:58:30 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=8961 Read more..]]> Sir James Galway and Lady Jeanne Galway received Irish America’s “Artistic Achievement Award” at this year’s Top 100 Awards ceremony.
The presentation came at the end of the Galways’ six-week tour of the U.S. which began in February and was highlighted by performances with the San Antonio Symphony, the Buffalo Philharmonic, and a recital at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

The Belfast-born Sir James, nicknamed “the man with the golden flute,” is widely regarded as both a supreme interpreter of the classical flute repertoire and a consummate entertainer.  He has recorded more than 60 CDs and sold more than 30 million records. His wife, Lady Jeanne Galway, is one of the leading female flute soloists and a recording artist in her own right. The two often perform together, delighting audiences with a rare freshness unique to the music world.

On their most recent recording My Magic Flute (Sept. 2006), Sir James and Lady Jeanne, along with harpist Catrin Finch, transport listeners on a journey through the works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Sir James also delighted fans with The Essential James Galway (May, 2006) which featured selections ranging from Grieg’s Peer Gynt and Chaminade’s “Concertino for Flute and Piano” to “The Girl from Ipanema” and “Riverdance.”  Lady Jeanne’s chamber group Zephyr can be heard on Winds of Romance, which includes works from Haydn, Martinu and Weber.

As instructors Sir James and Lady Jeanne teach and inspire flute students around the world through flute master classes and the use of the interactive website TheGalwaynetwork.com.

The Galways are also known for their humanitarian efforts. They are patrons to the charity Future Talent headed by the Duchess of Kent, and their concert performances have included fundraising events for UNICEF, SOS, FARA, and Marie Curie Cancer Care.  Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Sir James and Lady Galway performed at a fundraiser to benefit the University of Mississippi. They also helped raise funds for the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts in Greenvale, New York.

In 2004, Sir James received the President’s Merit Award from the Recording Academy at the 8th Annual Grammy “Salute to Classical Music.” He has also been honored at the prestigious Classic Brits Awards held in London’s Royal Albert Hall, where he received the “Outstanding Contribution to Classical Music” award in recognition of his 30 years as one of the top classical musicians of our time.

In April, the Galways will perform with the Ulster Orchestra in Belfast and Dublin. They will return to tour the United States in May, and while here, Galway will receive the 2008 University Musical Society Distinguished Artist Award at the University of Michigan’s Ford Honors Program.

For more information about upcoming concerts visit the Galways website at www.thegalwaynetwork.com

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The High Kings are Stepping Out https://irishamerica.com/2008/04/the-high-kings-are-stepping-out/ https://irishamerica.com/2008/04/the-high-kings-are-stepping-out/#respond Tue, 01 Apr 2008 11:57:11 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=8965 Read more..]]> Celtic Woman took the world by storm when they debuted in 2004, topping the charts and touring to standing-room-only audiences. Now it’s the boys’ turn.

Meet the High Kings, a quartet of ultra-talented Irish musicians who hope to match the smashing success of their corporate sisters. The group was created last year by Celtic Woman’s producer Dave Kavanagh and composer/musical director David Downes, and a major rollout is already underway in the U.S., with the group’s maiden DVD scheduled for heavy PBS airplay during March, and a national tour to follow in April. (Their self-titled CD was released by EMI, Celtic Woman’s recording home, in February.)

The members of the High Kings – Darren Holden, Brian Dunphy, Martin Furey (a son of the famous Irish singer Finbarr) and Finbarr Clancy (a scion of the renowned Clancy Brothers) – bring a diverse array of musical styles to the table. But the group is going back to basics, as it aims to freshen up the classic Irish standards and introduce them to a new audience.

Holden, a Co. Kilkenny native well known to Americans, particularly Billy Joel fans, for his years playing the Piano Man in Joel’s stage show Movin’ Out both on Broadway and on national tour, was approached about participating in the group last year and said yes on the spot, even though he and his young family had made plans to move to New York full time so Holden could further pursue his career.

“The Wild Rover” is a long way from Joel classics such as “Big Shot,” but Holden was more than ready to take the leap, especially as he was starting to write his own songs that marked a return to his Irish roots.  The opportunity to be part of a group for the first time in his career was also too good to pass up.

“The producers said they were looking to put a new group together based on the Clancys and the Dubliners. They wanted to bring the old Irish songs back into the forefront, making them hip and cool with four young-ish guys who could sing and play and write,” said Holden.
“I could see right away that it wasn’t going to be cheesy, or be like an Irish Il Divo. All of us guys had known of each other, and when we went into rehearsals we clicked. We knew it was going to work.”

The group spent lots of time together in Ireland the latter half of last year getting to know each other’s styles. They also commenced recording their CD with Downes at the helm. The rollicking DVD was recorded in front of an audience in Dublin.

How have the High Kings made many of Ireland’s most beloved songs newly unique?

“The productions are bigger and more orchestrated,” says Holden. “Certain songs are just as they were, but we’ve re-energized and re-packaged them for a new audience hearing them for the first time.”

The High Kings come complete with a full backing band and a world champion Irish step dancer to boot. The show, Holden says, is incredibly energetic.

“We’ve got lots of audience participation. If you come to a High Kings show you better be ready to stand up and sing and have plenty of fun. We’re there to have a good time – not that we don’t take ourselves seriously, but it’s not about that at all. People are really going to love it.”
The legendary High Kings of Ireland, of course, ruled Ireland for many centuries. Today’s High Kings will also be content to dominate not just their native land, but the world at large.

“We were signed by EMI who did Celtic Woman, and they really wanted us,” Holden says.  “So that’s a great start. We know that we’re going to get out there and they are going to make sure we have lots of promotion behind us.

“In years to come,” he adds, “we want to be remembered as being the band that brought this back to the forefront of popular music both in

America and around the world. We want to go down in Irish history as the High Kings who brought it all back home.”

(The High Kings’ U.S. tour starts on April 17 at the Palace Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, with dates scheduled around the country until August. The DVD and CD are now on sale. For more, visit www.thehighkings.com)

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Irish Eye on Hollywood https://irishamerica.com/2008/04/irish-eye-on-hollywood-14/ https://irishamerica.com/2008/04/irish-eye-on-hollywood-14/#respond Tue, 01 Apr 2008 11:56:37 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=8968 Read more..]]> Saoirse Ronan (featured in our Top 100, page 44) didn’t take home an Academy Award at the big show on February 24, but the 13-year-old Hollywood star has a busy 2008 planned. Ronan was nominated as a best supporting actress Oscar for her role in Atonement.  Prior to the Oscars, Ronan was happy just to be going to the show, which was nearly canceled because of the prolonged writer’s strike.

“It will be really nice … to go to the big ceremony and get to sit at the fancy table and everything, that would be pretty cool,” she was quoted as saying.

This October, look for Ronan in a starring role alongside Bill Murray, Tim  Robbins and Martin Landau in City of Ember.  Based on a novel of the same name, the film will also feature a slew of Irish actors and actresses in smaller roles since it was shot in Belfast.

The film is set in a city of dazzling lights called Ember. As the film begins, Ember’s powerful generator is losing power, threatening to plunge the city into darkness. Ronan and her co-star Harry Treadway scour Ember in search of a way to preserve the city’s light. In the process, they reveal secrets which may expose the mystery of the city’s origins. All indications suggest that this will be a breakout starring role for Ronan. City of Ember director Gil Kenan has said: “I won the lottery with Saoirse Ronan. She’s about to take over the world. She’s amazing. I don’t know if any of you have seen Atonement yet, but she’s like mind-blowing. She fills the screen with light, which is exactly what she needs to do in every frame.”

Acting is sort of a family business for the Ronans. Saoirse’s father Paul has appeared in U.K. television shows such as Ballykissangel. Ronan will also appear in the highly anticipated 2009 release The Lovely Bones, based on the best selling Alice Sebold novel.

In keeping with the theme of young Irish talent, 18-year-old Liam Aiken (whose mother Moya was born in Ireland) has recently signed on to join the cast of a comedy-drama entitled Will.  The film will also star Lisa Kudrow and High School Musical cutie Vanessa Hudgens. Aiken (whose middle name is Padraic) has had a series of increasingly prominent roles in films such as Road to Perdition and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Will began shooting in January.

Now we’ll move on to the veterans of the Irish film scene. Tom Cruise’s next project Valkyrie, about an unsuccessful plot by German generals to murder Adolf Hitler towards the end of World War II, has already generated many headlines. This even though it is not due out until next year. Filming in Germany was temporarily halted because government officials consider Cruise’s much-discussed religion, Scientology, to be a cult. Lost amidst all the hoopla was the impressive cast which has signed on to appear in Valkyrie, including Belfast’s own Kenneth Branagh, and X-Men director, Bryan Singer.

Pierce Brosnan is having no problems finding work in his post-James Bond life. He has two movies coming out this year, with another slated for 2009.

The three films are, to say the least, diverse. They feature cold-blooded killers, Swedish pop tunes and white gorillas. In March, look for Brosnan in the thriller Married Life, about a man torn between a boring marriage and a passionate love affair.  Too ashamed to seek divorce, the husband turns to an assassin and tries to have his wife killed. Married Life also features Chris Cooper, Patricia Clarkson and Rachel McAdams.

In a slightly more fun film, look for Brosnan in the summer release Mama Mia! That’s right, Brosnan – along with Meryl Streep – will have a role in the film version of the musical comedy based on the sugary songs of Swedish supergroup Abba. The plot revolves around an isolated woman who is about to be married and is seeking the identity of her father. Somehow, this odd combination of story and song has captivated audiences all over the world.

Finally, in 2009, Brosnan will team up with Irish director Terry Loane for the film Vanilla Gorilla, about (you guessed it) an albino ape who learns sign language and becomes friends with a little girl.

Meryl Streep will bring her amazing versatility to two more upcoming films. First she will star with Irish actor Brían F. O’Byrne in the political thriller The International.  The film also stars Naomi Watts and Clive Owen, who plays an agent seeking to bring down a prestigious financial firm which has stooped to smuggling arms.

Next up for Streep will be the film version of Doubt, the highly acclaimed play by Irish-American John Patrick Shanley (who also wrote the film Moonstruck). Streep plays a nun who suspects a priest of sexually abusing a boy. Philip Seymour Hoffman takes over the role of the priest from Brían F. O’Byrne, who won rave reviews and a Tony award for playing the role on Broadway. The film, currently shooting in New York City, is slated for release next year.

O’Byrne, along with Albert Finney, appeared in the acclaimed crime drama Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke.  Released last fall, the film is worth picking up on DVD.

New York City was a crucial character in Irish-American actress Bridget Moynahan’s last film Noise, which should be out on DVD soon. Appearing alongside Tim Robbins, Moynahan stars in this film about a man (Robbins) driven insane by the constant noise in his Manhattan neighborhood. So crazed is Robbins’ character that he becomes a vigilante named “The Rectifier.” He goes out at night silencing the city by any means necessary, including taking a baseball bat to incessant car alarms.

Having recently worked with director Woody Allen (Cassandra’s Dream) as well as director Martin McDonagh and co-star Brendan Gleeson (In Bruges), Colin Farrell has a particularly Irish-American role in the upcoming Pride and Glory.  In the film, which also stars Ed Norton, Farrell is a member of a family of NYPD cops who are actually named Farrell. The Farrell brothers all take pride in their work – that is, until one of them begins uncovering a scandal which may implicate other members of the Farrell clan. Pride and Glory will be directed by Long Island Irish- American Gavin O’Connor.

Farrell is also slated to star in a film based on Tim Winton’s novel Dirt Music. Set in Western Australia, Dirt Music is about a disillusioned man who works as a fisherman illegally, trying to forget his past which is haunted by a terrible loss in a fatal accident. Dirt Music also stars Rachel Weisz. In a tragic twist, Heath Ledger was initially slated to take on Farrell’s role but eventually passed on the project. Ledger’s final film – The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus – which he was filming when he died, will be completed with Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell all stepping into the late actor’s character. The movie was nearly abandoned in the wake of Ledger’s death in January, but now a spokesperson for Jude Law has confirmed that “subject to final negotiations” he, Johnny and Colin will step into the role. The fantasy film, directed by Terry Gilliam, follows a traveling theater group who pass through a magical mirror into alternate dimensions – and the actors will play Heath’s character in each of the different  dimensions. Ledger’s last complete film, Batman sequel The Dark Knight, is to be released in July.

Ciarán Hinds (Irish America’s cover story, Feb./Mar. issue) is on Broadway in The Seafarer through the end of March, which is when Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day  opens in movie theaters. Hinds plays the love interest of Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand), a middle-aged London governess who finds herself unfairly dismissed from her job. An attempt to gain new employment catapults her into the glamorous world and dizzying social whirl of an American actress and singer, Delysia Lafosse. Hinds also made an appearance in There Will Be Blood, for which Daniel Day-Lewis on accepting a BAFTA award for the role, thanked Hinds in his remarks.

Finally, May 16 has been established for the release of the next entry in the Narnia series, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, with Liam Neeson as the voice of Aslan. The voice work of Peter Dinklage and Anna Popplewell will also be featured.

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Emotional Return to Belfast for Liam Neeson https://irishamerica.com/2008/04/emotional-return-to-belfast-for-liam-neeson/ https://irishamerica.com/2008/04/emotional-return-to-belfast-for-liam-neeson/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2008 11:55:34 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=8971 Read more..]]> New York-based movie star Liam Neeson flew home to Northern Ireland in January to take part in the final curtain call at Belfast’s historic Lyric Players Theatre on the banks of the River Lagan which is closing to make way for a $30 million redevelopment. Liam’s appearance on stage earned him a standing ovation from a delighted capacity crowd. Afterwards he went backstage to meet over forty young actors, aged between 7 and 12 years, who had taken part in the final production. These Protestant and Catholic children, many from very disadvantaged parts of the city, had performed side by side for over ten weeks, demonstrating the crucial role which arts can play in integrating young people outside of traditional community boundaries. Liam spent several hours answering questions, signing autographs and posing for photographs with his young fans.

Liam started his professional acting career at the Lyric Theatre in 1976, learning his craft there before going on to appear in dozens of blockbuster films. Liam has remained closely involved with the Lyric and has been instrumental in helping the theater to raise millions of dollars to secure its future in a landmark new venue.

“When I started at the Lyric it was a very dangerous time for Northern Ireland, and yet the theater never closed,” said Liam during his visit to Belfast. “There were at least two performances I can think of where there was a bomb scare and we had to wait out on the street dressed in costume, but then we came back in and resumed the show. This theater has been a beacon of light and hope throughout Northern Ireland’s darkest days and it has a vital role to play in Belfast’s cultural, social and economic regeneration. In the face of the deep divisions that have traditionally kept communities apart, the Lyric serves as a powerful unifying force, providing a safe and neutral space in which people from different backgrounds can enjoy shared experiences, develop creatively, and explore their rich cultural diversity.”

During his visit to Belfast, Liam hosted a dinner for major benefactors, including Irish businessman Dr Martin Naughton and his wife Carmel who have donated $2 million to the capital campaign. The Northern Ireland Assembly’s Culture Minister, Edwin Poots MLA (DUP) attended the dinner, as did Sinn Féin Councillor Alex Maskey, representing Belfast City Council. Fellow actor and Golden Globe nominee James Nesbitt also attended and joined Liam on stage at the Lyric.

The Lyric’s current venue was built in 1968 and has become extremely dilapidated. Actors and staff work in temporary trailers at the back of the theater building.  The new $30 million theater, designed by award-winning Irish architects O’Donnell & Tuomey, promises to transform Belfast’s cultural landscape. The designs include a new flexible studio space which will be used throughout the year to host education, outreach and training programs with a particular focus on increasing creative development opportunities for young people from disadvantaged areas. The Lyric has to raise a final $2 million before construction begins this spring.

To find out more about the new Lyric Theatre and its fundraising campaign, log on to www.supportthelyric.com.

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Oscar joy for Once and Day-Lewis https://irishamerica.com/2008/04/oscar-joy-for-once-and-day-lewis/ https://irishamerica.com/2008/04/oscar-joy-for-once-and-day-lewis/#respond Tue, 01 Apr 2008 11:55:33 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=8975 Read more..]]> It was a victorious night for the Irish independent movie Once, as its stars and songwriters Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova picked up an Oscar for best original song for “Falling Slowly” at the ceremony held at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles on February 24.  It was the first nomination and win for both, and Hansard could hardly believe what was happening as he accepted the famous statue.

“What are we doing here? This is mad,” said the 37-year-old Hansard, who is also the lead singer of the Irish band The Frames. “Thanks for taking this movie seriously!”

Just as 20-year-old Irglova was about to start her speech, the orchestra cut her off, and she left the stage with Hansard as the show went to commercial break. In one of the evening’s standout moments, when the telecast returned, host Jon Stewart brought Irglova back out to make her remarks and she took full advantage.

“This is such a big deal, not only for us, but for all other independent musicians and artists that spend most of their time struggling, and this, the fact that we’re standing here tonight, the fact that we’re able to hold this, it’s just to prove no matter how far out your dreams are, it’s possible,” said the Czech with the Irish brogue.

Ironically, the song almost didn’t make it into the running as the Academy conducted an investigation in January to verify that it was written for the movie, since  it had appeared on a Frames album and also on an album released by Hansard and Irglova.  After looking into the matter, the Academy was satisfied “Falling Slowly” met all criteria.

Once is a musical love story about two musicians, whose names we never learn, set in Dublin. Since the movie was made, Hansard and Irglova have become an item in real life.

“We shot on two Handycams. It took us three weeks to make. We made it for a hundred grand. We never thought we would come into a room like this and be in front of you people,” Hansard told the Oscar audience. Directed by John Carney, the small-budget film also won the World Cinema Audience Award at last year’s Sundance Festival.

As widely expected, Daniel Day-Lewis made a clean sweep of the major best actor awards for the year when he picked up an Academy Award for his portrayal of Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. Day-Lewis accepted his award from last year’s best actress winner, Helen Mirren, and the 50-year-old paid special tribute to his wife, grandfather, father and three sons. It is the second best actor Oscar for Day-Lewis, who won in 1990 for playing Christy Brown in the Jim Sheridan-directed My Left Foot.

The movie Atonement and its two Irish nominees did not fare so well. Thirteen-year-old Saoirse Ronan from Carlow lost out to Tilda Swinton as Best Supporting Actress, and Armagh’s Seamus McGarvey went down to Robert Elswit of There Will Be Blood for best cinematography. Irish-American Kevin O’Connell, who was nominated for the 20th time this year in the best sound category with colleagues Peter J Devlin from Belfast and Greg Russell for their work on Transformers, was the bridesmaid once again after the award went to The Bourne Ultimatum.

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The Greening of Silicon Valley https://irishamerica.com/2008/04/the-greening-of-silicon-valley/ https://irishamerica.com/2008/04/the-greening-of-silicon-valley/#respond Tue, 01 Apr 2008 11:54:52 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=8978 Read more..]]> Scan the upper ranks of some of Silicon Valley’s top technology powerhouses and you’ll find them strewn with Irish names like gorse on a Kerry hillside.  These executives have helped pick their companies up from the dot-com bust and already are developing the next phase of the Internet era, the socially connective technologies known as Web 2.0.  But even as they help to build this new wave of Silicon Valley prosperity, a circle of Irish-American leaders are busy planning another wave of innovation and prosperity – in Ireland.

As the Irish Technology Leadership Group (ITLG), the 17 members come together to ensure that the Celtic Tiger continues to grow and bring prosperity to the people of Ireland.  It’s the brainchild of John Hartnett, native of Limerick and Senior Vice President for Global Markets at Palm, Inc., a Silicon Valley tech company that designs mobile smartphones and handhelds.

From age 17, Hartnett worked for American technology companies based in Ireland (attending the University of Limerick at night), and he has continued to work for companies with Irish operations since moving to California in 1998.  Having seen both the rise of the Celtic Tiger and the technology boom and bust in Silicon Valley, it’s safe to say Hartnett has developed a long-term perspective on business.
And he knows that success can cause complacency.  “The biggest challenge for us as a country right now is dealing with success and understanding the pitfalls it can cause.”

A Warmer (Business) Climate
»The continued strength of the Celtic Tiger cannot be assumed. In last November’s U.S.-Ireland Forum in New York, Richard Medley, chairman of an investment management firm, warned the audience that continued high investment in Ireland is by no means assured.  The country still has a sunny investment climate, but it now has to compete with other economies that are also courting international firms.

These days, companies that want a new manufacturing plant see low wages in Central and Eastern Europe, and those that sell services know of India’s large, English-speaking workforce.

John Hartnett explains, “Ireland can’t compete head-on to win manufacturing” from some of these countries.  Instead, he suggests, it should move “up the food chain” – pursue knowledge-based, value-added activities like research and development (R&D), engineering, science, and technology. The ITLG wants agencies like the IDA (Industrial Development Agency) to attract the new tech companies expanding outside the U.S. – “winning that inward investment.”  Hartnett feels his group can do this by helping the agencies to understand the key criteria for attracting companies, to market Ireland more effectively, and to exhibit Ireland’s advantages.

“Ireland’s greatest asset is its people,” he says, “and winning success is selling that.”

In addition to technology leaders, the group includes two members who can bridge the worlds of business and government.  Dermot Tuohy directs the IDA’s West Coast operations and is responsible for implementing a knowledge-based strategy for the Irish economy, focusing on information technology, biotechnology, and the Internet; and Émer Deane promotes Ireland’s interests in the 13 Western states as a Consul General of Ireland.

According to Hartnett, Ireland is already showing encouraging signs of transitioning to a new, more advanced economy.  In recent years the IDA has attracted high-tech companies like Google, Palm, Intel, and Bell Labs.  “There’s engineering design and development going on there . . . It’s really a signal that Ireland can compete in the technology/knowledge race.”

But transitioning to that post-manufacturing “knowledge economy,” Hartnett feels, will require fostering more than just a favorable business climate.  It will take a conceptual shift.

The Technological Mind
»“Irish people have always been careful,” John Hartnett explains.  “It’s ‘Protect what you have’ . . . whereas here in Silicon Valley people go for it – they go for the big bet, and it doesn’t always win, but when it does win it makes a big difference.”  He has seen the confidence of businesspeople in Ireland rise over the last 10 years, but he feels it can rise even higher.

Here in California’s Silicon Valley, stories of young entrepreneurs are legendary.  Nearly unbelievable tales of youth, opportunity, and jaw-dropping success fuel the efforts of those looking to hatch the next runaway start-up.  And the stories are doubly inspiring because they’re true.

When I attended primary school in Cupertino in the early 1980s, everyone knew about two guys who started a company out of their garage and called it Apple Computer.  These days the ambitious admire the young man behind Facebook, who developed the popular social networking site while still a student at Harvard, and the founders of Google, who created the Internet search engine while at Stanford; that start-up is now worth $170 billion.

Hartnett wants to know, “Why can’t two guys walk out of Trinity College in Dublin and create the next Google or Facebook?”To create the right environment, Hartnett feels, technology needs to be a top priority in the educational system, in attracting investment, “and also within our fabric as a country.”

An All-Island Economy
»One of the ITLG’s members is Johnny Gilmore, COO of Sling Media, a Silicon Valley company that develops consumer digital media products.  Gilmore is a native of Northern Ireland and has worked in Dublin, England, Australia, and California.  Now, as he looks to Ireland, he sees a lot of good schools and a lot of strong talent – not in the North or the South, but in Ireland as a whole.

So the ITLG is also looking to the six northern counties, working with Invest Northern Ireland to drive high-tech growth and investment there. But it’s all part of the same effort.  Both governments know that the world sees Ireland as one, says Gilmore.  They are starting to work well together, he observes, “and it behooves them to.”

There will be challenges, he says, but “it’s all part of the process.”

I asked Gilmore whether increased trade and investment in the North and between North and South indirectly benefits peace and reconciliation.

“Absolutely – anything which keeps the economy of the island thriving is good for continued stability.” But Gilmore notes that the concepts of “North” and “South” just don’t exist among businesspeople here in the U.S.  “They only see Ireland as a whole.”  Indeed, Gilmore often refers to them together as “the island of Ireland.”

For Gilmore and the ITLG, it’s not about politics. “We know from our own personal experiences and contacts that there are exciting and attractive companies and investment opportunities all over the island.”

Of course, many in government are still discussing the peace process and working to ensure its completion – and rightly so. At the same time, others like the ITLG are proceeding as though it is, in fact, complete.

And perhaps that’s the best way to ensure that it’s so.

The Greening of NASDAQ
»The group plans to do more than foster the right climate within Ireland. They also want to help Irish companies doing business elsewhere.
John Hartnett points out that while Israel has 75 companies on America’s tech-heavy NASDAQ stock exchange, Ireland has only six or seven.
But what can a handful of Irish Americans in California do to help businesses 5,000 miles away?

“We can’t help 3,000 different companies,” Hartnett says, “but what we can do is help technology-based companies in Ireland . . . to be successful in the U.S.”  Particularly small companies, adds Gilmore, which don’t have access to or may not realize the opportunities here.
The group’s aid may include coaching, helping to develop business strategies, and even interesting the members’ own companies in symbiotic relationships like buying, licensing, or investing in the technologies of Irish start-ups.

“So,” Hartnett predicts, “if we can help those seven [Irish NASDAQ companies] become 15 and become 20, that can have a major impact.”

Together, Then Forward
»When Hartnett started the ITLG late last year, he wasn’t fully aware of all the other “success stories” around – Irish-Americans who have worked their way to the top of American companies, often with IDA assistance. But since then, Hartnett has been approached by many tech executives, whether first, second, or third-generation diaspora, “who reached out once they heard this is going on. And it’s not just Silicon Valley; also San Diego, Chicago, New York, Boston, Texas – just everywhere.”

“It’s been great to be able to join the dots,” Hartnett smiles.

The group wants to create a network where Irish technology leaders in the U.S. can connect.  Their first event is coming up in late March.  Together with Irish America, the ITLG will host the first annual awards dinner, and honor Craig Barrett, Chairman, Intel Corporation and Ireland’s Minister for Enterprise, Micheál Martin. It’s a chance to recognize top leaders of Irish heritage in the technology sector.

For Hartnett, it’s also a major opportunity to show off the West Coast.

“The West Coast is the center, not just of the U.S., but the center of the world when you talk about technology,” he beams.  “We plan to give the East Coast a run for their money.”

The group is also busy planning an event, slated for this summer, which would bring Irish companies over and put them together with local business technology veterans and venture capital “angels.”  They would get help with their business plans, their sales pitches, and potentially even funding.

Aside from Palm, Inc. and Sling Media, the group includes leaders from numerous other Silicon Valley companies with bases in Ireland, from Apple to Intel to Google.  The ITLG wants to ensure these companies are as competitive as possible in Ireland, to the benefit not only of themselves but the Emerald Isle, too.  Intel, for example, is one of the island’s largest employers, and Google, which already employs 1,500 people in Dublin, is looking to recruit 200 more.

Indeed, much of Ireland’s growth may still be ahead of it.  But forward-looking strategists like the ITLG know the Celtic Tiger is not invincible.  Hartnett and his group hope that their expertise, networking, planning, and hard work might help take Ireland – the whole island – into a new phase of investment and prosperity.

Call it the Celtic Tiger, 2.0.

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Please Treasure Our History https://irishamerica.com/2008/04/please-treasure-our-history/ https://irishamerica.com/2008/04/please-treasure-our-history/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2008 11:53:01 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=8981 Read more..]]> Many of you out there in the diaspora are in possession of treasures of our history which we here at home either carelessly lost or callously threw away into the footprints of the Celtic Tiger. That reality was hammered home to me an hour ago.

I was in my neighbor Jimmy’s house and his Limerick mother was there. Her eyes were glowing as she showed me an aerial photo of the long-thatched West Limerick cottage in which she was bred, born and raised, one of nineteen children altogether.

They were hard but happy times, she said, her fingers caressing the front wall and eaves of what had been home. She did not weep but she was deeply moved, and rightly so.

Their thatched cottage was later sold for about 300 Irish punts. Later it was converted into a bungalow.

Now it no longer exists at all. That aerial photo, taken in the late fifties or early sixties, is the only photo she has of her birthplace.

It came across the Atlantic to her in a small cache of treasures that belonged to a relative in New York whom she never met but had corresponded with for no less than 37 years! Her American relative had a fear of flying so never made it back home to Limerick and died some months ago.

Her family, finding the lengthy correspondence across the ocean, put the cache of mementos together and sensitively forwarded it back to Jimmy’s mother in Limerick. They were not to know that one of the items they sent back was a bone rosary that was a gift from Jimmy’s mother to her cousin nearly thirty years ago.

Now she sat before me with her eyes feasting on the black and white image of the cottage in which she was born. It was a special experience for me.

Yes, many of you out there in the diaspora possess family treasures we have allowed to slip away. When the good times came we threw away far too much, including too many elements of our histories.

Keep them safe, please, both for yourselves and those who will follow. And for us. More and more we will appreciate them.

I have personal experience. Six or seven years ago in the Bronx I met the oldest survivor of the generation before my father. All my grandparents had passed away before I was born.

This feisty old lady, since gone to God, was able to tell me about my father’s mother Bridgie (“She’d had a stroke. She was still out on the farm feeding calves even though one side was nearly totally paralyzed. She was as cross as a cat!”)

And many more items of my genetic cargo were related to me before a rich evening ended before a peat fire and beside a nearly emptied bottle of Irish whiskey. I learned a lot about myself that evening and was the better for it.

I think this situation exists because those who emigrated – to the U.S. especially – fundamentally believed they were making a one-way trip. I think they knew they would be lucky if they were able to afford a trip home in later years.

Hence the power and poignancy of the so-called “American wakes” in the hours before the hackneys brought emigrants  down to Cobh and the waiting ships. And surely that mindset enriched the later nostalgic memories of home, surely it enhanced the importance of the letters and photos and family news from Ireland.

If the “American letters” back home with vital dollars were important over here then, I’m now certain that the “Irish letters” to the ones far away in Boston and New York and Chicago were just as vital for family survival.

And I think we did not preserve our 50 percent of that cache of emigrant documents as well as you did on the other side.

Only last Halloween, for example, I wrote here about the execution in 1923 by the Free State of a young IRA man called Patrick Hennessy after he and his colleague Con McMahon were captured after attempting to blow up the railway lines at Ardsolus Railway Station in Clare. It was a minor engagement of our dreadful Civil War.

It would be long forgotten in Clare but for American resident and family member Ellen Murphy, who has donated the correspondence relating to the event, including Hennessy’s touching eve-of-execution letters, to the Clare County Museum. Because of those letters, good Irishmen are now known about, honored, remembered with sadness.

Any time I have visited the U.S. in recent years I’ve talked to older emigrants who possessed a crystal clarity about what they left, how they traveled, what they found when they passed through Ellis Island.

Memorable was the late Peg Pierce from Liscannor, who recalled that she danced so much during the voyage that her Clare feet blistered inside her shoes. Contrary to our common belief, she was dancing with joy at having escaped from a harsh and hungry economic background with, at best, a nearly enforced marriage in her late teens to a much older farmer.

Thereafter she would have a huge family and a corresponding workload. She did much better over on the other side. And she knew it. But she still missed home so very much down the years.

Back here at home, after decades of hardship and emigration, we threw out too many of the babies with the bath water when the better times came. Modern homes replaced the cottages, and the old photos and correspondences were too often devalued and lost.

We were – and are – in such a hurry to get where we are going that we wanted to forget the most of where we came from. The regrets are starting about now. And they will become sharper in the years ahead.
What did Aunt Alice look like before she went to Boston in ’22?

Did we really have a photo of an uncle who was a cowboy on the Oregon Trail cattle drives?

Was Thomas really a GI in World War II?

Was Colleen truly a beauty queen in Chicago in 1947? Have we any photos of her?

You in the diaspora have more proofs of our scattered histories than we have anymore. You treasured our past better than we did. For God’s sake (and ours) don’t lose it or throw it away like we did.

I wish ye all could have seen Jimmy’s mother’s glowing eyes.

Cormac MacConnell is a columnist for the Irish Voice newspaper where the above commentary previously appeared.

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The Chieftain of Endurance https://irishamerica.com/2008/04/the-chieftain-of-endurance/ https://irishamerica.com/2008/04/the-chieftain-of-endurance/#respond Tue, 01 Apr 2008 11:51:25 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=8988 Read more..]]> With St. Patrick’s season came the mighty Chieftains and their annual tour of the U.S., which began in Albuquerque in February and ended up at Carnegie Hall on March 17.  What to say about these titans? This year’s set of gigs, titled “Celtic-Scottish Connections,” marked 34 years of touring in this country alone; they have recorded 44 albums, many in collaboration with the cream of the world’s musicians, from Mongolian throat singers to Van Morrison to Lyle Lovett. They’ve won every honor and award imaginable and composed and performed major film scores. I caught up with founder, frontman, and principal composer Paddy Moloney by phone from his winter home in Florida shortly before the beginning of the tour. I had my  customary list of questions in front of me, but Paddy preempted me for forty glorious minutes by answering just about every single one before I could ask it; he knew my little home town back in England (“Ah yes, The Cliffs Pavilion, Southend-on-Sea!”) and after I mentioned I was in a band with the name Trim the Velvet that had to be changed for a particular reason, Paddy informed me that the first name he came up with for the Chieftains was The Quare Fellows. “It lasted about five minutes.”

Tell us about this year’s tour.
I’ve had the luck to work with many great Scottish players, particularly the young ones. Recently, I was the first non-Scot to be honored by the Scottish Traditional Music Association. At this stage of our career it’s payback time. We like to promote young bands and performers, so the opportunity to put a tour together utilizing just a few [great Scottish players] was too good to pass up, hence the “Celtic-Scottish” moniker. We’ll have different artists joining us at various stages of the tour; a wonderful, gorgeous singer, Alyth McCormack, she sings in Scots-Gallic, does a beautiful “Foggy Dew.” Maureen Fahy on fiddle and vocals, and of course a whole bunch of bagpipers. It’s about time we joined up with them, seeing as we gave them the bagpipes in the first place. We’ll also have two dancers from Canada, Jon and Nathan Pilatzke, they’ve been with us for a few years, also Cara Butler. And Triona Marshall of course, on harp, she is just a phenomenal player.

Is Triona pretty much becoming a full-fledged member of the band?
Well, we always said, after Derek’s passing (Derek Bell, long-time harper for the band, died in 2002) we’d never replace him, but Triona is as close as anything to being a band member. And she’ll always be grateful we rescued her from the orchestra!

After four decades, is the thrill still there?
Oh, the details get to be a bit of a pain, but once we get up there and start playing, it’s priceless, we just have the time of our lives, and we make sure we have guests, young and old, fresh blood. Okay, so we’ve cut back a bit on the length of the tour, just the 19 shows [!] for a month, across the whole country. We used to do two months, but we’re not as young as we used to be!

Do you spend your winters in Florida?
Yes, Naples, for the warmth of course. It’s good for my wife’s health, and I commute to various places while I’m there. The others don’t spend so much time here [in the U.S.] as me, but Matt and his son Peter have just opened a pub like his one in Westport, County Mayo. This one, “The Shaskeen,” is in Manchester, New Hampshire and we had a grand opening.  Michael Flatley was there, and I played whistle and cut the ribbon.

What else has been happening for you recently?
Well, the BBC has just made a new documentary that’ll be broadcast over here sometime fairly soon. It’s fun, with interviews with a lot of the lads, Keith Richards talking about how we’ve been around a year longer than them, reminiscing over the recording session. Sting also, lots of people, you’ll love it. There was a tour of Japan; working in Spain with the great Galician piper Carlos Nunez. I worked with composer James Newton on a new film The Waterhorse: Legend of the Deep, and of course we play on the soundtrack. It’s based on a Loch Ness monster idea – more Scottish stuff!

Was the Rolling Stones session as much fun as it sounds?
We’d recorded the Long Black Veil track with Mick [Jagger] previously, but he had so much fun he came back for the Rocky Road session. They brought their whole entourage. I had to boot them out the back every time they wanted a cigarette, but we had a blast. After hours of rehearsal I hit the record button around 11 p.m. and we played until three. It was down at Ronnie Wood’s place in Clane, County Kildare, and I’d arranged for the local pub to stay open if we needed a pint, so we ended up there at three a.m. and called it a night around six. A fantastic night. Another good session was down at Sting’s mansion in South England. We stopped playing to have lunch down by his pond. Derek didn’t notice it was there, and just walked right in. I have a wonderful picture of Derek’s socks drying over Sting’s fireplace while we played. Then we stayed for dinner; he has two chefs.

 And as he likes to say, he bought the house for a song – literally.
Right!

How about Ry Cooder? [a personal hero].
Well, around the time of the Santiago album, I took Ry down there to Havana and we recorded a few things with that great singer Omara Portuondo, and Pancho Amat. I also got some great film footage, maybe I’ll get it out there one day. Then I left and Ry stayed and next thing I know, he came up with the idea for The Buena Vista Social Club project, which of course was a phenomenon.

So you were in at the beginning of all that?
Absolutely. Now we’re kicking around ideas for a new album with Ry, but nothing is definite yet.

Your collaborations are a Who’s Who of music; is there anyone you wish you could work with that you haven’t already?
Bob Dylan. We’ve come close a few times. He’s up for it but we just haven’t figured out the details. I think he’s actually at the peak of his form, and I think we could do some great stuff. We might be able to get Elvis Costello up on stage at the Carnegie Hall concert.

With Diana [Krall] on “Danny Boy”? Paddy, thanks so much for your time, and good luck with the tour.
Ian, you’re very welcome.

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