April May 2013 Issue – Irish America https://irishamerica.com Irish America Magazine Mon, 15 Jul 2019 20:00:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.10 82361074 Joey From Scranton – Vice President Biden’s Irish Roots https://irishamerica.com/2013/03/joey-from-scranton-vice-president-bidens-irish-roots/ https://irishamerica.com/2013/03/joey-from-scranton-vice-president-bidens-irish-roots/#comments Wed, 20 Mar 2013 22:38:21 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=15099 Read more..]]> It’s well known that Vice President Joe Biden spent his early years in the very Irish city of Scranton, Pennsylvania. But what about his ancestors? Genealogist Megan Smolenyak, who also traced President Obama’s Irish roots, has delved into the Vice President’s family tree and unearthed a few surprises.

How can you not love a name like Finnegan Biden? I find it charming when family names are given fresh life in ensuing generations, and that’s exactly what happened in the lineage bracketing Vice President Joe Biden. His beloved mother Jean’s full name was Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden.  Subtract “Catherine Eugenia” and you have the name of one of his granddaughters – Finnegan Biden. Whether she knows it or not, there’s a lot of history tucked into her first name.

My guess is that she’s heard some of it from her grandfather, who likes to tell tales about his own grandfather Ambrose Finnegan, but she probably doesn’t know everything I’m about to share. As a professional genealogist, I’m something of a retro-journalist who delves into people’s family histories, and given my own Irish roots, I have a soft spot for anyone who shares that heritage – from Barack Obama to Barry Manilow. So I suppose it was inevitable that Vice President Biden would take a turn under my past-seeking microscope. Before probing more deeply, let’s step back and take a look at the big picture – well, the Irish part of that picture.

By heritage, Joe Biden is roughly five-eighths Irish. His mother’s entire family tree traces to Ireland with ancestors named Arthurs, Blewitt, Boyle, Roche, Scanlon and Stanton accompanying her Finnegan kin. The last one-eighth comes from his father’s side, which contributed the Hanafee name.

Most of the immigrants in the Vice President’s family were born in the early decades of the 19th century and made the journey to America mid-century, so the Famine was undoubtedly a key factor in their departure. With a couple of exceptions, they converged almost immediately on Scranton, Pennsylvania. By the time the future Vice President joined the family in 1942, they had been settled there for roughly 70 to 90 years, so it’s little wonder that Scranton features so prominently in his narrative.

Biden’s quintessentially Irish American mother was born in 1917 to Ambrose Finnegan and Geraldine Blewitt, so it seems appropriate to focus on the Finnegan and Blewitt branches that played such a strong role in shaping who he would become.

The Blewitts of County Mayo
In his Blewitt line, it was Biden’s great-great-great-grandfather, Edward, who made the decision to emigrate to America in 1851, though he may have been influenced by his son, Patrick (Biden’s eventual great-great-grandfather). Joining his parents and seven siblings on the voyage, 18-year-old Pat is recorded as a sailor on the ship’s manifest, but that was only part of the story. Though still a teenager, he had already worked as a cabin boy and lived in Chile, and there are hints that he may have previously been to the United States.

I’ve long believed that families pass more than just physical traits through the generations, and the Blewitts are a classic example. A number of the Blewitt men, for instance, worked as surveyors with a focus on civil and mining engineering. Another common denominator? Wanderlust. Though Patrick centered his life in his adopted hometown of Scranton, his work took him everywhere from Iowa to Brazil at a time when most regarded such trips as once-in-a-lifetime experiences. This explains why his eldest – Biden’s future great-grandfather, Edward – was born in New Orleans in 1859.

Edward inherited these occupational and meandering tendencies, putting in a decade as city engineer for Scranton before venturing to Mexico for a couple of years to oversee the construction of a drainage system and water works – 138 miles of sewers and 90 miles of pipes – for Guadalajara and the state of Jalisco. In a sign of things to come, Edward also waded into the world of politics, serving as a senator for the 22nd District in the Pennsylvania State Legislature. He was elected in 1907 and is believed to have been the first Irish American senator in the state.

Sadly, tragedy also links Edward with his famous descendant, as both lost their first wives at a young age. In 1972, a few weeks after Biden had been elected to the Senate, his first wife, Neilia, and their one-year-old daughter, Naomi, were killed in an auto accident. His sons also injured, Biden was sworn in at their hospital bedside. Mary Ellen (Stanton) Blewitt died of typhoid fever at age 27, leaving 29-year-old Edward widowed with several children including Biden’s future grandmother, Geraldine, and her sister, Gertie, who would also figure in Biden’s life in later years.

The Blewitts’ pride in their heritage can be seen in Edward’s prominence in organizations including the Ancient Order of Hibernians (for which he chaired Scranton’s 1897 St. Patrick’s Day Parade), the Irish American Association (founded at his suggestion and now known as the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick of Lackawanna County), and the Mayo Men’s Benevolent, Social, Patriotic and Literary Association.

The name of this latter society provides a fairly conspicuous clue to the origins of the Blewitt family, and they were indeed from County Mayo. Specifically, they were from the Ballina area, which is fitting as Scranton and Ballina happen to be  sister cities. It’s difficult to pinpoint the precise location because various branches of an extended family tended to recycle the same first names with great regularity, but Patrick’s obituary mentions Ardagh Parish. An April 1832 baptism for “Patt Bluet” with parents named Edward and Mary can be found in the neighboring Kilmoremoy Parish, and this fits rather nicely with the 18-year-old who arrived in New York with the rest of his family in 1851.

A number of Blewitts remain in the Ballina region today. One of them, Brendan Blewitt, fondly remembers a visit from Biden’s mother in the late 1970s. Records from the critical timeframe are patchy, but it appears that Brendan and the Vice President are likely fourth or fifth cousins.

As it happens, former Irish President Mary Robinson, whose maiden name is Bourke, also hails from Ballina, and given that Brendan’s sister married a Bourke, it’s possible that Joe Biden and Mary Robinson are related by marriage. Were they to meet in Ballina, that would undoubtedly be one of the most memorable reunions of The Gathering.

The Finnegans of County Louth
Barack Obama’s Kearney forebears came to America from the town of Moneygall, in County Offaly, a fact widely known since the President’s pint-in-a-pub visit to his ancestral hometown, and it’s interesting to note the similarity to the Vice President’s family migration. In the case of Biden’s Finnegan line, the immigrant was Owen, his great-great-grandfather, and just as with Obama’s Kearneys, the patriarch came to America before the rest of his family. In fact, Owen Finnegan arrived in New York on May 31, 1849, just five weeks after Joseph Kearney, Obama’s ancestor. Curiously, both men were shoemakers.

Owen’s wife, Jane, followed with their children (including Biden’s great-grandfather, James) almost a year later in May 1850 on a ship called the Marchioness of Bute, meaning that the Finnegans beat the Blewitts to America by about eight months. Unlike the Blewitts, however, the Finnegans did not sprint directly to Scranton. The 1850 census, conducted mere months after their arrival, finds them in Covert, New York. Before long, they shifted slightly north to the town of Ovid.  Parents Owen and Jane stayed put and were eventually buried there, but their children scattered.

They lost one son, Michael, to the Civil War, at Cold Harbor, Virginia, in 1864. Another named Stephen was wounded at Spotsylvania Courthouse and carried shrapnel souvenirs for the rest of his life. Stephen and two of his brothers went to California, while other siblings settled in Ohio and Missouri.

It was Owen and Jane’s son James who stayed the closest to home, and census records provide a hint as to why this might have been. Two of the four records that include him state that he was blind. This inconsistency suggests that while he may not have been completely blind, he probably had a severe vision problem of some sort, which would explain why he didn’t serve in the Civil War or follow the family’s preferred occupation of shoemaker. Instead, he became a musician.

After marrying Catherine Roche in 1866 and living in Rochester, New York for several years, James moved to Olyphant, situated on the outskirts of Scranton, Pennsylvania. His wife’s brother, Peter, also lived there, which would prove fortunate for the couple’s youngest son, Ambrose, born in 1884.

Ambrose, the future grandfather who would provide both fodder and inspiration for Biden, had a rough start in life, with his mother passing away before his second birthday and his father dying when he was ten. Just two days before his death, James wrote a will leaving his prized violin to Ambrose, a snippet of information that revealed that he had literally been a blind fiddler.

He also instructed that his house be held a year before selling, and that the “rent or income of my property . . . be paid . . . to the St. Patrick’s Orphanage of Scranton, PA until said real estate is legally disposed of or sold.” The orphanage in question was opened shortly after the Finnegans arrived in Scranton, and made national news in 1881 when 17 children died in a fire. The local community rallied to rebuild, and the Finnegans were among those who supported the effort, but knowing that James was aware that he would soon be leaving his youngest an orphan makes this final bequest all the more poignant.

Ambrose moved in with the family of his maternal uncle, Peter Roche, and remained close to them, even working for the Roche Company, which manufactured signs and bulletin boards. That they were devout Catholics is hinted at by the fact that Ambrose’s slightly older cousin, Thomas Roche, went abroad on more than one occasion with the Knights of Columbus.

It was on June 1, 1909 that the Finnegan and Blewitt families finally linked destinies, when Ambrose Joseph Finnegan married Geraldine Catherine Blewitt. Their first born was a honeymoon baby, which may be what motivated the freshly minted husband and father to put in a season as a census enumerator in 1910. As a result, should the vice president ever wish to see a sample of his grandfather’s handwriting, all he has to do is scan the pages of the 1910 federal census for Dunmore Borough in Lackawanna County.

As with the immigrant Finnegans, Ambrose and Geraldine also sacrificed a son to war when Second Lieutenant Ambrose J. Finnegan, Jr. was killed in May 1944. The plane he was flying has never been located, so he is considered MIA/KIA. Having assisted the Army and JPAC (Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command) for 14 years with repatriation efforts to identify soldiers who are still unaccounted for from past conflicts, it was immediately apparent to me that should his uncle’s plane or remains ever be recovered, Vice President Biden would be eligible to provide a DNA reference sample to help in the process, and given his family’s proud military history, I suspect he would.

Little Joey Biden made his entrance the year after Ambrose and Geraldine’s daughter, Jean, married Joseph Biden, making him a fifth-generation Finnegan in the United States, but just where in Ireland did they come from?

The ships they journeyed on left from Newry, so that provided a clue, and working with Griffith’s Valuation narrowed the search to counties Armagh, Louth, Cavan, Monaghan and Meath. I knew that James Finnegan was born around 1840 with parents named Owen Finnegan and Jane Boyle, who would have probably married in the late 1830s, since James was their eldest. Considerable digging eventually unearthed a James baptized on December 18, 1840 in Lordship Parish in County Louth with parents named “Owen Finegan” and “Jean Bail” (likely a distortion of Boyle as Griffith’s Valuation shows no Bail families).

Owen and Jane had married on December 8, 1839 in Cooley Parish, County Louth. The records involved are all Roman Catholic and the parishes border each other, indicating an origin in the vicinity of Carlingford, so should Joe Biden decide to pay tribute to his Grandpa Finnegan, County Louth can expect a visit.

Not surprisingly, that visit would be welcomed. Upon learning of the connection, Kevin Woods, a member of the County Louth Gathering Steering Committee, declared, “We are going to move heaven and earth to get Vice President Biden here.” But even aside from the Blewitt homeland of County Mayo, there’s some competition. Bono of U2 is trying to tempt the Vice President to visit his own stomping grounds of Dalkey on the edge of Dublin. “He’s a Finnegan,” said Bono. “His mother was a Finnegan, which is the name of my local pub, so I have to introduce him to my local publican.” As persuasive as the famed singer and humanitarian may be, I wouldn’t bet on him in this particular instance.

An Unexpected Call
I first began poking into Joe Biden’s past before he became vice president, and have shared bits and pieces of my discoveries online over the years. Even so, it caught me by surprise when I answered the phone one day last summer to hear the caller say, “This is Joe Biden. Vice President Joe Biden.” That he took the trouble to explain who he is may well be a reflection of the values he inherited from Grandpa Finnegan and others, including his great-aunt Gertrude, who wound up at the heart of our conversation that day. Gertie, it turns out, gave terrific back rubs, made the best rice pudding you ever tasted, and frequently reminded Joey to be proud of his Irish heritage. Rest assured he is, Aunt Gertie, and I think it’s safe to say the Irish are proud of Joey, too.  ♦ <a href=”http://irishamerica.com/archives/2013-archive/april-may-2013/”>April / May 2013</a>

Click below to hear Biden’s remarks upon being inducted in the Irish America Hall of Fame in March 2013.

This article was published in the April / May 2013 edition of Irish America.

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The First Word: The Emigrants’ Flame https://irishamerica.com/2013/03/the-emigrants-flame/ https://irishamerica.com/2013/03/the-emigrants-flame/#respond Wed, 20 Mar 2013 22:37:55 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=15337 Read more..]]> The First Word, by Patricia Harty.

“Cuimhnígí ar na daoine ar tháinig sibh.” (Remember the people from whom you came.)
– Irish America Hall of Fame motto

It’s that time of year when everyone is a little bit Irish, and a good time to reflect on the very special relationship between Ireland and Irish America.

I remember as a young immigrant how wonderful it was to discover that in America being Irish was special. And it wasn’t just Irish Americans who seemed to appreciate my Irish culture and heritage, it came from many different quarters.

Not that it happened overnight. In the words of Robert Kennedy: “As the first of the racial minorities our forefathers were subject to every discrimination found
wherever discrimination is known.”

And we do not forget the struggles of those early immigrants as we celebrate our Hall of Fame inductees (as Donald Keough, our first Hall of Fame inductee said, “The real members of the Hall of Fame are those ancestors who had the courage to come here.”)

This issue, then, is one of remembering, and each story touches on our history: From medieval Ireland when monks lived in beehive huts on Skellig Michael (which are amazingly well preserved), to the great starvation that began in 1845, to the founding of the U.S. Friendly Sons of St. Patrick’s, the benevolent society that helped ease the plight of poor Irish immigrants.

A story on Irish-American sculptor James Kelly calls to mind the many Irish who died fighting in the Civil War, while the  tale of Xavier H.S.’s Knights winning the Catholic High School Football League trophy just weeks after 11 Knights were displaced by Superstorm Sandy, reminds us of the part Catholic education played in the Irish American story.

(How delightful it is to find a Catholic institution still turning out fine young men such as those profiled in our story.)

And as with so many Irish stories, there are common threads moving through each of ours. For example, in the feature on the Vice President’s Irish roots, we find that both he and President Obama had Irish ancestors who landed in New York in 1847 within weeks of one another. And they were both shoemakers!

We also learn that Biden’s great-grandfather was a founding member of the Scranton branch of the Friendly Sons, at whose annual St. Patrick’s dinner Robert Kennedy spoke those words about discrimination. It was his first public appearance after the death of his brother John. (It was to the same Friendly Sons that a young Senator Biden spoke on St. Patrick’s Day in 1973 just a couple of months after the tragic death of his first wife and daughter.)

Though our history is layered with tragedy, in our Irish way we choose to celebrate life.

As Vice President Biden said in an earlier interview with Irish America, “There is something about the Irish that knows that to live is to be hurt, but we’re still not afraid to live.”

Perhaps no other family embodies this better than the Kennedys. As this year marks the 50th anniversary of the death of President John Kennedy, we celebrate his life, and his historic visit to Ireland in June 1963, in a story called “I’ll be back in the springtime.”

On June 21st this year, a great number of the Kennedy family will arrive in New Ross, County Wexford, to kick off two weeks of festivities that will culminate in Irish America Day on July 4th.

The celebrations will include the opening of the new visitors’ center at the Kennedy homestead; a tree planting in the JFK Arboretum by former Ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith in memory of her brother Senator Ted Kennedy; and on June 22nd, Caroline Kennedy will light an eternal flame in front of the Dunbrody Famine Ship & Irish Emigration Experience where our Irish America Hall of Fame has a physical presence.

Fittingly, this flame, taken from the eternal flame in Arlington Cemetery, will be called the Emigrants’ Flame.

It will burn in memory of Patrick Kennedy, Caroline’s great-great-grandfather who left New Ross in 1849, and of Donald Keough’s great-grandfather Michael, who left from the same quay that same year, and all the other thousands of Irish who left from every corner of Ireland during that hard time. (Patrick Kennedy would die of cholera just eight years after arriving in Boston, leaving his wife Bridget Murphy with five children.)

It would seem that all our struggles – invasions, starvations, emigrations, wars, discrimination, and loss of loved ones – have left us with an empathy for others. That is a legacy we can be truly proud of.  We see that empathy shining in generations of Kennedys, in the benevolence of Joe Biden’s great-grandfather, and in the good works carried out today by our Hall of Fame inductees.

As Robert Kennedy said when he spoke at that Friendly Sons dinner in Scranton all those years ago: “So, on this St. Patrick’s evening let me urge you one final time to recall the heritage of the Irish. Let us hold out our hands to those who struggle for freedom today – at home and abroad – as Ireland struggled for a thousand years.”

Mortas Cine.

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Vice President Joe Biden: Statesman & Everyman https://irishamerica.com/2013/03/vice-president-joe-biden-statesman-everyman/ https://irishamerica.com/2013/03/vice-president-joe-biden-statesman-everyman/#respond Wed, 20 Mar 2013 22:36:00 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=15332 Read more..]]> Vice President Joe Biden is suddenly the most popular politician in Washington. On the fiscal cliff he galloped to the rescue and cut the deal with Senator Mitch McConnell, and now on gun control he is defying the conventional wisdom again and getting real traction behind his recommendations. He has met with the NRA, Walmart, and every major gun constituency, forcing a dialogue where none existed before and making clear that action will be taken to prevent another Sandy Hook.

Biden’s strong record in his more than 40 years in government – he was first  elected to the Senate in 1972, just shy of 30 years old  — has earned him respect from both sides of the political spectrum. As Maureen Dowd, writing in the New York Times stated, “In a time when American politics is so polarized Biden has managed the extraordinary trick of being able to appear reasonable to both sides. [He] can spread everything out on the table and negotiate his way through all of his former colleagues’ shortcomings, weaknesses, fears and frailties.”

Biden was born in the Irish heartland of Scranton, Pennsylvania, one of the most Irish cities in America. There were already political genes in his DNA.

Edward F. Blewitt, his grandmother’s father, was the first Irish Catholic state senator. He was also the co-founder of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick in Scranton, around 1908. There is still a plaque in existence in Scranton that shows he was one of the founding members.

Like many from the western part of Ireland, Biden’s Finnegan relatives were Gaelic speakers, and family lore has it that his great-grandmother Finnegan used to read the letters from home for those who could not and she’d write back in Gaelic for them.

In response to questions submitted by Irish America  to the Vice President prior to his joining us at our Hall of Fame gala luncheon on March 21, Biden confirmed that he would like to visit his ancestral homeland.

Asked if he was going to Ireland this year, he said, “I hope so. And I’d like to take my family with me.”

As for how his Irish roots have shaped his life, he stated, “They’ve actually been critical to my career. The Irish ethic of loyalty is important, that you have an obligation to help if you can, that you should speak up when you see what you consider to be an injustice, and that public service is an honorable profession. In my family, politics wasn’t a dirty word, it was about righting things that were wrong.

“Making sure everyone was accorded the dignity they deserved. The best vehicle for this was politics. That’s how your rights are guaranteed.”

Asked to name some of his political heroes the Vice President responded: “Wolfe Tone. Robert Kennedy. Clarence Mitchell [longtime NAACP chief lobbyist – he was instrumental in passing the big civil rights laws]. Mike Mansfield for his integrity, and Hubert Humphrey for his heart.”

In an earlier interview with Irish America when he was still a senator, Biden, who has read Irish history extensively, elaborated on Tone, the leader of  the 1798 Rebellion.

“Wolfe Tone is the embodiment of some of the things that I think are the noblest of all. He was a Protestant who formed the United Irishmen. He had nothing to gain on the face of it but he sought to relieve the oppression of the Catholics caused by the penal laws. He gave his life for the principle of civil rights for all people.

“I view him as an honorable figure. He was obviously passionate, which I admire. He had the ability to make his own comfort secondary to the greater good.”

In that same interview, Biden talked  about growing up in Scranton, in what he described as “a predominantly Irish neighborhood and an overwhelmingly Irish parish. The centerpiece of life in Scranton was the church, the nuns, the priest, the monsignor,” he recalled.

“Everybody had a sister who was a nun, everybody had a brother a priest. Vocations were a big deal.”

His first Irish memories are of encountering his Aunt Gertie on visits to his grandparents’ house.

“I’d go upstairs and lie on the bed and she’d come and scratch my back and say, ‘Now you remember, Joey, about the Black and Tans, don’t you?’ She had never seen the Black and Tans, she had no notion of them, but she could recite chapter and verse about them.

“Obviously there were immigrants coming in who were able to talk about it [the War of Independence in Ireland. The Black and Tans were British Army irregulars who were particularly brutal] and who had relatives back there. Aunt Gertie was born in 1887. After she’d finish telling the stories, I’d sit there or lie in bed and think at the slightest noise, ‘[the Black & Tans] are coming up the stairs.’”

Biden confessed to hating Irish wakes, which were a constant when he was a child. “I hated it, you know, everybody sitting around and drinking and the corpse in the next room.” But he went on to say, “There is something about the Irish that knows that to live is to be hurt, but we’re still not afraid to live.”

For more on Vice President Biden’s roots, click here to read what renowned genealogist Megan Smolenyak has discovered.

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Brian P. Burns: Art Collector & Benefactor https://irishamerica.com/2013/03/brian-p-burns-art-collector-benefactor/ https://irishamerica.com/2013/03/brian-p-burns-art-collector-benefactor/#comments Wed, 20 Mar 2013 22:35:44 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=15328 Read more..]]> Brian P. Burns, grandson of an Irish immigrant, is a nationally regarded business executive, attorney and philanthropist. He is the chairman of BF Enterprises, Inc., a publicly owned real estate holding and development company.

The fifth of seven children born to John J. Burns and his wife Alice, Brian traces his roots to County Kerry and is a graduate of Harvard Law School, at age 23, and The College of the Holy Cross.

Over the years, Brian has gained a reputation as a moving force behind corporate mergers, but it was a merger of a different sort, that of two major Irish-American organizations, for which he will be remembered in Ireland and Irish America.

Over 50 years ago, Brian became the youngest director of the American Irish Foundation, established in 1963 by then-President John F. Kennedy and Ireland’s President Eamon de Valera.

As director, Brian had some major achievements. He was the leading fundraiser behind the effort to restore the world famous Marsh’s Library at St. Patrick’s Close in Dublin, the oldest public library in Ireland. He also founded an American Law Library at University College, Cork in honor of his late father, the Hon. John J. Burns.

Despite these accomplishments, Brian wanted to do more.

“I frankly had envied, in a constructive way, the manner in which six million Jewish people were able to raise billions of dollars each year for the young State of Israel, whereas, by contrast, hundreds of disparate Irish organizations were doing cumulatively a very tiny bit for Ireland even though there were over 40 million of us,” he recalled recently.

He determined to arrange a merger between the American Irish Foundation and the newly minted Ireland Fund, formed in the early 1980s by Dan Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Tony O’Reilly, the Irish-born businessman who would become chairman of Heinz.

After a number of rebuffs and unsuccessful efforts, with the assistance of chairman A.W.B. Vincent and Bill McNally, who was then executive director of the Ireland Fund, the two organizations became The American Ireland Fund, and the merger was celebrated on March 17, 1986 at the residence of the Irish Ambassador in Washington, D.C.

“President Ronald Reagan presided over the signing ceremony.” Brian recalled. “My young daughter, Sheila Ann, and I were thrilled to witness it.”

The merger of the two organizations indeed proved that Brian’s instincts were right. To date, The American Ireland Fund has raised over $430 million for projects that promote peace, culture and charity throughout the island of Ireland. Brian remains a lifetime trustee of the organization.

In addition to marking this historic merger, 1986 was also a memorable year in that Brian established The Honorable John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College, in honor of his father, who had enjoyed a spectacular career in law before his untimely death in 1957.

John J. was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on May 1, 1901. He attended Harvard Law School, and in 1931, one day shy of his 30th birthday, was appointed associate justice of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts. He went on to become part of one of the first New Deal agencies of the Roosevelt administration, and served as Amb. Joseph Kennedy’s attorney and closest adviser, while carrying on a successful law practice.

In that tradition, Brian served as a key trustee to the Joseph P. Kennedy Trust from 1998-2010, and was one of the few non-family contributors to David Nasaw’s sweeping new biography of Joseph P. Kennedy, The Patriarch.

The John J. Burns library at Boston College has over 300,000 books, 17 million rare manuscripts and other ephemera. It is the largest collection of Irish rare books and manuscripts in the Western Hemisphere. In 1990, the Burns Foundation endowed the library with a Visiting Scholar in Irish Studies chair. Next year, the chair will be filled by the Hon. Mary McAleese, former president of Ireland.

Meanwhile, Brian Burns’ collection of Irish art, the largest of its kind by a private collector in the world, has been exhibited to great acclaim at Boston College, Dublin’s Hugh Lane Gallery, the Yale Center of British Art in New Haven, Connecticut, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and the Phoenix Art Museum in Arizona.

In 2012, Brian generously donated an important 1853 Famine piece from his collection titled “Lest We Forget” to Quinnipiac University’s Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum. He was also a principal benefactor of the first Irish Famine memorial in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which was dedicated in July, 1997 by former Irish President Mary Robinson. And recently he  donated to Boston College a series of sculptures by Irish artist Rowan Gillespie called “The Four Irish Nobel Laureates.”  The specially commissioned sculptures will be permanently housed in the John J. Burns Library.

A 1996 winner of the Erie Society’s Gold Medal Award, Brian has served as vice chairman of the Irish American Fulbright Commission (1992-98). He is a member of the Trinity College Foundation Board in Dublin, currently serves as a member of the Irish prime minister’s Economic Advisory Board, and was recently elected a trustee of Boston College. In October, 2012 Palm Beach Atlantic University presented Brian with the American Free Enterprise Medal.

Brian’s wife, Eileen, is a member of the Advisory Board to the National Gallery of Ireland.

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Robert M. Devlin: Businessman & Philanthropist https://irishamerica.com/2013/03/robert-m-devlin-businessman-philanthropist/ https://irishamerica.com/2013/03/robert-m-devlin-businessman-philanthropist/#comments Wed, 20 Mar 2013 22:34:43 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=15323 Read more..]]> For Bob Devlin, the combination of natural business acumen, strong family ties and Irish roots has proven unbeatable.

Today, at 72, he is chairman of Curragh Capital Partners, a New York-based investment firm that – between its Irish-inspired name and the fact that he founded it with his eldest son, Michael – embodies his central values.

Devlin was born in Brooklyn in 1941 to Norma Hall Devlin and John M. Devlin, whose grandfather James Devlin immigrated to the U.S. from County Donegal in 1848. John Devlin’s story is a remarkable one. Born in Brooklyn in 1911, he grew up during the Depression, and, as a result, did not have much of a formal education. In a pivotal turn of luck, he found work as a clerk for an insurance firm in the Chrysler Building, and from there his career took off. The family eventually moved to Schenectady, New York, where Bob grew up with three brothers and one sister, and where their father became chairman and CEO of Ter Bush and Powell, then one of the largest insurance agencies between New York and Chicago.

For Devlin, this provided a model of success. After graduating from Tulane University in New Orleans in 1964, he entered the life insurance business with Mutual of New York. In 1977 he joined American General and spent three years in California, then five and a half in Nashville before moving to their Houston headquarters in 1986, as president and CEO of American General Life. By 1993, he had been elected vice chairman and a director of American General Corporation, and in 1995 he became the company’s president and CEO. One year later, he was made chairman.

From 1995 – 2001, Devlin helmed what would become, by his final year in charge, the country’s third-largest life insurance company. During his tenure, American General’s assets grew from $46 billion to over $150 billion, and its market capitalization rose from $7 billion to $24 billion. The company was acquired by the American International Group Inc. in August of 2001, and Devlin left upon the merger’s completion.

In addition, he has served on the board of directors of ConocoPhillips, Cooper Industries, LKQ Corp., Discover Financial Services and Forethought Financial Group.

Throughout all this, Devlin has been supported by his wife, Katharine (Kate), with whom he celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2011, and their two sons Michael Devlin II and Matthew. As he said in an interview with Niall O’Dowd in the December/January 2000 Business 100 issue of Irish America, one of the things he found over the years is “how important family is. Whenever you move to a new town, the importance of the support system that your family provides becomes more apparent. I have been very lucky to have it.”

Devlin’s parents taught him to “have a commitment and a high level of integrity to what you’re going to do and to really stick with it as well as you can,” and that’s exactly what Bob has done – not only throughout his career, but also his philanthropic work.

Bob became involved in the non-profit arena from an early age, serving on the board of the Muscular Dystrophy Chapter in upstate New York and the YMCA boards in Sacramento and Nashville. After moving to Houston, he and Kate worked with the Holocaust Museum there, hosting the annual gala at which then-Secretary of State Colin Powell was honored with the Lyndon B. Johnson Moral Courage award. Together Bob and Kate were awarded the Anti-Defamation League’s Torch of Liberty Award, and Devlin also served on the board of trustees of the Houston Fine Arts Museum.

For ten years, Bob was a member of the board of Colin Powell’s America’s Promise initiative. More recently, he and Kate were inducted into the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation Hall of Fame in recognition of their contribution to the fight to end domestic violence.

A trustee of his alma mater, Tulane, Devlin was chairman of the university’s endowment committee for six years and is a member of the Paul Tulane Society. He was also a trustee of Boston College, from which Michael and Matthew both graduated – in 1988 and 1990, respectively – and is now a trustee associate. In 2004, he and Kate were recognized by the college as Outstanding Parents of the Year.

A significant number of the Devlins’ philanthropic projects have been connected to Bob’s Irish roots. Growing up, he recently explained, he was aware, through his parents, of the richness of his Irish ancestry, but the emphasis at the time wasn’t on where you came from, it was on striving to be American. While many Irish Americans come to treasure their heritage through stories and traditions handed down generation to generation, Devlin’s interest in Ireland was piqued when the family spent Christmas there in 1984, and was further enhanced when his two sons attended Boston College. Matt then studied at University College Galway in Ireland during his junior year. There he met Erin Conroy, a young Irish American woman from Marquette University who was also studying abroad. Married with three sons, they now live in  Toronto, where Matt is the TV sportscaster for the Toronto Raptors.

Michael, Matt and Erin helped kindle in Devlin a deep interest in his Irish heritage, which has become a major part of his life. As co-chair of the American Irish Historical Society (a position he shared with Liam Neeson), Devlin, along with President General Dr. Kevin Cahill, put in place the long-term strategic plan to save the AIHS’s townhouse, the finest Irish one in the U.S., and regenerate the society. Devlin’s Irish roots were recognized in 1999 when he was awarded one of the Ellis Island Medals of Honor for his business achievements, and in 2001 when he received the AIHS’s Gold Medal.

The Devlins’ visits to Ireland often find them in Killybegs, Co. Donegal, where they feel blessed to love a family, Samantha, Colum and their daughters Kaitlin and Shonaugh, as their own. The Devlins have supported the restoration of St. Mary’s, a church in Killybegs, and Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Barretstown, Co. Kildare, which provides a fun, nurturing environment for children with serious illnesses.

Reflecting on his Irish heritage, Devlin recently said “the Irish spirit encompasses everything I value:  inner strength, determination to continue forward and do better, a great love of family, soulfulness, and an all-important sense of humor. Connecting with Ireland and my roots has helped me immeasurably, in ways both large and small.”

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John Fitzpatrick: Hotelier & Humanitarian https://irishamerica.com/2013/03/john-fitzpatrick-hotelier-humanitarian/ https://irishamerica.com/2013/03/john-fitzpatrick-hotelier-humanitarian/#comments Wed, 20 Mar 2013 22:33:16 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=15319 Read more..]]> John Fitzpatrick is one of the most down to earth people you could meet. When he walks into a room he instantly puts you at your ease. Perhaps it’s a talent that he has developed over the years from being in the hospitality industry. He is the president and CEO of Fitzpatrick Hotel Group, N.A., but there more to it than that. He is genuinely interested in people and though it’s his business to meet and greet, behind the scenes he is just as likely to be helping out someone or some group that needs a hand.

John was raised in the hotel business, the second eldest of five children of Paddy and Eithne Fitzpatrick who owned Killiney Castle Hotel in Co. Dublin, Silver Spring Cork and Fitzpatrick’s Shamrock Hotel in Bunratty, Co. Clare.  But he did not have his career handed to him on a plate. He began by mowing the lawn at Killiney Castle during the summers when he was a teenager. Eventually, he moved on to washing dishes in the hotel kitchen and from there onto washing glasses and, eventually, when he was 17, to mixing drinks behind the bar, working every weekend while he was still in school.

“Dad was always tough on us. He said, ‘if you want to have money you have to work for it,’” John recalled in an interview with Irish America. But even back then as a teenager, his favorite part of the job was meeting customers.

Determined to make his own way, and feeling that he had learned all he could in Ireland, he enrolled at the University of Las Vegas’ prestigious hotel management course. From there, he expanded his knowledge by working at two Chicago hotels before returning to Ireland.

But the U.S. was never far from his mind. In 1990, with his father’s blessing, he began considering various American cities as potential hotel sites, eventually choosing New York and purchasing a building at 57th Street and Lexington Avenue. To save money, he lived in the building as he oversaw its renovation.

Fitzpatrick’s Manhattan opened its doors in December 1991 and very quickly became the Irish hotel in New York. Albert Reynolds, who was then Taoiseach, stayed there. Then Mary Robinson, who at the time was President of Ireland, paid a visit. Soon it became the de rigueur for visiting Irish heads of state and celebrities, including Gregory Peck, to choose Fitzpatrick’s. Seven years later, John opened another New York hotel, Fitzpatrick’s Grand Central, on 44th Street.

“John is know to be a warm and gracious host. He used these skills to achieve success as a hotelier and, perhaps more importantly, to reach out to all sides in the Peace Process. There were no ‘Peace Walls’ needed in the lobby bar of John’s hotel. Late nights brought the sounds of friendship and understanding from all quarters,” said Tom Moran, chairman and CEO of Mutual of America, who himself, worked tirelessly for Northern Ireland behind the scenes.

In the aftermath of September 11,  John again stepped to the fore. The hotel, with one of the few working phone lines, began receiving calls from all over Ireland, from parents who had children in New York. Regulars rushed to the hotel’s bar, asking John to take their names down, knowing relatives would call. Fitzpatrick worked with the Irish Consulate that day and the following days, exchanging lists of names, and helping stranded Irish visitors find accommodations, inviting them to sleep in the lobby of Fitzpatrick’s Manhattan when all other resources were exhausted.

John was very close to his mother, Eithne, a former Miss Ireland, she worked alongside her husband, using her great eye for detail and interior design as they built their hotel business. When she passed away in 1994, John wanted to make sure she was remembered, so he founded The Eithne Fitzpatrick Memorial Fund in her honor. With the death of his father in 2001, the fund became the Eithne and Paddy Fitzpatrick Memorial Fund. The fund’s mission is to “make a significant positive impact on the lives of those in need.”  Among its current projects are the Integrated Education Fund, which strives to integrate the education system in Northern Ireland, and the Corrymeela Community, which promotes reconciliation across social, religious, and political divides in the North.

In addition to these peace and reconciliation initiatives, the fund, which has raised $1.3 million to date, also supports Barretstown, a summer camp for seriously ill children.

In 2011, Fitzpatrick participated in RTÉ’s version of Secret Millionaire, traveling to the Muirhevnamor housing estate and Coxs Demense in Dundalk, Co. Louth. For the first time in 20 years, the man who describes himself as “married to his work” was without his Blackberry as he spent eight days in Muirhevnamor pretending to film a documentary and getting to know the people in the housing estate. In the end, he gave away a total of €20,000 to the Craobh Rua Community House, €15,000 to senior citizen organization Cuidigh Linn, and €2,000 to O’Hanlon Park Boxing & Fitness Club. His donations were matched by the Eithne and Paddy Fitzpatrick Memorial Fund.

John forged lasting bonds with a number of the community members. Through Cuidigh Linn, he met an elderly couple, Tim and Diane, both of whom are in wheelchairs. After  the show, he assisted in lobbying the local government to provide them with a wheelchair-accessible house, which they have since moved into. One boy from the Craobh Rua program, Joel Maguire, is a few steps closer to achieving his dream of becoming a singer, thanks to lessons and encouragement from John.

For his contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process, Queen Elizabeth II awarded him an OBE in 2008. In 2010, he was named Irish American of the Year by this magazine. In 2011, Queen’s University Belfast presented him with an honorary Doctorate of Science in Economics.  He is also a recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. And as we go to press we learn that John has been named Chairman of The American Ireland Fund, which to date has raised $430 million for projects that promote peace and culture in Ireland.

Yet, for all the honors and accolades he has received, it’s safe to say that the greatest reward for John Fitzpatrick, is the one he gets from giving back.

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Bruce Morrison: Immigration Reformer & Peacekeeper https://irishamerica.com/2013/03/bruce-morrison-immigration-reformer-peacekeeper/ https://irishamerica.com/2013/03/bruce-morrison-immigration-reformer-peacekeeper/#comments Wed, 20 Mar 2013 22:32:13 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=15315 Read more..]]> A lawyer, lobbyist and former U.S. congressman, Bruce Morrison is not an unlikely hero. Since his days as a student organizer at the University of Illinois, where he founded and chaired the Graduate Student Association, to the ground breaking immigration reform he ushered in at the close of his four terms in Congress, he has long held justice for the overlooked as a top priority.

He is, however, an unlikely Irish hero. Morrison was raised as a Lutheran in Northport, Long Island by Dorothea and George Morrison, adopted parents of  German and Scots-Irish heritage. He took an interest in chemistry from an early age, graduating from MIT in three years and then pursuing a master’s degree in organic chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

There, his work rallying the graduate student body sparked his interest in social justice, and in a turn of pace he applied and was accepted to Yale Law School, graduating in 1973. The bonds he forged with some of his classmates, including a couple named Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham, would later prove important. He joined the New Haven Legal Assistance Association, which specialized in providing legal aid to New Haven’s poor, and quickly rose to become its executive director in 1976.

Morrison entered politics in 1982, winning the Democratic primary and a grass roots campaign to represent Connecticut’s third congressional district. His eight years in the House of Representatives were marked by a fierce dedication to domestic social issues and international human rights. In addition to serving on the House Banking Committee, House Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Children, Youth and Families, he fought hard to improve housing conditions and opportunities for the poor, becoming an expert in the field. His human rights involvement took him to Cuba, Chile, South Africa, Nicaragua and Northern Ireland.

Morrison was introduced to the Irish cause in 1983, during his Freshman term in congress. He initially joined the  Friends of Ireland, a group that at the time included Tip O’Neill and Ted Kennedy, but after two years he accepted the invitation of Richard Lawlor, then vice-chairman of Irish Northern Aid (Noraid), to join the Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs. In 1887, he took that first trip to Ireland, visiting Dublin and Belfast. He met with Irish and British officials, and with Sinn Féin’s leader Gerry Adams – with whom, at that point, the American government still refused to communicate. His commitment, which would prove crucial to the ceasefire and peace process, was solidified.

However, Morrison first gained notoriety in the Irish-American community not for his role in making Northern Ireland a priority in Washington, but for his work on immigration reform. During his last term in Congress, Morrison served as chairman of the House Immigration Subcommittee. That year, he authored one of the most comprehensive revisions to immigration law of the 20th century, and with the help of his allies, including Senator Ted Kennedy, saw it through to legislation.

The Immigration Reform Act of 1990 created new opportunities for skilled workers and introduced the Diversity Immigrant Visa lottery. It increased by 200,000 the total visas to be granted each year, and also saw a certain number allotted to applicants from countries that had been out of favor since the immigration reforms of 1965, including 48,000 specifically for the Irish. These visas soon became know as the Morrison visas, and their author’s name became synonymous with the new lives they granted to so many.

Morrison retired from political life in 1990 after an unsuccessful bid for Governor of Connecticut. No longer an elected official, he was able to act more forcefully and directly than before. Morrison returned to legal practice, founding his own firm specializing in immigration law. In 1992, he supported his old law school classmate in his run for President, serving as co-chairman of Irish Americans for Clinton-Gore, a role he would reprise for the 1996 election.

After the Morrison visas, the former congressman was famous in Irish circles. But it was not a position he would take for granted. As he explained in a 1997 interview with the Hartford Courant, “Here I had this fortuitous coming together of opportunities that had made me a hero in Irish America and in Ireland . . . and it was like, ‘That’s great, I can just bask in the glory of it all and get upgraded on Aer Lingus, but I’m an activist. That’s who I am. How do I take this and make something different in the world?’”

In addition to representing and rallying the Irish-American contingent in support of Clinton, Morrison advised and briefed him on Northern Ireland. Once in office, the new president followed through on his promise to devote attention to the struggle for peace.

Morrison continued to provide advice and information to President Clinton throughout his two terms in office. Traveling frequently to Ireland and the North, the former congressman became one of the Americans for a New Irish Agenda (ANIA), a group that included publisher Niall O’Dowd and fellow Hall of Fame honorees Chuck Feeney and Bill Flynn. In September 1993, they made an unprecedented eight-day visit to Northern Ireland, to deepen the understanding of all  sides and to communicate the possibility that a cessation of violence would be met with U.S. support.

In Dublin, the members of ANIA met with then-Taoiseach Albert Reynolds and Jean Kennedy Smith, who had just been appointed U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. In Belfast, they were received by Loyalist figure Gusty Spence, David Ervine of the Progressive Unionist Party and Gary Mitchell of the Ulster Defense Force.  They talked at length with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. After their departure, it emerged that the IRA had quietly called a ceasefire for the duration of the visit.

Over the next few years, ANIA would continue to assist with negotiations, leading to the IRA ceasefires of 1994 and 1997, and, also in 1994, the U.S.’s decision to grant Gerry Adams a 48-hour visa , allowing him to attend a peace conference held by the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.

Throughout this period, Morrison served from 1992 to 1997 on the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, which conducted a comprehensive study of U.S. immigration law. During the Clinton Administration, he was also appointed by the president as chairman of the Federal Housing Finance Board, an independent agency regulating the twelve Federal Home Loan Banks. In this role from 1995 to 2000, he developed and implemented a far-reaching strategy to modernize the business of the banks.

Now head of the Morrison Public Affairs Advocacy Group, which he founded in Maryland in 2001, Morrison provides strategic advice and representation to a range of clients, and still practices as an attorney, specializing in immigration. He lives in Bethesda with his wife, Nancy, and their son Drew. His legacies are many, but he will always hold a special place in Irish history and regard.

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Irish State Apology for the Magdalenes https://irishamerica.com/2013/03/irish-state-apology-for-the-magdalenes/ https://irishamerica.com/2013/03/irish-state-apology-for-the-magdalenes/#respond Wed, 20 Mar 2013 22:31:23 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=15311 Read more..]]> On behalf of the Irish State,  on February 19 Taoiseach Enda Kenny gave a long-awaited and forthright apology to the victims of Ireland’s Magdalene laundries, the Church-run institutions where thousands of young women were kept – often against their wills – throughout the 1900s.

In an address that was largely praised by survivors, family members and politicians alike, Kenny stated: “I, as Taoiseach, on behalf of the State, the government and our citizens deeply regret and apologize unreservedly to all those women for the hurt that was done to them, and for any stigma they suffered, as a result of the time they spent in a Magdalene laundry.”

The formal apology came just a few weeks after the release of the McAleese Report, an intensive study conducted throughout 2012 to determine the State’s relationship with the laundries. The report, led by the recently retired senator Martin McAleese (the husband of former Irish president Mary McAleese) was ordered in the summer of 2011, when the United Nations Committee Against Torture censured the Irish government for its failure to investigate long-standing allegations of human rights abuses and conditions tantamount to torture.

Kenny praised the McAleese Report as having shone “a bright and necessary light on a dark chapter of Ireland’s history.”  Ten laundries operated throughout Ireland from 1922 to 1996, when the last, run by the Convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity on Sean Mac Dermott Street in Dublin, shut its doors. Upwards of 10,000 girls, with a median age of 23 years old, passed through the laundries. The total number is thought to be at least 4,000 greater, as the report was unable to obtain adequate records from the Sisters of Mercy-run Galway and Dun Laoighre laundries.

The report revealed that the State was directly involved in over a quarter of all admissions to the laundries, through the social services, reformatories, psychiatric institutions, probation services and industrial schools, and that many state-run institutions, including prisons, availed of their laundry services, for which the women were never paid.

Speaking in Dáil Éireann, where Magdalene survivors and advocates crowded the visitors gallery,  Kenny declared that the women would get the compensation and recognition they had long fought for.

He also spoke to Ireland’s national conscience, commenting that the laundries had “cast a shadow over Irish life, over our sense of who we are.”

“Today, just as the State accepts its direct involvement . . . society too has its responsibility,” he said. “I believe I speak for millions of Irish people all over the world when I say we put away these women because for too many years we put away our conscience . . . We lived with the damaging idea that what was desirable and acceptable in the eyes of the Church and the State was the same and interchangeable.”

The Taoiseach was visibly moved as he talked about meeting with many of the survivors, most of whom are now elderly, and the vivid detail with which they were able to recall the conditions they endured.

“As a society, for many years we failed you. We forgot you or, if we thought of you at all, we did so in untrue and offensive stereotypes,” he concluded. “This is a national shame, for which I again say, I am deeply sorry.”

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The Most Globalized Nation of the Western World https://irishamerica.com/2013/03/the-most-globalized-nation-of-the-western-world/ https://irishamerica.com/2013/03/the-most-globalized-nation-of-the-western-world/#respond Wed, 20 Mar 2013 22:30:32 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=15307 Read more..]]> Ireland has been ranked as the most globalized nation in the West and the world’s third most globalized economy in terms of GDP according to the annual globalization index published by accounting giant Ernst and Young.

A collaboration between Ernst and Young and the Economic Intelligence Unit, the index examines 60 countries – specifically, their integration into the global economy. Variables considered include “a country’s openness to trade, movement of capital, exchange of technology and ideas, labor movements, and cultural integration.”

This may come as no surprise given the great number of Internet and corporate giants, including Google and Apple, that have established their European headquarters in Ireland in recent years, but Ernst and Young has consistently ranked Ireland among the top three most globalized nations every year since 1995. In fact, 2012 saw Ireland fall one place behind its 2011 ranking.
Hong Kong (which held first place for the third consecutive year) and Singapore placed ahead of Ireland, which surpassed close contenders Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark. The United States ranked twenty-fifth.

Ireland’s high ranking was attributed to the country’s high performance in the areas of movement of capital and finance, and cultural integration, and to its disproportionately high level of foreign direct investment. Ernst and Young forecasted that Ireland will maintain its overall ranking until at least 2015, due to continued projected growth in trade and capital – good news as Ireland continues to rebuild its economy.

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New Chinese Translation of Joyce Becomes Best-seller https://irishamerica.com/2013/03/new-chinese-translation-of-joyce-becomes-best-seller/ https://irishamerica.com/2013/03/new-chinese-translation-of-joyce-becomes-best-seller/#respond Wed, 20 Mar 2013 22:29:11 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=15303 Read more..]]> The new translation of James Joyce’s epically complex Finnegans Wake into Chinese has become an unexpected success. The first print run of 8,000 copies sold out in just under five weeks and a second printing is on order to satisfy China’s still-increasing demand for Joyce’s book.

The translation was undertaken by Dai Congrong, a professor at Fudan University in Shanghai, and clocked in at eight years. Both Dai and her publisher, Gray Tan, were more than surprised at the translation’s success. In China, the average run for a translation is about 5,000 copies, but the Shanghai News and Publishing Bureau reported that the rapid sales of “Fennigan de Shouling Ye” made it the number two best-selling publication in the prestigious “good book” category, after a new biography of Communist re-formist Deng Xiaoping.

“At first I felt very surprised, and I feel very surprised now still,” says Dai. “I thought my readers would be scholars and writers, and it wouldn’t be so popular.”

But just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it is any less opaque. In a statement reported by the Shanghai People’s Publishing House, Dai said “I would not be faithful to the original intent of the novel if my translation made it easy to comprehend.” Dia invented new Chinese symbols for the text and consciously misused traditional Chinese grammar in her attempt to remain true to the mode of Joyce.

While the success of the translation has been attributed variously to the universal intrigue about its inscrutability, a massive urban billboard campaign (the first of its kind according to the state-run Xinhua news agency), or, more skeptically, owning it as a bourgeois status symbol, its heralded publication in China makes all the more relevant Joyce’s thunderous multi-lingual onomatopoeia: “bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!”


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