August September 2002 Issue – Irish America Irish America Magazine Mon, 15 Jul 2019 20:00:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 82361074 Bono’s African Journey Thu, 01 Aug 2002 08:00:46 +0000 Read more..]]> Bono wants a major rethink on U.S. foreign policy regarding Africa. The Dubliner and frontman for U2 feels that aid can work but only if the burden of debt is removed, and he took his argument to U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill.


When Bob Geldof roused the Western world out of indifference about starvation in Ethiopia, much was made of the fact that he was Irish. The general wisdom suggested he understood the Ethiopian plight because he shared a folk memory of famine. The Dubliner insisted his response was purely humanitarian, but no one could deny that the Boomtown Rat was somehow following an established path between Ireland and Africa.

For most of the last century thousands of missionary priests and nuns left Ireland to proselytize for the Catholic Church. The situation has changed significantly in recent years. Skilled professionals still leave for Africa, but Irish aid workers no longer operate on religious grounds. They are less busy saving souls than saving lives.

Geldof’s high-profile campaign raised $200 million. It was a huge achievement that for a time opened minds without changing them. It was also a once-off event that enlisted celebrity support before compassion fatigue set in. Geldof and Live Aid became so synonymous that his moderately successful music career seemed dwarfed by the global catastrophe he’d taken upon his shoulders.

Celebrities might be persuaded to front particular causes but guest appearances are usually as far as it goes. In the showbiz world where sell-by dates come quickly, stars are urged to steer clear of political causes without ready solutions. Audiences want singers, not preachers; stars, not model citizens; entertainers who offer a chance to escape reality rather than confront it.

Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that after 15 years, Geldof’s baton has passed to a fellow Dubliner. Another rock star with an ego and a conscience. This time it’s not a one-day televised concert but an arduous campaign of lobbying and briefings on the corridors of power. Paul Hewson, better known as Bono, is following the trail.

Bono meets with President Bush to propose a major rethink on U.S. foreign policy regarding Africa.

The U2 frontman was part of the Live Aid effort in 1986, and the band’s dynamic performance at Wembley that afternoon marked a significant leap in U2’s international profile. Looking back, Bono credits Geldof for reacting “on a visceral level” to horrific TV images of famine in Ethiopia. Over the years he has come to understand that gut reaction is only part of the answer.

“I’m tired of dreaming,” says the father of four. “I’m into doing at the moment. It’s, like, `let’s only have goals that we can go after.’ U2 is about the impossible. Politics is the art of the possible. They’re very different, and I’m resigned to that now.”

At 41 he could be forgiven for relaxing in the afterglow of the `Elevation’ tour that relaunched U2 as a musical force. But there is a restlessness about him that doesn’t allow for basking just yet. And with remarkable stamina he’s become a persuasive lobbyist with an open-ended checklist.

Millions of Africans have died from famine, malnutrition and AIDS through the 20th century. Assistance to date has been piecemeal and activists realize they must go to the very top if fundamental change is to happen. When Bono met with President Bush at the Inter-American Development Bank forum, it was not to try to soften the President’s Texan heart. He wanted a major rethink on U.S. foreign policy regarding Africa. The Dubliner feels that aid can work but only if the burden of debt is removed.

Bush was doubtful. Fellow Republicans — like his Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill — felt the same way. The former CEO of Alcoa (the world’s biggest aluminium corporation) contended that aid has failed to produce results. Why throw more money at it when there’s nothing to show? Bono made an appointment to see O’Neill.

“I refused to meet him at first,” recalls the Treasury man. “I thought he was just some pop star who wanted to use me.” They were scheduled to meet for half an hour. The meeting ran 60 minutes overtime. “He’s a serious person,” decided O’Neill. “He cares deeply about these issues, and you know what? He knows a lot about them.”

President Bush suggested the pair go to Africa on a fact-finding mission. “When Bono and I met with him, he said to us, `You show me more results, there will be more money,'” says O’Neill. With their remit set somewhere between advocacy and skepticism, the singer and the secretary were on their way.

The image of rock star Bono and the 67-year-old U.S. Treasury Secretary hustling around Africa proved irresistible to the world’s media. Dubbed “The Odd Couple,” the two covered a lot of ground on their 10-day trip. They visited Uganda, South Africa, Ghana and Ethiopia for a close-up view of aid-in-action, where it has worked and failed, as well as meeting with influential players in development economics.

“I think Paul O’Neill is going to be a very different person going out of this trip than he was coming in,” Bono told Time after visiting an AIDS clinic in Soweto. Unlike Irish missionaries of the past, Bono didn’t aim his persuasive skills at receptive Africans. Instead, he set about converting his American traveling partner.

Bono’s involvement is no day-trip into the political arena. Never shy to air his politics onstage, he regularly endorses causes like Greenpeace and Amnesty International. Following Live Aid in 1984 he and his wife Ali went to famine-stricken Ethiopia to work for six weeks at an orphanage. The experience left its mark. “You’d wake up in the morning, and mist would be lifting,” he recalls. “You’d walk out of your tent, and you’d count bodies of dead and abandoned children. Or worse, the father of a child would walk up to you and try to give you his living child and say, `You take it because if this is your child it won’t die.'”

Bono with an 11 month old HIV-positive baby that he met when visiting on AIDS clinic as part of his tour of Africa with US Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, May, 2002.

As a 15-year-old growing up in Dublin he lived through his own tragedy. His mother, Iris, suffered a brain aneurysm while attending the funeral of her father. During his teenage years at Mount Temple School — where U2 formed 26 years ago — he joined a Christian prayer group, Shalom. He subsequently left, but his abiding fascination with scripture is frequently reflected in his songwriting.

U2’s northside chapel has become more of a global cathedral, and the group ranks as one of the world’s most successful rock bands. Millions of album sales and numerous world tours later, the singer saw that the suffering which inspired Live Aid had not gone away. He added his voice to the Jubilee 2000 campaign, which targets the $350 billion foreign debt afflicting 52 of the poorest countries in the world. It means that for every $1 in assistance, $9 comes back in loan repayments.

“As a pop star I have two instincts,” he explained. “I want to have fun, and I want to change the world. On New Year’s Eve ’99 there was a chance to do both.” Referring to Live Aid, Bono recalled, “We raised $200 million and we thought we’d cracked it. It was a great moment, a great feeling. Then I discovered that Africa pays 200 million dollars every five days repaying old debts. Tears were obviously not enough.”

The more Bono discovered about the imbalance, the more he committed himself to doing something about it. “The millennium is a key moment in time,” he noted with a biblical flourish. “We have to grasp that moment — the rule of money-lenders has gone too far.”

World Economic Forum (left to right)- Mutual of America’s Tom Moran, Peter Jennings from ABC World News, Bono and Concern chief executive Tom Arnold, Feb., 2002.

The position was echoed by the Wall Street Journal, describing loan fees on poor nations as “obscene.” Traditionally conservative voices — such as the Adam Smith Institute and Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs — argued that Africa’s debts had become so top-heavy they crippled any chance of breaking the poverty trap.

Bono consulted with Sachs and set up DATA (Debt, Aid and Trade for Africa), an agency based on the U.S. Marshall Plan, which canceled European debts after World War II and provided trade incentives to rebuild their economies. “He gave a call and said he’d like to meet and talk about foreign debts,” says Sachs. “And he said to bring a conservative colleague with me, because he wanted to hear the other side.”

The lobbying began. “I’ll never forget one day during my Administration,” says former President Bill Clinton, “(Treasury) Secretary (Lawrence) Summers comes into my office and says, `You know, some guy just came in to see me in jeans and a t-shirt, and he just had one name, but he sure was smart. Do you know anything about him?'”

Jubilee 2000 renamed itself Drop The Debt. The song remained the same, and the singer, restored to superstardom with the global success of U2’s 12th album, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, began knocking on doors. He managed this despite another grievous personal setback. His father, Bob Hewson, died on the eve of the group’s massive concert at Slane Castle in Co. Meath. The show went ahead, dedicated to his father’s memory.

“I’m in the music business, the volume business,” Bono once remarked. “Making a lot of noise is something musicians do well. We see a chance here, for an idea that will give not just the millennium some meaning, but also our generation.”

Bono speaks at the World Economic Forum while Bill Gates (right) ‘listens’, New York, Feb. 2002.

Meetings were arranged with known figures like Clinton, Kofi Annan, Tony Blair, Pope John Paul II, George Soros, Jesse Helms and Colin Powell.

Other powerful figures might have a less public profile, and so last year Bono showed up at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. At a late night discussion in a New York restaurant he joined a table of diverse interests including the Bill &Melinda Gates Foundation to discuss how America might be persuaded to see the benefits of letting Africa stand free. He told them he had earlier in the day met with 30 Congressmen. “I am not willing to give up on the Republicans,” he insisted. “They’re tough, but they’re willing to listen.”

Paul O’Neill, who is himself of Irish ancestry, indeed proved willing to listen but tough. He and Bono differed publicly on a number of occasions, but the tour partly fulfilled its purpose by putting development aid squarely on the agenda of Congress. O’Neill might be slow to change but he was not unmoved by what he saw. “There is an essential question when I see real people sitting here with us and know that there are thousands who are not getting any treatment,” said the Secretary at the Soweto AIDS clinic. “It is pretty hard to sit there and see this kind of courage and not know that the world needs to respond. If you just sit and talk for an hour with these wonderful people and hold their children, no one can say no.”

They were sentiments that could have been expressed by his traveling partner. Bono noted during their 10-day tour that 55,000 people died from AIDS, 14,000 children were born with HIV, and Africans spent $400 million on debt payments.

The very scale of adversity would be enough to make most people give up but Bono’s missionary impulse is urgent and pragmatic. “So,” he asks, “what can we do?” ♦

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Postcards From the Edge Thu, 01 Aug 2002 07:59:26 +0000 Read more..]]> Although she takes her husband’s surname, Ali Hewson has always shied away from publicity generated by marriage to rock star Bono, the frontman of U2, and while he carries on his war against world debt, she concentrates on nuclear fallout closer to home. 


Anna Gabriel is excited. Having changed from her customary jeans and T-shirt into a velvet frock the nine-year-old is all dressed up for a party to commemorate Chernobyl. The nuclear disaster happened seven years before Anna was born but Chernobyl’s 16th anniversary has a strange significance for her. Genetic damage from radiation exposure suffered by her mother left deformities in Anna’s legs, ears and fingers. Like thousands of afflicted babies in Belarus she was abandoned at birth.

If her life changed long before she entered the world it changed for the better nine months after she was born. Adi Roche and Ali Hewson of the Chernobyl Children’s Project visited Abandoned Children’s Hospital Number One outside the capital, Minsk. As the Irish women moved around the ward comforting the children, many of whom bore deformities directly related to radiation, Ali noticed a particular baby smiling at her from a nearby cot. She reached in and took the the infant in her arms.

Every time Ali returned to Belarus with the Project she found Anna waiting for her. The child was distraught at each parting but four years after the initial visit, Robert and Helen Gabriel form Bandon, County Cork set about the highly bureaucratic process of bringing Anna back to Ireland for adoption. For over five very happy years the exuberant Anna has grown up alongside half-sister Clodagh as through the two were twins.

Anna’s shin-bones have not developed. In time she will face major surgery, possibly amputations, to alleviate the pressure on joints between her knee and ankle. Whatever lies ahead she has prospered in a loving environment and there’s no looking back.

And so when the Gabriel family planned to travel to Dublin for the anniversary Anna was thrilled at the prospect. Not only would she get to go to the party but she would meet her godmother, the dark–haired woman who lifted her from the orphanage cot eight years ago.

Ali with a postcard.

Ali Hewson is in the spotlight. It’s an unusual role fro the 41-year-old but she’s handling it with ease. Although she takes her husband’s surname she has always shied away from publicity generated by marriage into rock superstardom. Ali and Bono, the frontman of U2, first met in Mount Temple School on Dublin’s north–side, married in 1982 and now have four children.

It was in 1993 that Ali got involved with Chernobyl Children’s Project Ireland. While some of her contributions have been high–profile – such as presenting the documentary “Black Wind/White Land” or raising funds through celebrity fashion shows – her work with the Project is less patron saint than helping hand. She has visited Belarus on eight occasions but it is the possibility of a nuclear disaster closer to home that catapults her into the limelight.

The Chernobyl commemoration takes place at Dublin Corporation’s modern city offices at Wood Quay, beside the River Liffey at Christchurch. The evening marks the beginning of a month-long photographic exhibition depicting the struggle in which the Cork-based Project is engaged. Magnum photographer Paul Fusco’s collection of large black and white images offers a moving, if not frightening, reminder of what happened in the former Soviet Union.

The exhibition was made possible by assistance from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Project founder Adi Roche leads former Minister for State Liz O’Donnell on a guided tour. Anna and Clodagh are thrilled to be the center of attention while waiting staff serve drinks and sandwiches. Anna takes a break from demolishing a bottle of soda when introduced to the minister.

Guests are arriving steadily and homeward–bound Corporation workers are curious about an event that brings so many movers and shakers to their workplace. They recognize Adi Roche and Liz O’Donnell but their attention is drawn to a glamorous dark–haired woman arriving at Wood Quay. She has just finished an interview with Radio Cumbria explaining why she wants to see Sellafield’s nuclear reprocessing plant shut.

Adi Roche and Ali Hewson meet as close friends committed to the cause they lead. With O’Donnell they form a lively trio when suddenly their discussions are torpedoed by a beaming child in a black velvet dress. Spotting Ali across the room Anna races in uneven strides to her godmother. Ali sees the child coming and swoops to pick her up in an affectionate, heartfelt embrace. Press photographers move to capture the moment but this is no stage–managed “photo–op.” The paparazzi intrusion is borne without notice or complaint. If celebrity is a by–product of the modern age it just comes with the territory when you lend your name to a charity organization.

The snapshot of Ali and Anna brings to mind the innocence and vulnerability of children, and the image is eloquent shorthand to how the campaign against Sellafield, the British nuclear plant, came about. This is no overnight conversion to the nuclear issue. Ali Hewson has been involved in Greenpeace for years, long before the Chernobyl Project. In 1992 she enlisted U2’s help in highlighting the environmental impact of discharges from the Sellafield plant. Dressed in white anti–radiation suits, all four band members were filmed with Greenpeace activists beside drums filled with contaminated mud from the Irish Sea.

The Hewson family home on Co. Dublin’s Killiney coast lies southwest of Sellafield, the radioactive jewel of British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. (BNFL). The Sprawling plant in Cumbria put out a reactor fire in 1957 (when known as Windscale) and has since withstood a number of lesser accidents as well as several prosecutions for falsifying maintenance and safety records.

As a mother of four Ali Hewson’s Belarus experience brought the nuclear threat into sharper focus. “I started to wonder how safe it was for them to play on the beach or swim in the sea or even to eat fish,” she explains. “This is a nuclear–free land and yet if anything happens to that plant, the East Coast of Ireland is straight in the firing line. I’ve always felt strongly opposed to Sellafield. It is 60 miles away from the Irish Coast. It is pumping two million gallons of radioactive liquid waste into the Irish Sea everyday, making it the most radioactive sea in the world. If an accident happens at the plant, or if there is a terrorist attack, depending on which way the wind blows, Dublin, Dundalk, Droheda, Belfast, and vast parts of Ireland, would be uninhabitable forever.”

What concerns her is the very real possibility that Chernobyl could happen again. “I have seen children born with deformities and dying in orphanages. Children who have had their thyroid glands removed and will need to take medicine for the rest of their lives – if they can get it. And because radiation doesn’t not respect borders, in Ireland we are in the same position as Belarus. We did not ask for this nuclear power base to be built beside is, but we are just as vulnerable as the people of Britain.”

It’s an intrusive comparison. Chernobyl is actually situated in Ukraine, but following the 1986 disaster a northerly wind blew 70 percent of the fallout over neighboring Belarus. That a nuclear–free country is the biggest victim of a nuclear fallout argues its own case. “That is exactly what could happen to us,” says the social science graduate.

September 11 sounded alarm bells to Sellafield as a potential terrorist target. The British response was mind-boggling. Rather than scale down operations, BNFL announced plans to open a new MOX (mixed oxide fuel) plant at the site. “I’m not surprised,” she says, seeing the BNFL move as a profit–seeking gambit for a loss–making enterprise. “They want to expand its operations and the Irish notion even in the debate.”

And so in an effort to seeing public opinion against Sellafield Ali Hewson decided to bombard Britain with postcards. Using an idea inspired by Dubliner Michael Carroll and with assistance from An Post, the Irish postal service, a stamp–addressed postcard was delivered to every Irish home in Ireland. Recipients were invited to sign the card and post it to either the British prime minister with the message “Tony, look me in the eve and tell me I’m safe,” to Norman Askew, chairman of British Nuclear Fuels (“Tell us the truth”) or to Prince Charles, regarded as an influential environmentalist, who got a radioactive shamrock saying “Wish you were here?”

Postcard sent to British Prime minister, Tony Blair.

The response is overwhelming. An estimated 1.6 million cards were posted across the Irish Sea. “An amazing reaction,” Hewson enthuses. The take-up represented 93 percent of Irish households responding to the campaign. In an age of cynicism and apathy it certainly was staggering.

Under such an avalanche of public opinion the issue was suddenly too big t ignore at cabinet level. In the House of Commons British Prime Minister Blair acknowledged the extent of public concern in Ireland.

Minister for Energy Brian Wilson suggested the appeal was “generalized and emotive,” but stock responses from Westminster and BNFL were of little interest to the campaigner who personally delivered the first card to 10 Downing Street on April 26.

“What we want to do is raise awareness in Britain, enough to make it an election issue,” she feels. “People in the UK were more interested and more concerned that I expected. I think they realize Sellafield is a reprocessing plant collecting nuclear waste from all over the world.

“This campaign isn’t about the ethics of nuclear energy. It’s about reprocessing and having a nuclear dustbin on your doorstep. BNFL promises to cut the daily two–million–gallon discharge within 20 years, but if they land international MOX contracts to extract uranium and plutonium from nuclear waste, the risks increase and further pollution is inevitable.

This is one for the long haul.

The case has already been taken over by four people in Dundalk, Co. Louth. Over seven years ago the Stop Thorp Alliance Dundalk (STAD) campaign came into being. In taking a legal case against BNFL the group will also challenge the Dublin government on its record for protecting Irish citizens. STAD claims that incidence of cancer is abnormally high in the Carlingford area of Co. Louth and there is a direct relation between the illness and emissions from Sellafield. to date the Irish government has provided €400,000 towards technical assistance but the action group has received no support for legal fees. As a result STAD will take a case both against BNFL and the Irish government at the High Court in Dublin, while in a complicated legal turn, the Irish government will take on BNFL over the MOX issue.

“All you have to do is take an interest in Sellafield or the nuclear industry and you’d be worried,” said a STAD spokesman. “If storage tanks over there went belly–up it would empty this country. Ours is primarily a legal campaign rather than a political campaign, but the postcard idea has certainly raised public awareness in Ireland.”

“I’ll stick with this for as long as Sellafield is there,” pledges Ali Hewson. “We will try to close down Sellafield, or at least close down its’ activities. I would prefer not to do it,” she adds, preferring to work behind the scenes if she could. But she’s made her choice and on balance can live comfortably with her decision.

“There is a price to campaigning like this but it’s worth it,” she feels. “I think our family probably has enough publicity as it is and I would prefer to keep a more private life, but in the end I felt I couldn’t turn round to my children in twenty years’ time and say that I had had an opportunity to do something about Sellafield but didn’t. I have seen what happened in Chernobyl, and there is no way I am going to let that happen here.” ♦

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The First Word: Window on the World Thu, 01 Aug 2002 07:58:57 +0000 Read more..]]> On July 11, 2001 we gathered at the Windows on the World on top of the World Trade Center for our annual Wall Street 50 bash. The guests, senior members and a smattering of women excepting, were mostly young men in their 30s. I talked to John Ryan Jr. and kidded him about his mother giving him a hard time over the Hawaiian shirt he wore for his bio pic.

Ryan and his friends, rising stars on Wall Street, were excited about the Aer Lingus Premier Class tickets they would each receive as part of their honorarium. For some it would be their first visit to Ireland — an opportunity to take a golfing trip with the guys. Others would bring their wives and kids. One young man told me how he had taken his girlfriend to Ireland the year before and proposed to her. Our keynote speaker for the evening, Denis Kelleher, talked about what his choices would have been had he stayed in Kerry, and how he decided to emigrate to New York rather than work in the local creamery. Kelleher began his career as a messenger at Merrill Lynch and quickly moved up the ranks, eventually founding his own company.

As Kelleher spoke, telling us of the people on the Street who helped him as a young immigrant to find his feet, the sun hung low over New York Harbor, the light reflecting off the Statue of Liberty and the roofs of the buildings on Ellis Island, the old immigrant processing station.

America has been good to Kelleher, as it has been for so many hopeful immigrants, who have sought a better future for their children.

It was a real Irish party — a magic night that has been made even more so in memory by what happened just two short months later. As we go to press on another Wall Street 50 issue, I remember Joe Berry and his wife as they said their good nights — how they held hands as they walked away. The next time I would hear of Berry was reading his obituary in The New York Times. It mentioned what a great father he was. How even though the kids were grown, the family all still went on vacations together. It also mentioned how he had been honored as an Irish American on Wall Street.

We have lost others too who were there that night: Joe Lenihan and Chris Duffy. I have a photo of Joe as he accepted his Waterford Crystal Harp, and another of Chris Duffy standing beside his father, John.

Joe Lenihan’s motto was “the harder you work, the luckier you get.” It’s a philosophy that Maetinez Arrazela probably embraced. Arrazela, from Mexico, worked at Windows on the World. His American dream was to send $600 home each month so that his children might be educated. That dream died with him on September 11, and as he was an undocumented immigrant, his family will not receive any aid from New York.

It is moot to say the world has forever been changed by September 11. As we live now, in a society that is constantly on the alert for further attacks, the Irish government has begun sending anti-radiation pills to every household in Ireland. Potassium iodine tablets are supposed to prevent the thyroid gland from accumulating radioactive iodine (the Chernobyl nuclear disaster is reported to have caused at least 2,000 cases of thyroid cancer).

Britain’s nuclear plant, Sellafield, is located in Wales, just across the Irish Sea and many feel it is responsible for the high rates of cancer on Ireland’s East Coast. The Irish have long had to contend with the plant’s dumping of millions of gallons of radioactive waste into the Irish Sea, and now they must fear a terrorist attack on the plant. A recent EU report says an accident at Sellafield could cause greater damage than the Chernobyl explosion in the Ukraine in 1986. That same year Sellafield had at least four serious leaks of radioactive material.

Ali Hewson has seen the devastation that nuclear fallout can cause. Interviewed by Frank Shouldice, she tells us about the Chernobyl Children’s Project she helped found with Adi Roche. Born to mothers exposed to the radiation, many of the children suffer from horrendous deformities, and have been abandoned by families unable to cope.

Recently Ali and her organization started a postcard campaign targeting Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair, to put pressure on the British Government to close Sellafield.

Meanwhile, her musician husband Bono, the frontman for U2, is on a mission to end Third World Debt. He recently persuaded U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Paul O’Neill, to take a trip to Africa with him. Frank Shouldice also brings you that story.

In an age when celebrity is worshipped, we can be proud of this Irish couple and their vision of the world as a safer, better place.

Windows on the World is no longer there but we must hold on to that vision of the world. ♦

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Kate Dillon Thu, 01 Aug 2002 07:57:58 +0000 Read more..]]> Kate Dillon wears many hats. In addition to her work in the world of fashion, she is spokesperson for the Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy and Action and co-founder of Echo, a children’s organization committed to teaching social consciousness through art.

Dillon is both beautiful and very much in proportion at five feet eleven inches and 175 pounds, yet she has spent most of her life being defined by her size. This has proved to be the impetus for her activism as well as providing her with the means to pursue two successful modeling careers — her first as a high fashion model and her second in the world of plus-size fashion.



As a child, Dillon was overweight and endured taunts, which contributed to her developing anorexia at the age of 12. As a skinny 16-year-old, she was discovered in her hometown of San Diego and signed by Elite Models. Dillon, whose paternal grandfather came from County Clare, embarked on a lifestyle of high-profile fashion shoots and travel to Paris and Milan. But in order to maintain a 125–pound figure, Dillon was barely eating enough and smoking two packs of cigarettes a day to suppress her appetite. At 19, she finally turned to a nutritionist for help and was encouraged to put on 15 pounds.

Soon she was healthier than she had been for years, but Dillon’s weight gain displeased her agent and clients and she was told she looked awful. This was the catalyst for Dillon’s exit from the world of fashion. She turned her back on a career that seemed incompatible with health and well-being and returned to San Diego. Three years later, at the age of 22, Dillon returned to the fashion industry – but this time as a plus-size model.

Dillon’s appearance last April in Vogue’s Shape Issue has reinforced her status as one of the most successful models of her generation. Having put her own demons aside, she is now on a crusade to try and challenge society’s unrealistic obsession with thinness. “I certainly have my moments when I feel unattractive, but having bad days is part of being alive. Not every day is going to be a power day. However, I’m very comfortable in a bathing suit at the beach – I’m very comfortable walking around in my underwear. I know I’m not perfect but I’m really okay with that.”

Dillon rails against the uniform image of beauty emanating from the regular fashion industry and Hollywood. She feels that the diversity of beauty in the world – different races, sizes and varying concepts of beauty in disparate societies – needs to be recognized and embraced.

Her message is simple: “I’m talking about the freedom to be oneself and feel comfortable. The freedom to be strong and healthy and fit. I don’t think it’s an esoteric concept. I think it’s something that everyone wants. I try to encourage diversity on every level. You don’t have to be a tall, skinny, white girl to be beautiful or have fun.”

Dillon is having fun. At a healthy size 12, she enjoys modeling now in a way that wasn’t possible as a “skinny” model. While the same elements of travel, great clothes and a certain amount of glamour are still present, there is less pressure in plus–size modeling to conform to an unattainable ideal. “The differences between regular and plus-size modeling are huge and beautiful,” she says.

“Plus–size modeling seems to be about a celebration of the body,” Dillon continues. “Women who are plus-size models have always tended to struggle with their bodies and their sense of self in relation to their beauty, and how others perceive their beauty, and so they are pretty strong, amazing women who have overcome a lot. There’s a real sense of sisterhood between us – it’s like we’re activists every time we go to work – we’re stepping up on our soapbox and telling the world that it’s okay to be who you are.”

Kate Dillon presented Senator Clinton with an award on behalf of the Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy and Action, April, 2002.

She is quick to add, however, that she isn’t advocating that it is okay to be overweight and unhealthy. “It’s important to exercise and eat properly and be healthy and to watch what you eat, but generally, plus-size models work really hard at being healthy. I’ve never met one who sits around and eats burgers and fries. Whereas skinny models either starve themselves or they’re naturally skinny and eat McDonald’s all the time.

“There are so few images on how to be healthy in the media,” Dillon continues. “There is either extreme thinness or extreme obesity and there’s a whole world of medium that’s being ignored.” You can be healthy without being crazy, she says. “I’ve learned over the years to listen to my body and what it needs and not to give it more than what it needs. I cut back by eating more vegetables if I feel that I’ve indulged too much.”

Dillon is currently making plans to leave the fashion industry for the second time and move to Houston, where her boyfriend – with whom she has conducted a long–distance relationship over the last year – lives. She has enrolled in a university there and looks forward to beginning the next phase of her life. Though she laughingly admits that she “will always have a foot in the door of the fashion industry” and there are a few great clients that she is prepared to travel great distances for, she is turning her back on an 11–year career.

“I’m 28 and it’s time to start building a foundation for the next thing in my life. I hope to continue with public speaking but my focus will definitely be on school and I’ll see how it works out. I thought that I wanted to be a teacher since I was about 14 years old. When I moved back to New York at 22 after taking three years off, I intended to go to school to study elementary art education. But we’ll see. I’m very open to what life hands me.”

Dillon’s role as spokesperson for the Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy and Action seems to have intensified an inherent appetite for activism and a desire to bring about social change. The Washington D.C.–based group focuses on promoting education and social policy and action relating to eating disorders on a federal level. One of the objectives of the group is to get better insurance coverage for the treatment of eating disorders. This is part of the Mental Health Parity Bill currently before the House, one of the main supporters of which is Senator Hillary Clinton, who has spoken publicly on the issue. Dillon cannot speak highly enough of her. “Senator Clinton is a very wonderful and great supporter of this initiative.”

Dillon, who presented Senator Clinton with an award on behalf of the Eating Disorders Coalition this past April, will meet up with her again on June 26 when she speaks to Congress on the group’s behalf.

Rather than being intimidated by the prospect of speaking before Congress again, Dillon is exhilarated at the prospect though she admits to having had pangs of nerves the first time.

“I was scared but ultimately I think that talking about something you’re passionate about isn’t hard,” she says, but admits that the experience provided the incentive for her to go back to school. `I felt frustrated by my position. How seriously can you take a fashion model in all reality? I felt really compelled to further my education and to put myself in a position where I could be more connected with the powers that be.”

Dillon cites another strong female who helped affirm her decision to study international relations and foreign policy. Having attended an Irish America event in March at which the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, spoke, Dillon expresses warm admiration for the ideas espoused. “Listening to her talk about respect, and compassion and understanding of other cultures was amazing. Everything she stands for, I’d like to see more of in government in America. I feel that this is a period of time when it’s most important to dig deep and try to find compassion and understanding and find out about other people and where they’re coming from.”

To Dillon, politics means the ability to make a difference and bring about social change, and one of the downturns of moving back to Houston will be having to take a step back from Echo, the organization that she co-founded with her friend, Michan Pour-Azar. Echo’s aim is to teach social consciousness through art, and it has been a big part of Dillon’s life for the last three years. “It has been the most fulfilling time of my life,” she says, explaining that the concept is that if you believe strongly in what you create with your heart and mind, then you are less vulnerable to other people’s opinions and will have better self-esteem. To date the organization has had three programs involving young people from all over New York City. Each program is about four months long and focuses on different social issues such as nonviolence and diversity. This year the focus will be on Sept 11 and Afghanistan.

Dillon is applying the same principles to the fashion industry where she is one of a growing number of women who are helping to redefine society’s perception of beauty. “In the last six years I’ve seen enormous changes in the way that the media is expressing beauty,” she says. Referring to the April issue of Vogue which features Dillon on several of its pages, she says, “I would love every issue of Vogue to be like that. I don’t think it detracted from the fantasy or the couture element of the magazine. It was incredibly refreshing to see fashion made more accessible to people and what a great thing it is to be able to make people feel better about themselves.”

And while “change on a significant cultural level takes time,” progress is being made. Dillon says: “If you get one person who is bigger and attractive, you may think it’s a fluke, but if you get one hundred women who are bigger and beautiful, then that’s a reality that can’t be denied.” ♦

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The Gift Thu, 01 Aug 2002 07:57:42 +0000 Read more..]]> The gift of the gab, which translates into dialogue in his plays and screenplays, is one part of his Irish heritage that playwright John Patrick Shanley is grateful for. 


“I’ll take a funeral over a wedding any day,” declares John Patrick Shanley, 49, gleefully. The Bronx-born award-winning playwright, director and screenwriter, whose latest handiwork, Where’s My Money? was recently staged at New York’s City Center Theater, is quite vehement.

“I think this is an area where I’m extremely Irish. The very concept of death is something that we Irish find cheerful and relaxing.”

The mood description, cheerful and relaxed, seems to reflect his demeanor today as he sits in the theater’s bar area, dressed casually in a sea-green cotton shirt, blue jeans and scruffy white sneakers.

Lean and fit-looking, his boyish face beaming, John Patrick Shanley radiates a carefree exuberance that almost belies his serious and insightful perception of people and their relationships. Fortunately for him and us, Shanley sees the hilarity in even the darkest of these.

“It’s weddings that cause me horrible anxieties,” he reveals. “I find them grim affairs filled with people who seem to be in a sustained manic state. The wedding guests seem to be over-the-top cheerful, whereas at funerals and wakes everybody is talking in a normal way and properly communicating with each other and it’s all just lovely.”

If Shanley comes across as a tad eccentric, his resumé in the program for Where’s My Money? marks him as downright loony. Here it tells how he was thrown out of St. Helena’s kindergarten, banned from St. Anthony’s hot lunch program for life and expelled from Cardinal Spellman High School.

Not surprisingly, this pattern continued when was put on academic probation by New York University and instructed to appear before a tribunal if he wanted to resume his studies.

When asked why he had been treated this way by so many academic institutions, Shanley says he really has no idea. Changing the subject, he then tells how he went into the U.S. Marines. Shanley concludes his capsule bio in the program with a slight hint of proud defiance, reassuring the reader, “…he did fine and he’s still doing O.K.”

“Doing okay” is putting it mildly. For the enfant terrible from Archer St. in the Bronx is now reckoned to be one of America’s most original and gifted playwrights and screenwriters.

Ever since his breakthrough with Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, Shanley has been delighting audiences with many more plays such as Italian-American Reconciliation, Four Dogs and a Bone, Psychopathia Sexualis and, now, Where’s My Money?

Also, he has enjoyed success as a screenwriter and director of films that include Five Comers which won a prize at the Barcelona Film Festival, Alive, Congo, and Joe Versus the Volcano. Shanley picked up an Oscar for his original screenplay for Moonstruck which starred Cher and Nicolas Cage.

While Shanley’s work has brought him much critical acclaim, he particularly treasures the award he won from fellow screenwriters, the Writers’ Guild, for Moonstruck. They appreciated, as writers, his very special talent for creating believable dialogue that makes his characters seem so real while placing them in eccentric and wildly funny situations.

When one suggests that his bio reads more like a zany sketch for Monty Python than the real life experiences of a young lad raised by hardworking Irish parents, Shanley lets out a shriek of laughter. “That bio material is absolutely accurate,” he affirms. “I was thrown out of everything. With all the Catholic mythology that I was raised with delineating what was bad and what was good, what was allowed and what was forbidden, it was very difficult to toe the line. I tried very hard, but at being good, I was a miserable failure,” he concedes, “…and every step of the way I felt totally misunderstood.”

Shanley once wrote that as a writer and a man, his one central struggle in life was to accept who he really was. At one time or another, Shanley admits, he has denied every aspect of himself — the Bronx origins, his parents, his being American and his Irishness. Asked which part of him he feels is his Irish self, John describes his heritage.

“My father didn’t come over to America until he was twenty-four. He was from a farm that still belongs to my family in County Westmeath, about eleven kilometers from Mullingar,” he explains. “I love to go there and I’m very close to that side of my family. My mother is a Kelly. She is first-generation, born in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Her parents were from Ireland, of course, so I’m really Irish on both sides all the way back to infinity, I guess.” He smiles.

“When I was growing up I noticed that in Irish households, mine in particular, food was not dwelt on, nor was clothing nor any of the other sensual parts of life, but,” he emphasizes, “where the joy of life was concerned it did come out in conversation.”

Cher and Nicholas Cage in Shanley’s movie Moonstruck. Cher won an Academy Award for her performance.

He recalls warmly, “My father had the gift of language so I was born with that. He just passed away at age ninety-five and had dementia but he was as funny and Irish at the end as he ever was.” Shanley is philosophical. “He just didn’t know who I was, but he knew me long enough to suit me, so it was all just fine.”

“When my father first came over here he started working in the shipyards and then moved into meatpacking,” says Shanley. “He was one of those little Irish guys, wiry and very strong. Even at 95 when he shook your hand you felt it,” laughs Shanley with pride.

“He was extremely affectionate and he shouted across any divide, yelling in a voice that was much louder than you would have wanted for intimate conversations, especially when he was being fatherly. He would holler across the room at any given moment, `I loves yer, boy!’ He was the most confident man I’ve ever known, absolutely delighted with himself and everything he did. I never saw a moment of self-doubt in him. Never! My father loved to work. He’d work on his house on weekends. His idea of a vacation was to go to the farm and work in the fields,” laughs Shanley. “His whole thing was work.

“My mother, although she had a first-class mind, could be quite cool, not as overtly affectionate as my dad. She wasn’t supportive of my being a writer,” he recalls, “and my father wanted me to join the Sanitation Department even when I was graduating valedictorian from my class at New York University,” Shanley comments.

Suddenly sitting bolt upright, he announces, “I think I was born different from my parents or my siblings. I am the youngest of five, two brothers and two sisters, and I always felt different from all of them.

“I didn’t really know I existed until I was fifteen years old,” he describes his epiphany. “I was always in so much trouble. I’d been thrown out of school and was walking home to tell my parents the bad news, when I caught sight of my reflection in a shop window. I stopped, looked and spoke to myself. I said `If you and I can get along with each other, then everything will be O.K.,’ and I smiled at myself and made that little deal, right then and there, and from that time on everything has been just fine.”

Shanley’s first appearance in Irish America Magazine on the cover of the Sept. 1988 issue.

While Shanley felt different from the rest of his family, he proved to be unique among the rest of the neighborhood, too. “As far as I know, not one parent or child out of all those people I grew up with in the Bronx went into the arts,” says Shanley, who had already started to write regularly by the time he was eleven.

“I honestly think that I had some genetic predisposition to be, not simply a writer, but a playwright,” he emphatically asserts. “From the time when I was very young I used to watch a lot of movies on television and I would think to myself, `Now, that’s a very interesting movie, much more interesting than all those other movies,'” recalls Shanley.

“And the ones I liked always turned out to be adaptations from plays,” he explains, such as The Devil’s Disciple by George Bernard Shaw or musicals like The Pajama Game that were transfers from Broadway. It wasn’t just the songs, great stuff like `Steam Heat’ that I loved, but, even more, I loved the dialogue in between. Probably because it was stage dialogue and I had never been to a theater at that point. I became accustomed to stage dialogue from television.”

Asked what the fascination was about that genre of writing, Shanley explains, “It’s a heightened, compressed way of speaking, it’s dramatic dialogue that’s set up just for the stage.”

Being a bright, perceptive young man, Shanley focused his acutely tuned ears and razor-sharp mind on his surroundings, absorbing the intricacies of people’s complex lives and relationships. His writing has always been inspired by those around him.

“The East Bronx was a mixed Irish and Italian neighborhood so I was exposed to all these Italian households as well as my own very Irish family,” recalls Shanley, “and I was very aware that, in these Italian homes, they were eating much better food than I was,” he laughs. “And these Italian guys actually thought about what they were wearing.” His eyes widen in mock amazement. “We never thought about clothes, the guys in my house.

“Also, the Italians would talk openly and frankly about sex,” his face lights up, “and they seemed to think that it was a good thing.

“I wanted what they had going on. I had my Irish strengths but I wanted all that other stuff, too,” Shanley laughs. “So, I wrote a lot about the Italian Americans.”

Shanley with his father.

After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, during the dying days of Vietnam, but stationed in Panama and Cuba, Shanley returned to New York University where he graduated Valedictorian.

Shanley took various jobs including bartending to subsidize his early writing career, and he also met and married a beautiful young Irish-American girl, Joan O’Neill. “We were both really children. I was 22 when I first moved in with her and we both had bits of trouble in our pasts. So as we got older, those things would come out and cause more problems,” reasons John. “We divorced in 1982.”

Looking back at his first marriage and those times, Shanley gets philosophical. “I think that if I had been well adjusted, gotten married and it had all gone just fine, then I probably would never have written any of the things I did.

“The difficulty was that I was having problems with my relationship and I was forced to give it some attention; to look at the problems and try to understand what I wasn’t doing right or the other person wasn’t doing right. You get provoked into thought. You seriously think about the things that are messing up your life. A lot of it had to do with the fact we were struggling. You know, affluent times in a country don’t lead to a lot of soul-searching, it’s only when the shit hits the fan that people suddenly sit up and take notice.”

For Shanley, his own soul-searching took him down the path of psychiatry expert Carl Jung. “Therapy was never a big thing for me. What was, was reading books. I read practically everything that Jung ever wrote and I applied them to my own life,” he explains.

“I wasn’t reading these books to become a better writer but to become a happier person, to try and solve my problems.”

Shanley admits, “I was in inner conflict about a lot of things. I certainly was raised with a clear idea of what a good person ought to be, and I didn’t feel that I fit that picture at all. So, I guess you could say I was at war with myself.”

Was he referring to his Catholic upbringing?

“I was from a very solid, predictable Roman Catholic household that ran like a clock. My parents were very religious.” Shanley describes it all. “We said the rosary every Friday night on our knees in the living room. My father went to Mass several times a week and slept with a rosary underneath his pillow. He did not, however,” and here Shanley is adamant, “talk about religion or proselytize.”

How does he feel about his religion today?

“I am not at all properly Church Catholic now,” he asserts, “but I do pray and I do believe in a divine force. I say grace with my children, but it’s not the grace I was taught as a child. There is a difference. One is grace filled with dogma and the other is a heartfelt thanks for our food, our lives, and Frankie’s, my son’ s, success in his spelhng test…that sort of thing,” he laughs. “It all gives me some solace and connection with God. I also think that a lot of the mythology of Catholicism is very good. It reflects real human experiences and it shouldn’t be forgotten for just that reason. I think you have to make some sort of distinction between embracing dogma and properly using the extremely rich Greek, Roman, and Catholic history and, yes, mythology that’s all so wonderful.

“It’s not about nothing — it’s about real human truths, but you can never let some institution like the Catholic Church claim a monopoly on the truth. You must never let anyone take away the significance of your own life experiences,” he decides.

“Each person has sovereignty over themselves that has to be respected. You can’t bend other people to your own will, even if you think you know what will make them happy. It’s their life, they’ve got to deal with it. There’s that great line from Dickens, it’s the opening line of David Copperfield, `Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.’ It’s just beautiful and I think about that line a lot. I’ve certainly been the hero of my own life so far, but when the story is finally told, I have no idea what an objective verdict will be.

“I believe in redemption, I believe in many of these Catholic notions. I believe in the power of confession. I think that if you tell someone about your misdeeds you feel better, that you’ve got to let it out; especially if you’ve done something really bad. You’ve got to tell somebody,” Shanley is adamant.

Does he go to confession?

“Oh, no, I don’t go to confession. I’d tell the corner news dealer before I’d confess to a priest.”

Speaking frankly, Shanley reveals a certain pugnacity during his early days. “I’d come home from school with blood running down my face and my father would look at me and ask, `What happened to you?’ and I’d reply, `I got into a fight.’ Then Dad would ask, `Did you win?’ and I would answer, regardless of the truth, `Of course, I did.’ I knew the right answer,” he laughs. “And my father would say, `Good boy,’ and that was the end of it.

“We discuss his work.

It was not until 1984, when he was 32, that Shanley had his first `hit.’ Although some of his earlier work had been put on in rather obscure venues, it was Danny and The Deep Blue Sea starring John Turturro and June Stein that first brought him critical acclaim when it was staged at The Circle in the Square Theatre in Manhattan.

Shanley believes that if everyone would speak their mind, everything would be a lot better for most people, and that philosophy has molded his playwriting. “I didn’t know that at first. I was afraid that if I said honestly what I felt, the world would gang up and kill me,” laughs Shanley.

“It turns out that every time I said what I actually thought, everything got better.”

Shanley’s parents Nick and Francis.

And it’s this seam of blatant and often brutal honesty that runs through the provocative face of Shanley’s body of work. His latest play, Where’s My Money? is no exception. Written and directed by Shanley, originally for the Labyrinth Theater Company, it’s a dark comedy that deals with all the insecurities of marriage with such force that many in the audience squirm in their seats.

I asked if Where’s My Money? is about his second marriage to the actress Jayne Haynes, whom Shanley married in 1986, and who has appeared in several of Shanley’s plays including Italian American Reconciliation and Beggars in the House of Plenty?

“No,” insists Shanley, “this play is more about the institution of marriage, itself, and these relationships between women that interests me so.

“Funny you should mention Jayne,” he then announces. “Jayne and I are going through a divorce right now. In fact, I’m off to sign the divorce papers this afternoon.”

Shanley reassures, “We’re still very close friends and we have two nine-year-old boys that we adopted at birth, just four months apart. We named them Nicholas and Francis after my parents,” he adds jovially.

With two failed marriages behind him, one wonders what attracts him to women in the first place. “Well,” he replies, “I’m usually turned on by intelligence…sexiness and intelligence! A good sense of humor is a nice thing, too, but I guess I’ve never been with anyone who wasn’t very smart. Looks don’t seem to enter into it too much.

“Along the way I did adopt, in retrospect, a rather bizarre strategy.” Shanley laughs. “The first came with the realization that the kind of woman that I’d been attracted to was a disaster for me. I decided that I was going to have to avoid women I found attractive. So I decided to zero in on women that I didn’t find attractive. I’d look around at parties and think, `Who here doesn’t interest me at all?’ I’d then go over and strike up a conversation with that turkey.” Shanley grins. “That, as you might expect, didn’t work.”

“The other approach,” Shanley recounts, “was quite sensible. I decided they should be good looking.” Asked if he had any hobbies or pastimes, Shanley replied that he was not unlike his dad. “I do a lot of different kinds of work, you know. Right now I’m doing a musical version of Moonstruck. I’m more than halfway through it. Henry Kreiegar who did Dreamgirls and Sideshow is doing the music and Susan Birkenhead who did the lyrics for Jelly’s Last Jam about Jelly Roll Morton is doing ours. I’m writing the book.”

Talking about other playwrights he likes, Shanley says, “I’m a huge Shaw fan and another of my favorite playwrights is John Millington Synge. His Playboy of the Western World has always been one of the most unforgettable because of its extraordinary celebration of language, and its humor is just my humor. When I went to Ireland for the first time, sometime in the 70’s, I went immediately to the Abbey Theatre to see a production of it,” John recalls fondly.

Where’s My Money?, playbill.

“But now what I do when I get to Dublin airport is to get a rented car and go straight to the family farm. It was my Aunt Mary and Uncle Tony’s place. They lived there until they died a few years ago. Some of their children lived with them on the farm, another child lived just clown the road and two others lived a few miles away. The interesting thing to me was, first of all, everything those two old people said was memorable, in fact, publishable.” John says wistfully, “It was beautiful and rather incredible. I did pretty much nothing but take notes the whole time I was there with them, and I never take notes about anything,” Shanley insists.

“I wrote down everything they said because it was so fabulous. Then, the last night before I left, they threw me a little hooley and my Uncle Tony said, `You’ve been writing in that little book all week; could you read out a bit of what you have been writing then?’ So I read back to them what they’d been saying all week and they had the grandest time, heating themselves; they took such delight. Uncle Tony had tears running down his face, wiping them away with a handkerchief.

“While it was the old people on the farm who spoke the most beautifully, the people from down the road, about a mile away, spoke the next most beautifully. It seemed the further away from this farm people lived adversely affected their conversational poetry. Except for me! When I went to that farm in County Westmeath for the first time in my life, I thought, `I’m home! These people talk like me. We can have real conversation.’ That was very special to me.” ♦

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The Jewel of the West Thu, 01 Aug 2002 07:56:03 +0000 Read more..]]> A visit to Westport encompasses many aspects of the unique history of the West of Ireland.


On a clear day the panoramic vista from Sheeaune Hill on the Castlebar Road approach to Westport, Co. Mayo, is breathtaking. The town snuggles in a cosy hollow that is dominated by the pyramidal peak of Ireland’s holy mountain, Croagh Patrick. Clare Island — the reputed burial place of the 15th century pirate queen, Granuaile — is like a great sentinel whale guarding the entrance to Clew Bay. The bay’s reputed 365 islands appear like a maze of Fabergé eggs blending gently into the wooded demesne at Westport House as the contours of Achill Island fade into the distance.

The picturesque heritage town of Westport is one of the few planned provincial towns in Ireland. Built in the 1700s by James Wyatt, its tree-lined Mall and gurgling river open into a bustling Bridge Street with its odyssey of colorful shops. A medley of cafes, restaurants, craft and design shops provide the visitor with an Aladdin’s Cave of goodies and a potpourri of eateries. There isn’t a chance of getting thirsty either, as an abundance of watering holes includes Matt Molloy’s, hostelry of the bearded maestro of Chieftains fame.

The town, which has had many distinguished visitors in the past, has become one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. The late Princess Grace went fishing in Clew Bay and caught the biggest fish of the day, while Beatle John Lennon owned one of the islands and was planning to build a retirement home there shortly before his premature death.

Today Westport has a population of almost 5,000 people. Of course, this figure more than doubles throughout the summer months. With nine top class hotels, four hostels, an abundance of B &Bs, vacation apartments and cottages, the visitor is offered a marvelous range of top class accommodation. Leisure activities include sailing, angling, cycling, horse-riding and exploring the islands. And since Westport Golf Club had the honor of hosting this year’s Smurfit Professional Golf Association championship, taking to the greens on its beautiful course, is a must.

Naturally, sightseeing has to come before any other leisure activity. After all, Mayo is a paradise, albeit one with a complex and heartbreaking history.

Cross erected in 1989 in memory of the poor who walked the road and died in The Great Hunger.

An ideal daytrip for the curious visitor encompasses many aspects of the unique attractiveness of the West of Ireland and its history. The winding coast road from the town leads past the entrance to stately Westport House and its beautiful parklands. The family of Lord Jeremy Altamont, direct descendants of Granuaile (Grace O’Malley), has resided at Westport House for over 500 years. Its impeccably kept grounds are opened daily to the public throughout the tourist season, and a tour of the house provides the visitor with a colorful glimpse of the grand way of life enjoyed by the gentry. Meanwhile, the recently renovated Turlough House, near Castlebar, home to the national folklife collection, offers a poignant reminder of the simple lifestyle of the Irish peasantry.

In the 18th and 19th centuries Westport Harbour was a bustling port; nowadays the row of old stone mills that once fronted the quayside have been tastefully reconstructed into luxury apartments, cafes, shops, pubs and a hotel. A walk along the quay offers an aromatic indulgence in sizzling fish, fresh Atlantic breezes and wafting turf smoke.

There is, however, a stark reminder of the treacherous past on a simple limestone and black granite plaque which commemorates the Achill Drowning Disaster of June 14, 1894. Thirty-two islanders, most of them in their teens, were drowned in sight of Westport Harbour when the Hooker (small boat) they were aboard capsized. They were all bound for Scotland to work as “tatie hookers” (potato pickers), many of them forced to emigrate in order to pay their landlords’ rent and avoid eviction of their families.

There are many such reminders of Ireland’s troubled past in this part of the country. The road from Westport through the village of Louisburgh and on to Leenane is much more than a breathtaking odyssey of spectacular land and seascapes. Every boggy valley and craggy hilltop has a story to tell, and a history of survival against the odds.

Its landscape remains witness to a history of famine, emigration and colonization, against which the colorful brash-strokes made by the buoyant economy of the Celtic Tiger are delightfully positive and buzzing with brightness as roadsides are cluttered with with signs for bed &breakfasts, camping, caravanning and ferries to the islands.

Ten miles beyond Louisburgh and approaching the Doolough valley, the scene quietens and nature predominates. Mweelra mountain and the Sheefrey Hills close in. A lake shimmers in the distance. A seagull screeches, a wispy breeze shivers. And there is another plaque.

On the night of March 30, 1849, hundreds of starving people descended on Louisburgh. The local Poor Law Guardians were to inspect them so that they could be certified officially as “paupers.” Being an official pauper entitled one to three pounds of Indian meal (corn shipped from America) and maybe even refuge in the workhouse.

There can be no comparison between the experience of a contemporary visitor taking this awe-inspiring drive and the pilgrimage that was endured by these crawling, bare-footed skeletons.

It was snowing, and a bitter wind blew in from the Atlantic as the desperate grey shadows of near quenched humanity made their way to the village. On arrival, they were told that there had been a change of plan and that they must now present themselves at Delphi Lodge, which was 10 miles away, at 7 the following morning. The paths were rough and slippery as they made their way in the dark. And when they finally reached the lodge they were told to wait. The Guardians were dining and not to be disturbed. Eventually, they were informed that there was no grain, no relief, no help. There was nothing to do but turn around and walk the 10 miles back to Louisburgh. According to local lore, hundreds of people died on that fateful journey. Many were so weak and malnourished that they were blown into the lake.

In 1997, this writer walked from Doolough to Louisburgh, as part of the 150th commemoration of the Famine. Before we set off, Liam O Maonlai, from The Hothouse Flowers played a slow air that chillingly reverberated throughout the natural amphitheater that is the Doolough Valley. Each year this “death walk” is reenacted, and has drawn such visitors as Bishop Tutu, and Gary White Deer, of the Choctaw Indian Tribe, who 13 years after their own Trail of Tears, raised over a hundred dollars for Irish Famine relief.

The past is always hauntingly close in this part of Ireland. But back in the present there’s a visit to Killary Harbour and the quaint little village of Leenane, made internationally famous by the shenanigans of the Bull McCabe in The Field, which sits at its head. British submarines often used the harbor as a refuge during World War II. Nowadays, you can board a luxury catamaran and enjoy lunch whilst cruising to your heart’s delight. Or if you’re happier staying on dry land, Kylemore Abbey is just down the road. With its splendid neo-Gothic architecture, Victorian walled garden, tranquil walks, craft shop and restaurant, it is regarded as one of Ireland’s most romantic places to visit. Kylemore is situated at the base of Duchrach mountain which overlooks the northern shore of Lough Pollacapall.

It may seem like centuries away, but the direct return route to Westport is a mere 30 minutes drive. Once there, one is quickly whisked back to reality by the energetic vibrations of the pulsing town, with a pint of the black stuff in Matt Molloy’s. ♦

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Nice Referendum Set for Autumn Thu, 01 Aug 2002 07:54:05 +0000 Read more..]]> Once again, Irish people are heading to the polls to vote on the Nice Treaty.

They will be asked this autumn to vote in favor of the Treaty which will bring in EU enlargement, having already said No to Nice just a year ago.

There is growing pessimism in government circles that the people could reject the Treaty again. The way the government has handled the debate has also earned considerable resentment even in the Yes camp.

Many had hoped that the Cabinet would agree to a referendum on neutrality, as concern about Ireland’s role in any future military alliance was one of the main reasons for the last defeat. But the government believed that such an amendment to the Constitution would tie its hands on foreign policy, and would end up with the courts and not the Dáil, deciding crucial policy issues. Instead, the government included a prohibition on Ireland entering into a European Union common defense policy without holding another referendum on the issue.

The debate so far has been marred by some rather unparliamentary language. The Taoiseach Bertie Ahem accused the No campaigners of whingeing, which led to bitter arguments between both sides. Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny, who supports the Treaty has warned the Taoiseach to get his house in order. “He must inform, not insult. He must lead, not drag. He must persuade, not pillory,” he said.

There are many reasons why voters might say No to Nice. The Green Party and Sinn Féin believe it will seriously affect Ireland’s neutrality, and have rejected a declaration from other EU leaders, saying it isn’t worth the paper it is written on.

Others believe that the EU is already undemocratic and that enlargement will make its institutions even less accountable. Many farmers fear that the inclusion of Eastern states into the EU will inevitably lead to less financial support for them. Last year farmers received 1.4 billion in direct payments from the EU and many believe that this income would be dramatically cut if countries like Poland, which has a large agricultural sector, joined the Union.

Some of the electorate are confused about the issue, while others resent the fact that they are being asked to support a treaty they rejected just over a year ago.

All the main political parties support the Nice Treaty, as do employers groups and the trade unions. They say that Ireland will be isolated within Europe if it rejects the Treaty but they face an uphill battle convincing the electorate. ♦

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Irish Soccer Stand-off Continues Thu, 01 Aug 2002 07:53:02 +0000 Read more..]]> You may have thought that the World Cup and the Roy Keane saga was over, but a series of new books on Ireland’s soccer greats threatens to reopen the wounds and will undoubtedly lead to new conflict between the warring factions in Irish soccer.

Four explosive tell-all books are due for release in the coming weeks, starting with a Roy Keane biography penned by controversial soccer pundit Eamon Dunphy.

Keane, Ireland’s greatest soccer player, has vowed to hold nothing back when he recounts how he was sent packing from Japan by manager Mick McCarthy.

McCarthy also has a book coming out, which will outline what he has already described as the worst time in his life.

And if that wasn’t enough, sports journalist Paul Howard is due to publish a book outlining the long and tangled history between the manager and his star player.

Publication coincides with an independent investigation into how the Football Association of Ireland handled the whole sorry tale. It is widely predicted that heads will roll in the FAI as a result of the probe, and what effect that will have on the team and its manager remains to be seen.

Soccer commentator Liam Mackey expects the Irish manager to be under extreme pressure in the coming months. “The big question that remains to be answered is whether Roy Keane and Mick McCarthy can co-exist. At the moment all the evidence suggests that they can’t. If Keane decides not to return to the Irish squad then the road ahead is clearer for McCarthy. If he decides to come back then that will create difficulties.”

He believes that the book war, which is due to kick off at the end of August, will exacerbate the problem. “It will resurrect the mad civil war that we had in the run up to the World Cup.

“If there is too much grief, Mick McCarthy may well walk,” he says. ♦

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Call for Urgent Finucane Inquiry Thu, 01 Aug 2002 07:52:25 +0000 Read more..]]> There is growing pressure on the British Government to hold an independent inquiry into alleged collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and the security forces.

Catholics in the North are concerned at the apparent stalling by the British government in dealing with a number of high profile killings in the North, particularly the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane. The Stevens Inquiry, which has long been investigating his murder, was due to publish its findings in July.

But the publication has been postponed until the autumn for fear of raising tensions during the marching season. A recent BBC documentary on the Finucane case provided damning evidence of collusion at a senior level. Relatives for Justice, a group of 150 people whose loved ones were killed by loyalist paramilitaries, claims that there is a chain of command which runs between intelligence services on the ground, through levels of military command to the Cabinet table in London.

There are currently two inquiries into the Finucane case — the Stevens Inquiry, and at review being carried out by retired Canadian judge, Peter Cory. He will outline to the British government what its next step should be.

But the inquiries are moving far too slowly for many in the North. Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty says that it is now clear that his killing was devised and sanctioned at the highest levels within the British Government.

“In the coming weeks and months, the British political and military establishment will once again close ranks to obstruct the disclosure of the truth about large-scale institutionalized collusion and their role in it.

“However, the can of worms has well and truly been opened, and they may find it more difficult, if not impossible, to put the cap back on this time.”

The Northern Secretary, Dr. John Reid, however, appears to be in no hurry to hold such an international independent inquiry. “The first thing to do is to establish the facts, that is what Sir John Stevens is trying to do. The second thing to decide is how then to react to those facts, that is what Judge Cory is to do. We do treat the allegations seriously, we want to get at the truth and I understand the anguish of any family which finds itself in that position.

“We will have to find a way of dealing with that truth and that pain and we will have to do it in a way that doesn’t prevent us from building a new future,” he says. ♦

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Sectarianism Filters Down to Next Generation Thu, 01 Aug 2002 07:51:27 +0000 Read more..]]> “Proud to be a Baby Prod” is the slogan on the infant bibs that adorn many small children during the North’s marching season.

But a new survey has confirmed what was obvious to most observers: that children in the six counties are following the same sectarian ways as their parents.

Three-year-old Catholics in the North are twice as likely as Protestant children of the same age to say that they hate the police.

Protestant three-year-olds express a preference for the Union Jack over the Tricolor.

By the time they reach the tender age of six, a third of children in the North identify with one community, while one in six are already making sectarian comments.

Susan McKay author of “Northern Protestants — An Unsettled People,” isn’t shocked by the findings. “Society in the North is riven with hatred and distrust. It is hardly surprising that children grow up poisoned by the sectarian hatred that their parents’ generation have.”

The situation, she says, has not improved since the Good Friday Agreement. Many of the cross-community projects set up after the agreement have been abandoned. “Whatever else the Good Friday Agreement has done, it hasn’t brought about trust. Catholics are still being pipe bombed and having their homes attacked. Kids are spending the weekends throwing bricks at each other, and the UDA is extremely active making it impossible for any improvement in cross-community relations.

“There is huge irresponsibility being shown by the Unionist leadership who keep harping back to the break-in in Castlerea and the IRA caught in Colombia when there is wide-scale violence against vulnerable Catholics taking place.”

But there is one reason for optimism. Education Minister, Martin McGuinness, has increased funding for integrated education. “Until now you have had a situation where primary and secondary school children are separated along religious lines, even teacher training is segregated. But he is trying to bring about wider use of integrated education and putting far more money into it,” she adds. ♦

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