August September 2009 Issue – Irish America Irish America Magazine Thu, 18 Jul 2019 14:56:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 82361074 The Life of Brian Moynihan Sun, 02 Aug 2009 12:00:55 +0000 Read more..]]> Bank of America’s Brian Moynihan says  “It doesn’t all break your way all the time, so you’ve got to just power through it.” 

He has the look of an athlete, compact with broad shoulders. He also has something of a pre-game focus, a quiet intensity, and gives the impression, even as he answers questions,  that he has his eye on the ball and he’s not forgetting for a moment that right now he’s involved in the biggest game of his career.

At just 49, Brian Moynihan is engaged in the complicated task of integrating Merrill Lynch into Bank of America.

A graduate of Brown University and the University of Notre Dame Law School, Moynihan joined FleetBoston in April 1993 as deputy general counsel, and came to Bank of America following its acquisition of FleetBoston.

He arrived at his present position as the head of Bank of America’s Global Banking and Wealth Management in January, after Bank of America’s $50 billion acquisition of Merrill Lynch and the departure of Merrill’s CEO John Thain.

“He has proved in difficult environments he is very capable,” said Anthony DiNovi, co-president of Boston private-equity firm Thomas H. Lee Partners LP, in a Wall Street Journal article by Dan Fitzpatrick and Suzanne Craig. The article addressed Moynihan’s emergence as a right-hand man and potential successor to Bank of America Corp. Chief Executive Kenneth Lewis.

DiNovi, who has worked with Moynihan on past deals, also said, “When Ken has a tough job at hand he turns to Brian, and Brian has always been there for him.”

Moynihan, who grew up in a small town in Ohio, lives in Wellesley, Massachusetts with his wife, Susan Berry, whom he met while he was at Brown, and their three children. He credits Susan’s family, along with playing rugby (which has taken him to Ireland on occasion), with bringing him up to speed on Irish culture.

“My wife’s grandmother is from Ireland so she’s more the classic sort of Boston Irish – the Clancy brothers, the Irish humor and all that stuff,” he says, adding that he’s been at many St. Patrick’s Day Parades in Southie. His own family immigrated in the 1850s to upstate New York and grew vegetables.

Our meeting took place on the afternoon of June 15, at the newly constructed Bank of America Tower at Avenue on the Americas in Midtown Manhattan. The massive steel and glass structure – a one billion dollar project – located on Avenue of the Americas – would seem to signal Bank of America’s confidence that it will weather this current financial crisis.

As I receive my visitor’s pass from Security and find my way into the inner sanctum of the largest bank in the United States, passing through a futuristic set of glass doors, I cannot help but think of Moynihan’s ancestors being processed by immigration officials after landing in New York. They could hardly have foreseen a future that included anything like this. But it is a tribute to those hardscrabble ancestors, and perhaps because he had inherited some of their tenacity and understanding “that it doesn’t all break your way all the time, so you’ve got to just power through it,” that Moynihan took time out from his hectic schedule to talk to Irish America, and agreed to give the Keynote Address at our annual Wall Street 50 dinner on August 24.

Your family came over when?
In the 1850’s. Both my parents come from small towns in upstate New York where the Irish part of their families had farms and then opened some stores. My grandfather was a lawyer up there. My dad went to school and became a chemist to work for DuPont. I’m one of eight children, number six. My parents moved to a little town in Ohio, called Marietta, the month before I was born.

After doing your undergrad at Brown you went to Notre Dame Law School. Was that a different experience?
Very different. Brown was a great school but it was very heavily Eastern. My grandfather and my uncle both went to Notre Dame,  so I had a great Notre Dame tradition. It was the best place in the world to go to law school. It was a very supportive place and we had more fun than we probably should have had. It’s a great school for a lot of reasons, but the law school was small, you really knew the professors, you really knew the undergraduates. I played rugby so it was fun, too.

Do you think Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, was right to invite President Obama to give the commencement speech?
I think he was right, his reasoning was right. I think at the end of the day one of the challenges for a place like Notre Dame is to ensure that they maintain their willingness to have the debate. I think going back to Father Hesburgh [“Father Ted,” the man who led the University of Notre Dame for 35 years], the reason why the university has had such an impact on political leaders and others in this country, is that they’re willing to have debates even though they have a heritage and a particular point of view. It served them well.

When were you last in Ireland?
We went last August [2008]. We took my father and mother, and three of my siblings and our children went, so we had about 18 people traveling around in a bus, and it was a lot of fun. We went to Dublin for a few days and then took off down to the southwest. We had a bus driver who had that great Irish humor; we just laughed.

Did you discuss the economy?
He [the bus driver] and other Irish people we met along the way had the common view that it was United States property values and subprime mortgages and all that that created this worldwide financial crisis which was starting to affect Ireland. But at the end of the day, it is local conditions that drive housing prices.  Irish housing prices had gotten so out of control relative to what a person could pay that you knew they were going to face what they faced. It’s a classic problem that if you try to outgrow your normal growth rate there’s always a bubble on the other side of it. And as soon as the economy slowed down a little it just all came crashing down. It’ll adjust and come back.

Will the U.S. economy also adjust?
Our view, as a company, is that we’ll start to see a little growth in the latter part of this year and into next year, but the American consumer is still struggling to pay their debts.  American companies are more – they’re stabilizing, I think would be the word we’d say right now, in terms of their employment, in terms of their view of their future. They’re not robust and growing but they’re stabilizing, so they’ve come through the worst of it, and we see we’re starting to come out the other side. And I think that bodes well for the whole world because when the American consumer spends, that helps everyone.

The Irish government was the first to guarantee bank deposits. And after its bailout it now has 75 percent voting rights now in Anglo-Irish Bank. How does that compare to here?
I thought the Irish government did a good job of stabilizing the situation. What’s hard to appreciate here is how much more consolidated most [national] economies are compared to the U.S. – like Ireland in banking. When you have three or four key institutions that aren’t stable and people start pulling their money out, it’s really tough. So I think the government did the right thing to calm the population down by guaranteeing their deposits, guaranteeing the liability side, and injecting their capital. I assume their goal would be to sell their stock positions down over time as the economy stabilizes. But in the U.S. because of the number of institutions and the size of the capital markets, we were able to raise our capital, our company and other companies, through private investors, after the government gave us capital.

Are there lessons to learn from the crisis?
Ireland and America and UK and Europe and China and Japan, everybody’s going to learn a series of lessons from all this, but I think the common lesson is going to be about leverage, and too much borrowing. In Ireland for example, I saw houses that were valued at over $2 million, beautiful houses but miles from the city in the countryside, where population pressures were nonexistent. People bought outside their means, they could’ve taken cash out to do something else with it, just the same as the United States. A financial crisis was created by the same thing that creates most of them – too much borrowing, and then when the day of reckoning came, when people had to pay it back and they weren’t earning as much money, because the economy slowed down, everybody got in trouble.

Do you think the banks are at fault in any of that?
We’re all at fault. Everybody’s at fault, all the participants are at fault, from the banks to the regulatory environment to the corporations to the – we all sort of participated and when the liquidity bubble popped it was probably –

And I think we as an industry must do all we can to help educate people.  We all, as consumers, have to be more responsible. It comes down to less complexity and less leverage. My children will probably be more conservative in how they save just because of the experience [of this crisis] that they’ve read about in the papers.

How global is Bank of America?
Three hundred thousand people work at Bank of America [worldwide]. We’ve got a big [credit] card business in Ireland; we’ve got investment bankers and corporate bankers in Ireland.

Ireland did a good job of figuring out the pickle they were in 30 years ago and said, Let’s develop some capabilities, some industries. And they were able to do that. Now the question is, it’s a never ending reinvention, so whether it’s Ireland, the northeastern United States after the manufacturing moved years ago, Michigan after the auto industry changes – you just got to keep reinventing yourself. So I think the challenge for Ireland is, what’s next? The country has got a lot of great resources, a lot of great people, it’s a question of how do you keep reinventing yourself to stay ahead of the game, because these things always naturally have an ebb and flow to them.

How do we reinvent ourselves here?
In the United States? I think it’s around the types of things that made the country very strong.  We have a great natural talent base around industries, financial services being one of them, but also technology, healthcare and different kinds of manufacturing businesses.  The energy infrastructure is an area where we should be at the leading edge of the world. We’re still on the cutting edge in terms of technology, medicine and other scientific research in biology, chemistry, etc. We just have to keep investing in our educational systems and our capabilities to be inventive.

Many of America’s greatest inventors were immigrants like your family and mine. Right now America has closed the door on immigration. Where do you stand on that?
I think we have to make sure that we [as a country] tap into the talents from people all around the world – that’s what got us where we are today. We as a company believe in that. I’ve been involved at Brown University and other places where you see the amount of talent that comes from other places. There was a young woman who spoke to us who came from Belarus. Think of that talent around the world which can, and wants to, come here to learn and help our country grow and prosper. I think that’s consistent with how we got here.

Is there anything in your Irish makeup, any particular Irish characteristics that maybe helped you to get to where you’re at?
I think we Irish try to have a good sense of humor, and I think you’ve got to be serious but not take yourself too seriously.  I think also that no matter how many generations removed, there’s a little bit of a chip on the shoulder, and that you always [feel you must] prove yourself. There’s no sense of entitlement, no sense of placement, it’s all a sense of you’ve got to go out and work hard to get there. It doesn’t all break your way all the time, so you’ve got to just power through it. I think that’s deeply embedded in the culture of the Irish, including the Irish that went around the world, not only to this country but other countries. There’s a common trait, the people all had a sense that they needed to keep pushing forward, and they were never sort of settled. And I think that if you look across generations and look across people and meet people in the current generation in Ireland you see that trait’s still there.

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The First Word: Finding Strength in Our Ancestors Sun, 02 Aug 2009 11:59:51 +0000 Read more..]]> “There’s no sense of entitlement, no sense of placement, it’s all a sense of you’ve got to go out and work hard to get there. It doesn’t all break your way all the time, so you’ve got to just power through it. I think that’s deeply imbedded in the culture of the Irish.” – Brian Moynihan, whose ancestors left Irelandin 1850.

I am remembering a day around this time of year in the early seventies. My mother is driving me across the county to retrieve a suitcase I had loaned a friend.

We are silent for long stretches as my mother navigates through the country roads of Tipperary passing from North Riding into South. She is never comfortable driving, always has both hands on the wheel as if propelling the car forward by sheer force of will. It’s beautiful farm country, lush green fields, and roads that had still to be widened with EC money. There is little traffic. Ireland back then had a sleepy quality; those who had jobs went about them quietly – those who didn’t, emigrated – there was no hint of the industry that was to come.

“There’s nothing for you here,” my mother said as if reading my thoughts, giving me the final push out of the nest. She had brought us up with the maxim that “travel broadens the mind,” and I was about to begin my journey.

And so it was on July 4, 1972 that my brother Henry and my cousin John picked me up at J.F.K airport.

Home became a basement apartment in the Bronx that I shared with Nora and Philomena, two sisters from Mayo.

It was next door to The Ranch, the local bar that was the center of our lives. It was here we stopped after our shifts as waitresses and bartenders, construction worker and sandhogs. It was where we got news of home and heard of work and received advice on how to navigate our way.

I had never traveled much outside my own county, but here I met lads from Connemara and girls from Cork and a girl whose brother was interned in Northern Ireland. You could say that in New York I truly came to know Ireland.

By the end of that year, I would also come to know Irish America.

As that first summer drew to a close, I bought a Greyhound bus ticket for $99 that allowed unlimited travel for three months. You could get on and off wherever you liked in the United States and Canada, and three friends and I did just that. We went to Medicine Bow, Wyoming because I had a crush on Trampas (Doug McClure) from the TV series The Virginian. We danced the two step with real cowboys in Montanaand had our

photos taken for the local newspaper in Walzenburg, Colorado – because we were “real Irish.”

We traveled south to New Orleans, north to Canada, and as far west as California, and along the way we met a lot of

people who told us they were Irish, though they had never been to Ireland.

I didn’t know the story of the Irish in America when I started out on my journey,

We had been told about the Famine in school and the “coffin ships,” but they didn’t tell us what happened after that. No one mentioned how many died on the journey or that thousands were buried in mass graves on Grosse Île and all along the St. Charles River in Canada. They didn’t tell us that in New Orleans the Irish died of yellow fever building the canals, or that there’s a statue to “Margaret,” an Irish woman who built an orphanage and supported it with a bakery, though she could neither read or write. They didn’t tell us about the Irish who fought in the Civil War, built the railroads, panned for gold and built great education systems.

And no one said that there were 40 million Irish in America, so that I needn’t worry, I would always feel at home.

I didn’t learn all of the history of Irish America on that trip around the country, but it was the beginning of an understanding. And years later, in 1985, when I helped found Irish America magazine, the people I met – who carried Ireland in their hearts and treated us like family – were the ones we had in mind to reach.

At the end of our travels we arrived back in the Bronx and my friends departed for Ireland. I stayed on. I have never regretted that decision. Every July 4th I celebrate what I’ve come to call “my Independence Day.” I love America. I am grateful too that when the going gets rough I can find that place called Irish America and know the support and caring and the comfort of being amongst my own.

Those early Irish ancestors knew, as Brian Moynihan reminds us, “It doesn’t all break your way all the time, so you’ve got to just power through it.” It’s good advice for these uncertain times. This is a great country and the Irish who helped build it were not quitters. We can take strength from that, and from those ancestors who would say to us that it’s a time to look to family and community and “power on through it” together.

On an end note, I would like to say that the support we received from sponsors and advertisers for this issue, given so freely despite the economy, brought a sense of being part of a wider family, and reminded me of all of you across the country who opened your hearts and your homes to four young immigrant Irish girls all those years ago.

Mortas Cine.
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International Relief Efforts During the Famine Sun, 02 Aug 2009 11:58:35 +0000 Read more..]]> The Irish government designated 17 May 2009 as the first National Famine Memorial Day. On that day, Irish people throughout the world remembered and honored the victims of Ireland’s Great Hunger – which to this day remains one of the most lethal famines of the modern era. Out of a population of eight-and-a-half million, over one million people died, and approximately two million people emigrated.

The British government chose not to use the resources of that vast empire to prevent suffering and starvation (Ireland had reluctantly been part of the United Kingdom since 1800.) However, one of the remarkable features of the Irish famine was that it was the first national disaster to attract international fundraising activities. These activities cut across traditional divides of religion, nationality, class and gender. Such a response was unprecedented. The first fundraising activities occurred in 1845, following the initial appearance of the potato blight, but most of them took place in the wake of the second and far more devastating failure of the potato crop in 1846. Outside intervention was short-lived, and by 1848 most of the donations had dried up. Sadly, the famine was far from over, with more people dying in 1849 than in ‘Black ’47.’

Calcutta, India was the first to send money to Ireland, in 1845. The fundraising was initiated by British citizens residing there who  believed that their actions would show the Irish people the benefits of being part of the British Empire.

The Calcutta committee was headed by English judge Sir Lawrence Peel and civil servant Sir James Grant and included a number of Irish men and native Indians. The committee appealed to other Europeans residing in India and to the ‘native community’ to become involved in its philanthropic activities. Moreover, a direct appeal was made to Sir Hugh Gough, a high-ranking soldier in the British Army who was Irish-born.  At this time, over forty percent of the British Army serving in India were Irish-born and they gave generously. Indians also gave liberally, donations coming from wealthy Hindus and a number of Indian princes, but also from those who were less well off, including sepoys in the army, and many low-skilled and low-paid Indian servants. Within a few months, the Calcutta Committee had raised £14,000 for the relief of the Irish poor.  To oversee the distribution of this money, a team was assembled in Dublin, headed by the Anglican Archbishop, Richard Whately.  Most of the money received from India was sent to Connaught in the west of Ireland, some of it being channeled through the local Catholic priests.

Just as relief efforts were getting underway in India, a committee was established in Boston, Massachusetts. In America, perhaps inevitably, famine relief became tied up with demands for Irish political independence, with the committee being formed at the initiative of the local Repeal Association (followers of Daniel O’Connell).  Predictably, the food shortages were cited as the most recent example of British misrule and of the failure of the British Empire. At a meeting in early December 1845, at which $750 was raised for the Irish poor, one speaker claimed that, due to “the fatal connection of Ireland with England, the rich grain harvests of the former country are carried off to pay an absentee government and absentee landlords.” These fundraising efforts were short-lived, drying up at the beginning of 1846, when it was suspected that reports of the distress had been exaggerated.

There had been potato failures in Ireland before, and consequent food shortages, but they had never lasted for more than one year and in 1846 there was an expectation that the blight had run its course. This, sadly, was not the case. In the summer of 1846, the blight reappeared even more virulently than in the previous year. And it appeared earlier in the harvest period. The impact was devastating and immediate. As early as October, deaths from hunger and famine-related diseases were being reported.

Despite the shortages, the British government decided not to interfere in the marketplace to provide food to the poor Irish, but left food import and distribution to free market forces.  Moreover, they allowed foodstuffs – vast amounts of foodstuffs – to be exported from Ireland. Merchants made large profits while people starved. At the same time, public works, which entailed hard physical labor building roads that led nowhere and walls that surrounded nothing, were made the primary form of relief.  By the end of 1846, deaths from hunger, exhaustion and famine-related diseases were commonplace. No part of the country, from Belfast to Skibbereen, had escaped.

By the end of 1846, news of the second potato failure was being reported in newspapers throughout the world. The response was immediate. A number of fund-raising committees were established in both Ireland and Britain. One of the most successful and well- respected was the Central Relief Committee of the Society of Friends, which was established in Dublin in November 1846 at the suggestion of Joseph Bewley (a tea and coffee merchant – Bewley’s cafés).

Though the Irish Quakers were small in number (ca. 3,000),  they were very successful in raising money outside Ireland. These funds played an important role in providing relief, particularly through the establishment of soup kitchens. By the end of 1847, when their funds dried up, the Quakers had distributed approximately £200,000 worth of relief throughout the country.

Quakers themselves were personally involved in dispensing this relief, which took its toll. At least 15 Quakers died as a result of famine-related diseases or from exhaustion, including Joseph Bewley. Undoubtedly though, their hard work had saved thousands of lives. The involvement of the Quakers was particularly important because it was direct, provided in the communities where it was most needed, and given without any religious or other stipulations.

An even larger relief organization was the British Relief Association. It was formed in January 1847 by Lionel de Rothschild, a Jewish banker in London. Again, its fundraising activities were international, with donations being received from locations as diverse as Venezuela, Australia, South Africa, Mexico, Russia and Italy. In total, over 15,000 individual contributions were sent to the Association, and approximately £400,000 was raised. This money was entrusted to a Polish count, Paul de Strzelecki, a renowned scientist and explorer. He traveled to Counties Mayo and Sligo in 1847, where he established schools at which free food was given to the local children. Despite falling victim to ‘famine fever,’ he survived and remained working with the poor in Ireland.

In August 1848, when the Association’s funds ran out, the schools were closed despite promises from the Prime Minister that they would be supported. Strzelecki refused to accept any money for his work, but he was knighted by the British government in 1848.  Ironically, the only other person to be knighted for his work during the Famine was Charles Trevelyan, Permanent Secretary at the Treasury, who was renowned for his parsimonious approach to relief.

Unfortunately, the involvement of relief organizations has been tainted by the memory of proselytism or, as it is known in Ireland, souperism, that is, giving relief to the Catholic poor in return for their conversion to Protestantism. Proselytism was not new in Ireland, but its use during this period of suffering seems particularly reprehensible. However, although it is generally associated with the main Protestant churches in Ireland (the Anglican and the Presbyterian) in reality it was only practiced by a minority of evangelicals, who genuinely believed that they were saving souls, not merely lives, by their actions. Money was raised in Protestant churches in Britain, Dublin and Belfast for this purpose.

A well-known missionary was Michael Brannigan, a convert from Catholicism to Presbyterianism, and a fluent Irish speaker. In 1847 he established 12 Protestant ‘Bible schools’ in Counties Mayo and Sligo. Attendance dropped when the British Relief Association began providing each child with a half-pound of cornmeal every day, but this ended in August 1848 when their funds ran out. By the end of 1848 the number of ‘Bible schools’ had grown to 28, despite ‘priestly opposition.’

The worries of the Catholic Church were articulated by Fr. William Flannelly of Galway, in a letter to Daniel Murray, Archbishop of Dublin, in April 1849. He wrote: “It cannot be wondered if a starving people would be perverted in shoals, especially as they [the missionaries] go from cabin to cabin, and when they find the inmates naked and starved to death, they proffer food, money and raiment, on the express condition of becoming members of their conventicle [churches].”

By 1851, the main missions claimed that they had won 35,000 converts and they were determined to win more. Shortly afterwards, 100 additional preachers were sent to Ireland by the British Protestant Alliance to missionary settlements in destitute areas, such as Dingle and Achill Island. Ultimately, the impact of the missions was slight and tended to be localized, but many converts had to move elsewhere due to hostility and contempt in their own communities. Moreover, the memory of souperism, and ‘taking the soup,’ has been a long and bitter one in parts of Ireland.

Some of the donations made by individuals to famine relief also proved to be controversial. In popular memory, Queen Victoria is remembered as ‘The Famine Queen’ for allegedly only giving £5 to help the starving Irish. In reality, she donated £2,000 to the British Relief Association in January 1847. This made the Queen the largest single donor to famine relief. She also published two letters, appealing to Protestants in England to send money to Ireland. Her involvement was widely criticized at the time, notably by the influential London Times, which argued that giving money to Ireland would have the same effect as throwing money into an Irish bog.

Another head of state to send money to Ireland was the Sultan of Turkey.  He had an Irish doctor but he was also trying to create an alliance with British government. He initially offered £10,000 but the British Consul in Istanbul told him that it would offend royal protocol to send more money than the British Queen. As a result of this diplomatic intervention, Abdulmecid reduced his donation to £1,000. Nonetheless, his generous contribution was gratefully received by people in Ireland, with a formal letter of thanks being sent by “noblemen, gentlemen, and inhabitants of Ireland.” According to local legend, Abdulmecid tried to compensate for his reduced monetary donation by sending two ships to Ireland, laden with food. Allegedly, but there is no documentary proof of this, the British government refused to allow the ships to dock in either Cork or Dublin so, surreptitiously, they docked in Drogheda. This story is accepted in Drogheda today. On May 2, 2007, the Turkish ambassador to Ireland was invited by the city’s mayor, Frank Goofrey, to a ceremony to place a memorial plaque on the walls of the West Court Hotel, which, according to legend, used to be the old Government Building where the Turkish sailors and captains had stayed. During the unveiling, the Mayor drew attention to the city’s logo, which consists of a crescent and star just like the Ottoman crescent and star. He added that the plaque would serve as the symbol of friendship between Ireland and Turkey. So an act of kindness that took place over 160 years ago continues to have repercussions today.

Support for the Irish poor also came from the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Rome, Pope Pius IX. The involvement of a Pope in the secular affairs of another country was unusual. Nonetheless, at the beginning of 1847 Pope Pius donated 1,000 Roman crowns from his own pocket to Famine relief. In March 1847, he took the unprecedented step of issuing a papal encyclical to the international Catholic community, appealing for support for the victims of the Famine, both through prayer and financial contributions. As a result, large sums of money were raised by Catholic congregations throughout the world. Most of this aid was put in the hands of Archbishop Murray in Dublin.

Other high profile donors to Famine relief in 1847 included the Tsar of Russia (Alexander II) and the President of the United States,  James Polk. The latter, who donated $50, was criticized for the smallness of his donation. Arthur Guinness, the Dublin brewing magnate, also made a number of modest contributions.

Help from America

Inevitably, a large portion of relief came from the United States, not only from the Irish Catholic community, but from a wide variety of groups, including Jews, Baptists, Methodists and Shakers. At the beginning of 1847, the American Vice President, George Dallas, convened a mass meeting in Washington to raise money for Ireland. He urged that every American state should follow suit. The Washington meeting was attended by many senators, notably the young Abraham Lincoln.

During the meeting, letters were read from Ireland, including one from the women of Dunmanway in County Cork. It was addressed to the Ladies of America. It said: “Oh that our American sisters could see the laborers on our roads, able-bodied men, scarcely clad, famishing with hunger, with despair in their once cheerful faces, staggering at their work . . . Oh that they could see the dead father, mother or child, lying coffinless, and hear the screams of the survivors around them, caused not by sorrow, but by the agony of hunger.”

Remarkably, even though America was at war with Mexico, Congress gave permission for two navy vessels to be used to take supplies on behalf of the Boston Relief Committee to Ireland and Scotland, where the potato crop had also failed. The resolution authorizing the use of the ships by private individuals, even to this day, “remains unique in the history of Congress.”

On 17 March 1847, foodstuffs were loaded onto The Jamestown. It left Boston for Cork a week later, taking only 15 days and three hours to complete the transatlantic journey. All of the crew were volunteers. The captain, Robert Forbes, caustically commented that as the food supplies had taken only 15 days to cross the Atlantic, they should not take a further 15 days to reach the Irish poor. His comment was apt. The labyrinth of bureaucracy attached to the public works had meant that it had taken between 6 and 8 weeks for them to be operative – far too long for a people who were starving.

Forbes declared himself to be impressed with the women of Cork – because ‘they shake hands like a man.’ Although he was feted, he shied away from publicity and, significantly, refused an invitation from the authorities to travel to Dublin to receive an honor from the British government. This fantastic endeavor on behalf of the Irish poor was diminished only by the fact that on the return journey, a man was lost overboard – and he was the only Irish-born member of the crew.

These examples represent only a small portion of the assistance that was given to Ireland during the years of the Great Hunger. Perhaps the contributions most worth mentioning are those which came from people who were themselves poor, politically marginalized, and had nothing to gain through their interventions.

Throughout 1847, subscriptions to Ireland came from some of the poorest and most invisible groups in society. This included former slaves in the Caribbean, who had only achieved full freedom in 1838, when slavery was finally ended in the British Empire (Daniel O’Connell played a role in that). The British government had given the slave-owners £22 million pounds compensation for ending slavery; the slaves received nothing. Donations to Ireland came from Jamaica, Barbados, St. Kitts, and other small islands.

Donations were also sent from slave churches in some of the southern states of America. Children in a pauper orphanage in New York raised $2 for the Irish poor.  Inmates in Sing Sing Prison, also in New York, sent money, as did convicts on board a prison ship at Woolwich in London. The latter lived in brutal and inhuman conditions, and all of them were dead only twelve months later from ship fever.

A number of Native Americans, including Choctaw Indians, also sent money to the Irish poor.  The Choctaws themselves had suffered great tragedy, having been displaced from their homelands and forced to move to Oklahoma in the 1830s – the infamous Trail of Tears. They sent $174 to Ireland. The involvement of the Choctaw people did not go unnoticed. A newspaper in Oklahoma averred, “What an agreeable reflection it must give to the Christian and the philanthropist to witness this evidence of civilization and Christian spirit existing among our red neighbors. They are repaying the Christian world a consideration for bringing them out from benighted ignorance and heathen barbarism. Not only by contributing a few dollars, but by affording evidence that the labors of the Christian missionary have not been in vain.”

Although the amounts that these poor and dispossessed people sent to Ireland were relatively small, in real terms they represented an enormous sacrifice on behalf of the donors.

Towards the end of 1847, the British government announced that the Famine was over.  It wasn’t. In 1848, over one million people were still dependent on relief for survival. Moreover, evictions, emigration and deaths were still rising, with proportionately more people dying in 1849 than in Black ’47. Unfortunately though, most of the private fund-raising efforts had come to an end by 1848 and the Irish poor were again dependent on Irish landlords and the British government for relief.

To conclude,  although the involvement of private charity was short-lived, it was vital to the survival of many. It proved to be particularly crucial as government relief was inadequate, provided with parsimony and reluctance, and constrained by views of the Irish poor as undeserving of assistance. In contrast, most private charity honored the dignity of the recipient. Moreover, without these generous contributions, many, many more Irish people would have died during that tragic period.

On May 17 we honored the memory of the victims of Ireland’s Great Hunger, but perhaps, briefly, we can also honor the memory of those people – many of whom are also nameless – who gave money generously to people whom they had never met, but whose tragic circumstances had touched their hearts.

Christine Kinealy is a professor of Irish History at Drew University. She is author of a number of books on the Great Hunger, including This Great Calamity: The Irish Famine 1845-1852; A New History of Ireland;  The Great Irish Famine: Impact, Ideology and Rebellion; and The Hidden Famine: Hunger, Poverty and Sectarianism in Belfast 1840-50. Her latest publication, Repeal and Revolution: 1848 in Ireland, is being published by Manchester University Press in July 2009.  This article is a condensed version of a lecture that she gave in New York as part of the Famine Commemoration in May, 2009.

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Irish American Named Teacher of the Year Sun, 02 Aug 2009 11:57:09 +0000 Read more..]]> The first Rose Garden ceremony of President Obama’s administration occurred this April 28 and honored Irish American Anthony Mullen, who was lauded as the 59th National Teacher of the Year for 2009. The National Teacher of the Year Program began in 1952 and is the oldest, most esteemed national program to honor excellence in teaching.

Mullen, who teaches ninth through twelfth grade special education at the ARCH school in Greenwich, Connecticut, has spent decades working in the public service sector. He served in the New York Police Department for twenty years and retired as a captain before he began working in schools. In an interview with Irish America, Mullen said, “My experiences in the NYPD helped shape my opinion about the importance of education to our society because the vast majority of young people arrested were high school dropouts or at-risk teenagers. I decided to change careers to help such teenagers. I wanted to be part of a profession that would enable me to be more proactive rather than reactive in the lives of young people.”

Mullen’s colleagues have long noted his ability to connect with students who have been failed by the system and that other teachers have given up on. He said, “I specifically choose to work with at-risk teenagers because they need me more than any other population of students. I have the experience to identify with their struggles and see value in their lives. The most rewarding aspect of my job is that I get to recover lost students.” Besides his work as a teacher, Mullen has been a coach and league director of his town’s baseball program for nearly two decades.
He entreats adults to reach out within their own communities as he has. “Today’s children live in very stressful times, and adults must volunteer their time and effort to help young people. Teenagers drop out of school because they feel disconnected with school, community, and too often their own family. High school students—especially at-risk students—crave positive adult role models and want real world experiences. No magical elixir exists to save at-risk high school students; only a small measure of compassion will rescue them. Internships save the teenagers I work with and they become contributing members of society rather than public wards. I encourage adults to contact high schools and offer internships to teenagers.”

Mullen’s mother was born in Glasgow. His paternal grandfather came to America from Co. Galway when he was about 19. Mullen said his grandfather “learned quickly that Irish immigrants were a good source for conscription and was returned to ‘the other side of the pond’ to fight in the First World War. My mother’s parents died during the Second World War, forcing her to come to America for a better life . . . when I was young, my parents stressed the importance of education as ‘something nobody can take away from you’ and hoped I would be the first in my family to earn a college education. My parents died when I was young, so they did not have the pleasure of seeing me fulfill their dream.”
As National Teacher of the Year, Mullen will be traveling full-time as a spokesperson for education.

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My Goodness My Guinness! Sun, 02 Aug 2009 11:56:36 +0000 Read more..]]> Tradition. A word that embodies Guinness, a brand which celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2009. In 1759, Arthur Guinness set the stage for the iconic brand by signing a 9,000-year lease at St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin. Guinness provided his workers with wages that were 10 to 20 percent higher than the local average, provided paid holiday vacations, and offered free heath care. Since that historic year, Guinness has had some of the most successful advertising campaigns in history. From the legendary toucan to the harp logo that is synonymous with the Irish coat of arms, to slogans such as “Guinness Is Good For You,” “My Goodness, My Guinness,” and “Guinness for Strength,” the hallowed stout has touched millions of people worldwide. Kangaroos, ostriches, seals, whales, and lions have appeared in the renowned campaign, but the most notable mascot is the Guinness toucan that was created by John Gilroy in the 1930’s. In the 1940’s Guinness ran an ad campaign that cemented the toucan’s legacy in Guinness lore with the jingle, “Toucans in their nests agree, Guinness is good for you, try some today and see, what one or toucan do.” This campaign ignited an even greater interest in Guinness and appealed to millions of people worldwide. With the use of such animals as the toucan and other exotic creatures, Guinness expanded its global reach to their consumers. Gilroy designed more than fifty posters for Guinness, many of which are still widely popular today.

Approximately 10 million glasses of Guinness are enjoyed every day around the globe, proving that every day is a lovely day for a Guinness. Brewed in almost 50 countries and available in nearly 100, it is the world’s bestselling stout, and something that the Irish are extremely proud of. Guinness is not strictly Irish-brewed; in 1962 the company founded a large brewery in Nigeria that produces Foreign Extra Stout, also known as “Nigerian Guinness,” which is tremendously popular.  The brewery also produces “Guinness Extra Smooth,” a less bitter variety of the Foreign Extra Stout. Nigeria is the third-largest Guinness market in the world.

Guinness has other attributes as well, such as being good for you. Researchers have found certain antioxidants similar to those found in some fruits and vegetables. These antioxidants slow down the deposit of harmful cholesterol. The slogan “Guinness Is Good For You” is no longer used as frequently as it once was, and the company’s ads now advocate “Responsible Drinking.” This does not seem to affect consumers’ brand loyalty, however, and Guinness is still one of the most recognizable brands worldwide.

Motivated by what can only be described as pride, Nick Fairall and David Hughes have compiled a unique, extensive collection of the history of Guinness through various ads and products that have been released throughout the years in their book, The Guide to Guinness Collectables, which is available now in celebration of the landmark anniversary. The Guide to Guinness Collectables pays homage to the rich history of the brand and the global reach that it has had throughout the years. Fairall, the founder of the Guinness Collectors Club, the only third party in the world with full legal permission to use Guinness copyrighted material, and Hughes, a Guinness brewer based in Park Royal and Nigeria between 1972 and 1988, have collaborated to come up with an extraordinary book that explores the deep history of Guinness, and pays tribute to the Guinness family’s creative genius. From the casual fan to the serious collector, there is always more to learn and to discover about one of the finest, well-respected brands in the world. Here’s to the next 250 years.

If you ever visit the Guinness Brewery in the heart of Dublin, be sure to visit the Guinness Storehouse at St. James’s Gate, which is Ireland’s number one international visitor attraction:, Tel: + 353 1 408 4800.  ♦


This article was originally published in the August / September 2009 edition of Irish America.

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Frankie Gavin Back with De Dannan Sun, 02 Aug 2009 11:56:23 +0000 Read more..]]> De Dannan, along with The Bothy Band, Planxty and The Chieftains, is one of the seminal super-group Irish traditional bands that started up in the heady days of the 1970s and have powered along in various incarnations to this day. Hailing from Spiddal, Co. Galway, and originally made up of Frankie Gavin on fiddle, Alec Finn on bouzouki, Johnny “Ringo” McDonagh on bodhrán and Charlie Piggott on banjo, the band recruited powerhouse singer Dolores Keane for their debut album Dé Danann (No, I haven’t got my n’s the wrong way round; they transposed them later). The band was celebrated for its innovative approach to performing dance tunes, with Alec Finn’s complex 6-string bouzouki (as opposed to the usual 8-string Irish version) providing a counterpoint in harmony and percussion to Frankie Gavin’s virtuosic fiddle. As Frankie describes it, “The band highlights tightly percussive melody lines set against a flowing, contrapuntal background.” Since those early days band members have included, variously, Jackie Daly, Johnny Moynihan, Artie McGlynn, Tommy Fleming and a who’s who of Ireland’s finest female vocalists including Maura O’Connell, Mary Black and Eleanor Shanley.

A string of stellar De Dannan albums from 1976 onward, through the 80s and 90s, has secured the band’s reputation as one of the handful of all-time great Irish traditional bands. The earlier works, such as Star-Spangled Molly, hewed close to the traditional format, but as the band grew more adventurous, How the West was Won included a hit version of “Hey Jude,” and there’s the stunning rendering of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” retitled “Hibernian Rhapsody,” on the album of the same name – try listening to that one without a smile! Through it all, the anchor of the band, Frankie Gavin, also pursued his own eclectic path, playing with the likes of  The Rolling Stones, Elvis Costello and Stéfan Grappelli, a classic duo album with De Dannan co-founder Alec Finn, and solo albums such as Fierce Traditional in 2001, which was partly in response to a suggestion that he had strayed a bit far from his traditional roots with the likes of Frankie Goes to Hollywood and, yes, Hibernian Rhapsody.
Frankie began playing the fiddle somewhat reluctantly (“Doesn’t it make a lot of squeaks when you’re learning?”) at the age of ten, urged on by his older brother Sean, and by the age of 17, in 1973, had won the All-Ireland championships in both fiddle and flute. He formed De Dannan with friend Alec Finn the following year. Remarking on his influences at the time of the Fierce Traditional album, he said, “A lot of the music is firmly based in the 1920s playing of James Morrison, my all-time favorite fiddle player; another hero is
the late Tommy Potts – his musical brain was extraordinary.”

I caught up with Frankie Gavin via e-mail at the end of June.

Where do you call home these days?
I’m back home in Ireland in Oughterard, County Galway; however, I did live in Austin, Texas, Charlottesville and Peachtree City, Georgia for a while. I met and know amazing people in the U.S., especially in Virginia and Georgia, and a few real decent friends in Louisiana too.

What have you been up to of late? Tell us about your current band, Hibernian Rhapsody.
I’ve been working with Hibernian Rhapsody for about four years and it has been very enjoyable and exciting too. We did a U.S. tour recently with The Women of Ireland and The Dublin Philharmonic Orchestra. Three months on the road and it was a great success. We were working with Columbia Artists Management and played an array of beautiful halls and performing arts centers, and had a ball. The Women of Ireland, I should mention, are nominated in the Ireland’s Music Awards this year; the ceremony is in  Castlebar County Mayo this August.

You yourself have been nominated in two categories.
Yes, one nomination is in the “Best Crossover Act” category for my work with Hibernian Rhapsody. We’re in there with The Chieftains and Sharon Shannon and some other greats. The other nomination is in the “Best Duo” category, which I share with my good friend Maírtín O’Connor, the accordion player.

[If you would like to vote, go to: Even if you don’t vote, check out the phenomenal list of nominees — there’s some fierce competition!]

De Dannan disbanded in 2003, do you have plans for a revival?
In actual fact, I’ve started an all-new Frankie Gavin & De Dannan, and we will be doing a major concert in Castlebar at The World Fleadh on August 5. Mary Black, Dolores Keane and Maírtín O’Connor will make guest appearances on the night, and possibly a rock n’roll star and lifelong friend of mine! [I’m guessing Ronnie Wood.]

The new De Dannan lineup consists of Mike Galvin on guitars and bouzouki, Michelle Lally, vocals, Eric Cunningham, percussion, and Damien Mullane, accordion, and of course Frankie, on fiddle and viola.

Over the years, De Dannan have had the finest of Irish singers: Dolores Keane, Maura O’Connell, and Mary Black. What are a few of your favorite recollections of these ladies?
Well, where could I begin to answer that one! They are all fabulous in every way. They are brilliant singers and it’s a joy and honor to work with them. And as I said, Mary and Dolores will be on stage with us at the Castlebar concert; check out the website: The band, in the past, has been responsible for launching the careers of many of Ireland’s best-known traditional performers, and I believe it’s time now to write a new chapter in the De Dannan story — a band for the 21st  century! We’ve nearly finished the new album and it’s really cookin’!

Who are some of your other favorite performers or influences?
Jimmy McCarthy and Mick Hanly, two of Ireland’s finest songwriters, would be at the top of my list, and recently I did an album with Rick Epping on blues harmonica called Jiggin the Blues. We started on that when I was living in Charlottesville. I’ve also just finished recording some tracks with Tom Byrne, the Larry Adler of Irish music.

There seems to be a mixed view of the value of All-Ireland Championships; some love it, others find it totally nerve-racking. Did you enjoy it? Did it open doors for you?
Well, competitive work can be good and very bad, especially when it comes to music, I suppose. I never found it made any difference to me in the long run and I never made any money from anything I “won,” or anything else you care to mention! However, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann (CCE) has done great work in its nurturing of Irish music for a long time now and I suppose without CCE, it may not have survived as well as it has.

Having said that, Sean Ó  Riada in my view would have been the real savior of Irish music. He restored its dignity and swept it forwards onto the “performance stage” where it truly belongs.

[Ó Riada, an influential leader in the renaissance of traditional music, was the leader of a group called Ceoltóirí Chualann in the 1960s and went on to compose great classical works such as Mise Eire that combined traditional music with orchestral arrangements.]

Has the recent economic downturn in Ireland affected the music at all in terms of getting it out there, or are you still having a ton of fun?
I am happier now playing music than ever before. I’m thinking positively about everything and life’s too short for the other stuff!

Amen to that. Thanks, Frankie. Good luck with the new De Dannan!

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The Human Cry: An Appreciation of Francis Bacon Sun, 02 Aug 2009 11:55:52 +0000 Read more..]]> If, in 1964, you were to have asked me which two things excited me most, aside of course from ‘The Siren Call of Sex’ as the poet Philip Larkin put it, I would have answered, the Ronettes and the paintings of Francis Bacon. Oh, and the fact that I was leaving Hull College of Art intent on a life of painting, so three things.

The first Francis Bacon paintings I saw were in reproduction, around 50 years ago. They had a great effect on me even in this diminished form. I recall my painting tutor, James Neill, being scornful of Bacon’s work. Telling me that Bacon was passé. The years leading to the current exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York show how wrong he was. The works reverberate with the energy of the painting and the violent intensity of the imagery they contain.

Bacon said that one reason for the violent component of his paintings might have to do with his upbringing in Ireland. He was born in 1909, a century ago in Dublin, the son of a racehorse trainer. They lived quite near the Curragh where the British Cavalry Regiment was stationed. He remembered them using the drive to their house for practice maneuvers, galloping up and down the drive. This was just before the 1914 war. The family moved to London in that period because his father was in the War Office and Francis was instilled with the possibility of impending danger. After the war he returned to Ireland and was raised during the period of the Sinn Féin Movement, living with his grandmother who was at that time the wife of the Commissioner of Police for Kildare. He remembered living in a sandbagged house, and some roads crossed with ditches dug, said Bacon, to trap the unwary car or horse and cart for the waiting snipers.

When he was 17 he moved to Berlin. He said the Berlin of 1927 was violent, not in the military sense that Ireland was, but in the emotional sense. One thinks of Christopher Isherwood who lived in Berlin around the same time and later wrote Good-bye to Berlin, which was made into the musical Cabaret. One thinks of the latent violence too soon to become a reality that Bacon spoke of. For a young gay man it must have been very exciting, and later very dangerous. He went on to live in Paris during “all those disturbed years,” as he put it until 1939 when the war started.
What Bacon said about the violence of his life, the violence he has lived amongst, is that it is different from the violence in painting, “that to speak about the violence of paint, it has nothing to do with the violence of war, it’s to do with an attempt to remake the violence of reality itself.”
Bacon himself was obsessed with mortality and said that “If life excites you then its opposite, like a shadow, death, must excite you,” that one is aware of it like the flip of a coin between life and death. In an interview with the writer and art critic David Sylvester, Bacon said he was always surprised when he woke up in the morning. Sylvester asked if that didn’t belie Bacon’s view that he was an essentially optimistic person, and Bacon replied, “Ah well, you can be optimistic and totally without hope.” That seems pleasingly Beckett-like to me.

The visitor to this magnificent exhibition, if not already familiar with Bacon’s work, may be surprised, perhaps even a little shocked if that is still possible today, at the visceral quality of the painting. Near the beginning of the exhibit is a triptych “Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion,” painted in 1944. The phallic figures are against a stark orange background; one looks down while the other two with snarling and gaping mouths evoke menace or pain. Bacon said that he was influenced by Picasso’s paintings of organic forms relating to the human figure but distortions of it. But the mouths, full of teeth in the Bacons, make his work altogether more sinister.

Bacon said he did hope one day to make the best painting of the human cry, but that he was not able to do it. He thought the best depiction of the cry was in the still from Eisenstein’s great film Battleship Potemkin of the screaming nanny. In painting, he felt the best human cry was probably in the “Massacre of the Innocents” by Poussin of around 1630.

Again and again one can see the importance of the mouth as an expressive vehicle in Bacon’s works. When young in Paris he bought a second-hand book with hand-colored plates of diseases of the mouth. He tried to combine the Potemkin image with the images from the book, but it never worked out.

A friend once gave me a textbook of reconstructive surgery of victims of traumatic injury (there is always someone wanting to cheer you up). One photograph showed a face with the flesh almost entirely lifted from one side revealing the teeth, jaw and skull. I always associated the image with Bacon – though Bacon’s paintings are neither horrific nor literal. Yet it is as if he reminds us of the skull beneath the flesh, reminds us of our mortality.

‘The mouth’ paintings evolved during the 1940’s. The work entitled “Painting 1946” has a dark figure whose jaw and mouth emerge from the adumbration of an umbrella. A flayed carcass is behind, its limbs spread as if crucified. This, the first work by Bacon to be acquired by a museum, was purchased by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1949 and it seems to point the way to the ensuing works sometimes referred to as ‘Scream Paintings’ of heads, figures and Popes, in the 1950’s. “Study for Innocent X,” 1962, seems a culmination of these, being derived from a reproduction of the Velazquez portrait (widely regarded as one of the finest portraits ever painted) . Interestingly, Bacon, though he spent two months in Rome, never visited the Galleria  Doria-Pamphili to see the Velazquez painting. He said he probably feared seeing the original after he had tampered with it.

He needed only the reproduced image for his purposes. Bacon certainly preferred to work from photographs as a starting point, rather than with models, partly as he said because he thought that models would be upset by what he did to them.

There is a delicious painting called “Portrait of George Dyer riding a Bicycle,” 1966. Dyer’s face is turned to the viewer whilst surrounding it, a larger shadowy profile with a faint smile rides obliviously on. Dyer was Bacon’s lover, but their relationship was always tempestuous and in 1971 on the opening night of Bacon’s big retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris, Dyer committed suicide in his hotel room.

I met Francis Bacon at the Chelsea Arts Club, London, which he occasionally came to in the late 1970’s, and in the 1980’s I’d occasionally see him walking in Kensington where I lived. He would nod but we never spoke. That was good enough for me. I met Ronnie Spector of the Ronettes too, but that is, as they say, another story.

David Remfry’s artistic career spans more than 30 years. A figurative painter born and trained in England, he is now living in New York City.

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Those We Lost Sun, 02 Aug 2009 11:49:11 +0000 Read more..]]> Chuck Daly
Charles Jerome “Chuck” Daly, head N.B.A. coach and Hall of Fame inductee, died at age 78 on May 9 of pancreatic cancer in Jupiter, Florida. Born in St. Mary’s, Pennsylvania, and raised in the 1930s by an Irish Catholic family in the midst of the Depression, Daly’s humble roots kept him grounded throughout his successes. He resolved in high school to become a basketball coach and began his career in 1955 at Punxsutawney High School in PA, where he coached for eight years. From there, Daly became an assistant coach at Duke University in 1963, and then landed the head coach position at Boston College in 1969. Daly joined the N.B.A. in 1978 as an assistant coach for the Philadelphia 76ers, but his status as a coaching legend was secured when he was hired by the Detroit Pistons in 1983. The team had never won an N.B.A. championship since 1948, but they made the playoffs every year during their 9 seasons under his coaching. Daly’s Pistons reached the N.B.A. finals three years in a row, winning two consecutive championships in 1989 and 1990. In 1992, Daly led the first United States Olympic “Dream Team” to the gold medal in Barcelona, and in 1994 he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. He retired permanently at the end of the 1998-99 season with a 638-437 record spanning 14 seasons. Known for his self-effacing and personable nature as well as his good taste in clothing, Daly’s communication skills and charm allowed him to coach some of the largest egos in basketball to great success. He is survived by his wife Terry, daughter Cydney, and two grandchildren.

Austin Delaney
Austin Delaney came to New York in 1963 from Carrowkeel, Irishtown in Co. Mayo, when he was in his early twenties and possessed little more than
a union card. He died May 15
a much richer man at the age
of 70, with the Midtown Manhattan Rosie O’Grady’s saloons and the South Street Seaport’s Harbour Lights Restaurant to his name. Hundreds of friends and admirers attended his wake and funeral in New York. Besides his significant success in the bar and restaurant world, Delaney was known in the New York Irish immigrant community as a great benefactor and networker, fundraising and assisting generations of Irish immigrants in making their first contacts in New York as well as serving as a friend to those in need of one.  Ciaran Staunton, co-founder and president of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, called Delaney “the greatest Irishman I have ever met in this country.” Delaney’s coffin was flown back to Ireland, along with around twenty of his friends and family who attended his last cross-Atlantic flight back to Co. Mayo. Delaney, who died of cancer, is survived by his three children, three grandchildren, nephews and nieces.

Jerri Neilsen
Dr. Jerri Neilsen FitzGerald, Irish America’s 2001 Irish American of the Year, died June 23, a decade after she treated herself for breast cancer at the South Pole. The cancer returned in August 2005. The sole doctor among 41 staff members at the National Science Foundation’s Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in the winter of 1999, she diagnosed and treated her own disease, performing a biopsy on herself with the help of colleagues that she directed, and receiving medical advice and medication through long-distance assistance from the U.S., including anti-cancer drugs dropped by the Air Force. Neilsen FitzGerald was rescued by the Air National Guard and her cancer went into remission after surgical interventions in America. Her book Ice Bound: A Doctor’s Incredible Battle for Survival at the South Pole, which was later made into a movie for television, details her story. For the past ten years, she traveled the world to speak about her life-changing experience, and worked as an ER doctor across the Northeast. In an e-mail to her parents from the North Pole in 1999, she wrote, “More and more as I am here and see what life really is, I understand that it is not when or how you die but how and if you truly were ever alive.” She is survived by her parents Lorine and Phil Cahill, brothers Scott and Eric Cahill, three children, Julia, Ben, and Alex, and her husband Thomas FitzGerald.

Danny La Rue
Danny La Rue, born Daniel Patrick Carroll in Cork City, Ireland in 1927, died at the age of 81 on May 31 of cancer after a groundbreaking career as both a female impersonator and one of the most highly paid performers on the British stage. With his combinations of elaborate costumes, musical acts, and celebrity impersonations, La Rue delighted diverse audiences and blazed a trail in drag theater. His debut performance as a “comic in a frock,” as he called himself, took place when he enlisted in the Royal Navy in 1944, after moving to London with his mother as a child and leaving school at age 14. He entertained his shipmates in the female role of Tondelayo in White Cargo, but reached larger audiences in 1954 in the revue Men Only, using his stage name for the first time. This breakout performance led him to jobs performing at top nightclubs, and in 1964 he opened his own club, Danny La Rue’s, where he entertained the likes of Judy Garland and Princess Margaret. In 1966, he brought the house down in the musical Come Spy With Me, his West End debut. His revue, The Danny La Rue Show, was viewed by over a million audience members during its two-year tenure at the Palace Theater in London. In 1984, La Rue took on the title role in a revival of the musical Hello, Dolly in London, the first time that role had been played by a man. In his 1987 autobiography, From Drags to Riches, La Rue called his style of drag entertainment “irresistible fun.”

Ed McMahon
Ed McMahon, the well-liked sidekick to Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show for almost thirty years, died June 23 at age 86 in Los Angeles after struggling with multiple health problems. He had had a series of operations after breaking his neck in a fall in 2007. Born in Detroit in 1923, McMahon dreamed of a career in entertainment. His father was an Irish Catholic vaudevillian who moved the family from one town to the next for his work, and by the time McMahon was a senior he had gone to 15 different high schools, holding various jobs including several as a salesman. His mother, Eleanor Russell, was Pennsylvania Dutch. McMahon’s paternal grandparents were Joseph F. and Katherine Fitzgerald McMahon of Lowell, Massachusetts. His grandfather, a master plumber, founded the J.F. McMahon Plumbing Company, and his grandmother was Rose Kennedy’s cousin. McMahon’s passion for business persisted even after he began working with Johnny Carson, and he was a paid spokesman for various companies and products throughout his career. McMahon was married three times, the last in 1992 to fashion designer Pam Hurn, who survives him.

Niall Millar
Niall Millar, former director of the Irish Tourist Board in North America, died May 22 after a short illness. He was 61. A Dublin native, Millar came to the United States in 1987 after earning a master’s degree in economics from University College Dublin. Millar played an integral role in the 1990s expansion of Ireland as a U.S. tourist destination, working on negotiations that brought several airlines on the route between Ireland and the U.S. Most recently, Millar was the president of the Atlantic Golf Company. He participated in charitable activities in New York for Irish organizations and was a leading member of the U.S. Ireland Council. Millar was buried on May 26 in Rye, New York, where he died. A Memorial Mass was held June 5 in the Church of the Annunciation, Rathfarnham, in Dublin. He is survived by his wife, Pauline, and three children.

Vincent O’Brien
Dr. Michael Vincent O’Brien, Irish champion racehorse trainer, died at 92 on June 1 at his home in Straffan, Co. Kildare. Born in Churchtown, Co. Cork, O’Brien’s stunning training career spanned half a century, during which he won 16 English classics and 27 Irish classics. He won the Cheltenham Gold Cup four times, in 1948, 1949, 1950, and 1953, as well as 25 races at Royal Ascot, three Grand National wins and three Arc de Triomphe victories. Besides his triumphant racing record, O’Brien bred generations of champion horses and formed the Coolmore Stud breeding syndicate with his son-in-law John Magnier and breeder Robert Sangster in 1975. In 2003, a poll by The Racing Post named Mr. O’Brien at the top of their list of the hundred most important people in horse racing. President Mary McAleese said, “As one of the most successful horse trainers in the industry, he played a key role in the establishment of Ireland as a centre of racing excellence.” His wife, Jacqueline, three daughters, two sons, and his grandchildren survive O’Brien. His daughter Sue said in a statement, “Dad’s racing career speaks for itself and needs no elaboration. There was nobody like him.”

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Thomas Cahill: Civilization on Trial Sun, 02 Aug 2009 11:38:08 +0000 Read more..]]> I first encountered Thomas Cahill in the reading requirements for ninth grade history, where Mr. Dachille’s designation of Cahill’s book The Gifts of the Jews as a substitute for the dry textbooks to which I was accustomed instantly granted him canonical stature in my mind. And for good reason: Cahill’s accessible and fascinating takes on the histories of the Irish, the Jews, Jesus Christ, the Greeks, and the Middle Ages (Volumes I-V of his Hinges of History series) have, besides reaching bestseller lists in the U.S. and beyond, reconditioned us as to how we ought to be learning and thinking about the history of the Western world. When I speak with Thomas Cahill about his most recent book, A Saint on Death Row: The Story of Dominique Green, he elucidates the continuity between his approaches to both ancient history and contemporary issues. “I have to admit that when I was in high school, I didn’t have very many really good history courses, nor did I have very many in college,” says Cahill. “What I really loved was literature, in English and in other languages, and I realized subsequently that I got much of my history through literature. So when I began to write [the Hinges of History books], I really did write them through the prism of the literature of the time. I think if you want to know what warfare was like in 8th-century B.C. Greece, you should read Homer rather than some historian, and I think you could go through everything that way. If there is literature on the subject, it will give you a much fuller picture than will common historians. . . . Literature may be very ancient and it may be very different from our sensibility in certain ways, but the human body has never changed; we still laugh and we still cry the same way that people did many, many centuries ago. And because of that we can still connect with them. So that’s what I feel I’m doing in the Hinges of History series, or what I hope to be doing. I’m never trying to come up with some new theory on some particular period. I base myself on the sort of middle-of-the-road academic historians, and at the same time, what I really want to do is answer the question, ‘What would it have been like to have been there? How would it have felt to be part of this period?’ I think that can be done much better through literature than through what we commonly think of as history.”

Born one of six children in an Irish-American family, Cahill was raised in the Bronx and educated by Jesuits, studying ancient Greek and Latin, skills that allow him to create his own translations for his research and to consider ancient authors’ original intentions. He graduated from Fordham University, where he explored medieval philosophy, scripture and theology and continued studying Greek and Latin literature, earning a BA in classical literature and philosophy as well as a pontifical degree in philosophy. He earned an MFA in film and dramatic literature from Columbia University and studied scripture at New York’s Union Theological Seminary, rounding out an education whose breadth and depth reflects both his focus on the importance of narratives and his Irish Catholic background.

While Cahill’s latest book is a departure from the Hinges of History series, he feels that his underlying goals in it are the same. “Underneath it all, what I’m very often trying to figure out in the books of history is, what is civilization, and what makes for civilization? And what makes for its opposite, which is really barbarism? What are the works of civilization and what are the works of barbarism, or of tearing down civilization? I think that in every society and every culture, those are good questions to ask, because in every society and every culture there are forces that go in opposite directions. There are the forces of peace and there are the forces of war, there are the forces of mercy and the forces of cruelty. And they operate everywhere; they’re never completely absent, either in the best culture or the worst. In our case, as Americans, I think we have failed to notice the cruelty that we inflict with the death penalty, and how unjust our application of it is and always will be.”

A Saint on Death Row is the story of Dominique Green, a young African American man born in Houston, Texas whose childhood was fraught with episodes of violence and discrimination that led to his arrest at age eighteen and execution by lethal injection twelve years later. Dominique’s mother was abusive and alcoholic, and he took it upon himself to care for his two younger brothers and serve as a buffer between them and her physical aggression, despite the fact that he had already suffered incredibly in his short life. At age seven, Dominique was raped by a priest at his Catholic school, St. Mary’s, and found no recourse as his father descended into drug addiction and his mother turned to prostitution and began to treat her children with neglect at best, outright violence at worst. His mother was diagnosed as schizophrenic, a fact that his attorneys failed to mention when she testified against him in court, and attempted to shoot Dominique with a pistol on two occasions. He and his younger brother, Marlon, were thrown out of their mother’s house when Dominique was fifteen, and he moved the two of them into a storage shed together, selling drugs because, as he later wrote, “I didn’t have the nerve to be a burglar . . . the will to be a pimp, or the hate to be a hired killer. I was just a kid trying to find a way for me and my siblings.”
“What we really do as a society,” says Cahill, “is that we pay no attention to those children. We don’t intervene, we don’t rescue them, we just wait until they’re old enough to incarcerate and then we put them in prison. So I think we are failing doubly at both ends. Are we so uncreative, are we so lacking in insight and ability that we cannot come up with better ways of intervening in the lives of abused children? That’s who ends up in prison: abused children who have grown up enough to be incarcerated. That’s who’s there.”

In 1992, when he was eighteen, Dominique was arrested by Houston police along with three other young men and later charged with shooting and killing a man in an armed robbery gone wrong. The others testified against Dominique in exchange for the state dropping their capital murder charges; their testimony was the only evidence against him. Confident in his innocence, Dominique refused a similar deal. The only white male in the group, despite admitting to being present during the robbery and murder and even sharing the proceeds, was never even charged; instead, he was categorized as a “citizen informant.”

Witnesses chosen by Dominique’s court-appointed lawyer to testify during his trial included a psychologist known to believe that race is a valid indication of propensity to future violence. Although no proof stood against him except the testimony of the other three most likely suspects, Dominique was found guilty of capital murder and, five days later, sentenced to death. Says Cahill, “There is in Texas—I don’t want to ascribe this to all Texans, or anything remotely like that—but there is in Texas a desire for revenge and bloodlust that is really quite extraordinary. Not just in the number of executions [(438 since 1976—the runner-up, Virginia, can claim 103)], but in how little is given to poor kids in trouble both before and after their conviction. They’re assigned lawyers at the last minute who don’t really prepare cases. Of course they’re convicted, and they end up in prison where there is no mitigation. In these prisons there are no educational opportunities for them to grow. By the time they’re back out on the street again, if they’re ever put back on the street again, they’re just better criminals then they were when they went in.” Unfortunately for Dominique, he was never released from prison after his conviction at age eighteen. However, he eventually turned his death row sentence into the greatest educational opportunity of his life, not only for himself but also for those whose lives he touched inside and out of the prison walls.

One such individual was Sheila Murphy, a retired Irish Catholic judge from Chicago, who heard about Dominique’s struggle at a 1999 conference of Americans working to end the death penalty. Sheila, who would several years later introduce Cahill to Dominique Green and his story, agreed immediately to represent Dominique in his final appeals despite the fact that she would have to commute from Chicago to Houston, had never handled a client who was sentenced to death, and was in semiretirement. Sheila’s presence was ultimately one of the most positive forces in Dominique’s life, as she gained his trust while telling him about her family and depicting a warm and fiercely loving parent-child relationship that was completely alien to him. Sheila’s son Patrick also developed a close friendship with Dominique, and Cahill describes the Murphys as Dominique’s surrogate family. “Sheila is a very Irish personality; she’s quick to emotion. I think that helped her tremendously with Dominique. I think she gave him exactly what he needed. The one thing he had never had, and there was no way for him to make up for on his own, was that he had never really had a mother. And she became his mother. She didn’t succeed in saving him, but she did succeed in becoming his mother, which is a great—almost, I think, biblical—encounter.”
One of the most moving sections of the book chronicles Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s visit to Dominique in prison in March 2004. A personal hero of Dominique’s, the Archbishop spoke with him for an hour and a half, blessed him and told reporters there about his belief that the death penalty is “not a deterrent” but “an obscenity that brutalizes,” especially in cases like Dominique’s where guilt has not been proven sufficiently but ultimately in all situations. Tutu called it “the ultimate giving up, because our faith is a faith of ever-new beginnings.” Says Cahill, “In that passage, [Tutu] was not dealing with the question of whether the person is guilty or innocent. But assuming their guilt, you cut off the possibility of rehabilitation. If you’re just saying, ‘Well, he did it, now we’re going to kill him,’ you don’t give the person the chance to reexamine his own life. Of course, you may do so if it takes long enough to execute him, which is certainly what happened to Dominique. He had plenty of time to reexamine his own life. But I think Tutu nonetheless has a very good point. I think our whole prison system should be set up with a view towards rehabilitating people rather than simply punishing them.”

Cahill emphasizes, “There are no good arguments in favor of the death penalty,” noting specifically that it costs significantly more to execute someone than to keep them in prison for life and that one in every eight prisoners who are executed are later found to be innocent. He believes that the death penalty has continued in America for so long due to the fact that very few of those with the power to fight against it are personally affected. This is not just a book but also a call to action, a vehement challenge to Americans that we become informed about the practices and policies carried out in our country, in our name. “It wasn’t too long ago that two-thirds of all Americans were in favor of the death penalty, but that’s been going down pretty quickly. I think that a lot of that has to do with the fact that—well, do you know anyone on death row? Any of your friends and relatives on death row? No, nor are mine, except for Dominique and others that I’ve met since then, but in my ordinary course of contact I would not come in touch with such people. Nor would you, nor would any of us. People who buy and read books belong to a different category. It means that we have a certain level of education; it means that we have a certain level of economic security that ensures that we would never find ourselves in such circumstances. If you or one of your siblings or children got in terrible trouble with the law, the first thing that you would do is hire a good attorney, which would mean that the person in trouble would never end up in Dominique’s circumstances. The only reason he was there was because he didn’t have the resources to hire a good attorney.”

On October 26, 2004, Dominique Green was executed by lethal injection. Those who opposed his death included Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a global community of personal and political supporters, and the Lastrapes family: the widow and children of the man Dominique was accused of killing twelve years earlier, who had since outspokenly opposed the racially motivated scapegoating of Dominique and pleaded for his death sentence to be revoked. Despite the hard work of these advocates as well as Cahill and Sheila Murphy, the unjust Texas justice system prevailed. When I ask Cahill how he retains any optimism in American democracy in the face of Dominique’s tragic and appalling end, he replies, “We can change anytime we want to! We’re not incapable of change. We’re certainly at last moving in a better direction. We now at least have a president who understands that the world is larger than the United States. . . . We have very long prison sentences compared to any of the European countries. We do very odd things. We have more people in prison per capita than, I think, anywhere in the world except China. That’s pretty amazing. So can we change? Of course we can. Are there people who are trying to institute that change? Yes, and the whole end of the book is pointing the reader in the direction of movements and organizations that are working for this change, which any human being who wants to can be a part of. And that’s where the hope lies.”

Thomas Cahill is the author of the Hinges of History® series. He is currently working on its sixth book, which covers the Renaissance and Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries, and planning for the seventh and final book, which will discuss the 18th and 19th centuries, from the Enlightenment to the establishment of democracies, particularly American democracy. He has taught at Queens College, Fordham University, and Seton Hall University, served as the North American education correspondent for the Times of London, and was for many years a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times Book Review. Prior to retiring to write full-time, he was Director of Religious Publishing at Doubleday for six years. He and his wife, Susan, divide their time between New York and Rome.

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The Irish in Early Baseball Sun, 02 Aug 2009 11:00:02 +0000 Read more..]]> More than two dozen sons of  Irish immigrants, who played in the 1880-1920 period, are enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Many other great Irish players have made their mark on the game as well.


The Irish potato famine of the 1840s and 1850s was probably the greatest human tragedy of the 19th century. The famine sparked a massive wave of emigration to America, with more than two million Irish men, women, and children leaving their homeland for the New World. Their presence on American shores added a distinctive Irish flavor to the so-called “melting pot,” as Irish immigrants raised families, built communities, and made a place for themselves in their adopted country.

Hundreds of thousands of these Irish immigrants were young men, and their arrival created a potential new source of participants for America’s most rapidly growing sport. Baseball was an activity that the immigrant Irishman could engage in to become part of his adopted country. Through it, the Irishman could fit in and excel at something distinctly American. While the older generation could not always understand this strange new pastime and its appeal, their young men embraced it with enthusiasm. Professional baseball, which took root in America shortly after the Civil War, was attractive to the ambitious immigrant, and it did not take long for the Irish to gain a foothold in the increasingly popular sport.

The National League began play in 1876, just as the sons of Irish famine refugees were reaching adulthood, and the number of Irish players in the league grew with each passing year. One Irishman of note was Roger Connor, a Connecticut native whose Irish-born father had frowned on his son’s interest in the new American game. Roger was nonetheless determined to make good in baseball. A handsome, muscular first baseman, the hard-hitting Connor soon became the most popular player in New York, where the fans called him “Dear Old Roger.” Connor, proud of his ancestry, wore a bright green shamrock stitched to his uniform shirt. When he retired from the game in 1897, he held the career record for home runs, a mark which was later broken by Babe Ruth.

Connor, however, was only one of a legion of Irish stars in early baseball.  It has been estimated that more than 40 percent of all major league players during this era were Irish Americans; among them were pitchers Jim (Pud) Galvin and Tim Keefe, the first two major leaguers to win 300 games, and Hugh Duffy, whose .440 batting average in 1894 has never been surpassed. So many of the batting champions and pitching leaders of the era were Irishmen that there are almost too many to name.

Tim Keefe, one of baseball’s early Irish pitching stars, won 19 games in a row in 1888.

The grandest Irish-American player of them all during this era was Mike Kelly, the “King of Ballplayers.” Born to Irish immigrants in Lansingburgh (now part of Troy), New York, on New Year’s Eve in 1857, Mike Kelly treated every day as a party. This multitalented player, who saw action as both catcher and shortstop as well as in the outfield, joined the Chicago White Stockings in 1880 after two years with the Cincinnati Reds. He drove manager Cap Anson crazy with his carefree behavior, but his on-field brilliance keyed the Chicago attack and led the White Stockings to five pennants in seven years. Before long, he was “King” Kelly, baseball’s first matinee idol and hero to Irish Americans across the nation.

Mike Kelly, the “King of Ballplayers,” during the 1880s.

The King smoked cigarettes on the bench, and once, when asked if he drank alcohol during games, replied cheerfully, “It depends on the length of the game.” He invented new ways to slide into bases, raising large clouds of dust as the fans cheered, “Slide, Kelly, slide!” He was also known to hide an extra ball in his uniform shirt for special occasions. One day, Kelly was in right field late in the game as the setting sun cast twilight over the field. The batter belted a liner to right, and Kelly made a spectacular headlong dive in the darkness, rising with the ball in his hand as the crowd cheered his game-saving play. Anson complimented him on the catch. “What catch?” asked Kelly in his Irish brogue. “The ball went a mile over me head.” He had “caught” the extra ball, not the game ball.

The Chicago team was built around Irish-American ballplayers, with pitcher Larry Corcoran (who threw three no-hitters during his short career), catcher Frank (Silver) Flint, and third baseman Tom Burns also attaining stardom. However, Kelly always commanded the most attention. Sold to Boston in 1887 for the then-record sum of $10,000, Kelly was so popular that the Irish fans of the Hub bought him a house, complete with a horse-drawn carriage to convey their hero to the game each day. Sometimes the Boston Irish put the carriage aside and carried Kelly to the ballpark on their shoulders. The King’s stardom fizzled out after a while – whiskey and high living ended his career in 1893 and his life one year later – but Mike Kelly remains a symbol of Irish-American supremacy of early baseball.

The Irish also dominated the umpiring ranks. The umpiring profession was a thankless one at the time, with only one arbiter present to keep order in games often marked by chaos and rowdiness. Arguments, fan violence, and even fistfights between players and umpires were common during the 1880s and 1890s, and only the strongest umpires survived. Many failed, but skilled, dedicated Irishmen such as “Honest John” Gaffney and “Honest John” Kelly prospered. Gaffney, who conducted each game with patience and tact rather than physical intimidation, was the first man to be called “King of Umpires.”

Perhaps the most colorful umpire of the period was Tim Hurst, who grew up in the coal mining country of Pennsylvania and brought a sharp wit and quick fists to the National League in 1892. Hurst, who had learned to box while working in the mines, gave his decisions in a thick Irish brogue and took no nonsense from anyone. He once flattened an unruly fan with his mask during an argument, then did the same to a police officer who tried to intervene. In 1897, after receiving a constant stream of abuse from several Pittsburgh Pirates, the umpire invited three players to meet him under the stands after the game. Hurst took them all on at once and emerged the victor. Despite his temper, Hurst knew the rule book inside and out, and many players considered him the most skilled arbiter in the league.

Tim Hurst, the quick-witted, quick-fisted Irish-American umpire. He said that he wore the letter “B” on his baseball cap “because I’m the best.”

Hurst agreed with that assessment. He wore a cap with the letter B on it; when asked why, Hurst replied, “Because I’m the best.” He kept control of the game, though some players found the quick-witted Hurst so entertaining that they started arguments with him just to hear him talk in his colorful Irish accent.

The Baltimore Orioles, who dominated the National League during the mid-1890s, were almost totally Irish in character. Manager Ned Hanlon, an outstanding judge of talent with a penchant for hiring his fellow Irishmen, built the also-ran Orioles into a contender with a series of trades and free-agent signings. His scrappiest player was John McGraw, a third baseman whose parents had left County Tipperary years before and settled in the farming community of Truxton, New York. McGraw weighed only 121 pounds when he arrived in Baltimore at age 18, but his will to succeed was second to none, and he made himself into a star under Hanlon’s direction. The speedy McGraw taught himself to foul off pitches, one after another, until he took a walk or found a pitch he could slap into the outfield for a single. Despite his youth, he made himself the field leader of the Orioles, urging his teammates to “Get at ’em!”

John McGraw, son of immigrants from County Tipperary, managed the New York Giants for 30 years beginning in 1902.

McGraw, who was known to trip opposing baserunners or grab their belts to prevent them from rounding third, led the way in bullying opponents, manhandling umpires, and generally causing mayhem in the pursuit of winning. To McGraw, winning was everything, whatever the cost. He and his fellow Irish Orioles – outfielders Joe Kelley and Wee Willie Keeler, shortstop Hugh Jennings, second baseman “Kid” Gleason, and others – followed McGraw’s example and battled their way to the top of the league. The Orioles were the most unpopular team in the circuit, but brought three pennants to Baltimore from 1894 to 1896. Many of these same Irish stars (though not McGraw) followed Ned Hanlon to Brooklyn several years later and won two more pennants in 1899 and 1900.

A new circuit, the American League, began play in 1901 with several Irish Americans in key roles. Jimmy Collins, star third baseman for the Boston club of the National League, jumped to the new league and became the playing manager of a new contender, the Boston Americans (now called the Red Sox). Collins, who imported several Irish stars from the old league, won two pennants and defeated Pittsburgh in the first modern World Series in 1903.  Another important figure was Connie Mack, whose name was Cornelius McGillicuddy at his birth in 1862.  Mack, whose immigrant father fought in an all-Irish regiment during the Civil War, was a soft-spoken and gentlemanly manager who bore no resemblance to the fiery John McGraw apart from his Irish ancestry. Mack took charge of the Philadelphia Athletics in 1901 and led the team to nine pennants and a then-record five World Series titles in a career that lasted until 1950.

John McGraw was appointed manager of the moribund New York Giants in 1902, and, following the example of his mentor Hanlon, built the Giants into a powerhouse with a largely Irish roster. However, the Irish dominance of baseball had abated by this time, with the percentage of German Americans on major league teams surpassing that of the Irish by 1900. Indeed, the Chicago Cubs, chief rivals of the revitalized Giants, were an almost totally German team; McGraw publicly sneered at the “Dutchmen” in Chicago, but the Cubs won four pennants and two World Series from 1906 to 1910. McGraw’s “Hibernian Giants” rebounded with pennants in 1911, 1912, and 1913, but lost all three World Series. The Irish no longer ruled the game, and as other ethnic groups (Italians, Eastern Europeans, and Scandinavians among them) entered the fray, the Irish became merely one of a number of nationalities represented on major league rosters.

Though Irishmen began to disappear from the playing ranks, they remained a force in the managerial end of the game. Slightly more than half of all major league managers during the 1910-1920 period claimed Irish descent, and Irish-American managers won 13 of the first 16 American League pennants beginning in 1901. John McGraw, who led the Giants until 1932, and Connie Mack were only two of the many successful Irish-American field leaders who left their mark on the game during the first half of the 20th century. From 1932 to 1960, the New York Yankees won 18 pennants and 14 World Series titles under two outstanding managers, the fully Irish Joe McCarthy and the half-Irish Casey Stengel.

Baseball eventually lost its Irish flavor, and today the game is more ethnically diverse than ever. The Irish made a significant contribution to the national pastime in its formative years, but now, more than 130 years after the first National League game was played, Irish Americans make up only a tiny percentage of major league players. Irish domination of the game has passed into the realm of history.  ♦


David Fleitz, a writer and sports historian from Royal Oak, Michigan, is the author of The Irish in Baseball: An Early History.  The book was released by McFarland Publishing in May of 2009. This article was originally published in Irish America’s August / September issue in 2009.

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