December January 2010 Issue – Irish America Irish America Magazine Mon, 15 Jul 2019 20:00:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 82361074 The Global Irishman Fri, 01 Jan 2010 12:00:45 +0000 Read more..]]> Dubbed “Mr. China” by James Fallows of The Atlantic Monthly, and the subject of a BBC 4 program, Liam Casey, a native of Cork, is changing the way the world does business with China.

You’ve studied the goods and compared the prices, and your latest electronic desire hovers in your online shopping cart, awaiting that final command. You click “Purchase” and you’ve tipped the domino, sparking a chain reaction that will play out on a global scale.  Already, your order has appeared on a screen before nightshift workers on the other side of the world.  A highly choreographed dance involving ever-changing flows of data, people, money, goods, and ideas brings the product to your doorstep, just two days later.

The choreographer of this global production is a former farmer from Cork whom you’ve probably never heard of. But he works behind the scenes to deliver the goods – quite literally – for some of the top makers of high-tech devices around today. To do this he spans time zones, disregards borders, jets between continents, thinks spatially, works incessantly, and lives out of a Sheraton in Shenzhen, China. He’s an Irish-born man with the world as his stage.

Hyper Connections

I caught up to Liam Casey on a recent autumn afternoon in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley. To get there, I rode part of the Pacific Coast Highway, a long stretch of seaside road that holds special significance for Casey.

He was in his late 20s, he explained, and had just spent ten years in the retail business, which he likened to a rat race. For the first time, he “had a chance to stand back and take a breather.”  It was in Southern California just off the Pacific Coast Highway.  “There was something about driving on it that just captured me.”

Casey also found the culture suited his personality well. “There’s a huge can-do attitude here in the U.S.,” he beams. “That’s one of the things I really liked – it’s very creative, very innovative.”

It was soon after, while working for a Southern California trading company, that Casey got the idea for his next move. He asked a Taiwanese colleague who imported hardware from Asia whether he had ever sold his products to Ireland. His answer: “I’ve never heard of that company.” It lit a fire under Casey. He realized there had to be great opportunity in Ireland to bring goods into Europe.

Two years later he was thinking beyond merely importing products; he was learning what Western companies wanted to build and creating the connections to make it happen. By age 30, Casey had founded a company in Cork and named it PCH, after that Pacific Coast road.

Fast forward 14 years to the present. Casey meets with Silicon Valley clients – some of the top names in consumer electronics and personal computers – hops a plane back to Hong Kong, and makes the short jump to his base in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen. In this Special Economic Zone, Casey can choose from hundreds of factories within a few miles to piece together all the aspects of engineering, manufacturing, retail packaging, order management – even product design –  that Western companies can’t do as fast or efficiently. PCH handles well over a billion dollars worth of product in a year.

Crucial to this harried assembly line of high-volume high technology are the millions of rural migrants who flow to Shenzhen to work in its factories. While often arduous and repetitive, the work can earn them a much better living than they can squeeze from the countryside. In just 20 years, Shenzhen has grown from a small fishing village to a metropolis with twice the population of New York City.

Thanks to the recent flourishing of more interactive, Web-based applications, the process isn’t over when the products leave China on the early-morning Fed-Ex flight. From Shenzhen, Casey’s people can monitor the blogs where consumers are raving about – or ripping on – his clients’ products. The real-time feedback allows them to tweak the supply chain quickly, fixing any problems at a speed impossible before the advent of “Web 2.0” sites like blogs and wikis.
Globalization is not just hype or business-speak but reality in full swing.

Now, bringing a new product to stores – which often took companies years to do on their own – commonly takes just six months. Casey calls this “disruptive commerce.”  This is the notion that these growing, interacting flows of information, people, concepts, and capital add up to more than just lower costs and faster trade. New ideas and products which, in the past, may have looked too risky to back can now leave the drawing boards and come to life.

Meanwhile, Casey’s clients can focus on conceptualizing the next hot handheld device.

Casey is modest about the success he has enjoyed in his business, but I sensed a tiny blink of pride at his notion that he’s helping to shake up the order.

While southern China and the U.S. are central to his enterprise, Casey sniffs out local strength wherever it lies, which is why the company’s headquarters are still in Cork. Ireland has well-known education and tax advantages, but Casey also likes it for its time zone. A California client can talk to customer service in Cork, where the sun is still up, instead of a bleary-eyed nightshift worker on the other side of the globe.

The ties between countries may be multiplying, but most places still have their own strengths and character. Casey smiled while recalling a story from one of his Irish engineers who went to China several years ago.

“One of the last billboards he saw on the way to Dublin airport was a beautiful lady in a Wonderbra. And he arrived in Shenzhen 24 hours later and the first billboard he saw was an industrial molding press, so he knew he was in the right place,” Casey chuckled.

Ironically, one of the local strengths Casey sees in China is its ability to think globally. In the U.S., he said, they talk about the American dream. In China, “it’s the global dream.”

Casey seems to embody both a strong appreciation of local details and the ability to think and work comfortably across time zones, currencies, systems, and borders – in short, local expertise combined with global perspective. While most of us are grounded in one culture and place, as most of humanity has always been, Casey is one of a small number who live a globalized life on a day-to-day basis.

It dawned on me that many reporters have been looking at Casey through a narrow lens. The media often refer to him as “Mr. China,” either for “unlocking China’s secrets” or bringing the world’s work to its factories. But Casey’s stage is international and his very success as an immigrant from Ireland flows from working across all the boundaries and distances that have seemed so important for so long.

A more fitting alias for Liam Casey is “The Global Irishman.”

Ireland’s Second Act

In today’s world, such cross-border fluency is in demand wherever experts converge to ponder the future. Shortly before I met with Casey, he spoke at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, and the month before that, at the Global Irish Economic Forum at Farmleigh in Dublin. The Irish government convened the Farmleigh conference in September to explore ways to renew the Irish economy.

In the lead-up to the big recession, Ireland was simply on the wrong track, Casey told me. Our concern was all about “investment properties and holiday homes and all that . . . If you look at the history of Ireland, we’re not a landlord nation. I think the focus was wrong and now we have an opportunity to correct that.”
Casey agreed with many of the proposals that came out of Farmleigh, particularly ones which build on Ireland’s existing strengths, like culture and the arts. One panel recommended the country build a world-class center or university for the performing arts and Irish culture. Irish poets and musicians are indeed famous across the world. But considering the big downturn in more fundamental parts of the economy, I wondered how Ireland could translate things like art and culture into significant economic recovery.

I asked Casey whether countries like China and India may, in fact, be eclipsing the Celtic Tiger, moving into many of the value-added, service sector roles in which Ireland has long had an advantage.

Globalization brings huge challenges, he conceded, but “we’re writing the rules for globalization now.”  Any nation “has great opportunity to create what’s next.”

Of course, Casey is optimistic by nature, a trait which has allowed him to spot potential and seize on it before others. But his prescriptions are well-grounded. The Irish should look beyond Europe, he reflected.  “I see huge opportunity if we can take what we do in Ireland and take it globally.”

Indeed, this is what Casey has already done with PCH, a strategy which has helped the private firm grow 30% this year, over revenues of about $115 million last year, as it employs 800 people worldwide.

In a globalized world, he predicted, the solutions to what’s happening in Ireland “won’t come from the island, they’ll come from outside.” But they’ll require the initiative of Irish people.  Whether the Celtic Tiger fades into history is “up to us,” Casey declared. It’s “our decision whether we let that happen or we don’t.”

Man in the Nehru Jacket

Jetting between continents, speaking at high-profile conferences, working “26-hour days” . . .  I asked Liam Casey how all the hours and the travel affect his personal life.

“What personal life?” he grinned.

Weekends are rare for Casey.  After meetings in California, he usually flies back to China on a Friday night, which puts him in Shenzhen late Sunday morning, with just half a day to recover.

And home, for Casey, is the Shenzhen Four Points Sheraton. Why not live in a house or a flat? “The opportunities in our business are too big to miss,” he insisted, “and time is often our number one currency.”

By now you might be imagining a stressed, highly caffeinated executive.  But Casey struck me as comfortable and highly personable. He came from his client meeting wearing not a suit but a denim shirt and Nehru jacket. And he flatly rejects the workaholic label.

“It’s a cliché, but if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. . . . I love it, it’s great fun.”

Here in the Silicon Valley, Casey works with “some of the best, most creative companies on the planet.” And on the other side of the globe in Shenzhen, which he described as the fastest changing city on the planet, Casey has had “front-row seats to the changing of the world . . . Take those and put them together, and I wouldn’t say it’s work.”

Work and pleasure are so synonymous to Casey that getting him to suggest anything else he might do with more time in the day was harder than expected.  Finally, after a long pause, he offered, “I think I’m . . . disruptive by nature, so I’d be looking at, what can I break next, and what can we do better?”

There’s no way to know what the next disruption will bring, to Ireland, to China, or to your own front doorstep. I asked Casey to reflect on his own surprising course, from the farm in County Cork to his present-day mobile, global identity.

“It’s not a clean arc, there’s been a bit of meandering. To me it’s a journey, and often the journey is more fun than the destination.”

I thought again of the Pacific Coast Highway.

“The longer you can keep the journey going,” Casey smiled, “the better.”

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The First Word: A Ribbon of Green Fri, 01 Jan 2010 11:59:02 +0000 Read more..]]> “There’s a huge can-do attitude here in the U.S. that’s very creative, very innovative.” –    Liam Casey.

“You have to go, and you have to do well,” Molly Fogarty told her grandson.  Molly had been left a young widow with four daughters, the oldest of which was 13 years, and a farm to run. Now her grandson, the only male in that family of women, was about to leave home to take up his first job.

His name is Jack Ryan and he was born to Molly’s daughter Teresa and Thomas Ryan, whose father had worked as a telegrapher on the railroad before settling on a farm in Illinois.

Molly sent for her father, Dennis Keating, to come over from Limerick to help with the farm when her husband died. “Reports were mixed on how helpful he was,” Jack said, but “the one thing that is indisputable is that he certainly livened things up.” After her family was raised, Molly moved to Assumption, Illinois. She went to Mass every day and prayed that Jack and her other grandchildren would do well.

Jack did well. He went on to an extraordinary career that included a stint as Director of Supervison for the Federal Reserve. On the night we met, at our annual Stars of the South dinner in Atlanta on November 17, Jack wanted to talk, not about his career, but about his father’s family, the Ryans from Tipperary, his mother’s people, the Fogartys from Limerick, and most of all, his grandmother Molly.
He said it was Molly’s reserve of courage that he called upon when, as a young man, he was asked to present a proposal at the White House, and at other times during his life when he needed to face down a challenge.

There were many stories like Jack’s told at our Stars of the South dinner – indeed, the ancestors no longer with us were the true stars of the night.

Michael Nolan talked about his great-great-grandparents, Matthew and Ann Norris Nolan, who immigrated from Tullow, County Carlow and settled on the west bank of the Mississippi River in New Orleans in 1863, and how their son John Peter became a master mechanic for the Southern Pacific Railroad – the beginning of the family’s upward mobility.  Shirley Franklin, the first African-American female to serve as mayor of Atlanta, talked about her Irish grandmother sewing a green ribbon to her collar each St. Patrick’s Day to remind her grandchild that she had Irish heritage too.

Mike McGuire talked about growing up in a small town in northwest Ohio where his family owned a small grocery store. “Everything I needed to know about life I learned there,” he said.  He recalled his father quietly slipping a man money to buy groceries for Thanksgiving, and said observing his parents in their day-to-day dealing with customers, some of whom had fallen on hard times, taught him compassion.

“You have to go, and you have to do well.” How many young Irish boys and girls left lreland to those words?
Their own survival and often-times the survival of their family back home depended on it.

Like Molly, they kept on keeping on when the going got tough and that’s the stuff that America is built on. And that’s the stuff, the “can-do attitude” that spurred Liam Casey (see our cover story) to international success and our Business 100 to embrace leadership roles.

When Katherine Irwin Thomas, a fiddler from Tennessee whose family emigrated from County Armagh in the early 1700s, took the stage to play a soulful Irish tune, it was easy to imagine a window onto the past opening and  Molly and the other ancestors entering the room.  Amidst the sailing voice of Thomas’ fiddle, one could almost hear them whisper, “You did good.”

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USS New York: A Ship of Remembrance Fri, 01 Jan 2010 11:58:11 +0000 Read more..]]> A new Navy ship partly built with steel from the World Trade Center carries the motto “Never Forget.” Aliah O’Neill talks to Lt. Erin Millea who is serving aboard the recently commissioned USS New York.

Lt. Erin Millea always knew she wanted to be a dentist—her father and older brother are practicing and one of her sisters is in dental school. However, her desire to serve her country and see the world led her to the unique position of practicing dentistry aboard the newly commissioned USS New York, an amphibious assault ship fortified with seven and a half tons of steel from the World Trade Center. While there have been several ships named USS New York in the past, most have not even approached the expected lifespan for the current ship and none have held such symbolic meaning. The first USS New York, for instance, was a gondola commissioned in 1776 by Benedict Arnold that was burned only two days later to avoid capture by the British. The most recent ship, which can remain active up to forty years, was given the motto “Strength Forged Through Sacrifice. Never Forget,” highlighting the perseverance of our troops and constant remembrance of the lives lost and affected by the 9/11 attacks. Lt. Millea, who was commissioned as an ensign in the Navy in 2004, spoke about her pride in working on a ship that has become so personally meaningful for New Yorkers and Americans throughout the country.

Millea, who grew up and attended college in Nebraska, cites a military program designed to help students pay for medical school as her entry into the Navy: “I was very patriotic to begin with and had a lot of family members in the military during World War II. My Uncle Pat told me about this program called the Health Professions Scholarship Program that would pay for dental school. I figured that would be a good way to serve my country and also see the world.” Since then, Lt. Millea has been busy traveling in preparation for the ship’s commissioning, including a stay in New Orleans where the USS New York was built. The ship was finally commissioned on November 7th at Pier 88 South in New York City. As the ship’s sole dentist, Millea takes care of the dental needs of all 360 sailors on board, as well as approximately 700 marines when they board the USS New York to embark. In addition, Millea takes on various collateral duties—she is the Health Promotions Coordinator for the entire ship and is Treasurer and Social Coordinator of the Ward Room, an off-duty facility for the thirty-seven officers on the ship.

Lt. Millea’s position has taken her to some very unlikely places and allowed her to meet people from all walks of life, especially during the time the ship has spent in New York. Millea says her favorite part about the job is that she interacts with everyone on board the ship because she’s the dentist for all of them. “I get to hear everyone’s stories, where they’re from, and why they joined the Navy. It’s interesting to meet and get to know all sorts of people from every walk of life on such a personal level.”

Despite the wealth of new experiences, it is clear that Millea’s ties to home and family remain strong. She recently rang the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange, which she calls “a huge, huge thrill. It’s something that you see on TV daily but when you’re up there it’s so surreal. It’s thirty seconds and it passes by in a blink of an eye.” Her parents and her brother were visiting and knew she would be ringing the bell, but according to Millea, the best part was getting phone calls from friends and relatives back home, shocked to see her on TV.

As far as her family history goes, Millea credits her grandmother with sparking her interest in her Irish heritage. Millea’s great-great-grandfather, Patrick Leahy, was born on St. Patrick’s Day in 1852 in County Tipperary. He eventually came to the U.S. as a boy and settled in Emmetsburg, Iowa in 1880, where he met and married Millea’s great-great-grandmother, a Brennan. The Millea side of her family also has Irish roots in County Clare.

When asked about what it means to serve her country during wartime, Millea mentions that her friends and family initially expressed nervousness over her joining the military. Millea responds, “From the outside looking in, without being part of it, it does look scary. But the more you know the inner workings of the military, it’s not as scary…I take a lot of pride in being able to serve our country. My capacity might not be as great as some of the other service members going out on frontlines, but especially during times of conflict, I think it’s important to do the duty I signed up for, and I wouldn’t change it.” She adds, “It’s a really huge honor to be a part of the crew of New York, especially because she stands for New York City’s perseverance—if we deploy with her it’ll show that we can be knocked down, but you won’t keep us down.”

The actual commitment of soldiers like Lt. Millea and the symbolic commitment of the USS New York, expressed through her motto, crest, and design, have deeply resonated with New Yorkers. Millea strongly attests to this—just being in New York City in her uniform has prompted people to come up to her and share their stories. Many of these people lost loved ones in the September 11th attacks and thanked Millea for her work aboard the symbolic ship. “There are so many people who never found remains, never had anything to hold on to,” says Millea.“This gives them something – each and every one of those people who gave their lives on 9/11 is part of that ship now. The crest of our ship [depicts] a Phoenix rising from the ashes, so I think it’s very much about rebirth.”

One story that Millea says she’ll never forget involved a woman’s brother who was killed on 9/11, which was also his birthday. Millea saw the woman give a talk and then thanked her afterwards for sharing her story and promising to think of her on the anniversary. The woman ended up giving Millea her bracelet, which is engraved with her brother’s name and the saying “All gave some, some gave all.” Millea says she wears it every day so that she can remember not just one story, but the stories of an entire country affected by the events of September 11th. Ultimately, it is these stories—of loss, love, and perseverance—that give the USS New York her real weight. “When things get rough, I can always look down and see why I’m doing this,” Millea says. “I’m giving up myself like everyone else has given something—‘all gave some’—so this is the some that I can give.”

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Irish Eye on Hollywood Fri, 01 Jan 2010 11:57:09 +0000 Read more..]]> This holiday season, audiences will see Saoirse Ronan – the Northern Irish wunderkind actress – in the intense drama The Lovely Bones, also starring Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon and Mark Wahlberg. Ronan plays a girl who is brutally murdered and, afterwards, watches from beyond the grave as her friends and family try to come to terms with this horrific turn of events.

Next spring, however, Ronan will be taking a trip to merry Sherwood Forest. She is set to star alongside Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett in a new movie version of the Robin Hood saga. Directed by blockbuster veteran Ridley Scott (American Gangster, Black Hawk Down, Gladiator, Alien), this is just the latest big screen version of the Robin Hood tale. Past films have featured a wide range of males in the lead role, from Kevin Costner to Errol Flynn (who often touted himself as an Irishman, though his parents were Australian).

Blanchett and Crowe played historic Irish characters in previous films. Cate Blanchett portrayed crusading journalist Veronica Guerin, while Crowe was legendary Irish-American boxer Jim Braddock in Cinderella Man.Expect to see Ronan, Crowe and Blanchett in Robin Hood in May 2010.

Later in 2010, Scott will be directing Liam Neeson in the movie version of the campy TV classic The A-Team. More on Liam Neeson later.

Aside from Saoirse Ronan, Irish movie buffs will also be spending the Christmas season with Daniel Day-Lewis and Jim Sheridan.
Day-Lewis, not seen since his screen-chewing, Oscar-winning turn in 2007’s There Will Be Blood, is among those in the star-studded cast of Nine. Also featuring Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench and Kate Hudson, Nine is loosely based on Federico Fellini’s head-tripping 1963 film 8 1/2. The film explores a movie director beset on all sides by demanding women, including lovers, would-be lovers and even his deceased mother. Nine is set to be released Christmas Day.

In early December, director Jim Sheridan’s next film Brothers will also be released. Featuring Jake Gyllenhall and Tobey Maguire as the titular siblings, Sheridan (In America, In the Name of the Father) is aiming for another Oscar in this drama about an Afghan War veteran (Maguire) who returns home to a wife (Natalie Portman) who may have fallen in love with Gyllenhall’s character.

Anjelica Huston – daughter of Irish-American Hollywood legend John Huston, whose last film was James Joyce’s The Dead – will ring in the new year co-starring in a romantic comedy entitled When in Rome. Also starring Kristen Bell and Jon Heder (forever known as Napoleon Dynamite), When in Rome is about an ambitious New York woman (Bell) who runs off to Rome in search of love. She comes across a seemingly magic fountain, which sends an odd assortment of potential lovers her way. When a nosy reporter (Josh Duhamel) begins sniffing around the story of the magic fountain, it could be that true love has been found.

Stephen Rea (The Crying Game) and Irish-American thespian Martin Sheen have signed on to star in an Irish movie project, which will actually be shooting in the Tipperary town where Sheen’s mother was born. The film, entitled Stella Days, features Sheen as a movie-loving priest, and is based on the life of an Irish priest by the name of Father Dean Cahill, who set up a movie theater in the tiny town of Borrisokane in the 1950s and 1960s. In Stella Days, Sheen’s character fears he has lost his passion for the priesthood. That is, until the locals – and the movies – light a new fire inside of him. Thaddeus O’Sullivan (Ordinary Decent Criminal) is among those who have been mentioned to serve as director of Stella Days. The film is based on a book by Michael Dorley Dubhairle entitled Stella Days: The Life and Times of a Rural Irish Cinema.

Ridley Scott’s The A-Team is just one of several movies Liam Neeson has coming out soon. In 2011, you’ll see Neeson with the aforementioned Russell Crowe and Irish-American actress Olivia Wilde (best known for TV roles in House and the Irish New York drama The Black Donnellys) in The Next Three Days. Based on a French film entitled Anything for Her, The Next Three Days also features Irish-American veteran Brian Dennehy, as well as Elizabeth Banks (W). The film will be directed by Paul Haggis, who won an Oscar for 2004’s Crash.

Neeson will also be seen in an upcoming film about Irish showbands in America entitled The Virgin of Las Vegas. U2 frontman Bono is among the producers.

Pierce Brosnan, meanwhile, is as busy as Liam Neeson.

Brosnan and Susan Sarandon will soon be seen in The Greatest, written and directed by Shana Feste. The film, which was a favorite at The Hamptons International Film Festival in October, looks at a family in the wake of a tragedy involving their son. The Greatest also features Carey Mulligan, the British actress who recently earned raves in The Education.

Brosnan has at least three additional movies set for release in the next year or so. There’s Vanilla Gorilla, a comedy-drama about an albino ape directed by Irishman Terry Loane.

Then there’s Remember Me, due out in February 2010. Finally there’s Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief, which also features Steve Coogan (whose parents were Irish immigrants to England), Uma Thurman and Sean Bean.

Speaking of the Hamptons Film Fest, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus closed the festival. Directed by Terry Gilliam, the film has gotten tremendous attention because it was the movie Heath Ledger was working on when he unexpectedly died. Dubliner Colin Farrell, Johnny Depp and Jude Law take turns playing Ledger’s character.

You’ll also see Farrell in an upcoming film from director  Neil Jordan entitled Ondine and set in the west of Ireland.

Incidentally, Jordan’s long-gestating TV series about the infamous Borgia family may turn up on Showtime next spring. Show biz insiders are saying the Borgia series could replace the heavily Irish Showtime hit The Tudors, which is ending its run. Though The Tudors dramatizes the trials and tribulations of British royalty, the series is filmed in Ireland and its cast includes Irish talent such as Jonathan Rhys Myers and Peter O’Toole. Jordan’s series about the Borgias will look at the trials and tribulations of another prominent family, an Italian one during the Renaissance which produced a pope as well as many accusations of corruption and murder.

In other Irish TV news, Gabriel Byrne’s HBO series In Treatment will be back for a third season. Byrne plays Dr. Weston in the critically acclaimed show. Each episode takes a close look at Dr. Weston’s session with a particular patient. In Treatment also stars Oscar winner Dianne Wiest. Production on the third season should begin early in 2010.

On to DVD news. Director Troy Duffy’s sequel to his notorious first flick Boondock Saints was released in October and should be available soon on DVD. The first film was a cheesy gore fest about Boston Irish gangsters which became a cult classic—mainly after the release of a documentary about Duffy’s rise to fame, which depicted the bartender-turned-director as self-destructive and spoiled.

Speaking of which, in a world of temperamental artists and super-rich celebrities, it’s refreshing to hear about a film such as Into Temptation.

Starring Kristen Chenoweth and directed by Patrick Coyle, the movie was an homage to the 50-year-old director’s Irish Catholic father, who was once a seminarian but eventually raised eight kids in Omaha, Nebraska.

Available on DVD, Into Temptation is about a prostitute and a flawed but dedicated priest. According to the Omaha World-Herald, Coyle showed his dad the film in a hospice, where the 91-year-old was slowly dying. “He loved it,” Coyle said. “He felt it resonated very truthfully, that it was powerful.”
The elder Coyle died just weeks later.

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Patrick Farrell Wins 2009 Pulizter Fri, 01 Jan 2010 11:56:36 +0000 Read more..]]> In April, second-generation Irish American Patrick Farrell of The Miami Herald was awarded the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography, for his incredible and moving photographs of the aftermath of Hurricane Ike and the other serious storms of the hurricane season in Haiti. In a recent conversation with Irish America, Farrell discussed his Irish heritage and his experience of documenting a humanitarian disaster.

“My grandfather Michael Farrell came to this country around 1906 from County Longford. He married a woman named Annie McRobbie and raised 11 children in Brooklyn, NY, where he was the owner and operator of an Irish pub called Farrell’s Bar and Grill, located in Windsor Terrace to this day,” said Farrell, who grew up one of twelve children. “The bar  and its connection to everything Irish were always a topic of discussion in my family’s South Florida home, from its famous Irish-American patrons to its core Irish pub roots of being a great place to gather and tell stories.”

The most fascinating story in Farrell’s family history, however, is the story of his grandfather’s younger brother, Jim Farrell. “He went down on the Titanic and is quoted in the book A Night to Remember by Walter Lord as shouting ‘Great God, man! Open the gate and let the girls through,’ where a barrier was down and Kathy Gilnagh, Kate Mullins and Kate Murphy were being held back as the ship was going down.”

When asked whether he sees his work as art, news or both, Farrell replied, “I believe I’m a photojournalist (like many photojournalists) who tries to capture moments and tell stories and make them visually compelling. The photographs and experience in Haiti during last year’s hurricane season were the most devastating and important pictures I have shot during my career. Haiti had been relentlessly battered by those storms, and the destruction of homes and the incredible loss of life were stories that had to be told.” In the hurricane season of 2008, four storms, Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike, killed nearly 800 people and injured an additional 600. Around another 300 went missing. Over 100,000 homes were ruined or damaged. Seventy percent of Haiti’s crops were destroyed.

“At the time I was overcome by what I was seeing and photographing, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that it was important for people back home to see what the Haitian people had gone through,” Farrell told Irish America. “I was very humbled to win the Pulitzer Prize for such a devastating event, but I believe the recognition from the prize brought some added attention to the situation in Haiti, which is needed. Everywhere you look in Haiti there is an image that has to be seen.”

Farrell traces his interest in visual expression to a childhood injury. “I think my appreciation for everything visual came from an accident on Halloween in 1971 when I was shot in the right eye by a BB-gun and spent a week in the dark behind eye-bandages, and the rest of the month with one eye still bandaged. I believe subconsciously I spent a little more time looking at things, which led me to want to see how I could capture images on film.”

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Column McCann Wins 2009 National Book Award Fri, 01 Jan 2010 11:55:33 +0000 Read more..]]> Colum McCann’s newest novel, ‘Let the Great World Spin,’ was announced November 18 as the winner of the 2009 National Book Award for Fiction during a black-tie ceremony at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City.

In his personal history and in his writing, he is a man of many different places. McCann is an Irish writer, born in Dublin, partly educated in Texas and Japan, who has been a New York resident for over fifteen years.

He has never confined his writing or his life to one cultural sphere. Perhaps the best we can do is to call him a citizen of the world, someone willing to find emotional connections everywhere. It is appropriate, therefore, that his award-winning novel takes on the worldwide and yet emphatically located question of 9/11.

‘Let the Great World Spin’ is set around Phillipe Petit’s August 1974 tightrope walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center. It is about “many stories that fit into other stories” that become the story of the city of New York.

McCann says, “There’s hardly a line in the novel about 9/11, but it’s everywhere if the reader wants it to be.” Each of McCann’s previous novels dealt with distinct and different countries and cultures.

‘The Dancer’ focused on the career and life of Rudolf Nureyev, the Soviet-born ballet phenomenon. ‘Zoli’ told the story of a young woman of the Slovakian Roma (or Gypsies). Songdogs made its way across Spain, Mexico, the United States and Ireland.

This year, the National Book Foundation also highlighted winners from the past six decades, allowing the public to vote on a selection of previous award winning fiction books. Flannery O’Connor’s The Complete Stories, winner of the 1972 National Book Award, was honored as The Best of the National Book Awards Fiction.

Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture and Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland are among the 156 novels that have been nominated for the 2010 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, which is accompanied by a 100,000-euro prize.

Barry’s 2009 Costa prizewinning novel was nominated by libraries in Ireland, the UK, the Czech Republic, South Africa, and the U.S., while O’Neill’s Man Booker Prize long-listed book was nominated by libraries in Ireland, Austria, South Africa and the U.S. Northern Ireland writers David Park, for The Truth Commissioner, and Deirdre Madden, for Molly Fox’s Birthday, also earned nominations. The short list for the IMPAC award will be announced in April 2010.

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A Celtic Cross at Bunker Hill Fri, 01 Jan 2010 11:54:20 +0000 Read more..]]> The Irish buried in a Catholic cemetery on Bunker Hill are remembered.

The cemetery is gated and well hidden, and there have been no burials in it for three score years and more. It’s a lovely, grassy, tranquil place, and Dan Mahoney, the parish priest, remarks how all the headstones face northeast toward home, toward Ireland.

The Catholic burial ground is on the fabled battle site of the Revolutionary War in Charlestown, Massachusetts that turned the tide against the British and led eventually to independence. And, though the battle was fought on nearby Breed’s Hill and the Colonials “lost the day,” the fervor of the name “Bunker Hill” stirs the hearts of patriots.

That the “Hill” was transformed into a Catholic cemetery and became a sectarian battleground is yet another piece of Charlestown’s long, contentious history. The Second Battle of Bunker Hill would pit the well-heeled Yankee establishment against a gutsy bishop on a mission.

In 1830, Bishop Benedict Fenwick found there was need for a burying ground in or near Boston. He purchased a parcel of land in Charlestown overlooking the Mystic River for the purpose — a severe blow to the Charlestown Yankees, who, after two centuries, felt Town and “Hill” were theirs. They resolved to do all in their power to thwart the Catholic bishop’s “unholy scheme.”

Fenwick, a Jesuit, was regarded with suspicion by the Boston Protestant elite, who were openly and vehemently anti-Catholic, anti-Irish, and anti-Jesuit. The Bishop was, however, intelligent, courageous, and willing to take on the formidable challenge to the cemetery.

Historian Thomas O’Connor tells us, “No place in the New World was more hostile to Irish and Catholics than Charlestown — it was a tight little Anglo-Protestant enclave with no time for Irish Papists.”

At the height of the Famine, William Whieldon, Editor of Charlestown’s Bunker Hill Aurora, wrote, “Our country is literally being overrun with the miserable, wretched, vicious and unclean paupers of the old country. They are not only introducing their wretchedness and disease among us but, if they ever recover from these plagues, they have a worse disease, which will overspread this country, their religion.”

Charlestown was, in fact, so intolerant of the Irish that in 1847 the town’s selectmen turned the Famine ship Reliance away from Dwin’s Wharf with 280 desperately ill aboard.

Seen in this light, it’s understandable that the Bunker Hill Cemetery faced fierce resistance from Yankee Charlestown at every step of the way. But Bishop Fenwick won the day.

Nine to ten thousand Irish are buried here, and, safe to say, most were Famine refugees and their children who “did not go gentle into that good night.”

In the bad old days, when infant death was all too common and the Irish poor had no means to buy a grave, deceased infants and young children were left at the cemetery gate for burial. Patrick Denvir, the sexton and undertaker at the Irish Cemetery behind St. Francis de Sales Church in Charlestown, tells us that sad practice was not unusual. There are hundreds of infants and children buried here. Their graves went unmarked but the children were not forgotten.

One glorious September Sunday in 2009, a thousand or more gathered on the Hill to raise the Children of the Famine Memorial. The centerpiece is a Celtic Cross, one reminiscent of Muireadach’s High Cross at Monasterboice.

They lie in silence, thousands strong
In a hidden Charlestown graveyard
Awaiting a marker 

Evidence of lives lived?

Why do you lament their tragic passing?
What might have been
Pales to insignificance.
What counts is memory and memorial.

The Celtic Cross in Charlestown Graveyard
Honors soul and spirit
Of those Irish dead
They are remembered.

Rest well now
Where Tir na nOg and Gate of Heaven,
Sun and Cross are all the one.

— Donal O’Cathasaigh (Dan Casey)

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Going Green: Environmentalism in Business Fri, 01 Jan 2010 11:53:36 +0000 Read more..]]> As we present our annual Business 100 list, a celebration of the best and the brightest Irish-American executives and their standout achievements in the corporate world, we remain committed to highlighting progressive and innovative examples of business and industry. The following companies and executives are pioneers in using ecological thinking to fuel successful business. From electric cars and green energy production to sustainable cleaning products and free-range fish farming, this year’s Irish greens represent Irish Americans on the cutting edge of eco-friendly development.

The Seafarer
Brian O’Hanlon, President, Founder and Board Member, Open Blue Sea Farms

Open Blue Sea Farms’s mission is to feed the growing premium fish market with all natural, healthy, delicious branded seafood, through environmentally safe and sustainable free-range open-ocean farming methods. Their fish are cultivated in native waters far offshore in the open ocean and raised in a strong flow of pristine waters that have not been impacted or influenced by land. Further, their sustainable methods can satiate growing appetites without poisoning the environment, our oceans, sea life and us.

Brian O’Hanlon is an open-ocean aquaculture veteran who has had multiple milestone successes in culturing and farming species of fish. Through his first venture, Snapperfarm, Inc., he was one of the first to move fish farming into the open sea. His fascination with the sea is no surprise, coming from a family that has for three generations worked in the seafood industry, beginning with his grandfather John, who spent his professional life at New York’s famous Fulton Fish Market. As a youngster, Brian became aware that our oceans would no longer be able to supply enough food for the world, and his passion focused on fish farming as the best way to alleviate the condition of our emptying seas.

Brian, with plans to significantly expand his proven seafood cultivation technology and market acceptance under the Open Blue Sea Farms banner, is actively pursuing investment for Open Blue’s deep open-ocean aquaculture launch of branded, upscale and gourmet seafood products. He calls it “The Open Blue Revolution,” cultivating seafood far from shore into the open ocean where strong currents and deep water support biomass without damaging sensitive ecosystems. This translates to environmental and social impacts reduced or eliminated, stakeholder impacts being avoided, reduced energy consumption and improved coastal conditions in addition to creating a reliable, year round and sustainable supply of nutritious, healthy, safe, and  delicious seafood.

O’Hanlon is a founding board member of the Ocean Stewards Institute and is on the Steering Committee of the World Wildlife Fund’s Cobia Standards Dialogue. He is a fourth-generation Irish American with roots in Kerry, Clare, Louth, Limerick and Galway.

The Green Mr. Clean

Adam Lowry, Chief Greenskeeper and CEO, Method Products, Inc.

Method Products, Inc. combines the efficacy of powerful cleaning products with the safety of naturally derived, non-toxic ingredients. Their entire line of home and personal care products is biodegradable and safe for people and the environment. They offset carbon emissions by planting forests and by buying electricity from renewable sources like solar and wind energy.
Adam Lowry believes that business is our greatest vehicle for positive social and environmental change. First and foremost an entrepreneur and change agent, Adam has a proven track record of innovation across multiple categories and consumer segments.
Prior to founding Method, Adam worked as a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution of Science, developing software products for the study of global climate change. As CEO and chief greenskeeper of Method Products, Adam’s focus is bringing sustainable innovations to the business. He also directs the sustainability aspects of product design, sourcing, and production, and provides strategic input for consumer marketing and the press.

A third-generation Irish American whose great-grandfather Thomas Kirkpatrick Lowry was born in 1889 in Cork, Adam says that his Irish heritage means “you go after the things you believe in and make sure to enjoy yourself while you’re in the fight.” Adam holds a BS in chemical engineering from Stanford University, and resides in San Francisco with his wife, Mara, and daughter, Kenning.

Networking Naturally

Charisse McAuliffe, Founder and CEO, GenGreen LLC

The goal of GenGreen LLC is to be the most comprehensive and diverse resource available for people looking to live a locally focused, environmentally conscious lifestyle. This is accomplished through, the largest database of accredited green businesses and organizations in North America, where over 60,000 listings in the GenGreen network form a multi-faceted platform for communication, education and connection, from green news headlines, job listings and events, to tips helping consumers live a sustainable life. GenGreen is one of the preeminent aggregators and distributors of environmental content online.

Born in Atlanta and a graduate of the College of Charleston in South Carolina with a degree in mass media communications, Charisse McAuliffe began her career working as a segment producer and field producer for Warner Brothers/Telepictures and as a production manager for ASAG Productions. Following a position as a broadcast producer, she got her real estate license and began brokering commercial real estate projects. Starting with green building practices, Charisse explored other areas of the sustainable lifestyle, and in 2006 moved to Colorado, where she began to pursue her environmental calling. She made it her life’s mission to make it easier for people in Colorado, the U.S., and hopefully one day the world to live sustainably.

Charisse was named one of the top 40 business leaders under 40 for 2008 by the Northern Colorado Business Report and one of the “Hottest CEOs of Cool Green Companies” by in 2009. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Rocky Mountain Sustainable Living Association and Northern Colorado USGBC. She has two daughters, Kylah and Abigail. A fourth-generation Irish American with ancestry in Cork, Charisse says, “Raised by my mostly Irish parents, I was brought up believing that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. I have often given credit for my passionate attitude towards life to my Irish roots. We put our hearts and soul into all that we do, we take great pride in our heritage, and consider it of the utmost importance to carry the message of where we came from to the generations that come after us.”

Where Coffee Goes Green

R. Scott McCreary, COO, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc.

Since 1981, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc. has been roasting the finest Arabica beans from coffee-growing communities around the world, creating award-winning blends. Their goal is to provide consumers with an extraordinary coffee experience that’s environmentally sound, socially just, and delicious. They work to achieve this goal by integrating their values with their business operations and allocating 5% of pre-tax earnings to social and environmental causes.

Through their business, Green Mountain hopes to inspire others to view business as a partner, and positive change agent, in the global effort to create long-term solutions and sustainability for people and ecosystems worldwide. They have developed programs around energy use and solid waste and funded grants related to jobs programs that merge environmental stewardship with poverty relief; the development of creative economies in rural areas; raising awareness and building capacities related to organic farming and fair trade as well as supporting an annual effort to clean up our nation’s rivers, among other causes.

Scott has served as chief operating officer of GMCR’s Specialty Coffee Business Unit since  2004. From 1993 until joining GMCR, Scott was employed by Unilever North American and its subsidiaries. His experiences include positions with Kraft General Foods, M&M Mars and Pillsbury.

Scott holds an MBA in marketing from the University of Minnesota and a BS in engineering. He is a fourth-generation Irish American with roots in County Down.

Setting an Example

Patrick Lynch, Senior Vice President and CFO, Interface, Inc.

In 1994, Ray Anderson, founder of Interface, Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of modular carpet, awakened to the urgent need to set a new course toward sustainability. Interface committed to become the first name in industrial ecology worldwide, setting a course to total sustainability and a promise to eliminate any negative impact Interface might have on the environment by 2020. Seven of its manufacturing facilities currently operate with 100 percent renewable electricity, and more than 27 percent of Interface’s global energy consumption is derived from renewable sources.

The company, which has a subsidiary in Craigavon, County Armagh, also began a program in 1995 to identify, measure and eliminate waste in manufacturing processes, and has successfully achieved a 50 percent reduction in waste cost per unit, resulting in $372 million saved to date. In 2007, Interface became the first carpet manufacturer to implement a process for “clean separation,” allowing for a maximum amount of post-consumer material to be recycled into new products.

Patrick C. Lynch joined Interface in 1996 and became vice president and CFO in 2001. He was promoted to senior vice president in 2007. Patrick graduated from The Citadel in Charleston with a bachelor of science degree in business administration in 1992. He then went on to earn both a juris doctor degree in law and a master of business administration degree from Georgia State. A fourth-generation Irish American with roots in Cork, Patrick says that his Irish heritage provides him with “shining examples of faith and perseverance when faced with difficult circumstances.” Patrick resides in Atlanta with his wife Erica and their two daughters, Emily and Molly.

Winning the Race

Diarmuid O’Connell, Vice President of Business Development, Tesla Motors

Tesla Motors designs and sells high-performance, super-efficient electric cars. Their cars join style, acceleration, and handling with advanced technologies to make them the quickest and the most energy-efficient cars on the planet. The Tesla Roadster moves not only under its own power, but ultimately free of the existing and increasingly troublesome petroleum-based infrastructure. With a range of over 200 miles on a single charge and a supercar level 3.9 second 0-60 mph acceleration time, the Roadster is proof that the combination of passion and technology can deliver a truly groundbreaking automobile.

Diarmuid O’Connell joined Tesla in 2006, and currently serves as the vice president of business development. Before joining Tesla, Diarmuid served as chief of staff for political military affairs at the U.S. State Department, where he was involved in policy and operational support to the U.S military in various theaters of operation.

Prior to his tenure in Washington, Diarmuid worked in corporate strategy as a management consultant for Accenture, as a founder of educational software developer at Real Time Learning, and as a senior executive with both McCann Erickson Worldwide and Young and Rubicam.

Diarmuid has a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College, a master’s degree in foreign policy from the University of Virginia, and an MBA from Kellogg. He lives with his wife and two children in the Bay Area and escapes to the mountains whenever possible. Diarmuid is a fourth-generation Irish American with roots in Cork, Kerry and Mayo. On his Irish heritage, he says, “Wherever I’ve traveled or worked in the world, my Irish heritage has given me entrée into networks of active, engaging and committed communities of interest.”

The Power of Knowledge

Dara O’Rourke, Founder, GoodGuide, Inc.

GoodGuide provides information about the environmental, social, and health performance of products and companies to consumers at the point of purchase (through web and mobile apps). They present this information through innovative visualization tools, facilitating learning, sharing, and contributing information to friends, families, and broader communities, and providing simple means for users to send signals to companies.

Dara O’Rourke is an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and the co-founder of GoodGuide, Inc. Dara’s research focuses on systems for monitoring the environmental, labor, and health impacts of global production systems.

Dara has served as a consultant to international organizations such as the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and a wide range of domestic and international non-governmental organizations. He has degrees in mechanical engineering, political science, and energy and resources, and was previously a professor at MIT.

Born in Dublin, Dara became a U.S. citizen at age 12. His father’s family is from Roslea, County Fermanagh, and his mother’s from Belturbet, County Cavan. He says, “I’m very proud to be Irish and am continually inspired by Ireland’s culture and achievements. I personally inherited the ‘gift of the gab’ and a love of debate from my Irish parents.”

Producing Alternative Energy

Dr. Jason Pyle, Founder and CEO, Sapphire Energy

The goal of Sapphire Energy is to be the world’s leading producer of renewable petrochemical products. The team has built a scientifically superior platform that uses photosynthetic microorganisms to convert sunlight and CO2 into carbon-neutral alternatives to conventional fossil fuels. This domestic crude oil can be produced at massive scale on non-arable land.

Dr. Jason Pyle, founder and CEO of Sapphire, holds an appointment as adjunct professor of bioengineering at Vanderbilt University where he has worked to develop cross-disciplinary programs of biological and engineering research. He was named Innovator of the Year (2006) by Frost and Sullivan, and holds numerous pending and issued patents in the engineering and biological sciences and has worked in diverse cross-discipline areas such as nanofabrication, optical engineering, and structural biology. Dr. Pyle holds a PhD in molecular and cellular physiology and an MD from Stanford University, and received degrees in optical engineering and physics from the University of Arizona.

Dr. Pyle, whose Irish roots lie in Co. Donegal, says, “Beyond my own heritage my wife is second-generation Irish. She’s a Staunton from County Mayo. Her father, Vincent, came to the U.S. as a young doctor. His story reminds me that all our families came to this nation at one point largely because of great hardships. We have a lot to be proud of.”

The Man Who Climbed the Mountain

Casey Sheahan, President and CEO, Lost Arrow Corporation and Patagonia, Inc.

Lost Arrow is the holding company for the highly successful Patagonia brand of outdoor equipment and clothing. The company operates a small number of freestanding Patagonia stores in the U.S. and abroad, and sells its line through roughly 1,200 dealers in the U.S., Europe, and Japan. A design leader in several areas, pioneering specialized synthetic fabrics as well as bold, bright colors widely imitated by other outdoor apparel manufacturers, the company is dedicated to environmental preservation. As a member of “1% for the Planet,” Patagonia pledges to donate at least one percent of its annual sales to promote conservation and preservation of the natural environment.

Casey Sheahan serves as president and CEO of Patagonia, Inc. and Lost Arrow Corporation. Casey, a long-time industry veteran, came to Patagonia from his post as president of Kelty, Inc. Prior to his tenure at Kelty, he served as vice president of marketing for Merrell Footwear and was category marketing manager at Nike ACG.  In addition to his diverse management background, Casey brings a breadth of skills in the fields of writing, marketing and sales. He has edited for several outdoor-inspired publications including Powder Magazine and Runner’s World. He is aligned with a number of environmental organizations and served as president of the Conservation Alliance. Born in Santa Barbara, Casey is a lifelong skier and fly-fishing enthusiast. He earned a BA in American studies from Stanford University. He has a personal affinity for cycling, paddling and all water-related activities, as well as backpacking, sleeping in the dirt and spending time with his family: his wife Tara and children Caelin and Aidan. A third-generation Irish American with roots in Shannon, County Clare and Cork, Casey says, “The wonderful heritage of Irish music, history and literature connects me to my past and inspires me to laugh and cry!”

The Eco-friendly Abbot

Rev. Abbot Brendan Freeman, Founder, Trappist Caskets

 Located in a richly forested area near Dubuque Iowa, New Melleray Abbey, a Trappist monastery, managed to support itself through farming until the agricultural market collapse of the 1990s. Abbot Brendan Freeman launched a new venture in 1999 that would offset the shortfall in income. Taking advantage of a change in the law which allowed consumers to provide their own funeral merchandise, Abbot Brendan founded Trappist Caskets. By utilizing the Abbey’s massive timber resources and available monk labor force, the new company adopted the Irish tradition of wooden caskets. From its inception, the business has experienced brisk growth due to the vision, acumen, and oversight of Abbot Brendan.

Trappists are committed to responsible stewardship, and their methods are aimed at preserving the world as God made it. Towards this end, the New Melleray monks use wood of local origin, much of it from their own award-winning 1,200-acre forest, which is managed to be a sustainable ecosystem. A tree is planted in the forest in honor of each individual buried in a Trappist casket. In addition to its casket business, New Melleray continues its 150-year tradition of farming, particularly chemical-free crops and raising organic Black Angus beef.

Rev. Abbot Brendan Freeman received an MA in religious studies and divinity from Catholic University of America. He is an Irish citizen whose father’s family hails from Ballyhanus and his mother’s from Kiltimagh, both in County Mayo. He is the president of the Board of Directors of Cistercian Publications and has been elected abbot for six consecutive terms at New Melleray Abbey, which was founded in 1849 at the time of the great famine by the Irish monastery Mount Melleray of County Waterford in Ireland.

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Living Green with Ed Begley Jr. Fri, 01 Jan 2010 11:52:25 +0000 Read more..]]> Ed Begley Jr. is an actor and environmental activist whose work spans the gamut in terms of genre and cross-generational appeal. His breakthrough role was as Dr. Victor Ehrlich on the hit TV show St. Elsewhere, which earned him six Emmy nominations. Since then, his career has included film, television and stage work, and his latest project, the reality show Living With Ed on Planet Green, represents a new stage. We caught up over the phone and discussed the projects he’s working on and his environmental plan that makes it simple for any consumer to go green and save money while doing so.

Living With Ed follows the story of Ed and his wife, actress and Pilates instructor Rachelle Carson Begley, and their self-sufficient solar-powered home near Los Angeles. Along the way, Ed and Rachelle provide viewers with information on how to incorporate green living into their own homes. Ed says that his consciousness of environmental issues “came from growing up in smoggy Los Angeles. I lived there from when I was born in 1949 to 1952, and I live in LA now. At this point I’ve lived there over two decades. So, at that point in 1970 when the first Earth Day came along, I went, ‘Yeah, I’m on board,’ because it was wrong. It’s not right to live in this kind of choking pollution. It hurts my lungs and it’s not good, and I’m going to try to do something different. It was very personal.”

In 1970, Ed began changing his lifestyle to lessen the impact of his consumption on the environment, and was surprised to find that these alterations helped conserve his money as well as the earth. “That is what’s so effective about the show,” said Ed. “We certainly show some highfalutin’ homes with some big-ticket items, but we always focus on the cheap and easy stuff. We have that up on the website as well. I’m not asking people to do it any differently from the way I did it in 1970. I was broke, and what I was doing even after 1970 wasn’t much. So do the cheap and easy stuff first, you will save money, and then you move up the ladder and do more.” I asked him what he would tell a consumer who, like most of us, feels overwhelmed by the amount that there is to do in terms of living a more eco-conscious lifestyle. “Get out of your car as much as you can,” Ed responded. “This means that if you live in an area where you can walk to things, do that. When weather permits, ride a bike. If you live near public transportation, try that. Second, save energy in your home as much as possible. What does that mean? Energy-efficient light bulbs, energy-saving thermostats…You’ll save money and get a taste for it and you’ll want to do more.”

Ed has high expectations for the evolution of his own ecologically sound lifestyle as well as optimism for the future of American environmentalism. “My long-term goal is to be more efficient in home energy use and in travel, whatever the mode of transportation, and to do something about air pollution, water pollution . . . we’ve got a lot of different things to work on. In the short term, I want to help people to save money in this tough economy.”

Ed Begley Jr.’s grandparents, Michael Begley from Killarney and Hannah Clifford Begley from Killorglin, both in County Kerry, came over from Ireland on a boat in 1898 and settled to raise a family in Hartford, CT. Ed’s childhood included the Irish experience of Catholic schools in New York, on which he commented, “Though the nuns at Cure of Ars  Catholic School in Merrick were super strict, my experience there and at Stella Niagara in Lewiston showed me that hard work and discipline can really pay off.”

Ed stays in close communication with his relatives in Ireland. “A relative on my grandmother’s side, a Clifford, lives in Killarney still and I write to him and his daughter and stay in touch with them. Mick Begley, a cousin of mine, lives in Dublin and I also keep in touch with him. He’s come to visit me here and brought his family over, so I see him a lot.”

Ed was drawn to acting by the work of his Academy Award-winning father, and his work also brings families together, as I found in preparation for my interview with him. I was familiar with Ed’s work from his appearances on more recent television shows like Arrested Development and Six Feet Under, but my grandfather remembered seeing him on Johnny Carson decades earlier. “For many years, I just tried to pick the best material and that would vary from film on occasion to television shows like St. Elsewhere . . . when I got that job in the early 1980s, it was better than most films I’d worked on,” says Ed. “Even though it was on the smaller screen, it was better material. I did stage as well, and sometimes that provides the best material. And this reality show –  there’s no script, but it’s an opportunity to engage people in a humorous fashion and to have takeaways every show where people can try this stuff and save money.”

The beginnings of Ed’s eclectic career included stand-up comedy in nightclubs between 1969 and 1976, which he considers “the greatest training, better than any acting school I could’ve gone to, because it’s very immediate. You get all the condemnation or praise instantly by the very fact that they would be laughing or they wouldn’t, and there’s no better review or opinion than that. If you’ve got a good act – you know, some people begrudgingly or reluctantly laugh if they feel it’s politically incorrect, whatever they feel – but they laugh just the same. So it’s a very immediate kind of return and I liked that, so I did that for a while.”

Ed, Rachelle and the rest of the green movement are picking up speed in their effort to influence America’s consumer habits, but there are still obstacles: for example, the fact that only 57% of Americans see “solid evidence of [global] warming,” according to The Pew Research Center poll.

“It’s difficult because there’s so much opposition still,” says Ed. “Skepticism is healthy. I like people who are skeptical, and it’s good to be skeptical about climate change even, but to deny what is happening with the snows of Kilimanjaro melting, and the Greenland ice shelf melting, and the Arctic ice melting…We can see Alaska’s glaciers receding from photographic documentation at Glacier National Park, and even within the lower forty-eight states you can see the evidence of it. When people deny that, it gives the wider population a reason to not do anything. It gives them an excuse for inaction. The interesting thing is, the main reason that [people say] we shouldn’t do anything is because of how much it’s going to cost. ‘It’s going to break the bank.’ Keep in mind, that’s what they said when we went about cleaning up the air in Los Angeles in the early seventies. ‘Hey, we all want clean air, but we can’t afford it.’ But we cleaned up the air in LA and businesses thrived because there are jobs making catalytic converters and turbines and cleaning spray paint pollution and all this stuff you need to clean up the air. So that’s the big lie. Somehow, [the idea is that] the money that one makes on an oil refinery, those dollars are printed on good Federal Reserve notes that have value that goes out into the wider community, but the money you would spend on wind turbines, on solar panels, hybrid cars, green installation, that’s printed on paper that disappears instantly the minute you spend it. And of course that’s absurd. It would be good for our economy to do this stuff. Even if you disagree about climate change – and this is the way I approach this when I talk around the country – then let’s agree to disagree. I think it’s so, and many other scientists do. You think it’s not so  . . . let’s agree to disagree about that. You want to clean up the air like we did in LA, you want to lessen our dependence on Middle East oil, and you want to put money in your pocket? Most people have a hard time saying no to that, and if you do those three things you’ve also done a great deal to combat climate change. So what’s the harm in that? I haven’t heard a good answer to that yet.”

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The Maestro: Kenneth Montgomery Fri, 01 Jan 2010 11:51:15 +0000 Read more..]]> Santa Fe Opera House is truly one of the wonders of the world. Perfectly situated on a mesa a 30-minute drive from historic downtown, and offering breathtaking views of the Jemez Mountains to the west and the Sangre Cristo Mountains to the east, its state-of-the-art design – open at the sides and back of the stage – allows not only great comfort and acoustics, but also glimpses of New Mexico’s brilliant night skies.

I’ve been around Irish America for so long now that I’m hardly surprised when I come across Irish people in unlikely places, and finding a Belfast man holding the baton in such an exotic clime is delightful but not altogether unexpected. What is surprising about Kenneth Montgomery, conductor of international renown and Santa Fe Opera’s principal guest conductor, is that he came from a family with no background in music.

Born in 1948, he grew up in a working-class family in Belfast, the son of an electrician and a mother who had spent a couple of years working for the Electric Board before becoming a full-time wife and mother. Yet, the way Montgomery tells it, from the moment it was discovered that he had an interest in music – an aunt noticed that on Sunday visits he was fascinated with her piano – not only were his parents on board, but it seems like the stars were in alignment, for he soon embarked on a journey that would lead him to a brilliant career in music.

He began piano lessons when he was seven and singing lessons when he was eight. Soon he found himself in a boys’ choir under the tutelage of Arthur Martin. “My parents were not at all musical, but Arthur Martin was not only a good vocal coach, but a very encouraging person. And he encouraged my parents to buy me a good piano. ”

They bought him a Steinway upright!

More good fortune followed.  “An acquaintance of the family died and left me a whole pile of music,” he recalls. At the age of ten the young Montgomery could sight-read all this music.  “Sometimes a Victorian ballad and sometimes a Bach oratorio.”

He learned to play the bassoon as well as the piano and played in amateur orchestras, but he knew from an early age that he wanted to be in front of the orchestra, not in it.

“From the age of 10 I knew I wanted to be a musician and by the age of 12 I knew I wanted to be a conductor. There was an orchestra in Belfast at the time called the City of Belfast Orchestra and they used to rehearse on Wednesday afternoons. And an arrangement was made that I could go to these rehearsals instead of sports.”

Getting out of sports was a welcome relief for Montgomery. He recalled that when he ran into the school principal in Amsterdam about five years ago he thanked him “for letting me off those nasty sports and letting me go on with music instead.” The principal was delighted to have played a part in Montgomery’s success. “He said, ‘Well, we’re very proud you’ve reached the kind of position that you have in the music profession.’”

Montgomery left Belfast for the Royal College of Music in London after high school. “My teacher was from there, and I made it my aim to get in there,”  he said.

It could have been rather nerve-wracking for a young man from Belfast, a city far from the center of things musically, but by this time, Montgomery had acquired a really wide musical knowledge, and soon he was making a name for himself. In fact, in his third year at the Royal College he was asked to go to the Glyndebourne Festival Opera as assistant conductor. That exposure helped him get a scholarship to study in Germany. And by the time he had done that he was working with the famed English National Opera (then known as Sadler’s Wells), which he did for three years.

Montgomery also made a name for himself in the Netherlands, following his 1970 début with the Nederlandse Opera in Cavalli’s L’Ormindo. In 1975 he was appointed principal conductor of the Dutch Radio Symphony Orchestra and subsequently of the Dutch Radio Choir with some 80 singers, as well.

Back to Belfast
He found “a very healthy climate of music making” in Holland and in 1979 decided Amsterdam would be his base. It’s remained so ever since.

“Music is subsidized in Holland, so there was a lot of contemporary music, commissions of Dutch composers and important world composers, constantly being performed, and at the same time there was a move towards learning to play early instruments,” he said.
Montgomery was also becoming well-known internationally. He was a regular guest conductor with the main orchestras in Europe, Canada and the U.S.

Then in the mid-80s he was asked to help redo the opera company in Northern Ireland, and he returned to Belfast. He recalls that period in his life fondly.

“I enjoyed that period very much and we managed to get very good reviews from the British press. It was very heartwarming. They would say, ‘You should go to Belfast to see a wonderful production of The Magic Flute.’”

Alas, the North of Ireland was caught up in both economic and political struggles at the time. The Europa Hotel, next door to the Grand Opera House, was bombed constantly, and there were financial troubles as well. It was, he said, “very special that we were well thought of. But it was always a bit of a struggle to make the money work out.”

After Montgomery left the opera company it folded. (In 1991 he was made director of opera studies at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, where a chair in opera studies was set up in his name.)  “[The Belfast Opera Company] existed for another two or three years but the people that took over the management were not so canny at making the arts council help us,” he said sadly. “It’s a great pity because I felt very much at that time that a city of roughly half a million people should have an opera company of its own.”

It’s also a great shame, according to Montgomery, that young Irish musicians still have to go abroad to complete their education, as he had to go to London as a young man. “The one thing that we really miss in Ireland is an advanced training course for musicians. You get to a certain level then you have to go somewhere else to reach the final performance level. I would be very keen to see something develop so that people from Ireland don’t have to go abroad,” he said.

New Mexico
His favorite opera is “nearly always the one I’m doing at the time but if I’m really pressed I suppose The Marriage of Figaro. I think it’s got the greatest humanity of any piece I know. The forgiveness at the end, all that comedy you go through . . . Life is a comedy and people have to be big-hearted. I did it here [Santa Fe] last year and it was a wonderful group of artists doing it.”

The Marriage of Figaro aside, Montgomery has an appreciation for the not so commonly performed – perhaps harkening back to the catch-all of music left to him as a child that he would draw on to surprise his music teachers. “I was curious about all kinds of music, sometimes bringing pieces to my music teacher in Belfast and he was horrified, saying, ‘What is this?’”

He still likes to surprise. We meet for lunch between rehearsals for Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Alceste with American soprano Christine Brewer in the title role. The opera, which has no sub-plot, and is based on the play Alcestis by Euripides, is a challenge for any conductor. But then Montgomery is the sort who revels in a challenge. In fact, the reason he was invited to Santa Fe was because of his penchant for the unusual.

“It happened because I’d been working in Toronto with the Canadian opera and met a stage director there called Bliss Hebert who had been working regularly  here [in Santa Fe] and I think it was he who suggested my name for Mignon, an opera by [Ambroise] Tomas. Now I’ve done quite a lot of rare operas. I like to do rare operas and I liked very much doing it in Sante Fe. They seemed to like me also, so two years later I was back for The Secret Marriage [by Cimarosa].”

Mignon was in 1982; Montgomery has been a regular conductor at Santa Fe ever since. And he is happy to be here.
“It’s such a fascinating mixture of cultures. After you’ve been here a bit you begin to feel the Hispanic and the Native American cultures and you begin to realize that the Anglo culture is less important than both of them. It’s kind of mysterious as well. There are all kinds of elements that make it interestingly mysterious,”  he said.

“I’m very, very happy working here, the orchestra is absolutely wonderful, and of course the setting is fantastic. The founder of the company, John Crosby [a New Yorker], was a wonderful organizer and administrator. He really knew how to put things together. He was a conductor as well and a superb musician and so his combination of music and brilliant administration has made this company as good as it is. And it’s a great pleasure to work here because you know everything is going to be organized as well as it possibly can be. As you can imagine opera is a very complicated thing to organize, there’s so many different things that have to go together. This is one of the finest opera companies I know.”

Home Again
Montgomery never lost touch with Belfast. Shortly after our meeting he opened the 2009/10 season at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall with the Ulster Orchestra. Having served as the orchestra’s principal guest conductor, he became its principal conductor in 2008, the first Ulster man to serve in this position.

Sadly, his father had passed away, but his mother gloried in her son’s triumph.

“Unfortunately, my father died when I was 21 or 22 and had been ill quite a bit before so he didn’t see me perform much. But my mother is still alive, 98. In fact when I was appointed principal conductor of the Ulster Orchestra I went to see her and as she’s deaf now, I had to write the news of the appointment down for her. She didn’t react for a while and I thought, ‘Can’t she read or what’ and then she banged her arm on the table and said, ‘I told them so.’

“She had a group of friends who used to say to her, ‘Lily, you’re not having any life of your own for all these choir practices.’  She had to take me  – two buses – and wait for me. And her friends would say, ‘You’re doing too much for him.’
“And so,‘I told them so’ was her way of saying, ‘It was worth it.’”

He pauses before adding thoughtfully. “My parents were marvelous really; they just let me get on with it.”

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