February March 2008 Issue – Irish America https://irishamerica.com Irish America Magazine Mon, 15 Jul 2019 20:00:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.10 82361074 The Reluctant Star: Ciaran Hinds https://irishamerica.com/2008/02/the-reluctant-star-ciaran-hinds/ https://irishamerica.com/2008/02/the-reluctant-star-ciaran-hinds/#comments Fri, 01 Feb 2008 12:00:01 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=9366 Read more..]]> Ciarán Hinds is lovely.  Now, perhaps I shouldn’t admit that because part of Hinds’ attraction is that  he remains somewhat of an unknown. In fact, one fan found it so hard to find information on Hinds that she started a website www.Ciaranitis.com, for those “smitten with Ciarán Hinds.”

Hinds has appeared in a wealth of movies and plays over the years, yet he remains on the periphery of Hollywood stardom – it would seem by choice. I met Ciarán at the Irish Arts Center dinner in New York City in November. It was a night full of Irish stars, including Liam Neeson, Pierce Brosnan, Gabriel Byrne, and Hinds, who seemed to stand just outside the picture. In rehearsals for the Broadway debut of Conor McPherson’s The Seafarer, he reluctantly agreed to an interview. Then the stagehands strike happened, and the play, which had had a week of previews, was put on hold, and so was the interview.

When he finally agreed to meet me at Kit DeFever’s studio for an early morning photo shoot and interview, he and the four other actors in The Seafarer were in the unenviable position of keeping the play “warm,” ready to go  at a moment’s notice of the strike’s end. Yet, Hinds seemed unflustered.

I had offered to send a car to pick him up – he opted to take the “metro.” He arrived on time, dressed in the blue shirt I had requested, but was happy to change into an Irish fisherman’s sweater provided by Kit.  During our conversation I found him open and available, and relaxed (after watching me spend a couple of frustrating minutes trying to solve the mysteries of my tape recorder, he calmly took over and solved the problem without making me feel the dumb blonde).

Hinds, who turns 55 on February 9, was born in Belfast, the youngest of five children and the only son. His father was a doctor, and his mother, Moya, had been involved in amateur dramatics “before she had us.” As a boy he performed with the Patricia Mulholland Irish Dance troupe and appeared in productions at St. Malachy’s College, an all-boys’ high school. He attended Queens University, ostensibly to study law, but soon left to attend the Royal Academy of Arts in London. He began his stage career at the Glasgow Citizens’ Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and since his first film appearance, in 1981, as one of the medieval knights in Excalibur, he has gone on to amass a large number of credits both on film and stage, including Munich, Margot at the Wedding, and the much touted There Will Be Blood which also stars Daniel Day-Lewis. He also appeared as Julius Caesar in the HBO series Rome, for which he received the 2007 Irish Film & Television Award for Best Actor in a Lead Role.

I’ve had a grá for Hinds since I first saw him in December Bride, a tale of two brothers in love with the same woman – Hinds plays off Donal McCann’s earthiness with sullen brooding. Set in Northern Ireland at the turn of the 20th century, it’s a classic film with haunting cinematography.

Can you tell me about December Bride, which I saw again recently and enjoyed as much the second time round?
It was filmed in 1989. There hadn’t been a film made in the North of Ireland for about forty years, sometime in the 50’s. It was made and directed by a Kerry man, Thaddeus O’Sullivan, a great cinematographer who was interested in the dichotomy of the North. He found this story by Sam Hanna Bell and stayed with it for a long time to get it made. There was something very pure about the film itself, at the root of it. It was very honest. They didn’t try to modernize it or give it an aggressive glamour that passes for truth. It was a simple story of two brothers, very closed off. And they get awakened, their hearts get awakened, by the same woman.

It also brought in much about the North,  and what was happening on the periphery.

Presbyterianism and the landscape featured heavily in the film. Thaddeus being a photographer himself got this fantastic French cinematographer Bruno de Keyzer because he loved the way Bruno treated people’s faces and landscape.

Was there a specific moment when you knew acting was what you wanted to do? I know that you studied law.

(Laughs) Well, I hardly studied law. I was supposed to be studying law —

I never thought, “I want to be an actor, I want to be on stage, I want to be in film.” For a long time I was just involved. I did a lot of Irish dancing. I worked with Patricia Mulholland who was one of the few in the North who did work that was different from the rigid Irish dancing. Her work was very fluid. She was a huge influence in terms of showing us how to move. How you balance and make patterns with your feet or body, which is also the physical thing in theater. She was also a brilliant classical violinist and she created this troupe of Irish dancers, and through dance and mime she told stories of the legends of Ireland – Chuculainn and Finn McCool. I was with her from the age of seven or eight until I left at nineteen. My training in dance helped me to present classical work years later when I was asked to join the Royal Shakespeare Company. The troupe used to tour the schools and on Saturdays you could find yourself in Tyrone or Fermanagh or Derry. And once a year the company would perform at a theater in Belfast. It was all amateur but there were proper costumes. And it was a big influence in my life.

And of course I went to elocution lessons and did monologues, and bits of Shakespeare. And then at St. Malachy’s College we had a couple of good drama teachers and put on big productions once or twice a year. I was twelve or thirteen when I played Lady Macbeth – they always got the younger boys to play the women back in the Shakespeare days. My mother still believes that’s the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s hard to keep on pushing on into your fifties thinking, “Wow, I’ll never beat that [laughs].”

 Didn’t you do some recordings of Shakespeare plays?

I was involved with two of them. [Hinds is a 2004 Audie Award Winner, for best audio drama performance on

The Complete Arkangel Shakespeare]. I played Antony in Antony and Cleopatra, thinking they wouldn’t ask me back, but they did, and in The Winter’s Tale I played Leontes, the one who turns out to be very jealous.

Was there a big concentration on Shakespeare at school?

Shakespeare prevailed quite strongly in St. Malachy’s school. It was a great grounding in literature, and it also taught you about life. The thing about Shakespeare is that while a lot of his plays have to do with the attributes of  kings, he also had the voice of the common man, not spoken in iambic pentameter but the blank verse of the citizens of the world. When it came to speaking the truth it was always there as seen through the eyes of ordinary mortals. And he seemed to cover the entire range of emotion – the emotional sense of people always rang though, and also lessons of nature. In Romeo and Juliet for instance, the friar who is the advisor to Romeo gives this long aria on nature and plants that assist in healing. There are also reference to nature in Hamlet and The Winter’s Tale.  Also, of course, you have the huge emotional and political stuff he wrote and the dreams he wove as well — the man just wrote so much.

You were in Munich (the film, set in the aftermath of the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics). Did growing up in the north give you some understanding of the Palestinian question?

The year I was at Queens University, supposedly doing law, a group from the National Film School in London came over. They were making a short film for their finals about the North, the dichotomy and the problems in the different communities. There were four of them, a Palestinian, an Iranian, an Israeli and a Canadian Jewish guy who wrote the piece. And because they were out of their home territorites they could meet, and converse, and argue. They were in the North because they identified what was happening there with what was happening back in their homelands. This was 1972, and people did sort of equate the Israeli/Palestinian problems with the Protestant/Catholic problems of the North, because they were both flaring up at that time. But you realize when you grow up a little, that the [Palestinian] problem is a thousand times more difficult and conflicted than ours.  I mean, the refugees and the poverty, and the scale of it all. It’s much heavier, much deeper. Of course, the problems of the North are serious because the people have been cemented there for generations now. If the false state hadn’t been set up – and even once it was, if there was an equalizing force at work, it’s a natural human condition to say that there is an equality, even if it is false. But if it’s set up wrong, and continues to be wrong . . . .

Well, Shakespeare, he knew [what happens in that case].

You also worked on the movie about the Hunger Strike, Some Mother’s Son WITH HELEN MIRREN.

It’s a very strong film.

It [the Hunger Strike] was a hell of a time. Terrible.

I remember that Helen Mirren was given a bad time by the British press for accepting the role.

Helen, being the divine artist that she is, has an intelligence and an emotional reasoning that’s far beyond these people that are reviewing her. She’s fantastic.

Do you go back to Belfast a lot?

I nip in and go visit my mom in Cushindall, in the Glens of Antrim. She’s been living there 20 years now. My father died 15 years ago and they had moved there right after he retired. She’s 87 now. She can’t move as once she did, but she’s still very much in the game. She was involved in amateur dramatics when she was younger, before we children were born. I saw her perform once, when I was ten or eleven, with an amateur group based on The New Lodge Road in Belfast. She was playing an old woman reminiscing over her life. It was fun to watch, very exciting.

She must be thrilled at  your success.

I suppose, yeah, but all parents are nervous for their children, “Will they get through?” “Will they get by?” That was the reason, I think, that even though they knew I wanted to be involved in theater, they wanted me to have a degree to fall back on. So my parents were probably quite nervous for a while. I mean, in the end the work is about survival, it’s not about getting up to the top rung. It’s about the adventure of doing different work and working with different people. You just keep going on. And suddenly I was elevated for something that was none of my doing, it just had to do with circumstance, timing, and somebody’s choice –
But you have a consistent body of good work even from your early days with Field Day.

I was with Field Day [established by playwright Brian Friel] in the mid-80’s, about ’85. And I was with Druid [based in Galway] in ’86. I was like a vagrant with a lot of bags. I worked a lot in Glasgow, not so much in London, just going around wherever I was offered work.

I worked without an agent for years. I just went wherever I got a job. And when I finally went with an agent – the only agent I’ve ever had – I’d go off and do a job and he couldn’t find me. If I went down to Druid and spent eight months in Galway I was involved in that, and the idea that some people wanted to meet me in London was no part of the psyche. [Laughs]. You go for the work, and sometimes it doesn’t matter where you do it. I had always worked through subsidized theater, in fringe groups and Irish companies, before I was asked to join the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Looking at your body of work as a whole it’s really interesting, whether it’s dealing with the slave trade in Amazing Grace, or playing Julius Caesar in Rome, it seems like a fascinating journey.  

That’s where I’ve been dead lucky.

Or traveling around the world in The Mahabharata [In 1987, hinds was cast by Peter Brook in the six-hour theater piece that toured the world, and he also appeared in the 1989 film version].

See, that’s an extraordinary thing because you think, how do you go from working in fringe theater in Britain and Ireland, I was working in Glasgow at the time, to a meeting with this famous man of theater Peter Brook?

I just knew that there was a story that was being translated from French into English, and that he needed people who could speak English, and it turns out to be this extraordinary project. So you don’t know how you’re chosen, you never know. They choose you for your nature sometimes, or how you look, or what you’ve done that they liked, it can be a mixture of things.

I remember Peter read with lots of people in London, and I was invited to do a one-on-one with him in this extraordinary theater in Paris, the Bouffes du Nord. And I remember walking in, and I thought that his assistant said, “Peter wants you to be in the company,” but I couldn’t be sure. So I went back to Glasgow and my friends said “How’d it go?” and I said, “I don’t know, I’m not sure.” I thought I’d gotten in but I couldn’t trust my instincts because you have doubts all the time, real doubts. So two months later, when I was summoned for a costume fitting, I understood that she had definitely said, “Peter would like you to be in the company.”

And suddenly I’m in Paris working in a company of twenty-three, twenty-four people with fifteen different nationalities, and that’s a mind-blower. Because what you think, morally, or politically, or reasonably, emotionally – it’s not the same because everybody’s come from different sides of the world. They’re all formed in different ways, their brain works in different ways, their emotions. It was really enlightening, and you got lost and then you got opened. And it was great because sometimes there were flare-ups, but it was always discussed. And then you think “What a jammy job.”

I met my partner of twenty years there [the actress Hélène Patarot with whom Hinds has a daughter Aoife, 16, who is studying classical violin]. She was working in the play too.

Since you didn’t set out with any sort of strategy in mind, do you believe in the idea of a universal plan?

I do honestly. I mean, I still think life is random. It just seems to me that there are too many possibilities. Say you have to make a choice between two things. The choice can be for material reasons, practical reasons, emotional reasons, amorous reasons; and they don’t all work in tandem. I mean, I made a decision to do this play [The Seafarer] because I just love it and it was a great honor to be asked. But I needed to think about it; because it’s a long commitment and it meant leaving the family. So I took two weeks to think about it, and they called and I asked for another week. And the moment came, and I was actually boarding a plane and the agent calls and says, “They need a decision from you” – “Oh, just say yes!” But I sort of knew I was always going to do it. I just had to convince myself.

How do you keep yourself in the play? I mean, what do you do if you’re having a bad day?

You have to learn to put it away, because that’s what you’re here for, this is your profession. There are actors who are so brilliant they can play around. I’m not. There’s like a third eye always looking around that allows you to take risks and to break what you thought were strictures at the time. And it allows you to really connect and take those risks. But you have to be engaged and committed to what you’re doing. And to listen – one of the hardest things in acting is to listen, because you’re always thinking of where you might come from next. But if you’re really listening, you trust that it will all work out.

It must be frustrating  waiting for the outcome of the strike?

The thought that came to mind is that this must be like Limbo – always standing and waiting. I mean we could be in Hell so this is a step up. It’s a question of being patient and believing that it will come, and being ready. But we’ve done eight or nine previews and it grows and builds with the audience. And suddenly you lose your steam, but you have to be ready when they say “Okay, we’re going.” That decision will be made quickly, and vocally you have to get your voice ready for 800 seats in a Broadway theater. You don’t want to start acting in a room that you’re not connecting to, and you don’t want to get into bad habits. The Seafarer is a fantastic piece of writing. There were a couple of performances where the magic really happened . . .  you recognize it from when you work closely with people, you just think, “Wow, you guys are amazing.”

I think a lot of theater is missing  the whole ensemble – working together as a group.

Well, that’s Broadway: Bring on the Stars! I had a friend who was at theater school with me who came to a preview, and even he said that you rarely see ensemble acting like this with people moving and people connecting.  I mean we all have the responsibility as actors to take the moment when it’s yours but not get in the way of anyone else’s moment. Because it sure as hell ain’t all about you.

There are not many actors who can go from movie to stage, back and forth like that.

In Ireland there are.

Do you have a preference?

Not really. I usually say that the one that I’m doing at the time is the one I prefer, and that is certainly true in the case of The Seafarer. There’s work to do along the journey. But it’s just everything around the play, from being around Conor McPherson and his writing, and working with Conleth Hill, David Morse, and being in on Sean Mahon’s first time on Broadway, and he’s great, really wonderful. Then there’s the god we call Jim Norton. So just to be in the company of these people and to work together is quietly thrilling.

When did you meet Conor?

We met at the Gate Theatre in 2001. Michael Colgan presented a night of three short plays. There was one written by Conor McPherson, an Irish writer in his 30s, one by Neil Jordan, an Irish writer in his 50s, and one  by the master, Brian Friel who is in his 70s.  I was in this Brian Friel piece that was based on a Chekhov short story called The Yalta Game and Conor just loved it. He used to come in and watch, and he recognized a master in Brian Friel working with language and
theater, and that’s where we met.

How is it to work with Conor as director and writer?

He’s had two plays on Broadway and this is his third, and for a man in his mid-30’s that is just extraordinary. But this is the first time he’s directing on Broadway. And he is – all directors are different – but he works in the most human, untheatrical way. It’s about connecting, and about truth, and having a laugh like real life. Except he structured this piece brilliantly, and just lets you go off on your own, and maybe two days later he’ll come up to you and say a little thing. So the connection is very fluid and very free, sometimes you wonder where the hell we are at, but as he is a highly intelligent young man, who doesn’t show off about it, you trust him, and he trusts that you will do whatever he leaves you to do. And then he’ll say when it needs to be shaped. It’s been great for me.

END NOTE:  The stagehands strike lasted for three weeks but the producers stood by The Seafarer and when the play opened the critics raved. Ben Brantley in the New York Times wrote “one of the finest ensembles to grace a Broadway stage in years uncovers the soul-defining clarity within the drunkard’s haze. Alcohol may be a great leveler, but as these men confirm with spectacular style, it is also a great individualizer.” Brantley went on to say: “As the central adversaries, Mr. Morse and Mr. Hinds give the show a diamond-hard dramatic center it lacked in London. . . Mr. Hinds is uncanny in balancing the mortal failings of Mr. Lockhart’s borrowed body and the immortal rage and agony of the demon within.”

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The First Word: The Diaspora https://irishamerica.com/2008/02/the-first-word-the-diaspora/ https://irishamerica.com/2008/02/the-first-word-the-diaspora/#respond Fri, 01 Feb 2008 11:59:12 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=9369 Read more..]]> Does the diaspora matter?

That was the key issue of discussion at the U.S.-Ireland Forum. The first ever conference on the Irish diaspora was held in New York City in November. It drew upwards of 1,000 people over two days, and was hailed as a great success.

Growing up in Ireland I don’t think that we ever really understood the concept of Irish America, or indeed, Irish-English. The idea that you could be Irish and not born on the island of Ireland never occurred to us.

Indeed, the very word “diaspora” was thought of in terms of the Jewish people. It wasn’t until Mary Robinson became President of Ireland that the word came into common usage there. Robinson, who had spent a year at university in the Untied States, understood the concept of Irish America, and promoted the idea of welcoming home the wandering Irish.

I too, on landing in the U.S., learned that being Irish is as much a state of mind as it is location of birth.

While much is known in Ireland of American investment, and perhaps our Business 100, and those Irish-Americans involved in the peace process, less is known about the culture of Irish America. One of the greatest of all American playwrights, Eugene O’Neill, said, “The thing the critics don’t get about me and my work is that I’m Irish.” Alas, the Irish in Ireland also didn’t “get” the fact that O’Neill was Irish.  Robert Falls, director of Chicago’s Goodman Theater who brought its highly successful production of The Iceman Cometh to the Abbey in 1992, observed that some Irish actors refused to audition because “they were suspicious of O’Neill. They’d say, ‘He really isn’t an Irishman, you know.’”

Meanwhile, Americans, and Irish-Americans, of course, have a great appreciation for things Irish (O’Neill, who never went to Ireland, went to see every production by the Abbey players in America and was influenced by the plays of J.M. Synge). In fact,  Northern Ireland actor Ciarán Hinds, our handsome cover, is currently starring in the hit of Broadway, Conor McPherson’s The Seafarer.

The idea that Ireland has never really understood Irish America’s passion for its culture was one of the many topics explored at the U.S.-Ireland Forum, which included discussions on the Future of the Celtic Tiger; Lessons for Ireland from American Philanthropy; Irish America: Community in Transition, and other key elements of the Irish/Irish-America relationship.

It was a truly fascinating two days that featured the best  minds from business, philanthropy, education and the arts. But the conference proved to be so much more than the sum of its parts. It was a true gathering of the clans. They came from all over, and an emotion that is hard to describe was created. Stories were told and connections made. Irish writer Colum McCann summed it up when he said, “If you put the finger on the pulse of all the people here today, you will find a significant sea change; something entirely new and unique is happening. Instead of silence, exile and cunning, we are experiencing an explosion of togetherness, participation and empathy. A whole new direction is being taken . . . ”

Next year the Forum will move to Dublin, where it will take on a worldwide diaspora role. The decision followed the announcement by University College Dublin that it will create an international center, “a hub focused on the challenge and support of the global Irish family.”  The center, which has already received partial funding from Northern Irish businessman Pat Doherty, is to be known as the John Hume Institute of Irish Studies, and here lies another thread to the story.  In many ways the word diaspora applies to the Irish in the North as much as it does to the Irish in America, and it is great to see the new inclusive relationship developing on the island, and to know that the Irish-American “diaspora” played such a part in bringing it about.

Just a couple of weeks after the Forum I was delighted to be included in some of the welcoming events for the historic joint visit to New York and Washington, D.C., of  First Minister Ian Paisley and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. The two former combatants were seeking American investment to launch Northern Ireland’s version of the Celtic Tiger, and that in itself answers the question of whether the diaspora matters. But what matters also is the history, culture and “story”
of the Irish diaspora, and that’s what the Irish on the island of Ireland need to open their minds to.

Mortas Cine.

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Irish Eye on Hollywood https://irishamerica.com/2008/02/irish-eye-on-hollywood-15/ https://irishamerica.com/2008/02/irish-eye-on-hollywood-15/#respond Fri, 01 Feb 2008 11:57:30 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=9375 Read more..]]> Many TV critics have argued that since The Sopranos went off the air, HBO has been a bit adrift. Well, now the cable channel is turning to Irish stage and screen veteran Gabriel Byrne for what can only be described as a bold experiment. Having had some success with shows revolving around psychiatrists and their patients (remember Tony Soprano and Dr. Melfi?), Byrne will star in a new show called In Treatment, which begins airing January 28. The show is based on an Israeli series that chronicles a therapist who is cool, calm and collected with his patients but can’t get his own life in order. In fact, Byrne will have some of his most explosive moments when chatting with his own shrink.

That, however, is not the bold part. After all, even the shrink on The Sopranos had her own shrink. No, In Treatment takes a risk when it comes to its scheduled air times. New episodes will air every night of the week, with Byrne caring for one patient Monday nights, another Tuesdays, another Wednesdays and yet another on Thursdays. Byrne will see his own shrink on Fridays.

In Treatment will air this way for nine weeks, for a total of 45 shows. The stars who will appear as Byrne’s patients include Josh Charles, Blair Underwood and Alias’ Melissa George. Oscar winner Dianne Wiest will play Byrne’s own shrink. Why the intense scheduling program? HBO exc David Baldwin says HBO can do this because “We don’t worry about premiere ratings or selling ads.” In fact, In Treatment may be the first TV show designed for DVD users, since devoting so much time to initial airing will be tough. Indeed, not everyone is impressed by In Treatment’s plan. One Internet TV critic has already said: “It’s a unique and ambitious idea, but I think I need to go into therapy just trying to understand why HBO feels that now is the right time to air this potentially doomed show.”
Byrne also has a film wrapped up and awaiting release, starring alongside Christopher Plummer and Susan Sarandon in Emotional Arithmetic. The movie is about a sensitive young man whose life is thrown into disarray when his mother brings an old friend back into her life.

At this point in his dazzling career, director Martin Scorsese has certainly taken a liking to the Irish, and he has brought Leonardo DiCaprio along for the ride. A few years back this dynamic duo teamed up with Daniel Day-Lewis and Liam Neeson to make The Gangs of New York, an over-the-top but nevertheless impressive look at Irish turf battles in Civil War New York. After that came The Departed, Scorsese’s collaboration with Jack Nicholson, which also starred DiCaprio. Set in Boston, The Departed echoed many aspects of Irish gangster Whitey Bulger’s life. DiCaprio played an Irish-American FBI agent who may (or may not) be trying to bring the Boston Irish kingpin down. (In between those two Irish epics, Scorsese and DiCaprio filmed the Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator.) Now, Scorsese and DiCaprio are slated to go Irish again for an adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel Shutter Island.

It is the latest big screen version of the Irish-American writer’s work. Clint Eastwood brought Lehane’s Mystic River to the big screen, while Ben Affleck recently filmed Gone Baby Gone. Shutter Island is a bit of a departure for Lehane. It is set almost 50 years ago, and does not revolve around identifiably Irish-American characters.

Shutter Island looks at two federal marshals who visit a maximum security prison located on the titular island. Though initially investigating an escape, the lawmen stumble upon gruesome experiments and are thrust into a moral dilemma complicated by the demands of the Cold War.

Screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis (who wrote the Colin Farrell movie Alexander) wrote the adaptation of Shutter Island. Reports suggest the movie will begin shooting in March.

At the end of 2007, Belfast native Ciarán Hinds (see interview page 34) starred with Nicole Kidman in Margot at the Wedding. This year should also be a busy one for the acclaimed stage actor who is making a bigger name for himself in Hollywood.  Hinds (seen in Munich, Veronica Guerin and Miami Vice) will star alongside Frances McDormand and Shirley Henderson in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.
Set in the late 1930s, the film revolves around a London governess named Guinevere Pettigrew, who is fired from her job. She later finds work with a glamorous American actress, and the reserved Brit becomes swept up in her new world.

Later this year Hinds, who is currently starring on Broadway in The Seafarer, will lend his talents to the animated Tale of Despereaux, about a pack of mice who live in a castle and dream big. Kevin Kline, Matthew Broderick, Emma Watson, William H. Macy and Sigourney Weaver also provide voices.

Peter O’Toole just keeps going and going. The Galway-born legend (who was raised in England) has just signed on to perform alongside fellow Irish thespian Jonathan Rhys Meyers in the next season of The Tudors, expected to premiere on Showtime this spring.
O’Toole, an eight-time Oscar nominee, will play Pope Paul III in the series, which explores the sordid lives of the English royals. Pope Paul III excommunicated Henry VIII (played by Rhys Meyers) as punishment for the king’s notorious romance with Anne Boleyn. The Tudors is currently shooting in Dublin, which is just fine by O’Toole.

“As an Irishman, I am delighted to be working on an Irish production, filming in Ireland,” he recently said.

“We’re honored to have Peter O’Toole take on this wonderful part,” Tudors Executive Producer Morgan O’Sullivan added.

O’Toole’s most famous role was in the 1962  film Lawrence of Arabia but he has continued to flourish, earning yet another acclaimed independent film. In 2003, he was awarded a special Lifetime Achievement Oscar. Aside from O’Toole and Rhys Meyers, look for Irish fashion model Emer O’Sullivan and singer Jean Elliot (both Cork natives) in small roles in Tudors. They play courtiers in King Henry’s court.

O’Toole also has numerous movie projects in production. In March, he will begin shooting Love and Virtue, another costume drama, set during the era of King Charlemagne. John Malkovich, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, Damian Lewis and Saffron Burrows round out the impressive cast. O’Toole will also join Mira Sorvino in Out of the Night, set during World War II in Italy. For the record, Peter Seamus O’Toole turns 76 in August 2008.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers also has a couple of ambitious international movies awaiting release. First there’s Toussaint, directed by and starring Danny Glover, as well as the rapper Mos Def, Don Cheadle and Angela Basset. The film is a biopic about Haitian revolutionary Toussaint L’Ouverture. Then there’s The Children of Huang Shi, in which Rhys Meyers plays George Hogg, a British journalist who rescued 60 orphaned children in 1930s China. Also look for Meyers’ collaboration with director Kristen Sheridan (Jim’s daughter) in August Rush on DVD.

It was fitting that last Halloween, an Irish director won a major award for his first horror film. Director Kit Ryan won the Best Film award at the New York Horror Film Festival for his comic-horror film Botched. Filmed in Wicklow, Botched stars Stephen Dorff as a thief who goes to Russia to steal an antique. The plan goes awry and the thief and his team of crazed Russian accomplices square off against the police – as well as a serial killer. Stephen Dorff, incidentally, nabbed Best Actor Award at the annual horror film fest. Botched also stars Irish actors Hugh O’Conor and Bronagh Gallagher. It is slated for a February 2008 release in Ireland and Britain, with a U.S. release date expected afterwards.

Producer-director Steve Barron has had a wide-ranging career, to say the least. Born in Dublin to a show business family (his father was an actor and technician, his mother a director), he worked as a camera assistant on the first two Superman movies with Christopher Reeve, among other films.

By the mid 1980s, he got into the fledgling music video business, eventually directing groundbreaking videos for the likes of Madonna, David Bowie and Michael Jackson (“Billie Jean”). Barron even shot the famous Dire Straits video “Money For Nothing.” TV was also the inspiration for two highly successful movies he directed in the 1990s: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the Saturday Night Live-inspired Coneheads. Barron could, by now, ease into a cozy life directing as well as producing hits for TV and the big screen.

But instead, he chose to challenge himself and in 2007 he earned major raves for his independent film Choking Man.

Far from the broad genre comedies he’s directed in the past, Choking Man follows an Ecuadorian dishwasher at a Queens, New York diner who falls for a waitress. The title comes from the ubiquitous Heimlich Maneuver posters seen in most restaurants.

“The idea started with the poster,” Barron told Cinematical Indie Chat web site. “My son Oliver and I talked over a diner meal about how unappetizing the image of someone choking is, even if it’s a line drawing. New Yorkers didn’t seem to care – talking to some it seemed the years of compulsory display in the States had made the graphic almost invisible. The animation pieces I put into the movie felt naturally motivated, as they were Jorge’s ‘window’ to the world.” Asked what audiences should take from Choking Man, Barron said: “Perhaps a little more sensitivity to others from all walks of life. Feeling invisible and unnoticed must amount to feeling uncared for and useless. That’s not healthy. If we are a compassionate race, I hope we could be less selective.”

After you check out Choking Man on DVD, keep an eye out for Barron’s next exotic project, a movie set in Bangalore with an all-Indian cast led by Irrfan Khan. The story explores an eight-year-old boy from an upper-middle background. Barron also says he might take up a project called Quiver, which “follows a drunken, cynical Cupid around a London filled with misfiring relationships. Both are in the casting process,” Barron said.

Also worth checking out on DVD is Life of Reilly, a bio-documentary about Bronx native Charles Nelson Reilly, which revolves around his smash one-man show. Reilly made it to fame and fortune on Hollywood Squares and other comic offerings in the 1960s and 1970s. But Reilly faced numerous challenges when he came out of the closet and tried to reconcile his life with his provincial upbringing.

Also available now on DVD is a massive John Ford collection of 26 movies called Ford at Fox. It does not include some of Ford’s most famous Irish movies, such as The Quiet Man or The Informer. But it does include Grapes of Wrath (Ford said he could appreciate Steinbeck’s classic tale because it echoed the Irish Famine), Young Mr. Lincoln, My Darling Clementine and Drums Along the Mohawk. Dan Dailey, James Cagney, George O’Brien and others star in this huge collection, which also includes an essay by Irish America contributor and Ford biographer Joseph McBride.

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An Evening with Joe O’Connor and Colum McCann https://irishamerica.com/2008/02/an-evening-with-joe-oconnor-and-colum-mccann/ https://irishamerica.com/2008/02/an-evening-with-joe-oconnor-and-colum-mccann/#respond Fri, 01 Feb 2008 11:56:19 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=9380 Read more..]]> Irish novelists Joseph O’Connor and Colum McCann enthralled an audience at the New York Public Library on November 14.  As part of the fall program at the Dorothy and Lewis Cullman Center, O’Connor and McCann, both former Cullman Fellows, were there to discuss Redemption Falls, O’Connor’s novel about the American Civil War, an epic tale he wrote and researched during his Cullman Fellowship.
The bespectacled O’Connor chatted with McCann (the acclaimed author of Zoli, Dancer and This Side of Brightness) about the book, the craft of being a novelist, modern Ireland and the art of writing.

Doing his best James Lipton (Inside the Actors Studio) impersonation, McCann cajoled O’Connor into giving insights into his writing process. After reading an excerpt from Redemption Falls, O’Connor discussed the challenges and hurdles endured when writing historical novels, recounting humorous anecdotes of how there is always a reader with pen at the ready if any historical inaccuracy cropped up in his work.

On the modern Irish novel, O’Connor simply said, “There is no Irish Novel. Our generation of Irish novelists is not influenced by each other or by previous generations.”  That said, he added that the current generation of Irish novelists is among the most interesting with writers like Colum Tobin, Roddy Doyle, Anne Enright, and Hugo Hamilton standouts.

Both O’Connor and McCann touched on the transformation Ireland has undergone in the past 15 years. O’Connor, who lives in Dublin, described the country of his youth. “The Ireland of today is not where we grew up. We were brought up to emigrate, the day you graduated you got a degree and a plane ticket. When I was in London in the 80s, I felt an overwhelming loneliness on returning to Ireland as I came home to a place where I knew no one.” He then contrasted the past to the country today. “Ireland has full employment but no big welcome. We’ve become multicultural very rapidly. Ten percent of our population and 17 percent of the workforce come from somewhere else. When my seven-year-old son grows up, there will be new languages, culture and belief systems.  The preoccupations I had as a child will have disappeared. It’s already happening, so we had better get used to it.”

McCann echoed the theme, adding that Irish novelists now concentrate on subjects outside of Ireland (in O’Connor’s case the American Civil War and in McCann’s the tale of the Romany gypsies in Zoli) and  argued that as Irish writers expand on exterior themes, the makeup and priorities of the Irish people were changing dramatically as sites such as the Hill of Tara, the ancient seat of Ireland’s High Kings, were about to be destroyed so highways could pass through. “We cannot go back to a country that doesn’t exist anymore,” said McCann.

O’Connor, who is a brother to singer Sinead O’Connor, also talked about his formative years and while describing himself as a bookish little fellow, admitted there weren’t too many books around the house. Two authors whose work was available were Benedict Kiely and John McGahern. Indeed, it was one of McGahern’s stories, “Sierra Leone,” which had a big effect on the 12-year-old O’Connor. The young Joe wrote out the story in a school notebook  to feel what it would be like to write the words out on paper. Over the next few months he began to change the names of the characters, and alter the plot. Over time the fledgling writer kept bending and shaping the story until he came up with his own tale, “True Believers,” that would later be the title piece of a book of short

On adapting his work into film, O’Connor said he would not do the screenplay himself. He argued that a really good book cannot be adapted, simply for the reason that the writer chose the novel form to best tell his story. Plans are afoot for O’Connor to complete his  historical  trilogy (Star of the Sea was the first in the series) with a novel about Molly Allgood (the Abbey actress who was the love of writer J.M. Synge’s life) and after that he plans to write a contemporary novel. Of his future goals O’Connor said, “Learning to be a novelist is my greatest challenge.”  He seems to be doing a good job so far.

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The US Ireland Forum Highlights https://irishamerica.com/2008/02/the-us-ireland-forum-highlights/ https://irishamerica.com/2008/02/the-us-ireland-forum-highlights/#respond Fri, 01 Feb 2008 11:56:09 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=9383 Read more..]]> The inaugural U.S.-Ireland Forum was held in New York on November 7 and 8. Irish America magazine, together with The American Ireland Fund, University College Dublin, and the Irish Government co-hosted the event at the Affinia Manhattan Hotel.

Over the two days some of the finest Irish and Irish-American minds came together to discuss the changing relationship between the two countries. Themes explored included: Social Capital and Philanthropy, Culture and Education, The Future of the Celtic Tiger, Philanthropy in Ireland, and Ireland–U.S. : The Next Generation. The following pages give a small taste of what took place with excerpts from some of the many speeches.

Here are some highlights:


The Celtic Tiger is a very good description for the problem and the challenge facing Ireland now.  Like the tigers in Southeast Asia, what Ireland has to answer over the next few year is, can it become a self-sustaining economy?  All the growth and benefit was driven by the fact that Ireland had the best education, the highest literacy rate, and the lowest salaries in Europe.  This is now being supplanted by Eastern Europe. I say this as a person who is always facing the choice of where to invest and who to invest with. Increasingly over the last year we have not been finding opportunities in Ireland. That is not because we don’t believe that Ireland has a great economy, but because the opportunities for investing are slowing. Not only because of India and China, but also because of Poland and the Czech Republic who are just like the Ireland of ten years ago.

Ireland needs to make the transition that Singapore and Korea made – that even if external growth and external demand slowed, we would be able to survive and continue to increase GDP. Ireland has, so far, allowed immigration, and that is a really important feeder in the productivity process. Growth and external investment depend almost entirely on Ireland showing that it has self-generating growth.

– Richard Medley,
Chairman, Medley Capital

The Tiger hasn’t gone lame, we have seen some slowdown, a reality check, we have had some recent job losses but that is usual for other markets so why should it be unusual for us? The cost of doing business in Ireland is a little too high in my opinion, and the biggest threat of all is complacency.  We must address our competitiveness, keep an eye on globalization issues, and the cost of living must be controlled. We must not talk ourselves into recession.

Maybe the accidental element of the Celtic Tiger has run its course and it is time for us to do what we do best, be innovative, and redefine our business plan and work for a living.

– Ian Hyland, Publisher, Business & Finance Magazine


If you put the finger on the pulse of all the people here today, you will find a significant sea change: something entirely new and unique is happening.  Instead of silence, exile and cunning, we are experiencing an explosion of togetherness,  participation and empathy.  A whole new direction is being taken because of a deep confluence of ideas between people in different spheres – culture, philanthropy and business.  It’s a fantastic surprise, a whole new pulse, the pulse of an old wound that goes through now to the opposite side.

– Colum McCann, Novelist

I had the good sense this morning to look up the word Diaspora in the dictionary, which I still do occasionally.  It is a Greek word that means “a scattering”  or  “a sowing of seeds.” Another interpretation is  that of “displacement.”  I’d like to think that today many of those seedsscattered across the globe have found their place here and in a broader sense are finding their places around the world.

During the summer I was at a “Flight of the Earls” conference in County Donegal organized by Ulster University.  It was an opportunity to mark that historic event that took place 400 years ago this year.  At the conference they spoke of the Diaspora as a “coming and going.”  So today we can no longer think about the Irish Diaspora as a population forced to leave their homeland, experiencing a displacement that was very sad.  Today we must think of it as a coming and going and a powerful sharing with each other.

– Turlough McConnell, Executive Director, the U.S.-Ireland Forum


At Glucksman Ireland House we teach the Irish language and it is not all Irish kids, it’s Asian kids, it’s African-American kids. To walk into that classroom would just lift your heart. The Irish language, which for so long was lying fallow as a dead language, is now hot, and the best fun is talking to the kids and learning their motivation for taking on a pretty tough language. Sometimes it is that they are in love with an Irish kid and they want to impress the family! I think that culture and education can cross a whole bunch of boundaries that seem insurmountable.

– Loretta Brennan Glucksman, Chairman, The American Ireland Fund, and Founder of Glucksman Ireland House at NYU

It is time for a think tank, for a comprehensive scholarly and intelligent approach to plotting the future of this critical relationship between Ireland and America which is taken far too much for granted. Irish America must also change because of the new reality. For too long we have been identified in part by a bogus and trivial culture that focuses on green hats, leprechauns and beer drinking. Is that what we want America to know us for? –

Niall O’Dowd,  Publisher, Irish America Magazine

Those of us who grew up in the Diaspora have an obligation to try to help this amazingly unusual situation in Ireland.  For the first time I think in history, we have an unarmed group of immigrants coming to Ireland. We have been exporting people for hundreds of years now, particularly since the 19th century to this city [New York]. I think one of the things we have an obligation to do is to help Ireland itself in the quest for absorbing immigration, because that was our tale. We had things done to us, but we happened to win the later rounds, particularly after 1960 with the election of Jack Kennedy. But we had things done to us and we learned how to be truly tough, to endure without talking tough.

– Pete Hamill, Irish-American Journalist and Author


I don’t see why economic success argues against culture. They can coexist.  It is about reinventing Ireland. The Celtic Tiger phase was really positive, really fantastic. A lot of people came home. The situation now is: if there is a downturn we can sit back and think about the country. Ireland is interesting because we are half American half European, and that is what gives us our unique selling point. Culturally we are extremely close to the United States, but politically and geographically we are close to Europe. That is our unique
selling point.  In the long term Ireland will realize that that is where our vested interest lies.  Right now the government is obsessed with getting deeper and deeper into the European Union.  Ultimately it is looking to the East, whereas Irish people have always looked to the West for economic opportunity. Ireland is an Atlantic nation, not a continental European one.  I think the Diaspora idea [we are talking about here] would allow us to pursue a policy that is less defined by Brussels or Berlin or Bucharest, and more defined by something that links to our history and our people. This is part of an active reinvention of our culture and society for the 21st century.  Genuflecting to our past, to where we are geographically from, but also embracing the Diaspora, which is our only unique global resource.

– David McWilliams, Economist and Broadcaster

We need Irish and Americans to learn a lot from each other about the immigration heritage, what it’s about and how to react to it and to be smart about it. If we think about the relationship between Ireland  and the United States [with respect to our current immigration question] and Ireland’s relationship to the world in terms of its immigration [practice] then what you want for the future will tell you how to fix the mistakes of the past.

– Bruce Morrison, Former Congressman, Instigator of the Morrison Visas

What I hope to demonstrate and what I hope the panel demonstrates is that Irish America does have an ongoing role to play in the ongoing educational and cultural life of Ireland, North and South. But that role can only be played to the degree that the Irish mind itself is free enough to accept gifts beyond the checkbook; gifts of the minds and hearts and sensibilities and spirit that Irish America has kept alive. I have experienced enormous generosity in Ireland, both personally and for the work I’ve tried to do there, just extraordinary generosity and I don’t want to take away from that. But I have experienced  in Ireland a cynicism in regards to Irish America and above all, a cynicism in what they see in us as a sentimental, romantic almost a nincompoop kind of relationship to Irish culture born of total ignorance. What is left out of that equation is a lack of understanding of Irish-American culture, what we have passed through, and indeed what we are doing – particularly through the Irish Studies programs that have been created across the country in the last ten or fifteen years to keep alive traditions that in many ways, and I can speak out of personal experience on this, many ways have been lost or derided in Ireland itself. The work of Yeats itself is an example of that, the work of Thomas Moore is an example of that, those are personal examples of mine.

– James Flannery, Winship Professor of Arts and Humanities, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia

I think culture is the unspoken aorta valve that keeps Ireland alive all over the world. I think culture is the thing that everyone touches and feels.  Why is it that everyone in this country loves St. Patrick’s Day? In this country it is a day of pride for all of us. Everybody likes Ireland.  It is a phenomenal asset and we don’t utilize it half as much as we ought to.

– Declan Kelly, President & CEO,  FD-US



Do you know about Grosse Ile? It’s an island in the St. Lawrence River in Canada where thousands of Irish are buried in mass graves. Estimates are that one in seven famine immigrants never [survived the journey]. And that their life span was seven to fourteen years if they did.

All we ever learned in Ireland was that they got on the coffin ships. We didn’t learn what happened to them once they got here.
It is my dream that Ireland, the mother country, would care enough to know what happened to her children, and teach that history in the schools.

Terry Dolan [Professor, School of English, University College Dublin] talked about a building and how many “stories” there are in a building. There are enough stories in Irish America to fill a very tall building.

Mick Moloney’s class at New York University, “The Irish-American in Music, Theatre and Dance,” is one of the most popular. And what a legacy we have there – not only do we have Gene Kelly, whose mother ran an Irish stepdancing school, we have Eugene O’Neill who once said, “The thing that critics don’t get about me and my work is that I’m Irish.” O’Neill never put a foot on Irish soil but you only have to see his plays to know that you don’t have to be born on the island of Ireland to be Irish.

My dream is that Mick Moloney’s class would be taught in all of the colleges in Ireland – that Irish Studies classes would become Irish-American Studies – or I’d settle for Diaspora Studies.

It’s such a great history [the history of the Irish in America]. There are millions of stories out there. And I hope the new International Center at UCD has a place for all of them.

– Patricia Harty, Editor-in-Chief of Irish America magazine


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The US Ireland Forum: Hugh Brady’s Address https://irishamerica.com/2008/02/the-us-ireland-forum-hugh-bradys-address/ https://irishamerica.com/2008/02/the-us-ireland-forum-hugh-bradys-address/#respond Fri, 01 Feb 2008 11:55:45 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=9386 Read more..]]> The U.S.-Ireland Forum got off to a good start when Dr. Hugh Brady, President of University College Dublin, announced that funding had been obtained to assist the university in establishing an International Center to support the global Irish family. This was his address:

Today there is unprecedented interest in the Irish and the Irish Diaspora, Over 80 million identify themselves with Ireland, and one of the questions today is, why is that? There are several reasons. There is a collective pride in the achievements of the global family; peace and prosperity on the island of Ireland; the outstanding business success of Irish America and the Irish in Britain; the wonderful reputation enjoyed by Irish artists and culture from Joyce to Bono, Flatley, Heaney and so many more.

There is a flip side.  There is concern about the future of the global Irish family and that is the focus of much of this forum.  I put it to you that there is a set of relationships under strain, there is a need to redefine the mission and there is a need to energize the next generation of leaders.

It is my contention that Ireland does not understand Irish America and its contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process and the current economic success. Possibly even more worrying is that Ireland thinks it does. Secondly that Irish America, who probably feel that they understand Ireland better than the Irish themselves, may feel that their contribution has been under appreciated. In fact because of its own success Irish America is at risk of becoming almost an invisible ethnic group. Finally, collectively we may underestimate the shared values that underpin the bond that is Irishness and the potential of the global Irish family to address and influence the major social issues of our time.

As university president what can a university do? We have seen it as a priority at UCD to establish an International Center, a hub focused on the challenge and support of the global Irish family.  The core themes of history, heritage, and culture will be addressed, but also contemporary themes like peace and reconciliation, human rights, migration, diversity, global citizenship, global Ireland and the developing world.  This should be a well-visited center with students, scholars, and professors from the Diaspora coming and challenging each other and coming up with solutions.

One of Ireland’s most successful developers, Pat Doherty, has made a very significant gift to launch the fundraising campaign for this institute.  The only condition was that the institute be known as the John Hume Institute for Irish Studies. A wonderful gesture as we approach the ten-year anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, and a wonderful tribute to one of Ireland’s greatest statesman.  I see this activity as being crucial. I put this question to you: In ten or fifteen years time, will the global Irish family be a historical curiosity, or an agent for change?  I hope that the collective presence here today share the desire that the Irish Diaspora goes from strength to strength and becomes that agent for change through this forum and other actions like it.

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The US Ireland Forum: Don Keough’s Address https://irishamerica.com/2008/02/the-us-ireland-forum-don-keoughs-address/ https://irishamerica.com/2008/02/the-us-ireland-forum-don-keoughs-address/#respond Fri, 01 Feb 2008 11:54:51 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=9389 Read more..]]> Does the Diaspora Matter?

Keynote speaker and principal honoree at the forum dinner Don Keough, chairman of Allen & Company and former president of Coca-Cola, gave a stirring speech that captured the essence of what the forum was about and what it could lead to.

This forum is asking an important question: Does the Diaspora really matter, and is it something that is really important? Is it just a pleasant thing or is it something we should really think about?  I think we should.”

After taking a look at the giant strides taken in Ireland over the past 25 years – from a struggling land losing its young to emigration and barely surviving to a country thriving – and the role that Irish America played in that transformation, Keough talked about the Diaspora.

“Let me tell you something.  It [the Diaspora] is not there to meddle, preach, lecture or pontificate.

It is there to gather a collection of loving, admiring people, respectable men and women, who consider Ireland an important part of their DNA, heritage, and lives to look to the future and raise questions. That is why I think this coming together is important for us and for Ireland.”

With the incredible growth experienced during the Celtic Tiger tapering off, Keough touched on the challenge facing Ireland and those outside the country of Irish descent.

“The Celtic Tiger is history. And the difficulty is going to be maintaining growth over the coming years. The 70 million people outside of Ireland who carry Irish blood move back another generation quickly, every 20 years. There are no more people moving into the Diaspora, the island becomes more mentally distant, so the fundamental question on the table remains: Are the 40 million people in this country who carry Irish blood really an important asset to the Republic? Is there a plan to strengthen that relationship between the men and women, boys and girls, and those not yet born who will carry Irish blood and their linkage to the Ireland of the 21st century?

“What about tomorrow? What about the 30 million Americans of Irish extraction who live in the States who are not touched by the government or the magazine or by the various societies, what about them? What about the Scots-Irish, who carried the name Scots because they didn’t want to be totally associated with Ireland? And now they can. Now they should. They want a home. Are we going to find them? Are we going to locate them? And make them want to come home. These are sensitive questions. Should the Irish government revisit the citizenship criteria? Does it make sense for the criteria for Irish citizenship to look back more than one generation? Should it be more inclusive, like that of Israel? Or is there a next better thing? A certificate of Irish heritage with certain rights and privileges in Ireland?”

Keough rounded off his speech with his ideal scenario for the coming years:  “I have a vision, and that is the biggest Welcome Home party in history. With 80,000 delegates filling Croke Park, coming from everywhere, from the United States, from Canada, New Zealand, Australia, from Argentina, from everywhere. Maybe in 2010? Filling the park, forming in effect Ireland’s own Commonwealth, which would bring political, economic, and cultural leaders to Ireland to discuss ways to strengthen ties to the republic in the years that lie ahead.”

Also honored at the dinner was dancer Michael Flatley. The Chicago native, who now lives in west Cork, also suggested ways of developing the global Irish family. “Why can’t we have a TV station that shows the best of what we are? It’s time to shed this leprechaun image once and for all. We are leaders in our field, every field we choose.  It’s time that the world knows that. Our greatest asset is our people.  Let’s stand shoulder to shoulder. Let’s scream and we will be heard,” he said to applause.

“We are standing on the shoulders of people like Pearse and Connolly. We have a responsibility to reach for the stars. And don’t tell me that we can’t.”

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The Irish in California https://irishamerica.com/2008/02/the-irish-in-california/ https://irishamerica.com/2008/02/the-irish-in-california/#comments Fri, 01 Feb 2008 11:54:48 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=9392 Read more..]]> in 2005, when it became clear that the Ronald Reagan Pub in Ballyporeen, Tipperary was no longer a viable novelty to locals or tourists, Irish-American businessman and Republican booster Frederick Ryan Jr. facilitated the bar’s relocation to Simi Valley, California, also the site of Reagan’s presidential library. This anecdote is humorous and poignant, and – for Irish critics of Reagan – maybe even a bit satisfying.

But it also captures several central themes concerning the Irish experience in California. President Reagan’s great-grandfather Michael was born in Ballyporeen, and moved to London around the time of the Famine. The Reagans – like so many Irish Californians – lived elsewhere in the U.S. before settling in California. Reagan’s father, John, was a practicing Catholic, who converted after marrying a Protestant.

The Rise to Prominence

It was just before and during the early years of John Reagan’s life – the 1860s, 1870s and 1880s – that the Irish rose to prominence in California. During this era, benevolent and fraternal groups such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians,  Hibernian Society, and the Sons of the Emerald Isle were formed.

Over a decade before New York or Boston elected an Irish mayor, San Francisco elected Frank McCoppin, born in Longford, in 1867. But McCoppin’s election as mayor of California’s largest city was just the latest in a string of electoral wins for Irish candidates. Seven years earlier, Roscommon native John G. Downey became the state’s governor. Galway native John Conness was elected a U.S. Senator in 1862 while Westmeath native  Eugene Casserly won election to the same body in 1868. Also during the 1860s, two Irishmen who would have a huge impact on the state’s future politics arrived:  Boss Chris Buckley came to the region at the age of 17 with his immigrant parents in 1862, while perennial reformer James D. Phelan (also the son of immigrants) was born in San Francisco in 1861.

Ronald Reagan’s father, of course, would not achieve quite the same level of fame.  But his son, born in 1911, joined a trail of Irish-American talent that flowed into Hollywood.

Reagan’s second career, as a politician, saw him become the world’s most powerful leader.  Ballyporeen, perhaps, could not sustain the Reagan Pub, but California certainly could.

The Most Irish Americans
Because it is home to the All-American dream factory – Hollywood – as well as the sprawling polyglot metropolis of Los Angeles, California is rarely mentioned as an Irish state on par with the likes of New York or Massachusetts.

But according to the 1990 census, California actually had the largest number of Irish-Americans, with nearly two million residents identifying themselves as Irish.

Movies such as True Confessions (based on John Gregory Dunne’s novel) and L.A. Confidential have touched upon Irish-American characters navigating the underbelly of California urban life in the 1940s and 1950s. But the vast Irish contribution to California stretches back to the days of Spanish colonization and the Gold Rush of 1849. By the early 20th century, Jimmy Cagney, John Wayne and Grace Kelly were members of Hollywood’s Irish royalty, while politicians such as Ronald Reagan and Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan epitomized the endurance of Irish-American political influence.

To this day, new Irish traditions continue to thrive, with schools such as the New College of California, San Francisco, establishing an Irish Studies program. (How the Irish Invented Slang author Daniel Cassidy is one of the directors.)

The Spanish Irish

Two of the most important Irishmen in early California history are Count de Lacy and Hugo Oconor (spellings of his name vary). De Lacy came from a “distinguished Norman-Irish family of aristocratic stature, long prominent in stirring events in Irish history,” Thomas F. Prendergast writes in Forgotten Pioneers: Irish Leaders in Early California. De Lacy was one of the so-called Wild Geese, exiled Irish military men who served in the armies of Spain and other nations across Europe and the Americas.

De Lacy never set foot in the U.S., but while stationed in St. Petersburg in the 1760s he did warn his Spanish superiors that the Russians might be looking to settle the westernmost lands of what would become the United States.

The Spanish set out to settle the region first, led by “Captain Colorado,” as Hugh O’Conor (that is, Hugo Oconor) was known. General Alexander (or Alejandro) O’Reilly also took part in the expedition. All three of these Irish Spaniards battled the Native Americans up and down the West Coast and laid the foundation for European settlement of the state.

By the 1820s, John O’Donoghue, an Irishman, was instrumental in implementing the treaty under which Spain recognized Mexico’s sovereignty, while Wexford native Timothy Murphy was made a regional administrator while living on a ranch of well over 20,000 acres.

The Donner Party

One of the most famous episodes in the history of the Western frontier involved several Irish families and occurred in 1846. Patrick Breen was among those trekking to California as part of the Donner Party. In his diary on November 20, the Irish immigrant wrote: “We went out to the pass, the snow was so deep we were unable to find the road, then turned back to the shanty on the lake. We now have killed most of our cattle, having to stay here until next spring. It snowed during the space of eight days with little intermission.’’
In the end, half of the Donner Party’s 100 or so travelers died.  It could be said that this dark episode marked the end of one era in California, before the start of what would literally be a Golden Age.


The Gold Rush – just before California became a state in 1850 – swelled the region’s population, and the Irish seem to have been particularly attracted. One estimate suggests that gold camps were consistently 10 to 20 percent Irish, while nearly one in four miners at the Grass Valley camp were Irish-born.

Sam Brannan (the son of Irish immigrants from Maine) is believed to be the first person to become a millionaire in the wake of the Gold Rush. By the mid-1850s, Brannan owned about 20 percent of the land in San Francisco. Even those Irish who made a more modest fortune were able to flex their newfound muscle, electing the aforementioned politicians to public office in the 1860s. The roots of San Francisco’s Irish and Democratic machine were being formed.

San Francisco & Los Angeles

As early as the 1860s, San Francisco clearly had a strong Irish Catholic presence.  The city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade started in the early 1850s. Within two decades, 6,000 people marched in the two mile procession, which is said to have drawn over 50,000 spectators. There was sporadic anti-Irish and anti-Catholic organizing, but just as often the Irish were taking advantage of discriminatory sentiments, as when they were among those who fought to keep Chinese laborers out of California.

By contrast, Los Angeles had a more consistently Anglo-Protestant tradition. One 1830s survey lists a single Irish-born resident in the city. Even by 1900, while almost 70 percent of San Francisco’s churchgoers were Catholic, Protestants significantly outnumbered Catholics in L.A.

Still, Irishmen played key roles in the creation of modern-day Los Angeles. Edward Doheny (born to immigrant parents in Wisconsin) went west looking for gold but instead found oil, becoming one of the region’s wealthiest oil tycoons. Daniel Day-Lewis is playing a character based on Doheny in the movie , currently on release, There Will Be Blood. Perhaps even more important to L.A.’s evolution as a city was Belfast-born William Mulholland. Once a lowly worker for the city’s water company, he rose up the ranks to become L.A. Chief City Engineer. It was Mulholland who developed the Los Angeles Aqueduct, delivering water to this thirsty city. Later, John Joseph Cantwell, the Limerick-born bishop of L.A., welcomed Hispanic immigrants with open arms during the first half of the 20th century.


Of course, California’s most famous industry is the motion picture business.  From Hal Roach of Our Gang fame to Joseph P. Kennedy (an executive at RKO), Irish-Americans played a key role during Hollywood’s earliest days. The roster of Irish-Americans who relocated to Hollywood ranges from John Ford and Spencer Tracy in the early days to Roma Downey and Ed Burns today.

As is often the case, however, under the glitzy surface there are darker problems. These days, California’s Irish Catholics struggle with issues related to immigration and abuse. Cardinal Roger Mahony was the public face of the Los Angeles Archdiocese when it settled a multi-million-dollar sex abuse lawsuit.

Finally, a debate regarding the clash of Irish and Hispanic Catholicism in California has erupted. Last year, the New York Times Magazine published a cover story by David Rieff entitled “Nuevo Catholics: The Hispanicization of American Catholicism.”
The “last four decades have been such a catastrophe for American Catholicism,” Rieff notes grimly, reciting a litany of by now familiar statistics about how few American Catholics enter the priesthood or care for their religion deeply. Rieff notes, however, that America’s swelling Hispanic population (centered in Los Angeles, where Rieff did all of his reporting) may breathe new life into the American Church, thus transforming it from an Irish institution to a Hispanic one.

But famed Irish-American priest and sociologist Andrew Greeley believes the California Irish deserve credit for helping the Church make a transition into the 21st century.

Indeed, whether you agree more with Greeley or Rieff, one thing all of this makes clear is just how Irish the current Church remains. Rieff talks at length with an L.A. parish priest named Jarlath Cunnane, a Sligo native. Rieff also talks to priests named O’Connell, Boyle and Carroll. You could make the case that the U.S.  Catholic Church is so thoroughly Irish that it will remain “Irish” even when those O’Connells and Boyles are replaced by Guzmans and Lopezes. This makes perfect sense.  After all, it was the Irish and Spanish who created California as we know it.

The Future

Technology has created a new Gold Rush of sorts in California. Late last year, Irish trade minister Michael Martin visited Palo Alto to meet with founding members of the Irish Technology Leadership Group. Made up of Silicon Valley Irish executives, the group, established by Palm Inc. Senior Vice President John Hartnett, includes current and former executives from Sling Media, Intuit, Apple, Intel, Cisco and Hewlett-Packard, and aims to help Ireland take advantage of fledgling technological opportunities.

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Omagh Bombing Case Collapses https://irishamerica.com/2008/02/omagh-bombing-case-collapses/ https://irishamerica.com/2008/02/omagh-bombing-case-collapses/#respond Fri, 01 Feb 2008 11:48:26 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=9372 Read more..]]> Belfast Crown Court acquitted Sean Hoey of all charges in connection with the 1998 Omagh bombing, which claimed the lives of 29 civilians. Hoey, a 38-year-old electrician from Jonesboro, Co. Armagh, was accused of 56 charges relating to the atrocity but  Justice Reg Weir ruled that the forensic evidence gathered by the Police Service of  Northern Ireland (PSNI) was unreliable. Hoey was acquitted of all charges.

At the end of a trial which lasted ten months Justice Weir concluded that police officers had botched the investigation. He added that two PSNI officers fabricated evidence to strengthen their case and two witnesses called were guilty of “a deliberate and calculated deception.” He also expressed doubt that one person alone was involved in assembling the bombing device.

Sean Hoey is the only person arrested by Northern Ireland authorities in relation to the Omagh bombing. Two suspects currently imprisoned in the Republic await trial.

When it was revealed that the main evidence against him was based on low-copy DNA taken from the timing devices that set off the bomb, the case virtualy collapsed. Although low-copy testing is a widespread practice by prosecutors it is usually offered as supporting evidence rather than forming the basis of a case.

Speaking after the verdict Hoey’s solicitor, Peter Corrigan, said his client was an innocent man who had been completely vindicated. “Today’s judgment – a reasoned, lengthy and well considered judgment – completely vindicated this position that he maintained. Sean Hoey is an innocent man,” said Corrigan.

Outside the court Mr. Hoey’s mother Rita told reporters: “I want the world to know that my son Sean Hoey is innocent. The authorities north and south have held two separate trials, but one witch-hunt.”

Transcripts of the 56-day trial have been sent to the Police Ombudsman’s office in Belfast. An inquiry is expected to review the actions of two PSNI officers who gave evidence at the trial.

A senior Garda (Irish police) spokesman pointed out that the Gardai have dropped using low-copy DNA evidence in other cases. “It was something we looked into but we felt that low-copy DNA samples could be transferred from anywhere and were not particularly reliable,” he said. “We did not consider it to be robust enough at all, certainly for a high-profile investigation. It may have its uses as support evidence if there were witnesses and so on, placing a suspect at the scene. However, we would not consider it at all appropriate to bring a case based on this type of DNA evidence on its own.”

The failure of the PSNI to identify and charge the perpetrators of the 1998 atrocity has led to stinging criticism of its bungled investigation. Relatives of the 29 victims have openly despaired at the lack of investigative progress in nine years since the Co. Tyrone market town was torn asunder.

“There wasn’t an atrocity in the history of the Troubles that more was known about, and yet least was done about,” said Michael Gallagher, who lost his son Aidan in the blast. Lawrence Rush, who lost his wife Elizabeth, felt the case had been grievously mishandled by the PSNI.

Gallagher, Rush and others are demanding that a full cross-border inquiry be conducted to find out who carried out the Omagh bombing in an effort to bring them to justice.

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The French Connection: Cocaine in Ireland https://irishamerica.com/2008/02/the-french-connection-cocaine-in-ireland/ https://irishamerica.com/2008/02/the-french-connection-cocaine-in-ireland/#respond Fri, 01 Feb 2008 11:47:56 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=9423 Read more..]]> The death of top model Katy French a few weeks ago from a cocaine overdose has finally woken Ireland up to the fact that we are in the middle of a cocaine epidemic. Cocaine use has now permeated all levels of Irish society, from the boardroom to the bar.

So much of it is being used that when RTE (the national television station) did a countrywide investigation a few weeks ago taking samples from counter tops in bar bathrooms all over Ireland, over 90 per cent of the dozens of bars visited tested positive.

So it’s not an exaggeration to refer to it as an epidemic. It’s everywhere. It’s the Celtic Tiger’s drug of choice. Thanks to our economic boom we can afford it, so we’re using it in vast quantities.

It’s now a routine part of a night’s drinking in music pubs even in poorer areas. In better off areas, it’s equally routine to be offered it at a dinner party and you are considered a bit of a party pooper if you say no. At both ends of the social scale, it’s now accepted that people visit the bathroom more often than usual and come back sniffing.

Until recently nobody in Ireland talked about this because everyone was doing it and it was mainly seen as a nice middle- class drug (a clean white powder and no needles); middle-class people could handle their drug better than those moronic working-class addicts stuck on heroin. And of course cocaine is not really addictive.

The death of Katy French has changed that tacit conspiracy of silence. Now everyone here is talking about cocaine, about how big a problem we have and how destructive it is.

Katy French was just 24, a bright and beautiful model intelligent enough to be in demand as a guest on TV shows. She had built a very high profile for herself very quickly. So her death was genuinely shocking to a lot of people here who seemed to think that cocaine was risk free.

Her death emphasized that the cocaine epidemic was real and that people at all levels of Irish society were using the drug.

The truth is that week in, week out, cocaine is causing havoc here. Just before Christmas, the Dublin County Coroner said that cocaine was the most common cause of death in more than half of all inquests into drug related deaths heard at his Court last year. He said that of the 47 inquests into drug related deaths heard at the Court in 2007, 26 of them were cocaine related, 16 were heroin related and five were Ecstasy related.

And if the figure for drug related deaths coming before the Dublin County Coroner seems shocking to you, take note that it relates to the county, not the city. So it’s only half the Dublin cocaine story in 2007.

The County Coroner was speaking at a double inquest into the deaths of two teenagers who drowned while high on cocaine and Ecstasy (they had jumped into a canal to cool off).

It didn’t get much coverage in the media here, because the two young men who died were ordinary guys, not a blonde top model. And it was the same with the two guys in Waterford who died from cocaine about the same time as Katy French. Like her, they had been in a coma for days before dying. She got pages and pages of coverage while they were hardly mentioned. That may seem unfair because for the families involved one death is as tragic as another. But the huge coverage given to the collapse, coma, death and funeral of Katy French did achieve something important. It did bring home to people here that the cocaine epidemic is real and that people at all levels of Irish society are using the drug.

That was the central message of the controversial book The High Society about cocaine use in Ireland which was published just before the death of Katy French and which caused a furor because it said that all kinds of top people (including a government minister) were doing it but gave no names.

One section of the book will be of particular interest to those of you who fly regularly between Ireland and the U.S. Among the many people the author interviewed is an unnamed pilot in his 40s who flies out of Dublin to various airports in the U.S. at least a couple of times a week.

The author quotes the pilot as follows: “I actually use coke more on the days that I am working and away than I do when I’m at home. I find sitting still in the confined space of the cockpit for hours excruciating without it. The truth is that aircraft largely fly themselves these days and when we land I tend to sit in front of the box [TV] by myself, doing coke, having a few drinks in a motel room and waiting for the morning.”

That should make you sit up a bit the next time you hit a little turbulence on the way over. But that was far from the most controversial part of the book, which was written by an unknown young TV researcher, Justine Delaney Wilson. There was also the interview with an unnamed government minister, which the author says was done in a hotel just across the road from the Dail [Irish parliament].

“Yes, I do drugs – just coke though – regularly enough,” the minister said. “I’m certainly not the only one around here that does. The hypocrisy that surrounds it really galls me. We all know how widespread it is – in bars, offices, over there (motioning across the road to the Dail), but we pretend to be horrified when we read the figures in the papers.”

As well as the unnamed minister and pilot, the book also had interviews with a priest, a nun, a lawyer, a doctor, business people, a top media columnist, and other people from all kinds of professions and parts of the country all of whom admitted to regular cocaine abuse. All of the people interviewed were anonymous, but intriguing little details about each interview subject were added to give an idea of who or what they might be.

If it had been just a book, it might not have attracted too much attention. But the book was also used as the basis for a two-part television documentary tie-in with RTE. The two-part program was made by a small independent production company for RTE. Actors played the parts of various people in the book as the interviews were recreated for television.

The programs sparked a furious national debate, with acres of space given to it in newspapers and questions asked in the Dail about the identity of the government minister. A sort of national guessing game – Name the Minister – began as people speculated about who it might be. What was really driving the brouhaha, apart from the fun of trying to guess who was who in the book, was the fact that this was a drugs story which was not about the track-suit-wearing “skangers” from the deprived housing estates but was about the “nice” people, respectable, educated, well-off. The subtitle of the book is Drugs and the Irish Middle Class.

What followed then took a rather different turn. It became a game of Shoot the Messenger, as other journalists began to question the methodology and credibility of the author, Justine Delaney Wilson. Had she really spoken to all these people? Would a minister really have been so forthcoming? Would a pilot be stupid enough to say such things? Did she make it up, or sex it up?

Several high-powered investigations then got under way (including one in RTE) and senior people in RTE admitted to a Dail committee that their usual level of editorial control had not been applied. But RTE was still standing behind the programs even though some of the interview tapes had been destroyed by the author.

There are still doubts about Delaney Wilson’s book and the TV shows based on it. The publisher is saying that they know the identity of the minister and they are confident that the book is based on real interviews and is accurate.

But other groups apart from politicians are less than happy. The pilots’ association says the author must reveal the identity of the pilot because passenger safety is at stake. The Irish Aviation Authority has written to RTE demanding the pilot’s name.

Other groups are also unhappy, teachers and lawyers being just two. The book features an unnamed teacher who likes to take a line during her free classes, and an unnamed lawyer whose offices Delaney Wilson was in with a drug dealer when he made a drop and picked up a bag of cash.

Again there have been demands that she prove that all these interviews are real and suggestions that if she can’t, no one should believe her. But the reality is that the death of Katy French — and the other recent cocaine deaths – have made this kind of questioning seem pointless. Public opinion has shifted. The deaths are clear evidence that we are in the middle of an epidemic, so why try to pick holes in a book that says that?

The real situation here does not need any melodrama or exaggeration to make it shocking. Katy French died after a cocaine binge in a private house. She was an engaging young woman but she had some questionable friends and her social life appears to have mirrored some of the excesses of one section of Celtic Tiger Ireland. It’s a fast, loose, tawdry, drug-fueled set of media names, models and business types, a B-list celeb crowd whose faces fill the Irish papers every weekend.

But the same thing is going on at all levels. The two young men who died in Waterford around the same time as Katy French were also at a house party, a late night birthday party after being in pubs in the city earlier. When someone produced cocaine it was too damp to snort so some of the partygoers ate it. The problem with this is that it takes at least an hour to kick in and people take more when they think it’s not working. With alcohol it produces a toxic mixture. Within a few hours the two young men were having seizures and palpitations, before lapsing into a coma, like Katy French had done.

That’s the sleazy reality at both ends of the social scale here. Another reality is the scale of what’s going on. Last July cocaine with a street value of 100 million euros was seized off the Cork coast as it was being smuggled ashore. It was discovered by accident when a boat involved got into difficulty, raising the question of how much was going undetected.

The answer is: probably a great deal. We have a very long coastline around the south and southwest of Ireland full of hidden bays and beaches and only eight navy patrol boats (mostly small boats) to monitor it. The area is around a quarter of a million square miles. With other routes into Europe being closed off, the drug smugglers now regard Ireland as an easy entry point, with the added advantage that onward shipment in containers is not subjected to the same scrutiny as cargoes coming from places like West Africa.

Most of the cocaine goes straight through to the UK and Europe. But there is plenty to drop off for the home market. Cocaine here has never been so cheap and so easy to source.

A few days before Katy French’s collapse the media had covered her glitzy 24th birthday party in a Dublin nightclub at which she arrived in a shimmering gold dress in a Rolls Royce. She had recently been part of a TV reality show and had appeared on TV chat shows after that.

She was a model who was famous for wanting to be famous. A year ago she had split from her restaurant-owning fiancé because he objected to her doing lingerie modeling. The break-up had put her in all the social columns and magazines, although some suspected the whole thing may have been a publicity stunt. She had invited some A-list stars like Bono to her party but they didn’t show, and this had attracted some comment in the gossip columns. She was so desperate to be famous that she was easy to make fun of. And yet her TV appearances and her evident sense of humor about herself meant that many people not only knew who she was but liked her.

She was not the top model here for fashion shows but she was easily the most high profile among the 2007 crop of leading models. And she made no secret of her ambition to move beyond shoots and catwalks into general TV appearances. And she was intelligent enough to make it happen. She may have been too much a reflection of the celebrity obsessed, money driven, insatiable Celtic Tiger culture. But she was fun. In retrospect her death seems such a tragic waste.

In the wake of her death, some frontline medical staff who deal with the cocaine epidemic have been talking about what they face on a weekly basis. The Accident and Emergency Consultant at a leading Cork hospital said that at least six young adults have died there this year from the effects of cocaine. He said that every weekend now they see young adults brought in with everything from breathing difficulties, seizures, panic attacks, violent paranoia, to even strokes and heart attacks, all triggered by cocaine use.

One thing that is clear is that we have a particular problem here because of the culture of weekend binge drinking. This leads to a lack of judgment when the drinking session is followed by cocaine and too much of the drug can be taken. The toxin formed by an excess of alcohol and cocaine together can be lethal.

Katy French’s death is a tragedy … but something good could result if it leads to more resources being put into the battle against cocaine. At present we have less than 40 gardai (police) in the drugs unit across the whole country, we have inadequate resources to stop smuggling, and the war against the drug dealers is being lost.

But apart from limiting supply, we will really only win the cocaine war in Ireland by reducing demand, and that means scaring all those nice middle class people who are abusing the drug. Random car checks using sniffer dogs should be introduced, with immediate confiscation of a vehicle for testing if there is a reaction. We breathalyze people all the time for alcohol at car checkpoints, and the sniffer dogs could be used at the same time.

Even better would be a regular examination of leading bars and nightclubs, with instant closure of the premises if any traces are found on table tops, toilet seat lids etc. That would make the owners a lot more vigilant. It seems strange that we have a small army of pub inspectors looking for smokers, but no one looking for cocaine.

The cocaine epidemic in Ireland is all a factor of our Celtic Tiger wealth, of course. But even if the money flow slows, we will be left with the problem. Hopefully we will all wake up before there are too many other young deaths like that of Katy French. John Spain is a columnist for the Irish Voice newspaper where a version of the above first appeared.

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