February March 2010 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 Chasing Miracles: The Crowley Family’s Journey https://irishamerica.com/2010/02/chasing-miracles-the-crowley-familys-journey/ https://irishamerica.com/2010/02/chasing-miracles-the-crowley-familys-journey/#comments Mon, 01 Feb 2010 12:00:33 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=7462 Read more..]]> The Crowleys refer to themselves as “a very average American family” who simply did “what almost any other parents would have wanted to do” in the face of a situation that was presented by the medical establishment to be hopeless. But this is a family who, when facing impossible challenges, rose to the occasion in a fashion incredible enough to be the subject of two full-length books and a movie, Extraordinary Measures, now in theaters. 

I arrive at the Crowley home in the late afternoon on December 18th, hours before eighteen girls are expected to arrive for Megan Crowley’s thirteenth birthday party sleepover.The Crowleys’ Princeton, New Jersey home is beautiful, in the sort of way that houses in catalogues or movie sets are, and huge. But not at all unwelcoming; on the contrary, you can tell that it’s a loved house, the sort that is made for holidays with large extended families and after-school activities for three children and their friends. A sixteen-foot Christmas tree twinkles in the foyer. Two adorable Jack Russell terriers adopted from Ireland scamper in the library. Balloons are being blown up in the kitchen. Twilight-themed party favor bags are lined in neat rows on the table. For most families, this scene alone would be a stellar achievement, reached with probably not a little yelling and a lot more stress. For the Crowleys, John and Aileen and their children, John Jr., Megan and Patrick, it’s part of a much bigger picture.

In 1998, when Megan Crowley was fifteen months old, she was diagnosed with a rare form of muscular dystrophy called Pompe disease. Her brother Patrick, who was seven days old at the time, was diagnosed four months later.

Pompe disease is a genetic disorder caused by a deficiency in the enzyme that breaks down glycogen. Sugar stored as glycogen builds up throughout the body’s muscles, depriving the cells of energy and leading to muscle atrophy. While Pompe doesn’t hinder mental function, it affects the skeletal muscles, diaphragm, nervous system, liver, and the heart. Most children die from respiratory failure or cardiac arrest as the heart slowly enlarges. Megan and Patrick were both expected to die within the first few years of their lives.

John and Aileen were encouraged by doctors who made the diagnosis to enjoy the time that they had with Megan and Patrick. “We looked at them at first thinking they know everything because they’re doctors, but they don’t,” says Aileen. “You’ve got to be your kids’ own best advocate,” explains John.

By fall of 1998, Megan was in the hospital in severe respiratory distress. She pulled through, against the odds, and John and Aileen became even more determined to fight back against the disease. They began by starting a foundation to raise money for research on Pompe, enlisting friends, family and John’s business school contacts in their efforts.

John, who had been working as a management consultant in San Francisco, moved the family to Princeton, New Jersey, and took a job at Bristol-Myers Squibb, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, so that he could become involved on a daily basis in health care research.

His medical and scientific experience was limited before his children’s diagnosis, and John had to work quickly to fill in the gaps in his knowledge to become involved in the biotechnology business. “I got a D in chemistry at the Naval Academy and that was my last science class ever,” he recalls. “I hated science. It’s one of the reasons I decided to go to law school. Most CEOs in our industry aren’t scientists. But you need to understand the science, the medicine, and the technologies in a start-up biotech company. You need to be able to go toe-to-toe with a PhD and understand and articulate your technology and your disease as well as any scientist can. You don’t need to know the broad universe of science, but you need to speak very fluently, otherwise you cannot have critical input. So I had to learn. I immersed myself in the labs and the meetings and hired tutors at night to make me smarter – I learned a lot.”

In March 2000, with his kids running out of time, John left his secure job at Bristol-Myers Squibb to help co-found and become CEO of Novazyme, a start-up biotech company focused on finding a treatment for Pompe disease. It was a four-person company in Oklahoma City with “no revenue, no product, and an untested idea that would require years to prove. It was as start-up as start-ups get,” he remembers.

While John spent long hours traveling to meet with scientists and researchers who had promising theories on developing an enzyme to treat Pompe, Aileen ran the household working with the children. “We both agreed we would suck at each other’s jobs,” says John. “It was a very different experience,” adds Aileen. “They are both difficult jobs, but I think we did okay.”

They’ve had a long time to learn one another’s strengths, talents and foibles: John and Aileen were high school sweethearts and have been married since 1990. “And we’ve been together ever since. Kicking and screaming some days, but we’ve been together a long time – twenty years this summer,” says Aileen.

“More than anything, we didn’t want to look back years later and wish we’d done this, or gone to this place, or talked to that person, or worked that much harder,” says John. “Whatever the outcome, we just wanted to be at peace with everything that we humanly could have done. And sometimes you do want to quit. You think, there are smarter people than you to do it, and you think, how much time am I spending away from home, how much money it costs and all that, and then you go home after a week of traveling and see the kids and realize it’s what they want.”

The stressful schedule took its toll on their marriage, but John and Aileen developed strategies to keep challenges in perspective and maintain the joy and sense of humor that has always carried them through. “That’s not unique to us, to have to find that balance between work and family,” says John. “And one of our lessons – in fact, I think Geeta [Anand] captured it at the very end of her afterword in the book [The Cure based on her Wall Street Journal articles on the family] – is that what we’re really all striving for is time. Time with the ones you love and the memories that you make. Ultimately success does not come without hard work and many hours in any endeavor. You’ve got to find that balance.”

In 2001, John’s risky decision to leave his position at BMS and take on the  challenge of finding a treatment for his children’s disease paid off. Novazyme merged into Genzyme Corporation, the third largest biotech company in the world, in a nine-figure deal. The tiny start-up had been built into a 120-person business that would, as part of that larger company, create the treatment that John credits with saving his children’s lives.

In 2003, Megan and Patrick were able to begin a three-year clinical trial of a drug for Pompe, discovered and produced by Genzyme through the efforts of John and hundreds of other people. Since May, 2006, they have been treated with the commercially approved drug, Myozyme, which has reversed the enlargements of their hearts and improved their muscle strength.

“Now Megan’s grown and she’s stabilized and Patrick as well, but they’re still very special kids. Megan still has more strength than Patrick has, and she has a much more expressive personality too. They’re incredibly smart kids. Megan’s a straight-A student. Patrick’s in sixth grade, Meghan’s in seventh and John’s in eighth . . . in terms of the future, their [body] parts will continue to be healthy and this drug will keep their systems stable. We look to new technologies, to new enzymes, to new small molecule approaches, to combinations of therapies, that in the next many years will extend and enhance their lives,” said John.

The seeds of the movie Extraordinary Measures, currently in theaters, were planted when Harrison Ford read the Wall Street Journal story about the Crowleys, took it to the producers of Erin Brockovich and said, “We should make a movie about this.”

“After Geeta Anand’s front page story came out, we heard from many different people from so many walks of life, and  Geeta heard from a number of people about writing a book, and she asked if I would participate in that,” John recalls.

“So right around the time that we were getting ready to tell the story to potential publishers, Hollywood started calling,” John says. “It took us about six months or so to get comfortable with that concept, to sign your life rights away, to trust people to make a film and to do it the right way… to take that and actually make it an hour and forty minute major motion picture where you’ve got conflicts of business, science, and family issues … it was a Herculean challenge, and I think they did a terrific job,” says John, who has a cameo role in the movie.

The Crowleys were flown to Portland during production to visit the set, which allowed director Tom Vaughan and the actors to witness the family in action. “[Keri Russell, who plays Aileen in the film,] spent an afternoon just hanging out with the kids, getting to know them. She didn’t have to do that,” Aileen says. “They captured the spirit of the family, they captured the sense of urgency in building a business, they captured the enthusiasm and passion we all had, that entrepreneurial spirit to never, never quit,” says John. “And [they captured] the frustration of drug development. One neat thing about the film is that there’s no bad guy, no bad person, no bad place. There are difficult situations and sometimes I, my character in the movie, acted well and sometimes he didn’t. The only person who is perfect throughout is Aileen and Keri [Russell] of course, but other than that, it’s just a bad situation. Really, the disease is the enemy.”

John, who is currently president and CEO of Amicus Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company focused on creating drugs to treat a range of genetic diseases, is optimistic about the future of American health care.

“First and foremost is the importance of constant innovation, risk-taking, and entrepreneurship. You think about what we were able to do with so many people along the way; that was really cutting-edge science. It was failing as much as succeeding. It was companies and private industry coming together; it was patients and parent groups, physicians, hospitals, government researchers, government regulatory agencies, philanthropic organizations. I don’t know if any of that would have happened, or as fast, if all of those pieces didn’t come together. And that is uniquely American. There’s nowhere else in the world you could get all those institutions, all those players, all those characters to come together and that is what makes America still the best healthcare system in the world. It is far from perfect and we can make it a lot better but I think we have to realize that we’re on the cusp of this golden age of medicine. In the next ten, twenty, thirty years we really can diagnose, treat and cure hundreds if not thousands of diseases that people live with every day.

That to me is the most important lesson. Yes, we need to expand access to quality medicine to everybody. We need to control costs and manage costs more transparently, but also give patients and physicians the choice to have a consumer-driven healthcare model, and we don’t have that right now. How do you do all of that and continue to drive innovation and research and development and risk-taking? I’d love to see the entrepreneurial spirit in America unleashed to solve the healthcare problems that we have and make it a better system.”

John’s passion for entrepreneurship and sense of purpose comes from his upbringing. “My grandfather, John, who was first-generation, worked with his hands, spent 25 or 30 years working in a rubber factory in New Jersey, and my grandmother Catherine worked as a seamstress. She was actually quite sick, and they both died in their fifties. From there, we’re pretty much all cops on my other side. My dad, my dad’s older brother, my uncle Jim, my cousin Jim is still a cop in Baltimore, his daughter Laura married a cop in New York . . there are a lot of Irish cops in the family.

“My dad died when I was seven and, just like our kids being diagnosed, that wasn’t the right time, that’s not supposed to happen. But I think your happiness in life is largely dependent on how you deal with adversity.

“For me, experiences growing up certainly shaped me, and I think shaped my perspectives on life – what’s important, what to do and who to believe, the basics of right and wrong. It doesn’t mean you always do what’s right, but at least you have that sense that there’s something bigger than you. I have a sense of service and sacrifice, which was extra special to me too because my dad was a cop and a marine. You get that sense of service and patriotism and sacrifice that was ingrained without him ever saying it. And that’s true, I think, broadly, of people in the Irish community. Look at the names of the heroes who died on September 11th, the firefighters and the cops. There was a pretty outsized number of Irish names there, and that’s not by accident.”

John’s strong work ethic and sense of purpose are what he called upon to put himself through business school and develop his professional career.  He earned a BS in Foreign Service from Georgetown University, a JD from the University of Notre Dame Law School and an MBA from Harvard. He also served in the U.S. Navy Reserve as an intelligence officer, and finished a six-month tour of duty at the Center for Naval Intelligence in Virginia in 2007.
Both John and Aileen credit their Irish heritage with their focus on the importance of family and their indomitable sense of humor.

Aileen’s ancestors emigrated from County Cork, as did John’s, and settled in Scranton, Pennsylvania. “My parents were both born and raised there. I knew my great-grandmother, her name was McCray, and she had 12 children, and from those children we have a family reunion every year. It’s been going on for about fifty years in Scranton, where there’s a very large Irish population,” says Aileen, whose father is Martin Holleran, a prominent businessman who has been featured on Irish America’s Business 100 list. “My father worked for General Electric, and we moved about every two years all up and down the East Coast. We were always the new kids in town but I knew I had my family around. The one thing we’d always look forward to was the family reunions, and weddings, and our cousins’ house – we have a very large extended family that made those moves a little easier.” says Aileen. She thinks that her Irish heritage particularly manifested itself in “having very close family members, people you can lean on. A lot of people don’t have that. More than half the people in the theater last night [for a screening of Extraordinary Measures] were our relatives who came from as far as four hours away just to spend two hours with us in the theater.”

“Laughter, too, that’s one thing you learn in a big Irish family – you laugh a lot at each other, but also at yourself,” says John.

This trait has clearly been passed on to Megan Crowley as well, who has the wry and witty personality that is captured by Meredith Droeger’s acting in the movie. When I meet Megan, she’s reading on her Amazon Kindle and getting ready for her party. She and her father have a clearly well-developed routine of banter, characterized by a story that he tells me. “I had prepped Megan that there was a tough scene [in the movie] that represented when she was a little girl and almost died,” says John. “I was sitting next to her in the theater and got a little teary watching that again, and I watched Megan to make sure she wasn’t upset. I leaned over to her and I said, ‘Megan, you play a much better sick and dying little girl than Meredith does,’ and she just looked at me and kind of dismissively waved me off and said, ‘Dad, don’t start with your little stories throughout the movie!’”

Seeing this family interact, you begin to understand what they mean by “average”: They tease each other, they joke around, they have birthdays and family outings and do homework and play games. Their journey is remarkable, but it is the details of normal day-to-day life that are the ultimate reward: the moments that are taken so much for granted in many lives. “They treat each other like regular brothers and sisters,” says Aileen. “That [opening] scene of John Jr. in the movie stealing Megan’s Barbie doll and running around with it was a true story. Though actually, really, he took the Barbie doll’s clothes off and Megan made him re-dress all the Barbie dolls and told him what outfits to put on, when he was eight or nine years old. They teased him mercilessly all night. He and his sister fight all the time, and  last night, I was yelling at him for the fifth time to go to bed and I saw him run upstairs to his brother’s room, give him a kiss and run out. They both take care of Patrick together. I think that’s normal for a lot of kids.”

While the Crowleys’ journey is incredible and unique, the lessons that they have learned from it are universal. “Extraordinary Measures isn’t just a movie for parents of special needs kids,” says John. “It’s really about family, faith, science, hope, inspiration. These are basic themes in life in the sense that one person, one family, one group acting together can sometimes succeed and change the course of how things were supposed to be.”

Chasing Miracles: The Crowley Family Journey of Strength, Hope and Joy, by John Crowley (with Ken Kurson), with a foreword by Aileen Crowley, is in stores now.

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The First Word: Chasing Miracles https://irishamerica.com/2010/02/the-first-word-chasing-miracles/ https://irishamerica.com/2010/02/the-first-word-chasing-miracles/#respond Mon, 01 Feb 2010 11:59:05 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=7465 Read more..]]> “I think your happiness in life is largely dependent on how you deal with adversity….”
– John Crowley in Chasing Miracles.

In this issue’s cover story, we bring you behind the scenes to the Crowley family home in Princeton, New Jersey.  John, one of our Business 100, is the founder of several biotech companies specializing in finding cures for genetic diseases. His wife Aileen, the daughter of our Business 100 honoree Martin Holleran, is a stay-at-home mom. Of course, John is not just any CEO, and Aileen is not just any stay-at-home mom.  John founded a biotech company with the specific intent of finding a cure for Pompe, a genetic disease. And Aileen managed the care of Megan and Patrick, the couple’s children, who were born with the disease, while John went on a relentless search for a cure.

I won’t ruin the ending; the Crowley story inspired the movie Extraordinary Measures, in theaters now. Suffice to say that the couple’s determination and will to succeed changed the lives, not just of their own children, but of all children born with Pompe disease.
Other stories in this issue also remind us that the history of the Irish in America is full of stories of tough minded individuals who refused to quit. The feature on Gettysburg recalls the heroics of the Irish Brigade and their battle cry “Faugh an Ballagh” – “Clear the Way.”

And the story of “The Miracle Worker” Annie Sullivan, who taught the blind and deaf Helen Keller to read and write, is also truly inspirational.

Born at the end of the Civil War to Famine Irish immigrants, the almost blind Annie overcame a childhood of poverty and deprivation before going on to leave her mark on the world.

Those Famine and Civil War Irish formed the bedrock of Irish America, but not all the stories from that great time of suffering are ones of triumph. In fact, for  many just staying alive was a miracle. Yet they had dreams for the future and they sacrificed a lot for their children. And, even as scientists are discovering that the starvation our ancestors endured can affect us genetically over a century later, we know that our Irish genetic code is also imbued with a strong will and determination to survive.

Annie Moore, as the first immigrant to pass through Ellis Island, was presented with a $10 gold piece in celebration of the opening of the new facility. However, that promising start did not a fairy tale ending make. Annie married, had 11 children and was dead at age 47 from heart failure.

Annie’s great-granddaughter Maureen Petersonrecently found a photograph of Annie in a scrapbook, so we finally know what she looked like. “Annie struggled very hard to raise her family,” said Maureen. “Each generation [of the family] has done better, financially and educationally. We would all like to think we’ve done her proud.”
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Brendan Fraser on Playing John Crowley in Extraordinary Measures https://irishamerica.com/2010/02/brendan-fraser-on-playing-john-crowley-in-extraordinary-measures/ https://irishamerica.com/2010/02/brendan-fraser-on-playing-john-crowley-in-extraordinary-measures/#respond Mon, 01 Feb 2010 11:58:04 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=7467 Read more..]]> Brendan Fraser’s name might be most often associated with his work on major high-tech Hollywood movies like The Mummy series, George of the Jungle, Looney Tunes: Back in Action and Journey to the Center of the Earth. But in conversation, his thoughtful, halting speech and meaningful insights on his most recent role, that of John Crowley in Extraordinary Measures, are reflective of the emotional depth that he has brought to films like Gods and Monsters, School Ties and Crash.

You’re a Canadian-American actor, but as you and all your brothers have recognizably Irish names [Kevin, Regan and Sean], there must be Irish heritage there somewhere. Do you know anything about your family’s Irish history?
I was in Dublin years ago and when I was first being introduced to the press, I was asked, “Is your name really Brendan Fraser?” Like it was some sort of joke. Is there Irish heritage? Yeah, I’m sure. It goes [way] back. [And] Scottish, German, Czech. . . I’m certain some French Canadians came through there too.

Your career has always included a balance of family-friendly action movies, comedies and more serious, socially compelling dramas – I’m thinking of Gods and Monsters, School Ties and Crash. Can you talk about the progression of your acting and how you decide which roles to take? What drew you to Extraordinary Measures?
I’m always trying to diversify my roles. It keeps it interesting for me – same for the audience, I hope. I look towards working with more established directors and actors. I’m quite enthusiastic about all the best new technology that cinema has to offer, starting with 3-D and more recently in terms of CGI. But in particular [I’m enthusiastic about] a film like this one, which has none of those bells and whistles. Extraordinary Measures is the story of what a family will do to save their children, and the lengths to which they’ll go when the odds are stacked up against them. In my view, John [Crowley] is quite a remarkable individual, one of the most principled people I’ve ever met. And in terms of accomplishments, look at what he’s done in the field of progressing the science of enzyme replacement treatment. But he says his wife Aileen deserves all the medals, which gives you an indication of the kind of guy he is. He’s tenacious, he won’t take no for an answer, and it was a challenge to portray that. I don’t sound like him, we certainly don’t look alike – I’m told he’s very good looking – he’s the head of a pharmaceutical company, and I’m an actor.

I wanted to ensure that I had an opportunity to take a run at the part – not in terms of headlines in a periodical. The story broke in The Wall Street Journal – but in terms of how is it possible that an individual – John [Crowley] is very much alive, a living entity – with a Harvard MBA raised some hundred million dollars, practically single-handedly, in order to save his kids’ lives? And, well, we just worked backwards from there. It became a screenplay after it became a book by Geeta Anand, and now we’ve got a film. Harrison [Ford’s] character is a composite of three, maybe four different scientists and certainly they work together as a metaphor for the core, so much of the ideology scientifically. Also the determination that [Ford] made as a character choice to provide the edge to press up against, the grit, the hard-nosed stubbornness that turns into a begrudging respect in the relationship between these two men, but sort of through a not-so-subtle stag battle.

How was it working with the other actors on the movie?
The kids are great in this movie; they were wonderful to work with. Little Meredith Droeger who plays Megan [Crowley]. And Keri [Russell who plays Aileen] is just – she touches everything with a light feather. It’s also that she walks that way too. She’s a former dancer for sure. I don’t think she leaves footprints on the beach where she walks. She’s delightful. I’ve known her since she was a kid, actually, and – I’m making myself sound old here.

If you were to sum up the experience in a sentence, what would you say?
I guess this film is the culmination of everything I look for towards making a nice family film. Playing a fully fleshed-out character who is indeed an individual who had some serious consequences to contend with, had measures of success, setbacks, challenges for sure, and has left a mark on society in a positive way that allows for us to reflect on how those sorts of virtues are so important for us as individuals and us as functioning members of a family, however that is conceived.

John Crowley talked about how although the situation that they are going through is specific to them, the themes in the film are universal. Can you talk about how you relate to this story as a parent, and how you think it speaks to a broader audience?
There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do for my kids’ well-being, so I understand certainly from that point of view. Thankfully, my own children are very healthy and I can only imagine the horror that it would have been to have gone through an iota of what John did. I admire him deeply for the courage and the ongoing – moment by moment, not day by day necessarily – persistence that one has to contend with when living in a family where the lives of the children count on each breath, as they’re on life support systems and they’re just so fragile.

But putting all that aside, there’s something to be said about this not being mawkish, sentimental or in any way pretentious, and I mean that sincerely. At the end of the day, it’s about being a kid – there was actually a scene in the film that was from their real true lives that didn’t make it into the cut. It had Meredith, who plays Megs, having a kid fit in the grocery store because she can’t have sparkle sunglasses. And her mom, on the phone to her husband, is saying, “Where are you? Why are you not here?” You know, one of those conversations in a marriage. And he’s saying, “I’m working, I’m doing everything I can.” It’s very stressful. And Aileen, or Keri’s character, turns, whirls into action and says to Megan, “You know what, just because you’re in a wheelchair doesn’t mean you get extra toys.” And on paper, it was shocking. To shoot it, it was somehow astonishing. And then I was told they actually did screen it and it came off as funny, there were laughs. But we couldn’t keep it for time reasons. I mention this with the point being that these are kids just like any others. They can misbehave, they can deserve a time-out, they need their praise, they need to have boundaries and limits, they need to go to school and have specific bedtimes and routines. It’s a family. And for that, I think that everyone can be able to find something to relate to, if not specifically. And be appreciative of the good things that they do have in their life.

Were you able to spend time with the Crowleys? What were your impressions of them?
I did. They came to the set, and I went and saw John at his research facility, the lab in New Jersey, which was fascinating to get inside a real, functioning, working laboratory, I’d never been to one before. He took me around on the dime tour, as he called it. He’s being modest; it’s a massive facility. His company is really run by strength of character; the value that [the staff] people have as individuals seems to accompany or surpass in many ways what they have to offer one another in terms of their intellect. They’re a group who inspire one another. The whole company assembled, as they often do, and they are not just nerdy scientists – although they might laugh and admit that they are – but they realize that what they’re doing has an effect on people’s lives. They’re not just crunching numbers and doing experiments just for the sake of being clever. They very much realize the impact of their research and the good that it can bring; it’s in their company’s manifesto.

Yes, I’ve spent some time in the Crowley house; I met Aileen and Patrick and John Jr. and their terrier who doesn’t stand still. I had a movie open around this time last year, called Inkheart, and they came in for the screening. That’s when I met them the first time. I have to tell you, I was not prepared for the Herculean effort that it takes to transport these kids, the whole circus that goes with it, and this is how John would describe it, the number of people who need to accompany them in terms of their medical needs, the transportation, the vans, the planning in advance. But the thing is, it just shows you right away that this is a family who will stop at nothing to give their children as close to any opportunity that any other kid would be deserving of. And it was their pleasure, it really was. And it was humbling and it gave me a real strong sense of purpose, and humility, to draw upon. It gave me a good center to begin this project, which I started shooting shortly thereafter.

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Celtic Woman https://irishamerica.com/2010/02/celtic-woman/ https://irishamerica.com/2010/02/celtic-woman/#comments Mon, 01 Feb 2010 11:57:14 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=7472 Read more..]]> The women behind the Irish musical phenomenon that has taken America by storm   

In 2008, Celtic Woman’s album The Greatest Journey Essential Collection debuted at number one on Billboard’s World Music chart. Three of their albums combined have held the number one position for ninety consecutive weeks. Now, having sold over 50 million records worldwide, the multi-platinum Irish darlings of PBS are releasing their fifth studio album on January 26th.

Celtic Woman seems to be an unstoppable force, but few knew that the group would see more than a night of success. Originally, Celtic Woman was set to perform a one-night show with members Chloë Agnew, Órla Fallon, Lisa Kelly, Méav Ní Mhaolchatha and Máiréad Nesbitt. None of these singers had worked together before or knew each other, but under the musical direction of David Downes, they performed to a sold-out audience for the first time in 2004 for PBS Television in Dublin. Despite changes in the lineup since then (according to statements released by Celtic Woman, Ní Mhaolchatha and Fallon both left to pursue solo careers), the quintet has continued to captivate audiences, specifically American ones, up into the new decade.

The answer as to why American audiences have responded so enthusiastically to Celtic Woman has not always been clear. When I asked Lynn Hilary, who joined the group in 2007, why she thought American audiences continue to be so responsive to Celtic Woman, she admitted that at first, she wasn’t sure. “I didn’t really understand it for a long time, that they would react in such a way,”  she said. “They’d be crying and on their feet every night applauding us. But American people really identify with Ireland, and a lot of Americans have Irish in their ancestry, so Celtic Woman allows them to re-identify with their roots and gives them a feeling of belonging.” Alex Sharpe, who became a permanent member in 2009 for the Isle of Hope tour, added, “I think without America, to be honest, Celtic Woman would not be the success that they are. It was only supposed to be a one-night special, but Americans have taken us into their hearts and really embraced Celtic Woman.”

It’s no secret that America has had a long-standing relationship with Ireland, politically, culturally, and of course musically. With the Irish diaspora in America at about 45 million people, there is a secure space for a crossover group like Celtic Woman to thrive. Perhaps no one knows this better than David Downes, the creator of Celtic Woman and former musical director of Riverdance. Building upon the massive success of Riverdance in the U.S., Downes decided to return to Celtic-influenced music and dance but this time in the format of an all-female lineup, similar to that of pop groups like Girls Aloud and the Spice Girls. The structure, however, is where the similarities end – the members of Celtic Woman are trained in everything from classical to theatrical to traditional Irish singing, with formally trained Máiréad Nesbitt on fiddle. Máiréad, Lynn, and Lisa had stints on Michael Flatley’s dance shows, Riverdance and Lord of the Dance, while Alex Sharpe began her career playing Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz at Olympia Theatre in Dublin. Chloë Agnew, the youngest member at 20 years old, got her big break when she recorded a single with David Downes shortly after 9/11 to help American and Afghanistani children and raised over 20,000 pounds.

When they aren’t touring or making promotional appearances, the women of Celtic Woman spend time with their families and often work on other interests. Chloë, for instance, completed high school “with flying colors” in the early years of Celtic Woman and is now taking an online college course in child psychology. Lisa, who had her third child, Ellie, in 2008, balances life on tour with family time. “A lot of hard work goes into the balance of it, but I’m very lucky because I have a huge support group [her children] with me on the road.” She humbly added, “But it’s no harder than balancing any other career with three children, it’s just that I have to do it in a hotel room and on a bus. They enjoy it and that’s the main thing. They’re learning and seeing places they might never see again.”

Lynn Hilary released a solo album in 2008 called Take Me With You and Máiréad Nesbitt is currently working on her second solo album.

With lives as full and varied as these, it’s hard to see how five women with different personalities come together to make such harmonious music. The members have resounding praise for David Downes in this respect, who controls the look, sound, and production of Celtic Woman in a way that is extremely polished but allows the musicians’ individuality to come through. “Each of the girls are an entity in themselves and I think that’s what makes it personal for an audience,” said Alex. “The fans have built up a relationship with these girls and they have their own favorites.”

Each member’s singing voice and style is very different, allowing her to put her unique stamp on songs. Despite the predetermined structure, Lynn said that they can’t help but eventually show their personalities a little on stage. “I know with Máiréad from the beginning she’s always had her style…she has to move with her music and she uses the whole stage. So that’s her being very individual and unique, showing her energy and passion for the music.” Chloë “sparkles…she’s a bubbly person in real life and very funny as well, and she’s smiling the whole time [on stage] because she loves it.” Lynn calls herself “the shy one,” something that she has embraced and that has made her more relaxed on stage.

The girls also have different musical influences – they mentioned everything from the Beach Boys and Michael Jackson to Sinéad O’Connor and Beyoncé  -and different styles they enjoy performing, which is often reflected in the selections made by Downes for each album. This time around, the five women are backed up by their usual 6-piece Celtic Woman band and also by a veritable army of collaborators: a 12-member Aontas Choir, 27-piece film orchestra, 20-member Discovery Gospel Choir, 10-member Extreme Rhythm drummers and 11-piece bagpipe ensemble. The result is a beautiful, lush sound that ranges from a roar to a single voice, never losing pace. Much of the album feels like a cohesive performance piece, the way the songs build and meld into one another.

While the album relies on the tried-and-true method of mixing covers of contemporary and classical songs with original pieces, the songs that beg to be listened to repeatedly are, unsurprisingly, the traditional Irish ones. “Nil S’én La,” which is famously performed by fellow Celtic crossover group Clannad, is reworked as an upbeat tune and given English lyrics that emphasize the song’s title (in English: “It is not day yet”) as a chance to continue celebration. A true testament to the group’s fusion of many musical styles, towards the end there is a funk-inspired bass-beat as the song continues to build in excitement to its halting end.

Also included is the hauntingly beautiful “My Lagan Love,” which has been covered by everyone from The Corrs to Kate Bush to Van Morrison. Here it is a solo sung by Lynn Hillary, who cites it as one of her favorite songs to perform, and includes a rich string accompaniment.

These songs and “Galway Bay,” another melancholy rumination on the dreamlike coastline of Ireland’s West, describe perfectly the romanticized view that many Americans have long held of Ireland and of Celtic culture. When I asked the women if they thought Celtic Woman fit into an American perception of Celtic Ireland, their answer was a qualified yes. Alex admits, “I guess there is a romantic side to the Celtic Woman image. It does have a very pure and quite a magical, spiritual feel to it. Ireland has been associated so much with its myths and legends…of course, being here, especially in [Dublin], you do have a different take on it, as you do anywhere in the world.”

Celtic acts like Celtic Woman and Riverdance may continue to be hugely popular for sentimental and nostalgic reasons, but what sets Celtic Woman apart is their acknowledgment and portrayal of the Irish-American connection through their performances. This is perhaps the most poignant message taken from their latest CD, Songs from the Heart, as well as the gratitude of Celtic Woman to their American fan base. Their last tour, the Isle of Hope tour, was named after the song “The New Ground – Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears” which appears on their latest album. Written by Brendan Graham, who also has penned the lyrics for “You Raise Me Up,” the song tells the story of the mass immigration to America by the Irish through the story of Annie Moore, the first girl to walk onto Ellis Island at only fifteen years old. The title and chorus refer not only to America and Ellis Island, an “isle of hope” for millions, but also of the home they left: “During the Famine days a lot of Irish people immigrated to America looking for opportunities because Ireland was in such an awful state,” Lynn says. “But also they thought someday they might return home to Ireland, that Ireland might be habitable again.” The song ends with the speaker coming to America, imagining herself a successor to Annie Moore. The history of the Irish in America is a long and varied one, and “Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears” grasps some of that complexity.

“O, America!” too is a testament to the Irish-American connection and, more generally, a thanks to an enthusiastic American fan base. Composed by Graham and William Joseph, the song is a patriotic oath that in its simplicity reveals something about our shared history: the same hope for opportunity that has defined the American dream has also defined the Irish experience in America. The appeal of these songs and of Celtic Woman is that they represent something familiar but also something still worth dreaming about, a dream of home.

With a big year behind them (highlights included meeting President Obama at the tree-lighting ceremony in Washington, D.C. and an appearance on Dancing with the Stars) and a two-part U.S. tour ahead, the members of Celtic Woman are still awe-struck by their success five years later. When asked about the future of the group, Chloë said, “I’ve come nowhere close in my predictions to where we are today, so to be honest, I have no idea. It’s just blossomed, and just when you think it can’t get any better, it does.”

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Irish Eye on Hollywood https://irishamerica.com/2010/02/irish-eye-on-hollywood-5/ https://irishamerica.com/2010/02/irish-eye-on-hollywood-5/#respond Mon, 01 Feb 2010 11:56:54 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=7475 Read more..]]> Controversy may be on the agenda when Pierce Brosnan’s new film is unveiled at the Berlin Film Festival this February. Brosnan will star in The Ghost Writer, one of the films slated to open the fest. The film has been directed by none other than Roman Polanski. Polanski, of course, was recently placed under house arrest and is back in an L.A. courtroom, the latest episode in a decades-old saga that began when he was found guilty of raping a 13-year-old girl in the 1970s. Since then, the director of classics such as Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby has split Hollywood into two camps. Supporters feel the case is complex and the aging director should be shown some leniency. Others believe it is about time Polanski faces justice. Either way, Brosnan will star in The Ghost Writer (based on a novel by Robert Harris) alongside Ewan McGregor. In the film, Brosnan plays a former British prime minister who is writing his memoirs. Like Polanski himself, the film’s protagonist is facing a legal battle. Brosnan’s character is facing an indictment by an international criminal court. The Ghost Writer also features actresses Kim Cattrall and Olivia Williams.

Brosnan will also be seen in Remember Me, due out in March, alongside Twilight saga star Robert Pattinson and Chris Cooper. The film is about a complicated father-son relationship made even more complicated when the son falls in love.

Another big-time film with Irish ties will be unveiled at the Berlin film fest in February: Martin Scorsese’s latest, Shutter Island. Based on a novel by Irish-American novelist Dennis Lehane (Mystic River), this thriller is set in the 1950s and also stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo and Ben Kingsley. The film revolves around two investigators hunting down an escapee from a Boston asylum.

Indeed, the legendary Scorsese continues to look to Irish Americans for inspiration, as he has in many of his past films, from the classic Goodfellas (Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta, was Irish American) to more recent movies such as The Gangs of New York.
Aside from Shutter Island, keep an eye out for Boardwalk Empire, produced by Scorsese and slated to debut on HBO in September. Starring Steve Buscemi and Kelly MacDonald (who plays an Irish immigrant), the mini-series is set in 1920s Atlantic City as organized crime figures were establishing themselves at the gambling mecca.
When the thriller The Green Zone opens on March 12, it may be one of the most Irish movies ever made – although only supporting star Brendan Gleeson is technically Irish. Matt Damon (who played a troubled South Boston Irish kid in Good Will Hunting) stars in this latest Iraq war film, which also features Irish-American actress Amy Ryan, best known for The Wire as well as her turn as a troubled Boston Irish lass in Gone Baby Gone. (She earned an Oscar nomination for that role.) The Green Zone, finally, is directed by Brit Paul Greengrass, who directed the riveting docudrama Bloody Sunday.

March will also see the scheduled release of Liam Neeson’s next film Clash of the Titans, in which the Irishman plays Zeus in this epic action-adventure film about warring Greek gods. Neeson will also be busy this summer, appearing in The A-Team remake as well as the romantic thriller Chloe, also starring Julianne Moore (pictured below).
Charlize Theron (significant other to Irish actor Stuart Townsend) is reportedly going to star in a film based on Irish writer Sebastian Barry’s recent novel The Secret Scripture. Set to film in Ireland, famed Irish producer Noel Pearson has also been linked to the film. Barry’s best-selling novel revolves around a 100-year-old woman who looks back on her colorful, at times tragic, Irish life.

Brendan O’Carroll is another Irish writer who is no stranger to Hollywood. O’Carroll’s books were the basis for the film Agnes Browne, starring Anjelica Huston. Now, HBO is eyeing O’Carroll for a series about an Irish immigrant family in the U.S. entitled We’ve Arrived. O’Carroll was even quoted in Ireland’s Evening Herald as saying: “It’s a possibility I’ll star in it myself, I hope so. Basically it’s for HBO and it’s about an Irish immigrant family who arrive in America and they’re a bit lost with the traditions over there. I hope it will be a success, they seem happy with what we’ve got so far, so with any luck it will go down well.”

The 1980s were very good to director John Landis and actor Dan Aykroyd. Landis directed a string of blockbuster comedies, from National Lampoon’s Animal House and The Blues Brothers to Trading Places and Coming to America. (Landis was even tapped to direct the iconic “Thriller” video by the late Michael Jackson.) Aykroyd, meanwhile, starred in several of those Landis flicks, as well as Ghostbusters and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Now, Landis and Aykroyd are teaming up to bring a tale of Irish immigrants and murder to the big screen. The film, set to begin filming soon, is tentatively entitled Burke and Hare, and explores two Irishmen in 19th-century Scotland who made a fortune digging up bodies and selling them to doctors for research. Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Run Fatboy Run) and David Tennant are also slated to star in Burke and Hare.

Irish short films may be represented at the 82nd annual Academy Awards in March. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently announced that Ireland’s Brown Bag Films will be among those considered for nomination for their short film Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty, directed by Nicky Phelan and produced by Darragh O’Connell. Short films undergo an extended nomination process, with nearly 40 films eventually being narrowed down to the five final nominees, which will be announced on February 2.

Ken Bruen (The Guards) wrote the novel. William Monahan (The Departed) wrote the screenplay. And Colin Farrell is starring in it. So London Boulevard, currently filming, should be a treat for Irish movie fans. Also starring Kiera Knightley, London Boulevard is a kind of updated version of the film classic Sunset Boulevard. Bruen’s novel revolves around an ex-convict whose only job prospect after prison is to work as muscle for a loan shark. But when he meets a beautiful woman, and also lands work fixing things up around the house of a rich actress, he figures his luck might finally turn around. Of course, it doesn’t, which becomes abundantly clear when his past catches up with him. Look for London Boulevard to hit screens later this year.

On to TV news. When the Denis Leary drama Rescue Me begins season number six next year, expect to see more of Irish-American actress Maura Tierney, who recently underwent surgery for breast cancer. Tierney had played the wild love interest of Tommy Gavin, the equally wild Irish-American firefighter played by Leary.
“We are just about finished writing the entire sixth season . . . and then there are nine more” episodes for Season 7, Rescue Me executive producer Peter Tolan told People magazine. “So we know we’re going to bring back Maura Tierney, because we loved her and she loved us, which is even more fulfilling.”

Finally in DVD news, a funny thing happened to John Huston’s poetic final film The Dead on the way to its DVD release. Following the initial release of this beautiful 1987 film, based on the classic short story by James Joyce, a production error clipped ten minutes from the running time. That error has now been corrected, and the running time restored to 83 minutes. Lions Gate has even offered to replace the faulty, 73-minute versions of the DVD. If
you purchased the wrong version and need more details, E-mail lionsgatecs@orderassistance.com or call (800) 650-7099.

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A Trip to the Bountiful: Mary Beth Keane https://irishamerica.com/2010/02/a-trip-to-the-bountiful-mary-beth-keane/ https://irishamerica.com/2010/02/a-trip-to-the-bountiful-mary-beth-keane/#respond Mon, 01 Feb 2010 11:55:43 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=7478 Read more..]]> The Irish immigrant experience is no stranger to the world of fiction, but in The Walking People, Irish American Mary Beth Keane captures the nuances of one woman’s journey in this promising first novel.

Protagonist Greta Cahill, cast aside early in her life as a “simple girl,” is destined to face gross underestimation not only of her intelligence but of her ability to lead a full life. The Walking People demonstrates the fullness of that life as Greta leaves her small community in the west of Ireland for the threatening yet hopeful streets of New York, where she discovers love, work and a new kind of family. Like so many immigrants in the 1950s, Greta faces the struggle of leaving behind her pre-immigration life, and the secrets that she keeps maintain an even stronger separation between her American life and her Irish past. The depth of the characters Keane weaves recreates the dynamic experience of the American immigrant, and does not speak exclusively to an Irish audience.

“I think of Greta’s story not necessarily as an Irish story, but more of a woman’s story,” Keane told Irish America.

Keane’s writing of The Walking People took two years, though her imagination had taken hold of the story long before that. Greta’s story emerged organically in Keane’s mind as she allowed her characters to trudge their own paths. Keane’s dynamic personalities seem to find their own destiny through her pen.

“As time went on, and Greta became more vivid and more surprising, my passion for the story became focused on representing her accurately and bringing her to life so that others could know her as well as I do.

“I knew Greta was going to end up in New York, but I had no idea what circumstances would drive her there or if she’d be alone or part of a group. For a while I thought she might end up returning to Ireland, but then when the time came, it felt like a familiar decision – one I’d seen in books and movies a little too often,” Keane said. “And by then I knew Greta was more surprising than most people had ever given her credit for, so I let her stay in New York and make her life there.”

Keane’s remarkable achievement of entering the world of the Irish travellers* in this story is one not often undertaken by writers. The character Michael Ward leaves his past in the travelling communities, often referred to derogatively as “tinkers,” to go to New York with Greta and her free-spirited sister Johanna. Very little literature exists from within these communities. The vast majority of the information was presented by observers of the lifestyle of those in these camps.

“The travellers were difficult to research because it’s not as if one can walk into a camp and start asking questions. They have a strong oral tradition, but very little is written down for posterity,” Keane said. “I interviewed friends and family about their memories of travellers, and then to get inside the traveller point-of-view I relied on a few well-researched books written by scholars who managed to gain trust and access; one even lived as a traveller for over a year. And I looked at many, many photographs of caravans and camps from the 1950s, 60s and 70s.” Keane also spent time in the National Library in Dublin, poring over newspaper archives to find accounts of the communities.

Michael finds work in New York as a sandhog,* or urban miner. This presented Keane with another challenge and opportunity to portray a very different way of life than that of a traveller.

“I needed to see what he was seeing, so I asked my father, who is a retired sandhog, if he would help me get permission to go down into a tunnel and see for myself. He agreed and came down with me,” Keane said.

Keane drew on her own family’s and her community’s experiences as immigrants in the United States. Her  parents both hail from the west of Ireland – Galway and Mayo. Native to Pearl River, New York, Keane’s early childhood years as the oldest of three sisters were years immersed in the Irish-American culture of her town.

“Every summer, a few of my grade school classmates would disappear ‘home’ with their mothers until September and school started up again.  I didn’t care about any of this, of course, until I grew up and realized how remarkable it was for my parents and others of their generation to come from a place so vastly different from New York City, and be able to not only adjust, but  to thrive.”

That adjustment came as no easy task to Irish immigrants in the 50s. “I thought about what a strange in-between spot that left people like me in. When we go to Ireland we are very much American, but here in the U.S., as an adult with a variety of friends from all different backgrounds, I realize how much being Irish defines me. First-generation children know that ‘home’ means Ireland, but it’s a complicated relationship because chances are that we don’t know Ireland very well at all.”

Keane left Pearl River for New York City to attend Barnard College. After writing for years, it was at Barnard that Keane found her mentor in professor and noted author Mary Gordon. Gordon’s eighth novel, Pearl, explored the streets of Dublin in an emotional narrative centered on the theme of martyrdom. “She became my advisor, and is still advising me now… more than 10 years after graduation. Even now when I get stuck I think of how she’d always steer me back to the most honest kind of writing, and that helps me push through,” Keane shared. That honesty is not in short supply in The Walking People. The depth and compassion of the novel, which will be released in paperback in May, has made it a remarkable first work. Readers will certainly be eager for Keane’s future works, which include a novel on Typhoid Mary Mallon that she is currently researching.

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Miracle Worker: Helen Keller & Annie Sullivan https://irishamerica.com/2010/02/miracle-worker-helen-keller-annie-sullivan/ https://irishamerica.com/2010/02/miracle-worker-helen-keller-annie-sullivan/#respond Mon, 01 Feb 2010 11:54:37 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=7481 Read more..]]> The extraordinary story of Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller, including little-known facts about a trip they made to Ireland

In 1930, a visitor to Ireland wrote to a friend:

“You must see Killarney…Can you imagine mountains of rhododendrons rising and massive into the bluest sky you’ve ever been under – white, crimson, scarlet, pink, buff, yellow and every shade God has painted on leaf and flower?  As if this was not beauty enough, you come out of a mountain pass and gaze, breathless and trembling upon ‘purple peaks that out of ancient woods arise,’ and there in the gorge below, are silver lakes, reflecting as in a row of mirrors all the glory that surrounds them!”

Such a vivid description suggests an eye for art and an ear for poetry.  So it may be surprising to learn that the author of this ode to Irish beauty was none other than Helen Keller, who lived her famous life both deaf and blind.

Keller visited Ireland along with her “miracle worker” teacher Annie Sullivan, whose parents were born in Limerick.

This trip, however, was no joyous homecoming for Sullivan. She did not share her pupil’s enthusiasm for Ireland.  In fact, Sullivan was reluctant to make the trip, in part because it forced her to confront her far-from-idyllic Irish immigrant childhood. One biographer even suggests that Ireland forever haunted Annie Sullivan.

Thus, if Annie Sullivan’s triumph with Helen Keller represents the bright side of the Irish-American experience – the faith in hard work, education and advancement – there is also a much darker side.

Back on Broadway
The story of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan is, by now, world famous. This March, yet another generation of theatergoers will flock to see a new Broadway production of The Miracle Worker, the William Gibson play that was adapted into an award-winning film in 1962, starring Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke.

This time around, on Broadway, Alison Pill (last seen in Martin McDonough’s Irish play The Lieutenant of Inishmore) will star as Annie Sullivan while 13-year-old Irish-American Hollywood starlet Abigail Breslin will portray Keller.

Though at times harrowing, The Miracle Worker is generally seen as an inspiring story, in which a teacher and pupil overcome great obstacles so that they can communicate with each other and then go out into the world and help others do the same.

But there is another side to the Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller saga, a side in which the Irish immigrant experience is central.

What happened to Annie Sullivan’s Irish immigrant parents? How did young Annie Sullivan emerge from this dark Irish odyssey to become one of the world’s most famous and inspirational women?  What ultimately did Annie feel about Ireland and her Irish roots, and what role did they play when it came to her famous breakthrough with Helen Keller?  Finally, how does Ireland today remember Annie Sullivan?

North and South
One year after the end of the American Civil War, in 1866, Annie Sullivan was born in Feeding Hills, Massachusetts. A recent biography of Sullivan, Beyond the Miracle Worker by Kim E. Nielsen, notes that “the first years of [Sullivan’s] life are largely undocumented and remain obscure.”

What we do know is that young Annie endured grim conditions which, sadly, were familiar to the children of the Irish immigrants flocking to the northeastern United States in the years after the Great Famine struck Ireland.

Annie was the oldest of five children, born to parents who had left Limerick at the height of the Great Hunger. Thomas and Alice Sullivan baptized their children in a heavily Irish Massachusetts parish, but the traumas of their journey from Ireland followed them to America.  Thomas Sullivan was a farmhand but he was also an alcoholic who eventually abandoned the family. Worse still, Alice died when Annie was just eight.

In the 1962 film version of The Miracle Worker, Annie looks back on her youth with almost gothic horror, as she and her brother are separated from their parents and sent to an orphanage.

Helen Keller, meanwhile, was born in southern United States in 1880, to a family with strong ties to the former Confederacy. Keller’s mother was a cousin of General Robert E. Lee, while her father was a Confederate officer.  Keller was not born deaf and blind. When she was nineteen months old, she became severely ill with what was most likely meningitis or scarlet fever. Keller not only lost her sight and hearing, she also became a violent, uncontrollable child.
Keller’s mother was always seeking possible cures for her daughter, a quest which, at one point, led to her to telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell, who worked with deaf children.  Bell suggested that the Kellers visit Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston, a school which happened to have a precocious student – nearly blind herself – named Annie Sullivan.

Difficult Student
Like Helen Keller, Sullivan was a difficult student. She, too, suffered from severe eye problems, which nearly blinded her. Nevertheless, after living in an orphanage with her brother, Jimmie (who was born with tuberculosis and died young), Sullivan excelled at Perkins, graduating at the top of her class.
Subsequent eye operations improved her vision, allowing Sullivan to read and write. She also learned to communicate with deaf and blind friends at Perkins, a skill that would come in handy when, in 1886, she graduated from Perkins and was hired by the Kellers to care for Helen in Alabama.
The struggles which followed have been well-documented.  Keller was a profoundly challenging student. But Annie was determined, to the point of obsession, and finally managed to help Helen communicate, though historians have come to question the veracity of the famous “water” breakthrough scene depicted in Gibson’s play.

Either way, Annie Sullivan served as Keller’s educator for over a decade. In 1900, Annie went to Radcliffe College with Helen, who eventually earned a degree from that prestigious institution.

It was at Radcliffe that Sullivan met John Albert Macy, who helped Helen write her autobiography, The Story of My Life. Macy married Annie Sullivan in 1905.

The marriage did not last, but, for Keller and Sullivan, it was just the beginning.  The duo would go on to travel the U.S., offering inspiration and calls for reform.

Indeed, Keller was an unabashed political activist who traveled in controversial circles.  In the 1910s, she fought for the women’s vote and birth control, opposed Woodrow Wilson and World War I, and even joined the Industrial Workers of the World, the radical union better known as the Wobblies.
Along the way, Keller and Sullivan rubbed elbows with fellow activists and intellectuals, such as Mark Twain. The famed American author is said to be the man who bestowed the title “miracle worker” on Annie Sullivan.

On to Ireland
It was in 1930 that Keller decided that she, Annie and some friends should go to, among other places, Ireland. Keller’s motivation behind the trip had little to do with activism or the search for Sullivan’s roots. Keller was turning 50 that year and had no interest in “wear(ing) a company smile and mak(ing) a silly speech about feeling fifty years young,” according to Kim E. Nielsen’s biography of Sullivan.

Annie, however, did not want to go, until Keller essentially made her teacher feel guilty. They visited England and then, in June, set off for Ireland. In Limerick, Annie searched in desperation for details about her parents.

Sullivan, however, “learned nothing,” as Nielsen puts it.

Sullivan later wrote: “I have not enjoyed myself. . . In imagination I saw my forebears working in those hills . . . trudging barefoot to their comfortless thatched cottages or, driven by extreme poverty, trekking toward a port from which they would sail to distant lands.”

Sullivan ultimately experienced Ireland “through a lens, a curtain, of her unresolved past and her current expectation of death,” Nielsen writes.

Annie Sullivan died six years later at the age of 70.

New Life on Stage and Screen
The Keller-Sullivan saga received new life in the late 1950s, when William Gibson wrote a TV drama called The Miracle Worker. In 1959, The Miracle Worker made its debut on Broadway, starring Anne Bancroft (born Ann Marie Louisa Italiano) as Sullivan and a young actress by the name of Patty Duke as Keller.

In 1962, Duke and Bancroft revived their roles on screen, in a film directed by Arthur Penn, who would go on to direct the classic film Bonnie and Clyde as well as Little Big Man and Alice’s Restaurant.

The Miracle Worker was a cinematic smash.  Bancroft and Duke (who was just 16) both won Academy Awards.  (This was possible because Duke was categorized as a supporting actress.)  In the film, Sullivan’s Irish heritage is noted in her accent, though some viewers might note that the accent tends to come and go, and seems more a strange blend of Irish, English and Bostonian.

Interestingly, the Queens-born Patty Duke was, herself, the daughter of a troubled Irish American whose background was somewhat similar to Sullivan’s own.  Fittingly, in a 1970s TV version of The Miracle Worker, Patty Duke played the role of Annie Sullivan.

This March, another New York-born Irish American, Abigail Breslin, will play Helen Keller on Broadway.

Over a century after she rescued Helen Keller from a life of emptiness, Annie Sullivan is still performing miracles. Twenty years ago, The Annie Sullivan Foundation for Deaf/Blind People was founded in Dublin. Organizers chose the name, in part, because Annie and her great works were “almost unknown” in Ireland. Today, visitors to the Stillorgan-based foundation’s center can see Annie Sullivan’s legacy in action.

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Gettysburg: America’s Preeminent Battlefield Shrine https://irishamerica.com/2010/02/gettysburg-ameircas-preeminent-battlefield-shrine/ https://irishamerica.com/2010/02/gettysburg-ameircas-preeminent-battlefield-shrine/#comments Mon, 01 Feb 2010 11:53:39 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=7485 Read more..]]> When you go to Gettysburg, you trod hallowed ground where incredible courage under fire by Union and Confederate troops enshrined them in honor, glory and history. You do much more than make a trip. You make a pilgrimage.

Gettysburg is a sleepy crossroads town.  Situated in hilly Cumberland Valley fields in Pennsyl-vania, it is a musket volley or two short of 215 miles southwest of Manhattan.  Now a national battlefield shrine, in July 1863 it was the turning point in our nation’s Civil War, known as the War Between the States to our Southern countrymen.

For three days – July 1, 2 and 3 – General George Gordon Meade and his Army of the Potomac battled General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia.  The fighting men of both sides, North and South, made history in the battle that forever changed America.  A total of 23,000 soldiers of Union forces and 28,000 soldiers of Confederate forces were killed, wounded, captured or reported missing in action in the epic confrontation.

It is worth a trip, if only to stand on the actual ground of General Pickett’s famous charge.  General Lee viewed the charge, which he ordered and always regretted, from a vantage point on Seminary Ridge in the center of Confederate lines above the battlefield.  It is here, at the site of the Virginia State monument topped by a majestic statue of Lee on his horse, Traveler, that you fully grasp what happened on that terrible day.  After a fierce artillery barrage, 12,000 Confederate soldiers advanced almost one mile, across open fields, without cover or concealment, into the jaws of massive Union artillery firing shell and canister (buckshot). They marched toward certain death.

What makes Gettysburg so attractive as a tourist destination is its proximity and easy accessibility.  It is an easy four-hour drive from New York City.  Head south on the New Jersey Turnpike to Exit 6, and then west on the Pennsylvania Turnpike past Harrisburg, General Lee’s ultimate target of his northern thrust, to Route 15.  Take Route 15 south for about 30 miles and bear right, west, along Baltimore pike to Gettysburg.

One Thanksgiving past, my wife, Eleanor, and I booked two nights at the Holiday Inn Battlefield at 516 Baltimore Street. The price was reasonable, the room spacious with a king-size comfortable bed, and there was free, convenient parking in the rear.  We arrived at dinnertime, showered, dressed, and then enjoyed a delicious, moderately priced turkey dinner in celebration of America’s favorite holiday.

The hotel is close to the battlefield, which is a few miles south of the town center. Next door to the hotel is the house where the battle’s only noncombatant casualty, a young Irish-born woman, was  shot dead by a Confederate musket ball.

The next day, Friday, we drove two minutes to the Visitor Center and the Gettysburg Museum of the Civil War.  We could have walked. We arrived at 10 a.m., about two hours after the center had opened for the day, but two hours too late to hire a battlefield guide for a personal, escorted tour. There are only a few guides available in the fall.  Many more, of course, are available in summer, the peak of tourism, when millions visit.  But you have to be early whatever the season. So, instead, we viewed the Electric Map display, which describes the battle and uses colored lights to depict various troop movements. We also visited the Cyclorama Center, which presents a sound-and-light program inside a circular auditorium that dramatically shows Pickett’s charge by spotlighting selected segments of Paul Philippoteaux’s 360-foot oil painting of this historical event.

The synopsis:  The Confederate Army approached Gettysburg from the northwest and immediately attacked the Union Army, which had been trailing it and was advancing into Gettysburg from the southeast. General Lee’s plan was to invade the North and bring the war to Union territory. General Meade, who had just replaced General Joseph Hooker, had been ordered by President Lincoln to track Lee’s army and prevent Lee from attacking the city of Washington.

On July 1, in early morning, Confederate troops attacked Union troops on McPherson Ridge, just west of town.  You can drive around the battlefield and, using an audiotape, hear a reenacted description of the battle, engagement by engagement. There are thousands of monuments and dozens of convenient parking areas.  It takes about three hours to complete the drive.  There is a helpful printed guide, Touring the Battlefield, and the paved roadways enable you to navigate the battlefield with ease and gain access to all of the highlights without needing to ask for directions.

By 4 p.m. on July 1, the Confederate troops had driven the Union troops back into the town of Gettysburg, capturing thousands of them. The Union troops retreated to high ground south of town called Cemetery and Culp’s hills.  Throughout the night, the rest of both armies arrived at the battlefield.  When dawn broke on July 2, the armies occupied parallel ridges (the South on Seminary Ridge to the west of town, and the North on Cemetery Ridge to the east of town). They were about one mile apart, out of musket fire range but well within artillery range.  Lee, ever aggressive and confident of victory, attacked again, hitting both Union flanks.  But the Union forces occupied strong defensive positions on high ground and the Confederate forces had to attack upward into blazing Union guns. The Confederates made some gains, but lost many men.

As the day wore on, Confederate General James Longstreet drove into the Union left flank at Little Round Top, the Wheatfield and the Peach Orchard.  The battleground was in farm fields of wheat and corn. The town of Gettysburg was mostly left unscathed, except for a few buildings struck and slightly damaged by errant artillery rounds.

Helping to defend the Union line was the Irish Brigade, which fought with distinction at Little Round Top, the Wheatfield and Stony Hill on the battlefield’s southern end. Commanded by Galway-born Colonel Patrick Kelly, the Irish Brigade consisted of about 240 volunteers of the 63rd, 69th and 88th New York Regiments, and a couple hundred additional volunteers of the 28th Massachusetts and 116th Pennsylvania Regiments. Together, they marched into combat under a green flag containing an Irish harp. Before they were ordered forward into combat, they were granted general absolution by Father William Corby, a Roman Catholic chaplain of the 88th New York.

Colonel Kelly commanded his troops from his war horse named “Faugh a Ballagh,” an Irish phrase meaning “Clear the Way” which also was the Irish Brigade’s battle cry. In sentiment the phrase is similar to a Marine Corps axiom: “Lead, follow or get out of the way.” Colonel Kelly, then 42, of Castlehacket near the city of Galway, was born in 1821 and came to America in 1850, after the famine, settling in New York. He enlisted as a private in the 69th Regiment at the start of the war and rose swiftly through the ranks. He was later killed in action at Petersburg and his body taken back home to Ireland for burial.

Each year, New York City’s bond with the Fighting 69th Regiment is renewed when its members, accompanied by their mascots – four Irish wolfhounds – lead the New York City Saint Patrick’s Day Parade up Fifth Avenue after attending Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

What did Confederates think of the Union army before this epic confrontation? Confederate Colonel Edward P. Alexander had written: “His cavalry is numerous but can’t ride and his infantry, except the Irish, can’t fight.”

Near the Wheatfield and Stony Hill stands a tall stone monument commemorating the valor of the Irish Brigade. A Confederate soldier who had fought at Gettysburg against the Irish Brigade sculpted it decades after the Civil War.  He was Irish-born William O’Donovan, who had enlisted at age 17 at the war’s start in 1861, fought in the war and survived. He cut a large Celtic cross out of dark green malachite with a bronze front.  The New York Coat of Arms and the Sunburst of Ireland are depicted along with an Irish harp guarded by two American eagles. An Irish wolfhound lies crouched at the base of the cross.
At the Wheatfield and at Stony Hill, between 4 p.m. and dusk on July 2, the Irish Brigade fought and fell.  About 530 men went into battle, and more than 200 were killed, wounded or listed as missing in action – almost one of every three men. They retreated back to Cemetery Ridge, bound their wounds and waited for the next Confederate attack.

It came in the afternoon of the next day, July 3, beginning with a thunderous, two-hour-long artillery barrage fired from more than 200 Confederate guns a mile away on Seminary Ridge. Union gun batteries returned fire. The battlefield became obscured by smoke.  About 3 p.m., at the command of General Lee, Confederate forces 12,000 strong, including General Pickett’s Virginia Division, surged forward toward the center of the Union battle line. They were slaughtered. Irish Brigade Major St. Clair Mulholland, 116th Pennsylvania, later wrote: “All the Union batteries opened and played upon them as they advanced over the fields. They were seen to fall by hundreds and thousands.”

The charge faltered, broke and failed.  About 200 Confederate troops breeched the center of the Union line at a place called the Bloody Angle, but they were cut down or captured.  More than 5,000 soldiers became casualties in one hour.  General Lee waited for the cover of night and led his troops in a retreat to Virginia. Meade did not pursue. The South’s invasion of the North was over.  The rest of the war would be fought in Confederate territory.
On Friday evening, after a full day of shopping in Gettysburg, I visited the Irish Brigade Gift Shop at 504 Baltimore Street next to our hotel. The sales clerk wrote out explicit directions to the Irish Brigade monument near Stony Hill. I also bought a copy of a pamphlet written by T.L. Murphy, “Kelly’s Heroes: The Irish Brigade at Gettysburg.” Murphy works as a licensed battlefield guide.  He can be reached at P.O. Box 3542, Gettysburg, PA 17325.  The information in this article about the Irish Brigade comes from his pamphlet.  Also on sale at the shop are souvenirs, videotapes, maps and other mementos.

On Saturday morning, my wife and I got up early – 6 a.m.  We went to an immaculate restaurant across the street from the hotel for a quick breakfast so that we could be at the Visitor Center by 8 a.m., in time to hire a guide. Our guide was David Hamacher, who told us he had to master the history and trivia of the battle and pass a difficult oral examination administered by master guides to become qualified as a battlefield guide. He gave us an unforgettable 2 1/4 hour tour, from 8 a.m. until 10:15 a.m., charging  $35.  He took us everywhere, told us everything and let us linger at the Irish Brigade monument. I am an American, an Irish citizen, a Roman Catholic and a former Marine. At the solemn site, I reflected on the bravery under fire and the loss, and said a silent prayer in memory of Colonel Kelly’s heroes.

Our only regret is that we ran out of time. We did not cross the street from the Visitor Center and view the National Cemetery, where 3,629 Union soldiers are buried, and where Lincoln, in November 1863, four months after the battle, gave his Gettysburg Address, paying tribute to the soldiers of both sides who had fought and died and redefining the meaning of America.

My wife and I had read The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, and Lincoln at Gettysburg by Garry Wills, had seen Gettysburg starring Jeff Daniels as Medal of Honor winner Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of Maine, the hero of Little Round Top, and had watched The Civil War, Ken Burn’s television documentary.  Each is masterful in its own way.  But the books, the movie and the documentary are no match for the deeply moving experience of actually walking on the battlefield itself.

When you go to Gettysburg, you trod hallowed ground where incredible courage under fire by Union and Confederate troops enshrined them in honor, glory and history. You do much more than make a trip. You make a pilgrimage.

Patrick Clark is spokesman for Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown.

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Sláinte!: Irish Cowgirls and Award-winning Cheesemakers https://irishamerica.com/2010/02/slainte-irish-cowgirls-and-award-winning-cheesemakers/ https://irishamerica.com/2010/02/slainte-irish-cowgirls-and-award-winning-cheesemakers/#respond Mon, 01 Feb 2010 11:52:36 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=7489 Read more..]]> My friend Vickie’s face blossoms with one of those secret smiles when I tell her she’s a cheesy broad. Truth of the matter is, she’s a cheese guru who, given the slightest opportunity, will launch into a lengthy monologue on the subtle differences between cow, goat and sheep cheeses, the chemistry involved in making cheese, and the why and wherefore of which cheese is best at what time of year. Little does Vickie know that I stumbled upon the mystery and magic of cheese when I was but a small girl.

One night in the 1950’s, my parents went to a party and I slept over at my Aunt Matilda’s house. Fully aware that we were breaking Mom’s bedtime rules, Aunt Tilda and I stayed up to watch her favorite late night TV program – The Jack Parr Show. That in itself was memorable, but equally so was the Italian cheese we nibbled all evening. I remember marveling that it was delicious despite the fact that it ‘smelled like the circus menagerie!’

Back then American cheese was boring. Unless you sought out a wedge of aged Parmesan or a wax-covered Provolone ball in an Italian deli, the most exotic cheese you could easily come by was a brown ceramic crock of processed cheddar mixed with port wine. Fast forward a few decades and the cheese world began to spin in a dizzying back-to-the-future revolution. And it was Ireland that led the charge!

At the center of the commotion was a County Cork woman named Veronica Steele. Fed up with factory cheese that she referred to as ‘spotless, sterile, pre-packed portions sweating in plastic,’ the Steeles bought a farm and a one-horned cow named Brisket, and Veronica started experimenting. The result was Ireland’s famous Milleens, a handmade artisan cheese with a mottled peach washed rind, an interior soft paste that goes from semi-firm to spilling cream, and a flavor mix of delicate herbs with a spicy tang. “When Veronica first made this cheese in 1976, it is sure she did not realize that it would be known as the cheese where the story of modern Irish farmhouse cheese making begins.” (Bord Bia)

The real history of Irish cheese making reaches back many centuries earlier. In ancient Ireland, wealth was measured in livestock, especially cattle, and dairy products known as ‘white meat’ played a key role in everyone’s diet. The 7th- and 8th-century Brehon Laws note that in summer and autumn, when the animals produced copious milk for their offspring, the population’s main diet consisted of butter, milk and cheese curds. The 9th-century Life of Saint Patrick states that tithes and taxes were often paid with curds, and the 11th-century tale Aislinge meic Conglinne relates how the Ardagh scholar MacConglinne ‘greedy and hungry for white-meats’ set out to visit the court of the Munster king where he hoped to find adventure plus a wondrous cornucopia of good things to eat.

While cow’s milk was the most common source of ‘white meat,’ the milk of goats and sheep is also mentioned in early records. Goat’s milk, now known to be more easily digested than cow’s milk due to its low lactose content, was rightly, though serendipitously, believed to be the best food for children and invalids. Sheep’s milk was considered a luxury, possibly because sheep produce much less milk than cows.

From these three milks the Irish made many cheeses: tanach, a hard-pressed skim milk cheese; that, a soft cheese made from warm sour milk curds; gruth, a curdy buttermilk cheese; mulchan, a soft buttermilk cheese that was pressed and molded; and milsean, sweet milk curds that were eaten at the end of a banquet or festival feast. A semi-soft cream cheese made from thick sweet cream with a bit of salt and dry mustard was also popular.

Cheese is even mentioned in accounts of Saint Patrick and Saint Brigid, Ireland’s patrons. Patrick is said to have had a cheese maker in his retinue on his missionary travels. Legend tells that Brigid once made enough cheese to feed all the people of Leinster with just a few cups of milk. For that reason she is the patroness of dairy workers.

Just as Ireland’s farmhouse cheese making experienced a renaissance in the 1970’s, so did America’s ten years later with the founding of the American Cheese Society in 1983. Not surprisingly, three Irish-American women were pioneers of the movement.
In 1993, Peggy Smith and Sue Conley, both veterans of California’s whole food revolution, launched Tomales Bay Foods to promote the products of local dairy farms.

Access to the best organic milk in the region and meeting up with master cheese maker Maureen Cunnie led naturally to their next venture: cheese making under the label Cowgirl Creamery, a title that reflects the indefatigable spirit of women in America’s ‘wild west.’ A converted hay barn soon housed the cheese-making facility, plus a market offering artisan cheeses from all parts of the United States, a boutique featuring natural fabric clothing, an organic produce stand, and a deli serving delicious, wholesome foods.

In the intervening years, Cowgirl Creamery cheeses have consistently won devoted fans and highest honors at local and national events. Sue and Peggy’s signature Mt. Tam is a smooth, triple-cream cheese with a buttery earthy flavor reminiscent of white mushrooms. Hearty triple-cream Red Hawk, which is washed with a brine solution that tints the rind a sunset red-orange, won Best-In-Show at the American Cheese Society’s Annual Conference in 2003. And each March Sue and Peggy commemorate the arrival of spring and honor their Irish roots with St. Pat, a round of soft, mellow organic milk cheese wrapped in nettle leaves which give the cheese its distinctive pale green rind.

While Cowgirl Creamery’s cheese is remarkable, Peggy and Sue themselves will tell you that they are but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the panoply of exquisite American farmhouse cheeses that are described in detail on their website: www.cowgirlcreamery.com.

Cheese lovers take note! Artisan small dairy cheeses are a far cry from the pathetic pale plastic-wrapped factory-food products you find in massive supermarkets. Your nose will recognize instantly, as did mine some 50 years ago, that these are cheeses of a different order. Your mouth, however, will assure you that some miracle has transformed plain milk into something touched by the divine! And a fine way to celebrate the Feasts of Saints Patrick and Brigid! Sláinte!


NOTE: My cheese guru pal Vickie practically swooned when I asked for farmhouse cheese recipe ideas. “Using these sublime cheeses as a recipe ingredient,” she countered, “would be like flavoring beef stew with a $100 bottle of wine!”

Rather, Vickie advises that a selection of cheeses and assorted accompaniments could, and more importantly should, be the ‘star’ of the occasion.

Vickie McCorkendale’s Cheese Course
To create a meal centered around your selected artisan farmhouse cheese, consider these options: crusty bread or crackers; nuts – roasted or candied; dried fruit – persimmons or apricots; fresh fruit – crunchy heirloom apples, pears and plump berries; smoked or aged meats; a range of jams, chutneys, honeys, and sweet pickles.

Offer at least four contrasting cheeses:
1) An aged Parmesan-style sharp, pungent cheese that pairs well with honey, especially truffled honey.

2) A creamy triple-cream Brie-style cheese is superb
with the contrasting texture of nuts and the sweetness of berries or jam.

3) The heady cave-aged flavor of a good Blue cheese pairs classically with celery, fennel, walnuts and apples.

4) The basic pungency and purity of a young Goat cheese is delicious with chutneys that offer contrasting sweetness and textures.

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Roots: The Extraordinary Crowleys https://irishamerica.com/2010/02/roots-the-extraordinary-crowleys/ https://irishamerica.com/2010/02/roots-the-extraordinary-crowleys/#comments Mon, 01 Feb 2010 11:51:19 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=7494 Read more..]]> Derived from the Gaelic O’Cruadhlaoich, Crowley has been a common surname in Ireland since the 11th century. Formed from the words cruadh meaning hardy and loach meaning hero, Crowley exists in many variations of the original Gaelic spelling, among them Crowley, Crowly, O’Crowley, Croaley and Croawley. The first to bear this name was Diarmuid an Cruadhlaoch, a MacDermot of Moylurg in Connacht in the mid-1000s. Some two hundred years later, descendants of Cruadhlaoch migrated from Connacht to Munster, in the barony of Easy Carbery, north of the Bandon river. Local Cork folklore tells of a marriage between a Cruadhlaoch and the reigning Coughlans in that region. The marriage would lead to an eventual ousting. Today, the name maintains its stronghold in County Cork, which is home to many a Crowley.

The Crowley clan has left their mark on a number of cultural foundations. Nicholas Joseph Crowley (1819-1857) was an Irish painter. His early career was in portrait painting, his portraits often shown at the Royal Hibernian Academy. Later in life he exhibited a unique talent for stained-glass window design before moving to London where he painted scenes from popular literature of the day.

Crowley brothers from Cork have taken on the world of drama in the last twenty years, leaving their mark on theater and film.  The elder of the two, Bob Crowley (1955-) has been recognized by the international theater world as one of the most prominent set and costume designers and directors. He has been the recipient of five Tony Awards for his design work on Aida, Carousel, The History Boys, Mary Poppins and The Coast of Utopia, not to mention five other nominations for his work. Bob is also a recipient of the prestigious Laurence Olivier Award for Best Set Design. His costume and set design can still be seen on Broadway and in the West End in Mary Poppins. Not to be eclipsed by his older brother, John Crowley (1969-) is an award-winning film and theatre director. He was nominated for a Tony for directing Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman but is perhaps better known for his film directorial debut Intermission starring the Irish heavyweights Colin Farrell, Cillian Murphy and Kelly MacDonald. In 2007, John directed the BAFTA-winning Boy A.
Making strides in broadcast journalism, Candy Alt Crowley (1948-) is a CNN political correspondent. She specializes in U.S. presidential, Senate and gubernatorial elections and has been covering elections for over 20 years.

Congressman Joe Crowley (1962-) is a Democratic politician from New York, currently representing New York’s 7th Congressional District. He was first elected to Congress in 1998 and is the highest-ranking New York member in the leadership of the House Democratic Caucus.
The longest-serving Member of the European Parliament in Europe and wheelchair-bound since age sixteen, Fianna Fail’s Brian Crowley (1964-) from Cork is interested in tackling the presidential position if McAleese decides against a second term.

The world of sport is no stranger to Crowleys. The name appears on the back of countless Gaelic football, soccer and hurling jerseys. Among the athletically gifted of the clan is Ted Crowley (1970-), a native of Concord, Mass-achusetts who played professional hockey for the Hartford Whalers, the Colorado Avalanche and the New York Islanders. Another was William Michael “Bill” Crowley (1857-1891) who was an MLB outfielder for the Philadelphia White Stockings.

Among the more amusing stories that follow the Crowley clan is that of Irene Craigmile Bolam, born Irene Madalaine O’Crowley (1904-1982). In 1970, author Joe Klaas published a since widely discredited book which argued that Irene was in fact Amelia Earhart living in secret. Though a pilot herself, Irene’s primary career was in banking. After a fair share of controversy, Irene was proven not to be the famous pilot and the book was pulled from shelves.
This issue of Irish America features a member of the Crowley clan whose devotion to his family is truly inspiring. When two of John F. Crowley’s young children, Megan and Patrick, were diagnosed with Pompe Disease in 1998, John and his wife Aileen focused their efforts on finding a cure. He became the CEO of a  start-up company, Novazyme, that merged into Genzyme, which developed a treatment for the disease. The Crowley family story inspired the film Extraordinary Measures, starring Brendan Fraser, Harrison Ford and Keri Russell.

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