February March 2011 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 Moments in Irish Life https://irishamerica.com/2011/02/moments-in-irish-life/ https://irishamerica.com/2011/02/moments-in-irish-life/#respond Thu, 17 Feb 2011 01:40:57 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=3619 Read more..]]> A retrospective of the work of the late Bill Doyle, one of Ireland’s great photographers
Bill Doyle, one of Ireland’s most celebrated photographers, was an artist of another time. Doyle, who recently died at 85, was frequently compared to the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, whose “decisive moment” approach to photography he mirrored in his mostly black-and-white shots of day-to-day life in the Irish countryside, on the Aran Islands and in the streets of Dublin. Accordingly, his photographs are spontaneous and natural. Instead of staging multiple takes or altering his images in the darkroom, Doyle found his inspiration in things as they were. He used his lightning-fast reflexes to capture everything from a traditional Aran Island funeral procession to a Dublin boy looking back in delight at a passing girl to an old man taking a deep gulp of a pint. As Cartier-Bresson put it: “In photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject.”

Born in Dublin in 1925, Doyle grew up in the Marino area and lived in the city his whole life. After attending a commercial college on St. Stephens Green, he first worked for a ship chandlers firm and then as an insurance salesman until he began earning money for his photographs. Doyle’s first subjects as a professional were babies at the Rotunda Hospital, where he was paid to take photos of the newborns. His art, however, mostly took him outside, on journeys around Ireland – usually with either a Leica or a Rolliflex camera. An avid traveler, he also visited Spain, Norway, Sweden, France, Italy and Kenya, but his lens remained particularly focused on Ireland.

Doyle’s first breakthrough came in 1967, when he submitted photographs he had taken on a cycling trip through Portugal to the Daily Telegraph Photographer of the Year Award – and won. After that, Doyle spent the rest of his life working as a freelance photographer and went on to publish many bound collections, including Ireland of the Proverb (1995), The Aran Islands, Another World (1999), Images of Dublin, A Time Remembered (2001) and Bill Doyle’s Ireland (2007). His work was exhibited around the world: in the United States, England, Australia and Japan, and, of course, throughout Ireland – most recently in a 2008 retrospective at Dublin’s Gallery of Photography (which, with the permission of Doyle’s daughter Lesley provided us with the images presented here.) A short documentary about Doyle’s life and work, which includes a 2010 interview, will soon be released by the gallery.

Doyle once said, “I feel a certain responsibility to record the timelessness that still exists in this country.” And record it he did, in his shots of what were once quotidian moments in Irish life: fishermen conferring over currach boats, a parish priest solemnly baptizing a group of bundled infants, children driving an improbable horse and cart through the streets of Dublin, and hundreds more. But Doyle’s photographs are not, by any means, timeless. In fact, they are even more important for not being so. They are portals to a life and time that Doyle knew were fading in his day and are fading faster still in ours. They are works of art and they are pieces of history. Doyle, who died on November 24, 2010, is survived by his daughter Lesley and brother John.

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The First Word: Imagine Ireland https://irishamerica.com/2011/02/the-first-word-imagine-ireland/ https://irishamerica.com/2011/02/the-first-word-imagine-ireland/#respond Thu, 17 Feb 2011 01:39:44 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=3624 Read more..]]> “An Irishman’s heart is nothing but his imagination.”
– George Bernard Shaw (John Bull’s Other Island)

Gabriel Byrne says that the line between reality and imagination is very thin. I concur.

Perhaps it’s because my father filled my head with stories of banshees and haunted fields with gates that never stayed shut. Perhaps it’s simply the beauty of the Irish countryside – some of the magic that you can see in Bill Doyle’s photos in this issue. I always feel close to the otherworld when I’m there. As a child my belief in the supernatural grew stronger with every cloud formation. When the sun suddenly burst forth in a gray sky, as it tends to do in Ireland, I thought it was God watching.

From a very early age, I was aware of, and believed in, a parallel universe where the ancients, including members of my own family who had passed on, cavorted.

All Souls Day falls on the day after Halloween, and on that day, or so we were told, the veil between our world and the otherworld is very thin and the faithful departed can return to share a meal with the family. As a child I always hoped that my grandmother would come back for a visit.

In school we learned from books that drew little distinction between fact and myth. The ancient people, the Tuatha de Danann, were so skilled in magic that they established an otherworld kingdom when they were driven underground by the conquering Gaels. The farm over from ours had/has a Fairy Fort that you knew never to set foot in. (I sometimes think that building that highway so close to the Hill of Tara, stirred up some ancient curse that brought down the Irish economy). Add healing wells (and the belief that the seventh son of a  seventh son had the gift of healing), and the magic of the hawthorn tree (we had one in our front field) and you get some idea of the Ireland that I grew up in.

This is the Ireland that I took with me when I emigrated. It’s the Ireland that continues to exist in my imagination.

Like the Tuatha de Danann, those of us who had to leave created our own otherworld, a place that exists somewhere between Ireland and America, and involves living in one place but having a sense of belonging to another. Sometimes, oftentimes, you have to leave a place to really see it. Irish culture, traditions and music became more valuable to me when I no longer held them in my hand. And the appreciation that Irish Americans had for Irish culture made me look at it anew.

I remember being astonished that the manuscript for James Joyce’s Ulysses was housed in a museum in Philadelphia. That Emory University  and Boston College hold the papers of some of Ireland’s greatest writers. Could it be that Irish Americans have more of an appreciation for things Irish than the Irish? Particularly in the boom years there was a sense that Ireland couldn’t wait to “off with the old and on with the new.”

I like to believe that the Ireland of my imagination is still there, I just can’t see it for the make-over. But perhaps it is time to marry the imagination to reality – and take a look at all that modern Ireland has to offer.

A new campaign recently launched in New York could be just the thing. “Imagine Ireland brings to American audiences a wealth of contemporary creators and a calendar of culture which will reshape and reinvigorate notions of Ireland, what it means to be Irish and the potential for Ireland into the future.”

That’s the promise of an  Irish Government-sponsored campaign that will bring 400 Irish shows to 40 states and will include an operatic version of The Importance of Being Earnest featuring the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.

It sounds like a whole lot of fun. And I look forward to attending many events in the coming year. I’m hopeful too, that in addition to updating our notion of what it means to be Irish, the some 1,000 artists participating in the Imagine Ireland campaign will also look at Ireland anew, through the lens of Irish America. Perhaps they will discover some of the treasures of a latter-day Ireland that lie in the repository of our emigrant mind banks and take some of that back home with them. Imagine that.

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Irish Eye on Hollywood: Upcoming Film Releases https://irishamerica.com/2011/02/irish-eye-on-hollywood-upcoming-film-releases-4/ https://irishamerica.com/2011/02/irish-eye-on-hollywood-upcoming-film-releases-4/#respond Thu, 17 Feb 2011 01:38:58 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=3615 Read more..]]> Tom Deignan with the latest Irish happenings in film and television

When the bigwigs of the movie industry gathered in Park City, Utah, at the end of January for the annual Sundance Film Festival, the Irish were well represented.

Brendan Gleeson’s new film The Guard, which also stars Fionnula Flanagan, Don Cheadle and Mark Strong, opened up the festival’s World Dramatic Competition.  The Guard was directed by John Michael McDonagh – brother of acclaimed Irish playwright Martin McDonagh.

The Guard features the always-brilliant Gleeson as a small-town Irish cop known for his bad attitude and dark humor.  His mother is dying, and he may be involved in a drug-smuggling ring, which has attracted the attention of an FBI agent (Cheadle).

Guard producer Ed Guiney recently said: “I’m delighted that Sundance has selected The Guard as the opening film of the world competition this year. It’s the most high profile slot in one of the world’s great festivals and we cannot think of a better way to launch the film.”

Meanwhile, Sundance’s World Cinema Documentary Competition featured Knuckle, an intimate look at the brutal world of bare-knuckle boxing among Irish Travellers.  Travellers, of course, are the nomadic tribe of people who wander through Ireland and other countries and live by their own set of rules.

Director Ian Palmer followed a group of Travellers for over 10 years and focuses on James, a member of a group known as the Quinn McDonaghs. James often finds himself asked to defend his clan against the rival Joyces.

At Sundance, Knuckle was described as follows: “Disturbingly raw, yet compulsively engaging, Knuckle  offers candid access to a rarely seen, brutal world where a cycle of bloody violence seems destined to continue unabated.”

Two Irish shorts, meanwhile, were among the 81 short films featured at Sundance. Small Change, starring Nora Jane Noone (The Magdalene Sisters), is about a bored, young Mom while the animated The External World is about a little boy learning to play the piano.

Liam Neeson will apparently stay as busy in 2011 as he was in 2010.  February 18 is the release date for the Ballymena thespian’s latest action flick Unknown.  Neeson plays a doctor who lapses into a coma only to wake and discover that another man has assumed his identity.  Unknown also stars Diane Krueger (Inglourious Basterds), January Jones (Mad Men), and Frank Langella.

If it works for Liam Neeson, why not Saorsie Ronan?

The wunderkind actress from Carlow – last seen alongside Colin Farrell and Ed Harris in January’s The Way Back — will also appear in an action flick due out next year. Ronan once again teams up with Atonement director Joe Wright for the film Hanna.  Ronan – who earned an Oscar nod for her work in Atonement – is the title character, a teenaged girl raised to be an assassin by her CIA dad (played by Eric Bana).  Hanna also features Cate Blanchett, who portrayed crusading Irish journalist Veronica Guerin in a movie of the same title.

Two upcoming superhero flicks have Irish ties.

First, there’s Thor. The May release, about the hammer-swinging Norse superhero, will star Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman and will be directed by Northern Irish acting and directing veteran Kenneth Branagh.

Branagh, famous for his Shakespearean work, recently said that while Thor is based on a comic book, the Bard himself would appreciate the conflicts in this story. Branagh said he was drawn in by the “human-like qualities of these characters presented in the myths and in the Marvel stories as gods, and the family dynamics between fathers and sons, and sibling rivalry and the competition for parental affection.”

Meanwhile, in July, look for Chris Evans and Samuel L. Jackson to star in Captain America: The First Avenger. The Irish link here is a more surprising one. Though he is the most patriotic and American of all superheroes – red, white and blue right down to his shield and tight costume – the Marvel comics backstory of Captain America is actually a bit more complicated. Believe it or not, according to Marvel, Steve Rodgers – Captain America’s alter ego – was actually born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to Irish immigrant parents on July 4, 1917.

No word yet on whether the film will include these details.

In May, reclusive and acclaimed filmmaker Terrence Malick will release his latest film Tree of Life, starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, as well as Cork-born theater veteran Fiona Shaw.  Shaw will play a grandmother in a family with two troubled parents and three sons.  The film focuses mainly on the youngest boy, whose innocence is shattered as he watches his family struggle with adversity.  This sounds about as cheerful and uplifting as previous bleak films directed by Malick, such as Badlands and The Thin Red Line.

Colin Farrell’s film London Boulevard – based on Irish crime writer Ken Bruen’s novel – was released in the U.K. towards the end of 2010, but there’s no word just yet if an American release is forthcoming.  The talent gathered here could not be more impressive. Aside from Bruen’s source material and the artistically reinvigorated Farrell, you also have Keira Knightly and director William Monahan, who wrote the screenplay for The Departed.

However, reviews of London Boulevard in England and Ireland were tepid. As the Irish Times put it: “There’s a fine film in here somewhere, but it’s buried very deep beneath a great deal of classy mediocrity.”

As for what Colin Farrell will be doing next, he has been linked to remakes of two unlikely hits from the 1980s: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Total Recall, a sci-fi thriller which foresaw the rise of cutthroat reality television (it was based on a Philip K. Dick short story), as well as Fright Night, which will presumably attempt to tap into the current craze for all things vampiric.

On the television front, the FX network must be thrilled at the success of The Fighter, the Mark Wahlberg film about “Irish” Mickey Ward.  Right after The Fighter began wowing audiences and earning talk of Oscar nominations, FX began running a new series about another Irish-American boxer entitled Lights Out.  The series features Holt McCallany as Patrick “Lights” Leary, a washed-up boxer who is thinking about one last shot at the ring.  It’s that or return to work as a debt collector – which he is quite good at because he is so intimidating.  The Leary family struggles to pay its bills and stick together in this show, which is slated to run for 13 episodes.

Over on Showtime, Natasha McElhone – whose parents were from Ireland – stars alongside David Duchovny in Season Four of Californication.  McElhone – best known for big-screen roles in films such as Solaris and The Truman Show – plays the girlfriend of troubled novelist and teacher Hank Moody (Duchovny). Californication’s fourth season premiered in January and will run Sunday nights on Showtime through the spring.

Finally, a gem of a documentary made its premiere on Irish television this past Christmas. Fans of Irish cinema should lobby for a U.S. release.

Ireland’s TV3 channel premiered a new documentary entitled The Irish in Hollywood at the end of 2010.  Spanning more than 100 years, the documentary was narrated by Patrick Bergin, and looks at earlier Irish and Irish American stars such as James Cagney, Maureen O’Hara and Pat O’Brien, before taking us through today’s stars such as Liam Neeson and Pierce Brosnan.

According to director Paul Howard, Gabriel Byrne emerges as a key voice in the film, because of his widespread knowledge of Hollywood history.

“One of the things about Gabriel – and it was one of the most amazing interviews that I have ever done – was that we sat down to interview him about his life and career in Hollywood, but he went way beyond that,” Howard tells us. ” Gabriel was very knowledgeable – knowledgeable to such a degree that he could form very credible opinions on our topics.”

Until the documentary is released on DVD – which we very much hope it will be – you can read the book on which the documentary is based: Steve Brennan’s Emeralds in Tinsletown.

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Launch of Imagine Ireland https://irishamerica.com/2011/02/launch-of-imagine-ireland/ https://irishamerica.com/2011/02/launch-of-imagine-ireland/#respond Thu, 17 Feb 2011 01:37:39 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=3611 Read more..]]> A year of arts and culture in the U.S.

2011 is going to be an exciting year for the Irish arts in America. On January 7th, Culture Ireland announced its expansive project for the coming year, titled Imagine Ireland.  Launched in New York City’s Lincoln Center by Cultural Ambassador and renowned actor Gabriel Byrne, Minister for Art, Sport and Tourism Mary Hanafin, and Culture Ireland CEO Eugene Downes, Imagine Ireland will bring over 1,000 Irish artists and producers to the Unites States, and will encompass more than 400 events across 40 states. The two seasons (Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter) will cover the entire spectrum of the arts, from dance to theater to music to literature and visual art. The founders’ hope is that these performances will breathe fresh life into the strong cultural ties between America and Ireland, create new partnerships, and appeal to a wide range of audiences throughout the country.

The Irish government has invested $5.2 million in this year of arts and culture – what some might consider a risky move in times of economic crisis. Imagine Ireland’s representatives were quick to address this question and confident in their response. New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, one of the speakers at the New York launch, stated:“The arts are particularly important in times of economic downturn. We should not forget about them; rather, we should treat the arts as an economic engine.” Speaker Quinn also commented on the great power of the arts to “fill up not only revenues, but also people’s hearts and souls.”

Minister Hanafin echoed Speaker Quinn’s thoughts, expressing Imagine Ireland’s goal of reaching out to all corners of America’s Irish diaspora – and beyond. “Culture is the means by which most Americans encounter Ireland,” she explained. “It connects with the deep sense of pride and belonging of more than 40 million Irish-Americans and also with the many millions of Americans who love great art. We have invested in Imagine Ireland because the arts and culture are so vital to Ireland’s recovery and it will bring Irish culture to new audiences and generations across America.”

Almost more impressive than the number of artists and events is the geographical scope of Imagine Ireland, which will extend far beyond the major tour destinations of New York and Los Angeles. Chicago, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Boston, and San Francisco are all set to be  hubs of activity, as are many other smaller towns and cities – from Chincoteague Island, VA to Bay City, MI.

“New York is amazing, we love New York,” said Fiach Mac Conghail, Director of Dublin’s  Abbey Theatre,  “but it’s not the entire United States. We think that it’s important for the Abbey to go to other cities that it has a connection with as well.” That’s precisely why the Abbey’s production of Mark O’Rowe’s new play Terminus, like so many of the other shows and events, will travel. In this case,  to Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Durham, Middlebury, and Baltimore. People all throughout the states will now be able to share first-hand in Ireland’s rich cultural past and its rapidly evolving artistic future.

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Anne Sweeney’s Keynote Speech at the Business 100 https://irishamerica.com/2011/02/anne-sweeneys-keynote-speech-at-the-business-100/ https://irishamerica.com/2011/02/anne-sweeneys-keynote-speech-at-the-business-100/#respond Thu, 17 Feb 2011 01:36:14 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=3605 Read more..]]> Anne Sweeney, president of the Disney-ABC Television Group, gave a heartfelt keynote Address at Irish America’s Business 100 luncheon on November 30. Here it is in its entirety.

I want to thank Irish America magazine for including me in this very impressive group of 100. We represent a broad spectrum of business and industry in this room and the one thing that I know we all have in common is our wonderful Irish heritage.

When I was here twelve years ago I had the great privilege of addressing this group, and Don Keough was a part of the program that day. And I recall that he introduced me with enormous grace and kindness so it’s especially gratifying for me to be here today as he is inducted into the Hall of Fame. Congratulations Don on this incredible honor.

I did jump at the chance when Patricia invited me back because the first time I was here meant so much to me. In 1998 my husband and I had recently moved with our family from New York to Los Angeles and we were still making the adjustment and trying to get used to the distance away from our family and everyone we held dear in the world who happened to be on the east coast. I’ve come to realize that feeling of home and that sense of belonging, being welcomed with open arms, just has to be Irish. No matter how far you’ve traveled or how long you’ve been away, it sticks. And I think it starts when you’re born. You’re welcomed into the world with a wonderful embrace from everyone who came before you, everyone who will be a part of you, and they want you to know that you are loved and you’re something special.

In my home I have proof. I have a letter that’s framed and mounted on my wall that my grandparents wrote to my parents on the day that I was born. It’s a tough one to read so I’ll cut to the chase on the part that I think resonates the most for all of us in this room. They wrote: “I’ll bet you’re very happy with your new charge. It will be very interesting for you to live out your lives giving everything for the comfort and advancement of your family, and most of the pleasure will come when you have to deprive yourselves of some comforts to afford their desires.” The spirit and the promise of that letter have prevailed throughout my life because everyone in my family is referred to as “our.” “Our Anne.” “Our Donald.” “Our Rosemary.” I grew up thinking that “our” was one of our family names that just got passed along and was applied to everyone named Sweeney. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized it was a possessive, it was a claim on each of us so we knew we were part of the family – connected and inseparable from one other. And it wasn’t until much later that I truly understood the power of that claim: that whenever any of us are together, wherever that happens to be, we’re home.

My husband and I are both from Irish families and we now live a good 3,000 miles away from our parents and a long way from our siblings and other relatives. Our children are grown now too. Our son Christopher is living on his own and our daughter Rosemary is thousands of miles away at college.  But when we get together in any combination, to celebrate any occasion – and the Irish celebrate every occasion extremely well – we’re home, in a way that’s hard to describe to anyone not blessed by that Irish tradition.

My husband’s grandmother was from Dingle, which means two very important things. First, he claimed his Irish citizenship, which he proudly did just a few weeks before I spoke at the Irish America event in 1998, and I remember bragging a little bit about that in my speech that year. He officially became an Irishman and Bill and I took the children to Dingle to see where his grandmother was from. Well my husband’s grandmother was the eldest of nineteen children – nineteen – one of whom was actually born after his grand mother moved to the United States, so she didn’t get to meet her youngest sibling until she was in her 70s. Now, it was an extremely large family then and it’s even larger now, a couple of generations later. But the first day in town we were standing in a restaurant and just happened to run into two of his aunts and four of his cousins who were visiting from the US. And when I asked them if they knew how we could get in touch with any of the cousins in Dingle they have me this blank look and they told me to just go out and stand on the sidewalk. And by the way, if you happen to be a Fitzgerald or a McLoughlin from Dingle, you are welcome to our house for dinner any time.

A few years later I had the honor of traveling to Ireland with the Special Olympics – I’ve been on the board of the Special Olympics now for ten years. Instead of being in hotels, our special olympians stayed with Irish families and were welcomed like family. As a board member, I was invited to walk into the stadium with the American delegation of special athletes during the opening ceremonies. I remember being thrilled by all this pageantry – by the roar of the crowd, by the expressions on the faces of our athletes as they took it all in and they realized it was for them. As the host country, the Irish team was the last to enter the stadium, The crowd’s response was deafening. I didn’t know that any single space, even one the size of a stadium, could hold that much joy. It was homecoming between thousands of Irish hearts and it was truly magical.

No that long ago, Disneyland celebrated its 50th anniversary, also with great fanfare, and we were all invited to the celebration down in Aneheim. When we entered, we walked down a gold carpet and the path was lined on both sides by the cast members that work at the park. Instead of their traditional greeting (I’m sure those of you who have been to Walt Disneyworld or Disneyland have heard it: “have a magical day”), which they’ve been using this greeting for half a century now, they greeted each of us by saying “welcome home.” I loved it. Because for that moment, at least, everyone got to feel a little Irish – being welcomed home as part of something special.

My father’s family, the Sweeneys, are from a village in Co. Mayo.  My mother’s family, the O’Connells from Co. Kerry, and her father’s family, the Tormays, emigrated from a thatched cottage in Kells, Co. Meath. My widowed great-great-grandmother put three of her nine children on a boat to America to live with relatives in Pennsylvania. My great-grandfather, Hugh Tormay, was just thirteen when he made that trip, leading his six year-old brother and his four year-old sister into the unknown. When I thought about how much courage it took for those kids and the incredible sacrifice their mother made to give them an opportunity for a better life, I realized it wasn’t unique to our family. It was just one of the countless stories of Irish immigration to the new world. Hugh Tormay and his siblings were just three of more than one million people who left Ireland during the mid-nineteenth century. And Ireland’s economic downturns in the 30s and the 50s and the 80s sent more people far from home.

According an economics professor from Trinity College in Dublin, immigrating is a cultural norm, even if it’s not a preference. The Irish know how to do it: they build networks and they take care of each other. In light of Ireland’s economic crisis, another generation is beginning to scatter across the globe. And recently, I’m sure you saw, the New York Times discussed this recent wave of Irish immigration, 65,000 people left the country last year and they estimate that another 125,000 may follow them this year. I’m sure they’re going to come back. The article also highlighted how Irish parents are drawing strength and support from each other, as their children start new lives elsewhere out of economic desperation. Unlike my great-great-grandmother, kissing her children goodbye and wondering if she’d ever see them again, I’m hopeful that this time technology will step in – phones, e-mail, facebook and skype – and enable families to stay in closer contact and give us a new way to communicate the great cultural of Ireland as their children embark on new journeys.

But it’s hard. It’s hard enough to send your kids out into the world toward their passions and ambitions. Watching them go even though they don’t want to, but because they have no other choice, has to be devastating for everyone involved. But I have to wonder if this constant history of so many hearts and homes broken in half by immigration only deepens our devotion to the Irish family and makes it so important – and easy – for us to come home whenever and wherever we come together.

However it came to be, that sense of home and belonging, I believe, is inherent in being Irish. For me it’s in the stories that have been passed down through the years and it’s one of the many things I gave thanks for last Thursday [on Thanksgiving]. And I thank you, for inviting me to come home to the Irish America Business 100. It’s an honor to be included and it’s a true privilege to be with you today.

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A Year on Croagh Patrick https://irishamerica.com/2011/02/a-year-on-croagh-patrick/ https://irishamerica.com/2011/02/a-year-on-croagh-patrick/#respond Thu, 17 Feb 2011 01:35:34 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=3602 Read more..]]> Matt Loughrey, the man behind Croagh Patrick 365

Matt Loughrey had just finished his 218th consecutive climb of Croagh Patrick, the third-highest mountain in County Mayo, when I spoke to him on a recent Saturday evening. “It’s cold up there now,” he said. “We’ve been getting temperatures of -17˚c,  -18˚c up on the top. We’re climbing in ice and snow at the moment, it’s a different animal altogether.” But Matt wasn’t complaining. Shortly after, he recounted that two peregrine falcons had nested on top of the mountain. “Every now and then you get one of them flying over your head, you’re that close to nature up there,” he explained, with palpable awe in his voice.

But the 32-year-old Loughrey isn’t just your average climbing enthusiast: he’s also a talented photographer, a father of two, and the man behind the ambitious and inspiring Croagh Patrick 365, a charitable project founded last summer. Since June 5, 2010, Loughrey has ascended the mountain each day, no matter how grueling the conditions, and has pledged to continue to do so through June 4, 2011, at which point he will have completed 365 days of climbing and hopes to have raised €100,000. All proceeds go to Ireland’s St. Vincent de Paul charity, for the benefit of poverty-stricken and homeless families in the West of Ireland.

It seems that Loughrey has always had a connection with the mountain. He grew up in a small village called Murrisk, which sits at the base of Croagh Patrick. Starting in 2005, he spent some time leading tour groups up the mountain, and became increasingly familiar with its terrain.  Then, last year, he decided to use his passion and expertise to help others: “It came to me around the end of May,” he recalled. “I was thinking about the way the world has changed financially, economically, and I figured there had to be something I could do about it, starting first with people in my area. I enjoy the outdoors and I love climbing mountains, so I thought ‘why not do something useful with it and make some money for charity?’”

Since then, he’s been consistently scaling the mountain and documenting each day’s climb with a photograph. Photography,  it seems, is Matt’s other passion: he’s been documenting his travels since he was a teenager. “I write about it,” he acknowledged, “but a picture says 1,000 words, does it not? I try to keep a visual diary for people.”

Once the year of ascents is over, Matt hopes to produce a book  in collaboration with some of his fellow climbers, friends and supporters.  For now, his supporters can buy his photographs from the Croagh Patrick 365 website or see them on the project’s Facebook page.

Loughrey actually credits the social network for contributing significantly to his success: “The public response has been fantastic,” he remarked. “At the start I was trying to promote this event by myself, trying to make it grow, so for the first three months it was very difficult. But Facebook has been absolutely tremendous. It’s a free tool, it’s great for spreading the news about an event. I mean, today there were 22,500 post views on the [Croagh Patrick] 365 page. It’s just amazing; the awareness is really getting out there now.

When asked why he chose Croagh Patrick, Loughrey points to its roots as a place of pilgrimage, as a place where people come together.  “It’s such a positive place,” he reflected. “It’s a place of pilgrimage. I’m not a particularly religious person – I’m a spiritual person, but what’s wonderful about Croagh Patrick is that everyone climbs it for different reasons – for religious reasons, for spiritual reasons, for challenge, for scenery – they’re all great reasons to climb and I’m really enjoying being caught up in all that and meeting people and hearing about why they climb it. You’d be surprised who you get talking to up there. Everyone has a story.”

There’s no doubt that Loughrey’s is one of the most remarkable.

For more information, visit www.croaghpatrick365.com

 

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Mary Higgins Clark on Leading the St. Patrick’s Day Parade https://irishamerica.com/2011/02/mary-higgins-clark-on-leading-the-st-patricks-day-parade/ https://irishamerica.com/2011/02/mary-higgins-clark-on-leading-the-st-patricks-day-parade/#respond Thu, 17 Feb 2011 01:34:03 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=3598 Read more..]]> “My father came here with five pounds in his pocket”

“On St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2011, as the parade goes up Fifth Avenue I will be thinking of the father who came over with five pounds in his pocket and who died when I was only eleven, the mother who encouraged my dreams of being a writer by treating every word I wrote as though it was scripted by the angels, the brothers I loved so dearly and lost so young, the Irish ancestors I never knew who sent their children to seek a better life knowing they might never see them again. They’ll all march with me.”

That is how Mary Higgins Clark, the 2011 Grand Marshal of the New York City parade, the largest in the world, wants to think about this upcoming St.Patrick’s Day as she heads the grandest  parade in the world.

On the morning that we meet, at her apartment overlooking Central Park, Mary Higgins Clark had just returned from a television appearance on Fox where she took questions about her new book out in April called I’ll Walk Alone, a thriller based on identity theft.

“I often use song titles, or a line from a song, as my book titles,” she tells me. “And I loved ‘I’ll Walk Alone’ when I was a young teenager during the war. [The war] started when I was thirteen, I never hide my age, it’s useless and unnecessary. But those four years, from the time when I was thirteen to when I was seventeen, that was one of the favorite songs. ‘I’ll walk alone/ because to tell you the truth/ I’ll be lonely/ I don’t mind being lonely/ When my heart tells me/ you are lonely too/ I’ll walk alone . . .’”

On March 17, Mary will certainly not walk alone. As Grand Marshal she will lead the St. Patrick’s Day Parade up Fifth Avenue on the occasion of the parade’s 250th anniversary. In fact, Mary will not walk, she will ride in style, in a horse and carriage.

This is the first time in the history of the parade that the Grand Marshal will not walk the entire length of the parade route, some 40 blocks. Mary, who though she is in fine fettle at 83, told the parade committee that she just couldn’t walk that far. “Look at my ankle,” she says showing me her swollen ankle joint. “I broke it 50 years ago ice skating with the kids and it never healed properly. Twenty years ago I had a triple bone fusion by the doctor who invented the process, only he hadn’t read his own book. It was a horrible job so I went for five years, then I had it done again.”

The committee offered her a golf cart (automobiles are not allowed in the parade) but she suggested another alternative that she thought would be a tad more glamorous. “I said, why don’t you get a horse and carriage? I thought it was appropriate with the 250th anniversary, and they liked the idea.”

The St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City has often come under fire from gay activists who want to march under their own banner. As far as Mary is concerned, and she is not without her gay friends, the parade is about Irish pride, not gay pride.

“Catholicism is very much a basis for the way I live and think. [But when it comes to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade] I am not marching as a heterosexual. I don’t see any reason [for people to march] specifically under a gay banner. I don’t think it’s necessary. It [the controversy] takes away what the parade is about, which is a celebration of the Irish – their culture, their achievements, and their struggles. That’s what the parade is about: Irish pride.”

Those who are close to her know that Mary’s Irish pride is never far from her heart. On television that morning she told the host Greg Kelly, co-host of Fox and Friends, and the son of last year’s Grand Marshal NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, that while others could judge whether she is a writer or not, she was proud to call herself “an Irish storyteller.”

And as a storyteller, Mary Higgins Clark has found great success. She is the best-selling author of more than 40 books – sales in the U.S. alone number over 80 million copies. (Her books are also bestsellers in France.) Ten years ago, in 2000, her $64 million record-breaking five-book deal with Simon and Schuster made publishing history.

Mary remembers her first million-dollar deal. “It was 1978.  And my agent called right as I was leaving work to go to Fordham [University] and she said, ‘Mary, are you sitting down?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Simon and Schuster is offering you $500,000 for the hardback and will offer a million for the paperback. Think about it.’ I said, ‘Think about it? Are you crazy? Say yes!’”

Back then Mary was writing radio shows that enabled her to take care of her five young children when her husband died, and putting herself through college at night. Three years earlier she had received $3,000 from Simon and Schuster for Where Are the Children? when other publishers had turned it down. And now, the same publisher was offering her a million dollars for her second suspense novel, A Stranger is Watching.

Despite the fact that she was about to become a millionaire, Mary continued on to school that night (graduating summa cum laude in 1979, with a B.A. in philosophy.) “I had three classes that night and all I did was write ‘a million dollars’ in roman numerals across the page. Later, as I got in my car to go home  — it was 11 o’clock and I had 146,000 miles on the car — the muffler fell off. I tried to tie the damn thing up with the belt of my jacket. And of course it fell off again just as I was getting on the West Side Highway, so for 21 miles I hear ‘cerplunk, cerplunk’ the whole way home while other drivers beeped at me and waved at me. Did they think I was too stupid or that I didn’t hear the racket? The next morning I bought a Cadillac.”

Mary’s advice to young writers is not to give up. “There are people who have a talent for writing, and people who have a need to write. And when you have a need to write you won’t give up.”

Not giving up is something she has applied to life, not just to her writing. She has had more than her share of knocks. Her father, an immigrant from Roscommon, who owned a popular bar in the Bronx, died when she was 11. Her oldest brother enlisted during WWII and died shortly after shipping out. Her first husband, Warren Clark, whom she’d known since she was a child, suffered a heart attack and died in his 40s leaving her with five young children.

“You have to keep going,” she says, “especially when you have children.”  She cites the example of her mother who after her husband died, turned the family home into a boardinghouse. (Mary writes eloquently about all of this in a heartwarming memoir called Kitchen Privileges.)

It was her mother, a first-generation American with Irish parents who encouraged Mary to write. “Oh, I wrote my first poem when I was six. And of course it was terrible. I still have it on a yellowing sheet of paper. She thought everything I wrote was wonderful. And she’d make me recite it for the relatives when they came. I wrote skits and I’d have my brothers perform. And I wrote plays for the neighborhood kids. I was always writing.”

After high school Mary took a secretarial course and found a job in advertising. Her descriptions of this time could have won an Emmy for the TV series Mad Men, but despite the tough working environment, it proved a good start. Or perhaps Mary was becoming adept at turning lemons into lemonade.

“It was a blessing as it turned out. Because I worked as a secretary at eighteen to the creative director of the agency. So I was in all the meetings taking notes about why this campaign worked, why this caption worked, why the inside front cover of Life was the best buy, so I had a three-year tutorial in advertising. Served me very well when I went to work at the radio show.”

In between the advertising firm and the radio show, Mary worked as a Pan-Am airline stewardess for a year. She retired when she married, but when her husband died in 1964, she worked for many years writing four-minute radio scripts.

When she’d married Warren, she started writing short stories, and she continued to write every chance she could get after he passed away, which often meant getting up at five o’clock in the morning and writing for an hour or so before getting the children off to school.

“As soon as Warren and I came back from the honeymoon, I said I’m going to be a professional writer and I started taking a writing course at NYU. And my professor taught me everything I needed to know about writing. After two weeks he said, I want all of you in with a short story next week. And I looked at him and he said ‘Mary, you’ve been a Pan-American hostess. Take the most dramatic incident that occurred when you were a flight hostess, ask yourself two questions: Suppose? And what if? And turn it into fiction. And since then I still do suppose and what if. And I still do why.

Because there’s going to be a guilty party, a murderer or somebody who’s committed a major crime. Well who’s the why? Four people might’ve done it. One was psychotic enough, angry enough, vengeful enough to go over the line and commit that crime, take that life. So of the four who might have done it, only one would have done it. So I’ve been doing that ever since.”

Stowaway, the short story she wrote about a stewardess who finds a stowaway from Czechoslovakia, received 40 rejection slips. “It went out 40 times before it sold six years later,” she recalls.

She also remembers that at one time she  had 11 short stories in the mail and received 11 rejection slips. In one of them the editor from Redbook had written “Ms. Clark, your stories are light, slight and trite.”

“I thought, I’ll get you, baby. I will get you. Later on when Redbook requested a story I said to my agent, ‘Make them pay.’”

These days Mary is counting her blessings, and rejection slips are long a thing of the past. On St. Patrick’s Day, 1996, her daughter Patty introduced her to John J. Conheeney, the retired CEO of Merrill Lynch Futures, who was a widower. They married the following Thanksgiving.

“I was blessed in my marriage to Warren Clark at the beginning of my adult years and now I am blessed in my marriage to John Conheeney in my golden years.  Having a prince in the beginning and a prince at the end is pretty wonderful,” she says.

Family is everything to her.  “ I have five children and six grandchildren. John has four children and eleven grandchildren.  We see the children and grandchildren all the time. Most of them live within a few miles, none more than forty-five minutes away. But on the big holidays, we’re all collected in our home in Saddle River, New Jersey, along with nieces and nephews. We doubled the size of the kitchen/family room so we can set tables for forty with room to spare.”

And this St. Patrick’s Day, she will especially be thinking of her parents and what her Irish heritage means to her. In a freshly updated epilogue to Kitchen Privileges, she writes: “I cannot close without saying how much my Catholic faith has been the raison d’etre of my existence, the core of all that I am. I have tried to live its precepts fully and to always remember that much is expected of those to whom much has been given. HAPPY ST.  PATRICK’S DAY to one and all.”

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Irish Micky Ward: The Fighter Speaks Out https://irishamerica.com/2011/02/irish-micky-ward-the-fighter-speaks-out/ https://irishamerica.com/2011/02/irish-micky-ward-the-fighter-speaks-out/#respond Thu, 17 Feb 2011 01:33:22 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=3592 Read more..]]> The real-life boxer behind the Oscar-nominated movie

Eight years ago, Irish America magazine honored boxer Micky Ward as one of “The Irish 100.” Ward received his tribute at the annual Irish America awards banquet at the Plaza Hotel in New York.

“I don’t know why I’m being honored,” Micky said that night. Then he turned toward fellow honoree, Robert Morris, leader of the New York City Fire Department’s “Rescue One” unit. “I go in the ring two, maybe three, times a year, and it’s for myself. Guys like Captain Morris are the real heroes.  They put their life on the line every day to keep the rest of us safe.”

That’s Micky Ward. Unpretentious, soft-spoken, a bit shy, more of a listener than a talker. Now, seven years after the end of his ring career, he has been catapulted into the spotlight with the release of the feature film, ‘The Fighter’

The Fighter stars Mark Wahlberg as Ward and centers on the relationship between Micky and his half-brother, Dickie Eklund. Sterling performances by Christian Bale (as Eklund), Amy Adams (as Micky’s girlfriend, Charlene), and Melissa Leo (as Alice Ward, the conniving matriarch of the dysfunctional Ward clan) give it extra impact. Dickie’s addiction to crack and the havoc it wreaks on those around him is a key plot element. As this issue of Irish America goes to press, the film and its actors have been nominated for numerous high-profile awards.

Ward was born in Lowell, Massachusetts on October 4, 1965. He turned pro at age nineteen and won his first fourteen fights before dropping a split decision to Edwin Curet. He rebounded with four wins; then went through a stretch that saw him lose six of nine bouts leading to a 32-month hiatus from boxing. He returned to the ring in 1994 and won nine straight to land a world title fight against Vince Phillips.

Micky was stopped on cuts by Phillips (the only “KO by” of Ward’s career). He retired from boxing in 2003 with a 38-and-13 record and 27 knockouts to his credit.

The key to Ward’s legacy as a fighter lies in his last three fights; a brutal trilogy against Arturo Gatti. The first of these encounters is widely regarded as one of the most dramatic slugfests of all time. Micky won.

“It was a tough fight,” Ward said afterward. “Two guys with a lot of heart; two guys with the will to win. I was very drained, as tired as I’ve ever been. The night after the fight, I sat down and watched the tape. That’s when I knew it was something special. That’s also when I said to myself, ‘These two guys are nuts.’”

Ward versus Gatti captured the imagination of fight fans across the nation. For their rematch, each man was paid the remarkable sum of $1,200,000. That led Micky to note, “If someone had told me ten years ago when I lost all those fights and retired from boxing that someday I’d make a million bucks from one fight, I’d have thought they were crazy.”

Gatti prevailed in their second encounter and also the third. “Micky is a great guy,” he said when the fighting was done. “I can’t say anything bad about him. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t find anything bad to say.”

Ward responded in kind, offering, “It’s not about who’s tougher. We’re both tough guys. It’s about respect. In the ring, we tried to kill each other. But I have a lot of respect for Arturo. I like him; he’s a nice person. I’d never say anything bad about him and I think that he feels the same way about me. I wanted to beat him more than anything in the world. But outside the ring, he’s a beautiful guy.”

Gatti died in Brazil in 2009. Initially, the authorities ruled that he’d passed out or been knocked unconscious after a night of hard drinking and been strangled to death. His wife (an exotic dancer named Amanda Rodrigues) was charged with first-degree murder. Then investigators did a suspicious about-face, claiming that Arturo had committed suicide by hanging himself with the strap from his wife’s purse.

“Arturo’s death really shook me up,” Micky says. “It was a terrible tragedy. I wasn’t there, so I can’t tell you what happened. But it’s hard for me to believe that he killed himself.”

That brings us to ‘The Fighter’, the Hollywood version of Ward’s life. Purists don’t like the movie. Its factual distortions and other departures from reality bother them.

George Kimball, longtime boxing writer for the Boston Herald, covered Ward from his days as an amateur through Micky’s final professional fight.

“I have problems with the movie,” Kimball says. “It depicts Micky’s family in a way that’s bound to humiliate them. I can live with that because some of them were pretty bad. But the boxing career that’s shown in the film isn’t Micky’s and that bothers me. Chronologically, the storyline is way off. There are fights in the film that bear no relationship to what actually happened. And the make-believe world championship fight at the end is ridiculous. Micky never won a world title. When he beat Shea Neary in London (the climactic scene in ‘The Fighter’), it was for a belt given out by a silly alphabet-soup organization called the World Boxing Union. That belt meant so little to Micky that he gave it up rather than defend it. The great thing about Micky Ward is that he’s appreciated and respected by people who know boxing even though he never won a world title. Why construct a nonsense storyline and pretend that fiction is history?”

The best way to enjoy ‘The Fighter’ is to forget about the details of Micky’s life, treat it like fiction, and enjoy the show.
That might be hard for some members of Ward’s family to do. As Kimball notes, “Micky’s mother is presented as such a selfish venal matriarch, she could be Fagin in drag. Alice presides over a flock of daughters; big-haired, gum-chewing, chain-smoking, foul-mouthed, small-town bimbos. This gaggle of slovenly crones serves the approximate function of the witches in Macbeth.”

“Some of the people in my family don’t like the movie,” Micky acknowledges. “I understand how they feel. But I like it; I think it’s great. The one thing I’m sorry about is that they ended the movie before my three fights with Arturo. They wanted the film to focus on me and Dickie and Dickie’s problems with drugs. But Arturo was such a great guy. We shared so much. He had his issues; he lived like he fought. But he deserved to be in the movie.”

Dickie Eklund has had problems with drugs and the law in the years since the happy ending portrayed in ‘The Fighter.’

Micky has enjoyed smoother sailing and is content with his life today.  He and Charlene were married in 2005. He has one child, a 21-year-old daughter named Kasie, from a previous relationship, and is a member of Teamsters Union, Local 25, in Boston.

“I shuttle people around to movie sets when there’s work in town,” he explains. “When I’m not doing that, I’m busy with other things.”

Those other things include part ownership of an outdoor hockey rink in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, and teaching youngsters to box on the second floor of a nearby Gold’s Gym.

“I loved boxing,” Ward says, looking back on his years in the ring. “The one-on-one, the competition. Being a fighter is about sacrificing your body and doing everything you can within the rules to win. I gave boxing everything that was in me. I never cut corners in training or in a fight. I started my career at 140 pounds and I finished my career at 140 pounds, which tells you how hard I worked to stay in shape. I still follow boxing.

John Duddy [the Derry middleweight now living in New York] is one of my favorite fighters. I’ve met him a few times; he’s a great guy. He gives it his all and never complains. He fights like me, which is one of the reasons I like watching him. But the fighting part of my life is over now. I’m 45 years old. To be honest with you, I don’t miss it.”

It has been suggested that The Fighter will boost Ward’s profile the same way that “Raging Bull” elevated Jake LaMotta to iconic status. In truth, that’s unlikely to happen. LaMotta was a hall-of-fame fighter. Micky was a courageous warrior, but his skills weren’t at that level.

And just as significantly, Ward shuns the limelight. “Some people like a lot of attention,” he says. “I don’t. I’m happy being in the background, so the movie won’t change my life. I’m just a regular guy, the same old me. Don’t worry; I won’t go Hollywood on you.”

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Young Irish Writers Part 1: Kevin Barry https://irishamerica.com/2011/02/young-irish-writers-part-1-kevin-barry/ https://irishamerica.com/2011/02/young-irish-writers-part-1-kevin-barry/#respond Thu, 17 Feb 2011 01:32:42 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=3588 Read more..]]> Three emerging Irish writers offer insight into their lives, their work, and what it’s like to be a writer in Ireland right now.

Limerick native Kevin Barry got his start as a journalist for a local paper. He went on to do freelance work, columns and sketches for Glasgow’s Sunday Herald, The Irish Examiner, The Irish Times and The Guardian. After leaving journalism to write fiction, Barry published his first collection of short stories, There Are Little Kingdoms, which won the 2007 Rooney Prize for Literature. He now lives in Co. Sligo and is finishing a novel, City of Bohane. His short story, “The Fjord of Killary,” was recently published in The New Yorker.

Sheila Langan: How did you come to write There Are Little Kingdoms?
Kevin Barry: I was writing fiction in my 20s but in a pretty undisciplined way – late at night, maybe, after I’d peeled myself from the walls of a nightclub and crawled home along the gutters. But I slowly became more serious and more devout in my work, and I fell seriously in love with the short story form. Eventually, the stories I was working on began to seem less random and seemed to resonate with each other, thematically, so a collection looked possible. Fortunately, a publisher in Dublin felt the same.

SL: You originally wrote for newspapers – how did you make the transition from journalism to fiction? Is there anything that carried over?
KB: I greatly enjoyed working as a freelance journalist, because it gets you out of the house, and it gets you talking to people, but it wasn’t satisfying all of my cravings, and I knew that I needed to work with the other side of my brain – the darker, murkier side! I think journalism is useful training for a writer in the way it takes the preciousness out of the pragmatic side of the craft. You realize you don’t have to sit around waiting for inspiration and that you can always work if you just put your mind to it (and stay out of reach of the Internet!) In my very early days as a journalist, as a cub reporter on a local newspaper, I used to cover the district courthouse in Limerick city – all human life passed through that establishment, and my time there remains a source of inspiration.

SL: During the conversation following the reading at NYU’s Glucksman Ireland House, you mentioned that some writers work mainly from images, while others work more with sounds, with what they hear, and that you fall into the latter category. Not to sound like a therapist, but what do you hear?
KB: Voices! I hear voices! A story comes to me, most often, from a scrap of talk, from something overheard or just caught on the fly. It’ll be just a line or two, something that on the surface might seem meaningless, but it’ll buzz about in my head for a few days, like a trapped wasp, and if it doesn’t go away, I know that I have to write it away. This is usually how a story is triggered for me.

SL: Your stories are mostly set in the country and in smaller towns and villages (both named and unnamed). How do the many accents in Ireland play a role in how you shape your characters and dialogue?
KB: Lots of my stories are set in smaller places, though I grew up in a city. As the stories in There Are Little Kingdoms started to come together, I was living in the UK, and my experience of Ireland at that time was coming back in the summer and going for bicycle trips in the west, passing through all of these one-horse and three-pub little towns, and  I think it was the sheer bleakness of them that appealed to me! I am always struck, in particular, by the sense of entrapment you can see among younger people in such places – there are stories there. Accents are critical for me. I work from the ear, and when the accent changes – as it does every second mile in Ireland – the meaning changes, the humor changes, the soul changes.

SL: What writers made you want to write? How have they influenced you?
KB: The novelist Saul Bellow, for the way he could combine street lowlife and a high-flown literary style and language. The story writer V.S. Pritchett, for his talent in capturing and manipulating so many disparate human voices. The all-round genius Flann O’Brien, for his demented comic vision. I think the trick, for younger writers, is to read as widely and as passionately as possible – the more you read, the more likely your influences will tangle up and fuse into something unique.

SL: What is it like to be a writer in Ireland right now, particularly in light of the economic crisis?  
KB: Writers are generally immune to the vagaries of boom-and-bust economics. We never have booms, so busts are the norm. There is little money in writing, and what little there is shrinks with every passing year. But you don’t do it for the money, you do it so that you can breathe. The greatest literary advice ever was this succinct statement from Annie Dillard: keep your overheads low!

SL: Are you going to stay in Ireland?
KB: Yes, but with frequent jailbreaks. I tend to make a headlong dash for brighter climes in the winter, usually to Spain. The simple motion of traveling is good for the work, I find. The physical sensation of movement causes the brain to keep on whirring. Ireland is a little bleak at the moment but on a quiet morning in County Sligo, when I’m cycling my bike around the lake, and the rain looks like it might hold off for a good five or six minutes, it can still seem very heaven.

SL: Can you tell our readers about City of Bohane?
KB: Bohane is an imagined city on the western seaboard of Ireland, and the novel is a look at how things are out there in the middle of the 21st century. It’s about gang fights, and old love affairs, and city politics, and fashion, and lots else besides, but mostly it’s about the language – it’s a projection of what the language might be like in a small tormented Irish city in the 2050s. All similarities to actual Irish cities are entirely intentional. The novel will be published in the U.S. next September.

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Young Irish Writers Part 2: Claire Kilroy https://irishamerica.com/2011/02/young-irish-writers-part-2-claire-kilroy/ https://irishamerica.com/2011/02/young-irish-writers-part-2-claire-kilroy/#comments Thu, 17 Feb 2011 01:31:59 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=3583 Read more..]]> Three emerging Irish writers offer insight into their lives, their work, and what it’s like to be a writer in Ireland right now.

Born in Dublin in 1973, Claire Kilroy is the author of three novels: All Summer, which won the 2004 Rooney Prize for Literature, Tenderwire, and All Names Have Been Changed. Kilroy studied English at Trinity College Dublin, where she also  earned her Master’s degree in creative writing. She lives in Dublin. All Names Have Been Changed chronicles the year of a creative writing class at Trinity College in 1980s Dublin. The story is narrated by  Declan, the only man in the group – aside from its leader, Glynn, one of Ireland’s greatest writers. The students all idolize Glynn but as the year progresses, the pedestal they’ve placed him on shrinks nearer and nearer to the ground.

SL: How did you come to write All Names Have Been Changed?  
Claire Kilroy: I began it in 2006. John Updike had just published Terrorist to mixed reviews, and I wondered what it must be like to have been the foremost voice of your generation, the most celebrated and lauded writer of your time, and to then have that status questioned, to be yesterday’s man.  This fused with the image of a poet on the cobbles of Front Square in Trinity, wandering around in no particular direction – he was lost.  I saw the poet from above. Someone was watching him from an upstairs window.  That someone was Declan, the narrator of All Names, who wants to be a writer himself, and the lost poet was Glynn, who ended up being a great Irish novelist, but one who hasn’t published new work in years.  To dramatize the endeavor of writing, which is a silent solitary occupation, I made Glynn the head of a writing class in Trinity.  That’s when all the girls appeared, the beautiful, clever, mysterious girls.

SL: You attended Trinity College Dublin, where your novel is set, though you were there  a decade after your characters. Why didn’t you set the novel during that period?
CK: I set the novel in the eighties because I couldn’t write about contemporary Dublin at the time.  I was unable to understand what was going on.  It made no sense to me. All Names was begun when the Celtic Tiger was going at full throttle. There was no suspicion that it would come to an end, and that mindset changed people. It changed the way they thought, changed their values, their aspirations, their expectations, their plans.  If you weren’t part of it – and as an unsalaried novelist, I wasn’t – it was like being trapped on the set of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. People you thought you knew were suddenly different.

When the recession first kicked in in 2008, I initially felt relieved.  It proved that I hadn’t been deluded, that the property market was a pyramid scheme, that these vast sums of money everyone was talking about, these massive personal fortunes, were notional.  The boom had been a period of hysterical thinking.  Of course, the recession has since deteriorated into a full- scale economic crisis and I am deeply saddened by that, by all we’ve lost, by all the opportunities we’ve missed, and particularly by the fact that emigration has started again.  My anger at the architects of the boom is fueling my next novel.

Going back to why I set the novel in the eighties: the Celtic Tiger sought to eradicate the Dublin I had stumbled into as a teenager.  The new Dublin strove to be bling, strove to be Miami, strove to eradicate poor Dublin, eighties Dublin, but I had loved that Dublin.  Run down though it was, scuzzy though it was, I found it an exciting place.  People were doing things.  People were writing things, singing things, filming things.  Creativity hadn’t yet been subsumed into jobs in advertising firms and web design companies as they subsequently were.  The writers who are winning awards all over the world right now were knocking around that Dublin – Colum McCann, Colm Toibin, Anne Enright, Joseph O’Connor – the list goes on.  And so I wanted to commemorate that Dublin as a city where a writer might thrive – “a place where a thought might grow,” in the poet Derek Mahon’s words. And in 2006 when I began All Names, that Dublin was gone.  It had been buried under British shops and glitzy bars, which are now steadily closing down.  In short, it was an archaeological impulse that made me set All Names in ‘85, ‘86.

SL: Your two previous novels, All Summer and Tenderwire, were narrated by women. What was it like to write from a male perspective, this time?
CK: Liberating.  A worry with the first two was that people felt that the female voice was my voice, and that I was Eva Tyne, and that I was Anna Hunt.  Although I didn’t let that censor what I wrote, it did make me uncomfortable. So when I did hit upon Declan’s voice, I felt free.  I had a male editor, Angus Cargill in Faber and Faber, so I trusted him to let me know when the voice didn’t ring true. The only correction he made was that Declan described a hearing aid as “knicker pink.” No man would use that adjective, according to Angus.  It was very interesting to try to write about the girls from Declan’s point of view.  I knew what the girls in the novel were thinking, but I’ve had to wonder at various junctures in my life what on earth certain men were thinking, and so in All Names, I tried to join the dots.

SL: All Summer and Tenderwire orbit around art objects that may or may not be authentic yet are capable of producing intense rapture: a painting and a violin, respectively. In All Names Have Been Changed the focus of your characters’ obsession is Glynn, a writer. What were the differences and similarities in creating your characters’ relationships with him?   
CK: Rapture is rapture, and you can be enraptured with anything or anyone.  It’s all about what captures the imagination, what ignites that spark, and writing about rapture is a shared characteristic of those three novels.  They feel linked that way.  With All Summer and Tenderwire, the enrapturing object remains aloof, perfect, and as unattainable as it is inanimate.  However, in the case of All Names, Glynn, the adored one, has feet of clay, he answers back, and so Declan’s rapture cannot be sustained.  It sours into frustration and disillusionment – he’s growing up, really.  I loved writing the closing scenes of the novel, about the acceptance of imperfection, about the fragility of your heroes, and about picking yourself back up.

SL: What writers made you want to write? How have they influenced you?  
CK: John Banville and Vladimir Nabokov are the two biggies for me.  They both write beautifully and illuminatingly and wittily about rapture and its pitfalls.  As novelists, they function on every plane – not only at the level of the unit of the sentence (“the greatest invention on earth,” is how Banville describes it), but also at the bigger picture, the arc of a finely tuned and devastating plot. When I read Lolita at the age of 16, I transcribed bits of it into a notebook, as I wanted to be able to write sentences of my own, and I wanted those sentences to be as vivid as Nabokov’s sentences, and as piercing.  I wanted to be able to capture the way, say, an afternoon in late September feels, that sadness of summer fading.  Glynn is one of those writers.  All Names opens – and indeed closes – with the observation that “Nobody wrote about September like Glynn.”

SL: What is it like to be a writer in Ireland right now, particularly in light of the economic crisis?
CK: It’s easier, in that basic necessities are cheaper, getting by is cheaper, and there’s no longer shame in not having the money to go out to dinner.  It’s quite peculiar too, in that suddenly the government is looking to writers as the innovators who’ll get us out of this economic crisis.  Anything to do with Fianna Fail makes me suspicious. Having said that, writers are on the other side of the fence to the builders and bankers who brought the country to its knees, in that writers create, they invent something new, whereas the builders and bankers simply destroyed. They extracted wealth from the land and left the country with ghost estates, a black hole of debt.  A writer starts with the black hole of the blank page and imagines things into being – characters, stories, places. We make something out of nothing. So the country has moved from a period of destructivity back to celebrating its opposite: creativity.  That can’t be a bad thing.

SL: Will you stay in Ireland?
CK: In the past, it’s been economic stagnation that has forced people to leave.  Bizarrely, the fact that Ireland was thriving was the thing that was driving the likes of me away, for the simple reason that I could barely afford to live here anymore.  Yes, I’ll stay, absolutely.  Delighted to.  I love it here.  I always have.  I was reared for export, and dreaded the prospect of it, so I still can’t quite believe my luck that I’m here.

SL: What are you working on now?
CK: A novel about the boom and bust. It’s a tale of folly and hubris.

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