November December 2018 Issue – Irish America Irish America Magazine Sat, 20 Jul 2019 03:40:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 82361074 The Pacemaker Thu, 01 Nov 2018 08:00:45 +0000 Read more..]]> The fifth annual Healthcare & Life Sciences 50 keynote speaker, chairman and CEO of Boston Scientific Mike Mahoney, on forging ahead with new solutions. Read to the end for details on how to be part of this year’s gala celebration.


Mike Mahoney’s entrepreneurial spirit goes back to the summer of the fourth grade, the time he started a lawn mowing business. The enterprising kid soon learned to deal with challenges. “I borrowed my father’s mower, but then he charged for wear and tear on his machine,” Mahoney says with a laugh.

<em>[Mike Mahoney, one of Glassdoor's Top CEOs in 2018]</em>

Mike Mahoney, one of Glassdoor’s Top CEOs in 2018.

The chairman and CEO of Boston Scientific met with the Irish America team in August, when he was in New York to talk at a Morgan Stanley conference on health. Health is big business and Mahoney’s company, Boston Scientific, a manufacturer of medical devices used in interventional medical specialties, including cardiology, endoscopy, neuromodulation, urology, and pelvic health, is a lucrative investment.

On first impression, you notice the full-toothed smile, bright blue eyes, slim build, and his height – over six feet. Dressed in a blazer, khakis and an open-necked shirt, he offers a strong handshake and makes you feel like you’re talking to someone you’ve known for years.

Growing up, Mahoney moved with his family a number of times around the country. “My father worked for Eastman Kodak, so our family traveled all over – all the ‘garden spots’: Rochester, New York (where I was born); Cleveland, Ohio; and the Midwest, Indiana. But I kind of grew up in Chicago – that’s where I went to high school, had my first beer, my first kiss.”

<em>Mahoney at an employee recognition dinner</em>

Mahoney at an employee recognition dinner.

As an adult working in the healthcare field, Mahoney used the constant uprooting of his boyhood to his advantage. He drew on his background of relocating, adapting to new environments, and trusting his instincts – all the childhood experiences that helped him move on to new companies and bigger positions.

Mahoney also believes in something else he learned as he rose through the ranks: “You never want to pretend you’re the smartest person in the room. You want to be really engaging the team and helping them advance the company. You want to do that without trying to overlay your views on how things should be done.”

Mahoney understands this best when he looks backs on his experience at Johnson & Johnson (J&J), his last employer before Boston Scientific. Mahoney was recruited to run the global orthopedic company within J&J, but didn’t know anything about the orthopedics industry. Plus, the man who hired him left two weeks after Mahoney came on board. Looking back, “I didn’t know anybody, my family and I had just moved from Colorado to New England and here I was, the leader of this big division.” Mahoney feared his mission was doomed. But soon he made it all come together. “It worked because I hired great leaders and I was very candid with my employees.”

<em>Mike greets a patient with a Boston Scientific stent and his wife, along with other members of the team.</em>

Mahoney greets a patient with a Boston Scientific stent and his wife, along with other members of the team.

When he joined Boston Scientific in 2011 as president, it was his job to focus on the needs of the evolving healthcare landscape, make improvements to patient outcomes and increase healthcare efficiency and access. But the company was going through a rough patch. Profits were down and investors were wary. Under Mahoney’s leadership, the company regained its stride and then some.

He became president, CEO, and a member of the board in 2012, and was elected chairman in 2016. Under Mahoney’s leadership, Boston Scientific not only brought many transformational medical devices to market, it went from an underperforming company to a global medical technology leader with nearly $10 billion in annual revenue and commercial representation in more than 125 countries.

What Mahoney doesn’t say about himself is that he’s a good listener. And a quick decision maker; a team motivator; a leader who empowers, challenges, applauds, and rewards. Rewards include an innovation fund to bring good ideas to life, whether they come from a junior assistant or a senior manager. That’s leadership and that’s success.

<em>Mike at Everyone Makes an Impact employee celebration.</em>

Mahoney at Everyone Makes an Impact employee celebration.

Today, Mahoney serves on the board of Baxter International and the American Heart Association leadership council. He earned a B.B.A. in finance from the University of Iowa and his M.B.A. from Wake Forest University. He, his wife and three children divide their time between Boston and Rhode Island.

Mahoney makes trips across the Atlantic a couple of times a year to Ireland for Boston Scientific. Though many generations removed from his Irish ancestors (it was his grandparents’ grandparents on both sides who immigrated to America), Mahoney feels very close to his Irish roots. Boston Scientific has taken root in Ireland as well, with three plants located there.

Working his entire life, Mahoney knows the value of commitment to the job at hand and to the many hands on the team that make it all happen. Here’s a look at the man and his values.

<em>Mike and team at Boston Scientific Innovation Center in Beijing.</em>

Mahoney and team at Boston Scientific Innovation Center in Beijing.


I wanted to be a doctor but ran into a wall with organic chemistry. So I became a finance major. My first job out of college, I was selling NCR products door to door for 18 months. I wanted to get into health care at GE (General Electric), but they wouldn’t hire me because I wasn’t an engineer and didn’t have any healthcare experience – they wanted two years. But I kept calling on them and eventually they hired me.

We used to sell CT scanners at GE. And the first time I went into an ER to see one in action, a man had been stabbed and there was an image of a man’s head with a knife sticking out. I was blown away. And ever since then I’ve been in healthcare.



Maybe I’m biased, but I’ve been in lots of different companies and this one [Boston Scientific] is so fascinating. Our devices are lifesaving technology. We create deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s patients, stimulators to help people with severe pain, stents that unblock your heart when you have a heart attack, and defibrillators that prevent sudden cardiac death. The products we make are life-changing – and incredibly cool. So when you look at other industries, and this is where I’m biased, nothing compares to that impact on patients’ lives.



I left GE to run a startup IT healthcare company in Boulder, Colorado, which was fun, and I did that for six years. I probably learned more on the job with this IT startup because I had to do everything, including make payroll.

After that I took the job at J&J, where I spent six years, first with the orthopedics business and eventually running their medical devices division. That was another learning curve.

<em>Mike addressing a group of Boston Scientific summer interns.</em>

Mahoney addressing a group of Boston Scientific summer interns.


Boston Scientific had a ton of debt when I came on board in 2012. The company was not growing and reported a five percent decline in sales in 2012. In 2017 we achieved eight percent revenue growth and consistently outperformed analyst expectations across all business segments. Today, market capitalization is $50 billion.

When I first joined Boston Scientific, we spent a lot of time creating a new vision for the company that would be exciting for employees. Many of the same leaders were still there, but we also brought in some new leaders. We really looked at it the way you might look at a startup. We created a new culture, a new pace, and a winning spirit.

We are much more nimble and agile today. We have also created an environment where employees feel more encouraged to challenge the status quo and risk failure without fear of being reprimanded. Each quarter, we give “Winning Spirit” awards to teams that go above and beyond in tackling tough issues and delivering results.



I’d say there are two critical elements of culture that apply to most organizations. First, having a great leadership team in place around you, and empowering them to make good decisions and move quickly. We have leaders that have been with the company for some time, and we also have brought in new leaders to help evolve the culture.

Second, but just as important, is having a common mission and set of core values that engage employees and help them feel proud of the work they do. We established our purpose of “Advancing Science of Life” and developed core values like meaningful innovation, caring and collaboration, ­­­­diversity and high performance – all of which are anchored in a Winning Spirit mindset.



We look for authentic leaders who are driven to take on new challenges and demonstrate the ability to be agile, to anticipate and adapt to change and take on appropriate risks. This requires a high-performance mindset, but also a certain humility that drives curiosity and an openness to new ideas from diverse people, experiences, and perspectives. It’s also important to have a sense of humor. Sometimes the best way to deal with life’s challenges is to simply laugh at yourself.

<em>Mahoney with team for the opening of the Penang Malaysia facility.</em>

Mahoney with team for the opening of the Penang Malaysia facility.


In our world there is so much miniaturization of devices. We are working on a pacemaker that is the size of a thimble and it is leadless – there’s nothing that goes in the heart. You’re seeing miniaturization of devices to manage pain in Parkinson’s and stroke patients. There are all kinds of digital applications, patient interfaces, and artificial intelligence. It’s ingrained within the products that we make and how we communicate with patients and doctors.



A lot of the research we’re doing is being done in Ireland. We started with one facility in 1994 and today we have plants in Galway, Cork, and Tipperary. We’re among the largest medtech employers in Ireland now. We have great engineering there. We hire a lot of Irish engineers and interns – there are very good engineering schools in Ireland. Now the medical technology industry in Ireland is evolving from being prominently manufacturing focused to one that is more complex and driven by R&D, with great examples of collaboration between research institutions, clinicians, manufacturing companies and government agencies. I love going over there.



I wasn’t born in Ireland, but my family has a history there. Boston Scientific has also had a strong connection for nearly 25 years, and we’ve grown over time thanks to the success of our Irish teams – highly skilled, extremely hardworking and very loyal.

<em>Mahoney with patient Emily Herman and her family.</em>

Mahoney with patient Emily Herman and her family.


My father’s family is from Cork and my mother’s family, the McCarthys, are from Mayo. My grandfather Earl Mahoney, my dad’s father, had the most influence on me. He was a pediatric cardiac surgeon in Rochester, New York, and would have to crack open chests. Today we have a tiny aortic valve of manmade materials that can be inserted. He would have thought this was something out of Star Wars. I used to go to his home when I was about 10 and sit in the leather chairs in the den amidst the leather books on the shelves. He had these wonderful pipes. And while he was with patients in his office I would puff on a pipe and pretend I was a doctor like him.



Find the industry you have the most passion for – that’s the most important one. I’m very fortunate that I am in healthcare and medical technology. I just love it. You’ve got to love what you do and the area you’re in. You’re going to put the extra time in and care about it beyond the financial piece. That’s what I tell my kids. I don’t care whether it’s healthcare or teaching, or something else. If you love it, you’ll have the chance to really shine.




Don’t miss your chance to mix and mingle with the top Irish and Irish Americans in the health industry at Irish America’s Healthcare / Life Sciences 50 awards dinner, with Dr. Kevin J. Tracey, president and CEO of Northwell Health’s Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, offering the keynote remarks. The event is being held at the Metropolitan Club in NYC on September 12, 2019. For more information, or to explore our event package options, see our invitation.

Contact Mary Gallagher ( / 212-725-2993 ext. 217) to reserve your seats today.

See Mike Mahoney’s keynote remarks at last year’s awards dinner below.

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First Word: Into the Future Thu, 01 Nov 2018 07:59:15 +0000 Read more..]]> “As long as you have your health, you have everything,” my mother, Norrie, used to say. She said a lot of things that annoyed me when I was younger, but as the years go by I realize that she was right about everything, especially about health being your most important asset.

Many of us are guilty of taking our bodies for granted. We concentrate on our careers and accumulating material possessions, and we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t over-indulge in life’s pleasures from time to time. But with age comes wisdom, and aches and pains, and morning stiffness; and let’s not forget the seasonal ailments: cold and flu. (And in this political climate, anxiety is apparently catchy, too.)

Whatever our politics or lifestyle choices, we all face the unknown – the rogue gene that can cause heart disease, diabetes, cancers, or other disorders. And then there are environmental factors that cause the spread of contagious viral illnesses.

Tuberculosis was the scary monster of my childhood, the “silent terror” that ravaged Ireland for much of the last century. People lived in fear of being struck down and worse, shamed, as T.B. carried a stigma similar to AIDS in the 1980s. My best friend in high school, Maura, contracted TB, was separated from her family and quarantined in a state sanitarium. She did survive but she was one of the lucky ones, she was born mid-century. In Ireland’s not -too-distant past, TB was an epidemic – patients went undiagnosed and, in time, were “consumed” to death.

I flashed back to that experience when I spoke to Elaine O’Hara as we went to press on this issue. Elaine runs the North American vaccines division of Sanofi Pasteur, the global biopharmaceutical company. I can never hear the word vaccine without being grateful for how far we’ve come in defeating once-killer diseases.

Which brings us to our Fifth Annual Health issue, featuring some of the best and brightest people in the fields of biology, medicine, homeopathy, bioscience, and technology. These men and women are the future of healthcare. In addition, there are wonderful stories of past trailblazers, including an Irish woman who posed as a man in order to become a doctor and went on to have a very successful career; and a character made famous by James Joyce, who was inspired by a brilliant surgeon; and a man named Murphy, who turned surgery into performance art and lent his name to many medical devices used today!

Then there’s our cover story on Mike Mahoney, the chairman & CEO of Boston Scientific. Mike has spent his whole career in healthcare and is now in charge of one of the world’s largest medical device companies. “We are working on a pacemaker that is the size of a thimble and it is leadless – there is nothing that goes in the heart,” Mike told me when we met up in New York in September.

Boston Scientific, which has three plants in Ireland, is also working on devices to manage pain in Parkinson’s disease and stroke patients, and “all kinds of digital applications, patient interfaces, and artifical intelligence.”

And the extraordinary thing about all of this futuristic medical technology is that a lot of the research Boston Scientific is doing is being done in Ireland by Irish scientists, which is one hell of a recovery for a country that was once raked by poverty and disease.

My mother, always right, would be in awe.

Mórtas Cine. ♦

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West Cork Thu, 01 Nov 2018 07:58:17 +0000 Read more..]]> Take a walk (or a drive) on the wild side. West Cork offers an abundance of wildlife, nature, and scenery.


Is there a more intriguing place in Ireland than West Cork? On a recent trip, I was dazzled by the wild beauty of its rugged coastline. I loved its small towns and villages, each buzzing with life. And I was thrilled to uncover its history through sites that still hold echoes of the past.

I started my trip in Eccles Hotel in Glengarriff. This seaside hotel is one of Ireland’s oldest and in its 250-year history, it has hosted the likes of W.B. Yeats and Maureen O’Hara. It’s a great base from which to explore the Beara Peninsula to the west and Bantry Bay to the south.

<em>Shops in Glengariff.</em>

Shops in Glengariff.

Ireland was sweltering in a heatwave when I arrived mid-summer, so I sought shade in the nearby Glengarriff Woods Nature Reserve. These mature oak woodlands, with their babbling streams and light-dappled glades, gave me shelter from the sun and made me feel cocooned from all of the worries of the world.

The following morning, I took the ferry out to Garnish Island. If you have even the slightest interest in gardening, you have to visit this place. Seventy years ago, its owner Annan Bryce worked with architect and garden designer Harold Peto to transform the entire island into 15 hectares of exquisite Italianate gardens. Those gardens have since been bequeathed to the Irish State, and on my visit, they were ablaze in beauty.

Back on the mainland, I dedicated the next day to the Beara Peninsula. I drove along its winding roads. I stopped to take in its stunning views and I explored its picturesque villages such as Allihies, Eyeries, and Ardgroom.

I also braved the stomach-churning trip to Dursey Island. Located at the tip of the Beara Peninsula, this island is accessed by the only cable car in Ireland, a titchy thing that takes a maximum of six people.

<em>Eccles Hotel.</em>

Eccles Hotel in Glengarriff.

Once my nerves had settled, I spent a relaxing time exploring this island of few inhabitants. It has no shops, pubs, or restaurants but it does have lots of bogs, birds, cliffs, and antiquities such as standing stones, a ruined monastery, and a signal station dating from the Napoleonic era.

This isn’t all you can do on the Beara Peninsula. There’s a renowned Buddhist center here, the Dzogchen Beara, where you can take part in guided meditation sessions, enjoy wonderful vegetarian food in the café and savour the peace and quiet of the gardens.

A tall stone engine house amid the rocks above the village of Allihies marks what’s left of Ireland’s most westerly copper mines. There’s a museum in the village dedicated to the history of mining in this area. It starts in prehistoric times and continues until the mines closed in 1962. There are also fascinating displays on local geology and the social history of the miners.

Bantry is south of Glengarriff and is the perfect base from which to explore West Cork’s Sheep’s Head and Mizen Head Peninsulas. It’s also home to Bantry House, one of the finest historic houses in Ireland.

<em>The Gardens at Garnish Island.</em>

The Gardens at Garnish Island.

The house is owned by the Shelswell-White family, direct descendants of the first Earl of Bantry, Richard White. It was the first country house in Ireland to open its doors to the public, all the way back in 1946. Ever since, people have traipsed through its rooms, marvelling as I did at the collection of furniture, tapestries, and art.

Further south at the end of the Mizen Head Peninsula is the Mizen Head Visitor Centre. Its location is what makes this former signal station dating from 1905 special. It’s perched on top of a cliff on a rocky island that is joined to the mainland by an arched bridge. Merely getting there is an adrenaline rush.

Once you arrive, you can enjoy exhibitions that cover topics ranging from the local birdlife to the history of Fastnet Lighthouse, which is located on Ireland’s Teardrop, an island so called because it was the last sight of home for so many emigrants.

Travelling east, you’ll be delighted by the seaside villages that cling to the coast of Roaring Water Bay. Schull, Ballydehob, and Baltimore each offer their own twist on Irish seaside living.

<em>Road to the Church at Beara Peninsula.</em>

Road to the Church at Beara Peninsula.

Offshore, there are islands to visit. Sherkin measures three miles by 1.5 miles and always attracts artists, ecologists, and walkers.

Heir Island is even smaller and just as rugged. It’s home to a renowned baking school that runs day courses. You could take the ferry there in the morning, spend the day baking bread and then hop on the ferry again in the evening, this time with a few freshly-baked loaves in tow.

Furthest to the south is Cape Clear, where you’ll hear locals speak Irish. 45 minutes by boat from the mainland, it’s an island of sparkling harbours, cliffs, bogs and lakes. Archaeological sites – such as megalithic standing stones and a 5,000-year-old passage tomb as well as a ruined 12th century church and a 14th century O’Driscoll castle – tell of its long and storied history. It’s also the centre for birdwatching in Ireland and has the country’s only manned observatory.

Back on dry land, your next destination should be Skibbereen, a town that for many is forever associated with the ballad, “Dear Old Skibbereen.” This song tells of how the people of Skibbereen suffered during the Great Famine. It lost up to a third of its population to hunger, disease, and emigration during those dark years.

<em>VIsitors in front of Bantry House.</em>

Visitors in front of Bantry House.

You can pay your respects to some of those people at the Abbeystrewery Famine Cemetery. Not even a mile outside of town, it contains the mass grave of up to 10,000 locals who died during those years.

You’ll learn about how and why they died at the Skibbereen Heritage Centre, which is located in the town’s old gasworks building. Its Famine exhibition is haunting.

If you’ve got time, try to fit in a visit to Liss Ard. This estate is known for its gardens, which have been designed as a series of experiences. The lakeside walk gives way to the waterfall garden, which flows into the woodland garden, then the water garden, the arboretum, and finally the wildflower meadow.

The crater, designed by American artist James Turrell and Swiss architect Gert Burla, is one of its highlights. If you lie on the stone structures at the bottom of the dome, you’ll appreciate the sky above you in a way you never have before.

<em>Mizen Head Bridge.</em>

Mizen Head Bridge.

Moving further east, you’ll arrive in Rosscarbery. The Dunbeg Stone Circle is on an exposed hill just above this village. Its 17 standing stones are oriented towards the winter solstice sunset and just beyond, there are the remains of an Iron Age hut and cooking pit. This place has been important for millennia.

Cork is known as the Rebel County and one of Ireland’s most famous rebels was born there. The Michael Collins Centre in Clonakilty tells of the life and times of this man. The exhibitions feature photos, letters, and even a reconstruction of the country lane in which he was killed.

A short drive from Clonakilty is Inchydoney Beach, one of Ireland’s best. A bracing walk here will give you the energy you need to continue on to our final destination in West Cork, the seaside town of Kinsale.

Kinsale has been popular with tourists for decades and it’s easy to see why. It’s got fantastic shops and restaurants. It’s got a picture-perfect harbor and it’s had a fascinating history.

<em>A beach in Rosscarbery.</em>

A beach in Rosscarbery.

One of the most interesting historical sites in Kinsale is Charles’ Fort, one of Europe’s best preserved star-shaped artillery forts. Dating from the 17th century, it was in use until 1921, when much of it was destroyed as the British withdrew from Ireland.

Exhibitions are now displayed inside its walls, showing the tough lives led by the soldiers who served here as well as the comparatively comfortable lives led by officers.

One such exhibtion is the Copper Miner’s museum in Dunmanway, these men worked in the mines in Butte, Montana where at one point there was 1,000 Sullivans and O’Sullivans in the phone book. These are just some of the wonders of West Cork. I haven’t even mentioned the Gougane Barra Forest Park, which hides one of the prettiest little churches you will ever see. Set right on a lake and surrounded by rolling green hills and trees, it’s well worth a detour.

But so are many places in this part of Ireland. There’s so much beauty here and so much hidden history too. I’m already planning my next visit. Perhaps you should too. ♦




<em>Author of </em>Brooklyn<em> and other books, Colm Toibin, at the West Cork Literary Festival in Bantry.</em>

Author of Brooklyn and other books, Colm Tóibín, at the West Cork Literary Festival in Bantry.

West Cork has long been home to artists and creative people and as a result, it hosts some of Ireland’s most exciting festivals.

1. The Baltimore Fiddle Fair attracts traditional musicians come from all over the world to this seaside village.

2. The Fastnet Short Film Festival takes place in the fishing village of Schull.

3. Bandon Music Festival is a festival for lovers of traditional and contemporary music.

4. The West Cork Islands Festival is an action-packed weekend offering opportunities to learn all about the heritage and history of the islands off the coast of West Cork.

5. The West Cork Chamber Music Festival takes place in Bantry House and in St. Brendan’s Church, and features concerts with internationally-renowned musicians.

6. The West Cork Literary Festival in Bantry showcases the best of Irish and international literature.

7. The Cape Clear Island International Storytelling Festival is a weekend of storytelling on Ireland’s most southerly island.



West Cork is a great place to bike, hike, and drive.

The Sheep’s Head Walking Route along the peninsula is rich in history and you’ll find traces of the Ireland of the long ago and magnificent views of the ocean. You can stop off in small villages for afternoon tea or pack a lunch, or stop at the Buddhist Center cafe overlooking the ocean at Allihies Beara, for some wholesome natural food, followed by a meditative stroll along the cliffs.

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From Reefer Madnessto Reefer Medicine Thu, 01 Nov 2018 07:57:41 +0000 Read more..]]> The highs, lows, benefits, and downfalls of legalizing marijuana.


The archeologists who discovered the bones of a man in China’s Gobi Desert determined his age at over 2700 years and noted he was buried alongside 28 ounces of marijuana. Thanks to dry desert conditions, the pot, unlike the man, was well-preserved and scientists speculated the stash may have been a hunter-gatherer love token. Not surprising, since every civilization in pre-history from the Stone Age on took advantage of the psychoactive properties in Cannabis sativa or marijuana.

It was William O’Shaughnessy, doctor, scientist and Limerick man, who introduced cannabis to Western medicine in 1839. Stationed in India, he read where, 4000 years earlier, cannabis was mentioned in sacred Hindu texts, the Vedas. O’Shaughnessy’s meticulous research demonstrated the herb’s success as a medicine, particularly with patients suffering from rheumatism and the pain associated with tetanus and cholera. The doctor did see some strange side effects from his subjects who would often turn “talkative and musical” and “dissolve into uncontrollable giggles” while the occasional patient would “eat the dinner of two persons.” Some were cured, others received palliative care, and for those who were terminal, “cannabis,” as O’Shaughnessy delicately put it, “strew the path to the tomb with flowers.”

<em>Poster advertising</em> Reefer Madness.

Poster advertising Reefer Madness.

In the United States during the 19th century, marijuana was a frequent ingredient in medicinal tinctures and routinely prescribed as a pain reliever and an anti-convalescent. Things changed at the beginning of the 20th century with the arrival of Mexicans, escaping revolution, who introduced the concept of smoking “marihuana” just for fun. The idea took hold but so did government propaganda declaring reefer “subversive,” much like the music that became its soundtrack – jazz. After the Great National Buzzkill, Prohibition, was ended, federal agents had a lot of time on their hands. Henry Anslinger of the newly created Federal Bureau of Narcotics turned to the menace of marijuana. Government “research” linked it to violence and inciting “Negroes, Mexicans and other social inferiors” to rape white women. So began the war on pot.

The Feds had a dramatic weapon in the war – a 1936 movie, Reefer Madness, a cautionary tale wherein innocent teens, addicted to “Marihuana” cigarettes, wildly danced to jazz music and, oddly, featured frequent scenes of young girls revealing their garter belts. If it sounds ridiculous, it was, particularly the opening frames denouncing the herb as a “a violent narcotic…ending often in incurable insanity.” Now the movie is a camp classic, but back then it was serious and scary. The following year, 1937, the plant with a 5,000-year history of medical use, was prohibited and criminalized in the United States. Even harmless hemp, the stuff of rope and paper, went down with marijuana.

Reefer Madness <em>title card.</em>

Reefer Madness title card.

The government kept raising the bar on the ban. By the early 1950s a first-offense marijuana possession carried a minimum sentence of 2-10 years with a fine of up to $20,000. In 1971, when it was evident that mainstream white Americans and not just beatniks and sax players were enjoying pot, President Nixon officially declared a “War on Drugs.” Marijuana was now a Schedule 1 Drug along with heroin, its users subject to “mandatory minimums.” Many years later, Nixon’s domestic policy advisor, John Ehrlichman, confessed the “War on Drugs” was racially and politically motivated, a facile tool against Nixon’s (pothead) “enemies” used to imprison African Americans and anti-war activists.

These days weed wafts in the air everywhere as enthusiasts openly smoke the still-illegal herb while the furtive puffers of still-legal cigarettes hide in shame. The drastic shift seems like it came quickly but it didn’t, it was a slow, uphill fight. A good place to begin this history is with Alice O’Leary, “The First Lady of Medical Marijuana Movement,” who’s been on the front lines of the movement for 45 years. Alice, now 71, lives in Florida, the state where, many years earlier, she met her husband, Robert Randall. Even at the beginning of their relationship, Robert was suffering from the glaucoma that had plagued him his entire life. His doctors flatly told him he would be a blind man by the age of 30.

<em>A still from </em>Reefer Madness.

A still from Reefer Madness.

A sometime–pot smoker in college, Robert hadn’t smoked a joint in years until one evening in 1973 when he shared one with friends. It was an epiphany of profound proportions, “a singular moment,” and it wasn’t what he saw, “Actually it was what I didn’t see that stopped me. The haloes around the nearby streetlight were gone.” For glaucoma patients every light comes with a dreaded, tricolored halo but now after smoking, Robert’s haloes were gone.

His ophthalmologist confirmed Robert’s discovery, his intraocular eye pressure (IOP) was now, with marijuana, in the “safe range.” But the seemingly miraculous news was tempered with harsh reality – Robert needed, on a regular basis, a Class A drug. It proved too expensive to buy on the streets so Alice and Robert grew pot –a total of four plants–on the sun porch of their Washington DC house. In 1975, coming home after a long weekend, they found the house ransacked, a search warrant lying on the kitchen table. Busted! They hired a lawyer but when Robert said, “I smoke marijuana for medical reasons…to save my eyesight” the lawyer they could barely afford laughed in his face.

<em>A still from </em>Reefer Madness.

A still from Reefer Madness.

Just as Alice had shared Robert’s battle against glaucoma, she joined him to fight the United States government and change the laws on medical marijuana. They went to NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) where they learned that for four years the organization had been trying, unsuccessfully, to reclassify marijuana for medical use. Before Robert’s case went to trial, the court ordered him to undergo a battery of tests at UCLA. There he made an unsettling discovery, UCLA – and the Federal Government—were already aware of pot’s ability to reduce inner eye pressure.

Their case went to Washington DC Superior Court. In November 1976, the judge ruled Robert “has established a defense of necessity. . . The evil he sought to avert, blindness, is greater than that he performed.” The charges were dismissed and Robert received his prescription medicine, joints in a pill bottle with instructions, “Smoke as directed.” He was now the first and only individual in the country allowed to legally use marijuana for medical purposes. Robert and Alice parlayed the publicity from the case to further their cause, Robert even smoking a joint on T.V. on “The Tom Snyder Show.” The eponymous host, never without a cigarette, looked on as Robert lit up and smoked a joint. It was major news, one headline shouting, “Bob Smokes Pot! And It’s Legal!”

<em>Alice O'Leary, "The First Lady of the Medical Marijuana Movement"</em>

Alice O’Leary, “The First Lady of the Medical Marijuana Movement.”

Now a fulltime activist, Alice hit the road, a spokesperson for the group she co-founded, Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics, ACT. ACT’s base grew exponentially to include patients suffering from MS, ALS, arthritis, chemo side effects and finally and most famously, AIDS. In 1987, the couple again sued the Federal Government and again, were successful. The judge’s decision stated marijuana was “one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man.” Less successful was the DEA’s reaction – they unilaterally ignored the ruling of the court. Alice, refusing to be discouraged, kept up the fight, “We knew we were right.”

Robert died in 2001. He was 53, smoked legal medical marijuana to the end, always maintaining that he never got high. He also never lost his eyesight.

<em>Columbia Care Dispensary.</em>

Columbia Care Dispensary.

In 1996, Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act was passed in California allowing for the sale and medical use of marijuana for patients suffering from serious diseases. Today, medical marijuana is legal in 30 states and Washington D.C., where patients almost unilaterally praise its relief, while recreational marijuana is legal in nine states. Besides medical use, other selling points – increased tax revenue (and this is the biggest selling point), the elimination of a black market, the heightened potency of street weed, reduction in mass incarceration, the possibility of pot working as “exit drug” for opioid abuse – make a strong case for legalization. Medical marijuana is now the fastest growing industry in the United States.

New York-based Columbia Care LLC, founded in 2013 by Nicholas Keane Vita, is the nation’s leading medical cannabis company, operating in 13 states with its pharmaceutical-quality medicines. Nicholas drew on his background in finance to design a “vertical” structure for the company – Columbia Care cultivates, manufactures and dispenses medical cannabis overseeing every step in the process. But the mindset of Columbia Care is medical and the company is recommended by 60 percent of a highly elite, highly discerning community New York City doctors.

<em>Nicholas Keane Vita, who founded Columbia Care LLC, the nation's leading medical cannabis company.</em>

Nicholas Keane Vita, who founded Columbia Care LLC, the nation’s leading medical cannabis company.

But, as Nicholas points out, “Nobody learned about cannabis in medical school” and Columbia Care is staffed with Pharma D’s (pharmacists with a Ph.D in biology and chemistry). The Pharma D’s help patients create individualized programs, finding the best medicinal format (tablets, tinctures, vaporization oils) and dosage (the ratio of cannabinoids in a prescription). Cannabinoids are 100+ compounds in cannabis, the most significant cannabinoids being THC and CBD, both of which have distinct health benefits. Higher ratios of CBD target particular medical problems while higher ratios of THC target others. Columbia Care’s Pharma D’s work with patients throughout the nuanced process of determining ratios, a procedure often requiring fluidity and trial and error.

It’s THC that has a psychotropic effect. In other words, THC is what gets you high, which is why medicinal pot is still a tough sell. Attorney General Jeff Sessions could have written the prologue to “Reefer Madness,” so intent is he to prosecute any use of marijuana, compassion be damned.

<em>General Barry Richard McCaffrey, who served as President Bill Clinton's Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.</em>

General Barry Richard McCaffrey, who served as President Bill Clinton’s Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Even the moderate voice of General Barry McCaffrey, the former director (1996-2001) of Drug Control Policy, sees real danger. McCaffrey, a decorated war hero, witnessed rampant drug addiction among his soldiers during the Vietnam War. Back in the U.S., he put in place successful drug programs for veterans, one of the reasons President Clinton appointed him “drug czar.” Today he believes the prevalence of medical marijuana, its inclusion in the culture and validation by the government exposes children and adolescents to the drug life style or what he calls the “dazed life style.” Marijuana is still, in his opinion, a “gateway drug” that leads to other, more dangerous drugs, all with the capacity to slow down I.Q. development in a young person. Then there’s the danger of street marijuana, which today has a high THC content risking negative side effects, the edibles being particularly dangerous, sometimes ending in an ER visit. The general casts a cold eye on the health benefits of medical marijuana, “A total fraud!”

<em>Movie poster for </em>The Devil's Weed<em> (1949).</em>

Movie poster for The Devil’s Weed (1949).

During the Bronze Age, a tribe of nomads, the Yamnaya, trampled through the Steppes region, transformed the gene pool of Europe and introduced the Indo-European language. They introduced, too, transcontinental trade of cannabis, making them, in effect, Bronze Age drug dealers. That was over 5,000 years ago and today, the great success of medical marijuana assures the long run will continue. It seems that marijuana, like Rock ‘n’ Roll, is here to stay. ♦


Rosemary Rogers co-authored, with Sean Kelly, the best-selling humor / reference book Saints Preserve Us! Everything You Need to Know About Every Saint You’ll Ever Need (Random House, 1993), currently in its 18th international printing. The duo collaborated on four other books for Random House and calendars for Barnes & Noble. Rogers co-wrote two info / entertainment books for St. Martin’s Press. She is currently co-writing a book on empires for City Light Publishing.

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Wild Irish Women: Dr. James Barry Thu, 01 Nov 2018 07:56:53 +0000 Read more..]]> The famous British Army surgeon was actually an Irish woman.


Dr. James Barry was born in County Cork as Margaret Anne Bulkley, the daughter of Jeremiah and Mary-Ann (neé Barry). Accounts vary on the year of her birth but whether it was 1789 or 1795, women were denied a formal education. Her father was a feckless grocer who lost his business, landed in debtors’ prison and last seen on a convict ship to Australia. Alone and penniless, Margaret and her mother emigrated to London where they lived with her uncle, James Barry, a successful painter, progressive thinker and major eccentric.

Uncle James had a coterie of rich, radical patrons including General Francisco de Miranda and David Stuart Erskine who became impressed and obsessed by Margaret’s intelligence. Devout feminists all, these de facto godfathers vowed to get her a medical degree especially since Miranda’s soldiers back in Venezuela needed a doctor. Together they devised a plan, a trope that dates back to Greek Literature – Margaret Anne would dress as a man. Taking the names of her uncle and godfathers, Margaret Anne Bulkley became James Miranda Stuart Barry. Now she was a he.

With taped breasts and a heavy overcoat lined with fluff, the newly christened James Barry enrolled in the University of Edinburgh. He impressed everyone with his brilliant mind but became something of a curiosity. There was the baby face (absent an Adam’s Apple), height (barely five feet), squeaky voice and bursts of violent temper. Rumors spread, not that he was female, but a pre-pubescent boy. He received his MD at the tender age of 22, noting in his final thesis, he was a “man of understanding,” something he remained for the next 56 years.

<em>Sketch of Dr. James Barry.</em>

Sketch of Dr. James Barry.

Even when he was Margaret Anne Bulkley, James Barry would announce to anyone in earshot, “Were I not a girl, I would be a soldier!”  By the time he graduated, General Miranda was dead and so was Barry’s Venezuela plans. After receiving his Royal College of Surgeons diploma, he entered the British military, passing what must have been a cursory army physical. It was 1812 and Dr. James Barry, army surgeon, was appointed Medical Inspector for Cape Town South Africa.

Something of a health nut, Dr. Barry was a teetotaler and vegetarian who kept a pet goat for its milk. Always at odds with his superiors, he raged at them about unsanitary hospital conditions and kept raging until he singlehandedly revolutionized healthcare in Cape Town. Revolutionary too was his open-mindedness – he treated everybody, not just wealthy whites but colonials, slaves, the poor, mentally ill and prisoners. Throughout his career, he had an odd affinity for lepers, treating them with almost saintly compassion.

His patients adored him but not so much his co-workers and administrators who found him foul-mouthed, short-tempered and, considering his looks, full of an absurd vanity. His short fuse had much to do with the effort he undertook to look and behave as a man. Barry had by his side for 50 years, a West Indian manservant, John Danson, who supervised the makeover. John – who, it should be noted, never saw Barry naked – would obscure curves, strategically place padding and add height, courtesy of 3-inch shoe lifts. The manservant set aside extra primping time since the doctor was, ironically, a ladies’ man, thanks to his light-footedness on the dance floor.

<em>Barry, left, with John, his servant, and Barry's dog Psyche, circa 1862, Jamaica.</em>

Barry, left, with John, his servant, and Barry’s dog Psyche, circa 1862, Jamaica.

His toilette over, Dr. Barry emerged in a scarlet jacket, a plumed hat covering the wig that covered his frizzy red hair and a saber draping his tiny physique. The saber was essential since Barry, quick to take offense, would challenge anyone to a duel or threaten to cut off the villain’s ears if he heard a slight against his low stature or high voice. He and John always traveled with Barry’s beloved poodle, Psyche, and a menagerie of small animals.

Dr. Barry proved unstoppable. He developed a plant-based treatment for syphilis and gonorrhea, promoted the novel concept of clean water and a healthy diet, introduced the smallpox vaccination to the colony, twenty years before it was introduced in England. At a time when doctors avoided lady parts and delivering babies, Dr. Barry was, not surprisingly, a most popular OB-GYN. He performed the first successful Caesarean section, meaning both mother and baby lived, in the British Empire.

And there was a scandal. Cape Town gossip had it that he was having an “unnatural” affair with the colony’s governor, Lord Charles Somerset, a man Barry once called “my almost only friend.” Vulgar posters announcing the governor was “buggering Dr. Barry” or referring to the doctor as his “little wife” were everywhere. Rumors intensified when Barry moved into Somerset’s estate especially as Somerset had politically and monetarily backed the doctor’s reforms. As homosexuality was a serious crime, the Crown set up an investigation; both men were exonerated but soon afterwards, the doctor, likely heartbroken, left Cape Town. It was the only time Dr. James Barry found romance and if the relationship was sexual it would have been…curious.

<em>Portrait of James Barry, painted circa 1813–1816.</em>

Portrait of James Barry, painted circa 1813–1816.

After Cape Town, Barry served as Medical Inspector in posts throughout the Empire from Jamaica to Malta to Canada. Wherever it was necessary, the cross-dressing, globe-trotting surgeon established a leper colony. Wherever he was posted, he fought for sanitation and universal healthcare while remaining insubordinate to his superiors. He went AWOL in Jamaica saying he needed a “proper haircut.” In St. Helena, he bypassed top officers to petition the Home Office for medical supplies and was summarily court-martialed for “Conduct unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman.”

His career trajectory zigged and zagged. Stationed in Malta, Dr. Barry again found himself in good favor when the Duke of Wellington commended him for instituting public sanitation and preventing a typhus epidemic. He was promoted to the highest rank an army doctor could reach, Inspector-General of British Hospitals, the equivalent of Brigadier-General. Lord Raglan, commander of the British Forces during the Crimean War, asked the now-eminent doctor to pay a “social visit” to the battlefield.

Even though he was on leave, Dr. Barry went to Scutari, the site of an infamous hospital where more soldiers died of infection than battle wounds. It was also the site of his infamous fight with Florence Nightingale, pet of Queen Victoria. In his salty style he upbraided Nightingale about her hat or lack of, she called him a “brute” and so began a mutual and a lifelong hatred. Nightingale did improve sanitation conditions at Scutari but her achievements paled next to Barry’s, some 30 years earlier, in Cape Town. The Empire ignored his feat but continued to glorify its beloved “Lady with the Lamp”– this realization may have inspired Barry’s snit but the spat forever diminished his reputation. He was denied the knighthood his career merited, his army transgressions were revisited and Nightingale assured his omission from her Royal Commission on Army Doctors. Her legacy was as a National Treasure, his legacy was as a “footnote in Imperial Oddities.”

<em>Florence Nightingale called Barry "a brute."</em>

Florence Nightingale called Barry “a brute.”

In his play “Whistling Psyche,” Sebastian Barry imagines the two combatants sharing a room in the afterlife. The doctor despairs of a life lived in ambiguity, “I am that other sort of creature, neither white nor black, nor brown nor even green, but the strange original that is an Irish person.” Florence has her say too, describing Barry as “a dwarf… shriveled and shrunken in his rather gorgeous uniform.” Even Psyche the poodle isn’t spared, “a little black dog with hair seemingly growing out of its very eyeballs…”

In a pointed and final gesture, the army posted Barry in Canada, a cruel destination for one of advanced age who had spent years in the tropics; he became ill and was forced him into retirement. Barry returned to London where he died in 1865 of dysentery, a disease he spent his career fighting in the colonies. He left strict orders that he be buried in the clothes he was wearing, a dictate that was ignored. When the nurse undressed him, the secret was out: Dr. James Barry “had the body of a woman, a perfect female” including stretch marks from childbirth.

Speculation on the stretch marks still continues. Was the pregnancy the result of a rape Margaret Anne endured as a girl? Or was the baby the love child of Barry and Somerset? His deathbed sex secret scandalized the Victorian establishment, Nightingale gloated, Dickens had an opinion, the army put only a sandstone marker on his grave and closed off access to his papers for 100 years.

<em>Photograph of Dr. James Barry taken approximately in the late 1840s.</em>

Photograph of Dr. James Barry taken approximately in the late 1840s.

Today, feminists see Dr. James Barry as an icon for women while the LGBTQ communities believe the doctor is a true trans hero. If you take the “he’s a she” argument, Barry would be the first woman doctor in Britain (50 years before the other “first women doctor,” Elizabeth Garrett), first woman to rise to the rank of general in the British Army and the first woman to perform a successful Caesarean section. Those who take the opposite side, “she’s a he,” reject gender binaries. They assert that for 56 years, Barry presented as a man, identified as a man and only used masculine pronouns when writing or talking about himself. After he transformed or transitioned at age 14, he never wanted his secret revealed – only Psyche saw him in the nude.

It’s a gender bender but really, what difference does it make? James Barry was fearless, a brilliant doctor and public health reformer sympathetic to patients on the margins of society. When Major McKibben, the doctor who signed the death certificate, was pressed to identify the sex of Dr. James Barry, he snapped, “None of your business!” ♦


Rosemary Rogers co-authored, with Sean Kelly, the best-selling humor / reference book Saints Preserve Us! Everything You Need to Know About Every Saint You’ll Ever Need (Random House, 1993), currently in its 18th international printing. The duo collaborated on four other books for Random House and calendars for Barnes & Noble. Rogers co-wrote two info / entertainment books for St. Martin’s Press. She is currently co- writing a book on empires for City Light Publishing.

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The Upside of Having YourLife Turned Upside Down Thu, 01 Nov 2018 07:55:04 +0000 Read more..]]> Karen Duffy writes about living with chronic pain.


There is pain that hurts you and pain that changes you. Pain is a survival mechanism; it’s a signal that you need to pay attention to what is causing you harm – pull your hand away from the hot stove; jump back from the prickly cactus. Acute pain is usually caused by tissue damage and will resolve in a period of three months or less. “Acute” comes from the Latin root acutus, which translates to “sharp” or “pointed.” It hurts but it will resolve. You will heal. You will go back to the person you were before the injury.

When the pain remains and goes beyond acute, it becomes chronic. This is the pain that changes you. With chronic pain there may be no visible injury. In many cases it is invisible, located inside the nervous system. The nerves never stop firing, sending constant signals to the the brain. These signals are your “Harm Alarm.” Except you can’t jump back from chronic pain. You can medically dull it or mentally distract yourself from it, but you can never escape chronic pain. “Chronic” comes from the Greek root khronos, meaning “time.” The pain is endless; chronic pain changes you.

Over 115 million Americans live with chronic pain; one third of us are dealing with long-term physical pain. One of the many punitive effects of pain is that it is unsharable. Severe and prolonged pain is incredibly difficult to express. The reduction of language adds to the isolation that patients endure. The challenging effort to describe our state of being can compound the loneliness of a chronic condition. The inexpressibility and incomprehensibility of pain separate us from our friends and family.

I have a serious illness called sarcoidosis of the central nervous system. It is a multi-system inflammatory disease of unknown origin. A healthy immune system defends your body from disease; with sarcoidosis, the immune system is what’s causing the problem. My body is making itself sick. Sarcoidosis causes the immune system to create inflammatory lesions called granulomas. I have cultivated a bumper crop of these granulomas in my brain, central nervous system, and lungs.

<em>Karen Duffy's book outlining her experiences.</em>

Karen Duffy’s book outlining her experiences.

My symptoms came on like a freight train. I woke up with an intense headache that radiated from my right ear to the top of my head and down to my neck and shoulder. At the time, I was working at MTV as a VJ (video jockey) I had been cast in a few films, like Dumb and Dumber, and was the Revlon Charlie perfume spokesmodel. I was in my early 30s, at the prime of my health, and enjoying a successful career as a writer and on camera.

When I first got sick, I thought the doctors would figure it out and I’d get better and get back to my life the way it was before. It didn’t turn out that way. The disease has irreparably damaged my central nervous system. I never imagined that the pain was going to last 20 years, that it would be endless, and that I’d have to figure out how to deal with it for the rest of my life.

My husband and son are lavishly healthy; they don’t fully comprehend what it is like to live in chronic pain. My guys are loving, compassionate, and funny, and like most people, they have a narrow frame of reference for how they have dealt with pain. Their sprains and stitches and dental visits are finite, a sprint through nagging discomfort. Chronic nerve pain is an unending marathon of physical distress. They can’t see the torment that bursts in my neck and ruptures through my central nervous system. They can’t see the agony of the evil parrot perched on my shoulder, digging his sharp, scaly claws into my shoulder and pecking my neck and head with its razor-blade beak. It is invisible.

The English word “pain” is rooted in the Latin, poena, meaning punishment or penalty, as well as the sensation one feels when hurt. Chronic pain is like serving a life sentence. It is punishment for a crime you didn’t commit.

Living with chronic pain is like living next door to a bully. You never know when he’s going to stomp over, ring your bell, and knock you on your kiester. Chronic pain and invisible illness are a part of me, and I am doing my best to peacefully co-exist with them. I try to keep the pain-to-fun ratio in my favor. I have learned that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.

An eccedentesiast is someone who hides her pain behind a big fat smile. This is my approach to living with a chronic illness and chronic pain. There is evidence that the act of smiling makes you happier. I plaster on a smile rather than grimacing in pain. As Lord Byron advised, “Always laugh when you can, it is cheap medicine.” This is how I go on: smiling through the pain, trying to find a bright side. I have a serious illness, but I don’t take it too seriously. Every day we have a choice: be useful or useless. I choose to be useful, or I try to, and this contributes to my happiness. In a way, I am a very lucky unlucky person. I have found an upside to having my life turned upside down.



I rely on a wide variety of medicines to tamp down my chronic pain, and wear a lidocaine pain patch just below my collar bone. I am grateful that my neurologist is a fearless pharmacologist, and I try to live a healthy life. I’m a very healthy-looking, chronically sick person. I do my part by incorporating complementary therapies to help with my traditional medicinal protocols. Here are my two favorites, that I do every single day:

Researchers at the University of Liverpool have noted that reading and cognitive behavioral therapy have similar effects on the brain. Reading can trigger positive emotions as the reader engages with a book. The investment in a story or a poem recalls positive memories and sends new pain-free messages to the brain. By reading Irish America, you are doing something positive for yourself.

Living with chronic pain is difficult, but a sedentary lifestyle is the greatest single cause of serious health issues. The American Cancer Society followed over 100,000 subjects and the study proved that sitting all day causes a multitude of problems. Constant activity will make your overall health even worse. But it is inspiring that even very moderate exercise, such as stretching and walking, will stimulate the release of endorphins, your body’s natural painkillers, and mood enhancers. ♦

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The Irish Nightingaleof the Civil War Thu, 01 Nov 2018 07:54:25 +0000 Read more..]]> “The Irish-American Florence Nightingale” of the Civil War – Sister Mary Anthony.


The name of this Civil War medical pioneer has unjustly slipped between history’s proverbial cracks.  Still, her legacy flourishes:  “Her innovative triage techniques remain standard practices in every theater of war where American troops fight.” Those words come from a 2003 Pentagon report. They laud Sister Mary Anthony, “the Irish-American Florence Nightingale,” the woman whose innovations saved untold numbers of lives on the battlefields of the Civil War.

Her mission first unfolded amid the carnage of Shiloh, where her kind, consoling features proved the final earthly sight of many Yankees and Rebels. The middle-aged woman clad in the habit of the Sisters of Charity covered virtually every inch of the bloody turf, from the Hornet’s Nest to the banks of the Tennessee River, comforting the wounded, praying over the dead and dying, and directing stretcher bearers’ evacuation of the wounded to Union ships.

Sister Anthony, Mary (Murphy) O’Connell, had come a long way from her native Limerick and from the Ursuline Female Academy of Boston. Poverty, the arduous passage across the Atlantic and the prejudice of Boston Brahmins and Yankee workmen had not crushed Mary O’Connell’s spirit.  Instead, her character and resolve “were like forged iron.”

<em>Sister Mary Anthony O'Connell</em>

Sister Mary Anthony O’Connell.

Mary O’Connell was born in County Limerick on August 15, 1814, the daughter of William and Catherine (Murphy) O’Connell.  Tragedy arrived early in Mary’s life with the death of her mother when the girl was twelve.  In 1817, the “forgotten famine,” a harbinger of the Great Famine of the 1840s, engulfed Ireland and sent rising numbers of the Irish to America.  Among the “ragged refuse” who trudged aboard leaky, ancient merchant ships were the O’Connells.

The exact date of the O’Connells’ immigration to Boston is unknown, but the fact that Mary received her education at Charlestown’s prestigious Ursuline Academy, where the nuns taught girls age six to eighteen years, indicates that the family set foot among “the icicles of Yankee land” sometime in the 1820s.  Immigrant Irish families of the day lived mainly in the city’s North End, numbering about seven thousand by 1830 and beleaguered by Yankee mobs, who periodically vandalized Irish neighborhoods on Broad, Pond, Merrimac, and Ann Streets.

Many Irish girls of Mary O’Connell’s age worked as maids in Boston’s hotels and brownstone mansions, in many cases enduring the harsh epithets and whims of Brahmin families or in other, rarer instances becoming valued members of households. Mary was luckier in many respects than her peers, for she was accepted as a student at the Ursuline school, where she boarded with forty or so other girls. Only a handful, however, were Irish Catholics. Most of the young ladies were Protestants, boasting such Yankee pedigrees as Parkman, Endicott, and Adams. Because of the outstanding education offered by the Ursulines, a handful of Brahmin families laid aside anti-Catholic prejudice and packed off their pampered daughters to the graceful, three-story brick academy and to the ministrations of the nuns.

<em>Sister Mary Anthony O'Connell tending to a wounded soldier.</em>

Sister Mary Anthony O’Connell tending to a wounded soldier.

In August 1834, when a mob of Yankee workmen ransacked and torched the convent in a spasm of anti-Catholic rage, Mary O’Connell was twenty and had already graduated.  The influence of her Ursuline mentors had ignited a vocation in her, but unlike her teachers, she did not yearn to educate daughters of privilege.  She wanted to minister to the poor and the sick, and in June 1835 she was accepted into the convent of the American Sisters of Charity Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Leaving behind the familiar streets of the Irish North End, she could never shake images of the charred remnants of the Ursuline convent, testimony to the cultural and social obstacles confronting all Irish–Catholic immigrants and particularly their clerics and nuns. Mary O’Connell embraced both her challenges and her faith. She took her final vows in early 1837, and in March of that year, was assigned to Cincinnati’s St. Peter’s Orphanage.

As Sister Mary Anthony, she worked tirelessly with the city’s poor children, combining kindness with an intellect both keen and pragmatic, and rose steadily in her order’s hierarchy.  By 1852, she was appointed procuratrix of Cincinnati’s St. John’s Hotel for Invalids.  Nursing the sick had evolved into her true mission, and her medical skills would soon prove critical in a catastrophe about to engulf the entire nation.  On April 12, 1861, the roar of Confederate cannon pounding Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, heralded the foremost challenge of Sister Anthony’s career.

<em>Union soldiers bringing in the wounded.</em>

Union soldiers bringing in the wounded.

Shortly after war was declared, Sister Anthony and several of her fellow nuns began to tend to Union troops ravaged by a measles outbreak at Camp Dennison, near Cincinnati. Her compassion and her knowledge of the latest nursing techniques earned her the plaudits of the camp’s officers and the attention of the Union’s chief medical body, the U.S. Sanitary Commission. Like Clara Barton and Dorothea Dix, Sister Anthony was about to reform traditional, often harmful methods of treating wounded soldiers.

The first flash of the Irishwoman’s evolving impact upon military medicine materialized during General Ulysses S. Grant’s victorious assault upon Fort Donelson in early 1862. For surgical staffs, the campaign, fought along Kentucky’s Cumberland River, posed a formidable problem in the transport of wounded soldiers from battlefields to “floating hospital ships.”  From the gunwales of Union riverboats and on the battlefield, Sister Anthony devised techniques in which medical teams and stretcher–bearers sent the most severely wounded to the ships first, dispensing with the traditional practice of carting off the injured at random. Her methods, the first recognizably modern triage techniques in war zones, saved countless lives through faster hospital treatment and won her praise from President Abraham Lincoln. In tandem with her innovations in transport and treatment, she formulated fast and effective nursing programs for female hospital volunteers.

<em>Sister Mary Anthony's newspaper obituary.</em>

Sister Mary Anthony’s newspaper obituary.

In early April 1862, Sister Mary Anthony boarded a hospital ship chartered by the Sanitary Commission and packed with other nurses and physicians, including George Curtis Blackman, one of America’s foremost surgeons. He had personally selected Sister Anthony as his chief assistant. Their destination was a Tennessee River site called Shiloh, where one of the bloodiest battles in America’s annals was raging.

Nearly 23,000 Union and Confederate soldiers littered the muddy battlefield by April 17, 1862, their moans and shrieks pealing above the riverbank. Sister Anthony moved swiftly through the carnage and oversaw the transport of casualties to the waiting ships. As always, she made no distinction between Federal or Rebel soldiers; she saw only the extent of the wound. Once she returned to the “floating hospital,” she took her place as Dr. Blackman’s “right arm” at the surgical table, mixing her practical skills with moral support for men torn apart by musket balls, grape shot, and bayonets.

<em>Mother Anthony O'Connell</em>

Mother Anthony O’Connell.

At Shiloh, Sister Anthony not only proved an “angel of the battlefield,” but also cemented her burgeoning status as a luminary in wartime medicine.  She used her clout to compel the Catholic Church to train rising numbers of nuns as nurses, winning the admiration of even anti-Catholic Americans.

The Catholic Church officially assigned Sister Anthony to the U.S. Army of the Cumberland on September 1, 1862, at the request of the Sanitary Commission. She ran the nursing teams at Base Hospital 14 at Nashville and comforted not only battered troops, but also runaway slaves suffering from smallpox. Sister Anthony’s efforts on the battlefield and in the floating hospitals and the surgical tents alike led the government to commemorate her service and that of her fellow Sisters of Charity.

<em>Nuns of the battlefield bas relief by Jerome Connor.</em>

Nuns of the battlefield bas relief by Jerome Connor.

After the Civil War, Sister Mary Anthony continued her life of good works. She died of natural causes in Cincinnati at the age of 87. Her funeral, in December 1897, filled the city’s cathedral with mourners, and outside, another throng gathered to honor the gentle Sister of Charity.  Whenever asked where she had come from, she had invariably replied, “Ireland­–by way of Boston.”

Although the names of Barton and Dix would eclipse that of Sister Anthony, the Irish immigrant, in a career of quiet brilliance, had proven her mettle second to none. In famine-wracked Limerick, in the anti-Irish streets of Boston, in the classrooms of Charlestown’s ill-fated Ursuline convent, and on the battlefields of the Civil War, Mary O’Connell’s transformation from an impoverished immigrant girl to the “Irish-American Florence Nightingale” had unfolded with dignity, compassion and sheer selflessness.  Today, a portrait of Sister Mary Anthony hangs in the Smithsonian. ♦

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Retracing the Footsteps of the Last Gaelic King of Ireland in Rome Thu, 01 Nov 2018 07:53:30 +0000 Read more..]]> Why it’s time to reclaim the last days and figureheads of the old Gaelic world.


Stories matter, so here’s a good one. Four hundred and ten years ago this November the last two living Gaelic lords of Ulster arrived in Rome, uncertain of their welcome and feeling physically spent.

They were Rory O’Donnell former King of Tír Conaill, now the Earl of Tyrconnell, (with his brother Cathbharr) and Hugh O’Neill the Earl of Tyrone (with his son Hugh, the Baron of Dungannon).

If they felt like their world had collapsed they could be forgiven, because it had. Cruelly exiled a year earlier, their hasty departure from Ireland had signaled the final collapse of the old Gaelic order. One year later they arrived in Rome, after a perilous journey across Europe and the Alps that had been physically punishing for all of them.

We know that it was from the detailed account given in the Turas na dTaoiseach/the Departure of the Lords, the diary of the Flight of the Earls which was was kept by Tadhg Óg Ó Cianáin, a member of O’Neill’s retinue who journeyed with them from Rathmullen, County Donegal all the way to Rome.

<em>Steps from Trastevere toward the Church of San Pietro in Montorio.</em>

Steps from Trastevere toward the Church of San Pietro in Montorio.

The abrupt change in their fortunes must have broken their hearts. O’Neill was the same man who had once defeated Queen Elizabeth’s generals in Ulster, and who had effortlessly outmaneuvered the Earl of Essex, who led the biggest English army ever to Ireland to suppress his island-wide revolt.

But now it looked like their story had run out. All three members of O’Neill’s exalted company, minus the O’Neill himself, would be dead within the year.

I grew up on the shore of scenic Lough Swilly in County Donegal, the giant fjord that they had originally set sail from in 1607, and this June, four hundred and ten years later, I had an unexpected opportunity to visit Rome and go in search of O’Neill’s final resting place.

I felt called, to be honest. Growing up I had often wondered about them, O’Neill especially. Did he know he that was writing the last chapter of a great story, I wondered? Did he have the abiding sense of ending? Or did he hold out hope for a restoration, a return to power and to the old order?

<em>Steps toward the Church of San Pietro.</em>

Steps toward the Church of San Pietro.

The Annals of the Four Masters records O’Neill’s departure from Donegal: “That was a distinguished company for one ship, for it is most certain that the sea has not borne nor the wind wafted from Ireland in the latter times a party in any one ship more eminent, illustrious, and noble…” He was the among the first, and, as the Masters say, the most illustrious, of the centuries of Irish exiles that would follow. Millions of us have walked in his footsteps.

In Rome I booked rooms in Trastevere, the beautiful vine-covered neighborhood (which literally means “across the Tiber”) to the south of the Vatican. Maps on the internet had shown me I would be quite near to the church where O’Neill is buried, but on arrival I was astonished to discover I wasn’t just near it, I was literally at its foot. I had blindly thrown a dart at a map and hit bullseye.

Above my rooms lay a series of ancient steps that lead upward toward a steep hill, and at the top of that hill was the stately old church of San Pietro in Montorio. There are worse places to spend eternity. The elevated position catches the evening breezes and it looks out over the city’s fabled hills. A medieval tradition claims it was the site of Saint Peter’s crucifixion. It was twilight when I reached it.

Exile was such a fateful reversal for O’Neill. In Ireland he had been the chieftain of Tyrone and the most powerful lord in Ulster, but in Rome he was a political fugitive in need of aid, and a thorny political problem for the Vatican. The torturous political calculus of the period made him both a jewel and a pin, and that contradiction was never settled.

<em>Tempietto, a small commemorative martyrium (tomb) built by Bellini.</em>

Tempietto, a small commemorative martyrium (tomb) built by Bellini.

Researching the place before my visit I read that the poet John Keats had visited San Pietro in 1820 and the painter Giovanni Battista Lusieri had painted his view of Rome from the piazza on the Janiculum Hill around that time. Bellini had designed the side chapel. Looking out from my vantage point on the little hill I realized instantly that the view has hardly changed. Rome really is the eternal city.

Impressive as all of this was I was only there to meet an Irishman, the last High King of Ireland, who is buried inside the San Pietro Chapel, near the altar. That’s his ossuary there on the left of this picture.

It’s a quiet place, fittingly sombre. It’s also a beautiful and antique place, and it was an easy matter to travel back the centuries to the time he would have known the place himself. After his departure from Ireland the Plantation began in earnest. It’s said that he maintained hope of a return to Ireland, but political events made it impossible. He eventually died in Rome on July 20, 1616.

The setting sun fell across the slab on the church floor as I viewed it. It was inscribed D.O.M. HUGONIS PRINCIPIS ONELLI OSSA (“To God the Best and the Greatest. The bones of Prince Hugh O’Neill”).

<em>The ossuary of Hugh O'Neill in Rome.</em>

The ossuary of Hugh O’Neill in Rome.

Looking at it, I realized something else had been driving me that I hadn’t been aware of until that moment. I deeply wished, I realized, that I could have one good look at him, but how he was whilst he was alive, speaking to him in both Irish and English, and also to his companions, including Hugh.

He was the last of the Mohicans, the O’Neill. A living link to an unbroken Gaelic lineage that stretched back into antiquity. He was deeply rooted in his land and his traditions. He was one of the last truly whole examples of a Gaelic man. It moved me just to be in his vicinity, four centuries later.

Looking around I also realized that I have never read of a single official Irish commemoration that has been held there to acknowledge the last chapter of his epic life. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of Irish people who have ever even asked me about him.

I know that Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich replaced his original ossuary stone in the 1980’s. I know that Irish scholars and individuals have made pilgrimages here over many decades, my own family members included. But we haven’t marked this final chapter, we haven’t given him the national wake and send off that he richly deserves.

<em>Hugh O'Neill's Headstone.</em>

Hugh O’Neill’s Headstone.

I think we should. I think we should remember O’Neill’s epic journey and his great loss, which was our own great loss, and the start of many further ones. I think we could commemorate him now without stirring the wrath of the English, which was the fear during his own time.

And why should we commemorate him? Because the arrows that went up with the Normans came down with O’Neill, because he lived and embodied a fateful change in our history that we should honor and never forget.

Rome has preserved his remains for us but Ireland should preserve his memory. His story, as I wrote at the outset, matters profoundly. He stands at both the end and the beginning of a great shift in Irish history, and one way to come to terms with that lasting legacy is to commemorate what happened, to whom it happened, and for what it has made of us.

<em>Detail of the Church of San Pietro in Montorio.</em>

Detail of the Church of San Pietro in Montorio.

Rome is a beautiful and complex city, with so many eras clamoring for a hearing that we can forgive the locals if they sometimes shout. Most Romans I spoke to were unaware the very last Gaelic lord of Ulster was buried in their midst, at the center of one of their most beautiful neighborhoods, in fact.

We should change that, for them and for us. We should restore a part of what was sundered, we should publicly commemorate his final resting place, reclaim his story, and welcome his memory home at last. It’s time. ♦

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Roots: The Mahoney Clan Thu, 01 Nov 2018 07:52:09 +0000 Read more..]]> The surname Mahoney originally designated the descendants of Mathghamhain, an Irishman of the early 11th century who was killed in the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. He was the son of Cian mac Máelmuaid and his wife Sadhbh, who was the daughter of the High King Brian Boru, a member of the Eóganacht Raithlind dynastic line descending from Eoghan Mor, a 2nd-century King of Munster. The descendants of Mathghamhain, which means “bear-calf,” eventually became sovereigns over territory in west Cork, in particular around the Iveragh Peninsula and the town of Bandon.

Although the Mahoney’s have spread to all different parts of the world, a majority of descendants can still be found in Counties Cork and Kerry. There are several variations on the name, including Mahony, O’Mahoney, and O’Mahony, since the spelling of one’s surname was once not as important as it is today.

<em>Suzanne Somers.</em>

Suzanne Somers.

Suzanne Marie Mahoney was born in San Bruno, California in 1946, as the third of four kids in an Irish Catholic family, but she is perhaps better known by her married name, Suzanne Somers. The actress, author and singer is best known for her television roles as Chrissy Snow on Three’s Company and as Carol Foster-Lambert on Step By Step.

After getting shipwrecked in Wales while trying to return home to Ireland from Rome, Franciscan martyr Charles Mahoney, O.F.M. (1640-1679), was arrested, imprisoned, and executed in Denbigh for confessing to be a Catholic priest. He is one of the “Eighty-five Martyrs of England and Wales,” a group of men who were executed on charges of treason and related offenses in the Kingdom of England between 1584 and 1679. The group was beatified by Pope John Paul II.

<em>Dave Allen.</em>

Dave Allen.

Comedian Dave Allen, born David Tynan O’Mahony in Firhouse, County Dublin, in 1936, originally became known in Australia in 1963, but made regular television appearances in the United Kingdom in the late 1960s through the mid-1980s. The television show Dave Allen At Large was aired on the BBC from 1971 until 1979. He was often considered Britain’s most controversial comedian, habitually pointing out political hypocrisy and disregarding religious authority.

Even fictional characters have brought the name Mahoney to public attention, as proven by Woody Mahoney in the play Finian’s Rainbow (1947), about two Irish immigrants who arrive in the America’s Deep South – and the problems that ensue. Woody’s surname, characteristic charm, and urge to support and protect the people of his town ingratiate him quickly to Finian McLonergan, the title character, as well as his daughter, Sharon.

Another fictional Mahoney is Carey Mahoney, the main character from the comedy film series Police Academy, played by Steve Guttenberg. The series follows a group of misfit police recruits in their attempts to prove themselves capable. The last installment came out in 1994, but Guttenberg announced this year that there is a new film in the works.

<em>Joseph C. O'Mahoney.</em>

Joseph C. O’Mahoney.

Joseph Christopher O’Mahoney (1884-1962) was an American journalist, lawyer, and politician who served four terms as a Democratic senator from Wyoming. Both his parents were Irish immigrants.

<em>Marie Mahoney's baseball card.</em>

Marie Mahoney’s baseball card.

When the majority of able men went off to fight in World War II, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was started to keep baseball in the public eye. Nicknamed “Red” for her hair color, Marie Mahoney (1924-2016) was a right-handed outfielder for the league that would later inspire the film A League of Their Own.

<em>Balls Mahoney.</em>

Balls Mahoney.

Professional wrestler Jonathan Rechner (1972-2016) opted to join the Mahoney clan by adopting the ring name Balls Mahoney. He was a three-time Extreme Championship Wrestling Tag Team Champion, and is also known for working for WWE.

<em>Roger Mahony.</em>

Roger Mahony.

Roger Mahony (b. 1936) is an American cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church whom Pope John Paul II appointed to be Archbishop of Los Angeles in 1985, making him the first LA native to hold the office.

<em>John Mahoney.</em>

John Mahoney.

English-American actor John Mahoney (1940-2018) played the role of veteran and retired police detective Martin Crane, the father of Frasier and Niles Crane on the television show Frasier. In addition to this role, he worked as a voice actor and on Broadway.

<em>Mary Eliza Mahoney.</em>

Mary Eliza Mahoney.

The first African American to study and work as a professionally trained nurse in the US was a Mahoney. Mary Eliza Mahoney (1845-1926) co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN), which had a significant influence on eliminating racial discrimination in the registered nursing profession.

<em>Eddie Money.</em>

Eddie Money.

Musician Edward Joseph Mahoney (b. 1949), better known as Eddie Money, had a string of Top 40 hits and platinum albums in the 1970s and 1980s. Some famous songs of his include “Take Me Home Tonight,” “Two Tickets To Paradise,” and “Baby Hold On.” A reality show about Money and his family, Real Money, premiered in April on AXS TV.

<em>Katharine A. O'Keeffe O'Mahoney.</em>

Katharine A. O’Keeffe O’Mahoney.

Robert Frost knew the value of the Mahoney moniker, as his poetry teacher was Katharine A. O’Keeffe O’Mahoney (1855-1918), an Irish-born American educator, lecturer, and writer. She was the first female Irish-American lecturer in New England and authored Famous Irishwomen (1907).

Finally, another worthy individual of the Mahoney name is the subject of our cover story, Michael Mahoney. As the CEO and president of Boston Scientific, Michael has steered improvements to patient outcomes by focusing the company on addressing the needs of the evolving healthcare landscape. He has more than 25 years of experience building market-leading medical devices, capital equipment, and healthcare IT businesses, and is a member of the American Heart Association CEO roundtable.

The Mahoney clan is a spirited bunch who has proudly brought their name to all parts of the world while succeeding in various fields. ♦ Maggie Holland

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GAA in the USA Thu, 01 Nov 2018 07:51:52 +0000 Read more..]]> The passion, competition, and camaraderie of supporters and players of Gaelic games were on display at the USGAA Finals in Philadelphia over Labor Day Weekend.


September is traditionally the last month of the GAA season as the best of the best in Ireland play each other in the All-Ireland Finals. September is also the time of USGAA Finals, a competition that pits the best Hurling, Camogie, and Gaelic Football teams in North America against each other. It’s a gathering that’s been growing since the championship began 22 years ago, in 1996. Today, an estimated total of 2,000 people gather annually to participate in the three-day weekend of games, no matter how far they have to travel.

This year the games were just outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the early hours of a wet and rainy Friday morning in Malvern, P.A., “an Irish day,” there was already a massive buzz surrounding the grounds despite the weather, as teams from all over, the U.S. and Canada, coaches, organizers, heads of the some 200 GAA clubs and their supporters and families started to arrive. There were lots of greetings; handshakes and catch-up talk of years gone by. Stories circulated amongst the GAA faithful, of rising stars and veteran players, of hard-to-beat teams, and players who showed great promise.

Over the next three days, 100 teams – hurling, camogie (the female version of hurling), and Gaelic football – would be split into different skill levels – from Senior to Junior B; then divided into four divisions; to play in 19 different competitions.

As I walked around the manicured pitches and tents full of equipment, food, and drink, the majority of the voices were distinctly American, cheery, and enthusiastically looking forward to the days ahead. For many of those gathered it had become a yearly tradition, a chance to connect with others who shared their love of Gaelic games. There were large contingents from Milwaukee, Charlotte, Chicago, and several teams from San Francisco.

<em>Captain Heather Warren of Coastal Virginia Camogie focuses on winning the ball before a Seattle Gaels camog does.</em>

Captain Heather Warren of Coastal Virginia Camogie focuses on winning the ball before a Seattle Gaels camog does.


I followed the camogie action on the first day of the tournament. Like hurling, camogie demands a tremendous level of skill, fitness, ball control, and heart, and this soon became evident as the Seattle Gaels and the New York Annie Moores took the field. The difference between the two teams was supposed to be a major factor, given that the Gaels club was established in the 1970s and had won a USGAA title in 2016, and the Annie Moores were a relatively new team, but the level of play was superb on both sides.

While the Gaels did take the lead at half time, the Annie Moores showed the old New York grit and determination to come back and made it a competitive game by scoring two great team play goals. However, the Seattle Gaels went out on top despite the New York determination.

Camogie doesn’t always get the recognition and respect that it deserves, and many of the women I talked to over the weekend were adamant about wanting to see the community and their sport expand. “We’re pro-camogie, we’re all about our sport and we want our sport to grow,” Heather Morris of Seattle Gaels emphasized.

Another terrific camogie match-up that caused much excitement was a junior game between the Philadelphia Na Tóraidhe, and the Milwaukee Hurling Club, one of the largest GAA clubs in the United States. Founded in 1996 with just 34 players the club now boasts over 300. Unlike most other clubs, the MHC fields co-ed teams, and is primarily made up of players who are American, and have never seen or played the game before.

The Philadelphia side, led by Katrina Terry performed well for their first USGAA National Championship and went on to win their first game. Despite the loss the MHC team manager Cory Johnson explained that, “In the Milwaukee Hurling Club we’re all about family first, game second, so I think what happens when we come to the Nationals and they [new players] see the veterans who are shaking hands and hanging out with St. Louis, or there’s hugs with Minnesota, or seeing all the babies, I think they get that pretty quickly, and then they go home and become addicted.”

This feeling of acceptance, growth, and focus on family was a spontaneous theme that weekend. After a long day of games and torrential downpour, all the clubs went out to dinner or to bars to relax and enjoy each other’s company before they became rivals the next day.

<em>A Chicago St. Brigid's player flying by her Charlotte James Connolly's opponent.</em>

A Chicago St. Brigid’s player flying by her Charlotte James Connolly’s opponent.


I watched more Gaelic football and hurling and this time I spoke with Irish-born players who had a lot to say about their American or Canadian teammates. The first game on the day was not the greatest as the J.P. Ryans handily beat the Washington D.C. Gaels but the manager for the victorious the Ryans of Vancouver saluted his American opponents. “I’d have to say, they were very, very committed, and it’s the same thing you get when you come to North American Championships, the commitment is unbelievable. I have to say the American born-players, the effort they put in, their fitness, and physicality always seems to be better than ours [Irish players in Canada].”

For the second game, I stuck with the D.C. Gaels as they were playing against a Philadelphia side, the Notre Dames, a squad of all Americans who won out in the end. Despite going 0-2 on the day in hurling and football, there was a unique perspective from Sophie Friedl, a dual player (one who plays Gaelic football and hurling camogie), as she started playing Gaelic Games in college, a major entry point for Americans into Gaelic Games. “I have been playing co-ed hurling and camogie since I was in college with the Montana Grizzlies, we started a team out there and we were pretty successful, I went to play in Ireland for a year, and moved to D.C. and knew there had to be a team and I’ve been playing football with them for the first time and we’re growing with both codes.” Throughout the weekend, Sophie and I saw so many friends we played against in the NCGAA tournaments with, and we reminisced about old times, and we all agreed wherever we play there is always someone you know.

There was an exciting local hurling semi-final between Allentown Hibernians and Philadelphia Na Tóraidhe right after the D.C. Gaels doubleheader where tempers flared and hurls flew. Both teams are known for their fiery passion and find pride in their traditions of American recruitment. The Pennsylvanians fought hard against each other but Allentown beat the hosts in the end to claim bragging rights until the season starts up again despite the close loss, one of the main men from Na Tóraidhe, Anthony Picozzi recognized their determination by making a congratulatory speech to the opposition, another proud tradition of the GAA. The sun finally started to come out and it was soon time to check out two of the last games of the day, a senior semi-final between the J.P. Ryans and the Austin Celtic Cowboys, and the other, senior semi-final between Tipperary Boston and San Francisco Na Fianna, and they were two of the best matches of the weekend. The GAA and clubs throughout the United States and Canada is home away from home for a lot of Irish immigrants, whether they’re looking for a change from living in Ireland or need to find work the GAA is always an opportunity to make business connections, make new friends or reunite with old ones, just like Paul Nolan of the Vancouver J.P. Ryans who came to Canada looking for a new change in work: “I just took a couple years out to work somewhere different so I’m here now and seen the club before I came over and became involved with them.” Paul, actually reunited with a old college roommate at the Finals he went to school with, a Liberty Gaels coach. Talk about a home away from home.

Two great hurling matches later, the games were over for another day, but everyone was bursting to watch the championships the next day.

<em>Dan Flanagan of Allentown Hibernians takes his point against rivals Philadelphia Na Tóraidhe.</em>

Dan Flanagan of Allentown Hibernians takes his point against rivals Philadelphia Na Tóraidhe.


The final day of the USGAA Finals was a great one full of drama, heartbreak, joy, and an emphasis on homegrown players. The first game I watched was the Junior Camogie final between Coastal Virginia GAA and Seattle Gaels. The Virginians won out on the day, making the first of two championships that the club as a whole went on to win. If you listen to our podcast, The Story, you’ll know all about the emphasis on family Coastal Virginia has, as they are currently in a process of adding more and more children to their ranks to eventually grow the game. Captain Heather Warren said it this way: “We’re all friends, we all hang out together, you know. I mean we are a family, we support our guys, they support us, we have a lot of couples. We’re just going to make our own youth team, we’re all American and we’re here to have fun.”

Another All-American side, the Patriots from Chicago, were facing up against tough competition: the Austin Celtic Cowboys, a side that had a strong Irish contingent in the Intermediate Football final. The Patriots took it to the Cowboys as they fought hard to tie the game before the half time whistle. Their extra efforts almost saw them win the cup as they only lost by two points to the more experienced Celtic Cowboys. The representative from the USGAA presenting the trophy gave words of encouragement to the Patriots: “ I’ve been watching ye for the last ten years and you’re a great credit. You’ve started off at Junior, you’re doing the right thing coming up the ranks, and you’re not too far from Senior.”

One of the best matches at the weekend was the Senior Ladies Gaelic football Final between the Charlotte James Connolly’s and the Chicago Saint Brigids. The two sides had great support from both of their clubs, but the effort put in by the travelling support of the Charlotte James Connolly’s was impressive: they not only had 50 or 60 supporters show up, they also had a full live stream with live commentary and a whole tent just to house the equipment meant to broadcast between a drone and the regular camera. However, the support didn’t help the Charlotte side over the line and, despite their valiant efforts the Saint Brigids of Chicago went on to win by a point in a very close and exciting game that ended up with 11 goals total in the match.

One of the best ways to describe the range of emotions the supporters like Charlotte James Connolly’s felt that weekend was in the words of David Wogan of Play Hurling, who promotes Gaelic Games through social media. He described the USGAA Finals by saying “We all share a passion for hurling, camogie, and Gaelic football, and that’s a beautiful thing.”

<em>Philadelphia Na Tóraidhe and Milwaukee Hurling Club camogs scrap for the ball.</em>

Philadelphia Na Tóraidhe and Milwaukee Hurling Club camogs scrap for the ball.

While there is always some beauty, there is also some pain as not every team could win a championship. One of the harder stories, for some anyway, (joyful for others) was the Senior Camogie final, the very last game of the weekend, between the Liberty Gaels who wanted to return home with the trophy for, the fourth year in a row, and the San Francisco Cú Chulainns, who weren’t afraid to foil the Gaels’ plan. While the Liberty Gaels were the favorites, and it looked like they were about to bring home the trophy with the amount of goals they scored in the first half, it didn’t shake the Cú Chulainns at all. In the second half they came out roaring and brought the game closer and closer until the very last puck when the Liberty Gaels gave away a free while the game was tied up. Into the limelight stepped goalkeeper Rita Burke, who took her free, and slayed her Cú – just as Setanta did when he became Cú Chulainn­ – winning the championship.

The weekend of competition and the year of hard Finals were over, but that didn’t bring down the place at all. The buzz continued in the beer tent, where people were dancing, throwing hay bales around for the fun of it, and having friendly drinks between those who were sworn enemies merely hours ago. On the outside looking in, people might think that the games and the community are niche or the sport looks too rough and intimidating to get involved with, but the GAA in the USA is one of, if not the most, friendly and welcoming sports organizations around today. Naturally sports and tournaments like these are often about winning, and yet I saw these people celebrating together the spirit and focus of the GAA which are community, friendship, and passion for heritage. These people won off the pitch, no matter if their team won or lost while on it. ♦  Dave Lewis

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