October November 2006 Issue – Irish America https://irishamerica.com Irish America Magazine Mon, 15 Jul 2019 20:00:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.10 82361074 Tara’s Reign https://irishamerica.com/2006/10/taras-reign/ https://irishamerica.com/2006/10/taras-reign/#respond Sun, 01 Oct 2006 09:30:10 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=12296 Read more..]]> Declan O’Kelly talks to Miss USA Tara Conner and finds there is a steely resolve and inner grace to this Southern beauty

Tara Conner remembers being a boisterous girl who enjoyed the outdoor life, playing sports with her brother Josh and getting into all sorts of devilment. One day her mother told her she looked really pretty in a dress, so Tara decided to enter the 1998 Russell County Fair, and duly walked away with the title. This victory prompted her to leave boyish things behind and embrace the world of pageantry, beginning a journey that has taken her all the way to the top.

She may be just 20, but this pageant veteran has seen and done it all in the world of competitive beauty. Tara is one of an elite group of women who have competed in the three major beauty competitions: Miss Teen USA, Miss USA and Miss Universe. She won Miss Teen Kentucky and was second runner-up in the Miss Teen USA competition in 2002. Not one to mope around about coming second, she simply dusted herself off and began to prepare for Miss Kentucky 2006. Kentucky’s record in Miss USA had been improving steadily over the past few years, culminating in 2005 when Kristen Johnson finished second runner-up to North Carolina’s Chelsea Cooley. Organizers were keen for Miss Kentucky 2006 to continue the tradition of contending for the national title. Little did they know that by picking Tara Conner they would unleash a blonde bombshell who would bring the title back to the state for the first time. In front of millions of TV viewers, Tara was crowned Miss USA on April 21, fulfilling a lifelong dream. As Miss USA she represented her country in the Miss Universe competition in Los Angeles on July 23 and got into the final five, eventually finishing fourth runner-up to winner Miss Puerto Rico, Zuleyka Rivera.

And make no mistake; this lady definitely excites aesthetic admiration. When I met her at the Miss Universe office just off 56th Street in Manhattan on a sunny August Friday afternoon, she had just finished a workout with her personal trainer, Sid. A petite lass, about five-foot-five in her flip-flops, with blond hair that occasionally caresses her shoulders and camouflages mischievous brown eyes, she is extremely bubbly and has a smile straight out of a Colgate commercial. Wearing a horizontally striped turquoise summer dress that showcased her svelte figure, she is the embodiment of summer cool on a day when the temperatures were anything but.

Since April, Tara’s life has been a whirlwind of personal appearances and autograph signings, but the new Miss USA is not complaining. “It’s been a roller coaster, you face so many different challenges and it takes a lot of strength to get through. You really have to be made for this job. A lot of people look at it like ‘I want this title,’ but I looked at it thinking ‘I really want this job.’ I knew how stressful it was going to be, making appearances left and right, running backwards and forwards. It’s very demanding. If you are not emotionally prepared for it, then you are not going to make a good Miss USA.”

Tara Elizabeth Conner was born on December 18, 1985 to John and Brenda Conner in Russell Springs, Kentucky. The town, with a population of 2,500, has three stop lights (a fourth is on the way) and the biggest store is a K-Mart. Conner’s Miss USA win has boosted the small city’s profile, and she lights up when she talks of home. “It’s a little slice of heaven. Everyone knows everyone else, everyone is very hospitable, you can’t go there and not feel like you are at home, and the atmosphere is very laid back. They are so excited about it, you know, a small-town girl did something and a lot of people now know where Russell Springs, Kentucky is. If you Googled it before I won I doubt that anything popped up. It does now.”

Possessing such a classic Irish name as Tara Conner, the former tomboy turned head-turner is proud of her Irish heritage. “Lawrence Conner came to America from Dublin in 1752 and eventually settled in Virginia in 1770. My great-great-grandfather’s name was Johnny Conner and he had eleven children, one of which was my great-grandfather Carmel Conner. My grandfather’s name was also Johnny Conner, so they carried the name on down and my dad’s name is John Conner. I also know I have Irish heritage on my mother’s side, but I am not sure exactly from where.”

Family is of key importance to Conner, who cites the influence of her Granny Conner and mother as the most important in her life. Granny Conner was in her mid-fifties when she decided to take her GED test, and then decided to go to college and complete a business degree. She still works in the school system in Russell Springs, and her determination seems to have passed on to her granddaughter. “For me it was awesome that she went from not having an education to wanting to get one to finally doing it,” Tara says. “She has been a hard worker all her life and is such a good role model. She has instilled in me such great morals and values.”

Tara’s mother, who works with Fruit of the Loom, evokes a similar emotive response from the young beauty queen. “If I turn out half as good as she does I will be truly blessed. She knows what real happiness is, she knows what it is like to love, to be a caregiver and to take care of her children. She is just amazing.”

Josh, her only sibling, is 18 months older than Tara and is stationed with the U.S. Navy in Naples, Italy as a master-at-arms in the Military Police. Apart from a web-cam conversation, she hasn’t seen him in over a year but she hopes to remedy that soon and feels that the Navy has been good for him. “I think he wanted to do something with his life. He needed to be motivated, and the best way to motivate any young man or any female is to stick them in the military because they learn so much about self-composure and discipline.” Not that her win had a negative effect on his reputation – on the contrary. “I think it just made him more popular. His sis is Miss USA and he got a little hot spree there for a while.”

It wasn’t all tiaras and tears of happiness, though, as Tara’s parents divorced when she was 14. Though she maintains a very good relationship with her dad, a corporate controls engineer, the divorce had a profound influence on her growing up, or growing up faster. “Divorce is very, very painful. I am not going to say that I did not go through a bad time – I was 14 years old, of course I did – but because of that I have developed the thickest skin. I am still a major caregiver, because I felt I had to be there for both Mom and Dad. Divorce is hard for everyone, especially the children, and I had to grow up very fast. But look at where I am now! The divorce has not hindered anything I have done; if anything it has been a motivator.”

Did divorce trigger a subconscious desire in Conner to pursue pageantry with renewed vigor, as a vehicle where she was in complete control of her emotional environment? “I am a control freak, I love for things – I don’t want to say for things to go my way, but when they do I am happy about it because I know how hard I have worked. The divorce seems to have instilled a huge work ethic in me, because I started working right after.” And work she did, paying her own way to relieve the burden on her mom, who was working two jobs to make ends meet.

This work ethic she developed at an early age is paying off now, as the schedule of appearances and responsibilities of a Miss USA is quite daunting. Now, some may say that the Miss USA competition is frivolous and superficial, some might even argue that it exploits the looks of young women, but the work that Miss USA and the Miss USA organization do together is deadly serious. Miss USA primarily works with breast and ovarian cancer research and fund-raising. She spends a lot of her year actively raising money for these causes. Miss USA 2005, Chelsea Cooley, raised over $22 million during her reign.

The importance of these issues is not lost on the 2006 Miss USA. “To me that is of the utmost importance. Our official causes are breast and ovarian cancer and we are huge supporters of the USO [United Service Organizations]. That’s your job as Miss USA; you are an advocate and you are an ambassador, and if you don’t fully appreciate and embrace this and really want to help or make a change or increase awareness, then you are not doing your job. For me just learning the information and hearing some of the stories I have heard and people I have met have really touched me. Recently I was watching The Real World / Road Rules Challenge on MTV and one of the girls had just been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and that was what sparked my first tears as Miss USA. I was just watching something on television and feeling ‘God love her,’ because I now saw what the disease can do. I knew a little going into it, but when I really started getting into it, it really did me in. I am very passionate about cancer research.”

So what does the Miss USA Organization think of their new ambassador? “The first word I would use to describe Tara is hysterical,” says Public Relations Coordinator Erin Cooney. “She is very funny, very real, which actually has been my experience with all the girls I’ve worked with. They have flaws like everyone else, they get angry and sad and mad, they are real people.” The Miss USA Organization is also there to advise and educate, and Tara is quick to point this out. “We are always looking out for everyone’s best interests. I told them I wanted to be one of the best Miss USA’s they have ever had. And I am passionate about this and I want to leave my mark and they said, ‘OK.’ If I do or say something that’s not right, I want them to correct me because it will improve me.” Erin wholeheartedly agrees that this method has advantages but sagely points out, “If you are open to criticism, it can be a great thing. But at the end of the day we want Tara to be Tara, because that is how she got here.”

So how has the country girl adapted to life in the Big Apple? She is sharing a Trump three-bedroom apartment (The Miss Universe Organization is a Donald Trump and NBC partnership) for a year with Miss Universe Zuleyka Rivera and Miss Teen USA Katie Blair. It comes as no surprise that there are three bathrooms in the apartment! But there are no butlers or foot servants. Tara has taken the subway (though it is not her preferred method of transport) and does her own laundry. All three beauty queens are left to their own devices when it comes to day-to-day living. But with her hectic schedule, is there any time for romance or a boyfriend? “Right now I am so focused on my job, romance doesn’t really interest me. Of course all girls love to have romance in their lives, but right now I have this job for one year and that’s all I am focused on.” Some subtle inquiries on my part discovered that a certain someone was left behind in Kentucky, but the talkative Tara goes strangely silent on further attempts to procure information on the subject.

One thing she is most definitely not silent about is her pride in coming from the South and her disdain for those who play on the negative stereotypes. “A lot of people feel that people from the South are ignorant; just because you are from the South they feel you may not be educated. Just because your accent is a little bit different doesn’t mean that you are not educated, does not mean that you cannot make as big an impact as anyone else,” she says. But what can Conner do as Miss USA to fight these prejudices? “As Miss USA what I want to do is show that I can speak well and that I am intelligent and very passionate about the things that I do. I worked very hard to get to the position I am in, and coming fourth runner-up in Miss Universe wasn’t too bad for a Southern girl, now was it?”

Once she fulfills her duties as Miss USA, Tara hopes to follow her new dream of becoming a TV host à la Kelly Ripa, whom she admires greatly. Ever the planner, though, if offers don’t come in, then she will go back to school and take advantage of the two-year scholarship she won from the Miss USA competition at the School for Film and Television in New York. But what if other offers came in, for example, an offer to pose for Playboy, would that be of interest to Tara Conner? “Being in Playboy is something that I’m just not interested in. Different girls, different tastes. It’s the Southern belle in me. I have that little Southern charm thing; I’m a Southern girl. I don’t do that.”

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Dancing at Lacrosseroads https://irishamerica.com/2006/10/dancing-at-lacrosseroads/ https://irishamerica.com/2006/10/dancing-at-lacrosseroads/#respond Sun, 01 Oct 2006 09:28:28 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=12384 Read more..]]> A look at the impressive development of the sport of lacrosse in ireland, normally known for Gaelic games, soccer and rugby

It was not so startling to see the vivid green Ireland uniforms at the World Lacrosse Championships in London, Ontario, as it was to see the result, a sixth-place finish in just two years of life for the Irish Lacrosse Foundation.

How did this unstructured toddler go from an unranked, thrown-together development team in 2002, to within a couple of goals of fifth on the planet in 2006?

To hear head coach Richie Moran tell it, the surge to a point where Ireland rocked a shocked Germany 13-5 is a classic case of Irish-American cooperation. Ireland finished 5-2 overall and won its division in the 32-team global showdown two years after the foundation was incorporated.

“To get this result was sensational and thanks to the dedication of volunteers and players from both countries,” gushed Moran as he stood in a sea of green following the thorough victory. “There was a lot of volunteer help from the United States, people who went over to Ireland and helped develop some players there for this.”

Moran, who guided Cornell University’s lacrosse program across 30 seasons, fused 11 American citizens of Irish parentage, four Americans born in Ireland, and seven Irishmen into a team that was the surprise of the world championships, which are held every four years.

“The game was almost nonexistent in Ireland five years ago,” noted Michael Conway, a Long Island, New York native who has traveled back and forth to Dublin working with Michael Kennedy of the Dublin Lacrosse Club. “They’re adding teams, but it’s a slowly developing thing. You can’t rush things.”

Said Kennedy: “We’ve come on in leaps and bounds when you consider we were seventh in the European championships two years ago, when Germany was a finalist, and now we’ve beaten them here.”

There was also an unseen hand at work, the inspirational No. 10 each player wore on his helmet. It was to honor Eamon McEneaney, a former Cornell star who died on 9/11.

The hall-of-fame player led Cornell to national championships in 1976 and 1977, and was a vice-president at Cantor Fitzgerald, the financial firm wiped out in the attack on the Twin Towers. “Eamon was involved in our early discussions about helping Ireland start a lacrosse program and wanted to help coach,” said New Yorker John Cavanaugh, vice-president and medical director of the Irish Lacrosse Foundation.

Surely there was some magic in the air, agreed Sean Bodie, a 21-year-old Boston native who moved to Dublin at age 16.

“Hard to believe we could do this, considering where the sport was a few years ago when I was looking for a place to play. All I could find was some leagues in England.”

Then roaming the Internet one day, Bodie saw a notice for the Dublin Lacrosse Club.

“I showed up expecting a lot of players but there were just three of us to toss the ball around in Phoenix Park. But soon enough people got friends interested and we had 30 guys and could have some real scrimmages.”

John Kelly, a 23-year-old novice at the attack position for Ireland, was one of the early converts in Dublin. He liked the passion of the game, seeing some similarities with hurling.

“I kind of stumbled into it but now, after two years, I’m hooked. I like the idea of having some input into a new sport.”

Kelly says lacrosse has some attractive parallels to hurling but noted “there’s probably more pace to lacrosse because of the rolling substitutions.”

There’s also more protection, with helmets, gloves and shoulder pads.

Even so, his parents were startled by the aggressive nature of lacrosse when they flew to London, Ontario, a university city about halfway between Detroit and Toronto, to watch their son play for the first time.

“They said, ‘Geez, it’s physical, isn’t it’?” A highlight for him and the other Irish players, which included another 11 from the developmental squad, was a scrimmage with the Iroquois Nation, a cross-border North American team made up mostly of native people from the Onondaga area near Syracuse, New York, and Six Nations in southern Ontario.

“They had our heads spinning, the way they could pass the ball around,” said Kelly. But Irish lacrosse had its own heady moments leading up to the World’s, stressed coach Moran.

“Last year using Irish players only, we defeated Wales and Scotland to win the Celtic Cup in Cardiff. That was unbelievable.”

It was also a touching moment for the veteran coach. “I saw young men win medals who had never won medals before. It was important for them to have that kind of success.”

Also, a young women’s Irish team composed of players with just four months experience won the European Newcomer’s Cup last year, a hugely impressive feat, considering that women’s numbers are lower than men’s and centered on the solitary University of Dublin lacrosse club.

“So, 2005 was a watershed year for us,” explained Kennedy. “And with our success here we can take a lot of enthusiasm back home to continue the work of getting more teams.”

He noted that well-traveled Irish know about the sport and many would like to try it but there has been no infrastructure.

“There’s not even a shop in Ireland right now where you can buy a lacrosse ball.”

Moran says that building up the game in Ireland and gradually supplanting American players with Irish-born talent will take getting lacrosse into the primary schools.

“It’s important that people in Ireland understand we’re not asking hurling and Gaelic football to move over. We’d love to have some of those players on the margins in those sports, people who aren’t playing that much, to pick up a lacrosse stick.”

He says that to get past Japan and Australia, the two teams which his team lost to, Ireland needs to get quicker and bigger.

“We were down 8-2 to Japan and came back to lose 11-9, but their quickness hurt us. When we lined up against Australia (which won 23-5) it was like men going against a junior high school, there was a considerable size difference.”

Australia, by the way, won the bronze medal with a convincing win over the Iroquois Nation, while Canada ended 28 years of American dominance in the sport with a 15-10 victory over the U.S. for the gold medal.

As a footnote, lacrosse is not entirely new to Ireland. The Irish Lacrosse Foundation points out it was played there in the 1800s and in 1908 a team composed of Irish and British players won the Olympic silver medal, losing 14-10 to Canada.

Kennedy says the notion of Irishmen on the Olympic podium in eight years, given the arc of improvement, is not a far-fetched goal.

Indeed, in their center-field celebration at the World’s, Moran drew the team together and held his hands above him like a steeple, asking the players to note the college divisional ring on one hand and championship ring on the other.

 

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News From Ireland https://irishamerica.com/2006/10/news-from-ireland/ https://irishamerica.com/2006/10/news-from-ireland/#respond Sun, 01 Oct 2006 09:28:04 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=12302 Read more..]]> Taxi drivers in Ireland are targeting the Ryder Cup in their efforts to secure a fare rate hike from regulator Ger Deering. The three main taxi unions voted in favor of going on strike during the international golf tournament which will take place from September 22-24. As the venue in Straffan, Co. Kildare is not accessible by public transport, the cabbies feel they can use it as a pressure point in negotiations. The unions are already in dispute with the regulator over changes to the fare structure proposed to come into effect in September. They have already held two one-day stoppages and now see the prestigious Ryder Cup as part of their strategy. . . .

DONEGAL TD Niall Blaney finally returned to the fold of the Fianna Fáil party after his family spent 35 years estranged from the organization. His uncle Neil Blaney had been expelled from Fianna Fáil in 1971 following a crisis in which Blaney was embroiled in an effort to provide arms to embattled nationalists in Northern Ireland. Despite the expulsion, he continued to run his seat as an Independent Fianna Fáil deputy until his death in 1996. His brother Harry Blaney then assumed the seat before passing it on to son Niall. Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Bertie Ahern made strenuous efforts to end the 35-year estrangement, and with Fianna Fáil facing a general election it is assumed that the leadership wanted to secure its hold in Donegal northeast. . . .

OVER 100,000 Polish nationals are now living and working in Ireland. The other EU accession states make up a smaller number, although there are significant numbers of economic migrants from Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia, Czech Republic and Slovakia. Most arrivals are aged between 18 and 50 and although many have found employment, some have been hampered by poverty and language difficulties. The Polish embassy in Dublin estimates that over 600 Poles are now depending on charity institutions for assistance. The Irish government introduced legislation in May 2004 to prevent non-nationals from coming to Ireland to avail of social welfare benefits. The recent influx has strained the resources of charity agencies that provide food and shelter. “Because there is no safety net for them they are expected to be self-sufficient from the moment they arrive,” said Kieran Stenson of Focus Ireland. “The vast majority are [self-sufficient] but those who aren’t are forced into homelessness.” . . .

STRINGFELLOWS lapdancing club closed its doors after trading for just six months in Dublin. The club, which drew local opposition from residents in the Parnell Street area of the north inner city, was an Irish branch of the London-based operation run by Peter Stringfellow. Protests against the venture had continued through its short life. Although protestors celebrated the club’s demise there is no shortage of lapdancing clubs around the city in what appears to be a very lucrative business. . . .

TAOISEACH Bertie Ahern made a public apology on behalf of the state to the family of John Carty, the 27-year-old Longford man who was shot by gardai at the end of a 25-hour siege in the town of Abbeylara. The tragedy occurred six years ago, but an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident – Carty was armed when fatally shot – was highly critical of garda handling of a very tense situation. In a month when the garda force was castigated by the Morris Tribunal, a report compiled by Justice Barr stated that Carty, who suffered from bipolar depression, should have been more sensitively approached by negotiators. The report described the operation at Abbeylara fraught by “gross negligence and incompetence” which led to Carty being shot by officers from the Emergency Response Unit.

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Irish Eye on Hollywood https://irishamerica.com/2006/10/irish-eye-on-hollywood-24/ https://irishamerica.com/2006/10/irish-eye-on-hollywood-24/#respond Sun, 01 Oct 2006 09:27:30 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=12345 Read more..]]> Two of Hollywood’s most promising young Irish actors, Cillian Murphy and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, remain very busy. And coming up the show biz ladder not far behind them is Kerry Condon, a Tipperary-born actress who will be featured in a big-budget HBO mini-series in January.

But the biggest Irish movie news early this fall surely is the opening of The Departed, Martin Scorsese’s Irish-American crime epic. Think of it as “The Gangs of Boston,” starring Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg. Nicholson plays mob boss Frank Costello, while DiCaprio and Damon play good cop and bad cop respectively. The movie is set to open in early October, and will likely get plenty of Oscar support.

Now, on to the Irish youth movement in Hollywood.

First off, Cillian Murphy (Red Eye, Batman Begins, Breakfast on Pluto) can currently be seen in a film that is breaking box office records in Ireland: Irish Civil War epic The Wind that Shakes the Barley, directed by Ken Loach and starring Murphy and fellow Irish actor Liam Cunningham.

Wind follows the lives of two brothers who battle the British forces of the Black and Tans in 1919. The film won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival and took in more money than any other movie the first weekend it opened in Ireland.

IFC Entertainment has acquired all U.S. distribution rights for the movie, which will be released simultaneously in cinemas and through video-on-demand on cable channels next spring.

Up next for the Cork-born Murphy is the apocalyptic Sci-Fi thriller Sunshine, directed by acclaimed Scotsman Danny Boyle. (Boyle and Murphy first teamed up in the 2003 movie 28 Days Later.) Sunshine also stars Aussie beauty Rose Byrne and Irish-American Troy Garity (the son of Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden). Look for Sunshine in October.

Murphy has also signed on to play a film noir buff alongside Lucy Liu in Watching the Detectives, a romantic comedy currently shooting in New York. As for Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, his star is rising following a brilliant performance in Woody Allen’s Match Point. Next up for Rhys-Meyers is a Showtime cable series called The Tudors, which is being hyped as a very modern look at Henry the VIII and his numerous wives. Rhys-Meyers is slated to play Henry in this series, which also stars Sam Neill and Jeremy Northam. The Tudors was filmed in Dublin over the summer.

A costume cable mini-series is also where American audiences will get another look at up-and-coming Irish actress Kerry Condon who has had roles in films such as Angela’s Ashes, Ned Kelly and Unleashed. In January, she will be among the stars of HBO’s Rome, playing the role of Octavia, in the second season of this exploration of sex and politics in the ancient Italian city.

Speaking of television ventures, Irish-American Bridget Moynahan – who has appeared on Sex in the City – is returning to the small screen, while also keeping busy with the big screen.

Moynahan, who has appeared in films such as The Recruit and I, Robot, is set to play Tim Robbins’ wife in a movie called Noise, about a man driven to violence by the constant noise of car alarms in his neighborhood.

Meanwhile, in September, Moynahan returns to TV in the new ABC series Six Degrees. The producers of Lost and Alias are hoping for another hit with this series about strangers whose lives are intertwined.

“It’s a story that will prove just how small the world really is and how someone just five people away could be shaping your future right now,” is how Six Degrees is described by the network.

Jay Hernandez (Friday Night Lights), Erika Christensen (Flightplan) and Hope Davis (About Schmidt) also star in Six Degrees.

It seems like “Lohan Goes Wild,” is a headline we read all the time. But next year, Lindsay Lohan will be going “Wilde,” when she stars alongside Sean Bean and Annette Bening in a new version of Oscar Wilde’s classic A Woman of No Importance.

Meanwhile, as all these young ones establish their names in Hollywood, Irish veterans such as Daniel Day-Lewis, Gabriel Byrne and Neil Jordan are also keeping busy.

Day-Lewis is shooting an adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s novel There Will Be Blood. The film, directed by critical darling Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love), is about an investor who buys a tract of land and strikes oil.

But this is no rosy look at the American Dream. Instead, despite his wealth, Day-Lewis’ character spirals downward.

Some wags on the gossip pages were saying similar things about Day-Lewis himself, claiming the actor was losing a dangerous amount of weight on the Texas set of There Will Be Blood. One tabloid said the quirky actor looked “manorexic.”

Danger of a different kind was faced not long ago by Gabriel Byrne, who was shooting in Australia. “I have done two films [in Australia] that I have hugely enjoyed but I have almost been killed five times,” Byrne was quoted as saying.

Among the hazards he faced shooting Wah Wah and Jindabyne (check for both on DVD, if you didn’t catch their art house runs), Byrne stepped on a venomous snake which was sunning itself, and then was nearly run off a road by a kangaroo.

Byrne also explained why he’s been drawn to smaller movies these days.

“Being a European actor in America is an uphill struggle unless you manage to get into a gigantic hit which wipes out any ethnic difference and you become the thing that they value the most, which is box office bankability,” he said.

“Being a European actor of a particular age without a huge box office hit, I try to work with interesting directors. It doesn’t matter to me whether it is Croatia or Iceland, if I think the director is trying to say something important, I will do it.”

Neil Jordan, meanwhile, is currently directing The Brave One, starring Jodie Foster and Terrence Howard. The film, shooting in New York, is about a woman who is assaulted and then seeks revenge on those who attacked her. Think of it as Death Wish but with a feminist twist. Jordan, of course, knows a thing or two about twists, having directed such classics as The Crying Game.

Speaking of twists, check this one out: Brian F. O’Byrne, the Tony-winning Irish stage actor making a name for himself in films, will soon be seen in a thriller called Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, with an all-star cast which includes Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke. This film will be directed by the legendary Sidney Lumet.

This is not to be confused with another film with the same exact title also in production, starring James Gandolfini and based on a novel by New York Irish writer Mike Ledwidge (who made a big splash with his gritty debut novel The Narrowback in the late 1990s).

Of course, the title for both movies comes from the famous Irish toast: “May you be in heaven 15 minutes before the devil knows you’re dead.”

O’Byrne will also be seen in the December thriller The Bug, starring Ashley Judd and Harry Connick Jr.

An American who played an unmistakably Irish role to great acclaim, has died. A star of stage and screen, Barnard Hughes was best known for his Tony-winning role in Hugh Leonard’s great Irish play Da. He later starred in the film version alongside Martin Sheen. See obituary on page 29.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

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O’Higgins the Liberator Returns to the People https://irishamerica.com/2006/10/ohiggins-the-liberator-returns-to-the-people/ https://irishamerica.com/2006/10/ohiggins-the-liberator-returns-to-the-people/#respond Sun, 01 Oct 2006 09:26:34 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=12350 Read more..]]> Chile’s redheaded revolutionary has finally been returned to the people whom he struggled so fiercely to free. On March 9, the remains of Bernardo O’Higgins, the Irish-South American liberator, were returned to the location in downtown Santiago where they lay until they were removed in 1973 by the military dictator General Augusto Pinochet.

In an emotional ceremony, reported on by The New York Times, President Ricardo Largos said the return of Bernardo O’Higgins to the people was “Chile re-encountering its democratic values and traditions.” It was one of the last acts of Largos, who ended his six-year term two days later, one he hoped would begin to heal the wounds and establish “a new relationship between civilians and the military.”

The man who would become known as “The Father of the Nation” was born on August 20, 1778, to Ambrose Bernard O’Higgins, an Irish engineer from County Sligo who eventually became Governor of Chile and Viceroy of Peru, and Isabel Riquelme, a Chilean Creole woman who was not his wife.

Not openly recognized by his father, Bernardo was brought up by foster parents in Chile. He was educated in Lima and England, and traveled to Spain, returning to Chile in 1802 where he became involved in the struggle for independence. In 1817, he led the revolutionary army against the ruling Spanish, winning a decisive victory with the support of General José San Martin on February 16, at the battle of Chacabuco.

O’Higgins went on to become the first leader of the independent Chile, a position he held for six years. During his rule he implemented improvements within the military, founding the Escuela Militar (Military Academy) as well as organizing the Chilean Regular Army and creating the new Chilean Navy in support of Peru’s struggle for independence. O’Higgins also enacted a wide range of social reforms including the abolition of noble titles, which was not well received by all.

On January 28, 1823, O’Higgins was deposed in a coup and driven into exile with his mother, son, and sister, to Lima, Peru where he was to spend the remainder of his life, dying in 1842. His remains were repatriated to Chile in 1869 and rested in downtown Santiago until Pinochet placed them in the “Altar de la Patria,” which he closed to the public after numerous protest attempts to extinguish its eternal flame.

Pinochet, who ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990, was obsessed with O’Higgins. He gave himself the title of Captain General, a title used by O’Higgins. After Pinochet’s rule, the title was retired in reverence to O’Higgins. It is also believed that Pinochet had in his possession Bernardo O’Higgins’ swords, which were taken from the National Museum during the 1973 military coup.

Alfredo Jocelyn-Holt, historian, described the re-interment of O’Higgins to The New York Times as an important move for Chile, because “There is an obsession in this country with burials, disinterments and reburials. We still have our unburied disappeared from the Pinochet years. It is a very morbid thing, deeply psychological, born of problems that have not been resolved.”

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The Destruction of St. Brigid’s https://irishamerica.com/2006/10/the-destruction-of-st-brigids/ https://irishamerica.com/2006/10/the-destruction-of-st-brigids/#respond Sun, 01 Oct 2006 09:25:38 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=12354 Read more..]]> As we go to press, the future of St. Brigid’s Church hangs in the balance. On August 24, parishioners and supporters in favor of saving St. Brigid’s received a morale booster when Judge Barbara Kapnick granted a temporary restraining order on any further demolition of the East Village, New York, church while she deliberated on the evidence.

The Gothic-style church was designed by Tipperary man Patrick Keely, who moved to New York when he was 25 and went on to have a long and distinguished career as an architect. The cornerstone was laid in September 1848 and the church was completed 15 months later, the work carried out by Irish craftsmen who had fled famine in Ireland. The church became a refuge for prayer and solace for Irish immigrants in the New World. Its wealth of history and significance to the community seems to have been lost on the archdiocese, which closed the parish in 2004 and wish to demolish the building. They argue that it is structurally unsafe and estimate that it would cost over $7 million to repair, saying that in particular, the east wall needs to be completely replaced. However, a report by an independent structural engineer estimated repair costs at $323,000. “This could [now] be a lot more due to the damage done by contractors,” committee member Jerome O’Connor told Irish America. Crews moved in and began to break down the church, destroying the historic stained-glass windows (pictured above) and smashing an eight-foot-hole in the east wall. The crew then proceeded to haul the pews onto the street and destroy them in front of distraught parishioners.

A legal battle has ensued, and one of the core issues is the validity of the demolition permit. St. Brigid’s Church is property of the parish, and any permit application should have been made by the parish board. The board is made up of the cardinal, the vicar general, the parish pastor and two members of the parish. The parish board did not apply for the demolition permit, a representative of the archdioceses did. There has been no pastor in the now defunct parish for several years. The Manhattan Borough Commissioner put a hold on the permit, but on July 18 the permit was granted by the Citywide Commissioner Barbara Lancashire, as a parish board meeting had convened the same day to rubber-stamp the application. Since there was no pastor, a canonical administrator stood in and two parish members, whose names the archdiocese refuse to divulge, convened. The parishioners’ legal team is arguing that the original application was illegal, as the archdiocese representative had no right to apply for a demolition permit on a building it did not own.

The human element in this case cannot be overestimated. Parishioners who baptized their children, married their loved ones and held funerals for their dead at St. Brigid’s are loath to see the spiritual focal point of their lives razed to the ground. Committee member Peter Harding underlined the historic importance of the church. “It’s heartbreaking. The church is a unique coming together of Famine people who all settled in what was at the time a shipbuilding area. This church is not a memorial to the famine people, it is their work.”

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Rockaway Honors Troops https://irishamerica.com/2006/10/rockaway-honors-troops/ https://irishamerica.com/2006/10/rockaway-honors-troops/#respond Sun, 01 Oct 2006 09:24:17 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=12358 Read more..]]> For the second year, Irish-American families in Rockaway, New York, played weekend hosts to wounded soldiers July 6-9. Retired firefighter Captain Flip Mullen organized the visit of 40 soldiers from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. to Rockaway, where they stayed with local families.

Jam-packed with activities, the weekend began with a police escort from Goethals Bridge to Rockaway with five NYPD helicopters leading the way. Fireboats in the river sprayed red, white and blue water into the air to begin the weekend in spectacular style.

Injured soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan water skied, scuba dived and took part on other water activities at Rockaway Point as part of the 2006 Adaptive Water Sports Festival, a joint effort of the Wounded Warrior Project, Disabled Sports USA, the Graybeards, and the Fire Department of New York. Celebrities were out in force, with Sopranos actors Tony Sirico (Paulie) and John Ventimiglia (Artie Bucco) enjoying the fun.

The community of Rockaway knows a great deal about tragedy, having suffered many casualties on 9/11 and further trauma when American Airlines flight 587 crashed in the area just two months later. However, these events have only brought the town closer together, and the residents’ willingness not only to help their own but to open their homes to returning wounded soldiers is an inspiring example. ♦

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America’s Other Irish https://irishamerica.com/2006/10/americas-other-irish/ https://irishamerica.com/2006/10/americas-other-irish/#comments Sun, 01 Oct 2006 09:23:50 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=12361 Read more..]]> Tom Deignan looks at the rich and diverse influence of the Irish in the South

Statistics regarding the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in Savannah, Georgia, are well known. When the 2006 festivities kicked off on March 17 at Abercorn Street, not far from Forsyth Park, it was the 182nd time the Irish in and around Savannah celebrated their heritage. “This parade has been named the second largest Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in the United States and rates as the largest annual single day celebration in the Southeastern United States,” parade chairman Jay Burke noted, adding that attendance to the parade has swelled to 400,000 in recent years.

But how did the Savannah Irish come to play such a prominent role in the Irish-American experience?

That question was posed about a decade ago by teachers and students at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro.

Located fifty miles northwest of Savannah, Georgia Southern opened its Center for Irish Studies in the mid-1990s, and also kicked off an ambitious oral history project which tracks not just the famous parade, but the broader experiences of Irish -Americans in this region.

The colorful celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah and the valuable scholarly research being done at Georgia Southern capture two distinct aspects of the Irish experience in Georgia, as well as the South in general.

The Savannah parade, as well as movies such as Gone with the Wind and authors such as Flannery O’Connor and John Kennedy Toole, remind people that there is an important Irish presence in the South. But too often such lessons are quickly forgotten.

For a certain kind of Irish-American — people like Chris Moser and James Webb — such historical amnesia presents a big problem. Perhaps the 21st century will finally be the time when the story of the Irish in the Southern U.S. is told.

America’s Other Irish

Chris Moser is the brainchild behind America’s Other Irish, a documentary he is producing along with Redwine Productions of Atlanta and Borderline Productions of Belfast.

The W.B. Yeats Foundation of Emory University in Atlanta is sponsoring the project. Georgia Southern’s Center for Irish Studies is also contributing research. The Ulster-Scots Agency in Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Film and Television Commission, and humanities councils in Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina have thus far provided funding for America’s Other Irish.

This is important because it suggests region-wide (not to mention trans-Atlantic) support for a project which explicitly seeks to overturn the notion that the story of the Irish in America is one which predominantly unfolded in Northern cities such as New York, Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia.

Kirby Miller is among the academic all stars who have signed on as consultants for America’s Other Irish, which is expected to be shopped to TV stations sometime next year.

Indeed, there is growing evidence that Americans are finally beginning to grasp the uniqueness and importance of the Southern Irish contribution to U.S. history.

Consider the creation of institutes for Irish studies at places such as Georgia Southern, not to mention the Universities of Kentucky, Memphis and South Carolina.

Meanwhile, cities such as Atlanta these days are home not merely to St. Patrick’s Day Parades and AOH and Hibernian Benevolent Society groups. Atlanta is also home to an annual Celtic festival, a quarterly Celtic publication, and a Gaelic Football club, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.

Last year, author James Webb wrote a best-seller in which the Southern Irish were key players.

What links these seemingly disparate pursuits is a willingness to include the largely Protestant, so-called Scots-Irish, in the broader narrative of the Irish experience in America.

Born Fighting Irish

Nothing captures this quite so strongly as Webb’s passionate, at times personal, best-seller Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America.

“[The Scots-Irish] people gave our country great things, including its most definitive culture. Its bloodlines have flowed in the veins of at least a dozen presidents, and in many of our greatest soldiers. It created and still perpetuates the most distinctly American form of music. It is imbued with a unique and unforgiving code of personal honor, less ritualized but every bit as powerful as the samurai code. Its legacy is broad; in many ways defining the attitudes and values of the military, or working class America, and even the peculiarly populist form of American democracy itself. And yet its story has been lost under the weight of more recent immigrations, revisionist historians, and common ignorance,” Webb laments.

He continues: “The contributions of this culture are too great to be forgotten as America rushes forward into yet another redefinition of itself. And in a society obsessed with multicultural jealousies, those who cannot articulate their ethnic origins are doomed to a form of social and political isolation. My culture needs to rediscover itself, and in so doing to regain its power to shape the direction of America.”

With this new appreciation of the Scots -Irish, and a broader understanding of the Southern Irish in the U.S., the day may yet come when John Fitzgerald Kennedy is remembered as the second great Irish president.

After all, over a century prior to Kennedy’s election, Andrew Jackson — native of South Carolina, son of immigrants from Carrickfergus, Antrim — ascended to the White House.

Different Religions

Of course, though people are starting to grasp the importance of the Southern Irish, there are some facts to acknowledge. In the years after the Irish Famine of the 1840s, the Irish population of some Northern cities swelled to almost 40 percent.

By contrast, according to The Encyclopedia of the Irish in America: “Only about 4.2 percent of the white people in the South in 1850 were foreign-born, and most of them were concentrated in such urban places as New Orleans, Mobile and Charleston.”

In short, Irish immigrants were few and far between in this region. But that does not mean the Irish influence was unsubstantial. What has to be acknowledged is that while Irish Catholic immigrant influence may have been small, the second and third-generation Scots-Irish (largely Presbyterian) influence was large.

Georgia again serves as a useful example. As scholar Edward Shoemaker has written, the Irish who did settle in Georgia “played a series of important social and economic roles, which evolved as Georgia developed from a frontier outpost into a settled society.”

He continues: “During the 18th century the Irish helped to populate the frontier settlement of this southernmost British colony. In the nineteenth century, they filled vital niches in a labor-short economy.”

Those toiling away at Georgia Southern’s Irish studies program concur.

“Irish influence is everywhere present in Georgia, from place names like Dublin and Burke and Blakely Counties to literature,” GSU’s web site notes, adding that the second Royal Governor (1757-1760) of the colony was the Monaghan-born naval explorer Henry Ellis.

In fact, the Irish were present at the creation of Georgia as a British colony in 1733.

That year, “a shipload of forty Irish convicts received grudging permission to land at Savannah on condition that the passengers commit themselves to the defense of the settlement,” Edward Shoemaker writes.

In the 1760s, Armagh native George Galphin co-sponsored a heavily Irish settlement called Queensborough, near what became an earlier capital of Georgia. Galphin and his Irish and Scottish partners advertised the venture in Irish newspapers.

Canals, Railroads and Immigrants

In the decades that followed, the waves of Irish immigration to Georgia were not unlike those seen in regions all across the U.S. The first waves set out to tame the wilderness and often do battle with Native Americans.

By the 1820s and 1830s, labor was needed to construct valuable canals, and Irish immigrants were more than up to the task. This brought the first significant numbers of Irish Catholics to Georgia, whose first colonial charter actually banned Catholicism.

The next major source of labor for Irish immigrants were railroads, built throughout the 1840s and 1850s, including the Central of Georgia, linking Savannah and Macon.

The Western and Atlantic later connected Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tennessee.

With the Irish population growing, services for them spread. Irish merchant shippers William Graves handled money transactions between Ireland and the U.S. for immigrants (a majority from Wexford) in Savannah. By 1850, Georgia became a Catholic diocese, led by Dublin bishop Francis X. Gartland.

By the time the U.S. Civil War broke out in 1861, there were enough Irishmen in the South to raise Irish brigades in eight of the 11 states that made up the Confederacy.

There were an estimated 85,000 Irish immigrants living in the Confederacy, according to the 1860 census.

Scholars Grady McWhiney and Forrest McDonald have said that “the overwhelming majority of the people who settled the South were ‘Celts,’ by which they mean ‘people from the British Isles who were historically and culturally non-English.’”

What’s Next?

But what does this all mean? Is there any way that common threads can be found running though the narrative of the Irish Catholic Northern experience and the Scots- Irish Southern experience? Perhaps we can return to the White House for an answer.

There were two times that a near-majority of the electorate feared that the trailblazing Democratic nominee for president was too much of an outsider, would empower the “wrong types” of people and would, in all likelihood, endanger American culture.

In 1828 this was said about Andrew Jackson, whose base was decidedly unaristocratic Scots-Irish frontiersmen. This was also said in 1960 about JFK, supported by Irish Catholics, civil rights leaders and blue collar union members.

Forging such historical links should be a main focus of Irish-Americans in the 21st century. ♦

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September 11th Tribute https://irishamerica.com/2006/10/september-11th-tribute/ https://irishamerica.com/2006/10/september-11th-tribute/#respond Sun, 01 Oct 2006 09:22:51 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=12369 Read more..]]> The September 11th Families Association have taken over a former deli on 120 Liberty Street, right across from the World Trade Center site, and created The Tribute  Center – a very personal memorial. Photos, keepsakes, mementos, and tributes sent in by victims’ families all help the outsider get a firsthand feel for the immense tragedy of the day.  Story by Michelle Harty

On September 11, 2001, my nineteenth birthday, I woke up in my St. Mary’s College of California dorm room to the sound of the phone ringing at 6:45 a.m. Groggily, I picked up and listened to my mom’s voice telling me to turn on my television. My memories of the rest of that day are strewn with images of planes crashing into buildings over and over again. I attempted to go to class, on the way seeing a crowd of students in the hallway huddled under a screen showing the crashing planes. My classes were all canceled except for one, in which my teary-eyed teacher asked the class to discuss the tragedy for about twenty minutes.

My boyfriend of the time took me out that night for a birthday dinner. The restaurant was eerily quiet except for another crowd huddled under another TV with more crashing planes, along with some images of dusty streets and crowds of horrified running people in between. While I understood that the disaster was huge, it seemed surreal to me. I felt very distant from it, and the bombardment of the repetitive footage of the crashing planes only numbed me and made it even harder to grasp the true immensity and horror of what had happened.

Four years later, I moved to New York City. I became a part of the amazing ebb, flow, and harmony that is Manhattan, and came to learn that this is a city full of persevering and talented people. There is an energy here that motivates and moves people; New Yorkers never stop moving and they are strong. They support each other.

In my first explorations of New York, of course I went to visit Ground Zero. I gazed over the construction site and thought, “This is all?” “I wonder what it looked like before.” I searched the area in front of the gaping hole in the ground for something, anything that would connect me to the disaster that had happened there. I found nothing but a metal chain link fence. Once again, I felt distant, empty, and removed. There were a few other lost-looking people at the site and I could tell that they felt the same. Were we supposed to just forget about it and move on? It felt wrong.

Recently I have had the privilege of meeting with former New York City Fire Department Deputy Commissioner Lynn Tierney, who responded to the attacks of September 11, narrowly escaping injury in the collapse of Tower One. Lynn was one of the few women working in the mostly male FDNY, and was greatly endeared by them. She lost many of those firefighters on September 11th and since that day has continually worked to support others who also experienced loss. A valued leader of the September 11th Families Association, which unites and supports families of those who were lost, Lynn has a presence that is both comforting and strong. She is now the president of the Tribute Center.

Lynn assured me that I am not alone in the distance and disconnection that I felt as I stared over Ground Zero. In fact, the members of the September 11th Families Association used to look out the windows of their office to see thousands of baffled people mill around the site. Visitors do not come just to see the remains; they want the whole story. And while they have been searching for at least a piece of it, the survivors and family members of victims have been continually recovering. They carry their stories with them, and need to share them as a part of their healing. They too have been visiting the site to pay tribute to their loved ones, sadly finding very little recognition of their tragedy. The Families Association saw a solution. Visitors of the WTC site want to learn. The victims have the knowledge and need an outlet through which to share. It was a perfect match.

Chance had it that an empty deli was right across the street from the World Trade Center site and next door to Engine Company 10 and Ladder Company 10. Phone calls were made and the Association was able to secure the former Liberty Deli as its own. With a lot of planning, and the help of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey who are funding the $3.3 million center, the former deli has become the Tribute Memorial Center; the fruitless searching is over.

During the planning and construction of the Tribute Center, the Families Association has been filling the “emptiness” with daily walking tours of the site. Led by family members who lost loved ones, rescue workers, and survivors of the attacks, the tour is an hour long, and consists of five stops around the World Trade Center site. The tours, like the memorial, give the public a chance to learn the story of September 11th from a voice of experience, and facilitate the healing process for the tour leaders.

Walking through Tribute did more than help me feel connected. It saddened, enraged, overwhelmed me, and made me feel proud. Most importantly though, it brought me to the heart of the situation through stories of personal experience and helped me to finally have a true sense of the magnitude of pain and loss created by the terrorist attacks.

Upon entering Tribute, Gallery 1 visitors are introduced to what the World Trade Center once was. The first object they see is an 8-foot model of the twin towers set in a grid on the floor of the surrounding area, lower Manhattan. The model faces a photographic wall mural of the view from the top of the towers. The mural is geographically correct, facing the water, and gives an idea of what it had been like to look out from the top of the towers. A video presents the liveliness of the World Trade Center community, which included concerts in the plaza and decorations every Christmastime, using actual footage of the World Trade Center as well as descriptions by people who were there.

Bridging the first gallery to the second is the first of a series of 13-foot high panels, which are the exact dimensions of the windows of the towers. The first panel tells the story of the first terrorist attack on February 26, 1993. The second gallery, a 40-foot-long corridor of panels, follows, each panel a piece of the timeline of the events of September 11, 2001. Unlike a typical museum presentation of history, this minute-by-minute breakdown of the day is presented as a series of firsthand experiences; we learn what it was like for specific people in specific parts of the day. Objects give life to those tragic moments, such as a pair of shoes that a woman wore as she ran down 92 flights of stairs, and a cell phone that a man grabbed on his way out of his office. Audio, video, quotes and photos are also used. Opposite the timeline is a wall mural that starts out bright blue, the color of the sky early on September 11. Gradually, missing posters appear in the blue, clouding and covering it and then completely obliterating the blue at the end of the wall.

The third gallery is dedicated to rescue and recovery operations. The first thing people notice in this gallery is a giant piece of steel from the World Trade Center that was twisted and mangled on 9/11. Huge graphics, objects, and film pay tribute to the many individuals and organizations that rushed to the site and worked tirelessly for months on the recovery effort.

One of these individuals is Lee Ielpi, the Tribute Center’s co-founder. Lee, a retired firefighter who had specialized in search and rescue, was a key player in the recovery operations.

Lee lost his son Jonathan, also a firefighter, on September 11. The gallery displays the mutilated fireman’s jacket that Jonathan was wearing when he was finally found in the wreckage of the South Tower on December 11, 2001.

The last gallery on the main level displays the names of the victims, as well as photos, keepsakes, mementos, and tributes sent in by victims’ families. One of the first items received was a photo of the beautiful Joanne Creegan sent from her family who misses her in Dublin, where she was born and raised. From posters made by children proclaiming how much they love and miss their mom or dad to a death certificate showing that the death was, by law, a homicide, this gallery allows victims’ families to participate, pay tribute, and show a piece of their experience to the world.

The fifth and final gallery is on the lower level of the center. This gallery features images and objects that reflect the outpouring of support that came from across the nation and across the world. After the emotional journey that the center takes one through upstairs, this gallery is like a much-needed hug. Included are origami cranes of peace sent from Japan and a quote from a eulogy given by CEO Pat Ryan of AON that speaks of the way that disaster can put us in touch with our “aon,” which is Gaelic for oneness or unity. Said Ryan, “Suffering together reminds us of the truth of our humanity. It reminds us that none of us is truly alone. We are interconnected.” Group meetings and programs will be scheduled in this gallery.

Some may find the Tribute Center shocking and overwhelming. The stories are hard to listen to and the images hard to look at. The memorial evokes emotion that will remain with people long after they walk out the door. Is it too much? No. It is exactly what is needed to educate visitors and commemorate a tragedy of this size.

Tribute gives the public what the media failed to give us: human beings. While news reports allowed us to get only so close to the people and events of 9/11, the Tribute Center lets us zoom in. It is as if a friend is sitting there and opening up about a painful experience. And the survivors get to feel the benefits of that kind of sharing as well. Says Kate McPadden, who lost her husband, a firefighter, to 9/11, speaking about both leading the World Trade Center tours and the Tribute Center: “The best thing is the person-to-person connection.” Many tears will be shed inside the Tribute Center, but, in the wake of one of our nation’s greatest catastrophes, it feels right to finally have real names and faces to grieve for. ♦

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Death of the Fisherman https://irishamerica.com/2006/10/death-of-the-fisherman/ https://irishamerica.com/2006/10/death-of-the-fisherman/#respond Sun, 01 Oct 2006 09:21:35 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=12373 Read more..]]> With European legislation already curtailing the amount of available fishing waters, the Irish government’s proposed decision to end the drift netting of salmon has put one of Ireland’s most iconic professions in danger of extinction. Sharon Ni Chonchuir examines the plight of small Irish fishermen who fear their way of life is about to end.

Standing at the end of the pier on a soft summer’s evening, a lone fisherman looks out to sea. His boat bobs on the gentle waves, keeping company with other colorful vessels. The day’s catch is safely stored in ice and the nets have been gathered in readiness for tomorrow’s work. A sigh of satisfaction escapes his lips. A sigh tinged with a careworn sadness. “I’ve had a hard day’s work but it’s been a good one,” he says. “When this ends, I might just die of loneliness for the sea.”

Seán Johnson, a ruddy-faced, lean-sinewed fisherman who fishes out of Ballydavid pier in West Kerry, is not sentimental by nature. This strong, stoic man who has fished his native seas for over forty years is a fighting character who loves his work.However, his livelihood is now in danger. The Irish government is preparing to put an end to the drift netting of salmon – the main source of income for Seán and 870 others like him along Ireland’s western seaboard. This is merely the latest in a long series of blows to the small, indigenous fishing industry but it might just be deadly. “Salmon represents up to 70 percent of our income,” says Seán. “It’s our lifeline. If we lose it, we too are lost.”

The Irish fishing industry has been under threat ever since the country joined the EU in 1973. Under the terms of the accession agreement, Ireland reduced its rights to its waters. Irish fishermen are now entitled to fish a meager four percent of Irish waters; the rest is shared with other EU nations. Fishing policy changed too. Large-scale industrial fishing was favored; the small fisherman ignored and neglected. The Irish government backed this policy. They had jurisdiction over inland fisheries — the first six miles of water that makes up the fishing grounds of the small fisherman. Depending on which camp you belong to, either they set about systematically dismantling the small fishing sector or they destroyed it through apathy and neglect.

“The government, whether they meant to or not, have brought about the end of the small Irish fisherman,” says TP Ó Conchúir, a spokesman for the Ballydavid fishermen. “These men, who represent a culture and a tradition that has existed in Ireland for hundreds of years, are now an endangered species.”

Seán Johnson is a typical example. Now in his fifties, he started fishing from Ballydavid pier when he was 13 years old, learning traditional skills from older generations. There were ten men fishing out of Ballydavid at the time and they taught him how to fish in the traditional style in a naomhóg (an indigenous Irish boat consisting of animal skin stretched over a wooden frame). He learned more than practical skills.

“The generations that went before us were gentler than we are,” he explains, with more than a hint of admiration in his voice. “They were in tune with nature and treated her with care. Then again, perhaps they didn’t have the same pressures we have. Life has changed.”

Seán is descended from fishermen. His father fished until he was offered a full-time job by the county council when he was 35. His grandfather and his two brothers were dedicated fishermen.

Seán recalls a story about them – a telling story. “They started fishing as young men but after a while the fishing failed,” he says. “It got so bad they emigrated to America. They had been there for three months, making a living on building sites, when they got a letter from their mother telling them the bay was full of fish again. It was all the encouragement they needed. They were soon home and back on the seas again. They may not have made much money but they were happy.”

Seán too is happy. Unlike many of us, who dread the slog of life in the office, he gets great job satisfaction. He enjoys rising at four in the morning and anticipating a day of hard physical labor. The fresh air; the movement of the sea; the wind and rain; the sun on the water; and the natural rhythm of the work; he looks forward to all these things. Today, Seán has a 37-foot boat. He and twenty other fishermen from Ballydavid fish crab, lobster and salmon but their opportunities are dwindling by the day. Mackerel fishing — a staple when Seán first started out — is no longer an option. It is fished by bigger boats further out to sea. Because of Ireland’s trade agreements, lobster no longer fetches the high price it once did. “What’s more,” adds Seán, “last year, they decided to ban lobster fishing from September onwards, (the season ususally extended into October) I’m convinced they’ll do it again this year.” Another door closed to the small fisherman.

Crab is still a money-earner but it’s growing scarce. And now the salmon – the small fisherman’s main catch – is about to be snatched away.

“It’s not fair,” says TP Ó Conchúir. “These fishermen made sacrifices over the years – for the sake of the salmon. They accepted a quota system. They agreed to only fish for 32 days a year. And now they’re being told that although they took all the pain, they are not allowed any of the gain.”

The government recognizes the injustice of the situation. John Browne, the Minister of State at the Department of the Marine, recently admitted as much in a response he made to a parliamentary question. “The commercial fishing industry has made a considerable effort to build a sustainable fishery over the past number of years,” he said. “They have endured large cuts in the quotas available to them. These reductions have caused them difficulty and further changes will likely compound these problems.” The government has appointed a commission to examine the implications of proposed new regulations for the commercial sector in 2007 and beyond. This commission will make recommendations on options available for addressing financial hardship.

This is not what fishermen like Seán want to hear. “I don’t want money. I want to fish,” he insists. “I want to continue living the way I’ve always lived. It’s what I know best.” The fishermen suspect there are political motivations behind the government’s decision. “This is more than the conservation issue the government says it is,” insists TP. “Anglers want these fish for themselves. They have political clout and money and, as a result, the small Irish fisherman is being pushed off the seas.”

Seán agrees. “It seems to be a question of giving the rich people of Ireland what they want, even if it means depriving less privileged, marginalized fishermen along the West Coast. We are only 870 people scattered all over Ireland. It’s easy to get rid of us.”

TP and Seán explain that a long lobbying campaign preceded this government decision. “The anglers had a big PR campaign with lots of money behind it,” says Seán. “We couldn’t compete. We didn’t have the time and we certainly didn’t have the money.” Not that they didn’t try. After much scrimping and saving, they raised €30,000 – a sum which allowed the fishermen to mount a semblance of a campaign. Fishing communities got together. They went to Dublin. They met politicians. They sought expert advice. “But in the end, we didn’t have enough money,” says Seán. Edward Porter, the chairman of the Federation of Irish Salmon and Sea Trout Anglers (FISSTA), tells another story. He and the 20,000 other anglers in Ireland have campaigned for an end to commercial drift netting of salmon for over 20 years.

“It’s an unsustainable and damaging policy,” he says. “It must be stopped now before it is too late for the salmon.”

With 15,000 salmon the annual amount allowed to be caught legally by rod, Porter objects to fishermen’s allegations that salmon will now be killed by anglers on rivers instead of in nets at sea. “Our founding member Jim Maxwell always said that ‘it is not the intention of FISSTA members to change the point of slaughter from drift net to rod. We continue to hold to this principle,” he maintains.

No matter what the outcome of such political wrangling, the likely result is that small Irish fishermen who have played such a vital part in coastal communities for hundreds of years will soon die out.

Seán believes many will choose financial compensation if offered a choice between that and remaining at sea. “They don’t want the hassle of quotas, limits and the endless struggle to make a living anymore. Small farmers took the easy option. The fishermen will too,” he explains, referring to EU legislation that grants farmers a certain amount of money from the EU annually, determined by their income over the past three years, regardless of whether they farm their land or not. Many farmers are choosing to avail of the money and leave farming – heralding the end of the small farming industry.

Seán doesn’t intend to take the money. He hopes to be able to diversify into different markets. However, he is not optimistic. “I know that at the end of the day, I’ll probably have to sell the boat and stop fishing,” he says. “If the salmon fails, I’ll be alone in Ballydavid. Most of the other boats will go and it won’t be a fishing port anymore.”

His outlook for the future is bleak. “What will I do instead?” he asks despondently. “I’m not interested in another way of life. My life is the sea.” Seán and TP are also concerned about the effect the loss of the industry will have on the community as a whole.

Firstly, there are economic repercussions. Eight fishermen will lose their jobs. With their industry-specific skills, where are they going to find another? On a larger scale, if salmon fishing ceases, this will also have an effect on salmon processors. Taking West Kerry as an example, the three salmon processors in the area provide employment for up to 100 people — people whose jobs are now in jeopardy.

In this area, typical of many western regions, options are limited. “Farming is dying out, our fishing industry is under threat and soon we’ll only have tourism,” explains TP. “It’s a precarious situation to be in and there’s no knowing if it’s enough to keep us going.”

Seán agrees. “In years gone by, fishing saved me and many like me from emigration,” he says. “It gave us something to stay at home for and we helped to keep our communities alive – we married, had children and sent them to local schools . . . Now, with fishing gone, people will have to go elsewhere for work and our communities will be under threat again.”

Ballydavid and other ports along the western seaboard will no longer be the busy places of work they once were. “The day will come when there will be no boats and no one on the pier, except some wandering ghosts,” says Seán. “It will be a sad day.”

There will also be other, less tangible, implications. Skills that have been passed in an unbroken chain from one generation to the next will eventually be forgotten.

“There’s a proverb in Irish – éist le glór na h-abhann agus geobhair breac – it means listen to the sounds of the river and you’ll catch a trout,” says Seán. “Fishermen know the sea like no one else, we know its ways.” Seán has an intimate knowledge of the local coastline; he knows its rocks, its fishing grounds, its birds, and its swells, tides and currents. He gained this knowledge from generations of fishermen who fished these coasts before him and from his many years at sea. This knowledge will soon be lost to all.

Seán is worried about older fishermen. The salmon season gives a pattern and a shape to these people’s lives. They look forward to it from one year’s end to the next. “It’s like farmers setting potatoes or making hay,” says Seán. “It gives them a topic of conversation and, in a way, it keeps them alive.”

What will happen to them,” he wonders. “They’ll be heartbroken.”

Séan too will be devastated. This man, whose skin and bones have been salted by decades on the sea, knows that the end is drawing near. “I’ve never lost a job but I can see that I am going to lose one now,” he says, dejectedly. “What will I do instead?”

TP, a fighter to the last, is unwilling to concede defeat. “We’re talking about people’s rights here,” he maintains. “This is about a way of life, an entire culture. The government will have to think again if they think we are going to lie down and die. They won’t wipe out coastal communities without a fight.”

Unfortunately, for Ireland’s fishing community, it seems as though Séan’s pessimism is the more pragmatic outlook. Drift netting of salmon is likely to be banned next year. Many fishermen will be out of a job.

Yet another of Ireland’s traditional industries bites the dust. ♦

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