October November 2007 Issue – Irish America https://irishamerica.com Irish America Magazine Sat, 20 Jul 2019 03:40:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.10 82361074 Padraig’s Day https://irishamerica.com/2007/10/padraigs-day/ https://irishamerica.com/2007/10/padraigs-day/#respond Mon, 01 Oct 2007 12:00:35 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=9794 Read more..]]> If you drive across the mountain road that borders south Dublin, chances are you will see Padraig Harrington at work in the garden that serves as his office. Out the back of a modest but large dwelling he has installed a kidney-shaped green built to U.S. PGA specifications, two artificial putting greens, six small target greens, three bunkers filled with dif- ferent sorts of sand, and teeing areas where he can hit a golf ball with everything from a three-iron to a sand wedge in the direction of Wicklow. The harder he practices the luckier he gets, as Gary Player used to say.

Happily married to Caroline and with a brother or sister on the way for young son Paddy, Harrington is the finest Irish golfer of his generation, the first Irish winner of the British Open in 60 years, and the man who brought a country to a standstill to watch his play-off victory over Spanish sensation Sergio Garcia at Carnoustie, Scotland in July.

Yet he still works hard at his game because he believes he has to.

“Talent will only get you so far – the successful ones are the ones who work harder,” he says.

Harrington was born in Dublin in August 1971, and born to golf. By the age of four, Padraig was playing golf and chasing rabbits in Stackstown, the course his father and fellow members of the Garda Siochana (the Irish police force), built on the side of the mountains that straddle Dublin’s border with Wicklow.

Golf was big in the Rathfarnham home he shared with brothers Tadhg, Fergal, Colm and Fintan, as were football and hurling. His father Paddy, a Cork man, played Gaelic football in the 1957 and 1958 All-Ireland football finals.

“Whenever I go to Cork I am still regarded as Paddy’s son, not as a sports- man in my own right,” he laughs.

Padraig, too, played football and hurling, but when he was picked for the Irish Boys Golf Team when he was 15, he gave up football and life as a goalkeeper.

He had much success as an amateur golfer. Victories in the 1995 Irish Amateur Open and the Irish Close Championship, and three Walker Cup appearances against the United States saw him ranked number one in Ireland. But instead of turning pro, Padraig went to college to study accountancy. His intention was to work as a golf club manager, or maybe on the player management side of things.

“I never thought of myself as a pro at that time because I didn’t think I was good enough,” he says simply. “I wanted to be in the golf industry, but I never thought I would be an actual player. It was only at 21 years of age that I decid- ed to turn pro, purely because the guys I was able to beat as an amateur were turn- ing pro, not because I thought I was good enough.

“The idea was to have a couple of years on the tour if I could. But I started out so well – it was fairy tale stuff. They gave me a check for playing golf the first week I was on tour. I remember calling home and telling my folks, ‘This is great.’ Then, in 1996, I won the Spanish Open after just ten weeks on tour, so I just kept going.”

A year later, however, the 1997 U.S. Open Championship at the Congressional Country Club, in Bethesda, Maryland, pulled him up short.
“It was just too difficult for me,” he recalls. “I couldn’t get around a golf course like that. I shot 76, 77 and came home thinking, well, I’m a good golfer, but that’s really not enough unless I do something about it.

“It was then that I started working with Bob Torrance [the legendary Scottish coach, father of former Ryder Cup cap- tain Sam Torrance], and since then I’ve worked tirelessly to improve my game so that I could compete on U.S. style golf courses.”

The hard work paid off. By the end of 2006, Harrington was Europe’s number one and a four-time Ryder Cup hero for Team Europe.
As well as that heart-stopping play-off win over Sergio Garcia in the British Open at Carnoustie – after twice going into water on the 18th hole in regulation play – Harrington also became the first

Irishman in 25 years to win the Irish Open championship with another play-off victory, this time over Welshman Bradley Dredge, at Adare Manor, County Limerick, back in May.

When I talked to Harrington, now just past his 36th birthday, he was still on a high from winning the British Open.

“There are times when I look around the house to see where the Claret Jug is at. It might be on the mantlepiece or on the breakfast table, but it’s there and it’s mine.

“I’ve got the Open trophy. It will change my life, but will it change my personality? I hope not.

“There is ego involved with golf but the way I was brought up I would never want to show that,” says Harrington.

“I am tough inside, there is no way I would be playing this game if I wasn’t, but you don’t need to be arrogant to be good at the game. What you do need is a certain self- confidence,” he adds.

To the uninitiated, Harrington’s emergence as the top golfer in Europe looks natural, but those who know him best know how hard he has worked on his game since the 1997 experience at the U.S. Open convinced him he need- ed to totally rebuild his swing. “I’ve worked to improve  my game so that I could compete on U.S. style golf courses, but winning the British Open [Carnoustie is a links course] was definitely down to my instincts for playing links golf as an amateur growing up,” he says.

As hard as he had worked on his game, Harrington still had to find the confidence to win.

“It’s been a long road. I don’t know if I ever believed I was going to do it, but I tried, especially that week at Carnoustie, to convince myself. Carnoustie was hard work. I didn’t feel as good about my game as I did about the U.S. Open last year, where I felt I had a genuine chance of winning and I was feeling comfortable about it, but I stuck to my guns and just kept playing golf.

“I’m not a glamorous player but I work hard, and sometimes that’s what it takes,” he adds. “I take a lot of comfort from Michael Jordan’s basketball career, because he was a late bloomer. I have done much better than I ever imagined, and there is no point in stopping now. I have to keep doing what I’ve been doing and fine tune the rest.”

Family is everything to Padraig Harrington. Son Paddy is nearly four years of age. A brother or sister will arrive in November, an early
Christmas present for the affable Dubliner and his wife Caroline, the girl by his side since he summoned up the courage to ask her out to a Patrick Swayze movie, six months after he first set eyes on her, when her father brought her to watch a junior game at Stackstown.

“When you shoot a bad score, the only people who care are your wife, your family and your dog,” he says. “If I have a bad day, I can get it off my chest quickly by talking to Caroline. Then we move on. We don’t sit around moping. We go out and that time is hers and ours. But the talking is important. She is a good psy- chologist. The best for me, anyway. Golf is a terrible game that way. It builds up inside you, and it is best to get it out. She is there for me when things go wrong – and when I need a kick up the backside.”

Young Paddy was on the practice green as Padraig waited for the play-off that would change his life. Every time his dad hit a putt, Paddy kicked the ball away with a grin on his face as wide as the Firth of Forth, which runs alongside this famous course.

“I knew then that Padraig would win,” his sports psychologist Bob Rotella revealed afterwards. “To look at him with his son at his feet, preparing for the biggest play-off of his life, I just knew this was a man ready to win.”

Son and father were united again when Harrington dispatched the putt that dis- patched Garcia on that 18th green less than an hour later. “Daddy, can I put ladybirds in it?” asked the bairn, as the Claret Jug found Irish hands for the first time since Fred Daly triumphed at Royal Liverpool back in 1947.

“I’ve had to rescue a few ladybirds on their way into the trophy back home in Dublin,” reveals Harrington. “When we’re out in the back garden of our house we often collect ladybirds and stick them in a jar, so the natural thing for Paddy is to want to house them in the Claret Jug,” he laughs, adding, “but if they went in there they’d be intoxicated with all the alcohol that’s passed through it in the last month. Everyone has wanted to drink from the Open trophy! I think it’s better for the ladybirds if we don’t put them in there.”

His own father, Paddy, was close to Harrington’s heart on that day in Carnoustie as well. The newly crowned British Open champion shed a couple of tears as he paid tribute to his dad, who lost his battle with cancer two years ago.

“When you are on the course, you have to become detached from your emotions, or you won’t focus and you won’t com- pete. You have to be careful or you can get sidetracked. My father was very important to my career. If I had started to think of him then I wouldn’t have played any golf, but I was emotional afterwards when I thought of what that win would have meant to him,” Harrington reveals. “That was why, when I did the interview afterwards, I could hardly speak. I had convinced myself I would win but I hadn’t prepared myself for the emotional part of winning. It was such a high, and I was thinking of my dad. It would have been very, very special for him, but I would have been a quivering wreck for the last couple of holes if I had started thinking of what my winning would have meant to him.”

Harrington doesn’t drink and he doesn’t smoke. The night he won the Open, he partied until four in the morning at a small house near the course that he shared with wife Caroline and son Paddy, his caddy, Ronan Flood and his wife, who just happens to be Caroline’s sister.

They were up till four, whooping and hollering with the best of them, but barely a drop of the creatur touched Harrington’s lips. “The first thing that was sipped out of the jug was Johnny Smith’s Smooth Bitter [beer] and that was because of a promise to somebody at the start of the week who was drinking the same. I said, ‘Well I’ll have one of those if I win the Open.’ So that’s how that got in there. And then it was champagne. After that there was a mixture of stuff put in there. At this stage if you smelt the inside of that Claret Jug you wouldn’t want to drink out of it,” he confirms.

Bed at four and up at six. “I couldn’t sleep,” Harrington says. “At six that morning I was awake, bright as a button, and looking at the Claret Jug at the bottom of the bed. I woke Caroline, pointed at the trophy and said, ‘I just won the Open Championship.’ She said, ‘that’s very good, well done,’ and then she told me to go back to sleep, but I couldn’t.”

A private jet flew Harrington home to the Weston Aerodrome just outside Lucan in West Dublin. He popped in to a party thrown in his honor by close friend Dermot Desmond, and then went back to his Stackstown roots for the mother of all celebrations at the golf club his late father helped to build. “The reaction at home was, and is, incredible,” he admits. “The two things that struck me were the amount of people who watched the Open who had never watched golf before, and the amount of men who told me that they cried when I won.

“It’s been phenomenal. There is no other nation like Ireland to get behind their sports people, and there’s no question that the support has helped me along the way,” he adds. “And the bookmakers paid out over $10 million. What more can you ask for?”

Away from the golf course, Padraig Harrington is a man of simple tastes. His den at home includes an authentic 50s jukebox, a pool table and enough arcade games to keep a grown child happy. A night out with Caroline generally includes a movie and popcorn. “I’m not one for the arthouse movies. I’m into what I call a good popcorn movie, where you can sit back in the seat and just immerse yourself in the movie with a big bucket of popcorn by your side,” he laughs.

Dinner tables are invariably livelier when Harrington is around.  “I’ve  always been one for a good argument,” he admits. “It’s probably my favorite pas- time. I love to try to change someone’s mind. It’s not that I think I’m always right. If you tell me the sky is royal blue, I’ll say, ‘No, it’s azure blue.’ I’d argue that with you for ten minutes. Then the next guy will come along and tell me the sky is azure blue, I’ll say, ‘No. It’s royal
blue.’ My opinions change to suit the occasion. I can always see the other side of the argument. So I’ll argue the other way to make everyone else do the same.

“I’ve never traveled with the pack. I never wanted to. I didn’t smoke or drink at school. Peer pressure never made me do something I didn’t want to do. I got on with everyone at school from the hard lads to the nerds, but I was never going to be in either camp. I always wanted to be different.”
With career winnings topping $25 mil- lion, Harrington already has more money than he ever dreamed of, so winning his first major isn’t going to change him.

“More money isn’t going to make me happy,” declared Harrington. “We make so much money as professional golfers these days, that it is not an issue for me at all. There is a temptation to cash in, but it would be fair to say that I want to win more majors, more than money. I just want to play golf and I don’t want to jeopardize that.”

The one luxury Harrington will now consider is a private jet – but only to make his life easier. “There’s nothing else that I want in my life, materially. I don’t need anything else. I have a ten- year-old car. I bought a new one last year, put 2,000 miles on it and got rid of it. Even the 10-year-old car only has 22,000 miles on it!”

So what does the future hold for Padraig Harrington? “You won’t catch me playing on the Seniors Tour at 50. I’ll be burnt out by then,” he laughs. “If I wasn’t a golfer I’d love to have been a coach. I could see myself in 20 years coaching Paddy’s Gaelic football team rather than playing on the Seniors Tour. Even when I’m watching the Dubs in Croker [Dublin plays in Croke Park] I’m not watching like a fan. I’m trying to figure out what’s going on behind the scenes, what they do for training, and what’s in their head. When I met up with my cousin Joey, who’s a professional American footballer [Joey Harrington is the starting quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons], we always get to talking about training. I’m more interested in that than anything else. I love the idea of telling someone something they don’t know and showing them how to do it right.”
As we go to press, Harrington is immersed in the Fed Ex Cup campaign in the U.S. He will be home in time for the birth of his second child in November, home to enjoy his greatest Christmas yet.

“I will be in a good mood for the next year or 10 years or even forever with this,” he admits, but he is still getting used to being the Open champion. “In those reflective moments when I’m alone, I sit back and think ‘I can’t believe I’ve done it.’”

He did. And he has the Claret Jug to prove it, ladybirds and all. ♦

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The First Word: We’ve Come a Long Way https://irishamerica.com/2007/10/the-first-word-weve-come-a-long-way/ https://irishamerica.com/2007/10/the-first-word-weve-come-a-long-way/#respond Mon, 01 Oct 2007 11:59:58 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=9799 Read more..]]> “Rise again, rise again / Tho’ your heart, it be broken / Your life about to end / No matter what you’ve lost / A home, a love, a friend /
Be like the Mary Ellen Carter / Rise again.”
– Words from the “The Mary Ellen Carter” as sung by Tommy Makem. (The Mary Ellen was a ship).

We have a plethora of features in this issue and a fresh new look to celebrate the beginning of our 23rd year. From our cover story on Padraig Harrington, Ireland’s man of the moment, to the Last Word – there’s something for everyone.

Looking back over the photographs from our past issues and events, I was struck by how many wonderful people we managed to bring together over the years in celebration of our Irish heritage. I was looking for one photograph in particular though, and I didn’t find it – of me presenting the Irish of the Century Award to Tommy Makem.

But I had a great last conversation with Tommy. He called me on March 30 to say he was sorry to have missed our Top 100 event on March 11. My heart lurched a bit when I heard his voice because I knew he had been diagnosed with lung cancer, but he sounded chipper.

“Tearing away like a tinker’s shirt,” he answered when I asked him how he was doing. He’d been hospitalized with pneumonia thus missing our Awards, but he was fine now, he explained. The BBC had been filming a documentary on his life, and he was planning appearances at a couple of upcoming festivals. He extolled the talents of his sons Shane, Conor, and Rory (The Makem Brothers) who he described as “a mixture of the Clancy Brothers and the Kingston Trio,” and mentioned with pride the honorary degree he would be receiving from the University of Ulster. Talk turned to Keady, County Armagh where he was born, and where in 2000 he established the Tommy Makem International Festival of Song “to try to get people to come out for a night’s craic.”

As the conversation went on, I scrambled to take notes, regretting that I didn’t have my voice recorder hooked up.

We discussed  Ireland’s booming economy – he worried about the heritage being lost – and the Navan Fort “thought to have been in use 4,000 to 5,000 years ago.”

He told me, frustration filling his voice, how he had tried for years to prevent the Armagh district council “which regards it [the Fort] as a Fenian place,” from downsizing it. And how he wished that some of the “38 million pounds” going to promote the Ulster Scots was directed instead towards the Fort “the center of ancient Irish culture,” with ties to the goddess Macha and Cuchulainn.

A conversation with Tommy was always heady, and my fingers flew on the keyboard trying to keep up with his words. We finished up talking about Nova Scotia and the Celtic Colours Festival in October, which he planned to attend, and I said that maybe I would too, and he said I should do a story on St. Mary’s Church in Dover, New Hampshire, which was built by Irish immigrants back in 1872 and was celebrating its 135th anniversary.

Tommy was as passionate about Irish-American history, and Dover, as he was about Ireland and Keady.

It was to Dover that he had immigrated in 1955, like many Northerners before him, to work in the mills. It was to St. Mary’s on August 9, 2007, that thousands came to pay their last respects as the City of Dover Fire and Rescue Department’s Engine 3 led a processional down Central Avenue, its lights flashing and sirens silenced, carrying with it Tommy’s casket.

Tommy left behind a legacy of song and story that will influence generations to come. The international fame he achieved helped raise the profile of the Irish everywhere. And the performance he and the Clancy Brothers gave at the White House for President Kennedy
heralded a new chapter in the story of Irish America.

No one knew that story better than Tommy. Perhaps his interest stemmed from his time as a mill worker and an accident that crushed his hand. He was always ready with a story or a song about the struggle. As I look over past issues portraying the history and achievements of the Irish in America, and I pause over the final proofs of our Wounded Warrior story by Tara Stackpole in this issue, a song he sang comes to mind, one that  could be a mantra for the Irish story.  It’s from an album that Tommy made with Liam Clancy called We’ve Come A Long Way, and it goes like this:
    Rise again, rise again,
    Tho’ your heart, it be broken,
    Your life about to end,
    No matter what you’ve lost,
    A home, a love, a friend,
    Be like the Mary Ellen Carter,
    Rise again. ♦

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New York Takes Rose of Tralee Title https://irishamerica.com/2007/10/new-york-takes-rose-of-tralee-title/ https://irishamerica.com/2007/10/new-york-takes-rose-of-tralee-title/#respond Mon, 01 Oct 2007 11:58:43 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=9801 Read more..]]> New York Rose Lisa Murtagh became the 48th Rose of Tralee on August 22 at the Festival Dome in Tralee, County Kerry. The Yonkers native, who beat out 30 contestants from all over the globe, is the first American Rose to take the famous tiara since Roisin Egenton, also representing New York, won in 2000.

There was no rest for the lovely Murtagh, 27, who, after just one hour of sleep on the night of her victory, went straight to work as the 2007 Rose with numerous photo shoots and media interviews the next day. Throw in a visit to an exhibition at the Kerry County Library and an appearance at the Tralee Races, and it was more of a hurricane than a whirlwind 24 hours for the redhead.

One of Murtagh’s first interviews in Ireland was with an RTE radio show called Morning Ireland. The interviewer, while acknowledging that the festival is unique and unlike any other competition, said that in some ways it could be considered old-fashioned. Murtagh was quick to put him straight.

“It is a celebration of modern Irish women. It’s obvious that after watching the show that you have 30 other amazing impressive women who are proud to be called Irish or say they are of Irish heritage, so I don’t think there is anything old-fashioned about that,” was Murtagh’s reply.
Murtagh arrived in Tralee with a goal, winning was only a bonus. “Regardless of whether I won or not, I wanted to rejuvenate interest in the Festival in New York. The city has such a strong history and a strong Irish connection, and I think that the festival is very important to young women of Irish descent,” Murtagh said, speaking to Irish America over the phone from Ireland, two days after her win.

Included in the prizes Murtagh received were a $25,000 travel voucher to use for Rose activities, jewelry and cutlery from Newbridge Silverware, and the use of a car while in Ireland.

How often the new Rose, an attorney in Manhattan with the global law firm Clifford Chance, will use the car has yet to be worked out, for she has a tough decision to make. Should she take a career break and travel the world representing the festival, or remain in New York? Either way she plans to put her own stamp on the position.

“The American [Rose of Tralee] centers are suffering a lot, and that is my primary focus. So maybe staying in New York is what I can do best for the Rose of Tralee,” she offers.

“They [the committee] are very flexible, and realize the demands on modern women. They know I have a serious job back in New York. They basically said it is up to me.  I can stay in New York and do what I can to raise the profile of the festival there, or I can move  to Ireland. It is really a matter of sitting down and making the decision once I get back to New York.”

Whether she decides to move to  Ireland or stay in the U.S., Murtagh, who said she planned to be in New York at least until Christmas, is wise enough to recognize that the future of the festival depends upon the participation of the younger generation and she plans to promote the festival to young Irish-Americans.

“We need an infusion of young blood. There is interest here but it is waning. Obviously, the young Irish aren’t coming to the United States in the same droves that they used to, and that has an effect. But once I explain what the festival is to Irish-Americans, many who have parents, grandparents and sometimes great-grandparents who are Irish, they have been extremely interested, and this is the audience I want to target.”
Before the contest, Ted Keane, spokesman for the festival, described the qualities they were looking for in the Rose of Tralee. “We’re looking for a girl who is personable, has self-confidence, and has the ability to go anywhere in the world and represent Irish women,” he said.

Ted Keane can rest easy for another year, as the judges did their job well. Murtagh’s win, and her promise to raise the profile of the festival and bolster pride in being Irish, will bode well for both the festival and Irish America. ♦

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Arts Flourish in Galway https://irishamerica.com/2007/10/arts-flourish-in-galway/ https://irishamerica.com/2007/10/arts-flourish-in-galway/#respond Mon, 01 Oct 2007 11:57:16 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=9804 Read more..]]> Tourists and art aficionados crowded the streets of Galway City for the 30th annual Galway Arts Festival during the last two weeks of July.
Despite the rainiest summer Ireland has seen in years, the street performers were out in full force. Colorfully dressed mimes posed as statues, the tunes of local musicians echoed through the streets, and theatrical groups such as The Gombeens Theater troupe gave free performances of satirical comedies.

Festival highlights included an art exhibit by Sean Lynch, whose work explores a wide range of forgotten historical subjects, and an exhibit of women war photographers. Traditional music sessions at the Róisín Dubh pub hosted bands such as Moonshine, Brian McGrath and local hero John Faulkner.

Evening concerts featured a mix of American, English, Cuban, Canadian, Scottish and Irish bands. Among some of the most popular shows were Alabama 5, The Divine Comedy and Laura Veirs.

As if all this weren’t enough to keep a person busy, the festival offered many world-class theater and literary readings.

The performance of Brian Friel’s Philadelphia Here I Come was profoundly moving: the story of a young man in the 1950s excited at the prospect of leaving Ireland for America, yet struggling with past regrets and fears at giving up all he has ever known and loved to venture into the unknown.
The New York-based The Team gave a refreshingly unique performance of Particularly in the Heartland, a new play that invited audience members to participate in the show while challenging them to question what it means to be American in a changing world.

Among the most popular theater shows were Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater’s performance of Cormac McCarthy’s The Sunset Limited, and the debut of Patrick McCabe’s brilliantly disturbing new play The Revenant. McCabe was on hand at the Radisson Hotel to give a chilling reading from his new novel Winterwood.  In what was probably the best opening in the festival’s history, McCabe began in characteristic offbeat style by playing 1960s rock music for several minutes without a word of explanation and then launching into a reading of selections from his earlier book Gems of the Emerald Isle. He finished up with excerpts from Winterwood and, to judge by his reading, the novel is no less haunting or intense than McCabe’s critically acclaimed novel The Butcher Boy. ♦

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Irish Eye on Hollywood https://irishamerica.com/2007/10/9807/ https://irishamerica.com/2007/10/9807/#respond Mon, 01 Oct 2007 11:56:30 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=9807 Read more..]]> Harry Potter’s screen pal Evanna Lynch isn’t the only Irish girl taking Hollywood by storm. In October, Saoirse Ronan will begin shooting the highly anticipated movie The Lovely Bones, which (like the Potter series) is also based on a mega-best-selling book. Ronan will star alongside Rachel Weisz and Ryan Gosling in director Peter Jackson’s screen version of Alice Sebold’s novel. Jackson, of course, is the visionary behind the Lord of the Rings films. Ronan has what you could call the grisly starring role in The Lovely Bones. She plays Susie Salmon, the young girl who is murdered early in the story yet continues to view the lives of her friends and family.

In December, Ronan also has a role in Atonement, based on Ian McEwan’s best-seller, and starring Keira Knightley and James McAvoy. Atonement opened the Venice Film Festival on August 29.  (More on that later.) Ronan has been a very busy girl. She will also appear alongside Catherine Zeta-Jones in the upcoming Death Defying Acts and is shooting City of Ember with Bill Murray in Belfast.

Stuart Townsend’s career in Hollywood has been an uneven one thus far.  True, he had a charismatic turn in the Irish indy flick About Adam and he did manage to woo Charlize Theron. Otherwise, the Dubliner has yet to land the type of roles that have turned Colin Farrell and Cillian Murphy into stars. So Townsend is going to try things from the other side of the camera. He will be directing Theron, Woody Harrelson and Michelle Rodriguez in Battle in Seattle. The film is set in 1999 amid the tumultuous protests that took place during the meeting of the World Trade Organization. Look for Townsend’s directorial debut to be released sometime next year.

If Townsend wants a mentor when it comes to building a career behind the camera, he needs to look no further than Belfast native Terry George, a force in TV and movies for two decades now. In October, George’s latest directorial effort Reservation Road hits theaters starring Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Connelly and Mira Sorvino. The film revolves around two families brought together by tragedy. George is always juggling numerous projects. The latest rumors suggest the Hotel Rwanda director might soon be working with Tom Cruise. George is talking to Columbia Pictures reps about bringing the Kurt Wimmer book Edwin A. Salt to the big screen. Published reports have suggested Columbia is wooing Cruise to play the lead, a CIA agent who may be a Russian spy.

Terry George earned screenwriting Oscar nods for Hotel Rwanda and the Irish film In the Name of the Father. He has also reportedly been working with Irish-born, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Samantha Power (who immigrated to the U.S. as a child) on a screenplay involving the United Nations and efforts to stop genocide abroad.

October is also the month for the latest theatrical release from another Belfast director: Kenneth Branagh. The acclaimed thespian’s latest directorial effort is Sleuth, starring Jude Law and Michael Caine.  The film (which was screened during the Venice Film Festival) revolves around a mystery writer, a struggling actor and a woman for whose affections they’re both competing. Branagh’s latest Shakespeare adaptation, As You Like It, starring Kevin Kline, was shown on HBO  in August.

The magical story of John Carney’s musical romance Once continues.  The little movie starring Glen Hansard of The Frames has now earned over five million dollars in the U.S., an astonishing sum for an independent Dublin film with no stars. The movie could be the biggest sleeper hit of 2007, spreading slowly but surely to art houses all over the U.S. thanks to great reviews and strong word of mouth. Now, Carney has signed on to direct a much larger Hollywood project called Town House, which begins shooting in January. Town House also has a musical angle. This dark comedy looks at the death of a rock-and-roll star whose son has made a career of selling memorabilia. When the supply dries up, the son is forced to make some difficult choices regarding his family, his father’s legacy and the future.

On the DVD front, if you missed John Dahl’s latest noir comedy You Kill Me, starring Ben Kingsley and Tea Leoni, it’s worth a spot on your Netflicks queue. Kingsley plays a Polish-American alcoholic/gangster in blue-collar Buffalo whose main nemesis is a competing Irish-American hood.  Dahl is perhaps best known for directing The Last Seduction and Rounders. The You Kill Me screenplay was co-authored by Irish-American Stephen McFeely, best known for co-authoring the Chronicles of Narnia movies, including Prince Caspian, due out next year.

For years now, rumors have swirled that Johnny Depp was planning to bring J.P. Donleavy’s famous book The Ginger Man to the big screen.  At the age of 82, the writer himself is not sure the project is ever going to happen. Donleavy was recently quoted as saying: “I would dearly love to see his version of The Ginger Man before I am no longer here. But when I saw Mr. Depp in New York recently I made the mistake of telling him the plot of my next book, which is called The Dog on the 17th Floor. He loved it and I’m afraid he might make a movie out of it before The Ginger Man. If so, it will – alas – be my own fault.”

On to TV news: Irish-Americans will be well represented when the Emmy Awards are handed out September 16 (alas, after we go to press.) First up, Irish America cover girl Kathy Griffin has been nominated for her reality show My Life on the D-List.  For those who didn’t catch the season finale, Kathy was shown attending Irish America’s Top 100 gala last March. She then went to Ireland and visited Drogheda where her mother’s family hails from – and whose mayor is Michael O’Dowd (yes, our publisher’s brother). The flame-haired funny girl got very serious when she spread her recently deceased father’s ashes near Bray Head.

Meanwhile, Aidan Quinn is among the Irish talent nominated for HBO’s acclaimed mini-series Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, which gained 17 Emmy nods. Wounded Knee, which also stars Anna Paquin and Adam Beach, can be purchased on DVD starting September 11.

Also in the running, Showtime’s The Tudors (filmed at Ardmore Studios in Wicklow) received numerous nominations for its Irish production team, including Outstanding Art Direction for a Single-Camera Series and Outstanding Casting for a Drama Series. The Tudors stars Cork native Jonathan Rhys-Meyers.

In other TV news, Tony Award winner Brían F. O’Byrne (following a supporting role in the Catherine Zeta-Jones summer romance No Reservations) continues his climb towards stardom. He has been added to the cast of Showtime’s Irish Rhode Island drama Brotherhood, which begins its second season in October. O’Byrne will play Colin Carr, a cousin of the Caffee brothers around whom the series revolves. One Caffee is a respected politician, the other a shady character with criminal connections. O’Byrne comes to “The Hill” (as the Providence Irish enclave is known) from Ireland and becomes involved in the Caffee family business. Fionnula Flanagan will also return for her second season as the Caffee family matriarch. Speaking of gangsters, look for Dominic Keating to play a super-powered Irish mobster (that’s how it’s been described) beginning in September on the acclaimed NBC series Heroes.

Finally, Dubliner Jason O’Mara has been tapped to play the lead in the planned U.S. version of the British TV smash Life on Mars. O’Mara (whose TV credits include The Agency, In Justice and CSI: Miami) will portray a modern-day detective who goes back to the 1970s and confronts a serial killer whose actions may have affected the present day. Prodigious TV producer David E. Kelley, who cast O’Mara, was quoted as saying: “This is a complicated character with many colors. After an exhaustive search, we’re thrilled to have cast Jason O’Mara. He is a tremendous talent.” ♦

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Cape Breton Awash in Celtic Colors https://irishamerica.com/2007/10/cape-breton-awash-in-celtic-colors/ https://irishamerica.com/2007/10/cape-breton-awash-in-celtic-colors/#respond Mon, 01 Oct 2007 11:55:13 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=9812 Read more..]]> It was over a decade ago that an imaginative union of tourism and cultural heritage formed to create the Celtic Colours International Festival  in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.  With the 11th annual festival taking place Oct. 6-13, 2007, and growing every year, the nine-day festival, awash in autumn colors, with gorgeous sea and landscape settings, has become one of the world’s most renowned gatherings.

Last year 14,000 people — more than half from off-island — traveled from 21 countries to hear an amazing mix of Celtic entertainment and attend some of the hundreds of events and workshops in fiddle, pipes, dancing and crafts.

Star-studded concerts took place every day and evening and were spread over 50 communities on Nova Scotia’s northernmost region, an area known for preserving the Scottish, Irish, Acadian (French) and Native America heritage as part of its everyday existence.

Visitors can pick and choose the performers that appeal to them, and enjoy driving uncrowded roads and breath-taking scenery enroute to community halls like the Glencoe Mills Dance Hall or the Judique Musical Centre.  You will also see more fiddlers playing at more events than you have ever seen before.

Opening this year’s Celtic Colours Festival are the grand old men of Irish traditional music, The Chieftains, who last came to the festival in the opening year of 1997 when they were exploring Cape Breton music. The Chieftains will perform with a slew of talent in a show entitled the “Cape Breton Connection” at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Center. Irish acts like the Karan Casey Band and Michael Black will join the group along with Dougie McLean, Shoogenifty, and the best of Cape Breton’s musicians, including the legendary Buddy McMaster. J.P. Cormier, the Barra MacNeils, Ashley MacIssac and Mary Jane Lamond, will also be on hand.

The Barra MacNeils, one of those quintessentially multi-talented Cape Breton families who have made a huge splash in Canada and the U.S., will close out the festival on October 13 with a concert celebrating their 20 years in the music business. The special tribute will take place at the Sydney Marine Terminal, in the port city furthest north.

In addition to all the concerts, late night revelers with stamina can rub shoulders with the talent at the nightly Festival Club held in St. Ann’s at the Gaelic College of Celtic Arts and Crafts, where even more music is laid on until the early hours.

The website www.celtic-colours.com offers further details on the myriad events and concerts as well as travel information. Or you can call: 902.562.6700. ♦

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A Legend Who Loved Ireland https://irishamerica.com/2007/10/a-legend-who-loved-ireland/ https://irishamerica.com/2007/10/a-legend-who-loved-ireland/#respond Mon, 01 Oct 2007 11:55:02 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=9819 Read more..]]> In his 2002 memoir Merv: Making the Good Life Last, show business legend Merv Griffin recalled the moment when it seemed he’d finally made it in the entertainment world.  People started looking at him differently, in good ways and bad.  His father’s reaction, however, was what fascinated Griffin. “You did good, buddy, keep it up,” Griffin recalled his dad saying. “In the manner of a typical Irish Catholic father of his generation, my dad was gruff but proud,” Griffin wrote.

To say that Griffin did well in his life is an incredible understatement. He was a musician, talk show host, prodigious TV producer, hotel mogul and even became a successful owner in the world of horse racing.  Among his horses was one named Cee’s Irish, trained by Doug O’Neil. Merv Griffin died in August of prostate cancer in Los Angeles, at the age of 82.

Griffin is perhaps best known for his TV talk show from the 1960s and 1970s which touched on all topics of the day.  Griffin also developed two of the most famous game shows of all time: Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.  Ever the shrewd businessman, he sold the game shows along with his production company to Coca-Cola in 1986 for $250 million. Griffin, however, retained the rights to both shows’ theme songs, which he wrote himself. He was paid in royalties every time each show aired, which amounted to millions of dollars over the years.  Griffin was recently said to have a net worth of around $1.6 billion.

As The New York Times noted after his death: “With his easy smile and low-key manner, he seemed the eternally jovial Irishman; few of those around him, much less his fans, thought of him as the entrepreneur he was.”

Griffin once said: “I was buying things and nobody knew. I never told anybody, because I noticed that when you walk down the street and everybody knows you’re rich, they don’t talk to you.”

Born July 6, 1925, in San Mateo, California, Griffin was playing piano by age 4, and in his teens found a musical outlet at his parish church, where he joined the choir. He was said to have performed the music for an entire Mass, and would also earn money singing for weddings and funerals.

By the 1950s he had made a name for himself as a singer on radio and with the Freddy Martin Orchestra.  But it was on his TV show – which laid the groundwork for future stars such as Phil Donahue and Oprah Winfrey – that Griffin reached the masses.

He later worked behind the scenes, using his personal obsession with word puzzles to develop the game shows Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. He also became a successful real estate and hotel developer.

Following Griffin’s death, David Bender, who co-wrote Griffin’s memoir, wrote that Griffin “was a man who had a profound and significant impact on our country and our culture in ways that are still being felt today.”

How? First and foremost, Griffin is credited with giving first breaks to Woody Allen, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Lily Tomlin, John Denver, Diane Keaton, Whitney Houston and Jerry Seinfeld.

“It was Merv, not Johnny Carson, who first put every one of them on the air,” Bender said. He added: “In 1965, when virtually no public opposition to the war in Vietnam was being seen on American television, Merv interviewed 93-year-old British Nobel Laureate Bertrand Russell who stunned him by declaring that America needed to ‘give up the habit of invading peaceful countries and torturing them.’”

Griffin blended serious issues with entertainment.  “As he did throughout his life,” Bender said, “Merv used his Irish humor like a surgeon’s scalpel, deftly and with a minimum of blood.”

Griffin is survived by his son Tony and two grandchildren. ♦

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Genius and a Gent: Bill Walsh Remembered https://irishamerica.com/2007/10/genius-and-a-gent-bill-walsh-remembered/ https://irishamerica.com/2007/10/genius-and-a-gent-bill-walsh-remembered/#respond Mon, 01 Oct 2007 11:54:35 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=9816 Read more..]]> When Bill Walsh took over the head coaching job of the San Francisco 49ers in the late 1970s, the team was among the worst in the National Football League. In just a few years, Walsh transformed them into the dominant franchise of the 1980s and early 1990s. No wonder Walsh – who died at the age of 75 in late July – came to be called “the genius.”

The Irish-American coach, whose snow-white hair made him an instantly recognizable figure on the sidelines, won three Super Bowls during the 1980s with the 49ers, before retiring. The team went on to win two more Super Bowls using many of the same tactics and players Walsh had established.

Legendary quarterback Joe Montana, who guided the 49ers during Walsh’s tenure, was quoted as saying: “This is just a tremendous loss for all of us … because of what he meant to the 49ers. For me personally, outside of my dad he was probably the most influential person in my life. I am going to miss him.”

Walsh was diagnosed with leukemia in 2004 and died at his home in Woodside, California. He had been working as a coach and athletic director at Stanford University.

Walsh’s major innovation was on the offensive side of football, where his style came to be called “the West Coast offense.” It focused heavily on using the quarterback to pass the ball, rather than rely strictly on running the football.

“Bill’s legacy is going to be that he changed offense. Offense before Bill Walsh was run, run defense, establish the run. Run on first down, run on second down, and if that doesn’t work, pass on third down. Bill Walsh passed on first down, passed on second down and used that to set up the run,” famous coach and broadcaster John Madden said. “People use the word genius and we usually scoff at that. In his case, I don’t think you can scoff at it.”

It would have been difficult to predict success for William Ernest Walsh, who was born November 30, 1931 in Los Angeles at the height of the Great Depression. Walsh’s father could earn only menial wages as a day laborer, forcing his family to move around California. Walsh attended Hayward High School, where he played football as well as track and field. He then played two seasons at San Mateo Junior College before transferring to San Jose State, where he remained on the coaching staff upon graduation.

Walsh once said: “I went into coaching with the resolve that my coaching career wouldn’t be a disappointment to me. So I worked doubly hard at it.”

In a sign of things to come, Walsh turned things around drastically when he got his first head coaching job at California’s Washington Union High School. The team had a record of 1 win and 26 losses before Walsh took over and turned the program around.
He became an assistant coach with the NFL’s Oakland Raiders in the mid-1960s, and moved on to Cincinnati where he worked until 1975, before returning to California for good.

He left the NFL for two years to lead the Stanford University football team, before being hired by the 49ers. In 1979 he made sure the team drafted Joe Montana out of Notre Dame, and the foundation for a dynasty was established. Walsh remained humble, despite all of his success, and was unorthodox in his calm demeanor and approach to the game.

“I know there were coaches who were certainly more intelligent than I was,” Walsh was quoted as saying late last year. “There were firebrand coaches who fired up their teams and all that kind of thing. But we basically understated everything publicly. We never talked about, ‘We’re going to the Super Bowl,’ or ‘We’re the best; come and get us,’ all that kind of thing. We just quietly went about our business.”
Walsh is survived by his wife, Geri, a son Craig and a daughter Elizabeth. Another son, Steve, an ABC News reporter, died of leukemia in 2002 at the age of 46. ♦

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The First Family of Irish America https://irishamerica.com/2007/10/the-first-family-of-irish-america/ https://irishamerica.com/2007/10/the-first-family-of-irish-america/#comments Mon, 01 Oct 2007 11:54:29 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=9826 Read more..]]> Back in July, Bronx Irish Catholic Edwin F. O’Brien, after a 40-year career as a priest, military chaplain and aide to two cardinals, was named the new Archbishop of Baltimore.

The archdiocese O’Brien will lead numbers more than a half-million Catholics, with 200 priests, five Catholic hospitals, two seminaries and 151 parishes, including two cathedrals, The Baltimore Sun noted.

O’Brien said he will focus on getting to know the priests of his new archdiocese, which covers nine Maryland counties and the city of Baltimore.

As O’Brien becomes more familiar with his new home, he will inevitably make one important discovery.  Though it is rarely mentioned in the same breath as New York, Boston or Chicago, Baltimore is historically one of the most important Irish-American cities in the U.S.

To begin with, Baltimore is named after a village in Ireland. It is also the oldest Catholic archdiocese in America, and was long seen as a place of refuge for Irish immigrants who felt the sting of discrimination.

Most importantly, Baltimore has long been associated with America’s first great Irish-American family.  Long before the Kennedys built their powerful dynasty from the slums of Boston, the Carrolls of Maryland amassed great influence inside the church and in society at large. By 1776, when America’s Declaration of Independence was announced, just one Catholic signed the famous document: Charles Carroll.  When the Archdiocese of Baltimore was established in 1789, it was another member of the sprawling family, John Carroll, who was selected to lead it as Archbishop.

This year marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Daniel Carroll, a land baron whose holdings stretched into what is today’s Washington, D.C.

These days, with a spiritual leader named O’Brien and an ex-mayor (now Maryland governor) named O’Malley, Baltimore retains its heavily Irish flavor.  Thousands descended upon Canton Waterfront Park on September 14 and 15 for the annual Baltimore Irish festival which celebrated Irish music and culture.

But it is in Baltimore’s past that a fascinating, often forgotten slice of Irish-American history resides.  Some people have argued that you can use the Kennedy family to understand the history of the Irish in post-Famine America.

It is not an exaggeration to say that you can look at the Carrolls and their experiences in Baltimore to understand Irish Catholic history in America prior to the Famine.

So who were the Carrolls? Where in Ireland did they come from? Why did they settle in Maryland? And why was Baltimore so important to Irish Catholics in general?

Roots in Cork

Baltimore, Maryland was established as a city in 1729, and (according to The Encyclopedia of the Irish in America) was named after a port town in West Cork. The name Baltimore is derived from the Gaelic baile an tigh mór, meaning “the village near the big house.”  By that time the Carrolls had already established themselves as an influential family with extensive landholdings in the Maryland area.

In Ireland, the Carrolls had dominated a region encompassing parts of Counties Laois, Offaly and Tipperary, Timothy J. Meagher writes in The Columbia Guide to Irish American History.

The Carrolls, however, paid dearly for their devout Catholicism in Ireland and the U.S.

“The Carrolls’ position as Catholic outsiders in Protestant Maryland and their conscious memory of their family’s long, bitter, and ultimately futile struggle against conquest and dispossession in Ireland provide more than a different perspective on early American society,” Ronald Hoffman writes in his 2001 study Princes of Ireland, Planters of Maryland: A Carroll Saga, 1500-1782.

“Threatened relentlessly between 1500 and 1782, first by the territorial ambitions of rival clans, then because of their stubborn attachment to their Gaelic heritage, and finally for their defiant adherence to Catholicism — both in Ireland and in Maryland — the Carrolls consistently developed strategies comparable to those used by their ancestors, confronting each peril with compromise, cunning, implacable will, and a tenacious determination to survive.”

Driven from Ireland by conflict with English Protestants, Charles Carroll left Litterluna, in present-day Offaly, and settled in the American colonies.

A Safe Haven

Why did Charles select what today is the state of Maryland?

Maryland had a long tradition of religious tolerance, which was forged by the Catholic Calvert family. It was Sir George Calvert who, in 1635, had successfully petitioned King Charles I to establish a colony called the Province of Maryland where Catholics could live freely.

Throughout the 17th century, as Protestants and Catholics across the British Empire battled for supremacy, Maryland and its fledgling port city of Baltimore was seen as a relatively safe haven for Catholics in the American colonies.

As it turned out, Charles Carroll (known as “The Settler”) picked a bad time to come to Maryland.  Initially, he was named the colony’s attorney general (serving under the third Lord Baltimore).  However, England’s so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688 ushered in yet another era of Catholic subservience and Protestant ascendancy, which made its way to the colonies as well.

Still, though Catholics were disenfranchised, the Baltimore region remained a relatively good place for Irish Catholics, as evidenced by the landholdings and fortunes established by Charles Carroll and his two sons Charles (born in 1702) and Daniel (born 300 years ago, in 1707).

Indeed, despite the swirling religious acrimony of the era, which pit Catholics against Protestants, Baltimore’s diverse blend of Irish and English Catholics, not to mention Irish and English (and Scottish) Protestants, suggests that some people did manage to get along and establish a certain level of peace in the New World.

Along with the tradition of religious tolerance established by Cecil Calvert (Sir George’s son), Baltimore’s geographical location, a substantial distance from the Northeast and bordering on the American South, presumably helped the city avoid some of the problems of New England, where a more rigid form of puritanism held sway.

After all, 1688, the year Charles the Settler came to the U.S., was the same year a devout Catholic and Gaelic-speaking Irish woman named Goody Glover was hanged as a witch in Boston.

Baltimore’s Irish Foundation

Well into the 1700s, Catholics were forbidden to attain a good education or hold public office.

Still, having attracted prominent families such as the Carrolls (who were educated in Europe), as well as Irish Catholic immigrants of more modest means, Baltimore was transforming into a bustling city by the middle of the 18th century.

St. Peter’s on Charles Street was built in 1770 and became the city’s central Catholic church. Around the same time, future Archbishop John Carroll and his brother Daniel built a chapel in Rock Creek, Maryland to serve Catholics in the area.

It is important to note that Irish Protestants also flocked to Baltimore. Many of the most prominent Irish in early Baltimore were Presbyterian, The Encyclopedia of the Irish in America notes.  In 1761 nine or ten Scots-Irish families formed Baltimore’s First Presbyterian Church. Baltimore’s first mayor, the Irish-born John Calhoun, emerged from this church.

By the 1770s, when American independence from Britain dominated public debate, the Carrolls entered the fray. They, along with many other Irish Catholics, argued that freedom from Britain and its Old-World religious conflicts would actually encourage greater religious tolerance in the New World.

“America may come to exhibit a proof to the world, by general and equal toleration, by giving a free circulation to fair argument, is the most effectual method to bring all denominations of Christians to a unity of faith,” John Carroll wrote in his much-discussed book An Address to the Roman Catholics of the United States of America. (John was motivated to write the book not by some anti-Irish nativism but by another relative named Charles, who had left the church and become anti-Catholic.)

John and yet another cousin named Charles (this one was the Settler’s grandson, born in 1737) played central diplomatic roles in the buildup to the U.S. war for independence. Both accompanied Benjamin Franklin on an official visit to Canada in 1776.

Charles risked his life and fortune by signing the Declaration of Independence, the only Catholic to do so.

America’s First Catholic Diocese

By 1789, John Carroll was the logical choice to lead Baltimore’s growing Catholic community.

Carroll, who served as Archbishop until his death in 1815, gave future American Catholic leaders a blueprint when it came to establishing a Catholic diocese. A fierce proponent of education, he pushed for the creation of what would later become Georgetown University. In 1809, he also encouraged Elizabeth Seton to establish the American Sisters of Charity for the education of girls.

Charles Carroll, meanwhile, was elected to serve in the U.S. Senate as well as the Maryland state senate.

The Carrolls, however, were just the most prominent of many Irish contributors to the area.

County Down native Robert Garrett came to Baltimore in 1801, and would preside over a family that played key roles in the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O).

The Hibernian Society of Baltimore was founded in 1803.  The group’s president was John Campbell, a veteran of the 1798 uprising in Ireland.

Nativist Action

All in all, the first several decades of the 1800s seemed to bear out Cecil Calvert’s vision of religious tolerance from nearly two centuries earlier. Of course, things were not so simple. In the 1830s, there were bursts of anti-Irish and anti-Catholic prejudice in Baltimore, as there were across the country.  One particularly ugly episode was the so-called Carmelite Riots of 1839, when a great mob attacked the Carmelite convent for three days. These followed a familiar pattern of anti-Catholic violence in America, when Protestants came to believe Catholics coerced women into becoming nuns.

The infamous Know Nothing movement of the 1850s also hit home in Baltimore.

Worse, a distant member of the Carroll clan, Anna Ella Carroll (who had left the Catholic church), publicly supported the Know Nothings.
But the Irish kept coming, especially once the Famine struck. In the 1850s and 1860s, before the American Civil War,  nearly 70,000 new Catholics entered Baltimore, the majority of whom were Irish.

The B&O railroad was a steady source of employment for the Baltimore Irish.  Not surprisingly, Charles Carroll was a key investor in the venture.

Honoring the Irish

Five years ago, Baltimore’s Irish Shrine and Railroad Workers Museum at Lemmon Street opened. The site honors the laborers who flocked to southwest Baltimore in the 1840s. Around this time, a new St. Peter’s Church was also built to serve the rapidly growing Irish Catholic population in the city’s western neighborhoods.  A young Irish priest named Edward McColgan led the flock.

The Sisters of Mercy (originally formed in Dublin) also established numerous local missions and schools to teach and tend to the needs of these newly arrived Irish.

Church, labor, education – as in many other big U.S. cities, this was the Baltimore Irish recipe for advancement.

One of the most important advocates for Irish Catholic education throughout the mid-19th century was Emily Harper MacTavish, who donated land and funds to many projects.  Then again, MacTavish came from a long line of strivers.  Her grandfather was a prominent Baltimore citizen, a senator and signer of the U.S. Declaration of Independence named Charles Carroll. ♦

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A Rockaway Welcome for Wounded Warriors https://irishamerica.com/2007/10/a-rockaway-welcome-for-wounded-warriors/ https://irishamerica.com/2007/10/a-rockaway-welcome-for-wounded-warriors/#comments Mon, 01 Oct 2007 11:53:11 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=9822 Read more..]]> It could be a scene unfolding in any small town in America, grateful people welcoming home war heroes.  Not too common anymore, except in Rockaway Beach, New York, where it has become an annual event.

We are not talking about ordinary soldiers, although ordinary could not describe any soldier during wartime. The soldiers in this parade have sacrificed much and Rockaway has found a way to thank them. The Wounded Warriors weekend has become a moving, emotional event that plays itself out on our peninsula every July for the last three years. Anyone that has been lucky enough to be a part of it would want to tell you what a wonderful thing it is, but the problem is that in describing the weekend, one is often at a loss for words.

This year’s “Wounded Warriors” included 40 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who participated in the Adaptive Water Sports Festival.

The entire weekend is designed to help the wounded soldiers participate in water sports that they may not have attempted after their life-altering injuries. The social part of the weekend brings a little simple fun back into their lives.

The weekend starts out on Thursday evening. As the sun begins its descent in the summer sky, neighbors gather along Rockaway Beach Blvd. The sea air mingles on the breeze as sun-kissed children wave small American flags.  Parents and grandparents chat easily with friends while the air buzzes with excitement. Patriotic bunting is draped over porches, and beach chairs that were planted in the sand only hours ago now create an informal viewing stand. Young children proudly hold signs; some are elaborate works of art dotted with red, white and blue glitter that welcome the soldiers to Rockaway. Others form a lump in your throat when you read the simply stated “Thank You.” You have to pause and remind yourself that some of the children that hold them were not even born or were small babies on that fateful day in September 2001 when life as we knew it changed, and young men and women across the country were filled with a sense of duty.  Well, for some, their time has been served and they are home, broken but alive. Most of them have just finished their rehab, others are due for more surgery, and some, and you can tell which ones right away, are on their very first outing from Walter Reed Military Hospital. They are accompanied by wives and children and various family members. They are welcomed home in a way that they have not been before.

The Wounded Warriors roll into town in style, and are welcomed into the arms of people who lost loved ones on 9/11.   In a police-escorted motorcade, the soldiers arrive on the top of FDNY fire trucks waving flags and beaming at the warm welcome.  If you squint your eyes just right at the sun, you can almost see the spirits of our own 343 [firefighters lost on 9/11] riding right along with them. The first-timers look stunned while the returnees call out to people who are now good friends. The motorcade is often flanked by NYPD helicopters and the FDNY fireboats greet them with a spray of water at every bridge crossing. The motorcade winds through the streets of Breezy Point to cheering crowds and works its way into Rockaway to pass by St. Francis deSales Church.

One can’t help but remember less than a year ago a similar more solemn procession held here for a local fallen Marine, Michael Glover, nephew of the now retired FDNY Chief of the Department Peter Hayden.  In a world where too often people like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears grace the covers of our papers, you can’t help but think about the countless young men and women who have already dealt with more heartache and tragedy that anyone should have to endure in a lifetime.

“What happened to us is sad, but when we come here we feel a connection.  You people get it,” says Corporal Marcus Martinez, a big strapping Marine from Lincoln, Nebraska.  “Every soldier wants to come here, who wouldn’t? Everyone opens their doors and their homes and their lives to you.  I have been here for two years now and I feel like I have family here.”  Marcus relates stories of still hospitalized soldiers: “All of the young soldiers want to come here once they hear about how great our weekend is, and they all work harder at their physical therapy so they are in shape to make the trip when the time comes.”

Perhaps it is a fate-filled connection that these men and women, most of them from remote parts of the country, experience here every year. There is a palpable feeling of empathy and understanding. Rockaway knows too well the feelings of loss and change and has learned the lessons of perseverance and hope since that September morning. The community suffered the loss of many neighbors killed at the World Trade Center, including many firefighters and rescue workers.  While still reeling with grief, fate added a cruel twist on November 12, 2001, when American Airlines Flight 587 crashed into the heart of the town, killing 260 on board and five beloved neighbors on the ground, in the second- largest air disaster in this country. The town pulled together, then literally fought the fire and cleaned up the devastation while trying to console the heartbroken families.  Perhaps a true testimony to the warmth and compassion is the fact that the families who lost their loved ones and all of their earthly possessions decided to settle down in nearby houses and continue to live here. Through all the loss, it was still home.  Rockaway knows what it is like to be brought down to its knees and to rise up again. And to give back.

Three years ago, while trying to find a way to reach out to others, the idea for hosting the Wounded Warriors was born. It was the brainchild of retired New York City firefighter Flip Mullen, who together with his wife, Rita, and a local grassroots organization called the Graybeards, planned the beginning stages of what was to become a phenomenal event.  “We needed to find a way to do something for these guys. They went over there for all of us, especially for us here in New York. We needed to let them know that they would not be forgotten,” says Mullen. “We are, in a sense, giving them the welcome home that they don’t really get.  It’s as simple as that.”

Mullen went on to recruit volunteers from various groups he knew he could tap into. New York City firefighters, many from Ladder 120 and Engine 231, immediately jumped in to help, shuttling soldiers to and from events and the homes they were staying in. The Graybeards, which originally started as an over-40 basketball league, began turning its efforts to helping the community. They found a new mission after 9/11 and began a series of outreach projects. They knew the neighborhood would turn out to help, so they lent a hand in organizing the weekend. The Adaptive Ski Program and the Disabled Veterans Association also got involved, and together, the collaborators worked through incredible logistics to pull it off.

Housing all the soldiers and their families and therapists, and other various members of the Wounded Warrior organization is no easy task.  “We could put these guys up in hotels, but that would defeat the purpose of giving them a warm hometown welcome,” recalls Mullen.  “When I originally looked into this I asked them at Walter Reed, ‘What is it these guys need?  What can we do for them?’ They told me that they need to socialize, and to know that the world is still going to accept them with missing arms or legs, or whatever.”

Nobody is better at “social” than Rockaway. Ask any Irish-American New Yorker and you can bet that they have a “Rockaway” story in their archives, whether it be traveling by subway to the beach on a Sunday afternoon, or visiting an aunt’s rental house where bungalows were known to magically sleep 14 cousins at once. We all have the fond memories and countless stories of children sitting in sandy bathing suits in one of the many Irish pubs listening to ceili music and eating chips and drinking Cokes while parents danced and chatted, the Irish brogues and laughter filling up whatever fine establishment they were in. A familiar warm smile appears when one recalls those summers spent here so long ago.  It comes from a lifestyle or time lived by the sea, and it comes naturally to the people of Rockaway.

The parade ends at the Belle Harbor Yacht Club where the “Meet and Greet” is held.  Dinner is served as the soldiers meet their host families. Personal connections are made when homes and meals are shared, and the weekend will have an impact on the hosts as well as the soldiers.  Many of the soldiers from previous years have kept in touch and have even visited on different occasions.

Friday begins early at the Breezy Point Yacht Club, where a wide variety of water sports and instruction is offered.  Food and music and the energy of the soldiers here make it feel like a private beach in the Bahamas. Physical therapists who are part of the Wounded Warriors organization are available at all times to help the soldiers should they need it, and local firefighters are specially trained to help in the water.  Even though some soldiers have never been in the ocean, they find themselves, in a very short time, standing on water skis for the first time, with one leg, or one arm.  Last year a triple amputee graced the cover of a national magazine when his picture was taken here on water skis bearing a smile from ear to ear. Fishing, sailing and kayaking are available along with scuba diving instruction – activities that any one of these soldiers, lying in their bed at Walter Reed, could not have imagined ever attempting again. “If I can do this, I can do anything” is the popular motto of the weekend.
Sergeant Noah Galloway from Alabaster, Alabama, lost his leg during his second tour in Iraq. “After your Twin Towers fell here in New York City, I was mad as hell. I really didn’t know what you people were feeling, but I had to do something to help and so I enlisted in the Army.” His face is young and handsome, and his enthusiasm for life seeps from his pores. You almost don’t notice that he’s missing an arm and a leg, until he asks you to hold his can of beer so he can shake someone’s hand.

“I came home the first time and everything was fine, but on my second deployment I was hit and that was it.”  He recalls his injuries with a bit of a crooked grin, testimony to his positive approach to life.  “You can’t sit around feeling sorry for yourself, things happen to you in this life. It’s all how you deal with it.

“Recently a balding man came up to me in a store and said, ‘Wow, I can’t imagine losing my limbs like that,’ to which I replied, ‘Yeah? Well, I can’t imagine losing my hair like you.’ It really is all how you look at it.”

On Friday evening a boat is chartered from Sheepshead Bay for a dinner cruise. With patriotic music playing and fireworks bursting overhead, the soldiers gather on the top deck as the boat cruises by the Lady in the Bay, and the empty space where the towers once stood is just as noticeable today as it was to all of us almost six years ago. An experienced screenwriter could not come up with this kind of stuff.

Saturday evening you will find Beach 134th Street near the ocean filled with family, friends and soldiers for our Special Athletics fundraiser.  This annual event raises money for a very special group of athletes that are much loved here in Rockaway, and the soldiers are our honored guests at a traditional summer event. Children and soldiers and volunteers and Special Athletes all laugh and dance and have fun well into the night. Sunday morning dawns bright and early, a bit brighter perhaps than a few would like – the few that experience the Rockaway nightlife. However early it seems, the Mass at the Breezy Point 9/11 memorial is not to be missed.

The memorial is simple but powerful. It consists of a replica of the steel cross that was recovered at the World Trade Center site, and of separate glass panels etched with personal poems and the names of all the Breezy Point residents who died on 9/11.

Almost every soldier you talk to will tell you that they signed up to serve because of what happened in New York on 9/11, so it’s appropriate that we gather at a place that commemorates it so beautifully.

The Mass is celebrated by Father Peter Rayder, associate pastor at Holy Name Parish in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Father Peter was raised in a large family here in Rockaway, and was always active in community events. He reminds us that “sure we all feel better when we do something for someone else, but these soldiers are letting us off easy. We can’t do enough for them, after all they have sacrificed for us.  They have gone off to a country where people need compassion and healing, and during that time, have sacrificed much.” He went on to tell the crowd, “We gather this weekend, and we thank them, but it’s not enough. We need to remember them. We need to live our lives and make a difference because of them.  We need to pray for them and if we can’t do that, we should go home and take down our flags.”

Noah Galloway, with his Alabama twang, summed it up best when he said, “The doctors and therapists can give us all the physical healing in the world, but when we come here to Rockaway, well I tell you, it’s just therapy for the soul.  This is what heals our souls.”

The soldiers thank us; we thank the soldiers, over and over. Sunday evening finds everyone with that slightly drained feeling you get after a good cry, and the goodbyes are never easy.  Rockaway finishes another year of trying to give back, just a little, to those that go and do for our country and for freedom and for all the good things we are taught to be grateful for.  Wounded Warriors, we remember you and thank you. The healing begins, and that is therapy for all of our souls. ♦

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