Those we Lost – Irish America Irish America Magazine Mon, 22 Jul 2019 14:31:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 82361074 Fathers & Sons Sat, 15 Jun 2019 09:55:23 +0000 Read more..]]> Amidst the hundreds of rescue workers searching at Ground Zero in the months after the 9/11 attacks, many were fathers looking for their sons. Some were firefighters still on the job, some retired, and some never officially with the Department, but all joined in the search for their boys. This is a story about five of them.


As you approach the church, you see the fire trucks lined up on both sides of the street. Their ladders, extended and crossed in the air, form an arch from which the American flag hangs waving in the breeze. A tradition, usually saved for a smalltown Fourth of July picnic, has now become a symbol of respect, and an all too common sight as a funeral cortege passes underneath, and yet another fallen hero is laid to rest.

People gather on the church steps. They’ve seen each other too often of late. The ceremonial unit gives the signal and the formation takes place. The Honor Company lines up next to the fire chiefs who are to the right of the dignitaries led by the mayor and fire commissioner. Last-minute instructions are whispered to the color guard to hold the tips of the flags so they don’t flap in the breeze. An eerie quiet descends upon the crowd. In the distance, the steady beat of muffled drums is heard as the pipe band approaches. Someone calls out “Attention” and a crisp salute ensues. The caisson pulls into view and the pallbearers gently lower the casket as the family emerges from cars and follows the flag-draped coffin into the church.

There is another stirring element in the procession: the honor guard of fathers who lost sons. Most are dressed in Fire Department uniforms, some wear suits. They all have strained eyes from tears shed and strained backs from the recovery effort. They knowingly look at each other and affirm the pledge they silently made so many months ago. “We’ll be there for each other until the end…we’ll do this together.”

The fathers walk together in Thomas Butler’s funeral procession: front row, John Vigiano, Lee Ielpi, and Jack Lynch. Dennis O’Berg is in the second row far right. (Photo Peter Foley)

They had come together at the worst imaginable time – searching for their missing sons at Ground Zero – and they were here now to see another father lay his son to rest.

Dennis O’Berg, a lean, elegant and quiet Fire Lieutenant from L114, was working in Brooklyn on September 11. As he raced through the streets on his way to the Trade Center, he thought about how to keep his men safe. He also thought of his son, young Dennis – less than a year on the job and responding in from L105, a firehouse closer to Manhattan. When O’Berg arrived at the site, he quickly learned that all the men from L105 were missing.

As the tragedy began to sink in, the resourceful fire officer, who had been in countless tough situations, was so shattered he could barely put one foot in front of the other.

The lieutenant had been extraordinarily close to his son. When young Dennis and his sister were kids he’d tailored his schedule to play ball with and read to them. When he grew up, Dennis Jr. trained as a CPA. But when he married his longtime girlfriend, Christine, he realized that if he was going to start a family, he wanted to raise them the way he was raised, and that meant making some changes in his life.

Dennis O’Berg, Jr.

His friends got a simultaneous e-mail in February of 2001: “As of 1:00 today I have joined the New York City Fire Department.” Nobody was more proud than his father.

September 11 was Lieutenant O’Berg’s last tour of duty. He retired from the department two days later. For weeks he and his wife, Dorothy, couldn’t bear to even see friends, they just clung to each other, trying to find a way to go on. But as time wore on, the gnawing feeling of a need to be near his boy kept inching into his mind. He put on his gear and began to go to the site every day. He was not alone.

Bill Butler, a retired captain from E216, was there. He was looking for his son Tom, who had driven Squad One through the Battery Tunnel on that fateful morning.

Two days earlier, the Butler family had gathered to christen Patrick, the third child of Tom and his wife, Martha. Following the ceremony, Tom had turned to his father and said, “Thanks, Dad, for doing the baby’s room. Thanks for everything you’ve done.” That was the last time Bill Butler spoke to his son.

Tom had been a police officer before he joined the Fire Department in 1989. He was also a naval reservist, a gunner’s mate, who strongly believed in service to his country. He met Martha while serving as a patrol officer in Richmond Hill, Queens and quickly fell in love. They married, bought a house down the street from his parents, and he kept busy with a second job as a Bay Constable in Smithtown. They remained close to Tom’s siblings, two brothers and a sister, and settled into a life centered on raising their children.

Thomas Butler

Retired from the FDNY since 1993, Bill Butler was working at the Smithtown Public Safety Office when he heard about the planes hitting the towers. Knowing Tom was working, he headed home to man the phones and be with his wife Peg, and family. Word began to drift in about the scale of the calamity, and Bill knew in his heart that Squad One would be in the middle of it.

Bill’s other son, Stephen, a Port Authority Emergency Services Unit police officer at JFK, was off-duty that morning and arrived at the scene after the first tower collapsed. His partner PAPD officer George Howard was killed. (Howard’s mother, Arlene, presented her son’s badge to President Bush).

By the end of the first week, Bill paid his first visit to Ground Zero. Looking with an experienced eye at the scale of the destruction, he knew what the search-and-recovery people were up against. Weighing the pull to go to the site against the need to be with his family, he remained near home for the next few weeks. In early November, the need to be near Tom became too hard to resist. He started to go to the site every day.

Jack Lynch, from the Bronx and the MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority), was also at the site every day. He was searching for his boy Michael, a rookie firefighter assigned to E40 near Manhattan’s Lincoln Center.

Lynch, from Tralee, County Kerry, an outspoken Irishman with a brogue as thick as they come and a mind as quick as a rocket, retired from the MTA as a manager in 1998, after 33 years on the job. He raised 10 children in the Bronx, and has been married to his wife and best friend, Kathleen, for 42 years.

Young Michael had joined the Fire Department in November of 1999. He loved the firehouse and his fiancée Stephanie Luccioni. They were to be married on November 16, 2002. On the morning of September 11, he was working at Engine 40.

Michael Lynch

Early TV footage showed some of the first firefighters arriving on the scene. Michael’s mother saw him first. Then the calls started coming in from around the country. “We saw Michael going in. It’s him.” A cameraman for Fox News had shot the footage and Jack tracked him down. They freeze-framed the film and sure enough, there was Michael going into Building 4, heading for the South Tower.

Jack decided that the best chance of finding his boy was to create a timeline. He pinpointed the location where Michael and his company went in, found out the exact time of day, factored in the heavy equipment the firefighters were carrying and other possible delaying variables, and made a reasonable assumption about how far they could have gotten before the towers came down.

Jack figured Michael and the other members of E40 had gone in about five to seven minutes before the collapse. He paced it off with a close friend who works for a major construction finn in Chicago.

Given the time the film was shot and the direction they were moving, the two men reached the same horrifying conclusion: Michael and his company would have been in the lobby or on the lower floors of Tower 2 just as the building came down. Jack felt his heart break as his friend turned to him with tears streaming down his face and mouthed the words, “No hope.”

Having a Rescue Company firefighter for a father elevates the expectation on the son. When Jonathan Ielpi became a firefighter he wanted to go to a busy fire house like the one his father, Lee, a tough and resourceful retired firefighter from Brooklyn’s elite Rescue 2, had served in.

Jonathan started out in E214 in Brooklyn and then got assigned to Squad 288 in Queens. He loved his work, his wife, Yesinia, and the fact that they were raising two active sons in the same town where he grew up. He even volunteered at his local fire company, Vigilant Engine Hook and Ladder in Great Neck, where he became second in command. He was proving to be every bit the firefighter his father was.

On Fathers’ Day in 2001, an explosion occurred during a fire in a hardware store in Astoria, Queens. The blast blew out three brick walls, raining debris down on and trapping four firefighters. Jonathan and Lee Ielpi joined the men digging through the rubble to uncover their fallen brothers. As mortally injured firefighter Harry Ford was pulled out, Jonathan and his father helped Fire Department MD Kerry Kelly to do CPR and place him in the ambulance. Their efforts were captured on the front page of the newspapers.

On the morning of September 11, Jonathan phoned his father and told him to turn on the television. As they watched and spoke on the phone together, the tone alarm went off in the firehouse and Jonathan said, “That’s us. We’re going in.” Lee told him to be careful. He said, “OK, Dad.” That was their last conversation.

Jonathan Ielpi

As the situation escalated, Lee knew he had to go down to the site. He and his son Brendan drove in. He saw the conditions at Ground Zero and knew it would take experienced rescuer workers to begin searching for life. Having served in Rescue 2 for so many years, he also knew that the odds were stacked against the Department, because so many of the specially trained Rescue firefighters were among the missing – more then 90 from the Special Operations Command.

With only one word – Jonathan –  running through his mind, Lee found Chief Frank Cruthers and told him he wanted to start opening up a passage on the south side so they could get heavy equipment in to move the debris. The chief told him to go ahead. A group of construction workers overheard the conversation, and soon bulldozers, front-end loaders, trucks and backhoes were procured from nearby construction sites.

At one point Lee helped pull what was left of Rescue 2’s equipment out of the way. He looked up and for a moment and was elated when he saw men from Squad 288 coming towards him, but they all lowered their eyes and he knew they were the remaining members of the company coming to search for their lost brothers.

Retired Fire Captain John Vigiano, the legend who beat cancer to come back to the job, was looking for his sons, Joe, a NYPD Emergency Services Unit (ESU) police officer, and John, a firefighter from L132, when he met the other fathers.

On the morning of September 11,Vigiano had gotten a call from son Joe, the ESU officer. Joe was on his way down to the Trade Center. He told his dad to put on the TV. He said it was a plane crash and there was a lot of smoke. John told him to be careful and Joe said, “I will.” Vigiano then called L 132 to talk to his son John, but the company had already left for the site.

Joe Vigiano

Growing up, it had been Joe who wanted to be the firefighter. Instead he became a policeman. He was shot three times, was promoted regularly, and spent all 14 years of his career in love with the job.

John Vigiano

John Jr. had wanted to become the next Donald Trump. He had a keen mind and a huge interest in business. It wasn’t until he witnessed the care and concern the men from Rescue 2 gave his family during his father’s bout with cancer that he decided he was joining the Fire Department. “I want to be like those men,” he told his father. He too loved every minute on the job. Most recently he was poring over books studying for the lieutenant’s exam.

To lose both sons in one day is still incomprehensible to John Vigiano, but he has a glimpse of how they spent their last few moments through the stories he’s heard from others. They were cool, professional, confident, and sure of themselves and their colleagues. He already knew they were loving husbands and caring and involved fathers. “It’s hard to ask for more,” he said.

After the tragedy of 9/11, the Police Department adopted the elder Vigianos and never left their side. John and his wife, Jan, stayed in Manhattan for months. Every day began with a Mass at police headquarters and then John went down to the site. After the first week, John made a promise to Jan that he wouldn’t put himself at risk looking for the boys. He stood like a statue at the edge of the destruction, changing his position four times a day as he followed the sun around the site. People would be working with their heads lowered and look up to see this solitary figure and be reminded of why they were there.

John Vigiano, who lost two sons. (Photo Peter Foley)

It wasn’t until after the Christmas holidays that Vigiano’s solitary vigil became more interactive. He began to see more of the “Dads” and started to talk to them about their shared situation. They grew as close as they’ve ever been with lifelong friends. All five say there is nothing they wouldn’t do for each other.

“I feel about them [the other fathers] the way I do about lifelong friends. I would trust them with anything,” said Jack Lynch.

Lee Ielpi got the call on December 11. He had just gotten home from the site but he called Brendan, who had graduated from the Fire Academy on November 1, seven weeks after the death of his brother, and they went back in.

“Lee, we’ve got him and he’s in one piece,” he was told when he arrived back down. It was as if a hole in his heart had been filled. Later he said that as a firefighter he was proud of his son. As a father he had hoped all along to get a call saying, “Dad, I was scared, I ran and I’m in the Islands.” He would have loved that call, but he knew that that wasn’t his son. As on so many other occasions, he hoisted the stretcher with the other men and started the long walk up the ramp with Brendan at his side. He had both his sons together for the first time since September 11.

It was Lee who made the call to Jack Lynch at home. “Jack, you better start in. Take your time.” Jack got the family together and headed down with them to Ground Zero. As the excavation work progressed, more and more family showed and when it was time to bring out Michael, Jack said, “I’ll go and get him.” Kathleen said, “We’ll all go.” Jack said, “No you can’t,” and she said, “We’re going.” And they did – mother, father, brothers, sisters, fiancée, and other family members. Lee Ielpi and some of the other fathers also helped carry Michael out. He had been found just 15 feet from where his father predicted he’d be.

A nun holds Michael Lynch’s photo on the day of his funeral.

John Vigiano got his son Joe’s body back and still waits for word on identification of John. He collected stories and pictures and will make a book of each son’s life for their kids. He takes his grandchildren to A&W Root Beer for ice cream floats and watches his daughters-in-law display strength he never knew they had.

Bill Butler and his family had a memorial service for Tom on August 17. They had hoped they’d find him but there is no word yet. Bill and his wife, Peg, sold their retirement home in Florida and now plan to help their daughter-in-law Martha raise the kids.

Lee Ielpi has a broken rib from going tubing with his grandson. They hit a wave and both went flying. Ten-year-old Andrew landed on his chest. Lee is serving on family advisory boards and working with the Fire Department to thank people all over the country for their help. Sometime soon he’ll take a day off to spend with his wife, Ann.

Jack Lynch is the vice president of one of the family organizations and an advocate for a memorial that reflects the desires of the relatives. He is tireless in his pursuit of fair treatment for all of the families, and Stephanie, his almost daughter-in-law, is never far from his thoughts.

Jack Lynch, his wife Kathleen, and family are at last able to carry Michael out from Ground Zero. Lee Ielpi, at front right, is there to help. (Photo courtesy Daily News)

The O’Berg family had a moving memorial service for Dennis Jr. on June 28. His wife, Christine, had waited until the site was cleaned right to the concrete before planning anything in hopes of finding her husband. After a stirring and heartfelt speech in a church crowded with family and friends, Lieutenant O’Berg saluted his son and thanked him for the joy he had given during his short but full life. He spoke for all the fathers.  ♦

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Those We Lost Wed, 01 May 2019 07:39:50 +0000 Read more..]]> Bill O’Donnell
(1935 – 2019)

Former newspaper reporter Bill O’Donnell died in April, aged 84. A beloved and dedicated member of the Irish community in Boston, O’Donnell proudly held dual citizenship in Ireland and the U.S., and offered a great example of the strong connection between Ireland and the United States.

O’Donnell was born and raised in Boston, and after attending Saint Clement’s School in Medford, he went on to Somerville High School, Suffolk University, and then Boston State College. He later served in the Marines during the Korean War, though he refused military honors when planning his funeral service, telling his family, “I never got shot at!”

After his family, Bill’s priorities in life were Boston’s Irish community and respecting his heritage. He visited Ireland a number of times, and kept his community informed on the events of the Troubles during his tenure as the editor of Boston’s Irish Echo in the 1980s. Journalism proved to be his life’s work, as he went on to offer a monthly column in the Boston Irish Reporter in the 20 years before his death. Outside of his work, he was a president of the Eire Society of Boston and a member of the Irish Cultural Center and the Charitable Irish Society.

“I was truly amazed by his knowledge of Ireland and the complexities of our politics,” Ann Mullan, a friend of Bill’s who immigrated to Boston from Ireland in the 1980s, told the Reporter. “Bill’s example taught me as an Irish-born person to admire and respect Americans of Irish descent.”

O’Donnell is predeceased by his brother Steven and his parents, William, Sr., and Anne O’Donnell (née Flaherty). He leaves behind his wife of 50 years, Jeanie, and daughter Erin.


Lyra McKee
(1990 – 2019)

Belfast investigative journalist Lyra McKee died in April, aged 29. While covering riots in Derry for a piece on the perils of frontline reporting, McKee was caught in the fire of dissident New IRA members, who claimed they were aiming at police. She was well-respected for her thoughtful, in-depth studies on the effects of the Troubles and IRA ceasefires in the current millennium in Ireland.

McKee was born and raised in the ’90s in North Belfast’s “killing fields,” where roughly one-fourth of the violent fatalities took place during that grief-filled period. Her close proximity to the violence made her a witness to its effects and fueled her determination to see them brought to the limelight. While attending St. Gemma’s High School in Belfast, she began publishing at 14 with an article in the school paper.

She would become known for her research pieces, including “Suicide Among the Ceasefire Babies,” published by Mosaic in 2016, revealing that suicides in Northern Ireland had increased at an astonishing rate since the last IRA ceasefire – more in the 16 years since than in the three previous decades of brutality altogether. A book that McKee was working on, The Lost Boys, focuses on young males who were abducted and killed during the Troubles, and the killers who are still at large. The book will be published posthumously.

“Her life was a shining light in everyone else’s life,” said her partner, Sara Canning, at a vigil held for Lyra in Derry.

“Her legacy will live on in the light she’s left behind.” McKee is survived by Sara; her mother, Joan; and her five siblings, Gary, Joan, Nichola, David, and Mary.


Laura Brennan
(1992 – 2019)

HPV vaccination advocate Laura Brennan, whose passionate activism was driven by her own experience with the disease, died in late March. Making the most of the time she had after her terminal prognosis of cervical cancer, Brennan launched a determined campaign in September 2017 to encourage vaccinations against the virus that caused it.

Brennan worked with Ireland’s Health Service Executive to spread awareness of the vaccine and its benefits, establishing an online video campaign and appearing on the Late Late Show with Ryan Tubridy.

“This illness is devastating, and it’s going to take my life, but the good news is there’s a vaccine you can get that prevents it,” Brennan said in her campaign, which helped bring HPV vaccinations up by 18 percent in less than 18 months.

She was invited by the World Health Organization to promote the vaccine throughout Europe, and her efforts saw her named Clare Person of the Year, honored by UCD, and the recipient of a mayoral reception from the Clare County Council.

County Clare mayor Michael Begley praised Brennan’s efforts to alert Irish parents to the dangers of the disease. “Telling one’s story to a public audience is often the most difficult thing to do. In doing just that, however, Laura opened a debate, gave a voice to the silenced, and generated a better understanding of what is a serious issue that affects so many.”

The Irish Republic’s Minister for Health Simon Harris spoke publicly on the effects of Brennan’s zealous campaign. “Thanks in no small part to her sheer determination, the uptake of the HPV vaccine has increased among young women. The State owes her a debt of gratitude,” he said. “Amazing doesn’t do justice to her or her courage.”

Brennan is survived by her parents, Bernie and Larry; brothers Fergal, Colin, and Kevin; and a grateful generation of young Irish women.


Martin Nelis
(1963 – 2019)

Martin Nelis, the son of former Sinn Féin M.P. Mary Nelis, died in early May in a cycling accident at age 54. Beloved for his commitment to public service and volunteer work, Nelis was a pillar of his community in Pleasant Hill, California.

Born to parents Billy and Mary Nelis (née Elliott), young Martin was one of nine children growing up in Derry. After graduating from Queens University Belfast with a degree in engineering, he left Ireland in 1989 for the U.S., where he would work first as an IT technician, then briefly as a congressional aide before embarking on his long-term career as a public information officer in California – first in Suisun City, then in Pleasant Hill.

A love of community made Nelis an active resident of his adopted home. He took part in the Measure K campaign to raise money for a new library for the town, helped organize events, and launched the Summer By the Lake concert series – which was dedicated to his memory this year.

“There’s been a huge tear in the community fabric,” said Nelis’ friend and Pleasant Hill mayor Tim Flaherty. “He became so involved in virtually every public aspect, like community events. Martin was incredibly bright and witty, and a true Irishman.”

Nelis was predeceased by his father Billy and his brother Peter, who also died in a traffic accident. He is survived by his mother Mary; siblings Donncha, Liam, John, Patrick, Cathy, Declan, and Frank; and children Aidan, Fiona, and Deirdre.


Tim Conway
(1922 – 2019)

Emmy Award-winning comedian Tim Conway died after a long illness at age 85. A veteran of classic TV sketch comedy The Carol Burnett Show, Conway had a talent for making people laugh with a movement or facial expression that earned him countless fans in the U.S. and abroad.

Tim was born in Willoughby, Ohio, to parents Dan and Sophia, immigrants from Ireland and Romania, respectively. In an interview on the Christopher Closeup podcast, he shared his experience growing up with dyslexia. “People couldn’t wait for me to get called on to read because I would put words into sentences that were never there. They thought I was being funny, I guess, so they would laugh at me. And I just continued that through life,” he said. “I still do.”

After a stint in the army – in which he “defended Seattle from 1956-1958” – Conway embarked on a career in entertainment and caught on quickly, becoming a regular on The Steve Allen Show. From there he moved on to McHale’s Navy (1962-1966), where he perfected an affectation of lovable incompetence as Ensign Charles Parker. He then launched two of his own short-lived series (Rango and The Tim Conway Show). He joined The Carol Burnett Show in 1975, making it his life’s mission to make his fellow cast members break into laughter, whether as vaguely foreign and harried boss Mr. Tudball or the painfully slow and put-upon Oldest Man.

In the foreword to Conway’s autobiography, What’s So Funny?: My Hilarious Life, Burnett praised his instinct for humor. “His sketches with Harvey Korman deserve a spot in whatever cultural time capsule we’re setting aside for future generations,” she wrote. “Maybe there are other performers as funny, but in my opinion I can’t think of anybody funnier.”

Conway shared his hopes for humanity on the Closeup podcast. “I hope a lot of people have the same opportunity to take the same route I did – to see life as humorous and enjoyable,” he said. “I think God has placed me in several positions, which I have found humorous. I find humor in life itself, and I can hardly wait to thank Him in person.”

Conway is survived by his wife Charlene; children Kelly, Corey, Jaime, Tim Jr., Jackie, Pat, and Shawn; and granddaughters Courtney and Sophia.


Sally O’Neill Sanchez
(1950 – 2019)

Human rights activist Sally O’Neill Sanchez died in a car crash on a mission in Guatemala at age 68. Her dedication to furthering the cause of humanitarian development with the organization Trócaire made her a treasured friend to many.

One of eight children to Charles and Mary O’Neill, young Sally was raised in Coalisland, County Tyrone. Her powers of relating to others surfaced early on in her talent for languages and debate. While enrolled at Belfast’s Garnerville College, O’Neill traveled to South America. She encountered Trócaire workers assisting needy Peruvians in the Amazon, and embraced their work as her own.

O’Neill worked on the front lines of many human rights causes – among her most notable assignments was translating for Saint Óscar Romero six weeks before his death.

“She embodied our values and through her courage and commitment to human rights touched the lives of so many people,” said Trócaire chief executive Caoimhe de Barra. “I was with Sally last week in Guatemala. Despite having officially retired, she remained a driving force for human rights in Central America.” She added, “Although we still cannot believe she is gone, we know that she left an incredible footprint on the world.”

O’Neill was graced with the Hugh O’Flaherty Humanitarian Award in 2011, and in 2017 she received an honorary Doctor of Law degree from the University of Ulster.

O’Neill is survived by her husband, Roger; their children Xiomara, Rhona, and Roger; and by her siblings Patrick, Thomas, John, Kate, Anne, Gemma, and Margaret.  ♦

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Those We Lost: Kevin Roche Fri, 01 Mar 2019 08:45:53 +0000 Read more..]]> Kevin Roche, the prominent Dublin-born, American architect who brought his modernist style to many significant buildings, passed away on Friday, March 1, at his home in Guilford, Connecticut, at the age of 96.

Though he was a soft-spoken man, his work spoke for itself, broadcasting to the whole city his confidence and talent. His bold, innovative buildings include the J.P. Morgan Bank headquarters on Wall Street, the expansion of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the skyscrapers of United Nations Plaza, the redesign of the Central Park Zoo, and the Ford Foundation headquarters in Midtown Manhattan, to name a few.

Roche was raised in Mitchelstown, County Cork, and graduated from University College Dublin in 1945. In 1948 he left Ireland for graduate school at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

In 1950 he joined Eero Saarinen and Associates, where he met his future architectural partner, John Dinkeloo, as well as his partner in life, his wife Jane. In 1966, after Saarinen’s death, Roche and Dinkeloo formed Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates LLC and completed 12 major unfinished Saarinen projects, including St. Louis’ famous Gateway Arch.

In 1982, Roche became one of the first recipients of the Pritzker Prize, the highest architectural honor, generally regarded as architecture’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize. In 2017 Irish filmmaker Mark Noonan released a feature documentary entitled Kevin Roche: The Quiet Architect. Roche was interviewed by Irish America in 1989, and inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012. His remarks on his induction were used in Noonan’s documentary.

The New York Times called Roche “one of the rare architects who was admired and trusted by corporate executives, museum boards, and government officials, who allowed him wide leeway in expressing his restless formal imagination.”

In a true testament to Roche’s character, he befriended his critic, Yale architecture historian Vincent Scully, who once criticized Roche’s New Haven buildings for exuding a “paramilitary dandyism.” Roche even was one of the people to eulogize Scully at his memorial service in 2017.

In his Pritzker acceptance speech Roche asked, “Is not the act of building an act of faith in the future, and of hope?” Indeed, it is. He is survived by his wife Jane, five children, and 15 grandchildren. ♦ Maggie Holland

Click here to read Roche’s profile in Irish America from 2012, when he was inducted into our Hall of Fame.

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Those We Lost Fri, 01 Mar 2019 08:24:22 +0000 Read more..]]> Recent passings in the Irish and Irish American communities.


<em>Eileen Battersby.</em>

Eileen Battersby.

Eileen Battersby

(1958 – 2018)

Former literary critic and correspondent for the Irish Times Eileen Battersby died in late December 2018 in a car accident in County Meath, aged 60. Known for her incisive reviews of a wide range of literature and her enthusiasm for all subjects, Battersby was recognized four times as the National Arts Journalist of the Year and once as Critic of the Year.

Battersby was born and raised in Los Angeles, after her family had relocated from Ireland. She received most of her secondary education in Ireland, where she would come to live and work. Pursuing English literature and history for her undergraduate degree at UCD led to her achieving her master’s there as well. Hired as a critic and feature writer at the Irish Times in 1988, she satisfied wide-ranging interests, covering Wimbledon in 1989 and reporting from the prehistoric structure at Newgrange each year on the Winter Solstice. Still, it was in her literary criticism that she found the most recognition.“She would never relent when the question was of quality – in her purview, no talent went uncelebrated, no mediocrity went unmasked,” noted Man Booker prizewinner and former literary editor of the Irish Times John Banville. “And she had such a rich sense of humour, especially when the joke was on her. Oh dear, how we shall miss her.”

Battersby leaves behind daughter Nadia, mother Elizabeth Whiston, and siblings Elizabeth, William, and Breffini. ♦

–Mary Gallagher


<em>Kevin McCaul.</em>

Kevin McCaul.

Kevin McCaul

(1924 – 2019)

Irish-born pediatrician Dr. Kevin McCaul died in early February, aged 95. His career of 45 years caring for the children of Norwalk, C.T., made him a well-respected and beloved member of that community, but McCaul’s connection to Ireland never wavered.

McCaul grew up in Letterkenny, County Donegal as one of nine children of George and Margaret (née McGinty). McCaul received his M.D. from UCD and began his medical career working in various hospitals in Ireland and England while attending the Radcliffe Infirmary at Oxford.

After brief international stints as a ship’s doctor and physician at London’s 1948 Olympic Games, he moved to the University Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, to begin training in pediatrics, becoming chief resident in that department. He became a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and co-founded the Irish / American Pediatric Society. Upon moving to Connecticut, McCaul established a practice in partnership with Drs. James Minor and Jack McNamara, then later with Dr. Diane Allawi.

“Dr. McCaul was doctor to all four of my children,” Norwalk mother Carmela Tornatore recalled in an online tribute. “He will always be remembered as a gentle, caring doctor who made himself available after hours and was always there to reassure young parents that all was well.”

McCaul is predeceased by his parents and siblings. Surviving him are his wife, Colette (née Kilmartin); their three children: Kevin, Brian, and Fiona; and five grandchildren: Reid, Lindsay, Charlotte, Paige, and Will. ♦

–Mary Gallagher


<em>Moira Kennedy O'Malley.</em>

Moira Kennedy O’Malley.

Moira Kennedy O’Malley

(1945 – 2018)

Moira Kennedy O’Malley, co-founder and inaugural executive director of the Ireland Funds, died on Christmas Day, 2018. She was 73. Born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts, the second of four children to John and Helen Kennedy (née Driscoll), Moira attended Albertus Magnus College in Connecticut. Later, her job processing international applications to Columbia University led her to help organize one of the first-ever democratically elected university senates at the school. Kennedy met her husband, then-law student Cormac O’Malley, at her 1970 Saint Patrick’s Day bash. The couple married six months later and honeymooned in Ireland. The son of Ernie O’Malley, one-time commandant general of the Irish Republican Army, and American artist Helen Hooke, Cormac shared Moira’s passion for the troubled country.

Back in the U.S., Moira used her skills as a hostess to advantage. At a 1975 dinner with businessman Tony O’Reilly, she opened the discussion on how to support Ireland, an aspiration which launched the Ireland Funds. Moira’s position as first executive director saw her launching fundraising events across the country, with proceeds going to such organizations as the Glencree Centre for Reconciliation and St. Michael’s House in Dublin.

Moira is mourned by her husband Cormac; daughter Bergin; son Conor; brothers Brendan, Sean, and Brian Kennedy; Sean and Brian’s respective wives, Ann and Frances; and grandsons Emmett and Elliott Boyle. ♦

–Mary Gallagher


<em>Jer O'Leary.</em>

Jer O’Leary.

Jer O’Leary

(1945 – 2018)

Irish actor, artist, storyteller, and activist Jer O’Leary died in late December 2018, at the age of 73. He was known for his many roles in such movies as My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father, Michael Collins, and Braveheart, and on TV most recently as Lordsport Dockhand in Game of Thrones.

Born in Dublin to Denis and Sadie O’Leary (née Healy), O’Leary left school at 14 to get a job as a messenger boy. He joined the I.R.A. at 21, and by 27 was imprisoned for activities associated with his membership. In Mountjoy Prison he learned a skill that he would use the rest of his life: graphic art design. Marrying fiancée Eithne O’Brien, who had waited out his sentence, O’Leary went on to win successive competitions hosted by the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, and was asked to produce new designs for the union’s banners. He introduced the likenesses of James Connolly and James Larkin, the latter of whom inspired his lifelong performance as an actor.

Larkin was his first and ongoing role, starting in 1975’s The Non-Stop Connolly Show on the Dublin stage. The performance continued in iterations of Larkin’s speeches at funerals, celebrations, and other occasions. Writer Peter Sheridan said O’Leary’s delivery “was probably the greatest example of taking an audience on a journey they never suspected they were going on.”

O’Leary is predeceased by his son, Diarmuid, his brother Denis, and his wife Eithne, who died in 2017. He leaves behind daughters Norah and Clare and sisters Margaret and Carmel. ♦

–Mary Gallagher


<em>Kevin Roche.</em>

Kevin Roche.

Kevin Roche

(1922 – 2019)

Kevin Roche, the prominent Dublin-born, American architect who brought his modernist style to many significant buildings, passed away on Friday, March 1, at his home in Guilford, Connecticut, at the age of 96.

Though he was a soft-spoken man, his work spoke for itself, broadcasting to the whole city his confidence and talent. His bold, innovative buildings include the J.P. Morgan Bank headquarters on Wall Street, the expansion of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the skyscrapers of United Nations Plaza, the redesign of the Central Park Zoo, and the Ford Foundation headquarters in Midtown Manhattan, to name a few.

Roche was raised in Mitchelstown, County Cork, and graduated from University College Dublin in 1945. In 1948 he left Ireland for graduate school at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

In 1950 he joined Eero Saarinen and Associates, where he met his future architectural partner, John Dinkeloo, as well as his partner in life, his wife Jane. In 1966, after Saarinen’s death, Roche and Dinkeloo formed Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates LLC and completed 12 major unfinished Saarinen projects, including St. Louis’ famous Gateway Arch.

In 1982, Roche became one of the first recipients of the Pritzker Prize, the highest architectural honor, generally regarded as architecture’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize. In 2017 Irish filmmaker Mark Noonan released a feature documentary entitled Kevin Roche: The Quiet Architect. Roche was interviewed by Irish America in 1989, and inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012. His remarks on his induction were used in Noonan’s documentary.

The New York Times called Roche “one of the rare architects who was admired and trusted by corporate executives, museum boards, and government officials, who allowed him wide leeway in expressing his restless formal imagination.”

In a true testament to Roche’s character, he befriended his critic, Yale architecture historian Vincent Scully, who once criticized Roche’s New Haven buildings for exuding a “paramilitary dandyism.” Roche even was one of the people to eulogize Scully at his memorial service in 2017.

In his Pritzker acceptance speech Roche asked, “Is not the act of building an act of faith in the future, and of hope?” Indeed, it is. He is survived by his wife, five children, and 15 grandchildren. ♦

–Maggie Holland


<em>Patricia Wald.</em>

Patricia Wald.

Patricia Wald

(1928 – 2019)

Former federal judge Patricia Mary McGowan Wald died in January 2019, at 90 years old. Wald made history as the first female judge to preside in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., serving as its chief for five years.

Raised in Torrington, Connecticut, by a single mother, Wald worked school holidays in a factory that produced surgical and sewing needles, then ball bearings during the war. The work prepared her for a rigorous career and fueled a lasting interest in labor and family law. After graduating as her high school’s valedictorian, she attended Connecticut College for Women, then earned a fellowship to Yale Law.

Marrying Robert Wald in 1952, Patricia worked nights and weekends while raising her family. Her work ethic made her a rising star, working diligently to defend the underprivileged by helping to legislate bail reform to accommodate low-income defendants and educational opportunities for mentally and physically disabled students. She became the assistant attorney general under President Carter before accepting a federal judgeship, the beginning of a career full of highlights: helping to restructure the legal system of the former USSR, a two-year stint on the war crimes tribunal presiding over the former Yugoslavia, and a ruling that sexual orientation could not be the sole basis for military discharge.

A career strung with hard-won successes gave Wald a philosophical view of defeat: “You always have a sad feeling when you write a dissent because it means you lost,” Judge Wald said in an interview with The Bar Report. “But you write them because you have faith that maybe they will play out at some time in the future, and because of the integrity you owe to yourself.”

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recalled the extent of Wald’s dedication. “In all of her work and days as a lawyer, then judge, she pursued justice with passion – heart, mind and soul…and unsparingly devoted her efforts to advancing the health and welfare of humankind.”

Wald is predeceased by her husband Robert and survived by their sons Douglas and Thomas, daughters Sarah, Johanna, and Frederica, 10 grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. ♦

–Mary Gallagher

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Those We Lost Sat, 22 Dec 2018 08:28:13 +0000 Read more..]]> Recent passings in the Irish and Irish American communities.


<em>Patrick O'Neill.</em>

Patrick O’Neill.

Patrick O’Neill


Patrick H. O’Neill passed at the age of 102 at his residence in New Canaan, Connecticut. He was born in Cordova, Alaska in 1915 to parents Harry O’Neill and Florence Leahy and grew up as the seventh of 12 children in a big Irish family.

Early in life, Patrick found his calling in the mining industry, following in the footsteps of his grandfather who had been a part of the famous Alaska Klondike Gold Rush in 1897. He was only 15 when he first started working in the Chititu Creek Mine, a small gold mine in Alaska. He graduated from what is now the University of Alaska in Fairbanks with degrees in Mining Engineering.

Patrick developed his strong work ethic by working in the mines during the summers to earn his tuition money. In the lead up to World War II, Patrick obtained his pilot’s license. From 1941-1945, he proudly served in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a B-17 pilot and instructor, attaining the rank of major. His mission was to train many pilots and to test aircraft to insure safer deployments overseas. After the war ended, Patrick returned to mining in Fairbanks.

Patrick’s mining career took him all over the world. He served as President of International Mining Corporation. Under Patrick’s leadership the company acquired other mining companies in Colombia, Bolivia, Mexico, Canada, Turkey, and the United States. Patrick would go on to serve as President or Chairman of eight affiliated mining companies and on the boards of several major mining companies including The Fresnillo Company for 23 years, Zemex Corporation for 30 years, Placer Development, Moly Corp, Rosario Resources, and others. These companies developed and operated some of the western world’s greatest metal resources.

As an outspoken advocate for corporate policies that struck the right balance between profitability, social responsibility, and environmental stewardship, Patrick became an industry leader in calling for measures to improve the health, education, training, and safety of employees. His many lifetime contributions and achievements in the mining industry world-wide were honored with Patrick’s induction into the National Mining Hall of Fame in 2013.

Patrick was a long-time member of the Ireland-U.S. Council having joined the organization in the late 1960’s. He was intensely interested and engaged in the work of the Council. Long after his retirement from active work, Patrick would read each edition of the organization’s annual report from cover-to-cover and connect with the organization’s leadership to share his thoughts and observations, which were always insightful, wise and constructive.

Patrick O’Neill was a kind and humble man who treated all with respect, from presidents of countries to street sweepers. He never forgot that while he had risen so far and achieved so much in his life, he had started off with a shovel in his hand. He is survived by his wife of 50 years, Sandra and their children, Erin and Kevin and five grandchildren.

Many Council members attended the Memorial Service held to commemorate his life on Saturday, September 22, 2018 at St. Aloysius Church in New Canaan, followed by a reception at Woodway Country Club. ♦  – David O’Sullivan




<em>Mícheál O Súilleabháin</em>

Mícheál O Súilleabháin

Mícheál O Súilleabháin


Beloved composer and Tipperary native Mícheál O Súilleabháin died in early November, aged 67. Lauded Chair of Music and Founding Director of the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, O Súilleabháin developed an impressive reputation at UCC as well, producing five CDs of live performances of traditional Irish music, and working to protect its memory in archives across the globe.

O Súilleabháin produced his first record with Gael Linn in 1975, launching a legendary career in his early twenties. He studied under celebrated Irish composers Sean O Riada and Aloys Fleischman, eventually achieving a Ph.D. from Queens University Belfast.

Pursuing a penchant for uniting the traditional music of his homeland with classical music, he became a pioneer on a global scale, using his skills as a pianist to meld the two. Sandra Joyce, director of UL’s Irish World Academy of Music, affirmed in her tribute to the musician’s effect on his colleagues, who were “swept along by his incredible energy, joie de vivre, and vision.”

“He is irreplaceable,” she remarked, “but his legacy is assured.”

The tenacious O Súilleabháin joined forces with philanthropist Chuck Feeney in 1991 to establish the Irish World Academy, which has since taken on a life of its own, calling to music students from more than 50 countries around the world to develop their skills in wide-ranging programs in music therapy, dance performance, ethnomusicology, and more. Retiring officially in 2016, O Súilleabháin continued performing, saying, “If you look into your heart and body and you find you are carrying this talent and you have a passion to go with it, you have to follow your heart, your instinct.”

O Súilleabháin leaves behind his first wife, singer Noirin Ni Riain, their sons Eoin and Michael, his second and current wife Professor Helen Phelan, and their son Luke. ♦  – Mary Gallagher 

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Those We Lost Thu, 01 Nov 2018 07:18:20 +0000 Read more..]]> Recent passings in the Irish and Irish American communities.


William “Bill” Barry

1927 – 2018

<em>Bill Barry.</em>

Bill Barry.

Bill Barry, who grabbed Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin’s gun and prevented many other deaths on that fateful night in 1968, passed away on October 9, at age 91 in his New York suburban home.

To the end of his life, Bill unfairly blamed himself for what happened to Robert F. Kennedy on the dreadful night of June 5th, 1968, at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

Back then, presidential candidates had no secret service protection and former NYPD and FBI Agent Bill Barry was the only bodyguard for the Senator.

The crowd at the Ambassador that night was hugely excited. Kennedy had just won California and the Democratic race against Hubert Humphrey was suddenly neck and neck.

When his speech finished, Kennedy leaned over to his bodyguard and friend Barry and stated, “Look after Ethel,” his notoriously crowd-shy wife, who was pregnant at the time and being swamped by well-wishers.

Barry did so and seconds later Kennedy exited through the kitchen where the killer Sirhan Sirhan was waiting. The Palestinian refugee opened fire. The second Kennedy in five years received fatal wounds. There was mass hysteria.

Barry alone kept his cool. On hearing the shots, Barry, a few yards behind Kennedy, rushed Sirhan and saved many lives by knocking Sirhan’s gun out of his hand. As the crowd tries to attack Sirhan he handed him over to two supporters, footballer Rosey Grier and aide Jack Gallivan, saying, “Take this guy. Get this guy off in a corner where people can’t hit him.”

He was devastated by Bobby’s death and found it hard to talk about it. He was among the closest non-family member friends the Kennedys had. He believed if he had been beside Kennedy he might have seen the gun as he was trained to do and saved Kennedy.

He met Bobby when he was an FBI agent detailed to meet and protect the then New York Senator when he traveled around the state.

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was enraged Barry was getting so friendly with the hated Kennedys. He ordered him to Mobile, Alabama. Barry quit. He opened his own successful security firm and was soon a Kennedy confidant. He remained close to the family after R.F.K’s death.

Courtney Kennedy, Robert and Ethel’s daughter, spoke to Irish America about the relationship between the Kennedy family and Barry. “He was a great and much loved friend of our family. Bill was extra special to me as he was my godfather. He was always there whenever anyone of us needed him. He was an enormous comfort to my mother after my father died. He went through all of the struggles and great joys of our lives of with us, and when my father used to recite the St. Crispin’s Day speech by King Henry V, and he said the words, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers,” we knew he had Bill in mind. We will always love and miss him.”

“He’s a substantial guy — very, very highly regarded and well-liked by people in law enforcement and government,” then-DA Robert Morgenthau said in an interview some years back.

Barry expanded his own security firm and worked for a time as CEO of the New York racing authority. He became a close friend of Governor Hugh Carey.

In the early 90s, he encountered another famous Irish American, Bill Flynn, Chairman of Mutual of America and they became fast friends. When Tom Moran took over as CEO the relationship continued. Ironically all three have died in 2018 within months of each other. Flynn had become deeply involved in peace efforts in Northern Ireland and was often on dangerous ground during visits there. Barry became his de facto bodyguard, but eventually much more than that, a trusted advisor to the small group seeking to bring American involvement to the peace effort.

In the critical phase leading up to the IRA ceasefire, Barry was a key member of the Irish American group. Indeed, there is a historical photograph of Adams telling the Americans that the IRA ceasefire was about to be announced. Sitting next to Adams is Bill Barry.

“Bill Barry was one of the silent contributors to the  N.I. Peace Process. Relying upon his longtime relationship with Senator Ted Kennedy, he brokered the introduction of the Senator to Bill Flynn which led to Gerry Adams being allowed into the US for the first time in 1994,” said Ed Kenney, a retired FBI officer who was part of the Mutual of America team working on the N.I. peace process.

He died on October 9th after a life well lived. He was one of a kind but always gentlemanly, with a great Irish sense of humor and fun. I was privileged to know him. May he rest in peace. – Niall O’Dowd


Note: Bill Barry died within days of Juan Romero, 68, who was a teenage busboy working in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in June 1968 when Kennedy, moments after giving a victory speech in the California Democratic primary, came walking through and was shot in the head by an assassin. Romano rushed to Kennedy and held him as he lay on the floor mortally wounded, uttering his last words: “Is everybody okay?” He later said he had struggled to keep the senator’s head from hitting the floor. Mr. Romero died on October 1, from an apparent heart attack.


John Conheeney


<em>John Conheeney.</em>

John Conheeney.

Irish-American Merrill Lynch executive – and husband to best-selling author Mary Higgins Clark – John Conheeney died in October, aged 89. While he was mainly publicized as the beloved, supportive companion of Clark’s literary career, Conheeney made his own mark on the world in the finance industry, being inducted into the Future Industries of America Hall of Fame in 2006.

Born to Rita and Thomas Conheeney in 1928, Conheeney was raised in an Irish-Catholic neighborhood of Jersey City, with a close-knit extended family of dedicated tea-drinkers and bagpipe players. He attended St. Cecilia’s High School in Englewood, where he received training from legendary football coach Vince Lombardi. Conheeney went on to earn his bachelor’s degree from Manhattan College, and then his M.B.A. from Tulane University.

More than 40 years in the futures industry saw Conheeney as CEO and chairman of Merrill Lynch Futures, as well as husband of 45 years to Jean Conheeney. However, this role sadly came to an end with Jean’s death in 1994, just after John’s retirement from Merrill Lynch.

He met celebrated suspense author Mary Higgins Clark at a St. Patrick’s Day party in 1996 – arranged by Clark’s daughter, Patricia, who told her mother beforehand, “I’ve found him!” The two married in late November of the same year after a whirlwind courtship. “He’s got great strength and humor and kindness,” Clark praised her groom to the New York Times, citing the words of one of John’s colleagues on their marriage, “Tell Mary, now she really has everything.” Clark has referred to Conheeney as her “spouse extraordinaire” in all her novels’ acknowledgements since the start of their relationship, and he happily accompanied her on many book tours as her proudest supporter.

Predeceased by Jean, his parents, and his sister Rita, Conheeney is survived by Clark, children John, Barbara, Patricia, and Nancy; stepchildren Marilyn, Warren, David, Carol, and Patricia, and 17 grandchildren and step-grandchildren. – M.G.


Coleman O’Toole


Coleman O’Toole

Coleman O’Toole, who was featured in Irish America’s 2013 Profiles In Courage issue, passed away on June 29 at the age of 42. Cherished son of Robert Edward O’Toole and Frances Rita (Doherty) O’Toole, Coleman was born on April 25, 1976 in Dorchester, MA and was named after his grandfather Coleman Francis O’Toole and his uncle Coleman Vincent O’Toole. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at 16, Coleman dedicated the rest of his years to living life to the fullest and spreading joy and laughter to everyone he met. Coleman attended Milton Academy from kindergarten through high school and then Skidmore College, where he was a gifted sculptor, radio DJ and actor. Graduating in 1998, he went on to become a founding member and Senior Vice President of Fovea Floods, an independent avant-garde theater company, appearing in a variety of productions, from the original work Paul Pry, to Bertolt Brecht’s Baal.    An avid reader and world traveler, Coleman always had time to devote to helping and caring for others, especially his three beloved nephews, Owen Ulysses O’Toole, Callum Flynn O’Toole and Rory Sean O’Toole. Coleman is survived by his parents and by his one younger brother Christian Liam O’Toole. – C.O.


Patsaí Dan Mag Ruaidhrí


King of Toraigh Patsaí Dan Mag Ruaidhrí

King of Toraigh Patsaí Dan Mag Ruaidhrí (known as Patsy Dan Rodgers) died in October at the age of 74. In his capacity as ruler of the tiny island off the coast of Donegal, Rodgers operated as an ambassador, greeting visitors as they arrived and putting in a great deal of effort to make sure that the island received proper attention and support from the mainland. Born in Dublin, Rodgers was adopted at the age of four and taken to live on Toraigh, where he soon became fluent in Irish and enthusiastic about all the customs and history that made up his new home. Encouraged in his artistic endeavors by English artist and frequent Toraigh visitor Derek Hill, Rodgers became a respected painter, whose works showcased the hidden beauty of the island year-round. In 1993, he was nominated by the children of the previous king, Padraig Óg Rodgers, to assume their father’s role, and after being elected, he did, serving as Toraigh’s protector, advocate, greeter, and a whole host of other functions for about 25 years. Rodgers was presented with an honorary master’s degree by the University of Ulster in 1997. Earlier this year saw the publication of a book on his life, entitled Rí Thoraí – From City to Crag – Patsy Dan Rodgers, by Dr. Art Hughes, a professor at the school. The most recent exhibition of Rodgers’ artwork, held in Donegal this past summer, celebrated his 50th year as an artist and completed the portrait of the complete Renaissance man. Toward the very end of his life, Rodgers maintained a passionate dedication to the home where he was raised, if not born. “I love the place so much,” he told BBC News NI in an interview while he was being honored in Donegal for his work. “I pray the culture and this island lives on because it’s my passion.” Rodgers is survived by his wife Caitlin and their four children. – M.G. ♦

Editor’s Note: On behalf of the team at Irish America Magazine, we would like to publicly apologize and to extend our condolences to Joan Moran, wife of Tom Moran who we eulogized in the previous edition of the magazine as we neglected to mention that she survives Tom.

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Those We Lost Wed, 17 Sep 2014 00:17:29 +0000 Read more..]]> Jeremy Ullick Brown

1939 – 2014

Jeremy Ullick Browne, the 11th Marquess of Sligo and heir of Grace O’Malley of Westport House, passed away on July 22. He was 75. Brown helped to reinvigorate his family’s dwindling fortunes and Westport House itself when he opened it up to tourists in 1960, making Westport House one of the most widely known and visited tourist attractions in Ireland.

The building, located in County Mayo, is itself a marvel of beauty and architecture with a fascinating library, James Watt dining room, family portraits by Joshua Reynolds, and a stunning landscape that any “Downton Abbey” fan would be jealous of.

The Marquess of Sligo was born in London, England on June 4, 1939 to Denis Edward Browne and Jose Gauche, spending his early childhood in Suffolk. Denis Browne was a grandson of the fifth son of the 5th Marquess of Sligo, but a number of sons were either childless or had lost their children during the World Wars. The estate passed to Denis in 1953 who together with his son Jeremy opened Westport House to tourists in 1960. It was one of the first estate homes to do so.

Jeremy Brown went on to attend St. Columba’s College near Dublin and took a full time interest in Westport House. He introduced a children’s zoo and miniature railway and by the 1970s saw Westport House attendance expand to over 30,000 per year.

A wealth tax in 1976 almost saw the demolition of Westport House, but the move was later abandoned. In 1981, a group of IRA supporters invaded the house, waving black flags from the window in support of the hunger strikes in Northern Ireland.

In 1991, upon the death of his father, Jeremy Brown succeeded as 11th Marquess of Sligo. He had previously introduced a bill into the Irish parliament that would allow his five daughters to inherit Westport House; up until then it had only gone to the closest living male relative.

Today, Westport House has over 100,000 visitors a year and is an important tourist attraction for Ireland. Brown is survived by his wife of more than fifty years, Jennifer, and five daughters.

– Matthew Skwiat

Jeremiah Healy

1948 – 2014

Jeremiah Healy, the Irish-American mystery writer of the popular Cuddy private eye novels, has died at 66. His fiancée Sandra Balzo said that Healy committed suicide after years of depression.

Healy broke into the literary world in 1984 when his first novel Blunt Darts was nominated for the Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America. Healy’s creation, John Cuddy, was a detective who explored the cavernous hideaways of Boston’s underbelly. Cuddy, an Irish widower and Vietnam veteran, was the heir of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade. Another Cuddy novel, The Staked Goat did win the Shamus Award and Healy would go on to receive fifteen more nominations throughout his career. The Chicago Sun Times dubbed the Cuddy books “one of today’s best mystery series.”

Jeremiah Healy was born in Teaneck, New Jersey on May 15, 1948. He attended Rutgers University and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1973. Healy then worked for the New England School of Law in Boston where he taught from 1978 to 1996. Besides his Cuddy novels, Healy wrote the Mairead O’Clare thrillers under the pseudonym Terry Devane. In later years, Healy became a noted short story writer with his last book of stories, Cuddy Plus One published in 2003. More than just a crime writer, Healy tackled serious issues throughout his work including date rape, racism, AIDS, and assisted suicide.

Healy was a past president of Private Eye Writers of America and secured his status as a crime writing fixture when he became president of the International Association of Crime Writers in 2000. In 2003, he survived a battle with prostate cancer, but remained active, giving a number of lectures at the Boston Globe Book Festival, the Sorbonne in Paris, and the World Mystery Convention.

Healy is survived by his fiancée Sandra Balzo and a sister, Pat Pinches.

– Matthew Skwiat

Eroni Kumana

Unknown – 2014

Eroni Kumana, the last surviving man who helped rescue Navy Lt. John F. Kennedy and a group of PT-109 crew members from a shipwreck in the Solomon Islands, passed away August 3, he was 96.

On the night of August 2, 1943 Kennedy and the crew of Patrol Torpedo 109 were instructed to intercept a flotilla of resupply ships from the Japanese near the area of Kolobangara in the U.S controlled Solomon Islands. A Japanese destroyer spotted them and sunk the vessel in a blaze of fire, resulting in the death of two crewmen and numerous injuries amongst the 10 remaining passengers, including Kennedy. The future president along with his crew floated on debris from the wreck and swam for hours until reaching an island. They subsisted on coconuts for six days until Kumana and Biuku Gasa, a fellow Solomon Islander, came upon them, giving whatever food and drink they had. Kennedy etched a message in a green coconut and instructed the two to bring it to an Allied base miles away. Once the message was delivered, a rescue mission was sent, and Kennedy and his crew were saved. Thomas Putnam, director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, said after Kumana’s passing that he “was the last connection to this pivotal moment in history.”

Kumana was born and spent his whole life on a tiny pacific island called Rannoga near New Guinea. Virtually cut off from the rest of the world, Kumana worked as a fisherman, canoe maker, and subsistence farmer. It wasn’t until 1942, when war broke out in the Pacific, that the British authorities enlisted the support of the local natives. Kumana and Gasa signed up and worked as coastwatchers to track the Japanese presence on the islands. It was while on patrol that they found Kennedy and his crew.

Kumana’s rescue of Kennedy remained a highlight of his life, one he cherished closely. Max Kennedy, nephew of JFK and son of Robert Kennedy, said, “Jack was an extraordinary man, and I think in the short amount of time they got to know each other, I think Eroni picked up on how Jack was. And I think people feel a particular connection to the person they save.” Kenney was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroic efforts. He kept the coconut shell from the fateful rescue all his life, placing it on his desk in the Oval Office.

Kumana lived the rest of his life on Rannoga giving a few interviews while always speaking fondly of his brush with history. Kumana is survived by 9 children, 50 grandchildren, and 75 great-grandchildren.

– Matthew Skwiat

James Murphy-O’Connor

1925 – 2014

Known universally as Jim, James Murphy-O’Connor was an Irish rugby kicker whose technical influence is still in effect. He died in early September at the age of 89, having changed inestimably the style of kicking now ubiquitous in international rugby.

Born June 6, 1925 to Dr. George and Ellen Murphy-O’Conner, he was the eldest of six children in a devout Catholic household that emphasized public service. Three of his brothers became priests and one of his cousins was the prominent biblical scholar Jerome Murphy-O’Connor. James himself would eventually earn his living in Slough, England as a senior partner in his uncle’s medical practice, but not before making a name for himself boosting the morale of the sports-loving Irish populace.

At 6 ft. 6 in., Murphy-O’Connor was the tallest player ever to play for Ireland when he started his rugby career in 1954. But it was a then-questionable kicking technique that led to his success at more than five different teams during his professional years. In lieu of kicking the ball with the toe cap, Murphy-O’Connor booted the ball with the instep of his cleat, which many observers at the time believed could lead to broken ankles. They were wrong.

He continued to play throughout his medical training at St. Mary’s Paddington and at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, where his decision to represent Leinster, according to The Irish Times, led to a “mild rebuke from his father and uncle, who had both captained Munster, as the family had its origins in the city of Cork.”

After retiring from professional rugby, Murphy-O’Connor continued to follow sports of all kinds closely, and even became an accomplished golfer, competing in the Irish Amateur Open in 1955, and co-owned a series of race horses. He is survived by his wife of 57 years Anne O’Neill, their six children, and 20 grandchildren.

– Adam Farley

Desmond O’Grady

1935 – 2014

The famed Irish poet and translator Desmond O’Grady died on August 24. He was 78. O’Grady had lived the life of a man of the world, hobnobbing with the likes of Ezra Pound, Robert Lowell, Pablo Picasso and Federico Fellini, whose film La Dolce Vita, featured a young O’Grady. The late Seamus Heaney once said that O’Grady was “one of the senior figures in Irish literary life, exemplary in the way he has committed himself over the decades to the vocation of poetry and has lived selflessly for the art.”

O’Grady was born in Limerick in 1935. He attended boarding school in Tipperary and, against his parents’ wishes, decided against attending university, opting instead for the life of a poet. O’Grady had loved poetry from an early age and was immensely influenced by T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. He attended a number of meetings at the Limerick Poetry Circle and at age 19 moved to Paris where he worked in the Shakespeare and Company Bookshop and taught English at the Berlitz School. While there, he published his first book, Chords and Orchestrations and became enmeshed in the city’s artistic circles, meeting Samuel Beckett and carousing with friends of James Joyce.

Emboldened with poetic zeal, O’Grady sent a poem to Ezra Pound who took him on as his secretary in Italy. During this time O’Grady became infatuated with translation and would eventually translate a number of poems from Irish, Welsh, Arabic, and Greek. O’Grady continued to travel all over the world, becoming a teaching fellow at Harvard where he received an M.A. and Ph.D. while also striking up a friendship with Robert Lowell.

He returned to Ireland in the 1980s, settling in Kinsale where he resided for the rest of his life. He published over 12 collections of translated poetry, and his own poetry includes The Wandering Celt and The Road Taken: 1956-1996. O’Grady was a member of Aosdána, an Irish association of artists, and was a founding member of the European Community of Writers. He received the Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh fellowship in 2004.

An outpouring of remembrances, from politicians to intellectuals, have honored the late O’Grady. President Michael D. Higgins said that “he established a fine reputation as a translator of literary works from various languages into English. He leaves a fine collection of work, reflecting both his migrant experience and his affection for his homeland, that will be studied and cherished by future generations.” Adding that “from wherever he was writing, be it Cairo or Kinsale, his work invoked a sense of what was Irish in both heritage and contemporary life.”

– Matthew Skwiat

Maureen O’Looney

1922 – 2014

Chicago has lost one if its most prominent Irish figures. Maureen O’Looney, who died in late August at the age of 92, had been a generous, passionate, politicking, paragon of Irish America since she left Ireland and fell for Chicago’s Northside after visiting a family member there in 1953.

She stayed put, and her house became a halfway home for Irish immigrants to the neighborhood. She fed them, lent to them, sought employment for them, and let them use her address to set up bank accounts. When she opened Shamrock Imports in 1967, a self-descriptive store on Belmont and Laramie in Chicago, Irish and Irish Americans ploughed there by the droves.

“She was always smiling and always willing to help,” said John Devitt, president and co-founder, along with O’Looney, of the Gaelic Park cultural center in Oak Forest, according to The Chicago Sun-Times.

That might be a bit of an understatement. O’Looney devoted her life to bettering the circumstances of her fellow countrymen.

In 1991, she flew to Virginia to hand-deliver visa applications, the same year she organized a group of protesters against Margaret Thatcher’s visit to the Windy City. She was a life-long and vocal Irish nationalist, and her store was lined with photographs of her with national figures, including Pope John Paul II, Senator Ted Kennedy, Cardinal Francis George, and actor Chuck Connors.

“She had her hand in everything,” John Gorski, president of the Irish American Heritage Center, told the Sun-Times. “She could gather more volunteers for a cause than anyone.” If it seems like O’Looney knew everybody, she did. Even former Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daly was on her call list. “He’d always say, ‘Maureen, put a loaf aside for me,’” she once said.

Born Maureen Staunton in Bohola, Co. Mayo, she is survived by her daughter Theresa and four grandsons.

– Adam Farley

Albert Reynolds

1932 – 2014



Albert Reynolds, the former Taoiseach of Ireland and one of the leading peacemakers in the 1994 IRA ceasefire, died August 21 after a battle with Alzheimer’s. He was 81. He is survived by his wife Kathleen and seven children. Reynolds legacy is one that will not be quickly forgotten in Ireland and around the world. Niall O’Dowd, publisher of Irish America and founder of Irish Central, said after his passing that he “was the greatest leader of my lifetime” and that “he turned peace in Northern Ireland from an impossible dream to a startling reality.” Reynolds was a shrewd businessman who brought his many years of experience into the political arena, and while he only served as leader from 1992 to 1994, his indomitable and steadfast adherence for peace and the ending of the Troubles forever changed the course of Irish history.

Albert Reynolds was born on November 3, 1932 in Roosky in Co. Roscommon. He attended Summerhill College in Sligo and later began working for CIE. In his early business career he started a number of ventures including a newspaper and a pet food company while creating contacts on both sides of Ireland which would prove beneficial when he later ran for office. Reynolds first foray into politics began in 1977 when he was elected to the Dail for Fianna Fail in the Longford-Westmeath constituency.

Throughout the years he served in areas of finance, industry, and transport but was later booted out by Taoiseach Charles Haughey in 1991 for supporting a vote of no confidence. He returned to politics the following year when he succeeded Haughey as Taoiseach, beating out Mary O’Rourke and Michael Woods.

A series of scandals marred Reynolds’ two years in office beginning with his firing of a number of Haughey supporters from their minister roles and becoming further weakened by a poor turnout of Fianna Fail in the elections. However, Reynolds accomplished more in two years than most Taoiseaches, and his fearless determination to bring about peace in the Downing Street Declaration in 1993 will keep his legacy alive for generations to come.

Reynolds’ life and work are being mourned on both sides of the Atlantic. He came to power during a decisive moment in Irish and American history. Former President Bill Clinton who worked alongside Reynolds offered his condolences saying of Reynolds, “His leadership alongside British Prime Minister John Major was instrumental in laying the foundation for the Good Friday Agreement, and our world owes him a profound debt of gratitude.” Flags are being flown at half mast on all government buildings in Ireland and the outpowering from many Irish politicians and businessmen are overwhelming. William Flynn, business leader and progressive in the Northern Ireland peace agreement, said of Reynolds, “Without any question, Albert Reynolds was the finest Irish gentleman ever to become Taoiseach. Without him and his lovely Kathleen, the beautiful Reynolds family would have never come to be. Without him, the savage civil warfare in Northern Ireland would have continued on and the Good Friday Agreement would have never come to be. Taoiseach Albert Reynolds was especially loved and honored as a man of peace in Ireland, in America, and in the world, generally.”

President Michael D. Higgins said Reynolds will be remembered as “a most dynamic Cabinet minister and Taoiseach with courage.” Current Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that “he played an important part in bringing together different strands of political opinion in Northern ireland.” Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness both tweeted condolences to Reynolds, Adams saying “Albert acted on the North when it mattered” and McGuinness added, “Albert was a peacemaker.” 

– Matthew Skwiat

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Those We Lost Sun, 01 Apr 2007 09:23:43 +0000 Read more..]]> A tribute to some of the fine Irish-Americans who touched our  lives

Of the thousands of men and women who have given their lives in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the deaths of three young Irish-Americans from the New York area brought home the terrible price of war. The funeral of Captain John F. McKenna took place on August 25 at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Brooklyn. McKenna was born in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn and went to Bishop Ford Catholic High School. In 1998, he joined the Marine Corps, continuing a family tradition that included his grandfather and uncle, who died in WWII. John was killed alongside fellow Irish-American Lance Corporal Michael D. Glover, 28, in Fallujah, Iraq on August 15. Lance Corporal Glover, from Rockaway, New York, was a nephew of former FDNY Chief Pete Hayden’s wife Rita. Sergeant James J. Regan, 26, of Manhasset, New York, died February 9, 2007, in northern Iraq of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle while he was on combat patrol. Regan excelled in lacrosse at Chaminade High School and at Duke University before he joined the U.S. Army Rangers. At a service on February 16, he was remembered by his parents, sisters, fiancée and teammates, as the ultimate team man, for his undertakings on and off the field. “You couldn’t ask for a better person” said Jack Moran, who coached Regan in high school. Regan was the third Chaminade High School grad to die in Iraq and the second Duke athlete from Long Island to die there. Marine Lieutenant Matthew Lynch, 25, of Jericho, was killed by a roadside bomb on October 30, 2004. The total number of combat deaths in the U.S. armed forces as of February, 2007, is 3,150.


Johnny Gibson

John Anthony “Johnny” Gibson, a former world-record holder in the 400-meter hurdles, died in January, 2007. He was 101. Gibson, who was born in Greenwich Village, New York, moved to New Jersey when he was 6 months old. He was 5 when his father died. He attended Bloomfield High School (N.J.) and then Fordham University at night, working days as a messenger on Wall Street, and training whenever he found the time, using park benches as hurdles. In 1927, Gibson won the college 400-meter hurdles in the Penn Relays in 55.2 seconds, beating Lord David Burghley of Britain. After the race, some officials tried to have Gibson disqualified contending that he was ineligible because he was a night student at Fordham. The matter was dropped when Burghley said that Gibson won fairly and he would not accept the first-place medal no matter what they ruled. That same year in London, Burghley set a world record of 54.2 seconds. Gibson broke Burghley’s record and set a new world record of 52.6 at the national championships in Lincoln, Nebraska on the same day. After coaching Fordham’s freshman track team in the mid-1930’s, Gibson moved on to Seton Hall where he coached from 1946 until he retired in 1972. His best athletes included Andy Stanfield, a sprinter who won two Olympic gold medals. Gibson, himself, narrowly missed qualifying for the final of the 400-meter hurdles at the 1928 Olympics, after which the demands of work forced him to quit racing. He is survived by two sons, three daughters, a sister, 19 grandchildren, 46 great-grandchildren, and five great-great-grandchildren. His wife of 67 years, the former Dorothy Croughan, died in 1997.


Peter Boyle

Everybody Loves Raymond star Peter Boyle, died on December 12, 2006. He was 71. The versatile actor, who played Raymond’s dad, Frank Barone, on the long-running comedy series, had been suffering from multiple myeloma and heart disease.  Boyle, whose father, Peter Sr., was a TV personality in Philadelphia, was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania, on October 18, 1935 to a staunchly Irish Catholic family. Before becoming an actor Boyle spent three years with the Christian Brothers during the 1950s. “I prayed so hard I had calluses on my knees,” he said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. Boyle made his mark in such unforgettable films as Taxi Driver, The Candidate and Young Frankenstein. He also appeared in NYPD Blue and won an Emmy for a guest appearance on The X-Files. But he will be best remembered for the cantankerous patriarch he played on Everybody Loves Raymond, for which he received seven Emmy nominations. Ray Romano said, “The fact that he could play a convincing curmudgeon on the show, but in reality be such a compassionate and thoughtful person, is a true testament to his talent…I feel very lucky to have known and shared great experiences with Peter, and I will miss him forever.” A devoted family man, Boyle is survived by his wife Lorraine Alterman, and two daughters, Lucy and Amy.


Dennis Duggan

Dennis Duggan, one of the most beloved and respected members of the “Mick clique,” a generation of New York City pavement-pounding Irish journalists, passed away on April 20, 2006. He was 78. He died in St. Vincent’s Hospital after a long illness. Duggan’s parents, Irish immigrants, Michael and Anne, settled in Detroit before their son came East and landed a $42-a-week copyboy job at The Daily Mirror. After stints at The New York Times and the Daily News, Duggan joined Newsday in 1967, where since 1985 he penned the “About New York” column, which he used to report on the best and worst that the city had to offer. He wrote about the mighty and the modest, and was a strong defender of working people, particularly firefighters and cops. His last column, published Feb. 28, 2006, was about a man who lost his son on 9/11 who, like Duggan, had come to question the war in Iraq. “When I visited him at St. Vincent’s, he quoted Yeats and the McCourt brothers, and he joked about his own bad luck,” Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, told Newsday. “He left his visitors smiling.”


Barnard Hughes

Irish America lost one of its finest actors on July 11, 2006 when Barnard Hughes died in New York City, just six days before his 91st birthday. The Tony and Emmy-award-winning actor featured in a host of movies including Midnight Cowboy, The Lost Boys and The Cradle Will Rock, and more than 400 Broadway shows. But he is best remembered for his starring role in Da, the first Irish play to win a Tony Award. The play, by Hugh Leonard, which opened on Broadway in 1978, tells the story of a New York playwright who goes back to Ireland to bury his father and is visited by his ghost. The New York Times described Hughes’ portrayal of the father as “masterly in the role of a lifetime, working with every jewel in place.” Born in Bedford Hills, New York to Irish immigrant parents, Hughes made his Broadway debut in 1935 in Herself Mrs. Patrick Crowley. After serving in the U.S. Army in World War II, Hughes returned to acting. He received a Best Featured Actor Tony nomination for his 1973 performance as Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing, but would wait another five years for his career-defining role in Da. Hughes’ last Broadway appearance was in 1999 in Noel Coward’s Waiting in the Wings. Hughes is survived by his wife, Helen Stenborg, his son, Doug Hughes, an acclaimed director who won a Tony Award for his direction of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, a daughter Laura Hughes, and a grandson Samuel Hughes Rubin.


Thomas Manton

Tom Manton, a former New York City councilman and U.S. congressman who was chairman of the influential Queens Democratic organization for 20 years, passed away on July 22, 2006. He was 73. An old-school politician, who was a police officer and a Marine before becoming a lawyer, Representative Manton made sure his own people were looked after and that New York interests were kept high on the priority list. He was also a very proud Irishman who traced his family roots back to County Galway. Whenever Irish issues surfaced over the years, Manton, whose parents were Irish immigrants, was there in Congress, especially on Northern Ireland; he was a fearless advocate for Irish unity. At the White House St. Patrick’s Day celebrations a few years ago, he spoke to Niall O’Dowd, of the I.R.A. ceasefire, and Gerry Adams U.S. visit. “You know, I have spent a lifetime in politics,” he told O’Dowd, “and that was one of my greatest days. That we could do something like this for the country where my people came from was one of my proudest moments.”


Kenneth McCabe

Kenneth McCabe, a legend among crime fighters, died on February 19, 2006, after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 59. McCabe was a member of the New York Police Department for 18 years, and then for 20 years worked as an organized crime investigator for the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan. He spent years conducting surveillance of the mob, and his work provided the groundwork for dozens of successful prosecutions, including those of the late mob boss John Gotti and his brother Peter, that have left New York City’s Mafia families weakened to the point of extinction. Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame/Lewis Libby leak investigation, who worked with McCabe in Manhattan, was quoted in The New York Times, saying: “If you went to ask him a name of somebody involved in organized crime, not only did he know the person, but he might have arrested him once or twice, or been to his house.” McCabe’s professionalism and courteous manner won him the respect of colleagues and even the mobsters he arrested. Mob informant Michael (Mikey Scars) DiLeonardo paid tribute to McCabe during his testimony at John A. (Junior) Gotti’s federal kidnapping trial a couple of weeks after McCabe’s death. Asked to identify a surveillance shot, DiLeonardo guessed that it was probably taken by McCabe. “He was relentless,” DiLeonardo said. McCabe, who stood 6-feet, 6-inches, was reared in Park Slope, Brooklyn and attended Cathedral High School before playing power forward for Loyola College in Maryland. He is survived by his wife, Kathleen Moriarty, whom he married in 1968; three daughters, Kerry, Kristen and Kelly (a prosecutor in the office of the Brooklyn district attorney), a son Kenneth Jr., sisters Rosemary and Anne Marie, brothers John and James, and five grandchildren. ♦

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Those We Lost Fri, 01 Oct 2004 06:29:31 +0000 Read more..]]> Recent passings in the Irish and Irish American communities.


Al Gavin

Al Gavin at the Top 100 Awards in March.

Legendary boxing cutman Al Gavin passed away after suffering a stroke on Thursday, July 8, 2004 at the age of 70. The Brooklyn-bred retired landscaper was best known for his ability to quell the blood-flow of boxing wounds for such fighters as Lennox Lewis, Oscar de la Hoya and Mickey Ward. Earlier this year, Gavin was honored as one of Irish America‘s Top 100.

It was through his Irish roots that he developed a love of boxing. Born in Wicklow, Gavin’s father immigrated to the States and raised his four children in Brooklyn. Though he worked as a plumber, he always had an interest in boxing, which he passed on to his son, Al.

As a young man, Al Gavin competed as an amateur, but ultimately didn’t have what it took to be a professional fighter, choosing instead to work the corner as a trainer, and later a cutman. Part artist, part EMT technician, a cutman can make or break a fight. Gavin’s skill gave him the reputation as the “best cutman in the business” throughout his 40-year career. In a recent Irish America interview with Tom Hauser, Gavin humbly spoke of his work, “I’m nothing special. I just go out and do my job. I’m not a big shot – I’m just a guy who likes boxing.”


Bob Murphy

Murphy waves good-bye at Shea Stadium. (Photo: Marc S. Levine / NY Mets).

Famed announcer for the NY Mets, Bob Murphy passed away on August 3 at the age of 79 from lung cancer.

Born and raised in Oklahoma, Murphy began his career with the Boston Red Sox in 1954 and then continued on to work with the Baltimore Orioles in 1960 and finally the Mets in 1962 as one of the team’s original announcers.

Murphy was adored in the sports world for his ability to vividly describe the action in his “happy recaps” of the “amazin'” games. In 1984, he was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame and into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1994. Shea Stadium’s radio booth was named in his honor in 2002. Earlier this year, Irish America honored him as a Top 100 Irish American. Murphy’s paternal grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Ireland, and Murphy himself visited there recently with his wife.

After 42 seasons with the Mets, Murphy retired in 2003, saying “I’ll say good-bye now to everybody. Stay well out there, wherever you may be. I’ve enjoyed the relationship with you.”


John Cullen Murphy

Artist John Cullen Murphy died on July 2 at the age of 85. The Greenwich resident was best known for his work on the Sunday comic Prince Valiant which he illustrated for the last 34 years.

Murphy was born in New York City in 1919, and raised in Chicago and New Rochelle. Though he aspired to be a baseball player, his destiny to be an artist was made apparent one day in 1934 when a neighbor asked him to pose for a portrait for a magazine that happened to be called the Saturday Evening Post. The neighbor happened to be Norman Rockwell.

The experience had such an effect on young Murphy that he decided to study art. He went on to earn a scholarship to the Phoenix Art Institute in New York and also studied at the Art Student’s League. Using his love of sports, Murphy began drawing sports cartoons to advertise boxing matches at Madison Square Garden and was able to sell an average of two drawings a week to various Chicago sports magazines. He sold his first cover illustration before he was 20 years old.

During World War II, Murphy fought as an infantryman in the Pacific, earning a Bronze Star. Never abandoning his true craft, he documented military life in his artwork – including a portrait of General Douglas MacArthur – which was published in the Chicago Tribune.

In 1970, Murphy was asked by Hal Foster to take over the Prince Valiant strip, which Foster had created in 1937. It was set in the context of the fifth century and the post-Roman Empire story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Murphy drew the strip until his retirement earlier this year.


Charles Sweeney

Major General Charles W. Sweeney. (Photo: AP / Boston Herald).

Former Army Air Force pilot Charles W. Sweeney died of a heart ailment on July 16 at a Boston hospital at the age of 84. The Lowell, Massachusetts native is best known as the pilot who dropped the atomic bomb over Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945. Three days before the Nagasaki attack, Sweeney piloted a weather-instrument plane flying in support of the Enola Gay, which bombed Hiroshima.

After the war, Sweeney, the son of a plumber, became Major General in the Massachusetts Air National Guard. In the early 1960s, he went on to become a coordinator of civil defense work in Boston. His duties included creating response plans for the United States in the event of a nuclear attack. More recently, Sweeney was owner of a leather brokerage business in Boston.

Sweeney believed in the atomic bomb’s necessity but said he hoped it would never be used again. “As the man who commanded the last atomic mission, I pray that I retain that singular distinction,” he wrote in his memoir, War’s End (1997).

Sweeney is survived by 10 children, two brothers, a sister and 24 grandchildren. ♦

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Those We Lost Tue, 01 Apr 2003 07:42:54 +0000 Read more..]]> From acclaimed actors, musicians, novelists and sports writers, to daring athletes and caring doctors, we lost some of our finest citizens in the past year, including William McCool, one of the seven astronauts who died in the space shuttle Columbia tragedy and two gifted, world famous entertainers, singer Rosemary Clooney and actor Richard Harris.


Most notices of Richard Harris‘ death in October emphasized his appearance in the 2001 blockbuster movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Harris played Albus Dumbledore, the wise headmaster at Harry Potter’s school for wizards. (Harris starred again in the sequel Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.) This focus was a bit troubling given Harris long, illustrious career. Harris’ high point — admittedly, his tumultuous private life was equally dramatic — had to be his 1991 role as Bull McCabe in The Field. Harris was nominated for a best actor Oscar, and though he didn’t win, it’s not likely you’ll ever see as fierce a performance onscreen. Harris, as a farmer who does not want to sell his land to an American, literally seems to tear up the screen in the Jim Sheridan-directed movie. He had earlier made his name on stage, and with small roles in 1961’s The Guns of Navarone and 1962’s Mutiny on the Bounty, with Marlon Brando. Harris gained further popularity in the 1967 musical Camelot, starting as King Arthur in the movie about the Knights of the Round Table. Harris later had a leading role alongside Sean Connery in The Molly Maguires, about the infamous Irish mineworkers union in Pennsylvania. By this time, Harris had also earned his reputation as a bad boy. According to legend, movie directors would add a week to their shooting schedules, to accommodate Harris’ hangovers.

He was born in Limerick in 1932. A youthful passion for sports was curtailed when he contracted tuberculosis. He learned he had lymphatic cancer last year. Reportedly, when doctors told him, Harris said it was remarkable he had lived long enough to develop the disease in the first place.

<em>Rosemary Clooney.</em>

Rosemary Clooney.

Singing legend Rosemary Clooney died this past June after a long battle with lung cancer, in her hometown of Maysville, Kentucky. She was 74. Her grandmother came from Kilkenny, and Clooney grew up in Depression-era Kentucky. Yet she became a wildly popular star by the time she was just 23, when “Come-on-a My House” topped the charts in 1951. She would stay in the entertainment business for five decades.

“Rosemary’s one of the most natural, effortless singers I’ve ever heard. She has a gift that few vocalists are ever blessed with, the same warmth and spirit she had 50 years ago when we first started out together,” legendary crooner Tony Bennet once said.

Shortly before her death, Clooney told Irish America: “The older I get, the more Irish I feel.”

The musical world also lost beloved member of The Chieftains Derek Bell, who died at the age of 66. Born in Belfast in 1935, Bell was a child prodigy who wrote his first concerto at age 12. Bell went on to become an integral part of the world famous Chieftains, which he joined in 1972. Widely considered to be one of the finest harpists in the world, he also had a successful solo career.

<em>Derek Bell.</em>

Derek Bell.

Particularly sad, given her young age and difficult life, was the death of Lucy Grealy, who died in New York City this past December at the age of 39.

Grealy’s frank, brutally honest 1994 memoir Autobiography of a Face — about what it is like to be deformed in a world obsessed with beauty — was a hit with critics and readers alike. More recently, however, friends said Grealy suffered from severe depression. The specific cause of Grealy’s death was never announced, though she had undergone a series of surgeries for a rare form of cancer.

<em>Lucy Grealy.</em>

Lucy Grealy.

Born Lucinda Margaret Grealy in Dublin, Lucy was one of five children whose father Desmond was a founder of the Irish national broadcasting network RTÉ. When Lucy was 4, the family moved to Spring Valley, New York. Grealy was later diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare cancer that began as a dental cyst. At 9, Grealy started to undergo chemotherapy and radiation, often five times a week for five years. The treatments dissolved nearly half her jaw-bone. Grealy survived the cancer, but it took 30 operations over 18 years to rebuild her face.

Two more great writers — in very different fields — also died: historical novelist Thomas Flanagan and Boston Globe sports columnist Will McDonough.

Flanagan was a pioneer in Irish literary studies and historical fiction, whose epic 1979 best-seller The Year of the French won the National Book Critics Circle Award. It was in the strife and tragedy, the saints and scoundrels of Irish rebellion that Flanagan found his muse. But his path to literary fame was, to say the least, indirect.

After years as an academic, who dabbled in detective stories on the side, Flanagan burst onto the literary scene in 1979 with The Year of the French. The sweeping saga chronicled the mythic events in Ireland in 1798, when Irish and French forces banded together against the British. Flanagan followed with The Tenants of Time (1988), another historical saga, this time set around the Fenian uprising of 1867. The End of the Hunt, published in 1994, was Flanagan’s final novel, and explored events from the Easter Rising through the 1920s Irish Civil War.

<em>Thomas Flanagan.</em>

Thomas Flanagan.

Born in 1923, into an upper middle-class home headed by an Irish Catholic doctor, Flanagan spent his youth in Hastings-on-the-Hudson in upstate New York, friends said. (The writer Truman Capote was a high school pal.) Flanagan’s grandfather, a committed Fenian who owned a brick factory in upstate New York, was one of several family members who eventually appeared in his novels.

Flanagan is survived by two daughters. His beloved wife, Jean, died a year earlier.

Will McDonough, meanwhile, covered sports in Boston for well over four decades, and was also one the most recognizable voices of football on Sundays on TV from 1986 to 1998. McDonough brought his Boston Irish origins with him wherever he went — even network TV. His Southie accent was as thick as it was unmistakable.

<em>Will McDonough.</em>

Will McDonough.

But it was as a newspaper man that McDonough made a name for himself, joining the Boston Globe just after he graduated Northeastern University in 1959. His columns were widely read and hotly debated, and up until the time of his death McDonough had covered every Super Bowl ever played.

McDonough died in January 2003 at the age of 67, following a mild heart attack. He is survived by his wife Denise, two daughters and three sons, including Sean, who followed in his Dad’s footsteps and is now a broadcaster for ABC Sports and the Boston Red Sox.

A different corner of the sports world also suffered a tragic blow when snowboarder Craig Kelly was among 21 people killed when a wall of snow fell on them as they were skiing the Durrand Glacier. Though only 36, Kelly was considered a groundbreaking athlete, who won numerous snowboarding championships. Many say he was instrumental in bringing the sport to the Winter Olympics in 1998, though by then it was too late for Kelly to compete in what is very much a young athlete’s game. Kelly, who grew up in Mount Vernon, Washington, first discovered snowboarding in 1981, Craig’s dad Pat told the New York Times. “He had won several national titles on BMX bikes. His bike sponsor took him to a mountain to try an early snowboard that you steered with ropes, and he was hooked.”

<em>Craig Kelly.</em>

Craig Kelly.

Craig Kelly is survived by companion Savina Findlay, their daughter Olivia, his mother, two brothers and two sisters.

The Irish American sports world also lost Joe McCluskey, a 1932 Olympic medalist who won more U.S. Track and Field titles than any other runner. McCluskey, a standout at Fordham and later a World War II veteran after winning a bronze at the 1932 Olympics, died at the age of 91 in his native Connecticut.

Dr. Michael McFadden apparently never forgot how important a little help can be when you are down on your luck. Born in Donegal, McFadden’s family emigrated to Scotland in an effort to escape grinding poverty. McFadden’s father died in Scotland, however, leaving his mother to raise six children.

<em>Michael McFadden and his wife Mary.</em>

Michael McFadden and his wife Mary.

When McFadden ultimately became a successful San Francisco doctor he would treat patients and accept whatever fee — if any — they could pay. McFadden died in December at the age of 77, in the home where he and his wife Mary raised ten children.

Despite his family’s tough situation, McFadden received good grades in school and eventually earned a degree in Medicine from Glasgow University. In 1956 he met a San Francisco girl named Mary McKenna, while she was vacationing in Ireland. When the couple eventually settled in San Francisco’s Noe Valley district on 24th Street, locals praised him for his generosity, never taking more money than a patient could afford to give, and also making regular house calls. McFadden was affectionately known as the “mayor of Noe Valley.”

The matriarch of one of the most famous Irish American political families died in February. Eleanor Daley, 95, was married to Chicago mayor and so-called “president maker” Richard Daley, who ruled Chicago for well over two decades. Their son Richard M. Daley is currently mayor of Chicago, and another son William served as Commerce Secretary in the Clinton Administration. Eleanor and Richard had two more sons and three daughters, one of whom died in 1998.

Eleanor, who was known as “Sis,” lived her whole life in the tight-knit Irish community of Bridgeport. She avoided the spotlight, but was a key adviser to both her husband and son, helping a Daley run Chicago from 1955 – 1976 (her husband) and then again from 1989 to the present.

<em>William McCool.</em>

William McCool.

One of the seven astronauts who died in the Columbia space shuttle tragedy, William McCool, had deep roots in Ireland. His relatives in Donegal — from where his grandfather Joseph emigrated to Boston 70 years ago — mourned the passing of the 41-year-old hero. One cousin, 82-year-old Anna Kemmy, said the family kept in touch over the years with the McCool family in Texas, who even returned to Ireland several times for family funerals. As with the rest of the nation, Kemmy described McCool’s death as a great tragedy.

The dedicated Irish American peace activist Phil Berrigan died at the age of 79 on December 6, 2002. He spent his life advancing the cause of the poor and campaigning for peace and nonviolence. A veteran of WWII, Berrigan began his work as an activist in 1966 protesting the war in Vietnam, and up until his death he condemned the war in Iraq and the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

He died at Jonah House, a community he co-founded with his wife Elizabeth in 1973 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Jonah House members live and pray together and attempt to expose the violence of militarism and consumerism. Berrigan’s illness was brief; he was diagnosed with cancer of the liver and kidney two months before he died.

<em>Phil Berrigan.</em>

Phil Berrigan.

Berrigan was frequently incarcerated for his activism, and was in prison just one year prior to his death. Altogether, he spent almost 11 years in jail. He was dedicated to his causes, including one that involved communicating with others. He insisted on personally responding to every phone call and letter he ever received, and once said, “Gandhi had answered everyone who ever wrote to him, and he had more letters than I ever have.” He also published six books including an autobiography, The Times’ Discipline.

A deeply religious man, Berrigan was ordained a priest and once said that he got authority for his activism from the Bible. His brother Daniel, a Jesuit priest, officiated his last rites on November 30. He is survived by his wife Elizabeth McAlister and his children Frida, Jerry and Kate. ♦

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