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Irish Eye on Hollywood

Liam Neeson played German businessman Oskar Schindler in the acclaimed film Schindler’s List. And he was recently seen on Broadway as a tortured Puritan in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

So why should anyone be surprised that the Ballymena-born Hollywood star portrays a Russian in his latest film, K-19: The Widowmaker?

Neeson’s ethnic-bending role is just one of several current and upcoming Hollywood movies in which Americans play Irish characters (see Paul Newman in Road to Perdition), and Irish actors play, well, anything from L.A. gangsters to mythical superheroes.

In K-19 Neeson’s co-star, Harrison Ford, also plays a Russian military man on a doomed submarine mission.

Neeson recently said that K-19 afforded the cast an opportunity to portray heroism in a timeless way.

“There are great human dynamics in this story,” Neeson said. “Under incredible stress, faced with death, these men summon a sense of duty and commitment to each other and to all of humanity.”

Inspired by a true story, K-19 captures the heroic actions of Captain Alexei Vostrikov (Ford). At the height of the Cold War, he is ordered to take command of the nuclear missile submarine K-19 away from original commander Captain Polenin (Neeson). Vostrikov’s mission is to quickly ready the ill-prepared sub for her maiden voyage – no matter what the cost.

But Vostrikov, Polenin and K-19’s loyal crew can never imagine all that is expected of them. Nor can they fathom the price of failure when a nuclear reactor malfunctions, threatening to kill all aboard. As they glide beneath the Arctic seas, the crew’s collective bravery and Vostrikov’s embrace of his duty not only save K-19, but avert a nuclear disaster.

Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson in K-19- The Widowmaker.

Another of Ireland’s top leading men, Pierce Brosnan, releases his latest James Bond flick soon. It’s also been confirmed that not only will Madonna perform the title track to Die Another Day, but the material mom will also make a cameo appearance in the film, which also stars Halle Berry.

Now it’s on to Irish actors playing Americans, a market which Colin Farrell seems to have cornered.

Fresh from his appearance in the Tom Cruise blockbuster Minority Report, Farrell has reportedly signed on to appear alongside Samuel L. Jackson in an upcoming gangster flick set in Los Angeles.

Farrell, the Dublin-born Vanity Fair cover boy, will star in Swat, which begins shooting later this year. According to the Irish Independent, the 26-year-old hunk will earn a hefty $8 million for Swat, which revolves around drugs and the Los Angeles police department.

Farrell already has several movies “in the can” as they say, awaiting release, including The Farm with Al Pacino, and Phone Booth, which re-teams the actor with director Joel Schumacher, who cast Farrell in his breakthrough role in Tigerland. Farrell will also appear in the comic book film Daredevil, with Ben Affleck.

Colin Farrell.

Meanwhile, Steven Spielberg is looking to a slightly more experienced Irish actor, in his effort to recreate Camelot for a million-dollar HBO TV series. Spielberg has tapped Gabriel Byrne for the lead role in the director’s take on the chivalric life and bloody battles of King Arthur and his Court. The planned eight-hour Dream Works/HBO epic will explore the mythology of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

Spielberg’s series will depict the famed battle for Guinevere’s affections, Merlin’s magic and the legendary search for the sword Excalibur. It will also, according to reports, recreate violent battles against the Saxons.

(Also look for Byrne in the upcoming Ghost Ship.)

Gabriel Byrne who will star in Steven Spielberg’s film on King Arthur.

Speaking of fantasy-action films, Dublin heartthrob Stuart Townsend is headed off to Prague, to star alongside Sean Connery among others in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Based on the acclaimed graphic serial strips (that’s comics to laypersons) by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill, the film will also star Shane West and Peta Wilson.

Directed by Stephen Norrington (Blade), League is set in Victorian England, and centers around a team of extraordinary figures culled from great adventure literature. They are recruited by a mysterious caller to stop a villain intent on turning the nations of the world against one another.

This coterie of superheroes is led by Allan Quartermain (Connery) and includes Dracula vampiress Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), the Invisible Man (Tony Curran), Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng), Tom Sawyer (Shane West), Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), and finally Dorian Gray (Townsend).

Of course, it may be hard to recognize Townsend by the time the film is completed. The film’s much-hyped visual effects are being designed by Academy Award-winner Janek Sirrs (The Matrix), while Steve Johnson (Blade 2) is helping to create creature designs for the characters of Hyde and vampiress Mina Harker, along with special effects makeup for Dorian Gray and the Invisible Man.

Stuart Townsend.

Cork actor Jonathan Rhys-Meyers’ star should continue to rise in the U.S early next year.

Rhys-Meyers, who earned rave reviews most recently playing the lead in Todd Haynes’ much-hyped indy movie Velvet Goldmine, currently stars in the hottest film in Britain.

The film, Bend It Like Beckham, is a culture-clash romantic comedy. It tells the story of an ambitious young woman who has grown up in a loving but tradition-bound family of Indian immigrants. They are happy in England, but they are also loyal to their native culture. Part of this loyalty includes arranged marriages.

But talented and feisty Jess, played by Parminder Nagra, has other ideas. She’s a soccer star and wants to play professionally. She secretly joins a women’s team. Her talents emerge, and she falls in love with her handsome coach, Joe, played by Rhys-Meyers.

The title of the film, of course, is a reference to top English soccer star David Beckham, who is Jess’ hero.

Bend It Like Beckham has proven to be a sensation in Britain, particularly its multiracial storyline. Fox Searchlight movies is planning to release the film in the United States next year.

For Rhys-Meyers, whose screen credits include 1994’s A Man of No Importance and a brief but memorable turn as Michael Collins’ assassin in Jim Sheridan’s epic 1996 biopic, this would just be another step up the U.S. star-making ladder. Rhys-Meyers also received rave reviews for his turn in the cable remake of Orson Welles’ classic film The Magnificent Ambersons earlier this year.

Interestingly, should Rhys-Meyers and Bend It Like Beckham prove to be a hit with critics and independent audiences, it would not be the first time an Irishman used the “new multiracial Britain” angle to catch a break.

Two years ago, director Damien O’Donnell was lauded for his work on East Is East, a film about Pakistani immigrants set in 1970s Britain. The film, which starred legendary actor Om Puri, even won several BAFTA awards in the U.K.

Finally, in that rare movie in which Irish actors play Irish roles, there’s Bloody Sunday. Starring James Nesbitt, this riveting film takes a close look at the terrible events of 1972’s “Bloody Sunday” in Derry, Northern Ireland.

Nesbitt plays civil rights leader Ivor Cooper, who attempts to keep the march from turning violent. On January 30, 1972 British paratroopers opened fire and killed 14 civil rights marchers on the streets of Derry.

Bloody Sunday director Paul Greengrass (who is British, by the way) said the events of Bloody Sunday were “the worst mistake the British government was responsible for.” ♦

NYC’s Famine Memorial

The haunting Irish Hunger Memorial, unveiled on July 16 in downtown Manhattan, offers visitors a stunning view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. This is fitting, given that these landmarks have greeted generations of Irish immigrants to New York City.

Sadly, however, as visitors will learn, your eyes cannot avoid another site — Ground Zero, just footsteps from the memorial’s Battery Park City location at Vesey Street and North End Avenue, on the banks of the Hudson River.

Back when ground was broken for the $5 million, 1/2 acre memorial on St. Patrick’s Day, 2001, the ceremonies were held in the shadow of the Twin Towers. The memorial was slated to open on St. Patrick’s Day 2002. Of course, September 11 intruded.

So, when Irish President Mary McAleese, Governor George Pataki and other dignitaries gathered, just one block from Ground Zero, to unveil the memorial to a Hunger which killed over 1 million Irish, 9/11 references were inevitable.

Rudy Giuliani made a point of saying that Irish Americans sacrificed more than any other group on September 11.

“One hundred and fifty years [after the Famine], the spirit of the Irish people was the backbone which America relied upon during the worst attack in our nation’s history,” said the former mayor, who received loud applause.

During an earlier tour given to Irish America, Dr. Maureen Murphy, the project’s historian, said it was inevitable that visitors would think about both tragedies.

“You can come down here and reflect on the Famine. You can come down here and reflect on September 11,” said Dr. Murphy, whose knees and work gloves were stained brown with soil from which dozens of plant species native to Ireland now grow.

Visitors can now stroll onto the Hunger Memorial at street level, before slowly winding up a dirt path which ultimately rises nearly 30 feet. The site was patterned after ruins — as well as information gathered by folklorists in County Mayo. But Adrian Flannelly, the Irish radio personality who is the project’s cultural liaison, says: “Really, this could be [a ruin] anywhere in rural Ireland.”

The Irish Hunger Memorial sits in stark contrast with Manhattan’s modern-day buildings, just a short walk from ground zero.

Flannelly has a more-than-professional attachment to New York’s Hunger Memorial: His father, Patrick, was one of the educators who helped gather information about living conditions in the Mayo village of Attymass after the Famine.

Central to the memorial is an 1830’s stone cottage from the village of Carradoogan, which was donated by the Stack family.

But for all its 19th century trappings, the Irish Hunger Memorial is very much a 21st century historical exhibit.

According to Brian Tolle, the artist who won the fierce competition to design the memorial, it is important that visitors learn not just about the Irish Famine, but hunger in the contemporary world.

“It’s a living alert, a center for hunger around the world,” says Tolle, whose design was inspired by a trip to County Mayo following his selection. “What happened in Ireland in the 1840s should never be repeated anywhere in the world.”

Visitors can take the path that winds upward to what seems like a cliff edge overlooking the Hudson River and descend down into the abandoned two-room cottage. As you stroll around the exhibit, you will be able to read passages from history books and Famineera political debates on the structure’s wall. You will hear songs about immigration and even hear about contemporary famine, thanks to the memorial’s audio component.

Meanwhile, the memorial is handicapaccessible, which allowed Tolle and his team to create an impressive entrance hall into the cottage, which contains additional writing and audio.

The Irish Hunger Memorial will be updated on a regular basis with news about contemporary world hunger. Indeed, a Mass before the dedication ceremony celebrated by Fr. Jack Finucane, one of the founders of Concern Worldwide, the Irish relief organization, served as a powerful reminder that thousands of children die every day from starvation.

Of course, there have been raging debates about the extent to which the British were to blame for the Great Hunger. Tolle hopes to address this problem by offering a diversity of information at the Hunger Memorial. And a library/exhibition space is planned for a space close to the site. “We’ll put it all out there and let the visitor decide,” said Tolle.

What is not up for debate is the huge amount of material from Ireland which went into this memorial. Though most of the stones are from Mayo, all 32 Irish counties are represented by rocks on the site. Many of the plants, meanwhile, are not only native to Irish soil, but were actually grown from Irish seeds. Kilkenny stones have been used for the walkway, while limestone from Clare was used to build the walls.

When the memorial was finally unveiled, visitors on that sun-splashed July day gave it unanimous applause.

Battery Park City resident Ed Ryan, whose Mom came to New York from Galway, has actually watched the memorial take shape from day one.

Still, nothing could quite prepare Ryan, 63, for seeing the memorial for the first time.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said Ryan, leaning on a walker, his blue eyes surveying the greenery. “My father’s people came over during the Famine,” Ryan said. “They didn’t talk about it much.”

Ryan — as well as President McAleese and Governor Pataki — said the memorial will help people come to terms with the starvation that eventually sent millions of Irish emigrants to North America.

Many visitors appreciated that the Irish memorial also sheds light on contemporary hunger.

Margaret DelBango (nee Walsh), a Ladies AOHer from Staten Island, said: “This memorial is a long time coming. It’s a great reminder of the suffering that was caused. It is also a reminder that we should be magnanimous in our wealth.”

Along with Pataki, Giuliani and McAleese, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was on hand, as were New York Archbishop Edward Cardinal Egan and international rock star Bob Geldof. President George W. Bush sent written greetings to a crowd that represented a who’s who of New York Irish, ranging from writers Pete Hamill and Frank McCourt to police officer Steven McDonald who was injured in the line of duty and is now confined to a wheelchair.

Celtic markings on a stone from Ireland.

Irish musicians, including Paddy Reilly, who sang “The Fields of Athenry,” a song about the Irish Famine, performed for the crowd who had came to see the long-awaited, multi-media structure.

Irish immigrants Aileen and Tom Hilliard were not disappointed.

“I think it’s beautiful,” said Aileen, who emigrated from Cork in 1964, and now lives in Stony Point, New York. “It will always keep you in touch with what happened during the Famine. And how the Irish survived.”

“It’s an education for me,” added Tom, originally from Longford. “This is really what it might have looked like during the Famine.”

Indeed, visitor after visitor, speaker after speaker seemed stunned at the detail and beauty of the memorial.

“It’s nice to see the Irish getting a little recognition for what they went through,” said Peter Brady, a FDNY Lieutenant with Engine 155, and a Emerald Society member for 23 years.

Twenty-two-year-old Belfast student Cailin Hardy, in New York as part of a cultural exchange program, was struck by the Irish pride on display at the ceremony.

“At home you almost feel afraid to be Irish…here you’re almost afraid not to be,” said Hardy with a laugh.

Indeed, perhaps it was Malachy McCourt who put it most poignantly — and humorously. Surveying the hundreds of Irish Americans in the crowd, he said: “This only proves that death, to the Irish, is not always fatal.” ♦

Kit DeFever

Kit DeFever is a California-born, Midwest-raised New York photographer. For 30 years he has had a major NYC studio. His client list includes Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, Belks, Famous-Barr, LS Ayres, Madamoiselle, Marie Claire, Stern, JWT, Campbell Ewald, and others.

When not photographing for his fashion accounts Kit is usually found in Ireland or Alaska.


Tom Deignan

For over a decade, Tom Deignan has written the weekly “Sidewalks” column for The Irish Voice newspaper. He also writes columns about movies and history for Irish America and is a regular book reviewer for the Newark Star-Ledger. He is the author of Irish American: Coming to America.

Mary Pat Kelly

As an author and filmmaker, Mary Pat Kelly has told various stories connected to Ireland. Her award-winning PBS documentaries and accompanying books include To Live for Ireland, a portrait of Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume and the political party he led; Home Away from Home: The Yanks in Ireland, a history of U.S. forces in Northern Ireland during World War II; and Proudly We Served: The Men of the USS Mason, a portrayal of the only African-American sailors to take a World War II warship into combat, whose first foreign port was Belfast. She wrote and directed the dramatic feature film Proud, starring Ossie Davis and Stephen Rea, based on the USS Mason story.

She’s written Martin Scorsese: The First Decade and Martin Scorsese: A Journey; Good to Go: The Rescue of Scott O’Grady from Bosnia; and a novel, Special Intentions. She is a frequent contributor to Irish America Magazine.

Mary Pat Kelly worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter for Paramount and Columbia Pictures and in New York City as an associate producer with Good Morning America and Saturday Night Live, and wrote the book and lyrics for the musical Abby’s Song. She received her PhD from the City University of New York.

Born and raised in Chicago, she lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side with her husband, Web designer Martin Sheerin from County Tyrone.


Sharon Ní Chonchúir

A frequent feature writer for Irish America, Sharon is a freelance writer who lives and works in West Kerry, Ireland. Much of her writing is concerned with the changing face of modern Irish culture.

Edythe Preet

Edythe has served as culinary historian for Irish America since 1994. Her continuing feature series “Sláinte!” traces the histories of traditional Irish food, drink and celebration, liberally laced with a wealth of folklore, mythology and popular customs. Edythe owns The Heritage Kitchen, a specialty food business producing sweets and savories based on historical recipes.


Michael Quinlin
Michael Quinlin

Michael Quinlin is author of Irish Boston (Globe Pequot Press) and editor of Classic Irish Stories (Lyons Press). He founded the Boston Irish Tourism Association, created Boston’s Irish Heritage Trail, and formed MassJazz to promote the vibrant jazz scene in Massachusetts. Mike lives in Milton, Massachusetts with his wife, Colette, and son, Devin.


Director of Special Projects Turlough McConnell

Turlough McConnell is a producer and writer with over two decades experience as a creative program executive in the Irish-American market.  For Irish America magazine, Turlough produces special feature supplements, overseeing content, design and all aspects of production. Recent subjects include a major feature on Boston College and the John J. Burns Library; a development profile Titanic Belfast, and the book, Celebrating 250 Years of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

As President & CEO of Turlough McConnell Communications, (TMCC), Turlough produces live events, multi-media products and documentary films of interest to Irish America, including exhibitions such as the international tour of Fighting Irish: Celebrating Irish Prizefighters (on tour from 2006), now on view at London’s City Hall as part of the 2012 Olympics.  For TMCC, he curated the Ireland’s Great Hunger art exhibition in New York (2011), and serves as advisor to the emerging Irish Mission at Watson House Museum in New York City and Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University Connecticut.

Aliah O’Neill

Aliah O’Neill earned her MA in Irish and Irish- American Studies at New York University in January 2010. She graduated in May 2008 with degrees in English and Philosophy from Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. She currently resides in Brooklyn where she spends her time writing and listening to music.

Declan O’Kelly

A former senior editor at Irish America magazine, Declan currently works as a Web Producer for Men’s Fitness.  He has also worked at AOL News as a Homepage Editor/Producer and at IrishCentral.com as a Sports Editor.  A freelance sports writer, Declan is the boxing reporter for the Irish Voice. He has also worked as a sports columnist for the Irish Mail on Sunday and freelances frequently for papers in Ireland.

Kara Rota

Kara is Director of Editorial & Partnerships for Cookstr, a technology company based in Manhattan that focuses on the intersection between food, lifestyle and health. She does freelance food journalism and is an award-winning fiction writer. Kara graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 2009, where she studied creative writing and completed her undergrad thesis on technoethics.

Sade Clacken Joseph

Sade is a freelance photographer, videographer, writer and musician from Bronx, NY. Her relationship with Irish America magazine began in early 2011, photographing events such as the Hall of Fame, Wall Street 50 and Business 100. She also photographed Martin Hayes and the Gloaming for the February/March 2012 cover story. She is a recent graduate of Barnard College of Columbia University majoring in Anthropology, Film Studies and minoring Political Science. She currently works for ABC Disney Television Group at The View.