There’s a lot happening out there. Take a break and enter the world of Irish America. After so many years as editor of this magazine, I’ve come to think of “Irish America” as a place. Lately, the place I go, to take solace and restock my hope tank, is our Irish America archives.
So many stories, collected over the past 35 years of publishing, show me the mettle our ancestors were made of, and reassure me that hardwired into my/our DNA is a “survival against the odds” set of coding.
In the old days, just a half year ago, a night at Irish Repertory Theater could transport you back to Ireland without ever leaving your seat. A quiet conversation and some good fiddle music in Paddy Reilly’s pub would bring a warm glow, lighting up strands of DNA inherited from long ago ancestors who had enjoyed the same tunes.
While we look back with nostalgia at those times, all is not lost. Early into quarantine the Irish Rep’s digital performance of “Molly Sweeney,” flawlessly executed by three actors in three different locations, gave me confidence that we would go on. And, taking a lesson from the Rep, which is now streaming “The Weir” by Conor McPherson (ending tonight), we are pleased to offer you our own video entertainment in the form of a wonderful Zoom conversation between Tom Deignan, a longtime Irish America contributor, and writer Emma Donaghue, whose new book just happens to be set in Ireland during the Spanish Flu epidemic. I’ve been a fan of Donoghue’s since Touchy Subjects (2005) her early book of short stories. She never fails to surprise and transport, in person and on the page. So take time out to enjoy this interview. In the coming weeks we will be offering more video content.
Video aside, as often as not, when I want to escape the day, I hunt through our Irish America archives. This week, flicking through the 1990s, the Queen of the Klondike story seemed to jump out at me from nowhere, and it struck a chord. Following the immigrant tradition of taking work where you find it, Belinda Mulrooney’s story of setting up shop in the Yukon, reminded me of the mid-70s when many of my young friends, including my two brothers, and my girlfriend Ina, left New York to work on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.
With my Irish stomping buddies gone from the Bronx, I moved downtown, and instead of hurling games in Gaelic Park on Sundays, I fell in love with baseball. My crushes on American cowboys (from the many American westerns shown on Irish TV), were replaced by handsome baseball players with wonderful American names like Thurman Munson, Craig Nettles, Bucky Dent, Goose Gossage, Sparky Lyle, Catfish Hunter, and Mickey Rivers.
My friends where mostly American then. I watched the Yankees bring home the 1977 and 1978 World Series in Guy Fawkes bar on First Avenue. I was the waitress, who also cooked the hamburgers and dished out the chili, while Jimmy Healy and Jake Powers tended bar. All these years later, I look back at this time as my awakening to a culture, different to my own, but one that the Irish story was part of, and I’m thankful for the generosity of people who invited me in to their world and helped me find my place in it. I still live in the same neighborhood. It called to me when I returned to New York to help start the magazine in 1985 after a five-year time out in San Francisco. These days, my sense of belonging is enhanced by the fact that Jake Power’s son, Keith, is now my local councilman.
As the baseball season starts, our archives offered up several baseball stories, but I kind of fell for grumpy Hugh Daily, the one-handed Irishman, who, having lost his arm in a gun accident, still managed to become one of the first power-pitchers in early baseball. His story is brought to you by Ray Cavanaugh. I’m also reminded, in this baseball season, of a wonderful visit to the dugout at Yankee stadium in the early 1990s to interview Nolan Ryan with Mary Pat Kelly. As a young immigrant living in the Bronx, I used to pass Yankee Stadium every morning on the #4 train on the way to my waitress job downtown. To finally, as editor of the magazine, stand in the dugout of that wonderful coliseum and look up at the stands, I felt that my American dream had come through.
Yet, much as I love my American life, a visit to our travel archives always puts a longing on me for a trip to Ireland. In dreams of time to come, I see the Northern Lights of Malin Head in Donegal, and witness the winter solstice in Newgrange. It’s easy to get lost for a couple of hours exploring the many wonderful landscapes and different experiences Ireland has to offer.
This week, Edythe Preet writes of Irish hospitality, here and at home, in her Sláinte column (check out foodireland.com for the sausages and bacon), and in another example of English people falling in love with Ireland (see exploring Connemara with Tim Robinson), we bring you a poem by Derek Pickett, who was captivated by the country during his first visit there.
On an end note, we mourn the passing of John Lewis who took part in the march from Selma to Montgomery that ended in “Bloody Sunday” 1965. Our favorite historian, Dr. Christine Kinealy, pays tribute to the great American and writes about a trip she took to Ireland with Lewis a few years ago, in which they visited Derry, the scene of the Irish Bloody Sunday, where civil rights marchers were fired upon and killed by the British Army in January, 1972. As Christine so rightly notes, “we have lost an icon, but the struggle continues.”
Patricia Harty, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Irish America.