Monday, 25 January 2016

A Strange But Fascinating Race


           What a strange but fascinating race for the Republican presidential nomination this year.

            Whatever one thinks of Donald Trump’s candidacy there is little doubt but that he has turned this contest on its ear. Six months ago the cognoscenti were certain that he would have faded by now, and yet here he is as bold as brass and still the straw that’s stirring the drink, as Reggie Jackson might have put it.

            He may be the post-reality show candidate but he certainly reflects our times. Fascinated by power, riches, and celebrity, many are thrilled that he talks back to “the man;” especially when politically incorrect.

            Although he repels others with his outrageous statements he has obviously tapped into a national vein of discontent, particularly in the ranks of the Republican Party.

            I often wonder if he is for real or, like a gifted carnival barker, does he merely sense which way the wind is blowing? We’ll begin to find out on the night of Feb. 1st at the Iowa caucuses.

            Will Mr. Trump’s disaffected legions show their muscle and turn out? It’s one thing to pick up a phone and lambast some faceless pollster. Quite another to brave the Iowan winter on a freezing Monday night, stand before your neighbors,and declare your contrarian views.

            Much will depend on the weather. Should Mr. Trump’s troops confound the skeptics by caucusing en masse in sub-zero temperatures then he will have proved that he’s not just a curiosity candidate but a Huey Long who has correctly taken the pulse of America.

            He doesn’t even have to win Iowa just not lose in an embarrassing manner; victory will more than likely go to Senator Ted Cruz. No, the Kardashian candidate just has to demonstrate that celebrity and obnoxiousness can transfer into votes. For if a somewhat socially liberal New York Republican can insult a war hero like John McCain and still poll well in evangelical Iowa, there’s no limit to how he can do in the rest of the country.

            And what of Mr. Cruz? Despised by his senate colleagues he has gauged correctly that this lack of affection does him little harm nationally where DC power players have never been so unpopular. Oddly enough it’s rarely ever been harder to unseat a sitting member of congress – go figure. 

            Well, Senator Cruz has figured it out. God, money, and boundless ambition allied with a terrific work ethic will get you far in contemporary politics. Add the fact that he’s a great debater - although he does succumb to the occasional slip. Pledging to “carpet bomb” areas of Syria and Iraq so thoroughly that he’ll discover if “sand can glow in the dark” will hardly endear him to humanitarians around the world, let alone the citizens of those much blitzed countries.

            Make no mistake, though, this man has a distinct chance to go the whole way. We should be elated; after all, leaving aside Gov. Martin O’Malley, Senator Cruz would appear to be our most Irish-American candidate.

            And what of Senator Rubio? A couple of months ago his star seemed on the rise. He’s obviously a man in a hurry, unwilling to wait his turn and back his mentor and once close friend, Governor Jeb Bush. 

But is it just me or is there something insubstantial about the man, he brings to mind Madonna for some reason. Everything seems on the surface with him, especially as he pivots rightward to keep within an ass’s roar of Mr. Trump and Senator Cruz. 

            I will say that for sheer drama the Republican race leaves the Democratic one in the dust, although a win for Senator Sanders in Iowa would put the cat amongst the proverbial pigeons. Still, I feel certain that the surprises are far from over on the Republican side – never count out a Bush or a New Jersey governor. 

Eventually, however, the Republican establishment will settle on a candidate who will challenge the two brash outsiders, Trump and Cruz. Then what? 

With the South and evangelicals behind him, Senator Cruz could be the premier Irish-American candidate in 2016. The Lord save us, I suppose there’s an outside chance that we’ll find out if sand indeed can glow in the dark.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Van Morrison - The Mystic From The East


            Some fans call him “the Mystic from the East.” I’m talking Belfast, by the way – not some Himalayan Shangri-La.

Recently turned 70, Van Morrison is wary of such accolades and yet many feel that he is one of the great artists of the last hundred years.

            With James Brown and Bob Marley gone to the great soul house in the sky, Bob Dylan would appear to be Morrison’s only living musical peer.

            Both handily pass the “great artist qualifying tests” of singularity of vision and a voluminous body of groundbreaking successful work; in fact they share so many traits, obsessions, and dislikes as to make them seem like cosmic twins. But what really unites them is a fierce and unrelenting drive to create.

            Cosmically related or not, they have shared tours and stages frequently over the last fifty years and seem at the least to have a grudging admiration for each other.

            Both have little use for the press or publicity. While Dylan remains enigmatically aloof, the Belfast mystic has made it clear that he considers explanations about his art entirely superfluous, and that he despises the trappings and business of music.

            Some of this antipathy may date back to his teenage years when he was shamelessly ripped off by record and music publishing companies. Rumor has it that Bert Berns, legendary head of Bang Records and producer of much of Morrison’s early work, dropped dead after one of their rancorous phone calls.

            Dylan and Morrison share a deep personal connection to their music with little thought to commercial success. They have scant interest in contemporary social media and, indeed, at recent concerts I attended neither seemed to acknowledge the presence of the audience, much less tailor their set-lists to suit its tastes.

            Both come from fundamentalist backgrounds. Dylan’s family in Hibbing, Minnesota clung to its immigrant Jewish roots while Van’s mother was a seeker of divine inspiration in evangelical East Belfast.

            Infused with spirituality each man’s songs long for truth and ultimate peace. Luckily for us they rarely find either, and thus go on recording and performing. Dylan, in particular, is still out there on his endless tour, crisscrossing the country, delighting in visiting smaller markets where he loves to play minor league baseball parks.

            It was while on a visit to East Belfast, however, that I found the deepest link between them: their work is firmly rooted in place and time.

Dylan’s songs range all across the US on an eternal Highway 61 with mentions of Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans, and New York City among others.

            Van is much more firmly rooted in his hometown, in particular, the area around his parents’ house that he celebrated in one of his great tone poems.

            “On Hyndford Stree where you could feel the silence…
            As the wireless played Radio Luxembourg
            And the voices whispered across Beechie River…”

            Violet and George Morrison raised their only child in one of the old red-bricked terraced houses built for Belfast’s shipyard workers.

            Close by you can still see The Hollow referenced in his pop classic, Brown Eyed Girl, and the towering electric pylon that he mentions in various songs and introductions.

            It’s but a short walk from Hyndford Street to Cyprus Avenue – the names of both roads are employed as titles of Morrison classics - and yet there’s a wide sociological gulf in between. Van bridges it with his bluesy, moody treatments of both songs but you’re never less than aware of the class divide between his red-bricked working class street and the leafy avenue he was drawn to.

            That’s the genius of the Belfast mystic. In a couple of songs he can summon up his hometown to the outsider – its dour impenetrability as well as its worldly sophistication.

            Like James Joyce, Van had to go away to find home. Now that there’s relative peace in Belfast we can all visit the mystical claustrophobic “East” that spawned this great artist. We can also measure the reality against the images that we have constructed from his melodies and lyrics.

            Hallelujah that both Van Morrison and Bob Dylan, his American twin, are still out there yearning, learning, and supplying us with songs of innocence, passion, and truth.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Wexford's Magical Main Street


            Wexford’s Main Street always looked majestic to me back then. Sure, I knew O’Connell Street left it in the ha’penny place but how often did I get to Dublin?

            The Main Street was particularly magical around Christmas when the shopkeepers strung lights like jungle vines across its narrow expanse.

            Everyone walked the town on those December evenings before television cast its spell over the country; in fact, you could say the Main Street was our interactive television. You were there to see and be seen.

You meandered from Selskar Abbey at one end up to the Capitol Cinema at the other, and back ad infinitum, stopping only to yell at friends or whistle at the convent girls.

            On weekend afternoons the country people would arrive in town. They had a different routine. The women would attend to their shopping while their menfolk waited for them in the few pubs where culchies were welcome. Everyone knew their place in Wexford and townies ruled their medieval streets with an iron fist.

            I was a rarity and mixed easily with both sides, for though I lived in the town my grandfather farmed a hundred of the finest acres a mile or so out.

            My father and grandfather were alike in many ways – independent men who didn’t take well to receiving orders. My grandfather, being well off, didn’t need to heed anyone; my father, being the eldest son, did.

            They rarely argued, in fact they didn’t speak much, until everything would come to a head. Then my father would storm out and return to his other more remunerative life as a merchant marine. With my grandfather getting on in years, however, there was always a need for my father to return, and being the loyal eldest son he’d put bygones behind him.

            My father was far from blameless for this state of affairs for he could never bring himself to ask for whatever money was his due. Pride, indeed, can cause all manner of heartbreak.

            I can still summon up the memory of that bicycle in Alfie Cadogan’s shop window. It was a lovely bright blue color and had cutting edge gears. I had tracked it patiently through the autumn and it was still there in mid December.

            I took a shot and requested it as a Christmas present though I knew it was far too expensive. We used to write letters to Santa Claus back then although I was having doubts about this old guy’s ability to negotiate the slated, sloping rooftops of Wexford town.

            I noticed the occasional anxious look on my father’s face as Christmas approached. He had been home for over a year and the tension between him and my grandfather was mounting by the day. I prayed there would be no explosion until after the holidays.

            My father seemed preoccupied that Christmas Eve when we walked downtown. However, he did stop outside Alfie Cadogan’s window and cast a wary glance at the brand new bicycle and its exorbitant price.

            “Is that it?” He inquired before throwing back his shoulders and entering the shop. Then began the haggling which was excruciatingly embarrassing to me; so much so that my father became impatient with my fidgeting and told me to go on about my business, and that he’d see me on the town later.

            He went to the pub instead and I slunk home to bed with all hope lost. On Christmas morning I tiptoed down the stairs dejected, but to my astonishment the beautiful blue bicycle stood gleaming beside the Christmas tree.

            I knew how scarce money was, but at that age you don’t ask questions. Years later my mother let slip that my father ate his pride, phoned my grandfather and demanded his monetary due.

            I don’t know if that was the cause but it all came to a head between them a couple of weeks later when my father stormed out and signed on a Blue Star vessel heading for South America.

They’re all long gone now but it’s a rare December I don’t think of that beautiful blue bicycle, my father and grandfather, and Christmas Eve on Wexford’s magical Main Street.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

A Lower East Side Christmas


She was my first IAP (Irish-American Princess). Well the first that I lived with at any rate. Tara had somehow made her way down to the Lower East Side from the leafy, lace-curtain environs of Westchester, although she was anything but stuck up.

Back then I had a regular Sunday gig in the less than ritzy Archway up the Bronx and she fit in there like a fist in a glove. Of course, she was quite a looker so that didn’t hurt with the lovesick Paddies.

She had beautiful grayish green eyes that would mist over in any kind of conflict or passion; there was much of both in our relationship. The boys said that she could twist me around her little finger. They were right, but oh that twisting could be so sweet. 

Things came easy to Tara. She had succeeded at everything she’d turned her hand to. But she wished to become a successful singer, the rock that many have foundered upon.

I must have seemed like a good step up the ladder; along with gigs in the Archway and John’s Flynn’s Village Pub, I regularly strutted my stuff at CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City.

It was to be a match made in purgatory for both of us. Whatever, as they say, I was in need of some stability and moved into her apartment on First Avenue. 

I always seemed to have “just missed” her parents on their visits to the city. That should have set the bells ringing but I guess when you’re in love…

Actually, our first major disagreement was over my parents - when I announced I’d be spending Christmas with them in Wexford.

“Our first Christmas together?” She shuddered.

“Well, you can come too.” Although I broke into a cold sweat at the thought of telling the Mammy that we’d be bunking together in the ancestral homestead.

“I couldn’t desert my parents,” she countered as though I was sentencing her whole white-picket-fenced clan to twenty out on Rykers.

“But what about my parents?” I countered. And on it went as lovers’ quarrels do until her eyes were so misty and beautiful I feared that her heart might indeed break.

Well, I wrote my mother a particularly tear-stained letter full of half-truths (God rest her soul, I suppose she knows the full story now). I didn’t dare telephone; I wasn’t man enough to bear two loads of womanly angst.

In truth though, the part that really hurt was that I would miss the traditional Wexford boys’ night out on Christmas Eve. And so I extracted a promise from Tara that we’d at least tie on a decent substitute.

“No problem,” she said and was good to her word. She was fairly abstemious for those times but, when called upon, could drink like a fish with little ill effect.

We bought a tree, decorated it, and strung flashing lights all around the apartment. I almost felt like Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life.  Almost! For around 7pm I slipped on my black leather jacket, she dressed up to the nines and off we strutted up First Avenue to get well and truly shellacked.

God knows how many bars we hit, I certainly don’t; but I was feeling no pain by the time we reached Max’s Kansas City. Why Max’s on Christmas Eve? Well Tara liked to make the scene, besides I knew the doorman and got in free.

I was also familiar with the bartender who slid many the shot of watered-down whiskey towards us. And then, through the shroud of smoky darkness, I heard the London accent. 

“Roight!” The spiky-haired ghost in black leather wearily exclaimed.

The platinum blonde next to him droned on as junkies do.

“Roight.” Sid Vicious reiterated whenever a response was expected.

I casually whispered his name to Tara.
 
“Oh my God!” She shrieked as though Jesus had just hopped down off the cross and offered to buy a round.

Sid looked up blearily, whereupon Tara flashed him a smile that would have done justice to Marilyn Monroe on steroids. 

“The blonde looks like a piece of all right,” I countered and winked at Nancy Spungen.

“From a bottle!” Tara sniffed just as Sid laboriously hauled himself off his stool and stumbled towards the restrooms; whereupon Ms. Spungen laid her head down on the counter for a wee snooze.

We were still awaiting Sid’s return when Tara looked at her watch and gasped. “It’s ten minutes to twelve.”

“Expecting to turn into a pumpkin?” 

“No,” she moaned, “we won’t get into St. Patrick’s!” 
 
“What for?”

“Midnight mass, of course. What do you think?”

Was she kidding - from Max’s to matins?

When we arrived at the church off Avenue A, I could tell it wasn’t exactly what Ms. Westchester had in mind. For one thing, the priests all wore shades and spoke Polish. Still, the place was packed and we reverently stood in the transept in close proximity to an ornate candelabra - wax dripping from its many branches. 

Perhaps, it was the heat, though it could have been Max’s watery whiskey; for one moment I was sweating and swaying, the next I was writhing on the marble floor painfully disengaging myself from a myriad of hot waxy candles. There was immediate uproar with many Eastern European ladies screaming at me, and Tara, no doubt, wishing she was safely home in leafy suburbia.

When I awoke on Christmas morning much of her extensive wardrobe was laying atop me.  She was modeling a matronly gray jacket and skirt, the hem inches below her knees, damn near a foot down from its usual height.

I leaped from the bed and grabbed my Doc Martens, pink shirt, and black leather tie and jacket.  Unlike my dearest, I had long before settled on an outfit appropriate for my first appearance in Westchester.

“You don’t look well, baby,” she laid a cool hand on my brow and cooed, “You’re just burning up.”

I did feel as though one of those monsters from Alien was ready to hop out of my stomach but I had much experience of that condition.  “No, it’s okay. I want to do this for you.”

She hemmed and hawed before blurting out the truth, “It’s my mother…she wouldn’t like you.”

“What’s there not to like?”

“Well, your clothes, for one thing. I mean, are you serious?”

And with that, the fight fled from me. I could just picture the whole clan dressed in Kelly green singing Danny Boy around a turf fire - her auld one, no doubt, peering out at me through lace curtains.

Tara took me in her arms whispered that I should go back to sleep, and hinted that on her return Santa might provide some x-rated delights. But I wasn’t that easily mollified and delivered one last parting shot as the door closed behind her, “So what am I supposed to do, have Christmas dinner in an Indian restaurant?”

Well, I didn’t fall back asleep and the hangover was of the galloping nature, gaining ground all afternoon. But the hunger was no joke either and when I eventually sauntered up First Avenue the only places open were of the Indian persuasion.

A dusting of snow was descending as I stormed into The Taj Mahal. The lone customer didn’t even bother to look up from his book; I sat there glaring at him, cursing all cruel-hearted IAPs and wishing I was home with my Mammy in Wexford.

The snow was swirling around First Avenue and White Christmas was leaking from doorways as I headed back to the apartment. I turned on the blinking Christmas lights and took a couple of fierce slugs of Jameson’s whiskey, turned the Clash up to eleven and rehearsed ever more vicious and vengeful ways of breaking up with Ms. Westchester.

She must have forgotten her keys for, at first, I didn’t hear her knock above Strummer’s bawling. I strode over to the door, angrier than any Old Testament prophet. She stood there, face flushed from the cold, snow in her hair; she was expecting my fury and accepted it with grace. She smiled gently, her grayish green eyes misting over, and I barely heard her murmur, “I missed you so much.”

She reached up, held a sprig of mistletoe over my head and kissed me as if for the first time. And when she whispered, “Merry Christmas, baby,” all the fight fled out of me and young love in all its passion returned.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Art Foley - The Greatest Goalie


            I once had a conversation with Johnny Cash, an experience akin to having a pint with one of the figures on Mount Rushmore.

            And yet, meeting Art Foley, the goalkeeper of the great Wexford hurling team of the 1950’s, trumped that. I guess you’d have to be from the Model County to appreciate the moment.

            Wexford has had some success in hurling since that golden era, but for many time halted in 1956 when Foley stopped a rocket from Cork’s Christy Ring in the dying minutes of the All Ireland final.

            It was as if the spirit of the 1798 Rebellion had been rekindled. Tar barrels burned all the way from Gorey to Wexford Town the night the victorious team arrived home. And it was all relived at the Wexford Association’s recent dinner.

There are not many Wexford people in New York. To this day I’m more likely to meet my fellow county people in Cricklewood or Camden Town rather than Woodlawn or Sunnyside, for London is a mere boat and train ride from Rosslare Harbour.

            But John Murphy, the indefatigable president of the Wexford Association, twisted arms, cajoled and pleaded, and there was a full house of us at Rosie O’Grady’s Manhattan Club on a recent Friday night.

            It was an interesting mix of people – the old timers who had come out in the 1950’s and the more recent arrivals like Barbara Jones, Irish Consul General in New York, along with keen young lawyers, hawkeyed bartenders, and fearless entrepreneurs. We were joined by Jimmy Van Bramer, New York City Council Majority Leader, some of whose people came from Enniscorthy.

            And there in the thick of it all was the mystery man, Art Foley. While on a trip to New York soon after the momentous 1956 final Art decided to stay. He didn’t make a big deal about his decision – so in essence the greatest goalkeeper of his era just disappeared.

            When his name would arise in Wexford sporting conversations – which it often did – the best that could be offered was, “I think he went to America.” And that was that.

            Of course, Art and his wife, Anne, were getting on with their lives. They would eventually have six children and make their home in Mastic, Long Island.

            Art knocked around at different jobs doing “anything and everything” until eventually joining TWA where he worked as a crew chief for 37 years.

Back in the 1950’s. Irish sportsmen might have been heroes but like everyone else they had to scuffle for employment. That innocent, almost threadbare, world came leaping back to life on the video screen of the Manhattan Room.

            We were transported to Croke Park in September 1956 to cheer along with 83,000 enthusiasts - the men in their Sunday-best dark suits, the ladies in their flowing summer dresses.

            It was the old Ireland with pre-Riverdance steppers out on the pitch, the Artane Boys Band playing up a storm, and then two teams of Brylcreem warriors going at it hell for leather for 60 minutes.
Back then people didn’t travel outside their native counties very often – going to Croke Park was a major event to be planned for weeks ahead.

            In pre-TV innocence people gathered in kitchens to socialize or went to ballrooms to dance; the parish priest was more important than any politician, and there was a respect for authority that would only begin to crumble a decade later.

            Art Foley was a hero in that world – a name that was spoken of with awe. Christy Ring even complimented him immediately after his game winning save. Imagine that happening today?

            Almost 60 years later it was hard to take your eyes off the soft-spoken Enniscorthy man in the Manhattan Club – still vital and self-possessed in his mid-80s. The keeper who had saved the certain goal and restored a county’s sense of itself, in typical modest fashion accepted the various awards on behalf of his teammates, almost all of whom had passed away.

            Long may you hurl, Art! It was great to see you there in the midst of your loving family. I hope you realize that you’ll never be forgotten back on the banks of the Slaney.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Nick Drake - Timeless and Hourless


A friend first pointed it out to me in the late 1970’s – an appreciation that appeared on the back page of the Village Voice every November.  Nothing fancy – just a plain “Nick Drake 1948-1974, thank you for the music.”

Back then very few people had even heard his name.  I had - through listening to John Peel play his incandescent songs on BBC Radio.  Still, I only possessed one of his albums, the debut, Five Leaves Left.  It’s funny, I can remember the cover so well – green bordered with a picture of a willowy young man looking out from an attic window.

I had to be in a certain mood to play it – besides there were times when you just wouldn’t want Nick in the room – especially if you thought someone with you wouldn’t appreciate him.  If it was someone you were romantically involved with – you especially thought twice about it - supposing they didn’t like Nick, then what?  One of them had to go and I well knew which one.  I can summon up that mood and a lot of other old feelings by just thinking of that album cover and the songs within.

Nick Drake’s music was enigmatic – deep and churning but deceptively calm on the surface.  It never seems to date, perhaps, because he captured a mood, rather than a time and place.

His other two albums, Bryter Layter and Pink Moon are no less enthralling.  They too evoke the same mood.  He died in 1974 – a failure, in his own eyes at any rate.  He is now best known in the US for a Volkswagen ad but you can hear his influence on a multitude of artists.  Many of them are attracted to his essence – none grasp it.  

All three of his albums sold less than 5000 copies in his lifetime.  But obviously each person who bought one treasured it and the mood it identified; then passed on the word.  Incredibly, his three albums keep getting better with time.

The memorial in the Voice eventually stopped.  Did the admirer die, move on, move out of New York?  I watched the back page of the Voice for a couple of years and then I too moved on.  Just another New York oddity that I rarely give thought to, until Sunday mornings on Celtic Crush when I play Nick. 

It never seemed like morning music to me back in the day – I rarely listened to it before midnight.  But Nick Drake’s songs have become timeless and hourless – much like the man himself.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Four countries - a similar sense of unease?


             I spent time in four countries in little over a week recently and recognized a sense of unease about the future in all.

            Much of this stemmed from a fear that people are no longer in control of their destinies – that outside forces have far too much power over their lives.

            With US elections looming both Republicans and Democrats are focusing on their respective fields of candidates and while both parties share concern for a sluggish economic recovery, there is also a nagging feeling that the spirit of the country has been sapped and will never be rejuvenated.

            Republicans often see the cause as illegal immigration and a weak president, while Democrats fault income equality and the influence of “big money” on the electoral process.

            There is little doubt that the presidential election of 2016 will be the most rancorous in modern times. Indeed, all one can hope is that the boil will be lanced and things will return to normal – whatever that is.

            Since Liberal, Justin Trudeau, defeated incumbent Conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper, Canada has much cause for optimism.

And yet around Toronto many people I spoke to fretted that something ineffable had been lost – a native courtliness and collegiality. Mr. Harper’s TV attack ads, in particular, were straight out of Lee Atwater’s book, all about tearing down opponents rather than offering any coherent plans, or even hopes, for the future.

With candidates chosen the Republic of Ireland is already on general election battle footing. Unemployment is down and the economy has some of the highest growth rates in Europe. Dublin has regained some of its characteristic zest but the “recovery” is at best regional. In Wexford the talk is all about local owned businesses on the verge of closing with only multi-national concerns flourishing.

The pervasive feeling is that few lessons were learned from the property and financial crash, and that things will never be the same again.

With Sinn Fein having peaked in the opinion polls, it seems that the austerity minded Fine Gael led government may be returned to power – but without its coalition partner, The Labour Party. Could that mean a Fine Gael/Fianna Fail national coalition? At the least the Civil War split would finally be settled.

Despite much social welfare concerns, I found considerable optimism and hope in the state of Northern Ireland. Belfast is definitely buzzing. The downtown bars and restaurants were full and it was hard to reconcile the upbeat mood with the despair and violence of previous decades.

Although the government staggers from one crisis to the next, yet there is little doubt that power sharing has well and truly taken root.

The peace walls still divide the communities but I sensed impatience with old ways and prejudices, particularly amongst the young. There is a yearning to engage with the outside world and a desire to measure the country against its neighbors.

My greatest cause for optimism came in visits to two solidly Loyalist areas. On Shankill Road, our guide Robert Campbell, a former combatant, talked of reconciliation and his hopes that his Republican counterparts will someday come to respect his traditions.

Sporting his poppy emblem he looked forward to visiting Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin to commemorate the many Southern Irish who had lost their lives in the First World War while serving in the ranks of the British Army.

On a visit to the new East Side Visitors Center on Newtownards Road, with Union Jacks and the Red Hands of Ulster billowing in the surrounding streets, we were greeted by Wendy Langham.

This remarkable woman is helping oversee the establishment of the Connswater Community Greenway, a green belt that will run for miles through some of the most disadvantaged areas of the city.
 
Al Bodkin escorted us on the Van Morrison Trail. He identified a myriad of local sights referenced in Van’s songs. One felt like a pilgrim standing in front of Morrison’s first modest home on Hyndford Street or strolling down leafy Cyprus Avenue immortalized on the Astral Weeks album.

There’s a long way to go but the Van song on everyone’s lips was Bright Side of the Road. Maybe we can all learn from East Belfast now that The Healing Has Begun.