Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Who are these guys - Butch & The Kid?


Who are these guys? This is not a flashback to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. No I’m talking about President Trump and the Republican Party?

Now I’m a man of the Left, as you might have gathered, but I’ve always felt a little more secure knowing that if my tribe happened to overspend, as has happened, then my brethren on the Right will be there bewailing rising deficits, crippling interest payments, and other fiscal calamities.

Being somewhat of a Keynesian in matters economic, I believe that during times of high unemployment, deflation, or catastrophe, it behooves the government to invest in infrastructure, thereby putting people back to work and giving the economy a jumpstart.

Generally speaking this economic “goosing” tends to work, though it can take time and much verbal lashing from the Right. 

And sometimes the Right is right! In a rush to pump money into the economy, there is often waste and overspending.

That’s why the recent about-turn by the Republican Party is so troubling. The GOP abandoned its loathing of deficits, along with its fear of “crippling future generations with debt,” and all at the behest of the two mighty “M’s” – Mnuchin and Mulvaney.

These two gentlemen are currently advising us that if we cut taxes for corporations these institutions will be so grateful they will spread their already massive largesse among the rest of us.

Not only that but there will be a surge of economic growth, the like of which we haven’t seen since the invention of the wheelbarrow; in fact, we’ll all be riding the gravy train like Mr. Mnuchin and his one-percent colleague, Gary Cohn, chief economic adviser to President Trump, who is reputed to have declared, “only morons pay the estate tax.”

Well he did work at Goldman Sachs so he should know. Or should he? Tinkering with stocks and bonds hardly qualifies you to expand a rapidly changing service and high tech economy that already boasts a minimal 4.1% unemployment rate.

However, such experience will help in managing debt, and there’ll be plenty of that. These Goldman Sachs alumni can share their expertise with our president, aka “the King of Debt” who also has intimate knowledge of the nation’s bankruptcy laws.

As for the bould Mick Mulvaney – he used to be one our foremost budget hawks. During the Obama administration he preached undying frugality and fiscal restaint. During the Great Recession he fought tooth and nail against federal infrastructure and research spending, as it would add to the national debt of $10trillion. Hey Mick, guess what. That debt is now well over 20trill.

Fiscal probity how are you! Let’s risk it all on one big throw of the dice. Add a trillion and a half more in tax cuts, and growth will pay for it. But let’s add a national novena to St. Jude for interest rates to remain flat. Could be hard servicing all these trillions in debt if rates rise – as they eventually will.

Hey, I like a little flutter at the track now and again, but I’m always careful to have bus, train, or even taxi fare home. If the Mnuchin-Mulvaney gamble fails, I’ll be hitching to Manhattan from Belmont.

By the way, has anyone reminded these whiz kids that corporate profits have been sky high for years, and corporate coffers are full of cash both here and abroad, yet wages continue to barely keep up with inflation? 

Does anyone really believe that increased corporate gain will trickle down to America’s workers? When was the last time you got a meaningful raise? 

And so we wait, certain of only one thing – the Big Man on Pennsylvania Avenue needs a legislative victory before the balls fall off the Christmas tree. Talk about government by Santa Claus!

But where will the Big Man be when the deficit balloons in the coming years?

Not to worry, he’ll blame it on Hillary Clinton, when he’s not engaged in trading insults with the other hair maven, Kim Jong-un. 

Or maybe, just maybe, some Republican Senators and Congressmen will come to their conservative senses and start worrying about exploding deficits again. 

Ah well, there’s always Santa Claus.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Irish American Writers & Artists


Irish American Writers and Artists was formed back in 2008 when it was suggested that Irish Americans would not vote for an African-American candidate.

Well, we not only voted for Barack Obama, we helped elect him, thus laying to rest another demographic shibboleth.

IAW&A is a proudly progressive organization, but non-political in that we accept members from across the political spectrum; although those of us of a conservative ilk tend to be more in the Edmund Burke tradition rather than that of our current president.

Broadly speaking, our brief is to highlight, energize and support Irish Americans working in the arts, and to provide a safe platform for others who might wish to read, perform, or show their work.

To that end we sponsor two salons monthly in New York City but our aspirations were always national; in the last month we have held salons in Santa Fe, NM, Hartford, CT, and at the Electric Picnic Festival in Ireland.

So, if you have a poem, song, novel, play, dance, film, painting, and wish to show it off, then you should abandon your lonely garret for an evening, and mingle among your peers. 

Annual membership costs less than a buck a week, or five pints and a decent tip should you measure life in more liquid metrics.

Of a reticent or retiring nature, then you may slip into the back row of a salon, lurk in the shadows, and audit the goings on – admission is free. 

You might end up discussing politics or the price of turnips with Malachy McCourt or one of the other notables who frequent such occasions. 

Whatever, you’ll get a feel for what’s going on, and perhaps toss your hat in the artistic ring on your next venture into the mystic. 

Irish American Writers & Artists is a non-profit outfit – board members and officials do not get paid. I can attest to that. I’ve been president for some years and have yet to make a cent – red or otherwise.

Any monies raised go to promoting salons, funding various artistic endeavors, and supporting good causes here and overseas.

Speaking of money! We host one major fundraiser a year when the Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award is given to an artist who has created a distinguished body of work.

Past awardees have included William Kennedy, Brian Dennehy, Charlotte Moore and Ciarán O’Reilly of the Irish Rep, Judy Collins, John Patrick Shanley, Pete Hamill, Patrician Harty, and the aforementioned scourge of recalcitrant reactionaries, Mr. McCourt.

Phil Donahue will receive the 2017 award at a festive evening on Monday, October 16, 2017 at the Manhattan Club, upstairs at Rosie O’Grady’s.

Born in Cleveland, Phil graduated from Notre Dame University and worked his way up through local radio and television, interviewing the like of John F. Kennedy and Malcolm X before creating the innovative The Phil Donahue Show.

Instead of the usual wasteland fare, Donahue focused on topics dividing American liberals and conservatives in his record-breaking show’s run of 29 years.

One could herald his achievements until the cows come home; but perhaps his greatest moment was his dismissal in Feb. 2003 as host of Donahue on MSNBC for his opposition to the imminent invasion of Iraq.

It was a courageous move at a time when patriotism was measured in jingoistic support for one of the greatest disasters in US foreign policy. Unfortunately, Phil Donahue was proved right. How different would US history have been if more people of influence had taken this Irishman’s courageous stand!

Join us on Oct. 16th.  The O’Neill event is one of the highlights of the social season when everyone can rub shoulders with the mighty or the low – and there’ll be plenty of both in attendance.

Remember - the goal of Irish American Writers and Artists is to give the carpenter in Queens a shot at becoming the next O’Casey, or the homemaker from Brooklyn an opportunity to emulate Sinead, or Frank, O’Connor.

And for those of you who just want a good night on the town, the O’Neill is your man! And what else would you be doing on a Monday night in October anyway?

Afterhours Delight


Recently I wrote a column bemoaning the loss of the mighty Blarney Stone chain of bars in New York City.

Ah, but if the Blarney Stone was the legal main course of an evening, what about that other disappearing New York institution, the illegal afterhours?

I’m not talking about saloons the like of the late lamented Durty Nelly’s up on Kingsbridge where the door would be “locked” at 4am, but shenanigans would continue until long after the first fighting cock had crowed.

No, I have more in mind an establishment that opened for business around 2am and hit its stride from 4am to noon or thereabouts. These “holes in the wall” tended to be located below Manhattan’s 14th Street, although “Rose’s” - up around 145th and Lennox Avenue - was a particular favorite of mine. 

Rose herself, a rail-thin African-American lady of indeterminate age, was one of the most gracious hostesses in America, but a formidable woman if crossed. Enough said!

The Anglo-Irish in New York knew a thing or two about such places. Dave Heenan, once lead singer with Dublin’s The Arrows Showband, ran the UK Club on 13th Street with great flair; while his friend, Blackpool Jimmy, ran a similar institution nearby.

My favorite was the Kiwi on 9th Street off Avenue A – though somewhat on the sketchy side it boasted a clique of extremely vivid characters. The only time I saw it empty was during the blackout of 1977 when the patrons were otherwise occupied in the fine art of looting. 

I gained membership of the Kiwi through my landlord who sponsored me when I complained about the lack of heat in our building. The temperature did not improve that bitter winter but my social life was immeasurably enhanced.

‘Twas in the Kiwi I fell in love with a beautiful Latina dancer who never gave me the time of day – or night. But she was the inspiration for a good Black 47 song – Blood Wedding – that’s popular to this day. 

I had to change my heroine’s name as two of my fellow carousers were also smitten, one of whom did not suffer rivals easily – much to the other’s misfortune.

The bartender was a stunning six feet tall cross-dresser by name of Carlita who towered above all in her heels. She lit up every social occasion and turned heads, literally and figuratively, wherever she went. 

One rambunctious evening a heavyset biker offered a churlish remark about her gender, whereupon in one fell swoop she removed her stiletto and struck him between the eyes with the business end of her heel.

The blood spurted forth and Mr. Harley-Davidson let out a scream akin to a stuck pig. He then began to sob and demanded of all and sundry what he was supposed to tell his mother when he got home.

Lest these early morning oases seem too much like the Wild West, I have to say that I had some of the most scintillating conversation therein – although for the life of me I can recall few of them. 

Occasionally, however, a sentence or two will spring to mind and I’ll feel momentarily uplifted.

A rare democracy and code of manners reigned. Should you be allowed inside one of these hallowed places, it was de rigueur that you speak to - but not bore – your neighbors. On one occasion, I merrily clinked glasses with Debby Harry in a 2nd floor joint on University Avenue as a crimson dawn broke over The Village.

I also had an amazing conversation with Lou Reed at a mob-controlled hideaway on Mercer St. This poet of the city said something startling to me then that, alas, I can never repeat. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

Lou was often to be seen in these shadowy establishments in his drinking days. I guess looking back, afterhours were places for people who just did not want the night to end.

There was camaraderie to be had; you entered alone and effortlessly melted into a crowd of people who like yourself had no desire to go home.

And when you eventually departed the day was well underway, and there was always the next night to look forward to.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

A Night Out With Labor


The Irish Echo Labor Awards is always one of the best nights of the year. 

Let it not be said that union members don’t know how to have a good time, for The Edison Ballroom was throbbing on a recent Friday night, much as it used to when David Bowie and Elvis Costello rocked the joint back in the 90’s. 

However, if we were all there to celebrate the achievement of the current leaders and awardees of the Irish-American Labor movement, we were never less than aware of the men and women who made it all possible; for it was a rare speech where James Connolly and Big Jim Larkin were not saluted or quoted.

How these two names still resound today! Both were children of the Diaspora born to abject poverty in Edinburgh and Liverpool; each spent time in New York City.

Connolly organized for the Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies) until he returned to Ireland and was defeated in successive major strikes and lockouts in Belfast, Wexford, and Dublin. Despairing of meaningful change he led his Irish Citizen Army in the 1916 Insurrection and was executed for his troubles.

Larkin got stranded here during the First World War and ended up in Sing Sing on a charge of “criminal anarchy.” But he never stopped exhorting workers that, “The great appear great because we are on our knees. Let us rise!”

The spirit of these two legendary revolutionaries electrified not only the Edison but speakers like Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan and Christine O’Connor. And when Terry O’Sullivan, President of LiUNA, and John Samuelson, President of the Transport Workers Union took to the stage they brought the assembly to its feet.

Unfortunately, these are not great days for unions. Membership continues to dwindle and the “bosses” have definitely won the propaganda war. How many times have you heard it trumpeted that unions wrecked this or that industry with excessive demands – and nary a voice raised in protest?

Yet unions helped tame the exploitative heart of this country by demanding decent wages and working conditions for the  of immigrants, including the Irish; in so doing they laid the foundation for a civilized society and a vibant middle class.

Alas, as union influence has waned, so too has the size and vitality of the middle class. And there’s a lot worse in store as the “gig economy” takes root.

Can you imagine what Connolly and Larkin would have thought of this new scam? Hard as it is dealing with an employer – try arguing with an APP!  You have to hand it to these dot.com bosses, they really have their game down!

But it’s not just them - inflation-adjusted compensation for most workers has barely increased over the last 40 years. Still, the boot was really put in during the “great recession” of 2007. 

Even though the “recovery” began in 2009, the psychological impact of the brutal layoffs is still being felt. Think about it – when was the last time you asked for a raise?

Corporate profits, on the other hand, have been rising at a steady rate since 2000 and are near an all time high. 
 
With unemployment touching 4.3%, one would imagine that wages would be skyrocketing, but after nine years of near stagnation the corporate credo is still – “live horse ‘til you get grass.”

Little wonder, considering that only 11% of American workers now belong to a union. Compare that to the 35% of the 1950’s – a time of steadily rising prosperity for all. 

Then again the startling news that 43% of members of union households voted for Donald Trump last November gives one pause. Despite copious lip service, this president has never been a friend of unions or workers.

Unions obviously have a lot of work to do getting their own house in order. But we should wish them well. They provide a bulwark against a diminishing middle class, and they can once again offer a ladder into it, as Mike Quill and other 20th Century Diaspora union leaders did.

Connolly and Larkin fought mighty battles in their day. O’Sullivan, Samuelson, and the many inspiring union leaders at the Edison Hotel have a war ahead of them. But they have history, statistics – and right – on their side.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Van and Rory - Linked by Glory


They were like two local knights who ventured out from safe havens and inadvertently conquered the world.

One from Belfast, the other from Cork - both womblike and claustrophobic cities - how wrenching it must have been to break free!

One is truculent, as befits his embattled East Side Belfast, the other remained the quiet, mannerly boy from the banks of the Lee. Regardless Van Morrison and Rory Gallagher were driven loners who did it in their inimitable way.

Belfast and Cork were very different places in the 1950’s when these two aspiring musicians hit the streets. 

Van’s father introduced him to the R&B music that would shape his life. Rory, on the other hand, was a knob twirler who hunted down exotic music in the white noise hiss of old tube driven, cloth-covered wirelesses.

That’s how he found AFN (American Forces Network) and one night was rocked back on his heels to hear Blues courtesy of Muddy Waters on an electric Fender. Small wonder that Rory would become one of the world’s great Stratocaster players.

Oddly enough both got their professional starts in that much maligned Irish institution – the showband - Van began with The Monarchs, Rory debuted with The Fontana.

Showbands could be soul-killers – you copied whatever was current in the Top Twenty – a set of three swingers, followed by three smooches ad infinitum.

But showbands provided three invaluable foundation stones:  stamina, for you played four to six hours every gig. You also learned to wing it in every key because of demanding brass sections. And most importantly, you got paid!

After my first showband gig back in Wexford I was still tingling from the sheer exhilaration of playing a four-hour set. I would gladly have swept the filthy stage in gratitude. Instead the gaffer handed me a pound note and a bottle of Harp, and with that I became “a professional.”

Van had an advantage – though from a Belfast backwater he was raised as a son of the British Empire with all the accompanying illusions of superiority. 

Rory came of age in the land of de Valera where inferiority was baked into your DNA. But the Corkman had a dream, kept his head down, and knocked a hole in the wall big enough for many of us to sneak through.

“Business associates” ripped off both of them. Van made pennies from his early hits including the massive selling “Gloria.” Due to various legal hassles, Rory actually lost money playing with Taste, his highly successful trio.

Neither cared in the least for the trappings of superstardom. To this day Van has an acrimonious relationship with the media and his adoring fans. 

Rory, the nice guy, submitted to interviews but took little pleasure talking about himself. But get him going on Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson or Muddy Waters, and his face would glow with awe and delight.

The one thing they really shared was a vision for their work, and an endless search for innovation that might lead them closer to perfection. 

Though friends, they never jammed. On their only arranged recording date for Van’s Wavelength sessions, “The Man” didn’t show. Rory shrugged it off but even years later it irked the hell out of him.

Their various romantic relationships could be intense and dizzying, but in the end readily discarded, for ultimately the work was all that mattered.

Van is alive and raring to go with his 37th album, Roll with the Punches. Rory departed way too soon – all we have left are the memories of those blazing, sweat-soaked, Strat-man nights when he’d stretch out multiple extended encores rather than go home to four lonely pulsing walls.

Perhaps he sums up both their lives. "I've toured too much for my own good. It hasn't left time for very much else, unfortunately. You don't develop any family life or anything like that and it makes all your relationships very difficult. 

There's always a certain percentage missing from your life. As a human being, you only have so much to give, not just in terms of your physical body but in how you deal with people.”

We’re the lucky ones. We gained so much from our two local knights who while battling with their demons lit up our lives with their visions.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

The Priest and the Fireman


            Anyone knocking around Manhattan in those days knew people who perished, but for me it all comes back to the priest and the fireman.

            Even sixteen years later I can look offstage and imagine where each would be – Father Michael Judge standing by the bar, impeccably coiffed, surrounded by friends; and Richie Muldowney NYFD, darting around the room bantering with all and sundry, crooked smile lighting up the joint.

            Though both frozen in time they summon up the city as it used to be. For New York changed ineffably on 9/11when the spirits of so many unique people departed. They’ve been replaced, of course, great cities do that, but it’s not quite the same, is it?

            I often thought of Mychal as a mirror, he was so empathetic he seemed to reflect your own hopes and fears. I never knew anyone who helped so many people; he was always concerned, forever providing a shoulder. 

I guess he came to see Black 47 to let off a little steam. I’m not even sure he liked our music – his own taste ran towards the more conventional – but the rhythms, juxtapositions and overall message fascinated him and, anyway, he liked to be in the thick of the action. 

            Richie was hard-core Black 47. He knew all the words, the players, the other fans. He delighted to show up unexpectedly at out-of-town gigs; the moment you saw him you knew it would be a good night. To think such an irrepressible spark was extinguished so early.

            I remember jaywalking across Times Square the first September Saturday the band returned to Connolly’s. The “crossroads of the world” was so deserted in those immediate post-9/11 nights it felt like a scene from a cowboy movie where sagebrush is blowing down the street.

            But cops, firemen, emergency workers, the mad, the innocent and those who just couldn’t stay at home needed somewhere to go – to let the pressure off – and that was the band’s function. 

Those first gigs were searing. You couldn’t be certain who was missing, who had survived, who was on vacation, who just needed a break from it all. When a familiar face walked through the door the relief was palpable, someone else had made it. 

The atmosphere – though on the surface subdued - was charged with an underlying manic energy, a need to commemorate, celebrate, to show that life was going on. That would be some small revenge on the bastards who had caused all the heartbreak.

And yet, what an opportunity was missed in those first weeks. That smoldering pit down on Rector Street had galvanized the country. We were all so united; we would have done anything asked of us.

Republican, Democrat, Independent, we all came together as Americans. We would have reduced our dependence on foreign oil, rejuvenated poor neighborhoods, taught classes in disadvantaged schools. You name it - nothing would have been too big, too small either.

But no sacrifice was asked, much less demanded. Instead, 9/11 was used by cheap politicians to get re-elected; patriotism was swept aside by an unrelenting xenophobic nationalism that brooked no dissent. The US was converted into a fortress and the lights were dimmed in the once shining city on the hill. Worst of all, our leaders sought to use the tragedy as an excuse to invade Iraq.

Look at us now, dysfunctional, walled off from each other and the rest of the world. That began when the national will for a positive response was squandered in the aftermath of 9/11.

Though he was finally hunted down, sometimes it seems as though Osama Bin Laden won, for we’ve become a fearful, partisan people, unsure of ourselves, uncertain of our future.

But then I think of Mychal and Richie, their smiles beam across the years and I know that the current national malaise is just a patina that covers the soul of the country – it can be wiped away. It’s not permanent. We have greatness in us yet. 

That’s the hard-earned lesson of 9/11 and will always be the message of the priest and the fireman.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Tower Records and the Analog Rain


Feeling stressed, overworked, not enough hours in the day, can’t seem to catch up? Welcome to the modern world!

When was the last time you read a book, went for a walk, gloried in a sunset, or bet on two flies inching up a wall?

On the other hand when did you last delete an email, reply to a text, flip through your Instagram, or check your online bank balance?

It’s a strange new relentless world we’ve tumbled into. I only became aware of its all-encompassing nature upon discovering an old phone-message book that lay abandoned in all its triplicate glory. 

I used to keep it by my landline but it had been banished to an overstuffed drawer; it was like a glimpse back into a less stressed life. The last entry was September 21st, 2003. And then nothing – just acres of blank pages!

I was startled by how legible my handwriting was. Now it often takes me minutes to decipher the words of a new song that I might have scribbled on a bar coaster or the back of an envelope. 

I used to carry a notebook for such jottings. I thought of searching for it, but I hadn’t checked my emails in over an hour.

It was then I remembered a particular night I returned to my apartment to find the light of my answering machine blinking. When I pressed “play” my mother spoke to me from across five time zones. 

She didn’t call often and there was nothing sensational in her news, just a meandering day-to-day account of my family’s doings back in Wexford. 

But oh, the casualness of that message, the “couldn’t care less as rain” nature of it!

If she was still alive she’d probably be texting or Facebooking me. She’d be far less unhurried though for even retired mothers nowadays are bombarded by communication in this age of anxious expectancy.

And then I remembered a long ago night at The Bottom Line when, I saw a guy called Tom Waits open for someone. No one paid him much attention – he seemed like some bum off the Bowery imitating Satchmo.

I happened to be standing by the public phone when he shuffled out after his set to make a call. He was short a couple of quarters and asked if I could help out. That was about all I had to my name after downing some Heinekens so I surrendered the coins somewhat reluctantly. 

When she finally picked up I heard him say, “Hi honey… I miss you badly.” There was a yearning to those simple words that I can still recall. I could tell he hadn’t heard her voice in a while.

He’d be bent over a glaring iPhone today in some 24/7 text dialogue, and “honey” would have to fish for his exquisite longing amongst the cold letters of her own digital screen.

If our damned devices would only knock us out at night we could dream about those we love; instead we sleep fitfully and drift through anxious days slipping ineffably further away from a time when we more valued face-to-face communication, awkward though that often was.

It was raining as I walked home past Tower Records on Broadway. I thought of going in and checking up on this Tom Waits – did he have an album out? Had he made an impression yet on the LP cowboys who patrolled the record racks, and knew everyone who was anyone before they even knew themselves.

But the rain felt good on my face and, anyway, I was missing my own “honey” far away. Things hadn’t been going well between us. Maybe there’d be a blinking light awaiting me on my answering machine.

I knew that was unlikely so I cursed Tom Waits for I had a burning urge to speak to her. If I’d only kept a quarter I could have called her collect from the phone booth on Second Avenue.

Would a modern cell phone have made any difference back then? I doubt it; all of the Apps in the digital universe can’t help when someone else’s mind is made up. And so I strolled on through the analog rain and walked right out of her life.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Tramore and the Feast of the Assumption


How many children could fit in the back seat of a battered, blue Morris Minor? Five of us, though it seemed we had enough writhing knees and sharp elbows to suggest a dozen.

Who cared? It was August 15th and we were on our way to Tramore in the County Waterford to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption.

We had gone to early mass, my mother packed sandwiches and flasks of hot tea, my grandfather sat stiff-backed behind the steering wheel, and with a roar we shuddered out of sleepy Wexford.

We were not on some pilgrimage, however - far from it - we were hotfooting it to the Mecca of secular excitement in the Sunny South East.

Tramore, as its Gaelic name "Trá Mór" implies, may have had a gigantic strand but it also boasted a veritable Disneyland of swings, rings, carousels, bumpers, and sundry other amusements.

My grandfather, a taciturn widower, even seemed to perk up as we crawled through Waterford City and got in line behind the other culchie cars on our odyssey to wonderland.

Dowdy Waterford had assumed a Vegas-like sheen since the local Royal Showband catapulted into Irish superstardom. Everyone was familiar with Brendan Bowyer, the “Irish Elvis,” who could shake a leg and rattle a tonsil as soulfully as the King himself. 

And hadn’t The Royal got their start playing in Tramore’s Atlantic and Silver Slipper ballrooms. Oh, the glamour of it all!

By the time we caught sight of the rolling waves Tramore’s fabled beach was already packed with countrymen in their dark suits, starched white shirts, and rolled-up trousers.

The ladies’ hair was tall and teased as Dusty Springfield’s, and their bright summer dresses swirled around naked sunburned legs in the devilish South wind.

The Blessed Virgin Mary may have ascended into heaven on Aug. 15th but in Tramore Lugh, the Celtic god of light and plenty ruled that rollicking seaside town.  

Teddyboys in drainpipe trousers, pink shirts and multi-colored jackets, cruised the proceedings seeking fights with red-faced chaps who’d bicycled in from the country.

But a spirit of randy frivolity prevailed; this was not a time for aggression or repression – either secular or religious. The smell of Brylcreem and Woolworths perfume melded in the breezy Atlantic sun, and sparks of freedom ricocheted all around that brazen gathering.

Old Ireland had come out for the day in the form of itinerant cardsharps, tricksters, contortionists, and the choice of fabled musicians. I saw Maggie Barry there one year, Pecker Dunne another – the last voices of an ancient, if fading, tradition.

They faced a fierce challenge from Bowyer and early Beatles singles blasting from a myriad of tinny speakers. New and old co-existed uneasily but there was little doubt that the times were indeed a changin’ as a nasal young American voice kept on insisting.

My grandfather watched over us in a very unfussy manner; even in our delirium we respected that and stayed within his sight. And yet I sensed his unease. Though he smiled reassuringly he longed for his wife and was wary of this new world that everywhere was swamping the old.

And then a flash of violence – a Teddyboy and a big rawboned country chap went at it, fists striking bone with a sickening thud, sweat and blood flying, until separated by the ebullient crowd. 

At the same moment Maggie Barry’s banjo and George Harrison’s guitar locked horns before waltzing off together in joyful, pagan counterpoint.

The world was changing. Kennedy had been assassinated, rumblings were being heard up North, people were no longer content with sparks of freedom – they desired a cleansing flame.

The shadows were lengthening; it was time to go home. One last tear-around on the bumpers, one last bottle of orange, and if there was enough change from a ten shilling note, some bars of Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut for the road.

After we cleared Waterford City, my grandfather began the Rosary. Some of us were already asleep in the back seat. 

A seasoned altar boy, I recited those sorrowful mysteries by heart, but my soul was a million miles away floating along on that mystical lick from George Harrison’s weeping guitar and Brendan Bowyer’s velvety voice.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Radio Dreams


I’ve always loved radio. I can still recall the old cloth-covered Siemens that my grandfather set up next to my bed back in Wexford. The tubes glowed in the dark and cast a ghostly blue light on the fading wallpaper as voices and music drifted in from all over Europe.

I got over television and its force-fed images round about the time I figured that the wondrous equine, Mr. Ed, wasn’t really talking. 

Radio, on the other hand, was transformative. Hearing Like a Rolling Stone and Bob Dylan’s taunting defiance changed my life.

Likewise Van Morrison’s depiction of Madam George conjured an erotic aura of Presbyterian Belfast that we in the South had never imagined.

It wasn’t just music - each of the Soviet bloc countries broadcast English hours on state radio. Propaganda it might have been still it definitely broadened adolescent horizons.

But the real prize was AFN (American Forces Network). On clear nights this station beamed laser-like from West Germany to Wexford and all of a sudden you’d have James Browne, Otis Redding, Gene Vincent, and Eddie Cochran proclaiming the real truth about what it meant to be alive.

And so it was like a dream come true to get my own three-hour radio show on SiriusXM Satellite Radio twelve years ago.

As with many good things in life it came out of the blue. I was up at Sirius doing an interview with Meg Griffin for a newly released Black 47 CD when one of the executives overheard my accent. Turned out they needed such a blas to host a Celtic show!

Nor was anyone exactly sure what a Celtic show might be – including me. But one was needed for the following weekend, so into the studio I went - with Meg to teach me the technical side.

Sirius had around 100 vaguely themed “Celtic songs” in their vaults and I initially brought roughly the same from my own collection. At first I stuck to the music from the 8 Celtic nations: Ireland, Scotland, Wales, The Isle of Man, The Dutchy of Cornwall, Brittany in France, and Galicia and Asturias in Spain. 

Meg suggested I follow the old FM Radio strategy of a set containing three songs followed by a chat about the music, the musicians, or the price of turnips should nothing else spring to mind.

Unbeknownst to me Sirius had been banging the gong about this new Celtic experiment so I had an audience from the git-go - and a fairly informed one at that - from all over the US and Canada.

One of the few Sirius stipulations was that your show be not parochial or too New Yawk based – North America is a big bloody place, they reasoned, and since the introduction of the SiriusXM App the world is your oyster.

SiriusXM (the two satellite channels merged 9 years ago) is personality driven and you’re encouraged to air your views. Hardly a problem, since it would be difficult to ignore the historical and political roots of Celtic music.

Besides there’s a great hunger for heritage and a visceral need to connect with the past – something I learned on my trips around the continent with Black 47.

In an increasing age of disconnection and banal perfection, there’s also a growing taste for a human voice that improvises, riffs, and even falls flat on its face. 

The show is about the song rather than the singer. Perhaps that’s self-preservation for with Howard Stern down the hall and 150 other channels competing for the 32 million subscribers you’d better have interesting and compelling content. 

But it’s more than that, most radio is so programmed nowadays, it’s important that the unknown with a dream back in one of the 8 Celtic nations, or adrift in the Diaspora, has the same shot as U2, Christy Moore, The Dropkick Murphys or other stars in the Celtic firmament.

Yeah, it’s a long way from a cloth covered old Siemens wireless back in Wexford to the 36th Floor SiriusXM studios in Midtown Manhattan but what a thrill to be a weaver of my own radio dreams!

Celtic Crush can be heard on The Loft, Channel 30, SiriusXM Satellite Radio Sundays 9amET, Tuesdays 9pmET, Wednesday MidnightET or On Demand.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Ireland and Irish-America


Ireland and Irish-America are drifting apart. The links between the two countries remain strong but the dearth of Irish immigrants is finally taking its toll.

I began to notice the change in the late-90’s around Irish saloons in Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Detroit, and other cities in the greater Mid-West. But I attributed it to the return home of so many Irish during the Celtic Tiger Years.

One could say the change really began with the Hart-Celler Act of 1965. This ended a long-standing quota system based on national origin that favored Irish immigration. One side effect of this act was that during the watershed 1960’s, with the lack of new blood arriving, values and attitudes calcified.

When I first played at dance-pubs like Durty Nelly’s and The Archway in The Bronx in the mid-70’s, I often felt like I was stepping back in time. 

I was with Turner & Kirwan of Wexford then – a progressive duo who specialized in long, complicated musical pieces. We quickly had to revert to sets of three fast songs and then three smooches in order to retain the gigs and keep the patrons happy.

The ladies, for the most part, wore dresses and heels, the gentlemen suits. The only difference between a Kingsbridge Road saloon and a 1950’s Irish ballroom was that everyone got blasted and danced until near dawn.

The 80’s quickly changed this state of affairs. Mass unemployment in the Republic and violence in the North led to a surge in illegal immigration. Bainbridge, Woodside, Bay Ridge, and other Irish enclaves around the country thrummed to the beat of the “New Irish” who transformed Irish-America in that rollicking decade.

Those Northern Irish immigrants who had come of age in “the struggle” radicalized Irish-America in the years between the Hunger Strikes and the Peace Process. 

In fact it could be argued that many Irish-Americans knew far more about what was going on in the Falls Road or South Armagh than most residents of the Republic.

A somewhat blind eye was turned towards the undocumented Irish back then. Stay out of trouble and you had little to fear; it didn’t hurt that many in the law-enforcement community were of Irish descent.

All changed after 9/11. Fortress America clanged shut with a vengeance and there’s little likelihood of the doors opening anytime soon.

Ireland, however, was changing too. The ongoing scandal of pedophilia destroyed the power of the Catholic Church, while a booming economy opened minds as well as wallets. Ireland truly became a European country and a young person was as likely to move to Berlin as The Bronx.

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was one of the breaking points. While approval ratings for this disaster were in the 70% range in the US, Irish disapproval numbers were roughly the same.

Why go to a country where you were unwelcome and forced to bite your tongue before making a political statement? Better instead emigrate to more liberal Australia, Canada, or mainland Europe.

Socially, the gulf continues to grow. Ireland has just elected a gay man of Indian descent as Taoiseach; such an event is unlikely to happen here in the near future.

Nonetheless Native Irish and Irish-Americans still share many bedrock values. But as someone who has visited every major Irish-American community with Black 47, the divide seems to be widening rather than diminishing.

Who knows if President Trump will be re-elected in 2020 or even survive until then? But he has unleashed some serious Nativist and Know-Nothing forces that don’t bode well for Irish immigration, legal or otherwise.

Meanwhile most young native Irish never even cast a thought about moving to The Bronx, Beverly, Tipperary Hill or the hundreds of other once bustling Irish-American centers. They have Sydney, Toronto, Paris and Berlin on their minds.

What a waste! And how shortsighted that we’re driving away a well educated and dynamic demographic that once naturally gravitated to the US.

In a fractured political environment, it’s time to put pressure on politicians from both parties to come together and introduce new legislation that would encourage young Irish people to come here once again and help revivify the connection between the “old country” and Irish-America. 

Monday, 10 July 2017

A Hymn to Blarney Stones


Does anyone miss the old Blarney Stones? They were all over Manhattan when I first hit New York in the 1970’s.

I don’t mean the Blarney Stone chain in particular – the last one of which is still swinging down on Trinity Place. No, I’m talking about that generic type of bare-boned working class saloon – a long bar on the left, a food counter on the right, and some rickety tables and chairs down the back.

What you saw was what you got, and even a seldom-flush musician could afford the prices.

For those of you never lucky enough to stray within, a Blarney Stone posted its prices above the bar. Thus, while awaiting the attention of the barman, it was possible to estimate just how serious a hangover you could afford.

There were certain unspoken rules and strategies to be observed: although I often departed those establishments penniless and without notion of where the next buck was coming from, I always left a tip of $2 from the ten or twenty-spot I had entered with. 

This had little to do with decorum - more about being remembered as a man of substance despite the fact that I was a bearded, hair-down-to-my-shoulder “damned hippy from Wexford” – as I once heard myself described.

One of the perils of a Blarney Stone - the longer you stayed, the more enticing the aroma that wafted from the food counter.

You could enter after a full breakfast, lunch or dinner, but eventually the corn beef simmering behind your back would work its wonders.

Then you were faced with a quandary. With your capital quickly diminishing you had to decide on either a final beer and a shot, or go for broke, order a plateful of food, and bet that the bartender would recognize your dilemma and throw you a couple of drinks on the house.

This was a whole different New York City than the current tourist trap we inhabit. Buybacks were de rigueur after every second or – God forbid – third drink and could dependably be factored into the economics of a night’s drinking.

I never heard of a Blarney Stone where this nicety was not observed. In fact, one could often count on a drink for the ditch, along with one for the road, on your unsteady exit.

You did not take a date for men preferred to keep their own company in this class of establishment. It wasn’t that wholesale swearing or spitting on the floor were rampant, far from it. Indeed, use of the “F word” was frowned upon and the spittoon had long since vanished from the saloons of New York.

None of this mattered much since no lady worth her mascara would have wished to be wined and dined in a Blarney Stone. Let’s just say that the likelihood of a second date would have been slim to none.

Oddly enough, in his courting days I occasionally encountered David Byrne, leader of Talking Heads, in Glancy’s of 14th Street. But he at least had the good taste to park his date down at the back tables. 

Then again, David is somewhat of a social anthropologist and probably found Blarney Stones exotic.

Ah, Glancys, what a joint! I always presumed it had once been called Clancy’s but one didn’t delve into such matters. An establishment was entitled to its secrets.

It stood almost opposite the Academy of Music - later called The Palladium. This theatre hosted at least two packed rock concerts a week, before and after which Glancy’s would be packed to the gills with music connoisseurs from Woodlawn, Bay Ridge, the wilds of Jersey and Long Island, and god knows where else. The talk of fabled shows and musicians ricocheted around the bare walls as shots were downed and acquaintanceships renewed.

Alas, all gone now. Zeckendorf Towers swallowed up Glancy’s and NYU obliterated our temple of rock ‘n roll.

The days of the Blarney Stones are over - aye and their comradely nights too. To the many owners, bartenders, and patrons still vertical, I raise a glass and a simple toast: thanks for the memories - and the buybacks!

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Russian Roulette


Elections have consequences! Think how different the world would have been if George W Bush had lost that presidential squeaker in 2000. No invasion of Iraq – no lost American lives and treasure, and a Middle East in much less turmoil.

As for the 2016 election, it’s hard to fathom President Trump’s reluctance to deal with the ongoing crisis of climate change. The man owns – or leases – much waterfront property including some of County Clare’s finest. 

Has he never waded the streets of Miami in his wellies during a high tide? Of course, maybe he’s invested in Pocono real estate and is already marketing it as oceanfront.

You have to grant the man one thing – he has not only changed the country but the conversation.

Can you imagine President Bush, “W” or “H,” allowing the Russians to unleash a cyber-attack against the US without an appropriate response? And I’m not talking about some adolescent assault on Facebook, Putin’s hackers were going after the US electoral process - with the likely intention of hindering the Clinton campaign?

Now it can be argued that the Kremlin would sooner deal with a president who ran beauty queen contests than a boring policy wonk like Mrs. Clinton; still and all Vladimir Putin is an ex-KGB thug and cares little for Democrats or Republicans.

Don’t get me wrong. Russians are a generous people. While touring there you couldn't admire a picture on an apartment wall – the owner would simply unhook it and present it to you with a large glass of vodka.

Putin and his hackers, though, are a whole different kettle of fish.   

Yonkers Jim Comey, erstwhile FBI Director, says it best: "The reason this is such a big deal is that we have a big, messy, wonderful country where we fight with each other all the time, but nobody tells us what to think, what to fight about, what to vote for except for other Americans… But we're talking about a foreign government that, using technical intrusion and lots of other methods, tried to shape the way we think, we vote, we act."

What Mr. Comey doesn’t understand is that this country is now so full of hatred that many would sooner the Russians mess up our whole electoral system rather than live under President Hillary Clinton. 

Just as there are those who would prefer the Dalai Lama became dictator rather than respect the fairly elected 45th president.

What’s become of us that we’re not up in arms over a foreign government interfering with our democratic system? Have we become so accustomed to partisan discord that we can accept this heavy-fisted intrusion?

While our president remains silent, the Senate is threatening new sanctions against Russia; a more meaningful action might be to expose the hidden financial assets of Putin and his cronies.

This would be of great aid to the Russian democratic opposition that has been trying to draw attention to the widespread corruption under Mr. Putin’s rule.

Of course if President Trump was to toss in his own tax returns for inspection our own swamp would be drained a little. Vladimir could then fly over for a weekend at Mar-a-Lago, the boys could settle any differences with a little arm wrestling, and we’d all be as happy as Ukrainians and Syrians.

President Trump has much to offer in foreign affairs. In one fell swoop he has swept aside the perennial knee-jerk US/Russian rivalry dating back to the rupturing of the successful alliance that won the Second World War.

But ground rules must be established. Keep out of our election process and we’ll keep out of yours!

President Trump might want to take note that the Republican Party has had an anti-Russian bias for over 70 years. Thus, it would not be surprising if some ambitious young bucks within the party are already weighing an insurgent run in 2020, a la Reagan against Ford in 1976 over detente.

Keep an eye on Senators Sasse and Lankford, both smart, conservative, and from states so ruby red they are unlikely to lose their seats should they misread the wind in 2020. 

But hey, there’s always 2024 and you'll never go wrong in this country betting against the Russians.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

News and Views from my local


President Trump should be catnip for a columnist with an interest in politics. Problem is – I write for a weekly and with the current administration you risk being old news a long time before The Echo hits the stands on a Wednesday morning.

So, one is resigned to writing about Trumpian trends, feelings, prejudices - anything that steers clear of hard news or predictions. 

With presidents Obama and Bush what you saw is what you got - apart from turning grey they basically didn’t change much.

One could spend a column wondering if President Trump will ever turn grey, but such speculations are better left to the National Enquirer; the Irish Echo has bigger fish to fry.

Still and all, I predict that anyone above the level of janitor in the Trump administration has by now “lawyered up.”  

Oh, how I love that term! It makes me feel like Jimmy Breslin when I casually murmur it across the bar of my local. Though I may not wear a trench coat, or speak with a Queens accent, the clientele pricks up its ears and definitely looks at me in a different light.

Lest you think I do my drinking in some trendy liberal environment, I’ll have you know that my local has been serving booze since 1847 and all manner of views are bandied about therein by civil servants, construction workers, yuppies, feminists, old punks, and the general detritus and riff-raff of Lower Manhattan.

One opinion offered recently by a retired postal worker is that the 45th president has begun to remind him of Homer Simpson. While this caused initial gales of laughter, the discussion that followed was deep and insightful.

I have to say that I was a little upset at first, as Homer is one of my favorite TV characters. However, the retired postal worker – a Trump voter – made some cogent points until finally silenced by a grizzled punk I’d once seen fall off the stage in CBGB’s. 

“No way!” He snarled a la Johnny Rotten. “Trump don’t imbibe, Homer downs Duff Beer!”

Whereupon, an inebriated Goldman Sachs employee bet $100 that Duff Beer was really Miller Light in disguise since Homer never seemed to gain weight. 

With much dark mutterings about “him and his $100 bill” and vows to drain our local swamp we passed on to graver concerns - such as who would be the first member of the Trump administration to go up the river.

The smart money appeared to be on Lt. General Mike Flynn. 

Speculation then broke out as to why so many Irish names are dominating the political news? Comey from Yonkers, Pence from Tubbercurry, Kelly-Anne from Looney Tunes, not to mention Paul Ryan whose budgetary projections are so out to lunch, a New York City detective opined, “That guy couldn’t balance his check book.” 

The waitress took a dim view of the remark made on Ms. Conway’s origins, and the guilty chauvinist blushed – his long hoped for chance of a date finally crushed. 

But really, what was President Trump thinking? Flynn was already in trouble for taking money from Turkey, he had retweeted the suspicion that Mrs. Clinton was a child sex trafficker; and even more damning, President Obama had already pink-slipped him and warned the president-elect to keep his distance.

A bitter Rangers supporter, still wearing the same vintage shirt on his two-week-bender, suggested, “Flynn got the gig ‘cause he’d heard something about Trump in Russia. The whole Garden was talkin’ about it!”

The retired postal worker countered that the president’s only mistake was leaving New York for the swamps of DC where a man couldn’t tell his posterior from his elbow.

“To make matters worse,” the grizzled Punk snarled, “With all the fake-news flyin’ around, we’ll never know the truth?”

“Truth is relative,” the NYC Detective groaned as his wife, a Serbian Melania lookalike swept in, and we hastily changed the subject.

Still, my money is on Mike Flynn to throw light on the whole Russian imbroglio – he just doesn’t look like the type who’ll go quietly into that dark night. 

I just hope his people didn’t come from Wexford! It would put a fierce dent in the celebrations when we win this year’s All-Ireland Hurling Final! 

Fake news, how are you!

Monday, 29 May 2017

Memorial Day Weekend


For twenty years I knew exactly where I was going to be on Memorial Day Weekend.  This was highly unusual for Black 47 – though our schedule was always full, it was rarely predictable.

Still the six musicians and two technicians of the band had much need of stamina for we usually spent Friday and Saturday among the green hills of East Durham, while Sunday and Monday took us to the deep Southside of Chicago.

Old dogs for the hard road we departed New York City early Friday for two reasons – to miss traffic and secure the best musicians’ rooms in The Blackthorne Resort.

 I always enjoyed the drive up the Thruway, for these would be our last easeful hours until Tuesday.

Once we were given our room keys by the ever welcoming Rita, I’d begin my rounds.  Hellos to Bob Handel and his two sons, Dale and Roy, then I’d make my most important call – into the kitchen for a visit to the late, lamented Ginger, Bob’s wife. 

With one warm appraising glance she could tell me exactly how the last year had treated me better than any doctor, wife or mother. 

For that matter, it was not unusual to find various members of the hardboiled Black 47 crew in deep conversation with her around the kitchen table at all hours of day and night.

The large bar/dancehall of The Blackthorn would be full on Friday night. Our job was to keep that audience totally engaged for the cream of Irish bands would be playing in the many other excellent resorts. 

As we only played original music this called for maintaining a sustained sense of drama – easier than you might think since we never played the same set twice. If we didn’t know what was coming next – then how could the expectant revelers?

I always spent Saturday afternoon trekking around the local back roads, inevitably visiting the ruins of an overgrown cottage flanked by a stone wall that could have been transported direct from the Aran Islands. Had the original inhabitants moved west or cut their losses and returned home?

Such musings vanished at 9pm when we’d take the stage at the East Durham Irish Festival. As headliner you’re expected to draw crowds from NYC to Albany – not just for vanity but for admission receipts, and to provide customers for the many vendors, the lifeblood of any festival.

We were now in the thick of the weekend – strutting our stuff on the big stage. However, there would be barely time for pictures, autographs, hugs and kisses before we’d again hit the packed Blackthorne for an in-your-face audience more akin to CBGB’s in the 70’s than the gently rolling Catskills. 

I loved those second gigs. New songs, new energy, all thought gone, back to basics, the reason you got into Rock & Roll in the first place.

But we would already be in a rush against time for our flight to Chicago would leave at 8am from LaGuardia. Our tech crew would go into high gear. Pack the van, round us up, get on the Thruway, speed down to our West Side storage, load off amps, drums, and out to the airport, bleary-eyed, but full of cranky attitude.

If possible then, pass out on the plane, hopefully get picked up at Midway and be whisked off to the Holiday Inn; but sleep was dangerous, better retain last night’s intensity, for by the time we hit Gaelic Park that evening, what seemed like the whole South Side of Chicago would be expecting the show of their lives.

And what a sight - a moshing, propulsive crowd, teetering on the edge of alcoholic anarchy hurling themselves over the barricades beyond eager to join us onstage.

No sleep yet though for the party would be raging back at the Holiday Inn with fans from all over the Mid-West who had traveled far to greet us. What did we talk about? Who knows – who cares!  It’s all a blur now. One year bleeding into an abandoned other! 

And yet, a happy Memorial Day Weekend to my many friends in the green hills of East Durham and in the concrete fields of South Side Chicago, I haven’t forgotten you. You’re still the best!

Monday, 15 May 2017

Surgical Strike Shopping


I have a confession to make. I’m a reluctant shopper. I know this is very unpatriotic since 70% of US GDP comes from us spending money on ourselves or each other. My reluctance has nothing to do with cheapness, I hasten to add, for I vigorously compensate in various saloons and hostelries around the country.

Christmas is a time of trial for me. I begin to get nervous around Thanksgiving and the first onslaught of carols. But I have the perfect antidote for the following month-long orgy of consumerism. I become a surgical-strike shopper!

However, I do procrastinate until Christmas Eve, and this has led to panic-filled moments of elbowing one’s way through crowded stores, while imploring surly employees to descend into basements to locate a particular size or color.

All changed, utterly changed. Last December 24th such was the paucity of shoppers I could have demanded that I be carried like a pasha through the deserted racks; and talk about the smiles I received, surliness is indeed a thing of the past in retail. Not to mention that everything had been marked down 20-40%.

I was home within hours - gifts wrapped and hidden under the bed - confident that I had aided President Obama boost his paltry 2% annual growth, soon to be measured against President-Elect Trump’s promised gargantuan 4%. 

Unfortunately, two of the three stores I visited on Christmas Eve have closed, while the staff looked particularly glum in the empty third the last time I sauntered by.

Nor is this retail cataclysm limited to my neck of the woods. Malls are in trouble everywhere, American Apparel is closing down, JC Penney and the mighty Sears are scaling back and may not survive the full frontal assault of online shopping. 

There is no doubt that many jobs in warehousing and transportation have been created by the mighty Amazon and other online retailers. But what happens to cities if you take away the great downtown flagship stores? 

Will they be replaced by mom and pop stores, as one might hope? No way, Jose! If the big chains cannot do battle with online retailers, who can?

Amazon is finally turning a profit. Hurray, but Twitter, Uber and so many other online behemoths are not. The common online formula seems to be – drive competitors out of business by slashing prices, survive on Wall Street investment, and eventually take the company public and make a killing. 

Spotify’s annual revenue crests 2 billion dollars and yet it still has not turned a dime in profit. But it has obliterated the livelihood of a generation of musicians and destroyed their entrepreneurial dream of someday making back the money they’ve invested in recording an album. That dream still exists for the vaunted .001% of megastars; but for your meat and potatoes musician – fuggedaboutit!

It’s the same disturbing trend that we see in life in general – the world belongs to the super-rich, with an ever-dwindling share of profits accruing to everyone else!

Candidate Trump used to trumpet a cruel world where $25 per hour miners and manufacturing employees were being swindled of their jobs by crafty foreign governments, elite liberals, and criminal Mexicans. These dispossessed workers were being forced to downgrade to service jobs in the $8-12 per hour range. 

However, what happens if many of these service jobs are also disappearing. And don’t tell me that warehouse workers won’t soon be replaced by robots that don’t even need a lunch break, let alone a couple of hours of anxious sleep.

If there’s a solution it will come in the form of education and skill attainment. After all, someone’s going to have to oil the bloody robots and keep them from rusting.

Education costs money, however, and such expenditure is hardly on the books in President Trump’s New Deal. Ah yes, we’re back to good old-time voodoo economics – cut taxes for corporations and the wealthy and eventually the bucks will trickle down to the rest of us peons. 

Oh dear, I’m already fretting about Christmas. Excuse me while I click on Amazon – I’m sure they’ve already got some good December deals on tap. No more surgical strike shopping for me!

Friday, 28 April 2017

Dev - The Boy From Bruree


In a recent interview I was asked why I didn’t include Éamon de Valera in my play, Rebel In The Soul, now running at The Irish Rep.

I had to pause a moment before not owning up to the truthful answer – I don’t care much for this most preeminent of Irish politicians. 

Truth be told, though, Dev was far too canny to ever get mired in a fight between church and state as happened to Dr. Noel Browne. He instinctively knew that battling the Catholic Church in the Ireland of 1951 was akin to “dancing jigs on quicksand.”

Even his enemies were in awe of Éamon de Valera, for he stood apart, cultivated an air of aloofness, and had no trouble sticking a knife between a rival’s ribs. This consummate Irish politician was born in New York City.

His mother sent him back to Bruree, County Limerick at the age of two, soon after the death of his father, a Spanish music teacher. His grandmother, Elizabeth Coll, raised young Éamon in a laborer’s cottage. Too poor to afford a bicycle he walked seven miles to and from the Christian Brothers School at Charleville before winning a scholarship to Blackrock College.

Blackrock would have a huge influence on the Boy from Bruree. He taught mathematics there and later in life befriended a president of the college, Dr. John Charles McQuaid with whom he would craft the Irish Constitution of 1937. 

He became a national figure when he was one of the last leaders left standing after the 1916 Uprising - spared execution because of his American birth.

The first great question mark about de Valera arose when he refused to attend the treaty negotiations in London in 1921. Many feel that he sent Michael Collins in his place to reap the blame, for he knew that gaining a united Ireland was impossible.

Dev’s reputation has suffered as Collins’ star has ascended. For good reason - Ireland would have been a far different place if the charismatic, outgoing Collins had lived to lead the country.

It’s hard to argue that de Valera’s conservative vision did not stifle the country socially and economically thereby contributing to the ongoing curse of emigration. However, he did keep Ireland neutral and out of World War II; and yet one of the great strikes against him is that he officially offered condolences to the German minister in Dublin on the suicide of Adolf Hitler.

Whatever way you weigh it, the Boy from Bruree is a play unto himself – though Machiavellian and judgmental, he had a burning love for Ireland, its language, customs, and people. But was this love perverted by his overweening ego and sheer sense of entitlement?

If he doesn’t play an actual part in Rebel in the Soul, he is the elephant in the room that influences the other three characters.

Sean MacBride may have outgrown his position as de Valera’s secretary but he never lost his awe of the man. And in 1948 when MacBride’s star was rising as leader of the nascent Clann na Poblachta party, Dev called a surprise election knowing that he might lose but that his former secretary had not as yet developed the organization to win. My guess is he also figured that MacBride would not thrive in a coalition with the conservative Fine Gael party - “men I had been shooting at 25 years ago.”

Soon after his expulsion from Clann na Poblachta, Dr. Browne joined the Fianna Fail party. De Valera had little time for iconoclastic reformers, however, and showed him the door some years later.

Perhaps, John Charles McQuaid suffered the cruelest fate for he and Dev were close friends. Yet the Limerick man stymied McQuaid’s ambition of becoming Cardinal by putting in a word with the Vatican on behalf of the more mild-mannered, and easily managed, Archbishop D'Alton of Armagh.

For when push came to shove Éamon de Valera brooked no competition – a fact that each of the three major characters in Rebel in the Soul eventually had to come to terms with.

His star may be on the wane but it would be the height of folly to ever ignore the towering, tireless Boy from Bruree.