by John Kearns
Photos by Cat Dwyer
On Friday, April 19, 2013, with the support and organization of the Irish Consul General in New York, Irish American Writers and Artists (IAW&A) hit the road for our first “away” Salon at the hospitable, friendly, and impressive Gaelic American Club (GAC) in Fairfield, CT. Connecticut musicians, writers, poets, playwrights, and actors shared their work and the stage with a group of regular Salon presenters from New York City.
It took the two cars nearly two hours to reach the GAC from Midtown East and from the Upper West Side, but we arrived on time. (A tip for anyone driving to Connecticut on a Friday evening: bring Malachy McCourt with you to provide stories and impromptu singing. You won’t mind traffic jams nor need a radio.)
Peggy O’Leary had planned to be my co-host for the evening but was unable to make it because of a family emergency. However, her play, ‘Tis Worth Remembering (An Irish-Amercan Christmas Story) was read, as planned, by Alison Flannery and Byrne White.
Breda O’Sullivan bravely took up the co-hosting duties, limping to the podium two days after an operation on her leg.
In her opening welcome, Breda O’Sullivan quoted from writer, broadcaster, BBC host and Booker-Prize Judge, Frank Delaney:
We Irish prefer embroideries to plain cloth. To us Irish, memory is a canvas, stretched, primed, and ready for painting on. We love the “story” in “history,” and we love it trimmed out with color and drama, ribbons and bows. Listen to our tunes, observe a Celtic scroll: we always decorate with our essence.
Co-Host John Kearns
Speaking for the artists who had made the trek from Manhattan, I quoted Yeats’s poem, “To a Young Beauty” to express our appreciation for the Irish Consulate and the GAC for organizing this rare reward for our work: “I know what wages beauty gives/How hard a life her servant lives…”
I was asked to say a few words about Irish American Writers and Artists and the Salon. I described some of our charitable endeavors for Haiti, Mexico, and Breezy Point and read from our Mission Statement. Emphasizing that we are an arts organization, that we are non-sectarian and non-religious, and that we honor living Irish-American artists through our annual Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award and deceased artists through our online Irish American Hall of Fame, I offered that although the Irish have a long history in America, what we are doing with the IAW&A feels very new.
This brought forth a noticeable reaction from the NYC contingent.
I related the history of the Salon and how it has grown and prospered over the nearly two years since its birth. I invited the audience of 140-strong to join us and urged them to join us.
Breda O’Sullivan started off the evening’s entertainment by introducing musician, Damien Connolly.
Damien Connolly began composing tunes when he was 15 years old. Most of his compositions however, were created after his arrival in America. The first tune he played on the B/C button accordion was a waltz he calls “Tell Me Now.” The waltz itself is very simple but strangely unique. The tune, which is at once sentimental yet lighthearted, reminds Damien of the friendships he enjoyed while living in Ireland. For the second tune, Damien called his wife Sally to join him on wooden flute. The tune–“Sally Gally“–is in fact named after his wife because of its upbeat and happy rhythm. Damien is in the process of recording a CD featuring his recordings, due out sometime this summer.
Since we had started out with music, I read a poem about Irish and African music crossing the Atlantic, “Transmigration of Soul,” published in the North American Reviewlast spring before introducing Seamus Scanlon.
Seamus Scanlon was delighted to hear so many Irish accents and spoke briefly in Irish before reading “The Long Wet Grass” and “On Her Birthday” from his crime fiction collection As Close As You’ll Ever Be. (“A Masterpiece.” – Peter A. Quinn!)
Breda welcomed Seamus O’Cuinn to the stage.
Seamus O’Cuinn read seven poems focusing on Irish American and Irish themes from his two books, Grandpa Was No Saint and A View from the Heart.
Irish Books and Media described his poetry as, “A wonderfully human collection of poems which pay homage to the author’s Celtic heritage, both in the old world and new, celebrating places and people who came before him and those who came after him. There are poems touched by wry humor and others holding gentle insight.” Ireland of the Welcomes Magazine wrote, “..one man’s gentle view of life and love, and love and death, between Ireland and America.”
I introduced IAW&A board member and winner of last year’s Crossroads Irish Festival Prize for Fiction, Kathleen Donohoe. Kathleen read from her novel, You Were Forever, which is about the women of a Brooklyn, New York family of firefighters.
I followed Kathleen’s reading with my poem, “Aboard the Aran Seabird: Leaving Inishmore,” published in Feile-Festa and introduced Tom Mahon.
Tom Mahon presented a mult-media piece from a larger work called The Wide Valley. It recounted a young boy’s innocent search for the deadly flu virus on his father’s farm in 1918. Already his baby sister had died from it, and his school was shut because his teacher and four students were being ill, including his best friend Lester Hitchcock, who he learned had died the night before.
After Tom’s presentation, we took an “Irish ten-minute” break ….
Full house at the Gaelic American Club
To start the second half, Marie Reilly spoke about the music of Longford/Leitrim and presented some tunes from her newly released CD – The Anvil. The Anvil is a collection rarely heard musical gems dating from the early 1800s with a unique style of fiddle playing through eight generations. The CD is a dedication to Marie’s late father, Michael Reilly.
Marie was accompanied on guitar by Con O’Halloran. Con performed a song he co-wrote with his friend, Bobby Mulvaney. He and Bobby had been working together around the early nineties, and had worked very hard from June until December 1994. They decided to go into Dublin’s city centre for a few pints and a bite to eat. It was a cold, wet and windy night, and having left the pub, they walked along Grafton St. . and in a store doorway there was a large pile of garbage/trash/cardboard. And just as they passed, a small person’s head appeared and he asked us, “Hey, mister, any odds?”…..meaning he needed some money for a hot meal. They asked him why he was hiding under the garbage and he replied that this was his bed for the night.. The two musicians felt sorry for him, gave him some “odds”, and that’s how “Sleeping Rough” came to be .
Con is really looking forward to attending more Salons in the near future. “They are very interesting for all who attend , and one will leave with pleasurable thoughts for the experience!”
Noel McGovern read from his book, When I Was Young and Foolish, a sad tale of four sisters. The oldest was refused entry to America at Ellis Island because of poor eyesight and was sent back home to Ireland where they all learned to live with rejection. They grew old together in the shadow of a rugged mountain and toiled in the meadows of an unforgiving bog and an old school house on the side of a lonely windswept hill.
Deputy Consul General of Ireland Peter Ryan came to the mic and praised both the GAC and the IAWA, underscoring how important it is to keep Irish culture alive and for artists to make connections with one another. He asked the audience to indicate that they would like to see more IAW&A Salons at the GAC by shouting in Irish, “Sea!” It was unanimous: the GAC would like us to come back!
Alison Flannery, actress, read two scenes from Peggy S. O’Leary’s Irish-American Christmas play, ‘Tis Worth Remembering with Byrne White. The first scene depicted Christmas in Ireland in 1962 as a couple struggles to come to terms with emigration. Alison originated the role of Mary, the wife in the first production. The second scene took place with the couple’s children reflecting on the move and its outcome fifty years later during Christmas in the United States. The play was produced by the Clan Na Gael Payers in November 2012 in Fairfield.
The setting, on a split stage, is a farm kitchen in 1962 Ireland and a living room in America in 2012. All action takes place on Christmas Eve and flows between the two settings. The story, of one families emigration, struggles, adjustments and success, unfolds in memory flashbacks and life lived in the moment. A cast of twenty four ages 5 to 75. Some music.
Byrne White said, “This has been my first Salon experience. And from the perspective of an actor and and Irish American, I can’t say which broadened my experience more, the opportunity to present in a different way to a different kind of audience, or the unspoken kinship I felt to be among such a deeply talented and varied range of artists. My thanks to the IAW&A and to the Deputy Council General of Ireland’s office for this unique opportunity.”
I read one more poem “Better This Way,” about seeing a beautiful woman telling a story in a bar but not being able to hear what she’s saying. Then I invited Kevin Holohan to the podium.
Kevin Holohan read a comic extract from his satirical novel The Brothers’ Lot, gleefully skewering the Brothers of Godly Coercion on their annual recruitment drive for vocations: illustrating the Brothers’ delusions of grandeur, their low estimation of the boys and their career prospects and the boys’ deployment of willful obtuseness and exasperation as weapons of resistance and obstruction.
Malachy McCourt read a hilarious tale from his book, A Monk Swimming, about a restaurant with a very strict policy about checking coats. When the bartender insisted that Malachy check his coat before he could have a drink, Malachy went out to his car, removed the clothes he had worn under the coat, returned to the restaurant, and happily allowed the coat check woman to take his coat.
He concluded the evening, as is Salon tradition, by getting the audience to join him in siging, “Wild Mountain Thyme.” It was 11 o’clock at this point and the ballroom was still full. Over 140 voices joined in singing, not just the chorus, but the entire song.
As the song concluded, the entire crowd gave Malachy a standing ovation.
Go raibh mile maith agaibh to everyone involved!
More fun at Fairfield’s Gaelic American Club:
Damien Connolly and his wife, Sally
Peter Ryan, Jude, Malachy McCourt
Seamus Scanlon, Two Fairfield Friends, Tom Mahon, Kathleen Donohoe, Kevin Holohan, Malachy McCourt, Marie Reilly, John Kearns, Cat Dwyer
Daisy Kearns is in this one. But, where’s Seamus?