2016 saw the passing of numerous Irish and Irish American luminaries, from the first female elected representative of Cook County in Illinois to 60s activists and renowned actors and musicians. Below we remember the lives of some of the most important figures in Irish and Irish American life.
Editor’s Note: The first obituary we publish here was not published in Irish America, but is reprinted here because at the end of this year it went viral for its candid humor about an Irish American man from Quincy, Massachusetts. Chris Connors died in early December, and the following remembrance, written by his daughter Caitlin and hosted on Legacy.com, is reprinted here in full.
Irishman Dies from Stubbornness, Whiskey
Chris Connors died, at age 67, after trying to box his bikini-clad hospice nurse just moments earlier. Ladies man, game slayer, and outlaw Connors told his last inappropriate joke on Friday, December 9, 2016, that which cannot be printed here. Anyone else fighting ALS and stage 4 pancreatic cancer would have gone quietly into the night, but Connors was stark naked drinking Veuve in a house full of friends and family as Al Green played from the speakers. The way he died is just like he lived: he wrote his own rules, he fought authority and he paved his own way. And if you said he couldn’t do it, he would make sure he could.
Most people thought he was crazy for swimming in the ocean in January; for being a skinny Irish Golden Gloves boxer from Quincy, Massachusetts; for dressing up as a priest and then proceeding to get into a fight at a Jewish deli. Many gawked at his start of a career on Wall Street without a financial background – but instead with an intelligent, impish smile, love for the spoken word, irreverent sense of humor, and stunning blue eyes that could make anyone fall in love with him.
As much as people knew hanging out with him would end in a night in jail or a killer screwdriver hangover, he was the type of man that people would drive 16 hours at the drop of a dime to come see. He lived 1000 years in the 67 calendar years we had with him because he attacked life; he grabbed it by the lapels, kissed it, and swung it back onto the dance floor. At the age of 26 he planned to circumnavigate the world – instead, he ended up spending 40 hours on a life raft off the coast of Panama. In 1974, he founded the Quincy Rugby Club. In his thirties, he sustained a knife wound after saving a woman from being mugged in New York City. He didn’t slow down: at age 64, he climbed to the base camp of Mount Everest. Throughout his life, he was an accomplished hunter and birth control device tester (with some failures, notably Caitlin Connors, 33; Chris Connors, 11; and Liam Connors, 8).
He was a rare combination of someone who had a love of life and a firm understanding of what was important – the simplicity of living a life with those you love. Although he threw some of the most memorable parties during the greater half of a century, he would trade it all for a night in front of the fire with his family in Maine. His acute awareness of the importance of a life lived with the ones you love over any material possession was only handicapped by his territorial attachment to the remote control of his Sonos music.
Chris enjoyed cross dressing, a well-made fire, and mashed potatoes with lots of butter. His regrets were few, but include eating a rotisserie hot dog from an unmemorable convenience store in the summer of 1986.
Of all the people he touched, both willing and unwilling, his most proud achievement in life was marrying his wife Emily Ayer Connors who supported him in all his glory during his heyday, and lovingly supported him physically during their last days together.
Absolut vodka and Simply Orange companies are devastated by the loss of Connors. A “Celebration of Life” will be held during Happy Hour (4 p.m.) at York Harbor Inn on Monday, December 19.
In lieu of flowers, please pay open bar tab or donate to Connors’ water safety fund at www.thechrisconnorsfund.com.
– Originally published in Seacoastonline.com from Dec. 13 to Dec. 16, 2016
1933 – 2015
On February 2, 1955, the man who would become one of Samuel Beckett’s greatest protegés, got into a car in Los Angeles with a loaded gun. Rick Cluchey robbed and accidentally shot the driver, was caught, and subsequently sentenced to life in San Quentin Prison without the possibility of parole. It was through this violent episode that he was to find his calling in theater, especially as an interpreter, director, and actor for the works of Samuel Beckett.
When the San Francisco Actors Workshop performed Waiting for Godot at San Quentin in November 1957, Cluchey was not allowed out of his cell. He was a skilled boxer, violent, and seen as an escape threat. But he heard Godot through the public address system, and it inspired in him and his prisonmates a redemptive and creative streak that would ultimately secure his release from prison.
Cluchey became a leading member in a theater troupe comprised of San Quentin inmates which focused heavily on Beckett’s work. Cluchey eventually authored his own play, The Cage, which played a role in helping Cluchey leave prison on parole. It was also due to this play that he met his second wife, Barbara Bladen, who reviewed a prison performance of the play for The San Mateo Times. Their love story became the basis for the film Weeds, starring Nick Nolte.
Out of prison, Cluchey formed a theater company, Barbwire Theater, which was comprised of other ex-cons. He continued to be recognized as a great talent – even by his ultimate inspiration, Beckett, whom Cluchey met in the 1970s. The two developed a collaborative friendship that saw Cluchey work as assistant director to Beckett and act in many performances, including Krapp’s Last Tape and Endgame, some of which Beckett himself directed.
Born as Douglas Charles Cluchey on Dec. 5, 1933, Cluchey married three times. He died on Dec. 28 and is survived by his four children and his wife, Nora Masterson.
– R. Bryan Willits
1927 – 2015
Irish fiction writer Aidan Higgins died December 27th, 2015 at the age of 88. Despite being relatively unknown to American audiences, his work was critically lauded and poet Derek Mahon referred to him as “the missing link between high modernism and the present.”
Higgins was born in Celbridge, Co. Kildare on March 3, 1927 and attended Clongowes Wood College (immortalized by the school’s most famous alumnus, James Joyce, in his semi-autobiographical bildungsroman, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). After school, he worked as a copywriter for a Dublin advertising agency before moving to London and later traveling throughout Europe and Africa.
In 1960, Samuel Beckett recommended Higgins’ first collection of short stories, Felo de Se, to John Calder, his London publisher. Langrishe, Go Down, Higgins’s 1966 novel, details the lives of four spinster sisters living in a decaying Big House, and was lauded by the Irish Times as “the best Irish novel since At Swim-Two-Birds and the novels of Beckett.” The novel won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and was adapted for television with a screenplay by acclaimed English playwright Harold Pinter.
In 1981, he helped found Aosdána, an Irish artists’ association supported by the Arts Council of Ireland.
Higgins made his home in Kinsale, Co. Cork, where he settled in 1986 with writer and journalist Alannah Hopkin. The two married in 1997. In addition to his wife, Higgins is survived by three children and several grandchildren.
– Julia Brodsky
Christy O’Connor Jr.
1948 – 2016
Legendary golfer Christy O’Connor, Jr. died unexpectedly in his sleep early January while acationing in the Canary Islands. He was 67.
O’Connor boasted a long career on the course with 17 professional wins. He also competed twice in the famed Ryder Cup, and it was his 1989 Ryder Cup performance at The Belfry that earned him the accolades of colleagues and commentators alike when he managed a commanding shot on the 18th hole from 235 yards, landing the ball just four feet from the flag. Just before the shot, he was encouraged by his teammate, Tony Jacklin, who told O’Connor, “Come on, one more good swing for Ireland.” The subsequent shot sealed O’Connor’s victory over future U.S. Masters champion Fred Couples, ultimately helping the European team retain the cup.
In 2010 O’Connor referred to the shot, famously executed with the ever tetchy two-iron, as “the greatest shot” he ever made and “the most emotional moment” of his professional life.
Born August 19, 1948 in Knocknacarra, County Galway, the young O’Connor remembered a difficult upbringing with school lessons bookended by farm work in the early mornings and often late into the night. He still managed to squeeze in a few holes where he could and become a professional golfer at the age of 19. O’Connor was also the nephew of his namesake, another great Irish golf legend.
Irish President Michael D. Higgins said O’Connor was “an iconic figure in golf” and that he “represented his country and its people on the international stage with distinction, dignity and great humour.” Taoiseach Enda Kenny said O’Connor’s passing “will be a source of great sadness to many Irish people and all golfing fans in Ireland and across Europe.”
O’Connor is survived by his wife Ann, his son Nigel, and daughter Ann. He is predeceased by another son, Darren, for whom O’Connor often prayed. At O’Connor’s funeral, Father Michael Kelly said that he “spoke openly and confidently of his conviction that he would meet Darren again.”
– R. Bryan Willits
- 1919 – 2016
Barney Devlin, the Bellaghy, Co. Derry blacksmith whose workshop Seamus Heaney popularized in verse, passed away in February at the age of 96.
Heaney first wrote about Devlin in 1969’s Door into the Dark, with the poem “The Forge,” whose opening line, “All I know is a door into the dark,” gave the collection its title. Heaney returned to Devlin’s forge at Hillhead in 2006, with “Midnight Anvil,” in the poet’s final collection, District and Circle.
Devlin’s forge became a regular stopping point on the Seamus Heaney tourist trail and remained well-preserved even after the blacksmith’s retirement. Devlin didn’t mind the fame and the stream of tourists: “Taking visitors from across the world through the dark door is like a second pension to me in my old age,” he told the BBC following Heaney’s death in 2013.
Yvonne Watterson, a Derry-born writer and old friend of Devlin’s wrote for the Times, “Barney lived for almost century, with heart and craft and good humour, bringing into his tiny forge thousands of visitors from all over the world. He loved the craic.” She recalls thumbing through the visitors’ book at the forge and seeing a note from Heaney himself that serves, belatedly, as a fitting obituary: “For Barney, old friend and good example of how to do good work and stay true. I’ll maybe write a poem.”
Devlin was laid to rest alongside his late wife, Margaret, and is survived by eight of his children, as well as several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
– Julia Brodsky
Thomas Francis Kelly
1925 – 2016
Tommy Kelly, star of the 1938 film adaptation of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, died in January of congestive heart failure at his home in Greensboro, North Carolina at age 90.
Kelly was born in the Bronx on April 6, 1925 to Michael and Nora Kelly with all four of his grandparents coming from Ireland. By age 12, Kelly had no aspirations of becoming an actor. But on an a fateful day in 1937, was plucked out of his classroom at St. Redmond’s parochial school in the Bronx during a nationwide talent search that eventually gave him the starring role in Tom Sawyer.
Though Tommy maintained an acting career until the 1950s, his life was marked with distinction in many other fields, particularly in education. Tommy earned a bachelor’s in English from Loyola University of Los Angeles (now Loyola Marymount University), a master’s in educational administration from the University of Southern California, and a doctorate in education from Michigan State University. Tommy worked as a teacher and administrator in California, served in the Army in the European theater during WWII, and worked for the Peace Corps in the 1960s. He directed schools in Liberia and Venezuela, and oversaw educational programs for the United States Department of Agriculture.
Tommy is survived by his wife, Susie, whom he married in 1948; four sons, Kevin, Matt, Mark and Paul; two daughters, Eileen and Ann; 12 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
– R. Bryan Willits
1937 – 2016
Michael Kennedy, defender of radicals, outsiders, mobsters, and millionaires, died at the age of 78 in Manhattan due to complications while undergoing cancer treatment. According to his friend and colleague, Michael Dowd, Kennedy was “a man who had his heart and soul invested in Irish freedom.”
Soon after entering the legal profession, Kennedy underwent a radical conversion after being drafted to fight in the Vietnam War and became an avid proponent of marxist-leninist philosophy and took on many cases (usually pro bono) for anti-establishment types.
One of the high points of his career was when he lead the defense of a number of Brooklyn-based IRA gunrunners in 1982. The lawyers who worked on the case thereafter came together every year on the date of the acquittal and even went on a trip to Ireland together. According to Dowd, he was later “delighted with the peace process,” Sinn Féin’s rise to power, and the “end to violence.”
As a defender of radials and outsiders, Kennedy defended notable figures like Huey P. Newton of the Black Panthers; Cesar Chavez and his migrant farm workers’ union; Bernardine Dohrn, a leader of the Weather Underground; American Indian protesters at Wounded Knee; members of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, which claimed LSD and drug icon Timothy Leary as a member; John Gotti Sr., the mob boss, and represented Ivana Trump when she divorced Donald in 1991.
He is survived by a daughter with Eleanora, Anna Safir; and two children from his first marriage, Lisa Kennedy and Scott Hamilton Kennedy, and five grandchildren.
– R. Bryan Willits
Daniel Joseph Berrigan, S.J.
1921 – 2016
Daniel Berrigan, activist Jesuit priest and intellectual, author, and pacifist agitator who served as inspiration for the character Father Corrigan in Colum McCann’s 2009 novel, Let the Great World Spin, died in the Bronx on April 30, age 94.
Daniel was born May 9, 1921 in Virginia, Minnesota, the son of Frieda and Thomas Berrigan, the latter of whom was a second-generation Irish Catholic. The family moved to Syracuse, New York, where Daniel’s lifelong dedication to the Catholic Church brought him into the Jesuit order immediately after high school.
An award winning writer and poet with more than 50 books to his name, Berrigan emerged as one of the leading lights of the Catholic Church’s “New Left” movement in the 1960s. His brand of pacifist protest was one of praxis over passive resistance, and as a leading member of the Catonsville nine, he, his brother Philip (also a priest), and their seven Catholic cohorts used homemade napalm to destroy 378 draft files in the parking lot of the Catonsville, Maryland, draft board which they raided on May 17, 1968.
Berrigan then went on the run, refusing to acquiesce to the three-year prison sentence handed to him by what he saw as an illegitimate authority. He was eventually caught, imprisoned, and released in 1972 – but remained undeterred. Berrigan carried on with a life of Catholic dedication and protest, forming also the anti-nuclear weapon movement, the Plowshare Movement, and later opposed many other American military interventions abroad. “The day after I’m embalmed,” he said in 2001, on his 80th birthday, “that’s when I’ll give it up.”
– R. Bryan Willits
David Ross St. John Beresford
1947 – 2016
Award winning journalist David Beresford, best known for his detailed reportage of the Troubles in the north of Ireland, died in April at his home in Johannesburg, South Africa at the age of 68 after years of battling Parkinson’s disease.
In 1978, David was working for the Guardian when he become a correspondent in Ireland. The Troubles were at that point in full force, and his unique experiences and insights eventually culminated in the 1987 release of his well-known book, Ten Men Dead, which tells the harrowing tale of the 1981 hunger strike of IRA prisoners held in Long Kesh.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams payed tribute to Beresford, calling him “an exceptional journalist” and Ten Men Dead “probably the best book written about that period.”
Born in Johannesburg, the youngest of three sons of St. John, a banker, and his wife, Faith (née Ashby), the family moved to Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe), when David was seven. In the 1970s he moved to Britain, and got his first job as a journalist in the U.K. with the South Wales Echo.
Beresford was named foreign correspondent of the year twice, and along with his renowned coverage of the northern Irish Troubles, he also received acclaim for his coverage of the Apartheid regime in South Africa and for his coverage in 1991 of the American lead Operation Desert Storm.
Paul Webster, former foreign editor of the Guardian David’s long time employer, said, “David Beresford was one of the greatest correspondents of his generation. He was a tenacious and brave reporter, a brilliant investigator, had a fine analytical mind, and was a wonderful, lucid, graphic writer – a rare combination of skills.”
– R. Bryan Willits
1945 – 2016
Acclaimed novelist and New York Times best selling author Pat Conroy, died in Beaufort, South Carolina, after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer.
Pat was born October 26 to parents who served as the inspiration for many of his works. To his mother, he credited his desire to write, but it was from his abusive, discipline obsessed father that he derived the material for his first novel, The Great Santini, an autobiographical work that explores the tumult of living in a family dominated by a pugnacious professional military man and the relationships that develop between abuser and abused.
Pat described his father as a “dreary, somber Irishman,” in a 1995 interview with Irish America. Consequently, “All the things Irish that could be beautiful, came to me twisted,” he recalled. Nevertheless, he had a drive to go to Ireland, to find his relatives, and to “discover what all this is, because I feel it inside me, all the time,” he said.
Editor Nan A. Talese of Doubleday remembers Pat as “a beloved friend and author for 35 years” and said, “He will be cherished as one of America’s favorite and bestselling writers.”
Conroy authored many best-selling works, four of which, including The Great Santini and The Prince of Tides, were made into movies. The latter work brought commercial success and renown for Pat, especially after Barbra Streisand both directed and starred in the film adaptation along with Nick Nolte.
The eldest of seven children, Pat’s early life was peripatetic and violent. He moved with his family from one military base to the next before settling in South Carolina. It was there that he graduated from the Citadel Military Academy in Beaufort, the town where he also spent his final days. He is survived by his third wife, fellow writer Cassandra King, four children, five stepchildren, five siblings, and seven grandchildren.
– R. Bryan Willits
Sister Clare Theresa Crockett
1983 – 2016
Sr. Clare Theresa Crockett, a Catholic nun from Derry who was based at the Colegio Sagrada Familia school in Playa Prieta, Ecuador, was killed while leading others to safety after an earthquake of magnitude 7.8 ravaged the country on April 16.
With a death toll over 600 and hundreds more injured, the Earthquake has been described as “the worst tragedy in 60 years,” by Ecuadorian Defense Minister Ricardo Patiño.
Sr. Clare was teaching children at her school to play the guitar when the earthquake struck, and it is believed that she was leading the children to safety through a stairwell when the four-story building collapsed. Her body was found in the rubble about 36 hours after the quake.
Sr. Clare found her calling after signing up for what she thought was a free vacation to Spain and an excellent chance to party abroad. As it turned out, the trip was actually a pilgrimage. After spending her youth focused on theater, acting, and revelry, it was on that fateful journey that she found her true calling.
It was around that time that she also landed a small part in Paul Greengrass’s Bloody Sunday, a film about the Parachute regiment’s killing of innocent civilians in Derry in 1972.
“Sr. Clare devoted her life to children and young people and died selflessly helping those in need in Ecuador,” Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said.
“It is unbelievable. She has been a missionary for 15 years and been all over the world doing her work.”
Her cousin, Emmet Doyle commented on her passing saying, “She was a superstar. Everybody loved her. She died as she lived, helping others.”
– R. Bryan Willits
1929 – 2016
The human rights activist and U.S. civil rights advocate Patricia Derian, who also served as President Jimmy Carter’s assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs, died in May of Alzheimer’s at her home in North Carolina. She was 86.
During her tenure in the executive branch, Derian used her power to persuade the White House to use foreign aid as a way to curtail human rights abuses in foreign countries, including during Argentina’s “Dirty War,” with the authoritarian President Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, and elsewhere.
“Pat spent hundreds of hours meeting with victims and their families. She became a champion of oppressed people around the world,” President Jimmy Carter said in a statement. “Because of her determination and effective advocacy, countless human rights and democracy activists survived that period, going on to plant the seeds of freedom in Latin America, Asia, and beyond.”
Born Patricia Sue Miriam Murphy in 1929 in Manhattan, Derian was raised in Danville, VA, graduating from nursing school at the University of Virginia before moving to Jackson, MS. There, she entered the Civil Rights movement and organized the Loyalist Democrats, a bi-racial alternative to the whites-only state delegation to national conventions. She served as deputy director for the 1978 Carter-Mondale presidential campaign, and married her second husband, Hodding Carter III, who would be Carter’s assistant secretary of state for public affairs, that same year.
“She spoke truth to power and never stopped. I’m blessed that I was with her,” he told the Boston Globe.
In addition to Carter III, she is survived by three children from her first marriage, four step-children, two grandchildren, and ten step-grandchildren.
– Adam Farley
Anna Marie Duke
1946 – 2016
Academy Award winning actress Anna Marie “Patty” Duke, who first gained notoriety as a teenage star at age 16 for her role as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker, died in March at a hospital near her home in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, from complications of a ruptured intestine.
Duke was born Dec. 14, 1946, and raised in Elmhurst, NY. She had been involved in theater, broadway, cinema, and television for most of her life, and her legacy lives on through those that survive her including her husband and sons Mackenzie and Sean Astin, the latter of whom is known for his roles in Rudy and the Lord of the Rings.
“This morning, our beloved wife, mother, matriarch and the exquisite artist, humanitarian and champion of mental health, Anna Patty Duke, closed her eyes, quieted her pain, and ascended to a beautiful place,” said a statement from the family. “We celebrate the infinite love and compassion she shared through her work and throughout her life.”
Duke also starred in her own sitcom, The Patty Duke Show, in which she played two “identical cousins.” She later starred as Neely O’Hara in the cult classic, Valley of the Dolls. She was also nominated for 10 Emmy awards, of which she won three.
Aside from her acting career, Patty was known for her work on behalf of those who suffered from mental illness. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1982, after which she wrote about her experiences with her condition in her autobiography, published in 1987. She was well-known thereafter for her advocacy of raising awareness for issues related to mental health.
– R. Bryan Willits
John Norman Ide Leslie
1916 – 2016
John Leslie, otherwise known as “Uncle Jack and, more formally, “Captain Sir John Norman Ide Leslie, 4th Baronet,” died in April. He was the eldest son of Sir John Randolph Leslie, 3rd Baronet, and Marjorie Ide. A cousin of Winston Churchill, he became the fourth baronet upon his father’s death in 1971, and was later crowned “the disco king of Ireland” when in his 80s he discovered his love of dance clubs and the music he famously dubbed, “the boom boom music.”
“Words can’t describe our bittersweet joy at the manner of his living and dying,” Mark Leslie, his nephew, said at his funeral. “I’m still basking in the golden glow of his departure.”
Though much of his life was spent in London, traveling the globe, or living in a restored Monastery in Rome, he eventually settled once again in his native Monaghan, taking up residence at his family home Castle Leslie, which was the place where Paul McCartney married Heather Mills, a fact that Uncle Jack famously divulged on live television just before the wedding by blurting, “it’s on Tuesday, but it’s a secret.”
Jack’s life was filled with socializing and populated by lords and ladies, but it was not without hardship either. He fought the Nazis in France, was captured, and remained in a POW camp for years thereafter, for which he would be appointed a chevalier of the National Order of the Legion of Honour, France’s highest medal.
“Jack was such a special person, who was loved by many,” his nephew Mark says. “He never said a bad word about anyone, not even the people who captured him and brought him to prisoner of war camps in Germany.”
– R. Bryan Willits
Christy O’Connor, Sr.
1924 – 2016
In May, Irish golfer Christy O’Connor, Sr., who participated in 10 consecutive Ryder Cup teams and was the second Irishman ever inducted to the World Golf Hall of Fame, died at his home in Ireland. He was 91. His death follows that of his nephew, fellow golfer Christy O’Connor, Jr., who died unexpectedly while on vacation in the Canary Islands in January.
O’Connor, who was born in 1924 in Knocknacarra, Co. Galway, dominated the European golf circuit for four decades, winning 24 times on the European Tour, and playing 15 times in the World Cup. Until 1997, he held the record for the most Ryder Cup appearances by any golfer. In Ireland, he was known as the “father of Irish golf.”
“When I was growing up, the name Christy O’Connor was synonymous with Irish golf,” his friend, Fr. Martin Hogan, told the Belfast Telegraph.
“He was our national golfing treasure who could compete with the giants of golf from all around the world and beat many of them more than once.”
“Christy was built like a bull but he had incredible hands for golf,” Ryder cup director Richard Hills said in a statement. “Christy did so much for the game and his legacy will long live on,” he said. “After the tragic, sudden death of his nephew in January, golf has lost two of its greatest men.”
He is survived by his wife, Mary, and five children.
– Adam Farley
1916 – 2016
Former Merrill Lynch CEO Daniel Tully, pioneer of the 1990s “Mother Merrill” business model which tripled Merrill shares during his tenure, died while visiting his daughter, Eileen Ceglarski, in Darien, CT in May at the age of 84.
Tully was appointed CEO in 1992, after serving the company for almost 40 years, and ushered in its most profitable years to date during his five-year control. As good as he was with numbers, he was equally gifted in conversation and true care for his work, attributing this to his Irish upbringing. When he was made CEO, he had his carpets changed to Kelly green, and was often heard singing “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.”
“On road trips, he would follow up client meetings with visits to the local offices of Merrill Lynch private client managers, where his glad-handing and banter weren’t an act, but the expression of a man who actually cared about the firm’s network of financial advisers,” Greg Farrell wrote in his 2010 book about the firm’s collapse, Crash of the Titans.
Daniel Patrick Tully was born in 1932 in New York and raised in Woodside, Queens, a heavily working-class neighborhood filled with Irish and Irish Americans. His father was a steamfitter, and the family assumed he would follow in his footsteps. But after a two-year stint in the U.S. Army following college, Tully returned to St. John’s University career center to see who was hiring. He applied for a job at Merrill Lynch, not even knowing what the company did. His mother, he told Irish America in 1985, congratulated him on getting a job in advertising.
In addition to his daughter Eileen, Tully is survived by his wife of 59 years, Grace, three children, and 13 grandchildren.
– Adam Farley
1922 – 2016
Leland Bardwell, an Irish poet and novelist, died in June at the age of 94. She had a prolific literary career that spanned over five decades.
Bardwell’s first collection of poetry, The Mad Cyclist, was published by the New Writer’s Press in 1970. In 1975, she co-founded the literary journal Cyphers and later helped establish the Irish Writer’s Co-Operative. In her adopted home county of Sligo, she set up the literary festival, Scríobh. Bardwell published a total of five novels and five collections of poetry, as well as several plays (including a musical based on the life of her heroine Edith Piaf), a memoir, and countless short stories.
Brian Leydon, Bardwell’s fellow writer and close friend, said that “She embodied that bird of passage in her poem ‘Cuckoo on Top of The Protestant Church, Dugart.’” A line from the poem reads: “gate crasher, percher on steeples. Such selfishness, such panache, never in the one place twice.”
Born in India to Irish parents, Bardwell was brought back to Ireland at the age of two, where she grew up in Leixlip, Co. Kildare. She studied at Alexandra College, Dublin and the University of London.
She met and married Michael Bardwell in 1948, and they had three children. It was the beginning of a time Bardwell referred in her memoir to as a “crescendo of madness” fraught with infidelity and drama. In the 1960s, she left London and returned to Dublin with her six children. She quickly became a prominent name in Irish literary circles, counting among her friends poet Patrick Kavanagh and singer Luke Kelly.
Bardwell’s Irish publisher, Liberties Press, has announced that her 1975 novel Girl On A Bicycle will be republished in celebration of her memory.
– Olivia O’Mahony
1929 – 2016
Fashion photographer Bill Cunningham died in New York City in June after hospitalization due to a stroke. A contributor to the New York Times’ Style section for nearly 40 years, he was renowned for his ability to capture a cultural moment through the lens of fashion.
Cunningham was born March 13, 1929 to an Irish Catholic family in Boston, Massachusetts. He claimed his interest in fashion began in church, telling the New York Times in 2002, “I could never concentrate on Sunday church services because I’d be concentrating on women’s hats.” He was accepted to Harvard University on scholarship but dropped out after two months, working briefly in advertising before opening his own hat-making business under the name “William J.” Encouraged by his clients (which included Marilyn Monroe, Katherine Hepburn, and First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier), he closed the hat shop in 1962 to pursue fashion journalism. He began to write for Women’s Wear Weekly, and used his influence to introduce American audiences to designers such as Azzedine Alaïa and Jean Paul Gaultier.
Cunningham was a self-taught photographer who believed that fashion mirrored the times. While working at Women’s Wear Weekly and the Chicago Tribune, he began to take candid photographs of women’s outfits on the streets of New York. He was first published with the New York Times in 1978. His regular series, “On the Street,” began soon after. He made a career photographing everyday people and celebrities alike, valuing fashion choices as a mode of personal expression.
Bill Cunningham New York, a documentary film directed by Richard Press, was released in 2011, but Cunningham had little interest in pouring over the past. When approached by Harold Koda, former curator in charge at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, to curate a retrospective of his pictures, he declined, claiming it would be a diversion. “He did what he loved,” Koda has said, “and what he loved was documenting this very ephemeral world.”
– Olivia O’Mahony
1942 – 2016
Limerick author Michael Curtin died in April at the age of 74, leaving behind the unpublished manuscript of his seventh novel. His friends and readers have rallied to call for the final book to be made available to the public.
Born in 1942, Curtin was best known for his use of dark humor in novels that depicted the places and faces of Limerick. His titles include the critically-acclaimed The Plastic Tomato Cutter, The Self-Made Men, The Replay, and The League Against Christmas.
At the launch of The Plastic Tomato Cutter in 1996, he drew the audience’s attention to the hardships endured by unpublished writers, saying “Not all of them are as tough or as resilient as I am, and even I found the going hard.” The Plastic Tomato Cutter itself was rejected 11 times by various publishers, as revealed in an archive of Curtin’s work purchased in 2005 by the University of Limerick’s Glucksman Library.
Curtin had a “great eye and ear for the surreal,” Eoin Devereux, a faculty member of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences department at the University of Limerick, told the Limerick Leader. “His novels captured Limerick in all of its glory. He told me that like James Joyce, he would like Limerick to be recreated from them in the event of a nuclear bomb.”
Curtin is survived by his wife, Anne, and sons, Jason, Michael, and Andrew.
– Olivia O’Mahony
1930 – 2016
Born in Boston, on March 16, 1930 to Irish immigrants, both musicians, Joe Derrane began playing the button accordion at age 10 and while still in high school began recording a set of eight solo 78 RPM discs that showed his distinctive style. He went on to become a legend in the Irish ballroom scene in the 1950s and early ’60s. As the golden age of dance halls faded, Joe, who worked for the Massachusetts Transit Authority, switched to a piano accordion and played weddings and other gigs with non-Irish bands to support his family.
In the 1993, having all but disappeared from the traditional music circuit, Joe was rediscovered when Rego Records re-released his albums. In 1994, he took the stage at the Wolftrap Festival in Vienna, Virginia and the response to that performance heralded his return. He went on to play at the White House and the Kennedy Center and to record seven albums over the next 16 years. Some of those recordings, such as “Tango Derrane,” reflected his broader musical experience. He also recorded “Waltzing with Anne,” a tune he composed for his wife, Anne. They met in a dance hall in New York when Anne, a Longford native, tapped him on the shoulder for a “Ladies Choice” and married in 1955. Anne passed away in 2008. “She was always there for me, she was the one who kept encouraging me to practice and play, she told me I could do it, even when I wasn’t sure I could,” he told the Boston Irish Reporter in 2010,
In 2004, Joe was made an NEA National Heritage Fellow, and that same year in an interview with Mary Eckstein for the NEA, he said, “Most importantly, the music itself is a joy. There’s a saying that music has its own rewards and I think that’s true. I could come home from work or be frustrated or worried about something and I’d sit down and just start to play and within 10 or 15 minutes the music would take over and all those worries and concerns would fade into the background. At least for a while.”
Joe Derrane is survived by his son Stephen and his wife Cynthia, his daughter Sheila and her husband, Robert, and grandsons Russell Burns and Joseph Derrane.
– Patricia Harty
Bronwyn Brigid Fitzsimons
1944 – 2016
Bronwyn Brigid Fitzsimons died in May in Glengarriff, Co. Cork. She was born in Los Angeles on June 30, 1944 to actress Maureen O’Hara and her then husband, writer director, Will Price. Taking her mother’s maiden name, “Fitzsimons,” she appeared in minor roles in several films including, Spencer’s Mountain (1963) and co-starred in The Ravagers (1965) with John Saxon. She also appeared in various TV series episodes in the 1960s including The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Cadaver, McHale’s Navy, The Virginian, and Bachelor Father.
Bronwyn shared her mother’s love for Ireland and moved there in the 1960s, first to Dublin and later to Glengarriff. A gifted musician, she played guitar and composed songs and lyrics as a hobby that eventually evolved into a produced album. Above all, Bronwyn loved entertaining and was recognized as a delightful hostess. During her final years, she settled in a lovely cottage in Glengarriff and enjoyed the friendship of the village. In addition to her son Connor, she is survived by her two grandchildren, Bailey and Everest.
– June Beck
1940 – 2016
Irish American writer and memoirist Alphonsus “Alphie” McCourt died of natural causes at his New York home on July 2nd. He was 75.
Following in the footsteps of his brothers Frank (Angela’s Ashes) and Malachy (A Monk Swimming), Alphie had his own memoir, A Long Stone’s Throw, published in 2008. When asked by the Limerick Leader why he’d felt the need to write his own perspective of the McCourt family history, he said “I felt I should tell my part of it because my experience was very different from my brothers.” McCourt’s writings also appeared in the Washington Post and The Villager. His most recent collection of short stories and verses, The Soulswimmer, was published in 2014.
The youngest of seven children, McCourt was born in Limerick in 1940. He attended the Christian Brothers school and was a Munster rugby player and member of the Limerick Debating Society. He began a law degree at University College Dublin, but dropped out to work in the restaurant and bar trade. He left Ireland in 1959 and spent time in Montreal and California before settling in New York.
Though he lived in New York for most of his adult life, the city of his birth was never far from his heart. He was on hand in 2012 to oversee the opening of the Frank McCourt Museum in Limerick. He was “one of nature’s gentlemen,” Una Heaton, the curator of the museum, told the Irish Times. “He was kind, warm and always softly spoken and had very deep feelings. He was very quirky; he had a great turn of phrase and a real dry wit.”
In addition to his wife and daughter, Alphie is survived by his brother, Malachy.
– Olivia O’Mahony
1928 – 2016
Former Fine Gael leader, tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Peter Barry died in August at his home in Cork city. He was 88. Barry was an instrumental figure in the establishment of the 1985 Anglo-Irish agreement, a treaty which contributed to the ending of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Barry was elected to Dáil Éireann as a Fine Gael TD in the 1969 general election, and the party’s win of the 1973 election saw him become the Minister for Transport and Power. In 1976, he served as Minister for Education, and in 1979, he was elected the deputy leader of the Fine Gael party under Garret FitzGerald. After serving fleetingly as Minister for the Environment, he began his five-year tenure as Minister for Foreign Affairs in 1982.
As well as using his role of Foreign Minister to help negotiate the terms of the Anglo-Irish agreement, Barry became the first joint chairman of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, a body concerned with political, legal, and security matters in Northern Ireland, as well as the promotion of cross-border co-operation. Following the Labour Party’s withdrawal from the coalition government in 1987, Barry became tánaiste for a brief period.
Barry was born and educated in Blackrock, Co. Cork. Despite wanting to become an engineer, he fulfilled family obligations by working in their tea shop, which was not doing well at the time. This business would recover to become Barry’s Tea, a nationally-loved brand, of which he was a major stockholder.
Current Minister of Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan paid tribute to Barry in the Irish Times, saying, “His deep commitment to public service and his humble and warm demeanor were admired by all.” He is survived by his children, Tony, Deirdre, Donagh, Conor, Peter Jr., and Fiona.
– Olivia O’Mahony
1928 – 2016
Bob Dunfey, an instrumental figure in the Northern Ireland peace process and native of Lowell, Massachusetts, died in August at the age of 88 after a battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was a friend and campaigner of Senator Robert Kennedy and spent much of his career in the “back room” of the Democratic party’s political activities in Massachusetts, later applying what he learned to help repair relations in his ancestral home.
He played an essential role in Kennedy’s presidential campaign in Maine, during which the candidate would call him every Sunday to seek advice. He was also behind George Mitchell’s appointment as Senate majority leader in 1980, when he approached the man in question to fill Edmund Muskie’s vacated seat. He accompanied Mitchell when he was appointed President Clinton’s economic advisor on Northern Ireland in his first investigation. There, he met community leaders on the Shankill and Falls Roads in Belfast and witnessed the harsh reality of the Troubles.
Dunfey and his family, who owned Omni Hotels International, established the Global Citizen’s Circle in 1968 to create a space for international political progress, embracing Cuba, Central America, South Africa, the Middle East, and Northern Ireland. They reflected this space at the Washington/Boston American Ireland Fund’s annual events, bringing opponents of the peace process together in its early days to promote dialogue that could not be held at home in Ireland.
Dunfey bought a house Ballyferriter, a small Gaeltacht village in Co. Kerry, which allowed him to stay connected with his roots. He returned there every summer for 35 years, forging connections and friendships with figures such as Gerry Adams, John Hume, David Trimble, and Monica McWilliams during the bedrock period of the peace process.
Dunfey, who is survived by his wife, five children, and four siblings, requested his ashes be returned to Ballyferriter.
– Olivia O’Mahony
1927 – 2016
Political talk show host John Joseph McLaughlin died in August at the age of 89. Best known as the host of public affairs television show The McLaughlin Group, he missed only one broadcast in 34 years in the days leading up to his death. McLoughlin’s loud, brash, and unyielding style of hosting was emblematic of his show.
Born into a second-generation Irish American family in Providence, Rhode Island, McLoughlin prepared for a career in the priesthood from the age of 18, and in 1959, he was ordained into the
Jesuit order. After obtaining a Ph.D. in philosophy from Columbia University, he became a writer and later assistant editor of America, the
Jesuit current affairs publication in New York.
During the Vietnam War, McLoughlin transitioned from affiliation with the Democratic party to supporting the war as a Republican. He returned to Providence in 1970 in order to run for the United States Senate to represent Rhode Island, but was unsuccessful in his efforts. He later became a speechwriter for president Richard Nixon. In 1975, he left the priesthood to pursue public relations, eventually rising to fame in the political media.
Mortimer B. Zuckerman, chairman and publisher of the Daily News and a regular panelist of The McLaughlin Group, said that “the liveliness [of the show] was a reflection of [McLoughlin’s] unique personality as well as his keen intellect, which helped to cover and uncover the numerous landscapes of opinions that steered his listeners to make qualified decisions.”
In the 2014 year-end award episode of his show, McLaughlin famously said: “Pope Francis – person of the year, especially now that he’s told us that animals can go to heaven. And Oliver is up there waiting for me.” McLoughlin’s Oliver Productions, Inc., is named after his beloved Basset Hound, who, fittingly, is shown in a brand logo animation at the close of each show.
– Olivia O’Mahony
1948 – 2016
Irish American policeman and law enforcement executive John Timoney died in August after a battle with lung cancer. Timoney, who was once named as America’s best cop by Esquire magazine, was 68.
Timoney gained national recognition during his seven-year placement as chief of police in Miami, during which he publicly advocated for the use of non-lethal force among police officers. Timoney took over the department as chief in 2003, the same year that the protests at the Free Trade Area of America occurred. To handle the crowds, Timoney invented the “Miami model” method, which consisted of preemptive arrests, heavily armed undercover cops, embedded police and intelligence gathered from protesters.
During his first 20 months in as chief commissioner of Miami, not a single shot was fired by a member of his force. This prompted the New Yorker to deem him “one of the most progressive and effective police chiefs in the country” in a 2007 profile. In 2003, the New York Times reported that to Miami officers who demanded an exception to Timoney’s ban on shooting at cars, he allowed only one: if he arrived at the scene to find a tire-track across a force member’s chest.
The starting point of Timoney’s path to Miami was reminiscent of countless other Irish immigrants. At 13, he moved with his family from inner city Dublin to Washington Heights, Manhattan, where he Anglicized his given first name, Sean, in order to fit in. By 1969, he had become a beat cop in the NYPD, and, soon after, the youngest four-star chief in New York. He was later named deputy commissioner under former NYPD chief Bill Bratton. Bratton’s 1996 resignation prompted Timoney to relocate to Philadelphia, where he was named police commissioner the following year. There, he oversaw new training techniques for officers and transformed internal affairs, despite Republican Convention complaints from the ACLU in 2000 regarding his non-lethal force policies.
After Miami, Timoney did some consulting work stateside, and since 2011 worked with the Ministry of the Interior of Bahrain to reduce casualties during the pro-democracy Bahraini uprising. He is survived by his wife, Noreen, and children, Christine and Sean.
– Olivia O’Mahony
1957 – 2016
Television comedy writer Kevin Curran, best known for his work on Late Night with David Letterman, Married… With Children, and The Simpsons, died at his Los Angeles home in October following a battle with cancer. He was 59 years old.
Curran was the winner of three Emmy awards for material produced for Late Night with David Letterman, including Letterman’s first “Top Ten” list, titled “Top Ten Things That Almost Rhyme with Peas.” In 1989, he joined the writing team for Married… With Children, for which he produced 11 episode scripts. In 2000, Curran joined The Simpsons as co-executive producer, where he won three additional Emmys and was nominated for a 2010 Humanitas prize for his episode “The Greatest Story Ever D’ohed.”
Born in Hartford, Connecticut, Curran attended Harvard University and began his writing career as an editor at the university’s Harvard Lampoon. He went on to write for the National Lampoon, acting as editor for the Letters and Cartoons sections, though remained in touch with fellow Harvard student Al Jean, who years later would serve as showrunner for The Simpsons.
“He was one of the funniest guys I ever met,” Jean told Variety. “He also had one of the biggest, sweetest hearts.”
From 1999 to 2006, Curran was in a relationship with Helen Fielding, author of the Bridget Jones’s Diary series. He is survived by their two children.
– Olivia O’Mahony
Peter Leo Gerety
1912 – 2016
The world’s oldest living Catholic bishop, Bishop Peter Leo Gerety, died at the age of 104 in Toweta, New Jersey in September. Gerety served as the Archbishop of Newark, New Jersey from 1974 through 1986.
In 1942, he became director of New Haven’s Blessed Martin de Porres Center, an interracial social and religious organization that ministered to the African American community. It evolved into St. Martin de Porres Parish in 1956, with Gerety as its first pastor. There, he first became engaged in black civil rights activism and promoting programs to eradicate poverty, and, in 1963, he became coordinator and director of the Diocesan Priest’s Conference on Interracial Justice. For this, he was named a Prelate of Honor by Pope Paul VI. He became the eighth Bishop of Portland (Maine) in 1969, where he provided housing for the elderly and expanded the Diocesan Bureau of Human Relations. As Archbishop of Newark, he created the Office for Pastoral Renewal (now RENEW International, which provides faith-sharing facilities for small Christian communities across the Americas) and began a ministry to divorced Catholics.
Born in Shelton, Connecticut, Gerety began training for the priesthood in 1932 at St. Thomas Seminary, Bloomfield, and later continued his studies in Issy, France. In 1939, he was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Hartford at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, and on his return to Connecticut was appointed curate of St. John the Evangelist Church, New Haven.
Upon resigning as Archbishop of Newark, Gerety said he had “done [his] best,” and was “very happy now to step aside.” He was succeeded by Bishop Theodore Edgar McCarrick.
– Olivia O’Mahony
1939 – 2016
Anti-war, civil rights and radical intellectual counterculture advocate Tom Hayden died in October in Santa Monica, California at the age of 76. Hayden, who was director of the Peace and Justice Center in Los Angeles County, was best known for his political activism in the 1960s.
Born to an Irish American family in Detroit, Hayden attended the University of Michigan, where he initiated the birth of influential leftist student activist group Students for a Democratic Society, serving as its president from 1962 to 1963. After a controversial tour of North Vietnam and Hanoi in 1965, the high point of the war, he published The Other Side. He made several more-publicized trips thereafter, and, alongside his wife Jane Fonda, to whom he was married from 1973 to 1990, and others, collaborated on the documentary Introduction to the Enemy, which depicted his group’s travels through North Vietnam in 1974.
Hayden made a primary-election challenge to California U.S. Senator John V. Tunney in 1976, telling the New York Times that “the radicalism of the 1960s is fast becoming the common sense of the 1970s.” He finished at a close second, but later served in the California State Assembly (1982 – 1992) and State Senate (1992 – 2000).
“A political giant and dear friend has passed,” tweeted Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti after Hayden’s passing was announced. “Tom Hayden fought harder for what he believed than just about anyone I have known.”
In addition to Fonda, Hayden is survived by his third wife, Barbara, and his two sons, Troy and Liam.
– Olivia O’Mahony
1935 – 2016
Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Robert Kiley, who was credited with rescuing the New York subway system from its decline into decay in the 1980s, died in August at his home in Chilmark, Massachusetts. He was 80.
When Kiley was appointed chair of the MTA in 1983, concerns about graffiti, defective trains, and decomposing tracks saw New Yorkers rejecting subway travel. In response, he oversaw a subway train clean-up project, with the first rejuvenated car being nicknamed “Snow White” by its cleaners. Five years later, train breakdowns were down 75 percent. Kiley also tackled the issue of crime on the subway. “I believe there ought to be order in the station,” he said in 1989. “We’re not proposing jackboots, whips, and clubs. We’re asking our police officers to enforce the rules.” Despite public dubiousness, they did, and annual subway murders dropped from 20 to just one or two.
Kiley was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and attended the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, graduating magna cum laude before moving on to the Harvard Graduate School. In 1963, he joined the CIA as manager of Intelligence Operations, later serving as executive assistant to agency director Richard Helms. Prior to moving to New York, he was chair of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in Boston.
In 1974, Kiley lost his wife, Patricia Potter, and two children in a car accident. He is survived by his second wife of 40 years, Rona Shuman Kiley, and their two sons.
– Olivia O’Mahony
1937 – 2016
Cook County Commissioner Joan Murphy, who transformed the face of gender dynamics in Chicago-area public service, died at her Crestwood, IL home in September after complications with treatment for breast cancer. Despite a prognosis given in spring that she had only weeks to live, Murphy cast her superdelegate vote for Hillary Clinton in Philadelphia this July from a wheelchair. She was 79.
A Boston native and graduate of State Teacher’s College, Murphy’s political career was studded with milestones – she was the first woman elected to public office in Crestwood, as well as the first woman elected clerk in Worth Township, south of Chicago, and Worth Township supervisor. In 2002, she was elected to the county board following a patronage position and chaired the board’s labor committee.
Prior to being elected Crestwood’s village clerk in 1965, Murphy founded the Women’s Club at Incarnation Parish in Palos Heights. Her new position brought new challenges, her daughter, Tricia, told the Chicago Tribune. Local firefighters welcomed her by pasting a Playboy centerfold to her office door, with a photograph of Murphy’s face covering the model’s. When her husband, Donald, advised her to stay tough, Murphy followed through. “She added a little bubble that read, ‘Naughty naughty, you’ve been peeking’ and nobody ever said anything again,” Tricia said. Murphy was elected Worth Township clerk in 1977, and promoted to supervisor in 1989. She held the position for eight years.
In addition to her husband, she is predeceased by her son, Donald, Jr. She is survived by her daughter, Tricia, sons, Tim and Tony, and five grandchildren.
– Olivia O’Mahony
1922 – 2016
Self-described “hillbilly singer” Kay Starr died in her Beverly Hills home in October. Best known for her series of 1950s hits, Starr was among the first female artists to experiment with mixing the jazz, blues, pop, country, and rock n’ roll genres. She was 94.
Born Katherine Laverne Starks to an Irish American mother and Iroquois father, her career began at the age of seven when an aunt discovered her singing to the family chickens in their Dallas backyard. She was entered into a local radio competition and won, becoming a twice-weekly performer. It was then that she changed her last name to Starr, as listeners often misheard it this way. At fifteen she sang with violinist Joe Venuti during his stay at the Peabody Hotel, all the while keeping to her parents’ midnight curfew. At sixteen, Starr made her first records, “Baby Me” and “Love With a Capital You” with the Glenn Miller Orchestra.
She went solo in 1946 and released her breakthrough hit, “You Were Only Fooling (While I Was Falling in Love)” in 1948. Two years later, her rendition of country song “Bonaparte’s Retreat” sold over one million copies.
“When they brought in rock, hard rock, and acid rock, I thought God was trying to tell me it was my turn to get off the stage,” Starr once admitted. She was, however, dauntless, continuing to perform for devoted fans in Las Vegas and Atlantic city into the 1990s, and, in 2001 recorded a duet with Tony Bennett for his album, “Playin’ With My Friends.”
– Olivia O’Mahony