Musican Icon Shane MacGowan Dies at Age 65
Music fans around the world are mourning the passing of Irish legend Shane MacGowan – at a time of year when his gritty Christmas classic “Fairytale of New York” is always in heavy rotation.
“Shane will always be the light that I hold before me and the measure of my dreams and the love of my life,” MacGowan’s wife, Irish journalist and author Victoria Mary Clarke, said in a statement.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar added that MacGowan “beautifully captured the Irish experience.”
The music icon – as famous for his shambolic appearance as for his groundbreaking blends of punk and trad – had been in and out of hospitals for months, following what published reports called a “viral encephalitis” diagnosis.
MacGowan was born in Kent, England, on Christmas Day ,1957, to a father from Dublin and a mother from Tipperary.
He “emerged from London’s punk scene in the late 1970s and spent nine tumultuous years with the initial incarnation of the Pogues,” his New York Times obituary noted, adding: “Rising from North London pubs, the band was performing in stadiums by the late 1980s, before Mr. MacGowan’s drug and alcohol problems and his mental and physical deterioration forced the band to fire him.”
Recording and touring later followed with various lineups of a group called Shane MacGowan & the Popes. All the while, MacGowan became at least as famous for his onstage antics, offstage excess, and unapologetically toothless visage.
Amidst all that, the Pogues groundbreaking 1985 album Rum, Sodomy and the Lash became a classic – a genre in and of itself, crammed with Celtic fiddles and angry growls, party vibes, and melancholy moods.
A Shane-aissance of sorts had developed in recent years, with not one but two favorable documentaries being released. Meanwhile, the celebrated TV drama The Wire made sure to blare the Pogues’ “Body of an American” whenever the show’s Baltimore cops – many Irish-Americans – gathered for a retirement party or funeral.
But it was probably “Fairytale of New York,” from 1988, that captured something crucial about MacGowan – from the hedonism to the hilarity to the heartwarming Irishness.
“It was Christmas Eve babe in the drunk tank / An old man said to me, won’t see another one
And then he sang a song / The Rare Old Mountain Dew / I turned my face away / And dreamed about you”
A lover’s quarrel ensues, with English singer Kirsty MacColl — who died in a tragic accident in December 2000 – going back at MacGowan with reckless abandon.
And so, this year, boys of the NYPD choir singing “Galway Bay,” and the bells “ringing out for Christmas day,” will have a very special meaning on both sides of the Atlantic.
Irish Twins Kick it Up in NYC
Holiday revelers will be seeing double at Radio City Music Hall this year.
Irish-American twins from New Jersey are among the dancing stars of this year’s Christmas spectacular show at the iconic venue.
In fact, Caitlin and Courtney Sullivan are one of two sets of twins performing in this year’s show as part of the Rockettes dancing troupe.
The 25-year-olds were never really worried that only one of them would make it into the popular holiday production.
“Going into [the audition process] it was always like, ‘It’s going to be the both of us,’” Courtney told the New York Post recently. “We’re very much into manifesting good things and using positive energy only.”
Caitlin added: “We didn’t need to have a conversation [about it], because we know each other on another level. It feels like we can read each other’s minds.”
The dancing duo – known in dance competition circles as “the Sullivan Twins” – grew up in Bergen County, and began performing at a young age
“We grew up dancing at Studio L Dance Company in Waldwick, New Jersey, where we started dancing when we were three years old, all the way through age 18 when we graduated high school,” Courtney told Inside Dancer magazine earlier this year. “Dancing duets was something down the line we became known for.”
Caitlin added: “It’s definitely in the genes a little bit and in our training. We’re lucky to have had really great teachers growing up, so we do have that technique, background, and foundation. And it’s funny, we tell people when we’re choreographing and coming up with these technical sequences, we’re often not speaking, which is so funny, but we feel like we talk to each other through our minds. We’d definitely say twin telepathy is real, and we often will finish each other’s moves. It feels very much like one mind!”
American Irish Historical Society
The American Irish Historical Society (AIHS) has unveiled a series of sweeping new initiatives expected to secure “its return as a premiere center for scholarship, culture, and conversation in New York,” board members said.
AIHS announced that Dr. Elizabeth Stack has been named executive director, the first woman to lead the historic organization located at 991 Fifth Avenue, in Manhattan – a traditional point of interest every March 17.
“We are pleased beyond words that Elizabeth has agreed to join us,” James Normile, chair of the Society’s board, said. “She has a proven track record of innovative programming and tireless fundraising. She will be a great asset as the Society moves forward.”
Dr. Stack previously served as executive director of the Irish American Heritage Museum in Albany, and has been credited with transforming the museum from a small operation to a multi-purpose exhibition center and authoritative chronicler of the Irish in America.
A native of Ireland, Stack holds a Ph.D. from Fordham University, where she also served as associate director of the Institute of Irish Studies.
“I’m honored and grateful to be part of the team that will lead the Society forward,” Dr. Stack said. “I’m looking forward to getting started.”
Following a recent “Welcome Home” reception that raised more than $200,000, AIHS also announced that Hollywood star Liev Schreiber will appear alongside J. Smith-Cameron in a December 6 performance at AIHS of the final scene in James Joyce’s immortal short story, “The Dead.”
The performance will be directed by the Irish Repertory Theatre’s Ciaran O’Reilly.
“It’s wonderful to re-establish our partnership with the Irish Rep to bring this James Joyce classic to life,” Normile said. “This is just the beginning.”
AIHS also announced the appointment of new board members, including labor activist John “Chick” Donohue, (the inspiration for the recent hit film, The Greatest Beer Run Ever) as well as housing activist and former speaker of the New York City Council Christine Quinn.
Suffolk County attorney Jeanne C. O’Rourke and Emmy-winning television producer Maura Kelly were also named to the AIHS board.
Founded in 1897, AIHS is one of the country’s leading repositories of artifacts, artwork, and documents related to the Irish in America.
A Pint For Hero of Dublin Riot
As authorities continue investigating the riots that rocked Dublin last week, a local immigrant is being praised – and paid – for his bravery and quick-thinking amidst the chaos.
What began as a humble social media initiative to “Buy Caio Benicio a Pint” has grown into a $350,000 windfall –and a silver lining at a very cloudy moment in recent Irish history.
Benicio “was on a job for the delivery service Deliveroo (and) slowed down when he saw what appeared to be a fight, but which turned out to be a man stabbing a small girl while a woman tried to pull her away from the attacker,” according to The New York Times.
Various reports have suggested Benicio managed to halt the attack, which left several adults and children injured, and remains mired in a certain amount of mystery.
Police have confirmed that a 5-year-old girl and a woman in her 30s had been treated for injuries at a hospital, while two other children suffered less serious injuries.
Police have yet to lay out all of the details of the incident, which did not prevent rumors from circulating that migrants might have been involved in the assault.
Hundreds of young males eventually congregated on local streets, some holding signs reading “Irish Lives Matter,” vandalizing cars, and smashing shop windows.
Easy to forget amidst all of this is that Caio Benicio seemed to prevent more serious injuries.
“It was everything by instinct — I remember I took off my helmet, to protect myself and use it as a weapon,” the Rio de Janeiro native was quoted as saying. “Just hit him in the head with all the power I have. And he fell down.”
The Times added: “It was not lost on many of those who rushed to buy Mr. Benicio a proverbial beer that an immigrant had intervened in an attack that then inflamed anti-immigrant sentiment. As of Saturday afternoon, the campaign, on GoFundMe, had attracted more than 31,000 single donations — many of which were for €5 or €6, or the average price of a pint.
Wilde, Hair-Raising Auction
If Oscar Wilde’s famous story about Dorian Gray kind of creeps you out, you may want to stay away from this auction.
A lock of Wilde’s hair is set to be auctioned off next week, along with a wide range of other Irish cultural artifacts, and may fetch close to ten thousand Euros.
The Wilde hair “was gifted to Irish actor Michael Mac Liammoir in 1960 after the first London performance of his pioneering one-man show The Importance of Being Oscar, which he compiled from Wilde’s writings,” according to The Irish Post, which added that the “lot is expected to fetch between €6,000 – €8,000 when it goes under the hammer” at the Fonsie Mealy’s Rare Book and Collectors’ Sale on December 12 and 13.
Wilde’s famous story The Picture of Dorian Gray is about a painting that ages frightfully, as its subject remains eerily unchanged – raising all sorts of scary questions about decay and death. The same might well be said about giving and keeping, buying or selling, human hair.
Other items up for bid at the Auction Rooms in Castlecomer, Kilkenny, include original works by William Butler Yeats and Seamus Heaney, and “Important 1916 documents, including a rare copy of the Irish War News – the only other document apart from the Proclamation printed during the Irish insurrection of 1916.”
The J-1 Graduate Visa
As another holiday season approaches, the Irish Business Organization of New York and others in the Irish community are touting recent improvements in the experiences of J-1 Visa program participants.
The time last year, IBO officials said, they noticed that many J-1 graduates were struggling to come up with money to pay for Christmas trips back to Ireland.
The IBO teamed up with the Emerald Isle Immigration Center and others to host a Christmas networking party at Rosie O’Grady’s for J-1s.
The event was deemed a big success, with dozens of J-1s attending, creating a much-needed sense of family for those unable to get to Ireland for the holidays, and another event is planned for January 2024.
Given the large number of J-1s in the New York City area, this illustrated a broader need to the boards of the IBO and EIIC.
Colleen Berry Conway, currently in her second term as Secretary of the IBO and founder of Ogham Art, spearheaded the establishment of a J-1 Resource page on the IBO’s website, including a discounted IBO sign-up for J-1s, who can also enter their profiles, and review those of others.
Another meeting in the summer – a workshop entitled “Get Organized, Get Connected and Get Noticed” – was also deemed a productive success.
The J-1 Graduate Visa allows college graduates from abroad to work legally in the U.S. for up to 18 months, but they must secure employment within a short period of entering the country.
The IBO celebrated its 50th Jubilee Gala at the Lighthouse Pier 61 this past October.