The Irish in America


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Getting Started… A Summer Book Club!

We heard from a few of you last week with great suggestions for The Irish in America Laid Back Summer Book Club. It’s laid back because no one is trying to boss you around, tell you what to read and when to finish. We’re just here, taking/making suggestions, learning about Irish American authors and chatting about books.

Back in May, Regan and I simultaneously read Saints for All Occasions, by J. Courtney Sullivan. Since Regan and I are neighbors, we found ourselves talking a lot about the book as we read it. This made me more critical of the book than was perhaps necessary. Has anyone else read the book? I’d like to hear what you thought. Leave a comment or complete the form at the end of the post.

 

AINE’S CURRENT SELECTION…

Eileen suggested an Alice McDermott novel. Since I usually follow Eileen’s advice, I chose At Weddings and Wakes, McDermott’s 1992 novel. McDermott has several books from which to choose, but this one felt right for a summer read. The book begins in the summer and the stifling heat in the Brooklyn apartment McDermott describes is not unlike what we had in Saint Paul over the weekend, although I do enjoy air conditioning!

I am on page fifty-four, and I love this book. McDermott is a beautiful writer. I am not a fan of overly descriptive, flowery language – when I feels as though the author is trying to impress me with their writing. McDermott is the opposite of that. She writes with confidence. Her descriptions are integral to developing the characters, to telling the story.

One of my favorite passages so far is on page eight where McDermott describes the three children from the perspective of their fellow passengers on a subway car. This is the youngest daughter:

And then, nearly dangling from her mother’s arm, another in the same white eyelet dress. No beauty here, what with the freckles on the moon face and those small green eyes, but it was she they smiled at, those who smiled, she who drew them to smile up at the mother (the door sliding shut behind her, cutting off the noise), whose face brought to mind not only the map of Ireland, but the names of two or three other women they knew who looked just or something like her.

Isn’t that great? I can picture the girl (and the two or three or four other women) exactly.

Click here for a review of At Weddings and Wakes.

Let me know if you decide to read this book…we can discuss!

 

WHAT’S REGAN READING?

Regan is currently reading Ashes of Fiery Weather, by Kathleen Donohoe. Stay tuned to the blog, she will tell us all about it. You can also follow Regan on Twitter…click here.

 

WHAT ARE YOU READING?

NEXT UP FOR AINE…

Mary suggested King Kong vs. Tarzan, by Will Murray. Looking forward to this one…more about the book and its Irish-American author coming soon!

 

JUST WONDERING…

I include links to amazon.com because that’s where I buy a lot of my books. Where do you get yours? I will include links for you, too. If you go to your local library – or your sister’s bookshelf – you will be on your own!

 

 

 

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Riding the Rails

So pleased to welcome Ellie Kelly as a contributor to The Irish in America. Before we get to her delightful piece in which a subway ride in Toronto triggers memories of riding shot-gun with her dad on another subway, in Boston, Ellie takes a moment to introduce herself. I like what Ellie has to say about her Irish heritage and identity. It is not always about knowing the entire family tree by heart or singing sentimental Irish ballads. For many of us, being Irish American is just a way of life, growing up surrounded by “the lilting laughing Irish voices”. I look forward to learning more about Ellie and her thoughts on being Irish in America!

Meet Ellie

I am a first generation American. My mother, Joan Teahan, came to this country in November, 1947, with her sister, Maureen. Their first day in New York City included the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, which is described in Maureen’s blog, along with various other adventures they had with their sisters growing up. I truly enjoyed my Aunt Maureen’s blog over the years. My father’s parents also came from Ireland, so the lilting laughing Irish voices were such a part of my entire childhood. Funny how as I have moved all over the country, I often get homesick for that very sound.

Most people know I am Irish by looking at me, as I have the usual white skin, freckles and blond hair. I love my Irish heritage and yet I have not fully embraced it. I see myself as a proud American coming from immigrants seeking a better life. I am honored to have been asked to blog for the Irish in America, and yet I feel almost like a fraud in many ways. My siblings know so much more Irish history than I do, are so much more involved in everything Irish, while I am not. I feel I disappoint them at times when they mention names and dates that are meaningful to the Irish and I stare blankly. I cannot figure out who is related to who in my extended family as I moved away years ago and lost touch with so many. I am fully assimilated….and so in some ways I guess I maybe do represent some of the Irish in America. I plan to write from the heart about my life and times and hope that the stories reach people and touch a heart here and there.

I currently live in Fort Myers, Florida with my wife, Terri, and I am a few years from retirement and I travel from home to various locations weekly for work projects.

From 2011 riding the subway again after over 30 years away

So here I am working in Toronto 4 days a week and happy that spring is arriving. Instead of a daily drive commute from home, I now use airplanes, taxis and the subway to get to work. The subway is now a regular part of my life – and for so many years I have not been in a city with a subway. As a child being raised in Boston, Massachusetts, the world revolved around using the subway to get from point A to point B. I grew up riding the Boston subway – but not like most people rode it. No, I rode in the next best spot in the car – the driver had the best – but I stood right beside the driver 99% of the time I rode. How did I manage that? My dad was the driver. In fact, the Boston subway was a part of my family, with Poppa joining the Boston street car union in 1916. He was known as “Sandwich Kelly” as every day his wife would meet his street car at the end of their street and hand his lunch through the window to him. My father followed in his footsteps and then the Boston transit system went from a Sunday dinner discussion event at Nana’s house to a daily over dinner discussion at our own dinner table. My brother made it a multi-generational affair by also joining the “T”.

Countless times I would ride with my dad, simply for the pleasure of it. He would pick me up at the top of our street (back when the street cars ran instead of the buses) and I would travel one or more loops through town with him. He would always teach me something about the subway on our rides. It wasn’t until now that I realized how much I learned about the subway, and how much I loved those rides. Back then, I learned the signal-light patterns in the tunnels. I remember where the secret doors in the walls were. Heck, I even knew where every cross-track was, and could prepare myself for the accompanying sway, and was ready for the exact moment that the car wheels would begin screeching as it rounded that Boylston Street curve. Outside of the tunnels, back in the car barn, I learned how to reseat the wire on top of the car if it came off the line. How to open the closed car door from the outside. Once, I even drove a street car around the yard one time – that was a thrill! Most of all, I just loved riding those rails with him at my side. Many times as a child I also had the privilege of riding in the same spot with my Dad’s friends when I boarded the car by myself, something a child could safely do in the 60’s in Boston. I had extended “T” family all over the city.

Today, I found myself migrating to the front of the Toronto train, standing again at the front, looking out, right beside the driver’s booth. There was a familiarity about looking ahead into the dark, feeling the car grab as it crossed another line, adjusting to the sway, and watching those familiar (even though I was in a foreign city) gray walls with the power lines running along them. It was a warm, welcoming feeling. There are many things in life to be thankful to a parent for, and most people remember the bigger things in life when remembering their own father. I have those memories, too. But this small piece of comfort, when I am so far away from my own home, is what stands out for me today. My dad was not the person in the driver’s seat today – he was standing right beside me enjoying the ride……and I will be in that same spot tomorrow morning, too.

 

Thanks, Ellie! Couldn’t help but think of this song…