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Reflections on Irishness, from Brooklyn to Belfast


Salon Diary / By Maureen Hossbacher

The salon opened with a unique first-half storytelling fest, hosted and curated by Nancy Oda. The theme was “Ireland at a Distance” and, to set the tone musically, frequent presenter John Munnelly, sang “I Think I’m Going Back,” about the homesick warrior poet Oisin, whose journey back to Ireland from the fairyland of Tir na nOg cost him the forfeit of eternal youth. The saga of Oisin was followed by John’s poignant original song, “Butter Knife,” lamenting the loss of home. When he’s not cooking up new songs, you’ll find John this summer selling his famous hot sauce at farmers markets in New York, Brooklyn and New Jersey, or you can get it online at

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Nancy Oda.

Picking up on the motif, Siobhan McCourt offered a lively reflection on her cultural influences: Italian/German on one side, Irish on the other, flavored by rovings to Israel, Mexico and Hawaii. But whatever turns her life took, Siobhan was always lured “back to the Irish side,” i.e., the world of her gregarious and indomitable father, the one and only Malachy McCourt. Apparently the charm didn’t fall far from the tree, as his daughter recounted how being Irish was simply more fun than anything else.

Siobhan McCourt.

Board member and primary blogger of Irish American Writers & Artists, Karen Daly, five generations removed from Ireland, shared the very American experience of her distant ties to the Emerald Isle being blunted by her ties to her Brooklyn neighborhood and church. Nevertheless, an “unconscious Irishness” was embedded in the values and atmosphere she grew up with, drawing her to this community and to her search for her Irish ancestors, of which there is no scarcity, since a recent DNA test shows her to be 98% Irish.

Only 2 1/2 years old when she sailed on the Britannic from Cobh Harbor to New York, Dee Nolan narrated a slide show of her immigration story and her strong bonds with family on both sides of the Atlantic. Dee is VP Radio Advertising Bureau, SAG-AFTRA member, an actor, writer and and host of the podcast You can also frequently hear her clear soprano emanating from the choir loft at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Originally from Brooklyn, raised in Miami, playwright Jenifer Margaret Kelly revisited a childhood vacation in Ireland, a CIE tour with her well-travelled family. At one stopover, the 12-year old Jenifer wandered off by herself into a green field and experienced a strong spiritual sense of belonging that she never forgot. Her love for Ireland has never left her and continues to influence her life as a playwright, as in her full-length work “My Brooklyn,” a story about an Irish-American family during the Great Depression, and a finalist at the prestigious O'Neill National Playwrights Conference last summer. The last lines speak of what is lost and what remains behind of the loved ones from both shores and how they continue to live on in all of us and especially in Irish storytellers.

After a break for socializing and refreshments, John Kearns stepped up to host the second half of the salon, by introducing Kevin McPartland, author of the novel “Brownstone Dreams.” Reading from his new novel-in-progress, Kevin creeped out the audience with an excerpt from a chapter entitled “Another Call to the House,” which involved a mysterious man in a car and a phone call from an unresponsive caller who hangs up.

John McDonagh.

Playwright, comic and veteran WBAI producer/host John McDonagh dropped by to address the current Uber vs. Yellow Cab controversy by presenting a video, in which a seasoned taxi driver (himself) deals with the shenanigans of a ditsy blonde fare from hell. The film, a hilarious tribute to the professionalism of the yellow cab driver, was featured on a “Daily Show” hosted by Trevor Noah.

Jim Mulvaney, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, made his debut appearance at the salon with an account of his Jewish in-laws’ visit to Northern Ireland in 1984, where Jim and his wife Barbara Fischkin, also a journalist, were reporting events as “The Troubles” wore on. The star of this entertaining tale was his mother-in-law, Ida Fischkin, a survivor of anti-Jewish pogroms in her youth in Eastern Europe. With no shyness about scolding British soldiers for their anti-Catholic bias, Ida’s own record as a “freedom fighter” gained her admission to the legendary Felons Club, where none other than Gerry Adams accommodated her request for an Apricot Sour, her favorite bar mitzvah drink. A former New York State Deputy Commissioner of Human Rights, Mulvaney is now running as a Democrat for a seat on the City Council of Long Beach, L.I. He is also the author of a series of novels about the fictional Jack O'Keefe, P.I.

Author Fischkin followed her husband for her second appearance at IAW&A, reading again from her novel-in-progress, “The Digger Resistance.” She introduced the salon to the title character, "Digger," with an interior monologue of this mute, elderly Holocaust survivor from the long-gone Ukrainian shtetl of Felshtin, who, in old age, has landed in a psychiatric nursing home in Queens. Barbara is halfway through the second draft of this work and we hope she will be bringing more installments to the salon.

Inspired by his recent trip to California, where the homeless scenes in L.A. and S.F. are at odds with purported tech wealth, John Kearns closed the evening with a rowdy rendition of Woody Guthrie's "Do Re Mi,” ably abetted by John Munnelly.

Fortunately, do-re-mi isn’t necessary to enjoy an Irish American Writers & Artists Salon, where admission is always free.

Next up

Tonight's Salon has an "education" theme, with regulars and special guests including poets Estha Weiner and Robert Gibbons, comedy from Seamus O'Farrell, and music from Erin Hall (and her cello). We'll also announce the winner of this year's McCourt Writing Award for a graduating senior of the Frank McCourt High School, and of course we'll hear from Malachy. Don't miss it! Come to the Thalia Studio, downstairs from Symphony Space (95th and Broadway) at 7 p.m.

Our second annual LGBTQ Pride Salon, on June 18, at 7, at the Cell Theatre, 338 West 23rd St.

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