A thank you to those who went before

John Feerick's memoir is a tribute to his Irish immigrant parents


By John D. Feerick

“That Further Shore” is a grandfather’s story that recounts my life and the lives of my parents, Mary Jane Boyle and John Feerick. The title is taken from Seamus Heaney’s, “The Cure at Troy,” a play about a path to peace and a hopeful future.

Below the title, on the cover, in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, is a picture of my parents, along with me and my two brothers, as I graduated from grammar school. The story told is our story. Our story is one that mirrors the experiences of countless other immigrants who made profound sacrifices on behalf of generations to come.

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My quest for a deeper understanding of my family’s origins took me to Ireland in the late 1980s. I visited the villages of my mother’s and father’s youth and met Irish relatives.

At the end of my first week there, I received the devastating news by telephone that my mother had died. I was struck by how similar my experience of her loss, while far from home, was to her own, decades earlier, when she learned by letter, which she opened sitting at our kitchen table crying, of her mother’s passing in Ireland. Once she left for the distant shore of America in 1928, she would never see her mother again.

Mom and Pop immigrated to America in their late teens. They each traveled alone to this shore from County Mayo with a few pounds in their possession.

Mom arrived when the first Catholic presidential nominee of a major party, Al Smith, was actively seeking election. Pop came a year later when Herbert Hoover had just taken his oath as president, and as the economy was about to plunge into a Great Depression.

My parents met at a house party or dance, fell in love, married, and began to raise a family. A major part of their lives was spent in the Bronx, on 161st street, in an apartment near the Melrose train station and Yankee Stadium.

It was there that my values and outlook on life began to be shaped, as I grew in my faith and knowledge of my Irish roots. Ours was a small, two bedroom apartment, where four siblings and I studied around the kitchen table, surrounded by clothes hung for drying on a line suspended from the ceiling. Outside the kitchen window was a fire escape with more clothes lines nearby.

Ours was a happy home, with love and music ever present, situated in a neighborhood with children of other immigrant families of various nationalities.

We went to elementary school around the corner and played our games in nearby parks and empty lots, with a passion by me for stickball games on 162nd street.

Mom and Pop were humble and simple people who would have described themselves as “nobodies.” But for me and my siblings they were our world and made all things possible for us.

As time passed, all of us moved away from this neighborhood to find our places in the world. Little did I realize that opportunities to shape the world around me awaited - a role in crafting an amendment to the Constitution; serving as dean of Fordham Law School; and participating in problem solving as a lawyer, educator, mediator, arbitrator, and chair of state commissions.

I also became involved, through Fordham activities, in the Northern Ireland peace process, and had an opportunity to help create a conflict resolution center in Ghana.

The writing of this book spanned two decades. The process was far more emotional than I ever would have imagined.

I was strongly encouraged to pursue it by my since deceased brother, Donald, and Uncle Patrick Boyle (my godfather), and by my beloved sister Maureen.

I assembled information from dusty papers in old boxes and visited cemeteries on both shores in search of traces of our past. I re-discovered the many people who had shaped our family’s life and reflected on the joys of raising my own family in light of what I had taken from my parents. I close my book with a letter to my grandchildren that distills what I have learned.

Father Joseph M. McShane, S.J. and president of Fordham University recently reflected on this letter in a public forum: “Your letter to your grandchildren should be required reading for anyone’s grandchild. It is filled with, I would say, balance and wisdom and great love. It’s kind of like an exclamation point at the end, and I want to thank you for that.”

Any wisdom there came to me through my parents and those who went before.

I am honored to share this account of my memoir with the readers of the Irish Echo, as it was Mom and Pop’s newspaper of choice.

"That Further Shore" is the autobiography of a lawyer born in the Bronx of immigrant parents, who practiced law, served as dean of Fordham Law, participated in framing the Constitution’s Twenty-Fifth Amendment, and served as President of the New York City Bar Association and chair of State Commissions on government integrity. The book is available from Fordham University Press at www.fordhampress.com and online from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.com