50 lives among the multitudes

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The work of James Hoban is with us every day, as Ireland’s top diplomat in the United States reminds us.

Ambassador Dan Mulhall, in saluting “Irish Lives in America”, mentions that President Joe Biden is the 23rd person of Irish descent to occupy the White House, designed by Hoban.

The County Kilkenny-born architect doesn’t have a well-known name, although he once received a shout from a fictional president – played by an Irish-American actor – on “The West Wing” television. In all respects, however, he left an ‘indelible mark’ on American society and culture, which is the factor that editors Niav Gallagher and Liz Evers were looking for in their pick of 50 high performing people born in Ireland for ‘ Irish Lives in America. “

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Says Mulhall: “The 50 biographies collected here are representative of the multitudes of Irish immigrants whose contributions to America were less notable, but no less important. Their descendants, now numbering 35 million, are found in all areas of American life. “

The Ambassador continued: “As I wrote this article with the coronavirus pandemic still raging in America and around the world, I was happy to remember the contribution of Irish immigrants to the field of medicine, represented here by Gertrude Brice Kelly, one of New York’s first female surgeons who was also a staunch advocate of Irish independence and president of Cumann na mBan in New York, and Limerick’s wife Mary O’Connell, described as America’s Florence Nightingale. It’s also time to remember that an Irish immigrant, John Crawford from County Antrim, was one of the first doctors to introduce smallpox vaccination to America.

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Editor-in-chief Gallagher also includes Hoban in her name check for the Irish Echo, as well as “Thomas ‘Broken Hand’ Fitzpatrick, born in Cavan, who served as a guide for settlers to the west; Belinda Mulrooney of Sligo, for a time the richest woman in the Klondike who ended her days cleaning steel welders in a shipyard; Clareman John Philip Holland, inventor of the submarine; Donegal wife Kay McNulty, pioneering computer programmer of World War II; and John Wallace Crawford, also of Donegal, who traveled with “Buffalo Bill” Cody and helped found the town of Deadwood. “

The 50 were chosen from ‘The Dictionary of Irish Biography’, a research project of the Royal Irish Academy, which is’ the most comprehensive and authoritative biographical dictionary ever published for Ireland. It includes over 10,000 lives, which describe and assess the careers of subjects in all fields of endeavor, including politics, law, religion, literature, journalism, architecture, music and the arts. , science, medicine, entertainment and sport.

The editors write: “Although the biography is the story of the individual, we hope that by bringing together these 50 Irish Lives in America we have given some insight into the movement of the Irish people and their continued and significant impact on the culture and history of other countries. “

They continue: “We present individuals in a wide field of activity, from political figures to artists and artists; from soldiers to scientists; from slavers to abolitionists; scouts who opened the western border to religious who established congregations across the country; from those who spent their lives fighting for workers’ rights to the titans of the industry who capitalized on the work of others to become the country’s first millionaires.

The volume covers 300 years of American history and a history spanning five centuries – from the birth in 1674 in County Armagh of pre-independence American official and scientist James Logan to the death of Hollywood star Maureen O’Hara in 2015..

Gallagher’s collaborator, Evers, joined the ‘Dictionary of Irish Biography’ as researcher and editor-in-chief of the project in 2018. She is a writer and editor who has worked in the UK publishing industry United and Ireland for many years and is the author of several popular reference books. on various subjects, from Shakespeare to watchmaking. Evers is a graduate of University College Dublin (BA English) and Dublin City University (MA Film).

Irish-America book cover.jpg

Niav gallagher

Date of birth: July 1972

Place of birth: Dublin

Spouse: Fearghal

Children: Abi and Izzy

Residence: Greystones

Published works: I began my career as a medieval historian specializing in the role played by the Franciscan order in the wars in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. So I published various journal articles and book chapters in this field. Most recently I worked for the Dictionary of Irish Biography project and wrote several biographical essays including jewelry thief Peter Gulston, legendary theater school owner Billie Barry and mountaineer Ian McKeever . Co-edited “Irish Lives in America”, which is published by the Royal Irish Academy.

What’s your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?

Because this book is a co-edited volume, the routine was very different from my usual writing routine – although both involved copious amounts of tea. Liz and I had an office together at the Royal Irish Academy until lockdown in March 2020, so we were able to sit down and debate our ideas for the book. We then spent a considerable amount of time perusing the “Dictionary of Irish Biography”, choosing lives that interested us and which we felt would interest the reader. We had about 500 choices and we narrowed it down to 50. Since last March, our collaboration has been distant. But still involves tea.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

The worst part of any writing effort is dealing with a blank screen. No matter how many times you sit down to start something, that feeling never goes away. My only advice is to fill the space with words no matter how random and poorly thought out they are. Sentences can be refined, ideas can be expanded or rejected, but until there are words on the screen, nothing can happen.

Name three books that are memorable in terms of reading pleasure.

My favorite book is still the one I’m about to start reading, but if I had to pick three I would keep coming back, I would choose “Good Omens” to begin with – I’m a die-hard Neil Gaiman and Terry fan. Pratchett, so their The Collaboration remains one of my favorite books (within seconds of them individually are “American Gods” and “Nightwatch”). I also love science fiction, so anything written by Ian M. Banks in his Culture series is always worth a look. And because I’m a medieval historian, I love anything that brings this period to life – Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose” is both a brilliant mystery and a beautifully written evocation of the medieval period.

What book are you currently reading?

“Hall of Wolves” by Hilary Mantel.

Is there a book you would have liked to write?

“Neverwhere” by Neil Gaiman.


Name a book that pleasantly surprised you.

CJ Sanson’s Shardlake Series – I’m always wary of historical fiction, but “Dissolution” was a great read and I devoured the rest of the series.

If you could meet an author, alive or dead, who would it be?

Terry Pratchett. His warmth and humor shine on every page and everyone who met him has never been disappointed.

Which book has changed your life?

“The Hobbit.” My brother gave it to me for Christmas when I was 9 and I had never read anything like it.

What is your favorite place in Ireland?

Oysterhaven near Kinsale. I have been going there since I was a child and it is my favorite place.

You are Irish if …

Everything is grandiose.

Launch next Wednesday at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum (6.30 p.m. Irish time) with a panel discussion titled “Irish lives in America: underdogs or overlords? », Chaired by Patrick Geoghegan and starring Miriam Nyhan Gray, Diane Negra, Neville Isdell and Liz Evers. It will be broadcast live hbefore.

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