Touring Irish America
Mary Pat Kelly writes about encountering Irish America readers on her tour to promote her historical novel Galway Bay.
If you are reading this, I’ll bet I’ve met you.
Since I began the book tour for my novel Galway Bay one year ago, I’ve encountered you, readers of Irish America magazine, in bookstores and Irish cultural centers, in libraries and church halls, in academic conferences, and amidst the fun of Irish Festivals throughout the country.
You are the man I met at the IBAM (Irish Books and Music) weekend at the Irish American Heritage Centre in Chicago who said he had every issue of Irish America magazine and hoped to go to New York to thank Patricia Harty personally, and then quoted from her last editorial. You’re the young woman in Los Angeles who told me her determination to earn a place on the list of the top one hundred Irish Americans someday was keeping her in college.
You are any one of the hundreds who stopped at my booth during Irish Fests in Cleveland, Chicago, St. Paul, Milwaukee, Buffalo, Brooklyn, Canton (MA), Indianapolis and Long Grove (IL) to say that reading articles in Irish America magazine had spurred an interest in your own family’s history.
“What a coincidence!” I told you. “Writing articles for Irish America inspired me to learn about mine.”
I’ve been lucky enough to work with Patricia Harty on the magazine since the early part of the 25-year span we celebrate this year, and I can tell you that every story in the magazine begins with you. “Our readers will enjoy hearing about this person or that event,” Patricia would say. “Let’s do it.”
An example: We read that the Texas Rangers and pitcher Nolan Ryan were coming to New York. A very Irish name. Does he feel a connection to his roots? Our readers would be interested. The next day we were in the visitors’ dugout at Yankee Stadium with photographer James Higgins. And yes, Nolan Ryan does take pride in his Irish ancestors and the history of the Irish in Texas.
When Anjelica Huston told us, over cups of tea in the Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills, about sitting with her father, director John Huston, as he pointed out the constellations in the night sky over their house in Galway, we both said, “That’s an image our readers will like.”
Over the last quarter century the magazine has given thousands of accomplished Irish Americans the chance to assert, “Pride in Our Heritage,” and allowed hundreds of writers like me to explore the stories, all under the empowering guidance of editor Patricia Harty.
So thanks, Trish, for sending me to visit the oldest Hibernian hall in the U.S. in Charleston, South Carolina, and printing that first article about the 300,000 American servicemen in Northern Ireland during World War II which would become the topic of two books, two documentaries and a feature film.
But I’m most grateful for what I share with you, readers: a new sense of where my family fits in the sweep of Irish-American history. Every issue I read opened new vistas and inspired me to finally tell my family’s story in Galway Bay. And the wonderful reward is to meet you in person, the audience we’ve written for all these years. In the final chapter, Honora Keeley Kelly, the character based on my great-great-grandmother, looks out on the dark prairie from the top of the Ferris wheel at the Columbian Exposition of 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and thinks, “Irish people are scattered over the length and breadth of you, Amerikay. Have you swallowed us up whole and entire?”
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