The next time you’re up at Gaelic Park in the Bronx watching young lads aim for glory on the pitch, think of the happy fate of Michael Ledwidge.
Now 39 and living outside Hartford in Connecticut, Ledwidge used to play there with his brother back in the eighties. But since those days he’s come as far from his origins as it’s possible to get.
Nowadays Ledwidge works alongside the most successful author in the world, thriller writer James Patterson, a one-man publishing industry who has roped in untold millions courtesy of his legions of fans.
As the co-author of a series of some of Patterson’s most profitable books to date, Ledwidge has risen from an admired but, it’s fair to say, mostly unread author, to co-writing some of the most widely read books in the world. He’s made real money doing it too, enough to change his life completely.
But before we get to how he made his fortune, there’s his background in the Bronx and his days at Gaelic Park.
“My dad, who was from Ireland, loved Gaelic football and so my brother and I played it there,” Ledwidge tells the Irish Voice, enjoying the memory.
“We were in the Rangers team from the age of 10 till about 16. The scene up there was great fun at the time. Sometimes they’d have dances and we’d go.
“My mom and dad would bring us there for the annual dance at the park, too. I was always pretty well behaved. I was a good boy -- write that down!”
Before his life was transformed by good fortune equal to a once in a lifetime lottery win, Ledwidge had a very typical Irish American upbringing, which included a mandatory summer spent in Ireland.
“I traveled there when I was 14 and I stayed in Leitrim for most of summer. I thought it was going to be a vacation, but I ended up working on my relative’s cattle farm. There was a lot of waking up at 5 a.m.
“That summer I drove around the place with these two older guys named Seamus and Michael who were cattle inspectors. We spent the summer driving around the whole county playing the ‘Fields of Athenry’ over and over on a tape deck everywhere we went.”
Ledwidge then moved on to Cavan to stay with his cousins who were also farmers but who lived closer to the town.
“All the kids wanted to meet the Yank. They didn’t seem too impressed. But there was a whole gang of them and we hung around. It was a lot of fun,” he recalls.
“One of the things I really liked was that people would come by and ring the doorbell of my Aunt Josephine’s house. It would be nine o’clock at night and someone would pop in and say, ‘How is everybody, let’s play cards.’ And they’d play till 11 at night. If someone rang your doorbell in the Bronx you wouldn’t be invited to stay, that’s for sure.”
Ledwidge’s father (who sadly passed away two weeks ago) hailed from Kilnaleck in Co. Cavan, and his mother came from near Drumshanbo, Co. Leitrim.
They came separately to the U.S. in the sixties and arrived in New Haven, where there was a big Irish immigrant contingent at the time. The couple actually met in Queens a few years later.
“My dad came here and he stayed with his uncle, who was also an Irish immigrant. That uncle was the captain of Paul Rockefeller’s private yacht, believe it or not,” Ledwidge says.
“He was the Rockefeller who built the Twin Towers. He lived in Tarrytown and he would take his yacht into Manhattan every day. That’s actually how he commuted to his office in the Rockefeller Center. My dad’s uncle would drop him back and forth.”
The relationship between the Irishman and the mogul was friendly enough because when Ledwidge’s father was looking for a job Nelson Rockefeller, the governor of New York at the time, helped him get it.
“My dad worked for the New York State Thruway and he got his job through the Rockefellers. Nelson Rockefeller was governor and there was some sort of deal there,” Ledwidge says.
“I remember my dad saying that when he first went to work it was a hard job to land and he was asked, ‘Do you know Nelson Rockefeller or something?’”
Ledwidge grew up in Riverdale in the Bronx, not too far from the last stop on the Number 1 train in Van Cortland Park. His block was pretty Irish.
“It was a very typical Bronx childhood. I played stickball, and there was a whole bunch of neighborhood kids around. I remember going out alone and running around all day long and it was safe to do that.”
Like other boys from the neighborhood Ledwidge went to the all-boys school Mount St. Michael Academy in the Bronx. But it was, he says, pretty grim.
“It was run by the Marist Brothers and it wasn’t that much fun. They believed in discipline and I was happy when it was over. Puff Daddy (now known as Sean “P. Diddy” Combs) was a year ahead of me in that school, believe it or not.”