Remembering Nuala

The late Nuala O Faolain was the subject of a very warm tribute in The New York Times editorial page this week after her untimely death in Dublin.

O Faolain was "fearless even when she insisted she wasn't," was the opening remark by Maura J. Casey, and that summed up Nuala very well.

She worked out of the Irish Voice offices for a brief period in the 1980s when she was in New York prospecting for stories and for the book career she would later embark on so successfully.

It was during the time she was still in a relationship with fellow writer Nell McCafferty, and the two were very clearly in love.

Nuala was the least affected writer you could ever meet. Indeed, she evinced a lack of confidence that was quite staggering given her unique gifts.

She had an almost Colombo-like ability to stumble across the big stories, to grab the necessary quote that others missed, to see the point of an argument that no one else grasped.

Above all, she was able to communicate all that in clear, direct prose that so many Irish writers eschew in favor of a more florid style. With O Faolain you knew what you were getting.

She was an unlikely heroine to a generation of women in Ireland, a product of a very bad alcoholic father and a mother who was deeply depressed. She wrote very movingly about her early life in her memoir Are You Somebody?.

The surprise success of that book launched her on an international career, and she was truly enjoying the fruits of her labor in her beloved New York when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer here just a few months ago.

She faced it with great courage and determination. Her interview on the Marian Finucane show on RTE, Ireland's national radio broadcaster, where she calmly discussed her terminal illness and her decision not to take any chemotherapy, is a remarkable testament to her bravery in the face of death. She will be missed.

Worrying Trend

THE continued incarceration of former IRA member Pol Brennan in Texas is sending a bad signal about the future intentions of the Department of Homeland Security when it comes to ex-IRA detainees in America.

Brennan, who escaped from the Maze prison in Northern Ireland in 1983, made his way to America and was arrested here. He was later part of the amnesty deal surrounding the peace process which allowed former IRA members to live essentially on continuing parole over here.

Brennan, however, who was arrested recently at a Texas checkpoint while on vacation with his wife, is now being held in alleged violation of that parole, as he was involved in a misdemeanor incident involving an argument at work.

It appears that the DHS is determined to state he is no longer on parole and should be deported. The worst news is that there appears to be a move afoot within DHS to also re-categorize the other IRA men who took advantage of the parole provisions to come forward.

Some DHS figures are saying that because they are no longer in danger of being killed because the Troubles are over, those people should also be sent back. It has become increasingly difficult for many of them to secure their working papers every year, as they have to do.

All this, of course, is music to the ears of the tiny group of dissidents who still populate America. The Brennan case gives them a raison d'etre they had previously lacked.

If DHS begins to make an issue of the other IRA men as well, we can expect a major boost for the anti-peace process elements.

Obama Won Irish Votes

SENATOR Barack Obama's defining experience as a young politician was his defeat when running for Congress against establishment incumbent Bobby Rush on Chicago's South Side in 2000.

Obama was a state senator at the time and looking to move up and he thought that Rush, a former Black Panther, was probably vulnerable. The Chicago Democratic machine thought otherwise, though, and Rush went on to win easily in a defeat that seemed to end Obama's chances of a national career.

As Time magazine notes this week, "The only ward he had won was the largely white working-class Irish Catholic 19th ward, where the local party organization had endorsed Rush but a state legislator, Tom Dart, broke ranks for Obama.

"Dart walked the precincts and marched with Obama at the annual South Side St. Patrick's Day parade, passing out O'BAMA buttons with shamrocks. Nearly three-quarters of the ward - a conservative community of cops, firefighters and schoolteachers - went for Obama, suggesting a wider reach among white voters."

Interesting that Obama developed his first real white following among a working class Irish base in Chicago.

As he almost certainly faces into a general election against Senator John McCain, his ability to win over those working class Irish votes in key states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio will decide whether he can become president or not.

As Time point out he has done it once before, though against a very different opponent.

Bertie for President?

FORMER Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern may well run for president of Ireland in two years time, according to some Fianna Fail insiders.

The belief is that Ahern is still addicted to politics and power and that the presidency may offer him the one last opportunity to grasp it. Though the Irish presidency is largely a symbolic job, Mary Robinson and now Mary McAleese have shown how the position can become a staging ground for worldwide recognition.