Editor’s note: On Wed, July 5, 2023, our sister publication the Irish Voice newspaper, in New York, went to print for the last time. Founded 36 years ago by Niall O’Dowd and edited by Debbie McGoldrick the community’s beloved source for Irish news will be sadly missed. Their writers reflect back on what the paper has meant to them.
Back in March of 2001, Dublin's annual St. Patrick’s Day parade was canceled. My memory has gotten hazy over the years, but a couple of Irish cows must have gone bonkers, so they called it “mad cow” disease. At least that’s how I recall it.
Anyway, much of Ireland had to shut down and then reopen. If you can imagine such a crazy thing.
As part of Dublin’s grand reopening, a select few (ahem) journalists were invited to attend the rescheduled Paddy’s Day festivities two months later. I was among them.
I should not have gone. My wife and I had our first child weeks earlier.
But one of the lessons we knew we’d try to teach baby Maggie is that life ain't always easy, so when a good opportunity presents itself you have to take it.
As fine a time as I had in Dublin, I vividly remember missing my family in the middle of a stunning fireworks show over the Liffey, near the Ha’penny Bridge.
Here I was, in the land of my ancestors. (Though, actually, my grandfather and a dozen or so other Deignans went to Liverpool first, I’m told. But you get the point.)
I remember feeling the awesome, intimidating responsibility of being a father. Of my own dreams and fears. So much emphasis is put on the manual labor of raising a family – the sleepless nights, the stinky diapers – that the emotions sneak up on you, gathering their mighty power slowly.
And so another thing that would have been incomprehensible to me back then? Maggie herself in Ireland.
Yet there she is now – in Temple Bar, atop the Cliffs of Moher. There for the whole summer.
Just in time for my final “Sidewalks” column for the Irish Voice, the first place that ever paid me for my words, 30 years ago.
Let’s get on that bridge back to the past one more time. Back to when I was young enough for my older sister, Mary, to still spoil me. We’d walk to a newsstand on New Dorp Lane where she’d buy me baseball cards, nestled near the racks and stacks of magazines and newspapers.
My parents actually lived above this very newsstand when Mary herself was born.
At some point, my sister began buying the Irish Voice and Irish Echo.
So they were around the house when I enrolled at the College of Staten Island and developed this ridiculous passion for reading, writing and history.
Eventually, I faxed – yes faxed – some freelance ideas to Brian Rohan at the Voice. A check arrived in the mail a few months after that. An addiction – that is, euphoria and heartbreak – was born.
You can mourn the loss of the Irish Voice, of newspapers, of so many things. But you also better cherish the joy they brought, or you’ll go madder than those Dublin cows.
That Niall O’Dowd and Debbie McGoldrick and the whole Irish Voice team got this operation up and running changed my life, just as surely as the Deignans leaving Ireland did.
Along the way, there were long days in the office (9/11 among them), and longer, laughter-filled nights at Desmond’s, or the Blarney Stone, or the Rodeo Bar, with fellow scribblers who became lifelong friends – Georgina Brennan, and Jack “Napper Tandy” Flynn.
Our lives, in the end, are just what happens when we collide with the lives of others, whose own lives are the results of collisions with others still.
And so, whatever else came of my hopes and dreams, I’m insanely proud of the 1,000 or so Irish Voice columns I wrote – especially the ones when Maggie, then TJ, Tim and Rose came along.
Maybe they’ll all head to Ireland someday, maybe they won’t. All that really matters is that they take a good opportunity when life presents it. That they write their own chapter of the Irish American story.
It’s what Niall and Debbie did. It’s what the immigrant Deignans did. It’s all you can do in life – build your own bridge, then sprint across it.
See what happens. See who you run into.