He’s been with the Irish Voice since Day One, and his weekly column about life in the west of Ireland has been a creative and colorful escape for our beloved CORMAC MacCONNELL.
I cannot easily believe that it is 25 years since I sent the first piece across the Atlantic for the Irish Voice in New York!
Time flies on wings as powerful as those of the sea eagles I viewed swooping over Lough Derg last week. Where does it go? Where is it going? Where are we going?
I suppose it does not really matter in the end. Reality is today, and this is a day for the celebration of a powerful success story of the survival and growth of one young Irishman's publishing dream in an often cruel world which seems to specialize in killing dreams and ambitions.
Congratulations all round to Niall O’Dowd and all the loyal team around him. I'm proud indeed to have been recruited on to that team from the very beginning.
On a personal note, I've got to say that I've enjoyed every second of the time spent writing the weekly pieces from the west for all of you over there. It has been a totally therapeutic exercise always.
In the beginning, as I look back through time, most of my working week was spent reporting the hardest of news stories, primarily for the poor old Irish Press just entering its death throes.
I was covering hardships and tragedies about every second day across the province of Connacht and its jaggy coastline. We were entering a recession which was even harsher than the current one thus far.
Factories were closing, emigration was rife, infrastructure was so poor that it was even difficult to phone your (sad) story through to Dublin at the end of the day. You had to wind the handles of the crank phones in remote places like Hell just to reach the local exchange! All the horizons were bleak.
I'm a competent news reporter because I had to be, but I never enjoyed that kind of work at all. It was real work.
There seemed to be a lot of fishing trawler disasters around then.
Sinking ships in every sense of the word. As a reporter I had to write the stark facts – who, what, where, when and how -- and the elements of those tragedies which truly impacted on me as an observer would be ruthlessly edited out of the stories by the sub-editors in Dublin (John Spain might have been one of them then!) if you included them.
I especially remember a lost fisherman's wool skullcap bobbing in the surfline near the grieving feet of his father one evening in Donegal.
That one line of text was sent to Dublin but never saw the light of day. That one and many more.
It grieved me. I never felt I was telling the real story properly for Irish readers.
The North was in turmoil still, but I'd already done my stints in Belfast and Derry. The world rumbled on.
The Pope came to Ireland and Bishop Casey of Galway and Father Michael Cleary of Dublin were the showstoppers with him at the Galway racetrack long before their alleged fall from grace.
The Tuam Sugar Factory was closed down, ending a prosperous rural tradition. The magnificent, rascally Monsignor Horan of Knock and Heaven got his international airport built against all the odds, our splendid new President Michael D. of Labor was beaten in general elections far more often than he won but bravely soldiered away, Charlie Haughey came and went.
In the background, in all fairness, the Fianna Failers sent out to Brussels pulled all kinds of "strokes" to extract more cash and benefits from the EC than any other nation. The Catholic Church was still all-powerful and controlling.
I faithfully reported all the hard news that was the grist of the mill that ground away and fed my wife and family.
But, against that background, can ye imagine the real pleasure I got every week when sitting down with a glass or a cigarette and coffee to write for the Irish Voice?
I was able to use all the "color" that was being excised from all the news stories elsewhere. I was free in my zany enough way to "see" the western world in the way I experienced it and experience it to this day.
It was the full truth of rural Ireland that was so often being under-reported elsewhere, but which seemed to have a natural position in the brave new Irish Voice in New York and in Irish America magazine and, later, on Irish Central where I'm still somewhat uncomfortable at being a blog. In my home parish up North, in its rich dialect, a blogger was not what you wished to be!
I hope the pieces give as much pleasure to many of you in the reading as I've had in the writing. You have been a lovely readership to serve.
I've become friendly with many of you personally over these golden years, met a significant percentage face to face, and some have spent nights under the thatched roof of Maisie’s Cottage and, please God, will again.
The Dutch Nation knows already that I dearly love Caty and Clare and darling Debbie and Alana to bits, and hugely admire Niall's achievements to date. There will be more to come.
Niall uses a periscope cannily each week to view all his Irish American horizons. I think maybe I use an old brass telescope and always look through it first from the wrong end. This is crazy because it makes a little circle of modernity and reality look far away, but somehow luminously stimulating and interesting.
As all of you enjoy this very significant publishing milestone which has been so good for Irish America, can I say I feel so joyous for you -- and in such good form too -- that I propose to keep looking through my brass telescope for the next 25 years too!
God bless you all!