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Norfolk MA's 15 year old Melissa McCarthy is All Ireland dance champ

By Bill O'Donnell, May 1, 2012

Give The Little Lady A Big Hand—This Norfolk, Massachusetts, dancer doesn’t need much of an introduction to Boston Irish dance fans, given her appearances in Riverdance and Brian O’Donavan’s Celtic Sojourn and her talents as a gifted dance instructor, but now Melissa McCarthy, 15, has a new title: winner of the prestigious World Irish Dancing Championship held last month in Belfast. She bested girls in the age 15-16 category in the Waterfront Hall contest. Melissa learned to dance at the Harney Academy of Irish Dance in Walpole, founded by Liam Harney, himself a world champion. Harney’s mother, Sally, an accomplished Irish set dancer, teaches at the academy.

All of which is prelude to next year’s world championships, which will be held in here in Boston’s Hynes Convention Center during the last week of March. Boston, considered by many to be the most Irish of American cities, has played host to numerous Irish-related cultural events, including the North American Irish dancing championships, and the national conventions of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann.
A Few Strike It Rich—While most of the financial news in Ireland involves bailouts, bankruptcies, and busted lives, a few quick-on-the-draw Irish companies are doing very well for themselves and their shareholders. Three prominent Irish companies are leading the pack in corporate value and return on investment while making millions of euros for their investors. The top three are: Paddy Power Bookmakers, Glanbia Foods, and Ireland’s no-frills, cheap air fare leader Ryanair.
The bookmaking giant Paddy Power, like most other Irish firms, took a financial hit with the world recession but has bounced back smartly. Ryanair’s founder and CEO, Michael O’Leary, holds 50 million shares in the airline that are now worth over $300 million, up in value by some 70 percent since 2008. As a result of Ryanair’s share appreciation, Irish farmers, small business owners, and pensioners have reaped solid profits from investments in the airline. Also benefitting from improving niche markets is Kilkenny-based dairy giant Glanbia. Its share price has increased 200 percent since the recession.
The Irish real estate and development market has not fared anywhere as well as the above noted corporate high-flyers. In Knocknacarra, Co. Galway, a 16-acre site originally planned for a large housing development has declined in value from its early asking price of $40 million at the height of the pre-recession boom to $2 million today.
Overdue Tribute To World War II Hero Priest—It has been almost a half-century since Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty died, but his anti-Nazi activities and the thousands of people he saved during the Second World War fully justify his unofficial title as the Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican. Efforts are underway now to erect a statue in Killarney to honor Msgr. O’Flaherty, whose defiant heroics against the Gestapo saved at least 4,000 escaped allied prisoners and fleeing Jewish refugees.
Some readers may recall an excellent 1983 television movie, “The Scarlet & The Black,” starring Gregory Peck as O’Flaherty. Attached to the Vatican Curia, O’Flaherty confounded the Nazis who were suspicious of the cleric’s activities but could not take him into custody as long as he stayed inside sovereign Vatican City. The United States recognized the monsignor’s wartime exploits by awarding him the US Medal of Freedom, and the government of Israel declared him “Righteous.”
Finally, No Che Guevara Monument in Galway—The question of an appropriate monument to the late Latin American revolutionary Che Guevara has haunted the legislative leadership of Galway since June of last year. Guevara, who was killed by US-backed forces in Bolivia in 1967, was a descendant of the Lynch and Blake tribes of Galway. The original city council resolution simply voted to “honor” Guevara, and there was no mention at the time of a statue. Somehow, in the intervening months “honor” became “statue” and a full-fledged brouhaha has taken hold that now involves Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Congresswoman Ileana Ros Lehtinen. She criticized what she had heard would be a statue of Che near the Salthill promenade, describing him as a “mass murderer and human rights abuser.” Galway Mayor Hildegarde Naughton has reaffirmed that no statue to Che is planned but Councillor Billy Cameron has persisted. Things can change when city council members with strong opinions find themselves in heated debate, but it would surprise me if Che Guevara is ever added to the existing statuary in Galway city or elsewhere in Ireland.
Lest We Forget—With the passage of time, and with the efforts of allies within the Irish political establishment combined with his own spirited defense, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern likely hopes to see the beginning of the end of the massive criticism he has shouldered since his departure as Irish leader. I doubt that will happen. One memorable line from the final report of the Mahon Tribunal seems assured to keep Bertie from rehabbing his personal and political reputations. The Mahon verdict: “Much of the explanation provided by Mr. Ahern as to the source of the substantial funds identified and inquired into in the course of the tribunal’s public hearings was deemed by the tribunal to have been untrue.” Then there is, of course, the benediction by current Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin when calling for Bertie’s expulsion from the party: “Bertie Ahern betrayed the trust placed in him by his country and his party.”
Not unlike President Nixon, who also resigned under threat of impeachment/expulsion, Ahern would dearly like to refurbish his place in history. He will, it seems, not be aided in that goal by giving high-priced speeches any longer. Early last month Mr. Ahern’s listing on the Speaker’s Bureau was taken down and he will have to learn to tighten his belt and live on his $22,000 monthly stipend.
H-Block, By Any Other Name—The scene of the hunger strikes of the early 1980s is finally, after a long and contentious road, set to become the museum that Irish Republicans have campaigned for over the past few years. The H-Blocks British prison will be called, if early indications hold, a “Conflict Resolution Centre,” and will cover (not unlike most American presidential museums) both the good and the bad, the triumphs and the failures, the hunger strikes, and the escapes.
The Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein, co-leaders of the Stormont government in the North, have finally agreed that the hospital wing where ten Irish republicans starved to death will be preserved and other prison buildings will attempt to deal even-handedly (if that is possible) with the history of the Troubles and H-Blocks role in that accounting. Jim Alister, a member of the local assembly, leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice, and a severe critic of the H-Blocks being sited as a museum, has said that the prison “is guaranteed to be blighted and tainted by the toxic Maze Buildings.” One man’s history is another’s political poison, it seems.
A Brief Primer On The Treaty Referendum—Unlike the two Mastricht treaty referenda voted on by the Irish (a rejection by the Irish voters in 2001 and acceptance a year later) that caused great angst in the European Union, the newest vote, scheduled for May 31 for Euro zone countries, does not have to be unanimous. A second major point with the May 31 vote by the Irish people is that a “no” vote would deny Ireland access to bailout funds that are enshrined in this treaty. This would mean considerable trouble if the current austerity budget plan went bad for Ireland. The IMF and ECB tap would be dry and unavailable to Ireland.
It could be a close vote but the government and most business elements are solidly behind it and except for those who want to create mischief, a “no” vote serves little purpose this time around.
Dublin, Belfast Projects Defy Recession—Two major centers of business and culture, Belfast in the North and Dublin in the Republic, have been moving forward with exciting new developments that attract tourists and enhance cultural appeal.
Dublin’s port authority is under full steam to build a $40 million cruise ship terminal that will give the local economy a major boost by bringing in tourists to Ireland’s capital. Last year, 85 cruise ships with 130,000 passengers aboard them arrived in the port. The problem has been that the ships have had to dock in an area more suited to cargo ships. The new terminal will solve that problem when it is open and operational in 2015. Estimates are that passenger ships today are worth $65 million annually to the local economy.
Across the now almost non-existent border up in Belfast, the new Metropolitan Arts Centre, which opened April 20, builds on the infrastructure projects newly opened in the Belfast area and beyond. In addition to the MAC, there is the Titanic signature project, the new Lyric Theater, and the freshly refurbished Ulster Museum.
Another recent development that adds color and context to the vibrant cultural scene in the North is the recently completed Giants Causeway Visitor Centre in northeast Ulster. More than enough, as I have often noted, to add on a few days or more during your Irish visit to include the very scenic North.
GAA Oral History Project Nears Completion—For four years now the Gaelic Athletic Association has been cooperating with Boston College to compile a comprehensive archive and data base that will then be handed over to the GAA Museum and Archives. The project, begun in 2008, will include some 1,000 recorded interviews with GAA members from all 32 counties and others around the world. The archives will also include, according to Professor Mike Cronin, Academic Director of Boston College Ireland, photographs, publications, and documents that will by the fall of 2012 be available to all on the internet. The archives ( will be arranged by the 32 counties and one section on the GAA overseas, and will be the richest and most comprehensive historic overview of the GAA ever attempted.
The Disappeared That Haunt The Peace—The Troubles in Northern Ireland over a 30-year period resulted in the deaths of more than 3, 500 people, many of them innocent victims not in league with either the warring Irish Republican Army, or the British Army, or other NI security units. Among the dead were at least 16 people who disappeared, with no bodies to bury or to mourn. Nine of the victims have been located with the help of former IRA members, but seven still remain somewhere buried in unmarked graves. It is difficult to believe that there are not former IRA members who could come forward to disclose burial sites and help bring closure to the victims’ families, and an end to this despicable chapter of the Troubles.
In mid-April, a senior Sinn Fein figure, Mitchel McLaughlin, told the Stormont Assembly that he believed secretly burying some of the victims was “wrong and unjust.” He added that the Provisionals should have come clean long ago with details of the location of the so-called “Disappeared.” Amen!
A Few Words On The Secret Service—The news that broke in the media two weeks ago relating to the prostitution scandal in Colombia came as a total shock to this observer. The Secret Service protective detail in Colombia to do advance and security for President Obama was on a fairly routine assignment and reports following the discovery underline that the president’s safety was never compromised, and that the president himself had not arrived before the alleged incidents. Those circumstances, however, do not mitigate unconscionable behavior.
A bit of back story: In 1980, as a road show press aide to Congressman John Anderson, I was a liaison between the campaign and the Secret Service, which was eager to assume responsibility for the presidential candidate’s security, a move he was reluctant to accept. But following a near-dangerous public event in Seattle, Anderson grudgingly agreed to the protection. For most of the year the Secret Service provided round-the-clock security for Anderson as first a Republican candidate, and from the late summer on, as an Independent presidential candidate. I worked closely with detail leaders and individual agents throughout the campaign until election day.
Over the long months from California to New England and some 40 odd states, the agents were the most professional law enforcement/security personnel I have ever worked with. They didn’t carry bags or run errands, but they knew their business and were superb and extremely well-trained, affable but serious, and working long, tedious shifts without complaint. In short they made us, the traveling campaign staff, more aware and professional.
To wrap up: Shortly after the inauguration of President Reagan, a number of agents from our Secret Service detail became part of his White House detachment. One of the them, who was with us through 1980, was Dennis McCarthy, whom we all liked and admired for his broad smile and taut professionalism. He was with Reagan outside the Washington Hilton on March 30, 1981 when John Hinckley fired his gun at the president. Dennis wrestled Hinckley to the ground and forced the weapon from the would-be assassin’s hand. Another veteran agent, Larry Dominguez, who was our liaison with the Secret Service during the Anderson campaign, helped McCarthy corral Hinckley and get him into a police car. Both men were commended for their actions and McCarthy was awarded a medal by the President for his heroics.
What happened in Colombia was wrong, an unacceptable exception to the courageous service that agents on protective detail provide without fear or favor.
Man bites dog: Hill Holiday advertising agency fires the Massachusetts Lottery. Good move. … Paying Liberty Mutual’s Ted Kelly all that money while his company gets tax breaks from the state is dead wrong. But when all is said and done, whatever happened to executive/corporate performance as a barometer of CEO salaries. … One of the most balanced essays on the BC oral history situation was a March 31 Irish Times column by the Boston Globe’s Kevin Cullen. … The North’s Orange Order just received a $1.35 million grant from the EU. Maybe it will help them with their anti-Catholic bigotry. … Ireland must be in better shape financially then I thought. A $260,000 annual salary cap has kept the top job at the Irish Department of Finance open for months. No takers at that “pittance.” … Latest report just out from the International Monetary Fund has high praise for Ireland’s policy makers.
Why am I not surprised when I read that Glen Beck (out there somewhere) has designed a set for his TV show that is an exact replica of the White House Oval Office? … It figures: The British have named Michael Collins the second greatest enemy commander, just a shade behind George Washington. … The turf war between native Irish turf cutters is getting ugly with scant resolution in sight. … Maurice Fitzpatrick, creator of the award-winning documentary film “The Boys of Columb,” has turned his attention to Derry’s statesman of the Troubles, John Hume. He recently talked with a number of us here in Boston who worked with Hume over the years.
The Boston Globe has joined with those of us who believe that the TV network Al Jazeera has the right stuff and should be available in the US on cable. … Is Sinn Fein’s Annie Brolly really trying to get Ireland’s iconic air, “Danny Boy,” played over loudspeakers every day in Limavady. Wow! …Where is James Bulger’s memoir? Everyone else has written about Whitey except Whitey. And while we’re at it, where are similar tomes from Sal DiMasi and Tom Finneran? … One of Ireland’s respected craft breweries, the Franciscan Well Brewery in Cork, has won top national honors for its Shandon Century Extra Stout. … How about that Republican congressman from Florida who believes that there are from 78 to 81 Communists in the US House of Representative. Ah, stupid me; I thought all the wing-nuts disappeared with the end of the GOP primary debates.
RIP: To lifetime pal Patrick “Dan” McDevitt of the giving heart. What better and truer epitaph than “He was a loyal and generous friend.”