TWO PASSINGS, AND A PASTIME RENEWED: Two men who made a mark

They were vastly different men in many ways, but in their inimitable ways, they shared a bottomless love of their native Ireland. Martin McGuinness was an IRA commander turned peacemaker. Frank Delaney was a journalist, broadcaster, and, above all, a masterful writer and storyteller. They passed away in recent days, McGuinness to heart trouble, Delaney after a stroke. In these pages, I had the opportunity to speak at length with both men.

McGuinness trod a path that wound from his IRA days – when he rose to second-in-command of the Provisional IRA in Derry and was often described as “Britain’s number one terrorist” – to his pivotal role in the Northern Ireland peace process. Even as he became a prominent political figure, he neither denied nor sugarcoated his IRA past.

As Bill Clinton, another key figure in that Good Friday agreement process, eulogized, McGuinness was a key figure in ending the violence in Northern Ireland, securing IRA arms decommissioning in 2005, and sharing the new government with past, once-intractable Protestant foes. His momentous handshake in 2012 with Queen Elizabeth II signified just how far both he and Northern Ireland had come since the worst of the Troubles.

As the Irish News noted, “Mr. McGuinness said he ‘genuinely regretted’ every life lost during the Troubles… “Every single violent act was evidence of a failure of politics and a failure of British policy in Ireland….I genuinely regret every single life that was lost during that conflict and today I want every family who lost a loved one to know that your pain is not being ignored and I am willing to work with others to finding a way to deal with our past so that we can complete our journey to true reconciliation.”

In an interview with McGuinness, what I most recall was how thoughtful and quietly optimistic he was for his country’s future. Still, there was no mistaking the sheer toughness of the man.

Over the past decade, I had the great and good fortune of interviewing Tipperaryman Frank Delaney on several occasions. A genuine Renaissance man, he started his career with Irish state radio and RTÉ in 1970. Then, he went on to the BBC in Dublin and covered The Troubles for five years, garnering a reputation for forthright, balanced, and courageous reporting.

Moving to London, he embraced his passion for books and writing with the popular Bookshelf program for BBC Radio 4, delving into the world of publishing and interviewing more than 1,400 authors who ranged from John Updike and Margaret Atwood to Stephen King. For the BBC, Delaney hosted Omnibus, the Frank Delaney Show, Word of Mouth, and later, on Sky News, the long-running The Book Show.

As a bestselling author, Delaney wrote five nonfiction books, ten novels, and short stories. His nautical nonfiction work “Simple Courage” is a book that stays with the reader long after one finishes it. It was to discuss this true tale of a shipwreck off the Irish coast that I first met Delaney. He was a man of towering wit, wordliness, and talent.

A Happy 105th anniversary to “the House That Logue Built”

Spring is a time of renewal, and for legions of people in these parts, that means opening day at Fenway Park. The year 2017 marks a milestone for the venerable “House that Logue Built” 105 years ago.

On April 20, 1912, some 27,000 spectators jammed the stands for the Red Sox home opener. This opening day, however, heralded a new era for the club. As starting pitcher Buck O’Brien rocked into his windup and uncoiled the season’s first pitch at the New York Highlander’s leadoff hitter, he did so in a brand new ballpark. Fenway Park was in business—in large part thanks to an Irish immigrant named Charles Logue. The Derry-born contractor’s company had built the ballpark destined to become a shrine to “the Grand Old Game.”

Born in Derry in 1858, a bearded man and the father of a large family, Logue possessed a genuine talent for shaping land to architects’ plans. He owned a construction company that earned a stellar reputation for finishing jobs on time and without questionable cost overruns, something that could not always be said of the city’s more than 230 Irish contractors in the early 1900s.

Logue built structures for the Catholic Archdiocese and for Boston College, and when John I. Taylor, son of the Boston Globe’s publisher, General Charles H. Taylor, was given the Red Sox as a perk from his father, the new owner wanted a new ballpark for the local nine. On June 24, 1912, the Globe trumpeted the news with a half-page drawing and a detailed accompanying story stoking fans’ fervor. The article stated, “With the new park covering 365,306 square feet of land and the stands of the most approved type, and the home club brought up to its best pitch, the fans hereabouts can confidently look forward through the winter months to some great baseball games next season.”

The man hired as the chief contractor for the park was Charles Logue and beginning on Sept. 25, 1911, a state-of-the-art steel and concrete ballpark—one of the first of its kind—began to materialize on a tract whose most distinctive previous buildings had been the Park Riding School and a church.

Logue and his crews had to follow both the architects’ plans and the realities of “day baseball.” A Fenway Park historian writes, “There was no thought of night baseball in 1911, so the architects had to make sure batters would not be facing into the sun late in the afternoon. Thus home plate was set in the southwest corner of the yard…to ensure that the sun would set behind third base, bothering only the right fielder.” To the eternal agony of countless right fielders who would lose balls in the Fenway sun, Logue followed the plan to the letter.

By opening day of 1912, Logue had delivered the goods. Fenway Park was ready, completed at a cost of $650,000 and with private funds only. Washed out by rain for two days, Fenway’s christening day was April 20, the stands packed with fans gaping at the technological “marvel.” The New York Highlanders, who would be renamed the Yankees in 1913, were a fitting opening-day foe, as the raucous rivalry between the clubs for decades to come would prove. The teams went into extra innings tied at 6 runs each. In the eleventh, Red Sox second baseman Steve Yerkes, already 5 for 6 in the No. 2 2 slot, got on base again. Tris Speaker stepped to the plate and drove in Yerkes for a dramatic 7–6 victory. Fenway’s first game had lasted three hours and twenty minutes. The Red Sox went on from there to rack up their best record ever, 105–47, and the beat the New York Giants in the World Series.

What should have been the newspapers’ big story was eclipsed on the front pages by the most recent developments in “the story of the century” – the Titanic had gone down just a few days earlier.