An early morning start today, the final day of interviews and storytelling with the Kearney family. Marty and Diane pick me up at the hotel, and we drive to the John Boyle O’Reilly Club (founded in 1880, at another location). Sometime in the 80s, Martin helped build the new building on this site, and was active in the life of the club. This will be our staging area for the remaining interviews. Inside there is a large, comfortable hall, where Irish dance lessons are taught (we can hear them thumping madly away during the interviews, along with the occasional fiddle tune being played loudly over the PA) and many of the programs are offered.
Downstairs, there is a large bar in the center of the room, with chairs and tables spreading out from there. There are several large-screen TVs hanging from the ceiling, and Irish posters and paraphernalia everywhere. As we enter and I get ready to set up, a grumpy barman complains that he wasn’t told we would be needing this space. Marty assures him he has made the arrangements with the President, a nice young man named Eric Devine, and we get to work.
Soon, Eli joins us, along with Marty’s brother, Brian, and his sister, Ellen. Tommy Moore is there, as well – his mother was a Blasket islander – Kate Pheats Tom (Sean Cahillane’s Aunt). Martin’s two last remaining siblings, Maureen Oski and Mike Carney, are there as well – both into their 90s, now. It is an amazing morning of shared stories about what Martin meant to this community, notions of “Irishness” and what home means, and the vibrant ties between Ireland and America. I’ll share some the stories collected today, in a later post – but suffice it to say, it was a poignant morning. Listening, especially, to Maureen and Mike, remembering their island home and missing so many family and friends, now – it was clear to all us in that room that theirs was a way of life that has passed and soon, these good people will be no more.
How lovely these people are to share their lives, memories, and stories with me and each other. It is a rare and wonderful honor for me to meet them all and to have the opportunity to tell some of these amazing stories of a unique cultural community – through discovering and sharing the life of Martin Kearney.
After breaking down my equipment, Marty, Diane, Eli, Ellen and I went to lunch at O’Brien’s – a local pub with all things Co. Kerry and Blasket on the walls. There were Co. Kerry license plates, an old guesthouse sign, photos and paintings of iconic Blasket images (Dunmore Head and the Blasket Sound, fisherman in a currach or naomhóg - Irish boats with a wooden frame, stretched with animal skins), and lots of sports advertising and apparatus. Everyone shares more stories over lunch – good, simple American food. Martin’s favorite saying was Tóg bog é – Take it easy – a fitting goodbye as we all head out on our separate ways. We’ll meet up later tonight to watch Kimberly compete in the Chicopee Colleen at the Chicopee Knights of Columbus Hall (with a proper Irish dinner at the local Chinese restaurant, first!).
To end a wonderful afternoon, Marty and Diane take me around to the places Martin lived and loved, and I take still photos, asking endless questions and hearing more stories. We visit Martin’s gravesite and the funeral home “where he was laid out,” the first home he lived in when he moved to Springfield at 23 years of age (the home of an Aunt who served as his sponsor), his church, and the three restaurants he frequented and “held court.” It is a lovely experience, and I am happy to be able to see the places that were important anchors in Martin’s life and to walk a wee bit in his footsteps in this part of the world. I am looking forward greatly to learning more about Martin’s life on the Blaskets in new and more keenly aware ways, when I am there later this month.