This July Fourth weekend, Elaine Lafferty celebrated liberation of a different kind.
For more than 20 years, the revered Irish-American writer has traveled the globe, breaking stories around the U.S. for “Time,” Magazine and reporting from conflict zones around the world as “Irish Times,” war correspondent.
That weekend, however, Lafferty said goodbye to journalism – for the time being at least – in favor of pursuing an different interest entirely when she took over as co-owner of the Old Mill, a beautiful old waterfront bar and restaurant in Manittuck, NY.
Her co-partner also happens to know a thing or two about news, as she is Fox anchorwoman Greta Van Susteren. But do they know anything about running a restaurant?
Taking time out last week from what sounded like a busy day at the restaurant to speak to the Echo by telephone, Lafferty said they were “still learning,” about the hospitality trade but enjoying every minute of it.
“We hit the ground running,” she laughed.
“And we’ve been very busy ever since. It’s been great I can’t complain about anything.”
Born and raised in New Jersey, Lafferty broke into journalism when she moved to California in her early 20s. After working for a local newspaper, she moved on to “Time,” magazine, working for 10 years working as Los Angeles correspondent.
“It was a great experience,” she recalled.
“We used to call it the Apocalypse years of Los Angles. We had O.J. Simpson, we had the riots, we had the Unabomber. There was a period there where almost every major story in the United States was coming out of the West Coast. So I was there for some really exciting years.”
The O.J. Simpson trial, she described as: “the most competitive story I had ever worked on before or since.”
“It was just such a phenomenon and the international press descended on this case that, originally none of us thought was much of a story. You know, a former football player’s wife was murdered. The morning we heard that, we were like: “that won’t get too much attention.” Great journalistic instinct!” she laughed.
“But it was an extraordinary case. It was very competitive. It was seven days a week. “Newsweek,” the “New York Times,” “The New Yorker;” everybody was just on every single detail. Everybody was breaking exclusives, so it was a lot of pressure, not only to be first but also to be right.”
Lafferty, who holds an Irish passport as her grandparents emigrated to the U.S. from Clare and Donegal, often sought refuge from her hectic lifestyle in L.A. by retreating to a three-hundred-year-old cottage she owns near Youghal in Co. Cork.
“After 10 years Los Angles and I had really burned out on California stories,” she explained.
“When you’re burned out, you’re not bringing a fresh perspective to things. I called Lara Marlow, ‘Time,’ Magazine’s Beirut bureau Chief (Marlow currently writes for the “Irish Times,” from Paris). I loved the “Irish Times,” and I called Lara and said: ‘well, how is it working there?’ And she said: ‘I’m working twice as hard as I did for Time Magazine, earning less money and I’ve never been happier.’ That sounded pretty good and so I called Peter Murtagh, who was then the foreign editor, went over and had a coffee with him and we hit it off. It was a great opportunity to work for a paper of that quality and to be able to do different things, to wander around the United States with my laptop and tell stories.”
When Hurricane Mitch struck Honduras in 1998, Lafferty jumped on the first flight she could get to report on it for the “Irish Times,” propelling her career into a new stage.
Over the next four years, Lafferty worked as the paper’s war correspondent, reporting and, often spending months at a time in conflict zones like Kosovo and Afghanistan.
“I was extremely proud to be Irish during the Kosovo conflict,” she said.
“Working for an Irish paper and carrying an Irish passport put me, as a journalist, in a very unique position because Ireland was not part of NATO. It allowed for and obviously reflected my own feelings of neutrality, which was nice. I felt the importance of that in a conflict zone, which I think has become an even greater issue for journalists. Not being a representative of a country or a newspaper that is an active participant in a conflict was very, very important in being able to fairly cover that – and in getting all sides talk to you.”
In 2003, Lafferty moved back to the West Coast to take up a position as editor of Ms. Magazine, the revolutionary feminist publication founded by Gloria Steinem. Faced with the challenge of revamping the magazine’s somewhat dated image, Lafferty succeeded admirably. Under her editoirial reign, the publication earned its first National Magazine Award nomination in 17 years.
A brief period as editor of “More,” magazine followed, causing Lafferty rethink her options.
“It was sort of my little foray into the world of women’s magazines but I decided to foray of it pretty quickly,” she laughed.
“I don’t know if you have seen the movie “The Devil wears Prada?” I mean, God knows I’m not of that age and I wasn’t an assistant but I certainly identified with that movie. The media world is changing, media is changing itself, with the Internet now and blogging and I really took some time to say: ‘what’s next?'” she said.
“And then this incredible opportunity arose. I’ve always had an interest in food and wine and I’ve always been interested in real estate and properties. And this particular restaurant – it’s terrific, it’s like one of the old style pubs in the country. There are wood beams on the ceilings, there are names carved in the beams from the 1800s and there’s a working fireplace. It’s old, you know, and I just thought: “My God, what a great pub.”
Both Lafferty and Van Susteren, whose mother’s maiden name was Conway and whose maternal ancestors were from Co. Mayo, are keen to preserve the Old Mill’s rustic appearance as did the previous owner Gerry Daly.
“We’re improving the selections of wines and beers and making the food better but absolutely we want to keep the history of the place,” Lafferty said.
“Gerry was a terrific guy and he’s got a serious Irish Mafia out here!”
“The great thing about this is that it doesn’t’ preclude anything,” she continued.
“I’m not saying I would never be a journalist again, it doesn’t preclude doing any of that, it’s just an exciting thing and a rewarding thing to do right now.”