By Ray O’Hanlon
The Irish naval vessel LE Eithne is not that small, but it was looking a bit on the wee side in the company it was keeping last Wednesday night as it hosted a reception in support of the Jeanie Johnston Tall Ship Project. Larger warships from several nations were tied up in the immediate vicinity of the Eithne’s berth, Pier 90 on the Hudson River. The biggest of all was the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy. The JFK towered over the crowd gathered together on the Eithne’s helicopter flight deck. But as commodore J.J. Kavanagh, flag officer commanding of the Irish Naval Service put it, the carrier had a name that all on board the Eithne could take special pride in. Right enough.
Relatively small though the Eithne was, the bash on board — and there were several on nearby ships — was by far and away the best and certainly the loudest when Eileen Ivers took up her fiddle and gave it a twirl. The Irish might not rule the waves, but they can waive the rules better than anyone.
As for the Jeanie Johnston? Well, the ship has many friends despite its current problems. In addition to the Eithne party, another was lined up for later last week on Nantucket, where the Irish sail-training tall ship Asgard 11 — which took part in Op Sail 2000 — was hosting a fund-raiser for the Jeanie Johnston organized by the American Ireland Fund.
Meanwhile, "IF" received an item of snail mail from Ireland the other day that included a 30 pence stamp on the envelope. The stamp featured a fully-rigged Jeanie Johnston. When the Post Office puts you on a stamp, there’s no escaping the fact that you definitely exist. The Jeanie Johnston will make it across the pond eventually, snail sail, of course.
Chris makes comeback
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Fans of Chris O’Donoghue, the New York Channel 9 TV reporter, will be delighted to see the Limerick native back on the air this week after a long absence.
"IF" bumped into Chris at the LE Eithne reception for the Jeanie Johnston and heard the entire story. As viewers familiar with O’Donoghue’s career well know, he lost the use of his legs in a traffic accident a number of years ago. But being wheelchair-bound didn’t stop O’Donoghue in his tracks for long and in recent years his has become one of the more familiar faces and certainly one of the most distinctive voices on television news in the New York area.
It turns out that O’Donoghue, who must constantly use his arms and shoulders to move in and out of vehicles in the course of his work, badly damaged his rotator cuff. The injury is a familiar one to baseball pitchers. In O’Donoghue’s case, the damage was severe, but he secured the services of a specialist surgeon who looks after some of the top players in New York and Boston.
Now, 18 months after his career went into deep freeze, O’Donoghue is back on the screen reporting the stories of the day. Perhaps Channel 9 will do a story on O’Donoghue himself and his battle with an injury that most of us will never work hard enough to get.
Slowly but surely the torch is being passed in the Irish, now international, aid agency GOAL. The organization was founded by Irish sports journalist John O’Shea, who had the idea of using sports stars as an angle to attract public support for humanitarian work in some of the world’s poorest countries.
It was a good idea and over the years stars such as Eamonn Coghlan, John McEnroe and Mats Wilander have put shoulder to the wheel on behalf of GOAL’s efforts to provide famine relief and health services in places as far apart as Ethiopia and Bangladesh. Keeping the attention of the busy, self-absorbed and well-fed Western world on countries often viewed as perennial basket cases is not easy.
O’Shea, never one to take no for an answer, has managed to keep GOAL’s balls in the air for over 20 years with only the occasional hiccup. But the old warrior is slowing down a bit, even though he is still Irish tennis champion at his age level, which is somewhere in the mid-50s. Stepping into the breach, however, is O’Shea’s daughter Lisa O’Shea. Lisa was in New York recently touching base with GOAL supporters and letting it be known that the agency is busy setting up offices in Belfast and London. It has had a New York office for some time now.
GOAL is currently feeding about 20,000 souls a day at its various centers, mainly in Africa, but as Lisa told "IF," GOAL is also burying the dead every day. Indeed, that’s what GOAL was first to do in the aftermath of the Rwanda massacres. While much of the world was throwing up its hands in horror from afar, GOAL volunteers set to the grim task of burying huge numbers of the dead while, as Lisa put it, giving them a little bit of dignity at the end. Not an easy job to be sure. GOAL’s work is further explained on its website, www.goal.ie.
Cool hand Tip
"I introduce the prime minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain." The late Tip O’Neill knew well what he was doing when he introduced Margaret Thatcher to a joint session of Congress in 1985. Northern Ireland wasn’t going to make it into the introduction line and that was that. O’Neill was a canny operator and more is coming to light thanks to the Boston’s Globe’s recent unearthing of presidential papers from the Reagan White House.
Speaker O’Neill and President Reagan got on well despite their political differences, and when Thatcher was giving Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald in particular, and Ireland in general, the cold shoulder after the 1984 IRA-bombing of the Conservative Party Conference in Brighton, it was O’Neill who nudged Reagan into persuading Thatcher to resume the kind of top-level talks that eventually ended up on paper as the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
Of course, there had to be quid-pro-quo or two and one of them was the chance for Thatcher to make her pitch before the House and Senate, an event that Speaker O’Neill could have blocked. He allowed Maggie her say, but only as prime minister of that part of the UK that she herself would refer to as "the mainland."