The Delaware Valley Irish Hall of Fame held its 2019 Dinner this past Sunday night, honoring four well-respected representatives of the local Irish community. They included: Judge Patrick Dugan and Sister Marguerite O’Beirne, OSF, with a Commodore John Barry Award presented to Russell W. Wylie. The beloved Liam Hegarty, of Gaelic Athletic Association Fame—and so much more—was honored posthumously.
It was the first of November, the night the John Byrne Band hosted a release party for Byrne’s new CD, “A Shiver in the Sky,” at World Café Live.
Maura Dwyer, who plays both fiddle and cello for the band, had just gone offstage to the green room to warm up the violin. Before she did that, she had propped the cello up in a corner, which, she says, is usually a stable position. Suddenly, she heard the sound of guitarist Andy Keenan crying out in alarm onstage. That was followed by a resounding bang.
Long story short: Dwyer’s cello had tumbled off stage, breaking in two pieces.
John Byrne, who was also offstage, has a pretty fair idea how it happened.
“We were sound checking the drums,” Byrne explains. “I guess the vibrations from the kick drum (the bass drum) somehow did it. The cello went right off the stage. Nobody was even near it. None of us could believe it.”
There are Irishmen walking on the streets of Dublin who aren’t as Irish—DNA-wise, at least—as Judge Patrick Dugan.
“I’m 99 percent, with some British Isles in there,” laughs Judge Dugan, sitting in his memento-bedecked office on the 13th floor of the Justice Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice where his view encompasses the south side of City Hall and bustling Penn Square.
Dugan, chief judge of Philadelphia Veterans Court, descended from great-grandparents who emigrated to the US from Mayo and Cork, but his childhood wasn’t steeped in his Irish heritage. “We knew we were Irish but I wasn’t hearing folklore and stories,” he says. “I had my awakening as a young man. It came when I was watching news of ‘the Troubles’ and trying to understand how we got there.”
His newly awakened interest led him to the Ancient Order of Hibernians. He’s a member of Div. 25 in Fox Chase. Every year he gives a speech at their annual Day of the Rope, which remembers the four members of the Molly Maguires, dissident miners, who were hanged in the jailhouse in what is now Jim Thorpe, Pa., after what is now widely considered to be a judgment by a kangaroo court.
It’s a different speech each year but, he says, the theme is always the same. “It takes us back to what our people had to endure when they came here,” he says. “I get something new out of it every year and I reach more people who I hope understand what labor went through, what Irish immigrants went through, to get where we are as a people.”
William “Liam” Hegarty was part of a generation that his friend, Donegal native John McDaid, describes as “the last off the boat.”
McDaid was talking about the fact that fewer and fewer Irish immigrants are taking that well worn path to the United States, even during the last worldwide recession. “The next generation won’t be Irish in the same way,” said McDaid, former secretary of the Delaware County Gaels youth Gaelic sports program, during this summer’s Continental Youth Championships (CYC) which was dedicated to Hegarty, chairman of the annual international event
Liam Hegarty tragically died of a heart attack on Dec. 3, 2018, at the age of 51.
Sister Marguerite O’Beirne has covered some considerable distance in her life and journeyed far greater than the 3,176 miles it took to get from Cloonloo, County Sligo, to Neumann University in Aston, Pennsylvania. But at the heart and soul of every step taken has been both the presence of faith and her dedication to the importance of education.
Born in 1942 to Joseph O’Beirne and Margaret Mullen, in a time not so long ago, but when electricity had not yet arrived in the rural areas of Ireland, Sister Marguerite was one of six children. Part of a close and loving family, her office at Neumann, where she has been vice president for Mission and Ministry since 1997, is adorned with photos of siblings, nieces and nephews and her home back in Sligo.
After her days as a student at St. Ronan’s National School in Cloonloo (the Irish spelling is “Cluain Lough,” meaning “Meadow by the Lake,” which in this case is Lough Gara), she attended the Convent of Mercy Secondary School in Boyle. It was there that her opportunity to continue her own education availed itself. Representatives from several religious congregations visited the school to invite the young women to join them. Sister Marguerite was drawn to the mission of the the Sisters of St. Francis, and in 1958 she went to Mallow in County Cork for six months of studying there. She learned that she was going to the Sisters of St. Francis in Philadelphia, and in January of 1959 she was one of a group to start a new life in the United States.
“The way I approach it is, if I can be kind to others in my little orbit, in my family and the people who are around me, if everybody did that, it would be a wonderful world. So I’ll just keep trying to do that. And that’s the best I can do.”
If, indeed, everyone was able to do just a small bit of what Russ Wylie does, the world would be a better-than-wonderful place. The man who is being honored this year with the Commodore John Barry Award by the Delaware Valley Irish Hall of Fame has lived a life guided by that principle, one that along the way has resulted in considerable and far reaching contributions to the Philadelphia Irish community. His work on behalf of the 69th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, Old St. Mary’s Church, the Commodore John Barry Memorial at the United States Naval Academy, St. Anne’s Church, Duffy’s Cut and the Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick has insured that the people who may have once been consigned to merely a place in history will instead live on for future generations to know and actively remember.
Born in 1949 and raised in South Plainfield, N.J., Russ grew up influenced by the kind of example he himself lives by today. He describes his father, Russell D. Wylie, as “the kindest man that I’ve ever known.” Trained as a machinist, his dad worked his way up to the position of plant manager at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J., which at the time was the top research facility in the world. “He was fascinated by scientific things. He didn’t go to college, he went to technical school. But he could do anything. He and his dad had a custom auto care business in Plainfield, where they would do custom upholstery, redo convertible tops, work on the inside and do bodywork. They’d even do custom work for private airplanes. My dad taught me a lot of stuff, we had a workshop down in the cellar of our house, and he taught me carpentry, painting … we had a lot of good memories working together in the shop downstairs. My mom [Edwina Hazen] was a nice lady, she loved gardening and was very close to her sister, my Aunt Marian. I’m very fortunate to have been drawn to my parents in this life.”
It’s a late Saturday afternoon at Paddy Whack’s Irish Sports Club, tucked away in a strip shopping center off Roosevelt Boulevard in Northeast Philly.
Inside, fiddler C.J. Mills and frequent partner, singer-guitarist Seamus McGroary, are blazing away at a set of reels, playing for two little girls in sparkly dresses who are performing that day for Celtic Flame School of Irish Dance.
Suddenly, Mills leaps from the stage and climbs atop two high-top bar chairs, and plays away as if fiddling while poised inches away from the ceiling tiles is something he does all the time.
In fact, it is what he does all the time. He’s also renowned for jumping up and down while he plays on stage, as if he can’t contain the energy of the tune he’s cranking out. And he’s also known for playing with his electric fiddle propped behind his neck, which he does while he’s performing the balancing act on the chairs in Paddy Whack’s.
During a multi-day visit to Philadelphia, where most of the focus fell on the modern era politics of Brexit and the interest of the Irish diaspora, Ambassador Daniel Mulhall’s presence at the Museum of the American Revolution’s launch of their new exhibit “Cost of Revolution: The Life and Death of an Irish Soldier” was an opportunity to talk history.
Ambassador Mulhall, along with Dr. Martin Mansergh, historian and former Irish political advisor who helped negotiate the Good Friday Agreement, gave context and insight into the influence of the American Revolution on Ireland’s own path to independence. In addition, Dr. Mansergh is a descendant of Richard St. George Mansergh-St. George (from here on referred to as Richard St. George, as he is in the Museum’s exhibit) who is the subject of the “Cost of Revolution” exhibition, providing a personal connection to the historical narrative.
The evening’s events were planned by an Honorary Event Committee including Honorary Chair, Governor Edward G. Rendell; State Representative Mike Driscoll; Charles E. Hopkins; Marita Krivda Poxon; Kevin Kent, Esquire; Honorable James Murray Lynn; Joseph S. Martz; Edward D. McBride and Kathleen M. Sullivan. The crowd was welcomed in by bagpipers William Watson, Frank Watson, Tom Conner and Lee Nolan, and then treated to traditional Irish music throughout the evening performed by musicians including Paddy O’Neill, John McGillian and Darin Kelly.