Patrick Gallagher’s new novel Prevalent Insanity tells the story of Kevin O’Donnell, a professor at a Philadelphia-area university in the 1980s, and his search for pictures that his Irish uncle may have taken just days before the earthquake that rocked San Francisco in 1906.
This story is quite the adventure and it has a large scope. Gallagher takes the reader on a gripping ride with comic elements and settings ranging from Philadelphia to places like Missouri, Donegal, Santa Fe and San Diego. The novel has been in the works for many years.
Gallagher started by writing short stories while he was in school at the University of Pennsylvania in 1966, but he began work on this book years later. “I started this book at the end of 1982. I wrote about three chapters a year for a bit and then I put it aside for 14 or 15 years, believe it or not,” Gallagher says.
Over this time, the novel naturally went through some changes. “My writing style is not to map everything out and then write it, I’m just getting into it and seeing where it goes,” says Gallagher. In those interim years, Gallagher visited Santa Fe, Pueblo and Saint Joseph, Missouri, three locations that play a large part in the novel.
Just in case you have any doubt what Mary Kay Mann’s musical interests might be, your first clue might be the tiny wooden figure of Mann playing a Celtic harp on the mailbox outside her home, down a narrow tree-lined street in Media.
Step inside the house and you’re greeted by Celtic harps in the living room, which she uses for teaching.
You’re also greeted by her cats, Muffin and Bob. Muffin isn’t allowed on the table, but she leaps up to greet me, anyway.
Mann teaches Celtic harp, but she also teaches tin whistle and Irish flute, both traditional instruments. She also sings. And hailing back to her musical origins, she also teaches classical flute. Mann also performs.
“I always wanted to play music since I was 2 years old or something,” says Mann. “When we moved to the public school district, I was around 10 and they had classical flute lessons for free so I started with that.”
Every year all around the world on June 16, fans of James Joyce’s landmark novel Ulysses celebrate Bloomsday, the day on which the author’s 1904 novel takes place. On that particular day, The Rosenbach, an iconic Philadelphia museum and library on Delancey Place, hosts live readings of the novel, among many other events. It’s a tradition spanning 25 years. However, the pandemic threw a wrench in The Rosenbach’s live activities.
“The Bloomsday Festival planning has to start in January to get everything in place for June,” says Ed Pettit, a program manager at The Rosenbach. “And there was no way to tell in January how open everything would be. So we figured we would just go all-virtual again this year.”
This is the second year in a row that the Bloomsday Festival goes online—a change of pace for an outdoor street festival that typically attracts around 2,000 people. In addition to celebrating on the web, The Rosenbach offers yet another twist for its 2021 celebration.
Eleven years ago, a small committee of friends of what was then known simply as the Irish Center put together an awards program to honor a very special group of 10 women, from a local TV meteorologist to a highly respected nun to a beloved princess. Proceeds of the hugely successful event benefited the Irish Center.
Now also known by its formal name, the Commodore John Barry Arts and Cultural Center, its home is a sprawling building at Carpenter and Emlen Streets in the Mount Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia. As with so many institutions, the Irish Center closed its doors for many months during the pandemic, but it is gradually coming back to life as more and more restrictions are lifted.
Next year James Joyce’s iconic novel Ulysses will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of its publication. It is a book that is notoriously difficult to read for some. Currently, artist and educator Robert Berry is gearing up to teach an 18-week course on the novel called “A Pint of Ulysses.” The name is derived from the fact that each class comes out to be about the same price as a pint of Guinness.
“We intentionally made it just a very low cost, like 180 bucks for 18 weeks, and made it sort of the price of a couple of pints,” Berry says.
Anyone interested in taking the course can expect to hear from a wide range of guests.
“We want to extend that talk that we have in conversations in the classroom, out to a broader audience of people who are wondering about this book, but haven’t taken the class,” Berry says. “And to do that, I know a network of Joyce scholars and people who put on Bloomsday events, and just what I like to refer to as Joyce-heads, all over the world. And so I’ll have them in, in conversation with me in the class every Thursday.”
St. Patrick’s month will be a relatively subdued affair at The Commodore John Barry Arts and Cultural Center (the Irish Center) in Mount Airy, which is usually jammed with people, young and old, making merry after the Philly parade and again on St. Patrick‘s Day itself. Not this year.
So what to do, what to do …
After giving it a bit of thought, the folks at the Irish Center came up with an idea: an art contest for wee ones up to high school age. The contest also has the advantage of continuing an initiative started before the pandemic, making the Irish Center a more attractive destination for the center’s next generation.
The subject of the art contest: “What Does Being Irish Mean to You?”
With the exception of very small gatherings and The Commodore, the center’s restaurant, the place is closed for business. “But when we were open, we were trying to come up with some ideas that would attract the younger generation, says Lisa Maloney, Irish Center board member and vice president. “We did that with a middle school dance. And we’ve actually had a number of high schoolers helping during this COVID period with the renovation of the library, helping us move books and things like that, because we’ve been wanting to engage them and have conversations with them, meaning the younger generation.”
The bandmates of RUNA, one of the area’s best-known Irish musical ensembles, have toyed with the idea of a winter album for a very long time. It never happened because—fortuitously for the award-winning supergroup—they were always busy, frequently on the road as a band or pursuing their own independent projects.
Last year, the project finally got off the ground in a small way, with an EP (a mini-album) of about five songs, with every intention of finishing it off as a full-fledged album in 2020.
Along came the pandemic, putting an end to band members’ otherwise ambitious plans. Complicating things a bit more, all the members of RUNA live some distance from each other. So on the one hand, they had some time on their hands. But on the other hand, they couldn’t be together.
In some ways, viewed from the standpoint of so many immigrant stories, this one is unremarkable.
Five sisters, all from the Galvin family, from a dairy farm in the little town Clounmacon, five miles outside Listowel, County Kerry, emigrated to the United States—Philadelphia, to be specific. They sought new lives in what likely seemed by comparison to their desperately poor homeland like the land of plenty.
The Galvin girls followed the usual practice: One sister moved to the U.S., saved her money, and sent for the next—and so on until they were all ensconced in Philadelphia, four of them working 10 hours a day, five hard days a week, in the Apex Hosiery Factory at 5th and Luzerne, the fifth a hairdresser.
But everything changed not long after Bridie Galvin moved to the city. A few weeks after her arrival, the Stock Market crashed. The oldest sister, Anna, had been investing—wisely, it seemed at the time—but after the crash, the sisters’ fortunes changed.
As with so many Irish immigrant stories, the details of the sisters’ lives from that challenging time weren’t discussed from one generation to the next.