Travel-writing award and an Irish Times feature

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Honored and excited to share: an essay I wrote about the Irish diaspora recently received a bronze Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award from the Society of American Travel Writers Foundation — announced in Reykjavik, Iceland.

You’ll find “The global reach of an Irish village” featured in the Irish Times, online via the Generation Emigration blog and in print (on Saturday, September 27) in the Weekend Review section with a beautiful layout, including photos of my mom and my grandparents, Nell and Tom Sheehan.

If you know anybody else who’d appreciate or if you would like to share via social media, email, or an envelope (after printing!): The Irish Times, “The global reach of an Irish village

As well as examining the greater story extending outward from this village in Ireland (i.e., Moyvane in Co. Kerry), the essay provides a glimpse into the book I’ve been researching, writing, and editing for quite a while now. The great news is that my final manuscript is now complete — and I’m working away to find the right publishing house on both sides of the Atlantic.

Can’t wait to share updates as soon as I can!

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“Being Irish in Britain,” a discussion

On Saturday, April 5, 2014 the London Irish Centre held a one-day conference to discuss what it means today to be Irish in Britain. Like many, I followed along from afar — in transit between Washington, DC and New York at the time.

Many threads of conversation (in person and online) touched on the experiences of emigration and immigration, issues of identity, community supports, political interests, and the differences between past and present.

Especially given the relevance of these topics to my book, I used Storify to preserve and organize the day’s discussions: “Being Irish in Britain.” Hope it’s helpful.

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The reach of a single village: Moyvane, Co. Kerry


Since my op-ed, “An Irish journey, shared by all,” ran in the New York Daily News on St. Patrick’s Day, I’ve been touched to hear how much it has resonated with so many people from so many backgrounds.

My latest piece — published today by the Irish Times on its “Generation Emigration” blog — focuses on departure through the experiences of a single village in Co Kerry, Ireland: Moyvane:

“Time and again, places like Moyvane have seen their “children” and their descendants leave their imprints wherever they have gone. Some followed religious paths. Others laid roads, fought fires, and opened pubs. They went into medicine, law, business, and government. They shared the gifts of the instruments they played, the words they wrote, and the stories they told.”

From Australia to Brazil, England, Wales, the Gambia, across the United States, and elsewhere still… well, this community of roughly 400 people continues to have quite a global reach!  Of course, there’s an echo here shared by other villages, towns, and cities throughout Ireland and around the world:

“The significance of emigration… is that one country’s loss often means another’s gain. The reach of a single village can be disproportionate to its size.”

If you or your family hails from Moyvane (also known historically as Newtownsandes), neighboring Knockanure, or the surrounding area in North Kerry, please leave a comment below or send me an e-mail.  I’d love to hear your stories as well.

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For many, reminders of exile

New York Daily News, source:

Coinciding with St. Patrick’s Day this year, the New York Daily News published my op-ed, “An Irish journey, shared by all” — a reflection on the experiences of emigration and exile through the lens of our family’s story.  The gist:

“Today, crowds gather — as they do every year — on account of a saint who lived 16 centuries ago. It isn’t simply that everybody becomes Irish for a day. It’s rather that the Irish experience, like the experience of St. Patrick, resonates so broadly. Theirs is a story of departure as well as arrival, a reminder of leaving home, of those left behind.”

As well as  my excitement over seeing this publish online bright and early (i.e., at 4:40 a.m.), one of the day’s highlights for me was standing at the counter of a local convenience store here in New York flipping through the pages with the cashier to find the placement in print.  Having grown up abroad, she told me how excited she was to wrap up her shift to be able to read another immigrant’s story with the help of a dictionary, since she generally found it difficult to understand newspapers.

As you can imagine, I’ve been so humbled by the response thus far. 

If you haven’t yet, please read on — and share, like, and tweet away!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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Christmastime in Tralee


A glimpse of the lobby at the Grand Hotel, where my grandfather would go for a meal after Kerry County Council meetings years ago. I enjoyed a great dinner there this time around with my Uncle Willie.


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Introducing #nuala, my Ignite talk at News Foo

Anybody following #newsfoo will have a glimpse of just how great it is to be back at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University this weekend for the third News Foo Camp, an annual gathering of tech, journalism, and policy enthusiasts hosted by Google, the Knight Foundation, and O’Reilly Media.  Tonight I’ll be delivering my first Ignite talk here in Phoenix.

This series of zippy five-minute presentations backed by twenty auto-advancing slides has for me been a highlight of past News Foos, and this go-around I’ll be tackling the topic of electricity in Ireland, looking at the country’s history through the lens of my mom’s experience. She was six years old when she first witnessed the “miracle” of electricity in her home, a single light bulb installed in her kitchen.

If you’re interested, you can follow along and/or contribute from afar (estimated start time somewhere between 9:35-9:59 p.m. MST / 11:35-11:59 p.m. EST) via Twitter (#nuala), and I’ll share the YouTube video as soon as it’s live.

It’s certainly humbling to be in the company of all the other Igniters tonight, so please be sure to keep an eye on the talks from Brian Conley, Sara Critchfield, Sam Gregory, Adriano Farano, Chase Davis, and Laura Ramos as well.

Looking forward!

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An autumn update

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been rather head-down focused on my manuscript — with a few detours to the Irish American Heritage Center in Chicago, the Pittsburgh Irish Festival, and the Boston Book Festival.  I’ll write more down the road about some of the restructuring, rewriting, and other editing involved, but just a quick note here for now to report that everything is coming together nicely.

Needless to say, during this season of Thanksgiving I’m particularly grateful for the New York Public Library and a few local cafes, especially 88 Orchard, Grounded, and Think Coffee, for the roles they’ve played throughout the process.

A bit more to do, but getting there!


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Reading up on today’s Irish living and working in Canada

I’m just back in New York after a great few days in Toronto.  While my visit this time around involved many miles of walking, coffee at cafes like Manic and Sublime, and delicious meals every direction, I also appreciated the chance to learn a bit more about the influx of Irish citizens moving to Canada.

Guy Chazan wrote an extensive feature in the Wall Street Journal timed to Ireland’s elections last year about the “new wave of emigration” (within the European Union as well as the likes of Australia, Canada, and New Zealand), but, for all interested, I’ve compiled a number of other relevant articles below.  If you have any additional recommendations, please let me know or share in the comments.

If you have five minutes to watch as well, DIASPORA is a short film screened back in March (2012) at the Toronto Irish Film Festival featuring glimpses into the thoughts and experiences of some who’ve come from Ireland to Toronto in recent years:

(DIASPORA from Barbara on Vimeo)

“Irish job-seekers hope for greener pastures in Canada”
The Toronto Star, Nicholas Keung
10 May 2010

Karl Gardner, deputy head of the Embassy of Ireland, said Irish people have a long tradition of adventure and migration. While the island’s population stands at 4.5 million, there are an estimated 75 million people of Irish descent around the world, including 4.35 million in Canada. “We have always travelled,” Gardner said from Ottawa. “The sense is it is something that we do.”

“St. Paddy’s Gets Greener with Irish Influx”
Torontoist, Carly Conway
17 March 2011

Canada’s last influx of Irish immigrants, following Ireland’s War of Independence and the Great Depression, ended by the 1960s.The age difference between the two groups doesn’t go unnoticed: “I think there’s a bit of a void,” says Donal Ward McCarthy, who moved to Toronto from Cork in 2002. “There’s a clear gap between the older generation and growing number of young Irish immigrants in Toronto.”

“The Irish unemployed seek greener shores in Toronto”
The Globe and Mail, Ian Merringer
20 August 2011

The migration is so steady that the Irish government last week moved to set up an immigrant services centre at the Ireland Fund of Canada’s downtown offices. For the first time, Irish immigrants to Toronto will have a staffed centre for assistance with jobs, housing and visa issues.

“Canada calls out for thousands of Irish workers to fill job vacancies”
Irish Independent, Allison Bray
19 November 2011

“We’ve surpassed the US now with emigration and are second behind Australia,” [Loyola Hearn, the Canadian Ambassador to Ireland] said. And such is the level of emigration and business between Canada and Ireland that the embassy is spearheading a campaign to establish regular direct flights between the two countries, he added.

“Go west for a new home in Canada”
The Irish Times, Ciara Kenny
24 May 2012

More than 7,000 Irish people moved to Canada last year, with approximately 60 per cent settling in Toronto, and the majority of the remainder choosing to live in Vancouver. Housing in Canada varies greatly between provinces and territories, cities and suburbs, so what can you expect when searching for a new home, and where can you go for advice?

“Ireland, inching back from the brink, battles to reverse the emerald migration tide”
The Toronto Star, Niamh Scallan
28 April 2012

“We have two responsibilities to young people,” [Deputy Prime Minister of Ireland] Gilmore told a crowd at the opening of a downtown [Toronto] Irish immigration support centre on St. Patrick’s Day. “To create opportunities in Ireland for those who choose to come back and to let them know we do not forget them … they’ll be back.”

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Mná na hÉireann, Patsy Cline, Paddy Reilly, and a few songs on Spotify

A few people have asked about the soundtrack from the “40th Anniversary in America” party last month, so I wanted to share the playlist on Spotify. I’ll write another time about the meaning behind the songs, but, for all who listen, hope you enjoy the mix:

1. “Amazing Grace” by Celtic Woman
2. “Cliffs of Dooneen” by Paddy Reilly
3. “Raglan Road” by Paddy Reilly
4. “Shores of Amerikay” by Michael J Tinker
5. “Shores of Amerikay” by James Galway
6. “Danny Boy” by Jim Reeves
7. “The Long Black Veil” by The Chieftains
8. “He’ll Have to Go” by Jim Reeves
9. “I Fall to Pieces” by Jim Reeves & Patsy Cline
10. “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” by Jim Reeves
11. “Leavin’ on Your Mind” by Patsy Cline
12. “America” by Simon & Garfunkel
13. “I Am a Rock” by Simon & Garfunkel
14. “Nuala’s Bonnet” by Cillian Vallely & Kevin Crawford
15. “More Than a Feeling” by Boston
16. “American Girl” by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
17. “This Land is Your Land” by Woodie Guthrie
18. “The Kerry Jig / The Rambling Pitchfork” by Denise Shiels
19. “Mná na hÉireann” by John Spillane
20. “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” by the Irish Tenors (i.e., Anthony Kearns, Finbar Wright, Ronan Tyran)

Again, if you use Spotify, you can listen here.

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Forty years like yesterday

In July of 1972, my mom landed at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and went to see her oldest brother, his wife, and their three daughters in the Bronx. It was her first time in America, and, while there is much more to share in the book and on this blog, to simplify: last month marked her 40th anniversary here.

Most everybody knows the feelings that accompany leaving or being left behind. For all who have moved from one country to another, often without knowing if or when they might again see loved ones back home, those feelings are especially heightened. No matter how well-grounded the reasons for departure may be or how much time passes, memories of people and places don’t slip away and the experiences with distance and loss remain. For my mom, settling in the United States is inseparable from leaving Ireland and losing her mother.

This year, to help make the month of July a little less bittersweet, my sister Tara and I planned a surprise party to celebrate our mom and to honor hers. Our aunt and uncle hosted the gathering in their beautiful backyard in Princeton, Massachusetts, and we couldn’t have asked for more glorious weather to welcome family and friends who came from elsewhere in Massachusetts and as far away as Long Island, Pearl River, and New York City.

Posted on Facebook (sign-in required) and shared selectively through Google+ afterwards, I’ve also uploaded a Flickr slideshow that captures a glimpse of the fun.

(Ed. note: Embedding the code for slideshows has been breaking with WordPress, so I’ve included the links above; any advice welcome.)

As you’ll see in the second photo, we thought a celebratory banner would make a nice addition to the day. After a few searches online (and confirming the company’s legitimacy with the Better Business Bureau), I found BannerBuzz and designed our 12-foot vinyl greeting.  Allowing a bit more than a week for delivery, I had no worries until I checked the tracking code only to discover that UPS’s “shipment progress” column read like a warning: “This shipment is warehoused until it is released by Clearing Agency.”  Instead of coming from the company’s Greer, South Carolina headquarters, our order was on hold in Ahmedabad, India.

Two days later, I saw the good news that the banner had made its way from Gujarat to Mumbai.  From there, I followed its route online as it left India for Cologne, Germany, then Louisville, Kentucky, and eventually Windsor Locks, Connecticut before arriving on-time in Central Massachusetts.

Despite the “Happy 40th Anniversary in America, Nuala!” proclamation that had traveled the world to find its place draped over the rock wall at the bottom of the driveway, it wasn’t until my mom walked into the house and saw her sister-in-law Peg who had been there in the Bronx when she first arrived in America four decades earlier that she really began to recognize the reason for the gathering.

Later in the day, in the company of nearly 30 people who knew my mom from so many parts of her life (both past and present), for the first time I read aloud sections of my book.  The responses were all I could have imagined: others shared their memories of looking up to older siblings, of hearing their family stories, of leaving their homes.  The conversations continued late into the evening.

At the end of the weekend, my sister headed back into Boston and I returned to New York.  A few days after we left, my dad e-mailed to let us know just how happy our mom was and that he had hung the banner across the top of the bookshelf in our home office where it would be a reminder for the remainder of the year.


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