It is with great sadness I acknowledge the passing of Rich Desmond. A friend, not just to me, but many. Pipe Major of the Camden County Emerald Society Pipes and Drums, which he founded, and a volunteer of his time to many worthy causes. A retiree from Camden City PD, a character from New York, and true Irishman. Rich paid me the ultimate tribute by pinning my badge when I graduated from the Camden County Police Academy, June 13, 2002. An honour bestowed on family members only. Rich insisted that the Director allow him to pin it, otherwise the Pipes and Drums would not perform. You made me laugh. You made me cry from laughter. Your stories, your generosity, your personality, will be sorely missed by me. We should have had a few more beers together. If I had only known.
Tom, Jimmie Scanlin, Dave Anderson and Bill Felix. Photo by Chuck McKern
Myself and Jimmie Scanlin will be teaming up at various times. This duo will be known as 'Sligo Road'. Jimmie is an enthusiastic, energetic singer and banjo player with a ton of songs and stories. A true Irishman.
Jimmie Scanlin and Tom. Photo by Chuck McKern
I also started playing with another great musician Sean Jennings. Sean is an excellent acoustic rock singer and guitar player whose repertoire includes Tom Petty and Pink Floyd to Taylor Swift. It's a new and exciting avenue for me. Check us out. Check Seans schedule on Facebook.
It is important to support the establishments that support Irish music. Drop in for a drink now and again and tell them that you appreciate the music. Most of the gigs are not late at night and are in your neighbourhood, not across the bridge. Bring the kids.
Call me if you have any questions or want to book a gig 856-673-8452 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
March 15 was C Day (Corona, Covid) for me. Breaking News! Donald Trump was doing a press conference on a Sunday evening. Something unusual was happening. I was scheduled to play numerous gigs for the next few days and after the “breaking news” the cancellations started. Trumps speech advised of travel restrictions and other issues which sounded scary. The pandemic that the president spoke of earlier, and that he advised was under control, suddenly was not. No St Patrick’s Day celebrations this year.
The next evening, St Patrick’s eve, I was sitting in the local restaurant with my wife and it was to be our last drink in a bar until further notice, as per New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. Rumor of liquor stores also being closed made me even more nervous. Thankfully that rumor was false. (Thanks Bill). As of this writing all restaurants and bars in New Jersey are still closed except for takeouts. No music. Fortunately I have been retired from Law Enforcement for two years. At 65 I could not be a full time Officer. Pension rules. Now I was a part time Officer – SLEO (Special Law Enforcement Officer) 20 hours a week working for the Sheriff’s Department. I felt my enforced retirement was discriminatory but that is New Jersey. Music has been my outlet for a long time. Now it stopped.
My daughter’s college closed about this time and she came home with symptoms of Covid. She isolated for a few days and nothing changed. She got tested and thank God was negative. Now what. Get the house cleaned up. I started in the garage and cleaned up (burned) years of old bank statements, hundreds of photographs that meant something 30 years ago, replaced and repaired bits and pieces and could actually walk where once I could not. Next target, a couple of rooms in the house. Through all this I saw musicians playing on Facebook, people I knew. I gave it a shot and recorded a song: Joni Mitchel’s “Urge for Going” and put it up on Facebook. It relieved some musical frustration. Then I thought why not go to the local park and sing there. So I did. Saturday, March 21 or 28 (one of those dates, a long lockdown can be mentally taxing) I set up all my gear and started blasting at 2pm. Anyway I attracted some people who by now were all aware of social distancing and they were abiding by it. Even two sisters were sitting at each end of a bench with nobody in between. People passing through on bikes and with baby carriages were stopping for a listen. Then it started. Facebook questions re who was violating the social distancing rules and singing in the park. Nobody was, and my singing was not violating anything just entertaining and taking people’s minds of the already nasty virus. Somebody was not at all happy with the situation. She called the Mantua Police and informed them of the situation. I happen to know this disgruntled individual. I was in the middle of a song when two officers approached and informed me and the people hanging out that we had to leave. They informed us that the Governor had issued an order that everyone had to be in their homes by 6pm. They even quoted the order number. It was approx. 3.15pm. Scary, but I obeyed. Wrapped up the gear, everyone left and I had a story to tell. I found out after getting home that most of what they said was true. It was 9pm and only emergency personnel were allowed to travel anywhere. Almost everything was closed: parks, golf courses (that also affects me) gyms, hair salons, malls, you get the idea. If you live in America you know what happened. If you live elsewhere in the world you also know. I must acknowledge and thank those who commented positively and defended me on Facebook and thanked me for attempting to bring some light into darkness.
This hiatus has brought me out road running, bicycling. Exercising. So I started looking on Facebook Marketplace for a treadmill. I did not know anything about them so those that were for sale and looked good I was usually too late. I had not learned the knack for responding to a listing quickly enough. Spontaneity is not a strong point of mine so humming and hawing cost me. Good machines came and went locally. I was not looking for new or fancy just decent and working. I finally found one outside Philly, about an hours drive. Brought it home in three pieces and put it together hoping the seller was an honest man. He was to a point. To me it was like buying a used car. Why are you selling? What is wrong with it? How long have you had it? How old is it? Plugged it in and it worked. I like to use it when I need a good running work out. My daughter and I use it the most. My wife wanted a bike trainer stand instead. Back on Facebook. Another search. Found one in Philly. Drove an hour. Bought it. It’s is still where I left it three weeks ago. Now my garage was my gym. A punch bag that has been there for years is being used by my daughter. Slowly the space that I created is getting filled with other stuff. I hooked up new led lights. Never before, in the last 25 years has my garage been so illuminated. Looking good. Now I know where everything is out there, I am organized. During this lock-in I have discovered cassettes, albums, Sing Out magazines, song books, many song books, potential songs – scraps of paper with verses, Christmas items, Halloween items, Easter items, gardening tools, lawnmower, power washer (also Facebook) are safely stored in my garage. The double doors that were falling have been re-attached adjusted and now open. The walk-in door has been painted and a pane of glass replaced after I decided to stick the handle of a brush through it. Was there one more exercise machine I needed? Yes. A recumbent bike. Not having access to my regular gym I do miss that bike. Back to Facebook. Found one twenty minutes away. It has taken its place among the rest of the aforesaid items in the once cluttered garage. Mind you with all the additions it’s not bad out there. My last plan for this area is painting the floor. I have the paint. Just have to remove everything on a sunny day and tear into it.
I also now know where items are in the local supermarket. I have been there so often recently that I can go directly to that location and grab it. Its quiet pleasant these days going there because everyone has settled down and realized the world is not ending and with the masks on nobody recognizes anybody and can avoid all the chatter when one does. The local hardware stores are also a God send and not too far away. I have been there too often in the last few months. I’m not good at planning a project. I usually start and when I need something I’m off there. Continue project until same again and I’m off again. Even a new Starbucks has opened up within a short distance and I am now a frequent visitor. At first it was for my daughter but then I decided to give it a try myself and now it’s a daily ritual. I have also learned a couple of new terms for ordering; Venti, Americano. It is a drive thru until restrictions are lifted but I don’t mind that. I have a rule though that if there are more than 10-12 cars I’m going home. As an avid tea drinker this Covid thing has bred new stuff for me.
This past July 16, 2013, I celebrated forty years in this great country. Forty years of work, pleasure, making friends, playing music, getting married, raising a family and finally to work in Law Enforcement as an Investigator for the Camden County Sheriff's Office. Six months in the Camden County Police Academy was my reward to allow me to proudly wear the uniform. I was accepted for the Garda Siochana in Ireland in 1973 but could not resist life in the USA. It started in Washington Heights, New York and continues in South Jersey. I've met great people along the way. I married one of them, Colleen. I continue my assimilation into this great society. My first job in this country was as a bartender in New York. I landed on a Monday and was a bartender on Wednesday in the Blarney Stone on 181st Street and St Nicholas Ave, in Washington Heights. Nickles and dimes were new to me so it was quite challenging to combime all aspects of selling alcohol and giving the correct change. No computerized cash registers those days. Just plain math. I got familiar with beer and booze fairly quickly. Getting familiar with the various personalities and colours was a different experience. Next door was an OTB (betting parlour) so we got the winners and losers. Upstairs was a pool/card hall owned by a voiceless Cuban who only drank White Label scotch. A shot of scotch and glass of water. He would come in throw it back and return later for more of the same. Always left a tip. He used to place a voice vibrator (for want of a better word) against his throat to speak. He always had security with him and was in and out in two minutes. A lot of Cuban waiters used to come in after working downtown in restaurants. Great tippers and always friendly and courteous. Top shelf drinkers. I had a few unusual experiences at the bar. One evening an unruly customer would not leave. He was just annoying everyone around him, not confrontational. I went around to where he was, lifted him up and dropped him outside the door. When I returned to the bar the whole place had cleared out. It was only 7 o'clock so I knew something was wrong. After a few minutes they started to reappear and take up their previous positions where they left their drinks. I started to ask why everyone left. I was informed that when I lifted the gentleman from his seat I exposed a gun in his pants, which I did not see, but everyone else did, and they all took off. Fortunately he never came back. I had another one where a gentleman who used our bathroom facilities daily, but was barred from drinking in the bar, came in with a grapefruit behind his back. He let go the grapefruit at me and fortunately it missed but hit the glass behind me which miraculously did not shatter. He took off, I jumped the bar and got him just outside the door. The rest is history. Didn't see him after that. I worked with John Callahan on the night shift. John was an experience. Like a bookie, always had money, was customer savvy, took care of those who took care of him. We had some good customers. Those that wanted to come in and chat have a few beers and see you tomorrow. Others up to no good always trying to beat you for a dollar. I got to know them quickly and treated them as they treated me. I never trusted them. Even for a bottle of beer they would call you friend, until you asked for the money. The professor was good. Every evening he would have his dinner at the bar, read his paper and enjoy his Windsor Canadian. Hughie was from Donegal. A retired mailman whose retired life was walking three blocks to the bar each day and spending the whole time talking to himself over a glass of beer. He was my worst image of the Irish immigrant. His mansion was a one bedroom crap hole he called home. I had to walk him home a few times because the locals would rob him when he was drunk. On the other side of the establishment was a corner deli. The cook would pay us a visit over his shift, bring us sandwiches in exchange for a cup of whiskey. Fair exchange. Good sandwiches. Eli was another customer who got lost somewhere in the world but used the bar as his living room and bathroom. Nelly, our cook, was his only friend. He figured everyone was out to steal from him. Many did. Johns end of the bar catered to the the owner, Jack Flanagan and his clingons. Jack was a big drinker but held it well. Mind you most of his drinks were so watered he was able to stand up all day in the same spot while accepting the generous offers of Chivas Regal. He could do it daily. Did it daily. I can still see the faces of all those customers. The ones who taunted me and the trusted ones. There were retirees who never went anywhere but the bar. The workers who came directly from work to the bar. That was all they had. Me, John and Jack Flanagan. I was transferred to another Blarney Stone on Webster Ave., and Fordham Road. Somebody was on vacation so there I was. Jack Flanagan owned this one too. Not as busy but had it's own characters. I used to work on Sunday and would open up at 12.00. It was amazing. You could see the customers at various locations across the street waiting for the door to open. They dare not be seen outside the door waiting. What would people think. There were about 5-7 regulars who religiously came and sat in the same spot each Sunday morning. I would set up their drinks, they would enter and take the same place at the bar as the previous Sunday and before that. Sundays were like that. In this bar I met my father's brother Hugh for the first time. He had written to my mother over the years and kept in touch after my father died in 1962, but never returned to Ireland after immigrating. I never understood why but I learned over time that he being a member of the old IRA had a lot to do with it. Somebody got shot and his passage was booked to America. He never went back. I somehow never forgave him for that because all he ever talked about was Tubbercurry. He lived on Jerome Avenue where I stayed many times. The Webster Avenue bar was not as busy as 181st Street, not as multiculturaled (like that) and therefore not as entertaining. I remember one night after work I went to another bar close by to meet some people from around Tubbercurry. One of those was a rock named Jack Brennan. Jack was short but large. A good character who told me he used to bring his horse into my father's forge to get shod. My father was a blacksmith. The first night I met him I could not buy a beer. We were playing darts and reminiscing about Tubbercurry. The night progressed and it was the first time I discovered Budweiser. Oh God. The next day I was working at 12 noon and I wished I wasn't. I was in bad physical shape. Badly hung over. Nothing worse than feeling like crap, hung over crap, and smelling beer and whiskey and wishing everybody would leave. I remember to this day that the only relief I could get was bending down and pretending to be cleaning the sinks. Those sinks were gleaming by the end of my shift. That never worked since. Not sure how I ended my relationship with this bar but soon I was down on Wall Street in a restaurant serving martinis and manhattans for lunch. Can't remember the name of that place but it was 180 degrees from the Blarney Stone. These people ran 'tabs'. Not sure how long I lasted there but I was on the prowl again looking for new environs. I was never too worried about getting another job. Somehow it always worked out. My next adventure brought me among the money, to Park Avenue. Again not sure how I ended up there but expect I just walked down the street asking the doorman if they were looking to hire. 925 Park Avenue was hiring. Jimmy Fenlon was the superintendent of 925 Park Avenue. This place had 13 floors and 4 units on each floor. Cannot recall if Jim was the one I spoke to about a job. Jimmy was a big Irish American married to a petite Italian girl. They were both good people. They lived in the building. There was a back elevator in the building where we would zoom up and down the floors taking out the trash for the tenants. If there was a problem it was easy access to the apartment rather than slog in the front door which in these high priced units was unacceptable. These apartments, singles - one floor, or doubles - two floors, were big. There was not any hollywood type tenants but these people were not wanting for money. They were writers, doctors, medical researchers, and then there was the Stevens family. More later on the Stevens family, specifically Mrs Stevens. My job was basically maintenance. Keep the place clean, if anybody had problems attend to it, pick up the trash daily, mind my business, call the tenants Mister, Missus, be happy, get paid, go home, come back again tomorrow. From where I lived in upper Manhattan I used to get the bus from 191st Street and St Nicholas Ave to 80th and 5th Ave. I would walk across to Park. I could also get the #1 train downtown to Times Square and switch to another to get across to the east side. The bus would go through Harlem and on hot summer days it was a sight to see all the activity on the streets. On reflection it was great. One time I was looking out the window of the bus, saw a ten dollar bill on the sidewalk, got off grabbed the money and took the next bus. Most of the tenants of 925 Park were nice people. Most. Then there was Mrs Stevens. I was told that Harry M. Stevens, husband, owned the food franchise to all the football stadiums in the country. What else he was into I don't know but this family was extremely well off. Mrs Stevens, as I used to address her, was a woman I never forgot. Wanted to, but she has stuck in my mind for all these years for a very good reason. At some stage in this job I was 'promoted' to the front door detail. Here I had to wear a uniform with a hat. Tough with long hair but I got used to it. I would hail the cabs, open the doors, run the elevator. In Mrs Stevens case I was expected to make sure the police did not give her tickets for parking illegally. Here is her story. One day she double parked, illegally, outside of the building and asked me to keep an eye on the car in case the police came around. I obliged. But the police did come and told me to get the car moved or get a ticket. The officer said he would go around the block and if it was still there when he returned it would get a ticket. No problem. It was more than enough time to get Mrs Stevens on the intercom, alert her and get her down to move the car. She responded "I'm coming right down". They lived on the 7th floor. Time passed and no sign of Mrs Stevens or any member of her family. The officer returned. I called again and she answered saying "I'm on the way". The officer waited, giving her more than ample time to avoid a ticket. Still no Mrs Stevens. He wrote a ticket for $25 placed it on her windshield and left. No problem. Or so I thought. Eventually she appeared. She walked to the car saw the ticket and went ballistic. She used language familiar to me, directed it towards me, and then proceeded to Jim Fenlon's office to have me fired. Now here am I getting a few bucks a week keeping the building safe for her and her family, and this woman who has enough money to buy the building, wants me fired. Jim Fenlon stuck to his guns and said he was not firing me. It was my first bad experience with a nasty Park Avenue bitch and one I never forgot. The following Christmas when every employee was given gifts of money from the tenants, I got nothing from the Stevens family and everybody else was cut $5 from the previous year. Enough to make up the cost of the ticket. 7A had Mrs Loftus. An older lady who lived alone after her husband passed some years before. She gave me new insight into frugality one Christmas. Mrs Loftus was elderly. In 1973 that was anything over 40. She was real elderly. Cordial though independent. Never took many cabs. This event happened sometime before Christmas when she was going out somewhere to meet friends. She had a gift for somebody but apparently she ran out of wrapping paper. She turned up in the lobby and I do recall as I write this that her voice was rather whiney. By that I mean slow and nasaly. It was the voice of somebody that gave the impression they were always unwell and somehow needed people to ask how they were feeling. Anyway there she stood in the lobby beside a Christmas tree, that the superintendent Jim Fenlon had erected with various ornaments and wrapped up boxes to resemble presents and give a pleasant seasonal feel to an otherwise bland space. I could not believe my eyes when I saw her sneak the wrapping off one of the boxes and use it to wrap her own present. At the time I wanted to say something but I bit my lip and turned away. Forty years later I can still see her at the back of the lobby grabbing that piece of paper. I never knew anything about her finances, whether she was rich or poor but she lived in a very expensive apartment. I knew my financial standing and I would never "take" something off somebody's Christmas tree for my own benefit. Why this image is still visible after all this time is beyond me. Next door, towards 81st Street, I often saw a limousine, with the same driver, pull up for a small white man who lived next door whom I did not recognize. Those days I assumed a limo, somebody famous. Not so. Anyway one day the driver was waiting for his client, double parked, and he strolled towards my door passing the time. I got talking to him and discovered he was Irish, from Roscommon. He was small, wore glasses and was extremly friendly. Naturally we talked of home and and I was curious about his client. Hoping it was somebody famous that I could write home about. Not so. He was a musician, but not anybody that I knew. I do not remember the limo drivers name but let me tell you this Irishman hit the headlines in the Summer of 1974. His picture was on the front of the newspapers and on the TV for an event which was like something from Hollywood. Domnic Byrne, was his name. (I just googled it and sure enough there he was). He was a happy, sporty character. I believe he was from Castlerea. That summer my mother came over to New York for the first time. It was very hot. Very uncomfortable for me so I can only imagine how she felt, though she never complained. She was always like that. Even in distressing times, she never complained. She had been a widow since 1962, when my father passed away, June 15th. Here she was in New York City on her first real holiday, and it was a heat wave. We all persevered. While she was here I planned a trip to California for both of us. She would meet cousins who always wanted her to visit and never saw each other in about forty years, since they immigrated. So we did. We stayed in Newport Beach with our cousins. They were wonderful people. We met so many people. One of them invited me to go out for a day on his boat with some other relatives. Can't remember their names. Anyway, I am not a swimmer so there was a little reluctance on my side but I really wanted to get a tan so I gave it a go. Really. I wanted to get a bronzed body like the Californians, get my picture taken and send it back to Tubbercurry. Now when I lived there any photos of bronzed Californians were usually poster in magazines. Not that I was trying to elevate myself to their level but I could hear my friends "Jesus Christ look at him, he's looks like an American and in California no less". Alas no photos exist of my day on the boat. Just as well really because that day was one I will never, never forget. First of all I am white. What I mean is really white. Scary white. We never had much sun in Ireland prior to 1973. So here I was with an opportunity to make up for all those years of wet, dreary, summer days. Did I ever. I got burned so bad that day that I could not put a shirt on. Beet red. Very sore beet red. I had been advised to keep my shirt on but didn't listen. I had numerous suggestions for relief but none of those concoctions worked. It was the worst burn I every experienced. Never forgot it. Anyway, the next morning while sitting in a kitchen in California, in a very painful state, I picked up the local paper and on the front page was a photo of Domnic Byrne, the kidnapper. Domnic and another Irishman, a firefighter, decided to kidnap an heir to the Seagram family. Reading about it after the plot unravelled was quite funny as to how the whole thing was concocted and resolved. "Allegedly" (a word I hate to see in print and reluctantly I place it here) they were all very good friends in the "rainbow" fashion and the heir, Bronfman I believe was his name, wanted to get his hands on some of the family fortune before he was due. Domnic and friend "kidnapped" him sent a ransom note to family and demanded x amount of dollars. Not being an experienced 'mannapper' probably was Domnic's downfall. Anyway it did not work out too well and when the plot was exposed the heir denied knowing Domnic and the firefighter, but he really did. The comedy of it was the firefighter was committed to hospital and attempted to escape out the window but broke his ankle when he jumped. Domnic came clean, got a few years in jail and I never heard of him again. I did enjoy my time on Park Avenue but I knew it was not a career. The summer of 1974 changed things for me. I was standing at the door of the building one day and three of my school friends from Tubbercurry came strolling down the street. Brenda Blee, James Gillespie and Mary Mullaney. They were over for the summer working. James ended up being my connection to South Jersey. He had an uncle, a Saint John of God Brother, who taught in Saint John of God School in Westville Grove.
Arriving in New York in 1973 was exciting for me. My plan was to work for the summer and return to Ireland and join the Guards, the Irish Police Force. I had been accepted and was waiting for the letter for the interview. The letter arrived in New York in August with my appointment date. I did not want to leave the city just yet and I replied requesting a little more time. I got a response stating that when I did return to contact headquarters and I would be on my way to Templemore for training. That was the end of it. No more correspondence. I was staying in the USA. Looking back on that decision I believe I made the right one. I was happy, young, making good money, more that I ever made in Ireland, and the USA offered lots of opportunities. I saw a million dollars somewhere down the line. Looking at my wife and kids I know that decision was correct. Ironically I ended up being an American Guard, joining the Camden County Sheriff's Department in 2001. While in New York life was good. Carmel, my sister, and I were living with a cousin of my mothers. A kind lady Imelda O'Gara and her husband Mike. We lived at 601 West 191st Street, 5th floor, in Washington Heights. A mixed building of many races. No problems, just a lots of typical street noise. The #1 subway train was a block away. The weather was hot in 1973. Nothing I experienced in Tubbercurry. There was no air conditioning in the apartment, which was very large, seven rooms, and lots of floor fans. The apartment was rent controlled and the rent was less than $200 a month. Mike was retired from the Post Office and Imelda worked as a waitress for Horn and Hardhat (believe that how it's spelled) downtown on Wall street. She was a tough vocal woman who never let her opinions or biases be silenced. I learned a new vocabulary listening to Imelda. Limited but direct. She was very upset when her son Michael married a girl of another faith. They lived in California and Michael was extremly successful in TV. He was director of the Merv Griffin show. When my mother and I were in California we met Merv and got a tour of the studio. When Michael would call his parents and if Imelda answered she would hand the phone to his father. She refused to talk to him. Mike and Imelda both moved to to California to be closer to their two daughters and grandkids and she eventually made up with her son and daughter in law. I met her one more time when she came back to New York some years later to visit her friends. I moved to a rooming house in the Bronx and Carmel moved downtown with her boyfriend. I don't know why I never got an apartment like all the other immigrants but somehow deep down something was telling me that New York was not my final destination in America. I was active in sport in the city. I played soccer for the Shamrocks and Gaelic for the Sligo team in Gaelic Park. My first love was soccer. I went to a soccer tryout in Gaelic Park, ironically, one Saturday and was signed up immediately. They were a great bunch of guys to play with. We had Scottish, English, Irish and Americans on the team. We played in the German American league which consisted of teams from all ethnic groups. Germans, Greek, Scottish and Jamicans among others. The Scottish team was based in New Jersey in Kearney, a strong Scottish enclave in North Jersey. Had some great battles there and afterwards back to their clubhouse for food and beverages. They had a great setup. The Greeks were the worst. The fans would spit at you if you got close to them.
Soccer was important to me . I played it all my life. My team back home was "Real Tubber". Stll exists today. We played in the Sligo/Leitrim League. When I came to America I was delighted to meet fellows who were as passionate as me about it. It was nowhere on the tv in the 70s. All that was available was the German League on PBS. Yes PBS. How they came up with the idea of showing soccer, sorry Football, was amazing. I still watch PBS though not for soccer...football. We devoured it. I remember a friend of mine wrote to Matt Busby, a legend with Manchester United, for a set of jerseys for Real Tubber. Any set they were done with would be fine. Never happened. The social life around the Bronx was great in the mid 70s. After work on the weekends I would head over to the Bronx to Durty Nellies, Good Time Charlies, The Archway and lots of other places where the Irish would congregate. We would get taxis all the time. Never had a car in the city. The bars were open until 4am, what an unGodly hour. Can't believe that on Sundays I would head to St Nicholas of Tolentine Church on Wadsworth Avenue for mass. Just for the fact I would be out until after 4am. When we would leave the bar then there was breakfast at the all night diners. I know I owe a diner on Broadway and 207th street some money for a breakfast that I abruptly finished and forgot to pay for. Never forgot that either. All those fried eggs and greasy bacon. Not today. I remember one special bar calle Cully and McCallisters on 207th street. It was run by two fellows from home. I used to go there after the other bars closed and be there until all hours. Shades on the windows and the door locked. Both of the owners had good friends in the local precinct so all was good. This was special because people from around Tubbercurry would be there to support the owners who were both from the Tubbercurry area. When the crowd would settle the singing would start. No musical instruments just voices. Beautiful singers who just enjoyed the art of singing. The songs were about Ireland, the Irish, the history, the immigrant. It was a pleasure to be transported back in song for just a few hours.
Broadway and 207th street was a great area in the mid to late 70s. It was mostly an Irish area with lots of bars and restaurants. Friendly with very few problems. Everybody seemed to know everybody. May not have known each others names but familiarity was enough. O'Donnells was a favourite place that I spent a lot of time. They had a pool table wher I learned to perfect the art of American pool. I missed snooker and billiards but being master of the table in New York was elevating. I drove through that same neighbourhood a few years ago and it was like Puerto Rico. All the Irish seemed to be replaced by Spanish. I wanted to stop and walk around but I was "on the job" so that was not possible. It did seem bright and more populated than I remembered. The Hitching Post was where the music was. John the bartender always toook care of me. My glass was never empty. One thing always looked forward to were the Irish newspapers that used to be delivered on Monday nights. Each county in Ireland had it's own paper and mine was the Sligo Champion. No internet those days. Monday nights I would head over to the Bronx to await the delivery of local news of people, sports and everything that happened the previous 7 days. It was a weekly paper. I would hang on to those papers for days and read them complete. Along with that was the Irish food. Bacon, crunchies, lucozade, tayto crisps, everything that tasted great on the walk back home with papers unders my arm. Three years in New York 1973 to 1976 were more than exciting. I used to go to a lot of concerts in New York. Madison Square Garden was a subway ride away and I used to love to go and see the best of best rock bands, My first was Deep Purple and Savoy Brown. What a show. I can still remember it. I was on the right side of the stage not far from the bands. That show is on you tube and I swear I can see myself. Again it was unbelievable that I was looking live at a band that I would never have a chance to see if I was back in Ireland. I also saw Cat Stevens, David Bowie, Jethro
Tull (that does not look right) Ten Years After, Mott the Hoople, Queen, Rory Gallagher and lots more. There was also the Bottom Line in the Village. Great venues for not a lot of money. Then during the summer there was the Schafer concerts in Central Park and they were free. I was living the life. I worked hard but enjoyed the social life as best I could. I used to go to a lot of Broadway shows as well. Most times I could buy the tickets for half price at a ticket booth on Duffy Square in Times Square. Any show that did not sell out that day would sell the unsold tickets at half price. I would just go there and see what was available. Times Square was a beautiful strip of bright lights, theatres, sleazy shops, people of all colours shapes and sizes. The street theatre was always a treat. Seemingly regular folks doing not so regular acts on the street. Magic. I bought my first guitar just off Times Square. I still have it. That was the first big ticket item I ever bought for myself. I brought that guitar on the subway up to 191st street and could not wait to get it into the apartment and start playing. A man named Mickey Kelly from Derry, whom I played soccer with, and who was involved in local theatre, wanted me to start singing with him in a bar in Queens. At the time I was not confident enough to perform for anybody. I sometimes wonder if he and I got together how far we could have gone. At that time every Irish bar had ballad singers, some who were not very good but nevertheless made the effort. One of the best was Sean Fleming. I first saw him in a bar on the east side called Flanigans. Flanigans was a great place to eat, drink, socalise and more than likely meet somebdy from home. Sean was there most weekends and he was and still is a great entertainer. I saw him recently in North Wildwood and he looked the same as he did on those nights in 1973. Another place was The Barleycorn. A little fancier than Flanigans but always a great night. Just thinking back on all that Budweiser I used to consume. I sincerley apologize to my stomach for all those yucky suds. Not every bar had Guinness.
Soccer was important. Without it I would not have met the great people I did, would not have played with some professional players. Some from the Irish League, even a few from the English League. Around 1974 the NASL started up. North American Soccer League. This was to be the tidal wave of a new sport in America. Soccer would compete with baseball, football, hockey, basketball and other sports. I have gotten used to calling it soccer not football. The New York team were the Cosmos, owned by Warner Brothers, big money behind them. They bought the best players in the world. Pele, Franz Beckenbaur, Georgio Cinaglia, Gordon Banks, Gery Daly. They were magic. They played in Yankee Stadium for a while until they settled in Giants Stadium in north Jersey. I would go see them as often as I could along with all the other madmen from England, South America and elsewhere. I saw George Best, play in Giants Stadium. To see him in the flesh was like seeing Bruce Springstein in your back yard. We were mad. Chanting and singing and the Cosmos always seemed to win. How could they not with the talent they had. I have many photos of those great days and nights.
I will be right back.
One Sunday afternoon after a Cosmos game in Yankee stadium I was walking out when a young girl came up to me and asked me for my autograph. I was stunned. I figured out that I resembled Bobby Smith, the Cosmos full back and signedhis name. Many years later I was having lunch in a deli near Trenton, New Jersey with my son Cormac who was playing in a soccer tournament near by, and got talking to the owner. He was a soccer nut too. A college graduate who got a full soccer ride to a college in Maryland. Can't remember the name of the college. He had a degree in economics and inherited the deli from his parents. Bobby Smith was a daily customer of his. Alas not that day. He called him on the phone to get him to come in but could not reach him. He told me to stop back but I never did. That man picked up my bill that day for my son and myself saying lunch was on him. I never forgot that generosity.
New York was glitz, glamour and a whole lot more. I never once had a bad experience there except for a couple of skirmishes that amounted to nothing. There was lots of music, theatre, sport, everything! I loved it. The subways, highways, food, it was magic. I have been back a few times since I left and I do enjoy the hustle and bustle.
I never had a car in the city. I never needed one. Public transportation was excellent. The busses and subways were the heart and soul of getting around the city. A subway token was 35 cents which you could also use on the bus. Travel from one end of Manhattan to the other for 35 cents. I loved the subway. You could nap, read or just watch the characters, lots of characters. And they ran all night. You could drink and not worry about the ride home. I never encountered any problems on the subway, except sleeping past my stop. I want to return to that subway again and take a ride. I want to return to where I used to live, work, socialize, play gaelic, soccer, sing, and eat boiled eggs at 4 in the morning in a bar on Broadway and Dyckman.
I visited St John of God School in New Jersey with my old school friends James, Mary and Brenda and another friend whom I met in New York Martin Osborne from County Wicklow, on our way back from Washington in the summer of 1975 (my memory is telling me '75, it may have been '76) St Johns is essentially a school for handicapped kids run by brothers from the order of St John of God. Their headquarters are in Dublin and at that time all of the brothers that ran the school were from Ireland. Saturday of that Labor weekend we left by train for Washington. I do recall as we were buying our tickets at Penn Station the ticket seller was of Irish heritage and he gave us a discount because we were from Ireland. Sound man. We walked around Washington all that day and ended up in a pub somewhere that evening for food and a few beers. Do not recall the name of it but there was live Irish music. At the end of the evening somebody purchased a bottle of Irish whiskey and the rest of the evening got a little foggy. We stayed in a hotel somewhere in DC because the next morning we were up too early and headed for the White House. To stand outside the White House fence and look at the building is somehow a feeling of great achievement. What I mean is, coming from Tubbercurry and making my way to Washington DC and stand in front of a building that houses the greatest leader in the world, was overwhelming. Especially the way I felt that morning. It was about 9am and I was not in the best of fettle. In fact I should have stayed in bed that day until at least 2pm. Even then it would have be more advisible to arise slowly and not do anything that required any quick movements. But here I was in front of the White House. I had dreamed about this moment for years, never imagined it would actually occur. But it did. Here I was. And not in the condition I had hoped. 90 degree heat and a hangover is not a healthy combination. Anyway I let some of my insides out on the pavement outside 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington, DC. Mind you my condition did improve immediately and an international scene was thankfully avoided. Not sure what else we saw that day but we did get back on the train to head home. On our way back to New York we stopped in Westville Grove, New Jersey home of the Brothers of St John of God. James' uncle Eunan was a teacher there but had passed away some time previous. Not sure how we got to Westville Grove, taxi or somebody pick us up at the station in Philly, but we were to stay the night and back to New York the next day. I recall Brother Cornelius, from County Kerry, a hugely outgoing personality that never lost his Kerry accent. He took us on a tour of the school and monastery, where the Brothers lived. For those not familiar with religious Brothers they are like priests but do not celebrate mass. There may be other differences but that is the nutshell explaination. There were a number of them staying there andwere heavily involved in the running of the school. Ther arrived on a mission years previously and set up a small school in a private house in Haddonfield , outgrew it and then set up a much bigger establishment in Westville Grove all through the auspices of the dioceses of Camden County. A mamoth undertaking but very successful. We were warmly greeted and treated with food and beverages. It was an inspiring stay and I never forgot the experience. Cornelius encouraged Irish people to work for and with him and he did likewise with me. As I said before I knew I would not be staying in New York for the rest of my American experience and here was an opportunity that was hard to turn down. Later......
Lately I have been in a singing mood rather than a writing mood. They are both good for me. I will get back to this as the weeks progress. The more I review this the more enters my head. Like I know I am the only person from Tubbercurry to ever make it to the US NCAA Division III mens college soccer final. Many years ago where we played Babson College from Boston. Not too many even in Ireland can make this claim. It's something I am proud of. Very proud.
In 1973 I also discovered Columbia Music Club. It was a company that sold casette tapes of music. Join the club get 10 tapes for 1 cent and then they would send a new tape every month for which you would pay full price. I joined a couple of these clubs and amassed a huge collection of music of rock groups that I knew and american groups that I didn't. I also bought a casette player/radio. Back home we had a small transistor and a plugin. I never saw a cassette palThese were items that Ireland did not have. I had access to the best music through these tapes. The radio stations had great music as well. I still say 1973/1974 was the best time for rock. New sounds, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Ten Years After, Beach Boys. It was heaven. And getting to see them in New York! I also kept abreast of Irish music,mainly through the sessions in various pubs in the city. If only I could think of half the names of these places. I followed the Irish scene through the Irish Echo. A weekly newspaper that brought me up to date on the happenings in the city. It came out every Wednesday and through it I would plan my weekend. the only other newspaper that I looked forward to getting was the Sligo Champion. My mother would mail some of them to me and it was like getting a birthday card when they would arrive. They brought me up on all the local news, sports and chatter from Tubbercurry and the sourrounding areas. She had a method of folding that paper, sometimes there were a couple of them, and then tying it with twine. It always arrived fully intact. It was my connection to home. Home was still 3000 miles away. While living with Imelda on 191st street, Carmel and myself agreed to pay the phone bill each month rather than pay rent. It was a good deal. We would call our mother as often as we could on that blue, kitchen wall mounted, dial phone. Wish I could remember that phone number. It was Wadsworth something, something.
Mike and Imelda O'Gara were very good to Carmel and I. Met us at the airport on arrival, taxied us to their apartment in Washington Heights. We each had our own room in their huge apartment of 7 rooms. I never heard of air conditioning until I arrived but I soon learned its meaning and necessity. They did not have it. All they had was a fan and open windows. It was with these open windows and the summer heat that New York City was becoming a reality. Outside I could hear the voices of people, cars, trains, even the subway. 191st and St Nicholas Ave was a busy intersection. On the corner below was a spanish store - a bodgea, next to it a bar and a liquor store thrown in there somewhere. "Our" building had six floors. A dark, dank double doors welcomed you on the ground floor. There was never a great fear of walking in alone at night time but we all were aware that New York had its issues. What large city does not. An elevator brought you to the 5th floor and all the apartments doors were painted green. They all looked the same. Mike O'Gara made the ultimate mistake one night when he got off on the wrong floor, entered an apartment and realised after making himself comfortable that things looked a little different than before he went out to the bar. Across the street on the south side of St Nicholas Ave was the entrance to the subway. This was exciting for me. The #1 train that ran north/south on the west side of Manhattan. I had been on the tubes of London which were spotless and on schedule but this was New York. Again images of various tv shows cme to mind when I was on the subway. I was never a book reader as a youth, basically because they were not affordable. The only books we had were school books. They were never bought because money was tight and nobody ever mentioned buying them. I'm not sure if anybody sold them in my town anyway. Sligo, 20 miles away, was the where you could find a book shop. We did have a library in town where I used to visit occasionally but never remember reading anything of worth. When I started working and wandering around New York I would go into book stores and browse and browse. Huge stores up and down the avenues. I loved it. I would buy one or two which I would read on the subway. I always liked the long train rides downtown which gave me time to read. On my recent cleaning expedition around the garage I found one or two of those books. Never knew I kept them. I also found some drawings I brought with me from Tubbercurry. I worked as a draftsman/tool designer in Tool and Guage in Tubber before I left and I had copies of some of my work. Hoping they would convince someone in New York that I had some knowledge of designing moulds and press tools I had a couple of interviews for designing jobs but somehow they never came to fruition.
The day after I arrived in the city Mike took me down to the Blarney Stone on 181st St and introduced me to Jack Flanagan, the owner, who told me to turn up the next day and start working behind the bar. I was never nervous about starting new jobs, and I did start three or four while I lived there. For me it was an adventure in New York City. I knew whatever I did would bring prosperity. I would make money, send some home and save some too. That was my motivation. My mother would benefit and finally escape years of trying to make a success of a shop that was never going to be successful, of having to work in a factory assembly line to pay her bills, of finally realising that she did not owe the bank any money.