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Discovering Ireland - in New York
by Maura Conlon-McIvor
author of FBI Girl: How I Learned to Crack My Father's Code

I was Maura long before my birth. My father, a New York-born FBI agent, had savored the name since first hearing it in law school, hoping someday to bequeath it upon a daughter. Maura was a fine gift, but not always straightforward. "Nice meeting you, Mona. Is that Hawaiian?" People had a hard time with my name, and when I was young I never had the nerve to correct them.

We lived about a 40-minute drive from Hollywood, and 15-minutes to Disneyland. I didn't measure the exact miles because when you're growing up near the happiest place on earth and the town where movies are made, who wants to hear that Maura is Irish for Mary? Why bother mentioning cultural roots when I'm cycling to the noon showing of The Son of Flubber or dreaming of Tinkerbell's cool outfits? Ireland wasn't even on the map.

That is, until my Irish-born grandmother, Molly, arrived from New York City. Chuckling with her Celtic brogue, she handed me a beautifully illustrated children's book about her homeland. I can still see my first images of leprechauns, rainbows, pots of gold, double-decker buses, little girls with red hair, and shamrocks. I suspected the thrills in Ireland surpassed every highly coveted E ticket ride at Disneyland, and that the doors to this emerald kingdom didn't close at midnight. Ireland was chockablock with secrets awaiting discovery.

The clues seemed to reside back East. My grandmother, I learned, wasn't the fairy tale sort who lived in a shoe with some old man Hubbard. She was a County Clare-born farm girl who emigrated to the Bronx, the eldest of several children, and part of a New York-based clan - an Irish clan - a concept foreign to our sun-kissed housing tract. My parents, too, added their own mysterious fuel: around our house, New York was never called New York, but back home. It didn't matter that my parents had lived in California for decades, and raised five kids there.

Life took an interesting turn when I traveled to New York as a teenager. No longer was I spelling my name after introductions. I wasn't Laura, or Mona the Hawaiian, but a veritable Irish-American princess. I visited relations in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn, startled and fascinated to meet others with equally Celtic names.

I met young girls who did Irish step dance. I read Irish newspapers actually published in Manhattan. I listened to my relatives sing Irish songs well into the night, wistful as they told tales about the St. Patrick's Day parade, and the many years they've marched through rain, sleet, sun or snow. My Uncle Ed, a tall Catholic priest from Brooklyn, drove me in a Checker cab throughout New York, pointing out the Irish neighborhoods, and the places where my grandparents were reared, regaling me with clan history.

I learned about my Irish American grandfather, Michael Hogan, who with an eighth grade education, worked as a stereographer for the old New York World-Telegraph and later the Post. Perhaps my grandfather chose the newspaper business because he loved words. By all accounts, he was a gregarious storyteller. Our last photograph of him was taken on his final trip to California, which coincided with St. Paddy's Day. In Los Angeles, we got to be Irish every March 17th. The icing on our cupcakes turned green with the help of food coloring, and the beef was corned, not roast. In New York, however, it seemed you could be Irish everyday.

Years later I packed my bags, moved to Manhattan, and found a job, like my grandfather, in the publishing business. I visited the old neighborhoods, attended Irish cultural events, dined at the Pig and Whistle, always enthusiastic to discover the waiter's county of origin. These Celtic connections made back home my home. Such things I wrote in letters to my father, thanking him for my lyrical name.

Feature Image: 2002 NYC St. Patrick's Day Parade

Maura Conlon-McIvor graduated from The University of Iowa and has worked as a journalist, editor, and producer on both coasts. She holds a doctorate in Depth Psychology and lives with her husband in Portland, Oregon.

Her memoir - "FBI Girl: How I Learned to Crack My Father's Code" - is available from Warner books at all major booksellers, including amazon For more information, please visit, or


Fri, Nov 3, 2017

The Round Towers

The Round Towers of Ireland are remarkable among the world's ancient monuments; one author has called them 'Elegant, free-standing pencils of stone.' Today, 65 survive in part or whole. Hand-crafted in native stone and cemented with a sand, lime, horsehair and oxblood mortar - a technique imported from Roman Britain - it's said by many historians that they were built by monastic communities to thwart Viking invaders. And yet, there's reason to believe that the towers were built long before Christianity came to Ireland. Whatever their origins, monasteries did indeed flourish where the round towers existed. And why not. These imposing edifices provided a watch tower, a keep and a refuge.
Image: By kind permission of Stephen Cassidy, The Cassidy Clan.

Click for More Culture Corner.

From an evocative new voice comes the touching childhood memoir of an Irish Catholic girl struggling to connect with her enigmatic FBI agent father. Publisher's Synopsis
Clck here for FBI Girl.


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