Thursday, February 23, 2012

Brian Mor Ó Baoighill Gone But Not Forgotten

Just back from burying my good friend Brian Mor Ó Baoighill. This is the eulogy I gave at his graveside in New Jersey along with Pat Williams of the Irish Freedom Committee, who read a statement from the Irish Republican Movement in Ireland, and Fr. Pat Moloney "The Saint of The Lower East Side". It was a sad day for the Irish Republican movement.

Thank you, Joan, for inviting me to speak. I am here to pay tribute to the life and legacy of my friend, Brian Mor. It is an impossible task – for in every way, Bernie was larger than life. His wit, his talent, his commitment to a free Ireland and even his very name were larger than life. Mor, in Irish, means “Big,” and to me, Bernie was my big brother, my mentor, my best friend. Fortunately, there is no need to sum up his legacy in a few words – Bernie has left behind a treasure trove of artwork, cartoons and writing. He has laid the foundation for future generations to follow – and we will be forever in his debt.
One of Bernie’s favorite author’s, Evelyn Waugh, once wrote “your actions, and your action alone, determines your worth.” I am lucky to have been part of his actions and I’d like to share a few with you. Bernie was a character that only being born the son of immigrant parents in New York City could produce. Born in Harlem, Bernie later moved to the South Bronx, where his adored sister Margo was born. His mother’s biggest complaint was that he kept drawing on the walls of their apartment – Bernie’s friend Joe can tell stories about how many times she had to repaint the walls. How lucky we are that Bernie kept drawing on walls, and that we can still see his artwork on the walls of the Comic Club, Rocky Sullivan’s and Robert Emmett’s, to name a few.
Although a born and bred New Yorker, Bernie never forgot his family ties to Donegal, and at the Irish People Newspaper, found the perfect place to blend his Fenian passion with his artistic skills. Bernie and I worked together for many years, and as crazy as some of my ideas might have been, Bernie found a way to make them even more outlandish. One of our finest moments was standing in the middle of Times Square on December 16, 1983, watching the electronic sign board send Christmas Greetings to Irish Prisoners of War. Our second finest moment was enjoying the stir it made. I'll never forget sitting in the Blarney Stone with him, as we watched Bill Butell, anchor of Channel 7 news in NY, say "IRA hijacks sign in Times Square. More at 11." Bernie looked as though he had just won the lottery, knowing that his art was being shown around the world. In the pages of the Irish People, Bernie’s cutting political cartoons were the first thing that people looked for when opening the paper. And whether hung on someone’s refrigerator, or condemned in the House of Commons, they made a big impact. One of Bernie’s greatest gifts was his ability to blend history with current events. Whether hosting Radio Free Eireann, writing a scathing article or lampooning a subject in a cartoon, Bernie’s knowledge of Irish history was beyond reproach – and perfectly juxtaposed with the issue of the day.
You often hear people say “what can I do? I’m only one person?” Bernie’s legacy shows just what one man can accomplish. Bernie’s artistic talent should have made him a millionaire. But he was generous to a fault with his gift. Bernie’s worth will not be measured in dollars, but in his actions – giving his talent to further ideals he fervently believed in; mentoring younger artists; sharing his wisdom with those wise enough to listen. It seems wrong to live in a world without Bernie – we had so much more to do. We need more paintings, murals, cartoons. Bernie was so looking forward to his niece’s graduation this spring. And he had such grand plans with Joan! Joan took such good care of Bernie – he was planning on a lifetime of better days with her, and with his family. But knowing Bernie, I think he would find these words by Edna St. Vincent Millay fitting:
My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends -
It gives a lovely light.

I miss you Bernie. See you on the other side.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Brian Mor Ó Baoighill Unrepentant Fenian and close friend has died

Farewell to my good friend, mentor, and founder of Radio Free Eireann. A true artist, a true New Yorker, and a true METS fan: Brian Mor Ó Baoighill

It is with a deep sense of loss and sadness that we report the death of Brian Mor Ó Baoighill that occurred on Sunday evening, February 19, 2012. Brian was, first and foremost, a true Irish Republican, an unrepentant Fenian who gave so much of his time and energy to the cause of Irish freedom and unity.

Amongst his many other attributes Brian was a renowned Celtic artist, a prolific satirical cartoonist, a historian and a fountain of knowledge and wisdom. He broke bread with practically every notable Irish-American personality of this past half century and played a prominent role in every historic event involving the New York Irish-American community.

He was our friend and fellow traveler who now takes his rightful place in the ranks of our departed Fenian stalwarts. He leaves us with fond memories, but, also with a void that will never be filled. Farewell dear friend.

Ar dheis láimh Dé go raibh anam uasal -- Ní bheıdh a leıthead ann go deo aríst

Well known Irish American artist, Brian Mór O'Baoighill passed away late in the evening of Sunday, February 19, 2012. What follows is a mildly edited autobiography written by the man himself.

A New York native, Brian was born in what was then euphemistically known as “Irish West Haarlem”. Brian's parents, with him in tow, moved during WWII to “the suburbs”, the old South Bronx of the beautiful borough on the mainland of America. His wonderful sister Margo was born in the South Bronx.
Brian, like so many of Narrowback contemporaries, endured the vicissitudes of a parochial education. He majored in advanced hooliganism and his fondest memories are those spent down Cypress Avenue, his weekly trip to the New York Public Library over on Alexander Avenue, playing ball day in the summer of the PS 65 schoolyard, shooting dice in the same schoolyard, observing girls, graffiti (tagging), reading everything he got his hands on, and, when not reading, drawing his literary images.
Inevitably, when discussing his old Bronx stomping grounds, the conversation will end up in a bar. Not just any bar, but the Shannon View, where his Dad worked. This notorious emporium became the designated locale for a disparate clientele as one could ever imagine; New York’s finest (on & off duty), NYC Transit employees, Con-Ed workers (on & off duty), career A&P clerks, undertakers, corrections hacks, construction workers, sandhogs, Irish-Americans, part-time gangsters, insurance men, tugboat hands, erstwhile IRA heroes, bohemians and John Birchers, taxi drivers, and a lot of thirsty men and escorted women.
The jukebox was devoted to Irish music; from the McNulty family and Ruthie Mórrissey, to Michael Coleman and Paddy Killeran, while the conversation ranged from baseball to the Black and Tans. It was here that Brian found approbation for his family's tales of British terror in post-1960 Ireland.
When the '50s campaign ended, Mór was working for his Dad in Queens. It was here that he met a man who was to change his life's mission. The man Seamus McDevitt, an American-born IRA man who, at the cessation of hostilities of the border campaign, was released from a Free State jail and deported back to America, a country he had not seen since a small child. Seamus was living in America but his heart and soul were living in Donegal, where he was persona non grata to the Free State and to his own family.
McDevitt took care of Brian’s higher education, giving him book lists, periodicals, old newspa-pers and historic recordings in Irish, laced with revolutionary slogans in Irish and Béarla. Brian found a direction for both himself and his art (Fág an Beallach).
With the tragic death of his mentor McDevitt, Mór rededicated himself to the ancient cause, and he traveled to Ireland in 1966 for the 50th Anniversary of the Easter Rising. Brian found himself involved in the Republican experience of waiting and waiting for something to happen in Ireland.
Brian was active in Irish Northern Aid from its start and was appointed to the Irish People newspaper in 1972. His career with the newspaper (on and off over the next 20 years) is the stuff that legends are made of, from, or whatever. He was an officer of Cumann na Saoirse and prior to his death, was putting together a retrospective of his Republican and Irish American art for the past 30 years, and his vision of the future of our culture.
Brian considered the high points of his journalistic endeavors as being denounced in the House of Lords and Commons several times for his unique cartoon art; being fired and rehired by the forces of darkness that enveloped the former Republican movement; Radio Free Eireann, which he help found over 25 years ago; and of course, a great working relationship with John (Mr. Sensitivity) McDonagh, from the Times Square incident to Inwood and back down to Wall Street. Brian continues his life’s work for the inevitable victory of Fenianism, i.e.: the establishment of a 32 county sovereign Irish Republic, (and the plight of the small farmer).
In pop culture, Brian Mór O’Baoighill will always be known as the man who illustrated the Mouse on the Barroom floor. But as an artist and an activist, he was so much more. When the twin towers were attacked in New York City, Mór drew the iconic sketch of a policeman, fireman, and emergency service worker standing on the smoldering pile, with the caption “. . . because it’s what we do.” To this day, it is found on t-shirts, precincts and fire stations throughout the city. When the Irish political prisoners were on hunger strike in 1981, Mór designed wall murals in their memory, and was behind the electronic sign in Times Square sending Christmas Greetings to Irish Republican prisoners in 1983, and delighted in the fact that the U.S. ambassador to England had to answer for his artwork. He was the official cartoonist of the Irish People Newspaper in New York City – and one of his proudest moments was when he was condemned by the House of Parliament in England for one of his drawings. In between political cartoons, Mór painted murals on the walls of bars and restaurants across the country – including the Comic Strip in New York City, a wall mural with the history of NYC at Robert Emmet’s, and Eddie Murphy’s comedy club in Miami.
Brian Mór was the go-to Irish-American graphic artist. He designed album covers for Black 47, Joannie Madden, Cherish the Ladies and Seanchie. His artwork filled both the old and new Rocky Sullivan’s Bar. Mór designed a coat of arms for Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown, illustrated Christmas cards, and designed a line of Irish china. His artwork is hung in the Bloody Sunday Museum in Derry, Ireland. Mór was one of the founders of Behind the Green Curtain on WBAI, which eventually became Radio Free Erieann, and he was an active contributor until his death. Ironically earlier this year, Mór’s poster memorializing Theobald Wolfe Tone and The United Irishman, first displayed in New York City Hall, was hung in place of a picture of the Queen of England in Belfast City Hall. While Mór rallied against it being hung in a government office in Ireland still under British rule, somehow, it is fitting that it is there.