The Long Road
By William McCarthy
Been shooting a lot for this..
I hope you love it, it will be a 3 part series �
Once upon a time in the 2000’s I made an album with some friends called “Rise Ye Sunken Ships” and I wrote lyrics about the fragility of family and the realities of brokenness within a seemingly upwardly mobile country called the United States.
I found myself adrift with only a small handful of living family members left.
I turned to expression and rock and roll to somehow address cracks that a family could fall into having been in America less than a 100 years.
How did this all happen in a land that fruit seemed to literally fall from the trees of prosperity?
How did my family get left behind? And moreover why did I choose music of all the ways to answer this self questioning?
Where did I come from and why was I here? What was my purpose and why didn’t the endless rows of sprawling beige suburban houses quiet this yearning? And beyond that, where did everyone go? All that was left was a catholic family and not nearly enough photographs entombed and tattered.
The story of course is deep within the soil of an oft troubled landscape, of immigration and passage to a new world called America. The more I uncovered, the more the story and this unlikely mosaic of a new land began to come alive. In this family that I barely knew I came from held tragedies, intricacies, letters to and fro back home to Ireland and in our new land we produced police officers, factory workers, WW2 soldiers dying in France, a priest in Miami and even a nun that was an author! We had hitchhikers, rock and roll singers, prison inmates and people dying wholeheartedly alone in homeless shelters in California. We had a farm back in Kerry and weddings and disputes, we had a religion and traditions that faded away eroded by time and vanishing decade after decade.
Put simply, being a white person in America is a no questions asked type of affair..
Last names like Kowalski, Schmidt, Thompson, Smith or Stevens…
It’s as if there is no story, no uniqueness, no deeper inquiry to be had because once the accent goes and a religion (if ya got one) you blend into the glaze and churn within the malaise. You are another white face in a yearbook simply “American”, you are another Yankee ‘round a Christmas tree eating casserole within a stack of photo albums…
But that wasn’t good enough for me.
I would have to go somewhere to find where this thread led, and as it turns out it led back to Ireland to see for myself where I came from.. Another doughy American waddling around the Emerald Isle searching for a fragmented forgotten past.
Do Australians, Canadians, Kiwis and South Africans feel this cultural amnesia? Do they board a 757 on a red eye flight to reverse build a bridge?
Many don’t and that’s ok, but not for yours truly.
My grandmother Patricia O’Dowd McHugh was the first bonafide American in our family, born in 1915, a year after WW1 began and 3 years after the Titanic sunk into the still of a frigid North Atlantic night.
The port that it sailed from was the south side of Great Island in Cork, Ireland the very port my great grandmother Bridget O’Dowd would depart from to Boston just years before.
Her brother James had made it to America and settled in bustling Detroit, Michigan, and hope against hope he made it onto the Detroit police force despite being from Castlemaine in County Kerry Ireland boasting a population today of 176 inhabitants.
Bridget got married and had 2 boys William and James, one died at 2 years old and one died quickly after being born. She would give birth to 2 more babies a boy named jack and a daughter, my grandmother Patricia. Sadly the next birth would end in tragedy with not only baby Eleanor dying but Bridget herself dying from an infection during the birth.
The two living children (then 2 and 3 years old) would be given to Bridget’s in-laws, another Irish Catholic family the McHugh’s to raise and my grandmother would later marry a local Catholic kid named Joseph McCarthy and have 3 girls and a boy named Mike that loved hockey.
One of those girls was my Mother Ann Marie who had her grandmothers difficult hair and the greenest eyes you ever saw, not sure if she named her two sons William and James after the infants her grandmother lost after arriving in America but unraveling this amongst the clouds and intermittent rain of Ireland opened me up in ways that were both familiar and surreal.
I have never met a more traveled people than the Irish, never met heartier singers, a more humorous lot or more passionate storytellers…
And watching the sun set over County Kerry along the Dingle peninsula among the caws of a distant seagull made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.
I squinted my eyes and stared down at the boots on my feet…
This is my project, The Long Road…
Thank you for watching.