December 18, 2009

Book captures spirit of the Irish

By Mike Krokos

The Irish Way of Life: Stories of Family, Faith and FriendshipThere is the story about losing his parents on a family trip to Ireland—within a few hours of arriving on the Emerald Isle.

And the one about the priest whose deep Irish roots and upbringing led him to befriend and become the primary caregiver for an 80-year-old widower who had just lost his wife of 40 years.

But we can’t forget reading about the tradition of Notre Dame football between a father and son that started years ago and has been carried on from generation to generation.

In The Irish Way of Life: Stories of Family, Faith and Friendship, author John Shaughnessy’s second book is filled with the kind of stories that the Irish are known for, stories that make you laugh and bring a tear to your eyes, the author said.

Though many of the stories draw upon his own experiences, Shaughnessy also interviewed people of Irish descent, including several with ties to the Indianapolis area.

“I wanted to write a book that would be a tribute to Irish immigrants, like my grandparents, who came to America with their most important possessions: their dreams,” said Shaughnessy, who is the assistant editor of The Criterion.

“I also wanted the book to be a tribute to their sons and daughters, who made the United States their home and shared their Irish-American heritage with their children.”

But the 195-page nonfiction book, published by Corby Books in Notre Dame, Ind., is not only meant for people of Irish descent.

“These stories would connect with most people because most of the stories in the books are about fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives—all relationships that touch our lives,” Shaughnessy said.

“One of the threads throughout the book is how people left everything behind in one country to come to the United States for a better life for themselves and their families. That’s a story that is still a great part of our country today.”

Shaughnessy spent a recent November evening recounting some of his book’s Irish stories with members of the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians at the Northside Knights of Columbus Hall in Indianapolis.

The group erupted in laughter several times, including when listening as the author reminisced about a story from his early days working for The Indianapolis Star. The St. Patrick’s Day feature was about the

now-late Joe Wilson, an Irish immigrant musician in Indianapolis.

“I visit him in his house and right after we sit down, he leans toward me and says, ‘I have a fine bottle of Irish whiskey that can’t be bought in the States. And it’s the last bottle I have. Would you like a drink?’ Before I could answer, Wilson winks and whispers, ‘Of course, once we take off the cork, we throw it away.’ ”

Though the young reporter declined the offer, Wilson went on to tell him the story of his life, Shaughnessy said, “and certain qualities came through in his story that I associated with the Irish way of life: the desire to make a better life for your family, the gift of storytelling, a spirit of generosity, a strength to overcome life’s challenges, more than a touch of irreverence, a core of faith and the pride of being Irish.”

(The Irish Way of Life: Stories of Family, Faith and Friendship is available at and at Borders bookstores in Indianapolis, Killybegs Irish Shop in Indianapolis and Holy Family Books in Carmel.)

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