I had occasion to travel outside the environs of New York City, and in doing so, I managed to cover at least 1000 miles in four days. My journey took me initially to Hudson, about 120 miles north of New York City. We rumbled along for two and a half hours before the train pulled into the small station at Hudson. It was so small that the driver over-shot the platform thereby leaving several passengers, including myself, stranded up-track until a kindly guard came to help us off. Having managed to negotiate my way down the track without losing my bags, camera and self-esteem, I found myself being whisked through the countryside to a fabulous old house and farm in the Hudson valley where I met five cats, a donkey, three dogs and a goat! I didn’t see much of Hudson that day – I was far too busy talking to my host, taking photographs, and listening to frequent and very loud alarms and radio announcements about an approaching thunderstorm. A few hours later I was on the road again, this time to Rochester by car, and in the company of one Ivan Lennon. Ivan’s father was Waterford-born George Lennon:
“At the age of 20, George Lennon became the youngest commander of a flying column during the Irish War of Independence, leading the West Waterford Column in ambushes and actions in the face of heavy odds … When Civil War followed the War of Independence Lennon chose to oppose the pro-Treaty government and fought in the battle for Waterford city. However, he laid down his arms when it became clear that the anti-Treaty cause was lost and that continuing the fight would lead to further suffering amongst the civilian population”. (Quoted from back cover of Terence O’Reilly, Rebel Heart: George Lennon, Flying Column Commander, Mercier History: Dublin, 2009)
Naturally enough, Ivan and myself had a lot to talk about. Seán Keating, the subject of my recent book, managed to paint the men of the North Cork Brigade, which was under the leadership of a man who was to become one of the artist’s closest friends, Seán Moylan. The paintings are well-known: Men of the South and An IRA Column. If that wasn’t enough, the discussion about George Lennon reminded me that my own mother’s people, the Roche family, hailed from Waterford, one of whom was, apparently, Lord Mayor of the City at some stage. The photograph above was taken in front of Ivan’s painting by Waterford-born Michael Augustine Power O’Malley, who emigrated to New York in the early years of the twentieth-century. The book, which was ‘presented’ to Ivan, is on its way to one of his friends – where? Waterford, of course! As for Rochester, I saw nothing of it, except the train station – but I do intend to visit again, thanks to Elizabeth Osta https://www.facebook.com/elizabethosta
I decided to return to New York City from Rochester by train. The station reminded me of a Carl Andre installation – marvellously straight lines leading somewhere, or nowhere. Although there were several people waiting to board the train that Sunday afternoon, the station was curiously quiet, and the platform entirely empty. Every so often the stillness was punctuated by the noisy clatter of an inordinately long freight train; silence returned as the last carriage disappeared from view. Once on board, the eight hour journey flew by – the views of the Hudson River were astonishing, illuminated, once darkness fell, by a large yellow moon that hung low, like the voice of Paul Robeson, in the night sky.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eh9WayN7R-s (Different river, same feeling, and one of my favourite songs).
The following day, Monday, was for ‘rest’ – or rather, time spent uploading and sorting photographs, answering dozens of emails, sorting out files and putting order on the mounds of research material gathered over the previous two days. Tuesday morning, alarm for 5.30am, and out for the 7am bus from Allen Street, near Chinatown, NYC, to H Street, Washington. Obviously a popular bus (only $22 each way), there was a large queue to get on board for the five hour commute. Suffice to say that the man in charge was not in the best of form that morning – but it was a nice bus, and the return journey was perfect. The terminus in Washington was in lively and colourful Chinatown – vastly different in scale and atmosphere to Rochester train station- but equally captivating.
I took over six hundred and fifty photographs during my research trip to the Washington area, which, when added to the nearly four hundred taken between Hudson and Rochester, made a huge pile of images to be sorted, filed and written about. It was four days on the road doing the type of research that researchers don’t often write about: trying to work out how to read the maps; asking people the way because I can’t read maps; sweltering under the 95 degree sun on the way to the metro station; meeting and staying with complete strangers (each of whom turned out to be absolutely fantastic); crawling around in boxes and filing cabinets; taking hundreds of photographs; explaining that I’d rather not eat or sleep while the work was not finished; hoping that the mosquitoes wouldn’t bite the bridge of my nose again (a horrible story); looking for sockets to charge the camera battery; hoping I hadn’t forgotten the adaptor (I forgot it for my trip to Beacon) – and the list goes on. Four days, new friends, hundreds of miles – all part of a larger picture – the jigsaw from which all books are built.