Friday 19 July 2019

How breakfast at the Shelbourne changed this poor Dublin boy's life

John Spain Books Editor

IT'S a magical, true story of the friendship between an impoverished young boy and a famous opera star in 1950s Dublin -- a friendship that changed the boy's life.

And it all started in the Shelbourne Hotel where the book telling the story, 'Maggie's Breakfast', will be launched on Monday.

The book is the memoir of Gabriel Walsh, who grew up in poverty in Inchicore in the 1950s, one of 10 children in a destitute family. And at the age of 14, he got a job in the Shelbourne Hotel as a trainee waiter.


Irish opera star Margaret Burke Sheridan ('Maggie' to her friends), who was a regular guest in the hotel, took a liking to the young Gabriel -- so much so that she eventually took him to America to live with her wealthy friends.

He later became a successful script writer, writing the screenplay for the Gene Wilder film 'Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx', among others.

Mr Walsh, now aged 70, said yesterday: "Maggie transformed my life."

At the time Maggie wasn't wealthy but she had extremely rich patrons in the US, among them the Axe family who lived in a castle in Westchester in upstate New York -- the wealthiest town in the US. She stayed with them for lengthy periods and convinced them to become Gabriel's legal guardians.

So within a few months, the young Gabriel went from "abject poverty" in Inchicore to the wealthiest echelons of American society.

"Our neighbours were the Rothschilds," he said.

However, the teenage Gabriel continued to bring Maggie her breakfast whenever she was staying with his new family.

As a ward of the Axe family, he was sent to the best schools and then college before he was drafted into the US army.

On leaving the forces, he "sort of dropped out for a while", before drifting to California where he landed small acting parts in Hollywood films.

But the first time he saw himself on screen, he decided he would be better at screen writing.

It proved a wise decision and the great director Jean Renoir said, in Gene Wilder's book, that Mr Walsh's screen play for 'Quackser' was the best since Chaplin.

Later, Mr Walsh taught script writing and these days he divides his time between Waterford and the US.

He added: "My daughter did a law degree in University College Cork, so that gave me a link."

Mr Walsh agreed that his life story reads like a Hollywood movie -- and there has already been an offer in for the screen rights. "Madonna is interested," he joked.

Irish Independent

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