Wednesday 13 December 2017

A woman approached us on the street. 'So that's the new girlfriend, is it?'

For six years, she was 'my American friend'. Kathy Hayes met Hugh Leonard aboard the cruise ship Romance, they bonded over a game of Trivial Pursuit and she came to Ireland to attend the launch of one of his books. Then, on June 1, 2001, she moved in and they were together for eight years until shortly before he died. Hugh gave Kathy the title 'my American friend' in his weekly Sunday Independent curmudgeonly diary of life with the cats in Dalkey. They married in 2007 and she acquired a new title -- Mrs Leonard, or more correctly, Mrs Jack Keyes Byrne. Now back in her native Philadelphia, Kathy writes about her time living among the Irish, and the 'high visibility' that came with being the wife of Ireland's then best-known living playwright -- an experience which she now admits she was 'very unprepared' for

I ARRIVED in Ireland knowing next to nothing of the country and its politics, religion, or sociology.

While it seemed that two-thirds of my neighbours had Irish names in Pennsylvania, and every other person I worked with for 25-plus years in PA, Hawaii and Colorado also had an Irish name, it just did not make any impact on me. I had CDs by the great Sinead O'Connor, The Cranberries, Enya and U2, but never thought of them as 'Irish'. I prefer to think that I was unaware, rather than just plain ignorant. (Sorry Van, I didn't have any of your CDs.)

I also arrived in Ireland not knowing just how well-known Hugh Leonard was. To me he was 'Jack', and I was thrilled to tell him that I had seen 'Da', thanks to my having watched the Tony Awards show -- I even got to see Barnard Hughes in the Philadelphia run of the show. Jack mentioned that he did a column in the local paper and I thought that was 'nice', but gave it no further thought, let alone imagined myself becoming a staple in it and to eventually be written about often.

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