From Longford to Hell’s Kitchen & back again – Hugh & Mail Clarke

It used to be called “New Amsterdam”. It is, simply, the capital of the world.

One family, and one man in particular, brought me into Manhattan life many times per week as a child growing up in rural Ireland.

The Clarke family, technically not related to us, but most definitely first cousins by any other earthly law, are a typical Irish-American Diaspora family.  Hugh Clarke from Killoe in Co Longford marries Mai Mcnaboe from Gowna in Co Cavan, and they initially settle in Edgeworthstown in Co Longford. They have two children here, and shortly afterwards decide to move lock, stock and barrel to New York.

Hughie_Mai_Clarke

Time were tough in the early 70th in Ireland and in New York but Hugh and Mai worked hard in the hospitality industry with Hugh famously opening his own bar after a number of years.

Around about that time, my father came to live in Edgeworthstown and rented Hugh & Mai’s house, in which my sister was born. Shortly after my parents moved out to build the family home but bonds of friendship that had begun as landlord/tenant developed over the years

My earliest memories of Hugh and Mai and the rest of the Clarke family was meeting them as , technically, Bed and Breakfast guests of my mother as ever year, they would return to Ireland for their summer holidays (vacation!) and it was always exciting to welcome this silver haired “American” with his lovely wife, bringing us presents and entertaining my parents with many tales from New York with the compliments being returned by my own parents with tales of all the local going’s on that Hugh in particular was always interested in hearing about.

As the years progressed, their summer holidays began to become longer and longer to the point that upon retirement, Hugh and Mai returned to Ireland for good.

There was now a  major renovation job to be done on their old home and over the next few years, I was to do many jobs (mainly painting !) for Hugh and Mai and my time with them I will always cherish.  Typically Hugh (or Hughie as we always called him) would be pottering about as I was doing my work, telling me story after story from his days in New York, and his pub in Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan in particular.  All that was good and bad about the world found it’s way through the door of his famous bar. Stories of Police, Mobsters, drug addicts, hookers, you name it all flowed into the conversation.  It was like a real life movie.

Inevitably our work and conversations would be  interrupted in a pleasant way with lots of tea and sandwich breaks laid on by his wife Mai, who never, ever, let me leave her house without being stuffed full of food and drinks.

Hugh was very supportive of any Irish person who came over from Ireland looking for work in New York and has a special soft spot of course for anyone from Co Longford or Co Cavan.

Hugh_Mai

Both Hugh and Mai have both now passed away, and they are very dearly missed by myself, my parents and family and many other local people.

Their own family are all based in New York and I’m proud to call them my friends. Theresa, Eileen, Frankie, Jimmy and Greg are definitely considered “Cousins” in my book 🙂

Hopefully we may meet again at some juncture. Ar dheis de go raibh a ainm (Rest in peace)