Out (of Ireland) and Proud – An Irishman’s Diary about Terry McGovern

Terry McGovern: ancestral homeland

Terry McGovern: ancestral homeland


There’s a funny story about how Terry McGovern first told her Irish-American mother about being gay, although it probably wasn’t funny at the time.

Terry was already in her 20s by then, at law school, and her partner was urging her to break the news. But Ann McGovern, while more open-minded than many parents of her generation and background, was still old-school enough for this be an uncomfortable prospect.  

So Terry decided to write to her about it.

Unfortunately (or maybe not), the day the letter arrived at home on New York’s Long Island, her mother was sitting out on the porch with other family members and a friend.  

And because she always struggled to decipher Terry’s hand-writing, she handed the post to a younger daughter to read aloud.

When it came to the punchline, the reader hesitated, but was urged to carry on. Then, as Terry recalled last year in an online forum called I’m From Driftwood, her mother disappeared into her room for a week: “My sister called me and said, ‘Mommy is sick and not coming out of her room because you’re gay’.”

But Ann McGovern recovered well from this public trauma, in time replying with her own letter and the message: “You’ll always be special. I still love you.” Thereafter, she took to her new role as supportive mother of a gay daughter with the zeal of a convert.  

She now kept close track of female celebrities – especially ones she liked – who were also lesbian. And when Terry became involved in the campaign to allow an official LGBT presence in New York’s “great day for the Irish”, Ann’s only objection was this: “Why do the gays want to march in the St Patrick’s Day Parade? That’s a horrible parade.”

But it was after Terry became pregnant, soon after the millennium, that her mother truly excelled herself.  

She was fascinated by the process, staying awake all night in the maternity ward, while Terry’s partner slept. Then, just after the birth, in late July 2001, she held her baby grandson.

And those joyful moments were soon to be frozen forever, because a few weeks later, Ann McGovern was at work (as a claims assessor) in the World Trade Centre when the planes hit. Her card wallet was found later, flattened but intact, in a nearby street. It seems she may have made it out of the building before it collapsed, but not in time to get clear.

Terry had long been aware, in a general way, of her Irish ancestry. That all her great-grandparents were from this country. That there were links to Waterford, Limerick, and in “a vague sense” Cavan.  

She also inherited a consciousness of immigrant identity. Her father had worked his way up from being a truck driver to a career in accountancy with New York’s Daily News. When Terry attended university, it was thanks to a union scholarship.

But as long ago as her days in Georgetown, she had been exposed to a new breed of Irish American: “wealthy, super-conservative Irish Catholics with none of the vestiges of an immigrant background or any memory of the disadvantages that involved”.

So the rise of the generation now dominating Trump’s White House and its backing chorus may not have surprised her as much as it did the author of a recent Newsweek feature: “Why are all the conservative loudmouths Irish-American?”. The diaspora comprises both “the worst and the best” of the US, Terry believes.  

As the daughter of a mother who died on 9/11, however, she was outraged that the White House should invoke those victims of terrorism as an excuse for walls, travel bans, and other extreme anti-immigrant policies.

So last St Patrick’s Day, at Manhattan’s Riverside Church, she joined more than 1,000 people at the inaugural rally of a group called Irish Stand, to support the rights of immigrants.  

And among other things, the event awoke in her a new, deeper interest in her ancestral homeland. Thanks to a DNA test, she now knows she has cousins not just in the three aforementioned counties but in Dublin, Leitrim, and Monaghan besides.  

She hopes to meet some this week when visiting Ireland with her now 16-year-old son.  

But the main reason for her trip is to be one of many speakers and performers attending another Irish Stand, tonight.  

Marking a year since Trump’s election, this one will raise funds for people in the Direct Provision system here.  

It takes place in Dublin’s Liberty Hall Theatre at 8pm.  

Tickets are available from eventbrite.ie

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