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Graphic Novelist John Walsh Stays in Touch with his Irish Roots

On Saint Patrick's Day, Walsh's "GO HOME PADDY" stands as a reminder of how far Irish-Americans have come.

It’s Saint Patrick’s Day, yes indeed.

Rather than cooking up another list of places to party tonight (actually, that will come later), South End Patch took the opportunity to interview writer/illustrator John Walsh. Now a South End resident raising his newborn first child, Walsh originally hails from Bridgeport, Connecticut.

But as a man of Irish descent, he made it his business to study the Irish-American experience. Walsh took what he learned and applied it to his internet-serialized graphic novel, “GO HOME PADDY,” a hefty history lesson documenting one man’s journey from Ireland to America in a “Coffin-Ship,” circa 1847. Paddy flees the potato famine, poverty and British oppression, only to arrive in Boston and realize that life here will be just as difficult as the one he left… at least, for a while.

Saint Patrick’s Day in Boston is a huge celebration, but relations between Boston’s Irish-American faction and other prevalent groups in the city remain strained. In this light, “GO HOME PADDY” is timely, as it examines the role of immigration, race relations and religion in American society.

Overall, Walsh’s story goes far to make certain that Irish-Americans remember their cultural struggles for independence, acceptance and freedom, which aren’t any different than those of other minority groups that come to mind.

Really, it’s all about mutual understanding, compassion and respect.

Q: What’s your perception of where the Irish-American community in Boston is headed? It’s true – a sense of self-awareness has evolved and there’s more tolerance between Boston’s various communities on the whole, but it's not all roses... where does the Irish-American community need to improve?

A: The Irish-American community seems at once stronger than ever, but at the same time there's a long way to go. There is an intense interest in Irish culture and history among many of us, but it seems there are plenty of Irish-Americans that think being Irish is just about knocking back drinks. Lord knows that I'm not one to shy away from ‘the Drop,’ but there is such a rich history to our people that to not know about it seems a crime. I'm a big believer in the saying, ‘How do you know where you're going, if you don't know where you're from?’ And any Irishman or woman that truly knows their history will know that tolerance and acceptance is necessary.

Q: Saint Patrick's Day has become a free-for-all celebration. Do you think people are in touch with its Catholic origins--both Irish and otherwise?

A: I would say that many people, especially those that aren't Irish, have no real clue about the origins and meaning of St. Patrick's Day. Here in America it started not only as a religious festival in honor of Saint Patrick, but it also became the ultimate symbol of the Irish conquest of America! I grew up in a house where we were often reminded that we were Irish-Catholic and that St. Patrick's Day was OUR day. I'm completely in favor of celebrating on Saint Patrick's Day, but I'm also in favor of celebrating Irish culture year-round through literature, music, etc. Also, the Irish have historically been a very charitable people, so doing something for a local charity is a good way to mark Saint Patrick's Day as well. 

Q: You Mention the 'Irish conquest of America'--what were Americans so afraid of regarding Irish immigrants in the mid-19th century?

A: First off, Catholicism was viewed as a foreign religion in the States and the Irish were seen as the front runners of a Popish Plot to take over America. Secondly, the Irish washed up on America shores in tatters; they were diseased, dirty, uneducated, unskilled and backwards. Americans saw them as a drain on the economic and social system as well as an inferior race of people. The American Nativists felt that the country should remain Anglo-Saxon, Protestant and pure. Obviously the Irish made a mess of those plans. And by the way, I see a lot of similarities between how poorly the Irish were received here and how some current ethnic and religious groups are being treated now.

Q: Do you think of the Graphic Novel as a more direct means of leading readers where the writer intends them to go? Is that especially useful in a situation where you have a deliberate message?

A: The Graphic Novel is a pretty unique medium. At its best, it can convey to the reader ideas and emotions in a manner that just can't be done in regular literature… and vice-versa, of course. But depending on who is creating the work, I do think that the Graphic Novel can be a powerful means of leading the reader through the story towards the intended meaning of the piece. The message is lost, however, if the story is no good! With “GO HOME PADDY,” I’m striving to tell a powerful story first and foremost; one that will appeal to a wide slice of the population. I'm using visual stereotypes, as well as uncomplicated images and angles to tell the story as straightforwardly as possible, especially since the subject matter is so heavy.

Q: Do you work in other mediums - express your creativity in other ways?

A: I consider myself a storyteller first and foremost. "GO HOME PADDY" has been in my heart and head for awhile, and when it's done I'll most likely start right up with another Graphic Novel. While working on "GO HOME PADDY," I've also been writing a screenplay with a local filmmaker. I've done plenty of Editorial/Opinion cartoons as well as regular Illustration work too.

Q: What do you think of as the best and worst aspect(s) of Boston as it is currently?

A: Currently, the worst aspect of Boston (like many other places) has to be the economy, especially for most creatives. Some are doing okay, and a small few are even thriving, but most are struggling pretty badly right now. Boston is a city that is tremendously rich with culture and history, and that's why I love living here. From the Boston Anthaeneum to the MFA to the Boston Public Library, it's heaven for the curious minded. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention here in the South End; I love that bar!

John Walsh writes the South End Slant cartoons for South End News and publishes "GO HOME PADDY" updates twice weekly. He's currently represented by literary agent Scott Gould of RLR Associates. You can reach Walsh through his website.

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