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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

#MoversandShakers #JohnAidanByrne #WhomYouKnow MOVERS and SHAKERS: John Aidan Byrne, Award-Winning Journalist and Writer @JohnAidanByrne @NYPost Our Coverage Sponsored by Cosmopolitan Dental, Official Dentist of Whom You Know @GaroNazarianDDS #cosmopolitandental #loveyoursmile

John Aidan Byrne

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John Aidan Byrne is an award-winning journalist, writer, editor and a media consultant in New York. The Irish-born professional, a dual Irish and US citizen, writes for a variety of outlets, and is a frequent contributor on business for the New York Post. He is co-editor for the Zicklin School of Business conference book series, and his stories have been published by the Wall Street Journal, Institutional Investor, Securities Week, Journal of Portfolio Management, and CNN Money among numerous others. Byrne was a New York-based correspondent for the Sunday World, Ireland. He is also the former top editor of the Manhattan-based Traders Magazine. 

Byrne’s career in journalism began as a reporter in rural Ireland, for the now defunct but much celebrated (beloved and often witty) Longford News. It was here he picked up a Benson & Hedges Award in journalism. Byrne also dabbled in local radio in Ireland, and briefly at the national broadcaster, RTE. At 19, he was approached by Mercier Press in Cork, Ireland, about writing a book on Irish graffiti in public places, an offer he regrets never completing. In 1985, at the depths of a brutal recession and cutbacks in print and radio in Ireland -- and finding himself priced out of a few pints at his friendly local -- Byrne emigrated to the US with his wife Margaret. 

Since coming to America, Byrne has never looked back. Although he has had his share of setbacks, his family life – he and Margaret have four young adult children -- and professional accomplishments far outweigh the bad times. Byrne got his start here, there and everywhere in the US, initially working as a concrete laborer, before cutting his teeth in American journalism, and finishing his third level education at SUNY. By a serendipitous stroke, Byrne was living next door to an interesting publisher when he and Margaret, a former teacher in Ireland, moved to Queens. Their living conditions, a squat boarding house run by an eccentric Irish landlord, were hardly ideal. 

Still, there must have been a reason amidst this genteel squalor. Byrne soon befriended and worked as a writer for the Irish Advocate, a weekly for the Irish-American community published by the famous O’Connor family. Elise O’Connor, mother of the late actor Carroll O’Carroll, always awarded Byrne with an afternoon shot of Jameson whiskey. The fun-time O’Connors had figured out long ago how to bypass minimum wage requirements, by hiring the best and brightest for little money down! 

Byrne was on his way, soon working on staff at the Irish Echo newspaper, where he had a weekly column. On Saturdays, he was broadcasting news on Irish community events, for the popular Brendan Ward radio show on WOR in New York. He dabbled a bit in entertainment promotions but stuck mostly to his professional knitting. Byrne later worked for the Irish Voice newspaper, founded by Niall O’Dowd. Later still, Byrne moved into mainstream American journalism, starting with SecuritiesWeek at McGrawHill. This move helped seal Byrne’s reputation as a journalist contributing more than his fair share of scoops and compelling stories. While his professional life is devoted to media, Byrne recently struck out in another direction, accepting a gig as a consulting producer on the forthcoming Off -Broadway play on Elvis by Emmy award-winner Mark Macias. The King, The Final Hours, features Byrne in a cameo In his pastimes, living comfortably today in New Jersey, Byrne is celebrating life with his family and friends, running, hiking, fishing, riding his bike through the trails of New Jersey, swimming, and knocking back pints he can now happily afford.   We are so pleased to present John Aidan Byrne as our latest Mover and Shaker!  Peachy Deegan interviewed John for Whom You Know.

​​ Peachy Deegan:
How do you define great writing? 

John Aidan Byrne:
Scratching my head, that’s a tough one. Write from the heart and not the head, and do hope you are inspired. But that’s only part of the answer. For much of the claptrap spoken on how fabulously brilliant are our favorite writers, it is often widely forgotten how hard they’ve worked and persevered to master their craft. Nothing comes easy. As Einstein supposedly said, it is 99 percent perspiration, 1 percent inspiration. Good writers are often (but not always) widely read and have practiced long and hard to put that sparking prose on paper. A former boss once advised me: NEVER attempt to write on a topic you do not understand until you really comprehend it. Don’t bluff, or wing it, nor cover up your own ignorance with supporting quotes, or vague and meaningless generalities, as if you were a politician on the run, fending off a hostile media. In practical terms, good writing has focus, coherence, flow and logic. In journalism, it has a compelling lead paragraph, or nut graf. And in the final analysis, good writing should never bore the hell out of readers. Amuse, entertain, inform. 

What are the biggest misconceptions about Ireland that people have and how would you like to illuminate the world on how fabulous Ireland is from your authentic experience? 
Big misconception: That Ireland’s enchanting and extraordinary geography, rolling hills and mist-covered mountains are responsible for the genuinely friendly native Irish character. That some deep-seated Irish genetic predisposition is also responsible. Not that simple. You can find stunning scenery from the Alps to Sortavala in Russia. I don’t know if that automatically makes the residents in these locales especially friendly or gregarious, in the way the Irish are. To be sure, it might slow them down or make them less rushed, even more sociable. But it can’t magically make them friendly people in the way we know that in Ireland. Visitors often remark how much more warm, kind and generous – and witty -- the locals are in Irish towns and villages, and on the Streets and in the bars of Dublin City, compared with similar-sized communities in other parts of the globe. The truth is that Ireland’s friendliness is rooted in its religious faith and beliefs, and in a rich cultural tradition of charity and neighborliness. Also, our history of struggle and suffering has clearly shaped our character. And this distinct “Irish friendliness” is still alive and well. Traditional Irish salutations are replete with God’s blessings, such as Bail ó Dhia ort, Irish for The blessing of God on you. You can tell I am an Irish romantic at heart. 

40 Shades of Green, the song popularized by Johnny Cash, accurately describes the reality of Ireland’s landscape viewed from the cockpit, as you land closer to Shannon or Dublin. Green is the primary color as there is rainfall galore – too much sometimes – and then sunshine, a temperate climate and the influence of the Gulf Stream. It doesn’t bake the fields to dust like I’ve seen in parts of America (though after this summer’s heatwave in Ireland, I might have to reverse myself later on that one. Fingers crossed!) Visitors are often surprised when they see tropical palm trees growing perfectly well around Ireland. It’s a quirky phenomenon explained by our climate, and not a figment of the imagination. 

The most brilliant thing is that the old and new cling inexplicably together in Ireland. While you will find high-tech giants operating along Dublin’s Quay District and elsewhere– and legally avoiding global taxes, nod nod, wink wink – the Ireland of the popular tourist imagination is also thriving. Castles, charming pubs, traditional music, unspoiled landscapes, the Ring of Kerry, literary and cultural festivals, new trails opening every day, grass-fed beef and Atlantic salmon, craic (Irish term for “fun”) epic sports contests (check out our muscular hurling combatants in Croagh Park, Dublin), sheep roaming the hills and nearly 7 million head of cattle in the Republic part of the island – tipping close to twice the current population. Hunger be damned. 

The Irish have a great literary and written tradition; what inspires you about it and who are the greatest to you? 
Ireland’s literary tradition and output can be traced to the same forces that fostered “Irish friendliness,” it is influenced by our history of sometimes violent struggle, dispossession, hunger and betrayal. Ireland’s native Gaelic language and traditions were suppressed by conquering English imperial forces --though we all get along much better today with our neighbors since we took charge of our own affairs after national “Independence”! BTW, the old style Brit-bashing was targeted at some cruel characters and chancers in the British ruling elite, not on the wonderful rank and file UK residents who are our genetic cousins on some level. And, finally, our long history of Christianity – Catholicism, and the minority Protestant tradition – has played a pivotal and indeed, mostly positive role. Yes, there have been some dark episodes in this department. But for the most part, the influence of the Catholic Church has been positive, if we are to be frankly honest. 

Much has substantially changed in a generation, in how Ireland itself views these same push and pull forces. But much has stayed the same. As a student at secondary school in Ireland – equivalent of high school in US – I was totally enthralled by a book of short stories, mostly written by Irish authors, we had to study for our examination. Frank O’Connor’s First Confession, Brendan Behan’s Confirmation Suit, and Michael McLaverty’s The Road to the Shore, were among the fabulous offerings. Sparkling prose told in clear Irish voices that illuminated for me the Irish mind and condition at the time. 

Among the greats: James Joyce; Patrick Kavanagh; Liam O’Flaherty; John McGahern; W.B Years; Enda O’Brien; John B Keane; John Waters; Colm Tobin; Brenan Behan; Walter Maken. 

What motivated you to come to America and what do you like best about it?
Economic and career opportunities. Moreover, the legacy of mass emigration from Ireland was a huge factor. There was always this notion that our emigrants had somehow reached the Promised Land by settling in the US. I can’t argue with that. But the notion was often abused to a fault. Also, four of my uncles, three on my maternal side, one on the paternal side, emigrated to the US. My dad’s brother came sometimes around the Great Depression and lived a short life here. I think he had a tough life. My mother’s three brothers did very well. Earlier, in the aftermath of the Great Famine in Ireland, my maternal grandfather, David Brennan, emigrated from Drumkeen, Claremorris, Co. Mayo, to Rochester, NY., along with his four brothers, in the latter part of the 19th Century, escaping poverty and the hard conditions back home. When Tobias, their brother (my granduncle) who remained in Drumkeen, died unexpectedly, my grandfather was essentially summoned to back home and he settled on the family farm. That’s where my late mother, Bridie, was born. My maternal grandfather was a proud US citizen and worked with his brothers on the Erie Canal. He married a remarkable woman, Ann (“Annie Bán) Walsh, who also had brothers and family who’d emigrated to New York. When the Brennans opened various businesses and a tavern in Rochester, my granddad had plenty of local employment. So I assume he came back to Drumkeen with a few shillings in his pocket. In any event, I now have dozens of first, second and third cousins throughput the US. This large extended US family I am proud of. 

I love the enormous freedom, and economic and creative opportunities in America, American sports, the vast open landscape, and pursuit of the outdoors. I am dazzled by the bountiful choices and optimism in the American character. I am constantly stimulated by the arts and enterprises of Manhattan where it is impossible to be bored. 

If you were stranded on a desert island with five Irish books, what would they be and why? 
Dubliners (James Joyce). Please, this does not beg an explanation! I have gone back several times to read this fine collection of 15 short stories. I kept finding something new to reflect. 

Tarry Flynn (Patrick Kavanagh). Patrick was a literary genius and a gentle country squire, who wrote about beautiful rural things and mused about his life in Dublin. He grew up in Iniskeen, Co. Monaghan, 12 miles from my hometown, Ardee. That may seem a short distance but in Ireland each mile traveled is the equivalent of ten in the US, as measured by the characters and local human dynamics. 

The Barracks (John McGahern). Brilliant insights and his personal portrait of rural Irish life told with an axe to grind (who reads novels that don’t?! Must be good for sales!?). There is an old phrase in Ireland, “you’re a hard man.” The late John McGahern got tossed out of teaching in Dublin, for some then controversial writing back in the day. So in his hometown, he was considered a bit of a “hard man” as a result. 

The Business of Heaven (CS Lewis). The great Christian apologist never disappoints and (fun fact) he was Irish, born in Belfast, and not an Englishman as is popularly assumed. This book has an excellent selection of his writings that examined his close connection with God. 

Famine (Liam O’Flaherty). Offering some of the most vivid imaginings on the terrible sufferings of Ireland’s Great Famine, Famine was published in 1937, less than a century after this awful, horrible human tragedy, when the folk memory of these events were very strong and seared the consciousness of the nation, and whole world. 

What are the biggest mistakes people make in business and what should they be doing that they don’t do? 
Many business fail because of sloppy and insufficient planning and preparation. Aspiring entrepreneurs may have some talents and interesting products and services – and perhaps even some funding to carry them through even before they knock at the bank for a loan. But it can all fall flat if you can’t answer all the basics, such as who are your customers; where do they live; how big is your market? You get the idea. Marketing is also key. That latter is an all-encompassing term but it means you better be good at social media for promoting your products and sales; employ catchy graphics and advertising. And it does help if you have a persuasive personality. I’ve seen people break sales records peddling cheap kitchenware that will only be used once. Pretty poor product; damn good personalities. The sales techniques are worthy of Oscar awards. 

If you were stranded on a desert island with five business books, what would they be and why? 
The Intelligent Investor (Benjamin Graham). Superb wisdom and guidance on value investing and on long term strategies for accumulating assets. Full disclosure. I highly recommend you temper your desires for wealth with books on philanthropy and charitable giving – self-indulgence is actually painful and will make you sick. 

How to Win Friends & Influence People (Dale Carnegie). Many people hop aboard social media today to accumulate thousands of friends. Let this guru, Carnegie, tell you how to do it the old-fashioned way, with strategies to win over people. 

The Millionaire Next Door (Thomas J Stanley). What is surprising is that the person you think is the millionaire does not live in a tony enclave of Beverly Hills. He could be your neighbor next door! 

Good to Great (Jim C Collins). This writer deserves the credit for explaining how most businesses fail to make it to the top, how they fall and stumble. Lessons here for the aspiring business owner. 

The Smartest Guys in the Room (Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind). The authors, who were senior writers at Fortune, take on the collapse of Enron with well-informed and detailed eyes. This book has been widely praised for its ringing truth, and later adapted for the big screen. 

What do you think of the business of social media and its relative success? 

Social media is a mixed blessing and we don’t know where this will all end. On one hand, it has presented an amazing array of platforms to conduct and generate business with ease and flair. Opportunities for the entrepreneurial type abound on everything from Facebook to YouTube. On the other hand, the social media technology is, as the cliché goes, a disruptor. We know the good side. The bad side is multifaceted, most especially the cannibalization of traditional media and creative content. Look at the rapid decline in print media, and erosion of the advertising base. It’s too early to say if the rapidly expanding digital media offerings by major news organizations can stem the bleeding in revenue and profitability. But it’s distressing to witness the wholesale slaughter in newsrooms, staff cutbacks while the globe is awash in an unprecedented amount of news stories and content. Unfortunately, the so-called content providers – very hard-working journalists and writers – see much of their output siphoned off for free, in effect, stolen, on the web. It’s above my pay scale but journalists and their publishing bosses deserve a break. Don’t get me wrong – I am pro-social media and pro-advanced technology. But we have some serious issues to address and reform to enact – ranging from how content is compensated to the risk of a frenetic kind of dystopian culture that 24x7 social media could unleash, unless we pay closer attention. (Think of an obsessive compulsive population fed a diet of fake news and unsavory stories.) 

Do you think the UK and Ireland are ahead of the US in social media? Why or why not? 

Talk of a global village may be accurate in describing how a vast proportion of the earth’s population is a mouse click away from each other, via social networks. Still, the data and observations point to large differences in adaptation, and usage rates of various platforms in the UK, Ireland and the US. There are fundamental reasons that must explain this. But it would seem Ireland and the UK trail the US on some scales. This seemed clear to me on the print side long ago. The erosion in print newspaper sales has lagged the US as readers gravitated to digital platforms for news at a much faster pace in the US. By the same token, the most recent data shows how the population of Facebook users in Ireland has declined, as a news source, from 71 percent in 2015 to 67 percent in 2008. But the decline is more striking in the US where Facebook as a news medium has plunged by 9 percent since 2014. On the other hand, I see a big difference – there is anecdotal and also fact-based – in how businesses in the UK, Ireland and US utilize social networks to promote their sales and products. A recent study showed that some 80 percent of small and medium sized businesses in the UK are using social networks – compared with 40 percent of their US counterparts. That’s a stark difference. Part of it may be explained by cultural factors, especially stronger interpersonal relationships on Main Street, UK and Ireland, where the common touch is still highly valued. 

Loved it. Reminded me a bit of the time I helped build a high-rise upscale apartment complex, four towers as I recall, in Union Square, Manhattan. I worked with an extraordinary group of Irish and Italian workers, fun and magic and plenty of sweat. Construction is magic. Was there long enough to enjoy the topping out party. Love to go back and do that work for a day, great exercise and therapeutic. Next time I would bring my notepad and record my deepest thoughts. Like how long does it still take to “dry” concrete overnight when it is laid out for a floor. Back then, we’d light great big fires underneath, just to dry out the concrete in the middle of a cold, bitter winter. 

Please share your favorite O’Connor stories over a virtual pint with our readers. 

Editor Jim O’Connor, Carroll’s uncle, was an absolute pleasure. I never asked him or Elise their ages but looking back I bet they were well into their 70s when I first met them. The Irish Advocate was run out of a store that doubled as Elise O’Connor’s travel agency. It had a certain faded glory, piles of newspapers strewn everywhere, lights down low, dust on the floor, cobwebs, an old rotary dial, Victorian furniture and a sort of retro feel. It could have been a scene from post-World 11 London. But this was my big break! I’ll take it. One day I overheard a dapper young gentleman who worked for a nearby carpet store, having a long conversation with Elise. Hollywood kept coming up in the conversation between both of them, and I had no idea what this was about. Elise eventually dismissed the young man and came into the office, rolling her eyes. “Hollywood, who does he think he is? He wants to become an actor, really?” said Elise aloud. “He should stick to selling carpets, and pick out a red one for the walkway later after he takes some acting lessons.” I thought this was an odd reaction. I only discovered later that Elise was Carroll O’Connor’s mom. She was a real treasure. Since I was not exposed to her acclaimed actor son in Ireland, I was not aware of his stature when I first came to America. But Elise soon filled me in – and I have some stories (all good). I am sworn to secrecy until we can open the archives in 50 years! 

What do you enjoy writing the most and why? 

Business and human interest; stories about families who make it through the hard times, survive a bit bruised but totally intact as a generous and loving unit. My mother was fond of quoting the late Fr Patrick Peyton, “The family that prays together stays together.” You don’t have to be Catholic to get sustenance from that. People of all faiths can have family “prayer” time. Our family has tried to do that as much as possible. 

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence? 

The great Irish-American newspaper writers like the late Jimmy Breslin and present day Pete Hamill, not just because they have Irish lineage and have been proud to reflect it in their nouns and adjectives. But because they are the quintessential newspaper writers, of an era that sadly is coming to a close with the advent of new media. 

What are you proudest of and why? 

Our family reunion in Ireland last summer on the Brennan side. It was regarded as one of the largest such gatherings in Ireland in 2017, with some 150 or more extended family meeting in our hometown of Ardee, and nearby Dundalk. It would not have happened without the kind assistance of my brothers and sister and cousins -- especially my cousin, David Brennan, who hosted a unique day of “clay pigeon” shooting on his family farm, where he has this large shooting range attached to his thriving sports company in Ardee. We had three days of celebrations at the gathering– and many of us finished up in Drumkeen, Claremorris, topping it all off in a local pub. I was deeply honored to organize this gathering. We had many cousins from the US – from New Orleans, where my Uncle Jack settled; Portland, Oregon, where my Uncle Paddy spent most of his life; and many from the New York area. My first cousin, Monsignor Patrick Brennan, flew in from Portland, to celebrate our family Mass. Monsignor Pat is pastor at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Portland, Oregon. We had a house party in my home place, graciously hosted by my brother Albert (who also sang at the family Mass.) And several of the relatives and cousins from Rochester came – this was one of the big highlights. They were warm and friendly, and none of us had met them previously. A thrill. 

We discovered and learned so much about the family, which had been left buried for so long, deep in our shared folk memories. Among the offspring, children and descendants of the four brothers who stayed back in Rochester, were Fr. Gerard Brennan, who died in 1962, the author of Catholic books for children including, “Angel Food” and “The Good Bad Boy”; and Fr. Joseph Brennan, who died in 2008. Fr Joe was a former seminary rector and a professor of biblical studies, who was also a leader in Catholic Jewish relations. The Brennan Goldman Institute in Rochester, NY, bears his name. 

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do? 

Produce the definitive Irish movie of its time. Actually, it something we are looking at. Can’t say any more! Nod nod, wink wink!

What honors and awards have you received in your profession? 

Aside from the aforementioned Benson and Hedges Award, I must say I was never a complete enthusiast for professional competitions that dole out medals and honors. But I’ll take them! I am proud that many of my stories have literally gone viral. A story I wrote on how one major US bank was planning to “bilk” the little guy resulted in an investigation by the then US Attorney, Andrew Cuomo which brought relief to the said little guy. The AG called me up to thank me for my efforts. I was stunned and flattered. 

I consider it an honor that I knew the controversial Bernard L Madoff long before he was a household name in America. Let me clarify! I knew him when I was editor for Traders Magazine covering his trading firm, visiting his offices, attending the odd shindig he was at. I interviewed Bernie and his brother Peter for a cover story for Traders Magazine. Which had, in hindsight, an apocryphal headline of sorts touting their firm’s gargantuan, jaw-dropping investment returns. Before we went to press, Bernie called me from the golf course, politely reminding me to get things straight. “We were burned before,” he said. You bet. That being said, there was a deep sadness in me for all who suffered in this historic Ponzi scheme, from the investors who were duped to the Madoff family who suffered. That may not be a popular assessment but it is how I feel. I think there was a lot of grandstanding in the wake of the scandal, a lot of holier than thou pontificating. The facts to me are still not entirely clear-cut, though it is clear there was a very serious crime perpetrated. Yet sometimes the dividing line between villain and victim are not so clear; just as the dividing line between good and evil are not so clear. 

What one word best describes you and why? 

Imperfect. I do set very high standards in my work and personal life. However, I’ve abandoned the idea of perfection, it’s a curse and a sign of arrogance. Besides, it uses up far too much social time. I now get to savor my pint in a more leisurely fashion. My productivity has exploded. My role model is Clint Eastwood. What age is he now? I forget but he qualifies as a “senior citizen” and his output has never been more brilliant, nor greater. He said he wraps up each movie scenes these days on one, maybe two shoots. If there is a small blemish, who the hell will really notice, is Clint’s thinking? The Good, The Bad, The Ugly. Good on Clint. 

What do you take your sense of identity from? 

As a family, our first country now is the US – we are all proud US citizens in my household. We fly the US flag and we love this great nation. We are US citizens first and foremost. We are also Irish citizens – and of course, both my wife and I lived in Ireland until our early 20s. In March, when we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, we fly the Irish tricolor underneath the US flag outside our house in New Jersey. We’ve hosted house parties for March 17 with Irish music, dance and song. Our two daughters are accomplished Irish step dancers. But we love this country and pledge our allegiance to the USA and the flag. So, go figure. I suppose Irish American would be a good appellation for me. 

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan? And Ireland? 

Manhattan: St. Patrick’s Cathedral is majestic, glorious, and heavenly. 

Ireland: Having a full, early morning breakfast after a long, sprightly walk down country roads. The full compliment with a scalding pot of Barry’s tea and my wife’s brown bread—at my said wife’s homeplace in Roscommon, the kitchen door flung wide open, blue skies, the bird’s chirping, and her brother Peter firing off commands to the cattle in the nearby fields. The tunes perfectly rhyme in this setting. 

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan? And Ireland? 

Manhattan: The Strand Book Store in the East Village. It has survived Amazon and online book sellers and with 2.5 million old and new; it won’t disappoint the average bookworm or curious reader. 

Ireland: My late dad’s grocery shop in the town of Ardee, Co. Louth now converted for other retail purposes. Back in the day, it was a meeting place for the community, and the epitome of a well-run traditional grocery store. My dad was a great man, sometimes a bit aloof – I think if he had the opportunity he would have been a poet or philosopher, or maybe an engineer. But I recall the shop, lots of counter space, rows of biscuits on display in glass-covered tin boxes bought by customers by the weight – so we had to put them into paper bags when they ordered. Lots of labor. As youngster, my siblings and I had to fill bags and bag of potatoes, sugar, fruit, vegetables, animal feed for sale. We sold paraffin and all manner of groceries, from cleaning detergent to brylcreem for the men’s hair. My dad spent hours keeping the meat counter clean, and preparing the large side of weekly bacon for sale. That side of bacon traveled all the way from Claremorris! My mother’s hometown. My dad was religious (as was my mother) – he kept a holy medal underneath a statue in the shop. The promise was, I believe, he would never go out of business, go bankrupt. He never did. 

If you could hire anybody who would it be and why? 

President Donald Trump. Imagine I could boss him around and then say, you’re fired – only joking, of course. 

What is your favorite drink? 
Irish coffee. I make the most famous Irish Coffees on St. Patrick’s Day! 

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you at a cocktail party? 

Pretending I was a posh British aristocrat. It was a set up. My good friend hosted this party, and asked me to change my name to Sir Reginald O’ Maguire, a descendant of an illustrious family that could traced their lineage to the Fighting Prince of Donegal. My ancestors had fought in the Battle of the Somme and I was a personal friend of Queen Elizabeth. That was the yarn we spun. So I had all the fake history correct (or so I thought), the accent was perfect. I was told I pulled off my imitation accent of Prince Charles perfectly – and I dressed formally with some war medals we picked up in a store. My name tag said, Sir Reginal O’Maguire. All total fun. Until I bumped up against some gentleman from London, a university don, who tripped me up on some facts. So I reverted to John Byrne and fessed up. We all laughed out loud. 

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan? And Ireland? 

O’Lunney’s Times Square Pub in Manhattan. Hugh O’ Lunney and his daughter, Maureen, served the best plate of fresh fish and chips in the US, it melts in your mouth, and satisfies your craving for well-cooked Irish fare. In Ireland, order from the menu at Gleeson’s on Main Street Roscommon. The Irish cuisine on the menu is classic. At home in Ireland I am a steak and potato and gravy sort of guy. Glesson’s elevates this type of offering to a new height of supreme excellence. 

What is your favorite Manhattan book or favorite character in Manhattan literature? And Ireland? 
Manhattan: The Bonfire of the Vanities (Tom Wolfe) 
Ireland: Borstal Boy (Behan Behan.) We’d add that to the island reading list! 

Who would you like to be for a day and why?
President of the USA: I would throw a big party on the South Lawn and invite all my family, relatives and friends. 

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why? And Ireland? 
Manhattan: The Highline. The concept and construction is as clever as anything in the old country 
Ireland: The railway walk in my hometown. This was opened long after I had left Ireland, and ranks as a huge and impressive aesthetic addition to the rich historical fabric of my community. Takes you from the town to the open countryside. But frankly, I am not a big fan of having something named after me, except my last will and testament maybe. 

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience? And Ireland? 

Running across the Brooklyn Bridge, early morning, with a team of pals and friends. 

In Ireland, walking the miles of newly opened Greenway through stunning countryside.. 

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else? And Ireland? 

Walking the Highline in Manhattan is an exceptional experience, a strange mixture of peace and stimulation in a concentrated urban oasis. In Ireland, climbing Croagh Patrick, named after Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, accompanied by my family. Afterward that hearty Irish breakfast (again!) of bacon, sausages, blood pudding and freshly baked soda bread in nearby Westpost is essential. 

If you could have dinner with any person living or passed, who would it be and why? 

Pope John Paul II, now a saint, who played a crucial role in bringing down the yoke of Communism. He had a special way of articulating human freedom and understood its very tenets, while demonstrating an extraordinary compassion and love for people of all faiths and classes. I’d ask him how he would address the current crisis in the Catholic Church with errand priests in the past – a very small minority, to be sure, but a group who’ve done huge damage to their victims. 

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience? And Ireland? 

Manhattan: Billy Joel (Madison Square Garden) 

Ireland: Chieftains opening for the Rolling Stones on the grounds of Slane Castle 

What do you personally do or what have you done to give back to the world?

I am the coordinator in my parish for LIFE Runners, the largest running/walking pro-life group in the world, defending the sanctity of all human life. I led a campaign in the US to preserve Ireland’s Eighth Amendment which sadly, was ultimately repealed. Made two trips, about a week long each, to New Orleans with our parish, in the wake of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina to help on gutting and restoring storm-damaged homes. 

What do you think is most underrated and overrated in Manhattan? And Ireland? 

Manhattan: Citi bike rides overrated because Manhattan does not accommodate bike riders very well; and the sheer variety of wonderful retail and cultural offerings are underrated. 

Ireland: The presence of multi-national high-tech giants are both overrated and underrated in Ireland. Overrated because it is not entirely clear what they contribute to the local exchequer because of their amazing gift from the Irish government -- that is a corporate tax rate to beat the band. It’s officially 12.5 percent though with various bookkeeping entries it is likely substantially lower (low single digits). My point: These multi-nationals are bringing employment to Ireland – that’s really good and the underrated aspect– but if they were pulling their weight, the Irish exchequer would be flooded with their monetary largesse and tax payments. It’s not. If they were contributing their fair share, then I can’t see why Ireland would still have a national debt of some $198 billion at end of last year -- up 1 percent from the previous. An economist in Dublin told me Ireland is out of the woods after it was hammered by the financial crisis of 2008. He said Ireland is now “servicing its debt.” That sums it up, and is a cause for alarm in some respects. More attention and focus should be paid on lowering taxes in Ireland for native business, such as manufacturing, and for the ordinary individual. 

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite​ column and what do you like about it?

Brilliant Business People by far is my favorite column other than Movers and Shakers. Money (think business) makes the world go around and I am totally intrigued about what I learn in the pieces posted in this fantastic column. Always interesting, never dull. 

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you? 
I am a certified Master Gardener. I told my wife IF I ever slow down my professional work, I want to be the most active gardener on the planet. When I see things grow and sprout, I realize we are not alone.

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers? 
Twitter: @JohnAidanByrne 


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