The Block Island Times

An Irish Heartbeat

By J. V. Houlihan, Jr. | Mar 21, 2014
Photo by: Facebook: Vanishing Ireland

Ed. note: A little late for St. Patty’s Day, we admit, but a fun story nonetheless.

I met James Hackett 18 years ago at the ferry dock. Over all of my years working at the docks, James is without question, one of the most memorable guys ever to cross my path. It is fitting to be writing this column on St. Patrick’s Day, in Newport, on my boat, with Van Morrison and the Chieftains blasting “Raglan Road” on my music box— that song evolved from a poem, written by a poet named Patrick Kavanagh.

First, an excerpt from my book, “The Monkey’s Fist.” The chapter is called “James Hackett: The Poet from Moate.”

Block Islanders Pat and Sandy Kelley introduced me to a relative of theirs from Ireland one day. His name was James J. Hackett. Sandy took a picture of the “Poet from Moate” and the Bard from Point Judith (as I jokingly referred to myself). James was a tanner by trade, and a writer of the Celtic persuasion: prosaic, precise, and personable. James walked over to my shed, after Sandy and Pat backed their car onto the boat. He had some time to kill. He had the proud bearing of a man who possessed a bardic, celtic heartbeat. James walked around the parking lot, like a strutting bantam-weight prizefighter, with his strong jutting chin and the swagger of a man on a mission. “‘Tis me fearst time in America, Joe,” he said cocking his head back. “I tink I’m goin to like it just fine.”

“Well, that’s great James, welcome to America.”

“Is there a bar nearby, Joe,” he asked.

“On board the boat,” I said.

“Do you tink I can get a wee drink, Joe,” he asked with conviction.

“Yes, James, it can be arranged.”

“Brilliant, Joe!”

James went on to tell me that the Celtic Tiger was roaring. That was the metaphor the Irishers were using to describe their economy. He began to tell me about something new in Ireland. “They’ve got a road, Joe, which goes from one side of the country to the other; it’s called a highway, Joe. Can you imagine that, Joe?” James picked up his bag, and followed me dutifully aboard the Carol Jean. I gave him a complimentary ticket, and he felt like he was being treated like royalty. Once aboard, we headed for the bar. I told the bartender to give James a beer on me. “Oh, tank you, Joe, that ‘tis so kind. Brilliant!”

James Hackett, the Poet from Moate, had just flown across the Atlantic Ocean, landed at Logan, took a bus to Providence, and was now embarking on his first trip to “One of the last Great Places.” The author was happy to be part of James Hackett’s story.

A wee bit of backstory

In James J. Hackett’s book, “Days Gone By,” the author writes of his home, and the people of his local town. He has seen many changes in his lifetime, and his story is one of a man who came from humble beginnings and physical challenges. “I was born with a deformity, my right hip was out, and is still out. I didn’t walk until I was seven years of age, simply for the reason that I couldn’t walk.” Although getting on in his years, James still rides his bicycle. The work of the Irish poet and novelist, Patrick Kavanagh, informed James as a writer. They met in Dublin in the 1960s and hoisted some pints together in a dive called McDaid’s of Harry Street. Both of these poets were not the precious sorts. They were rough hewn men of the soil, and both possessed Irish heartbeats.

So, folks, this summer, if you see Pat and Sandy Kelley in the company of a guy who resembles the aforementioned, then that would be James J. Hackett. Author and islander Fran Migliaccio says of the Poet from Moate, “My first impression of James J. Hackett was that he was an old school gentleman, social in the friendly way of the Irish, keenly interested in others, independent and self-sufficient. All of those still hold. I will add he is a caring and loyal friend, and is possessed of a great deal of celtic charm ― natural, genuine charm.” Nuff said.

To learn more about James J. Hackett, visit “Vanishing Ireland,” on Facebook. Also, the book, “Vanishing Ireland,” was short listed, for the 2013 Best Published Irish Book of the Year.

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