Irish-American Heritage Month Spotlight: Peter McAlevey

Name and occupation:

Peter McAlevey, Motion Picture Producer and former correspondent for Newsweek

What do you love most about being of Irish heritage?

Being born a Catholic…and a Democrat!

Can you tell us any interesting Irish history facts?

1.)    In Gaelic (both the Irish and Scottish versions) the “Mick” prefix means “son of.” Just as in Sweden, say, Swenson means “Swen’s son” or in old England, “Johnson” meant “John’s son,”  in Gaelic, my name,  McAlevey means that back there a couple of centuries ago a guy named “Levy” washed up in Dublin (probably an impressed sailor from the Spanish Armada, much of which grounded on the Irish coast) and had a kid, hence named “Mc-A-Levy” or son of a Levy.

2.)    If it had been Scotland, it would have been “MacAlevey”—Irish use “Mc”; Scots “Mac.” (MacGeorge would be a “son of George” in Edinborough!)

3.)    The Armada wasn’t the last Navy to wash up in Ireland, of course. Steven Speilberg used the undeveloped south coast to double for the Normandy of 1944 in both “Saving Private Ryan” and his HBO epic “Band of Brothers.”

4.)    Not far away, however, the beautiful seaside around West Cork has, over the last decade, become the sort of Hamptons of nearby London (just a short hop over the Irish  Sea), attracting film stars and directors, theater heavies and, of course, just like the Hamptons “The City” investment backers.  It has all the same problems as the Hamptons as well, with the newcomers driving up property prices and forcing the locals out!

5.)    American’s use the phrase “beyond the Pale” all the time to mean behavior too far out there to be believed. Little do they know that this once meant something very special to the Irish. After the British brutally colonized the Irish, the natives rose up in rebellion. So wild were they, and so fearless, that the English colonists eventually retreated to an area around Dublin, where to this day stand there former Great Houses, the Guinness brewery and other signs to the Irish enslavement. Why? Because the government in London was so afraid of the Irish locals that they promised the colonists that the could only protect them if they lived in a half-circle on the map inscribed 60 miles out from the Dublin. Anything beyond that, the English government told it’s people, and they couldn’t protect them—they were living “beyond the Pale,” which is what the half-circle described.

Who or what inspires you most?

James Joyce I supposed—when I was a student, I twice lectured on him at Trinity College, Dublin. It was a bit like carrying coals to Newcastle—imagine, an American telling the Irish about their national hero!

Something about you that would surprise us:

In Northern Ireland, of course, where my family is from, gambling is legal, as it is in Britian. Should you go to a casino there to this day, look at the bottom of a book of matches and, at least the last time any of us were there, it still says “A McAlevey establishment.” My great uncle Hugh was sort of what Howard Hughes was to Las Vegas, the gambling king of Belfast. Unfortunately, like Hughes, he died leaving no heirs.


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