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Book Review: ‘Real Lace Revisited’ tells engaging tales of rich Irish-Americans

Brooklyn BookBeat

March 10, 2017 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Meet James P. MacGuire, author of a newly published book about rich Irish-Americans called “Real Lace Revisited.” Photo by Malcolm O'Malley
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Erin go Bragh.

Just in time for Saint Patrick’s Day, a new book has been published about Irish-Americans — the ones who are fun to read about, the rich and powerful.

The book is “Real Lace Revisited,” by James P. MacGuire. If that title seems familiar, there’s a good reason.

It’s a fresh take on the genteel folk spotlighted by social historian Stephen Birmingham’s book “Real Lace: America’s Irish Rich,” which was published in 1973.

In that popular tome, Birmingham, who died in 2015, referred to his subjects as FIFs — First Irish Families.

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MacGuire, an author of a dozen non-fiction books and a member of one of those families, writes in “Real Lace Revisited” with an insider’s familiarity about the prep schools they attend, the places where they party, their leisure-time pursuits and their accomplishments and failures.

By the way, MacGuire mentions at the outset of “Real Lace Revisited” that the families who were the subjects of Birmingham’s book did not refer to themselves as First Irish Families.

“The audacity of such pretension would have appalled them,” MacGuire writes.

Among his kin who put in appearances from time to time in “Real Lace Revisited,” one of the most memorable is his cousin Mary Ann Travers. She once tossed her mink coat onto a roulette table in a Saratoga casino and said, “Put that on black.”

He shares his mother’s reminiscences about going to the Stork Club on a Saturday night in the late 1930s and starting her pre-Communion fast at midnight so she could attend 5 a.m. Sunday Mass before heading home.

He tells about going to Manhattan on St. Patrick’s Day as a child to watch his nanny march in the parade on Fifth Avenue.

MacGuire also weaves meticulous research into his storytelling. The result is a scholarly work that’s an entertaining read — aside from a grim recap of Catholic priests’ child sex-abuse scandals that have alienated some Irish-Americans from the church of their ancestors.    

The Kennedys, the Buckleys and an occasional shout-out to Brooklyn  

His book offers updates on numerous rich Irish-Americans’ achievements in the four decades since the publication of the original “Real Lace.”

The cast of characters in “Real Lace Revisited” ranges from Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan to retired Mellon Financial Corp. CEO Marty McGuinn.

The Kennedys, with their aura of glamor and tragedy, get a fair share of ink — although Birmingham  in his book suggested that the late President John F. Kennedy’s clan didn’t belong in the ranks of the First Irish Families because of “their arriviste boorishness, immorality and social climbing,” MacGuire writes.

Influential conservative author William F. Buckley Jr., who died in 2008, and his family are another focus of “Real Lace Revisited.”

The book also delves into the distant past with the story of America’s first prominent Irish family, the Carrolls, who settled in colonial Maryland in the 1600s. A descendant, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, was the only Roman Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence.

Brooklynites of Irish heritage get an occasional shout-out in “Real Lace Revisited.”

There’s the Murray family, whose now-demolished mansion at 783 St. Marks Ave. in Crown Heights had a private chapel where they attended Mass.

Thomas E. Murray, a prodigious inventor with more than 400 patents at the time of his death in 1929, was Thomas Edison’s colleague.

Murray, as the chief executive of the company that ran New York City’s major power plants, had an alarm system in his bedroom that would wake him if there were problems in the plants at night, MacGuire writes.

There’s Brooklyn-born Thomas S. Murphy, who created Capital Cities Communications in the 1950s. He and his business partner, the late Daniel Burke, built Cap Cities into a powerhouse media company that acquired the ABC television network in 1985.

Disney (founded by Irish-Americans Walt and Roy Disney) bought Cap Cities/ABC in 1995. Murphy, now in his early 90s, remains an active board member of several companies.

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MacGuire is expected to appear at an Irish Heritage event the Brooklyn Eagle is hosting at a time and place to be revealed soon.


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