There are places on this planet that emit strange and unexplainable energies. One such is a sacred site known as Maumean, high in the mountains of Connemara.
This has long been a place of pilgrimage. It contains a Mass rock, a holy well and crudely fashioned Stations of the Cross.
These are located beside an old path that meanders up to the pass in the Maamturk Mountains. Along this route refugees from hunger trailed their desperation in the time of the Great Famine. Hungry grass is still said to grow here on the slopes of Maumean. Pilgrims claim to see shadows move amongst the lichen stained stones. It is a place of ghosts.
Five years ago, in a cleft of rock, in this sacred site, Joe Kearney stumbled upon an image of a New York City fireman. It was hanging by a string, amongst other votive offerings, at the holy well known locally as, Tobar Phadraig. The image was printed on a laminated memorial card and it twisted and danced in the breezes coming up from the Atlantic. He read the detail. It commemorated a young man who had died in the fires of the Twin Towers on September 11th 2001.
Over the intervening years, the fireman’s image stayed on in Joe Kearney’s imagination, and on the 10th anniversary of that tragic event he made a pilgrimage to New York City attempting to discover the story behind the memorial card and why it should be placed in that hallowed and remote place at Maumean, Connemara.
The young man’s name was Joseph Hunter. They never found his body. He was thirty-one when he died.
This documentary follows his story from Connemara to Long Island, New York City and finally to Ground Zero in Manhattan.
Joseph Hunter’s has become an iconic image; he is someone who, in many ways, represents the other 363 fire fighters killed in the inferno. Right across America, babies are called after him and even streets carry his name. In New York City fire hydrants are emblazoned in the Stars and Stripes and proudly display his name and serial number. There are street-side shrines devoted to his memory and annual fundraising events held in his honour. He lives in the memories of his many friends and colleagues in the same way that a warrior of old lives on through the retelling of his part in the sagas.
But, along the way this documentary becomes so much more than Joseph Hunter’s story, it chronicles the tragedy of an Irish American family coming to terms with grief. The grief of parents outliving a son; the anguish of not having a body to mourn over and the wild hope that one day, a decade on, when a car door slams shut outside the house in Long Island, that Joseph Hunter will walk in the door, smiling his big smile and tell them where he’s been for so long.
Narrated and produced by Joe Kearney.
Production Supervision by Ciaran Cassidy.
First broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1 on Saturday 27th August 2011 @ 1pm
An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries.