After President Kennedy was killed in 1963, Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, “To be Irish is to know that in the end the world will break your heart.”
Growing up in the Bronx of the 1930s, almost everyone I knew was Jewish. In our apartment building, there was one Irish family whose men sat on the front steps in summer, drinking beer and joking. As the evening went on, their smiles got wider, their talk louder. They seemed to be breathing some other air. They were as poor as the rest of us, but so full of life.
As a young man in Manhattan of the 1950s, I would go after work to Costello’s, a saloon where you could breathe that “other air” with writers, editors and artists, a place John McNulty had made famous in the New Yorker. Pat Moynihan was sometimes there, wearing an outdated straw boater, but no one seemed to think it odd.
Tim Costello was our Irish godfather, keeping us happy but grounded and civil. When Frank McCourt, who later wrote “Angela’s Ashes,” came over as an 18-year-old immigrant, Tim sent him to the New York Public Library to read Samuel Johnson.