Irish in WNY / Maria Scully-Morreale
Best of both worlds: Irish-born + Buffalove
Photo by kc kratt
Name: Maria Scully-Morreale
Occupation: Albright-Knox Art Gallery director of communications
How Irish: Born and raised in Dublin. Her father’s family came from Kilkenny, and her mother’s, from Meath.
Favorite Irish tradition: “Sitting down for a big roast dinner with family. Stuffing made with parsley and thyme, roasted potatoes, overcooked vegetables; I love it. The smells—in the kitchen while it’s preparing, and lingering afterwards when everyone is full and sitting around watching a movie.”
Favorite Irish book, play, or movie: Complete works of William Butler Yeats. “The language is so gorgeous.”
Born, raised, and educated in Dublin, Maria Scully-Morreale ended up in Buffalo right after college. She’s been here ever since. Introduced to the area through a friend who went to Canisius College, she spent many vacations here, getting to know (and falling in love with) the place.
On one such visit, circa 1995, sitting outside at Cole’s, just about to head home, she thought, “It would be cool to live here just for a while.” In Dublin the following weekend, she spotted a newspaper ad for a US visa lottery. She applied and forgot about it. Cut to six months later: she won the visa and, if she wanted it, had to enter the States during a fixed period.
“When I left Dublin in my early twenties, I didn’t understand how devastating and traumatic it would be for my family,” she says of her parents and brothers. “It made me think about the generations of Irish immigrants going back to the 1800s—once they got on the boat and came here, they were gone. It was difficult to be in touch and to travel home.
“But I always have the flexibility to go back,” Scully-Morreale continues. “We stay in very close touch. And my kids (Louis, eleven, and Nessa, seven) know their cousins very well—we can Facetime. Everything is so visual now.”
Scully-Morreale’s grandparents on both sides were country folk. Her father’s side came from Kilkenny, and her mother’s, from Meath. They moved to the city to find work.
Growing up in Dublin meant both living the Irish culture and learning about it. “I’m grateful for the effort to teach us about Irish culture, including poetry and drama, in school,” she says. “It’s also ‘lived,’ extending into the home and pub. When we get together, we tend to end up in a ‘sing-song.’ People break out fiddles, and start singing. That gets into your blood.”
Scully-Morreale carries that tradition forward by immersing her kids in her favorite Irish poetry. She also retains some of the Gaellic vocabulary she learned as a child. “I was fluent, as are most Irish children,” she says. “It wasn’t spoken in the home, but we would attend compulsory ‘gaelscoil’ to learn Irish.” She retained curses and scolds in particular, which she applies judiciously.
The “Irish” in her comes through in other classic ways. “You could call it ‘the gift of the gab,’” she says. “Being able to communicate effectively, succinctly and wittily is highly valued in Ireland. That is what Irish people aspire to. For me, it’s played a key part: I love talking to people, love engaging—and, of course, I love art as well. It all comes from that strong heritage. It’s a gift, and I feel very lucky.”