From Malawi to Morgan Road: Mags Riordan at the ICC

Mags Riordan and Suzanne Strempek Shea

Mags Riordan and Suzanne Strempek Shea. Photos by Dave Roback.

Please join us on Sunday, April 8 at the Irish Cultural Center from 1:00 – 4:00 pm for this special event. Mags Riordan returns to West Springfield to provide updates on the Billy Riordan Memorial Clinic and the latest news from her home in Chembe Village, Cape Maclear, Malawi, where an HIV/AIDS clinic was opened last spring thanks in part to the help of the many who’ve donated over the years. Mags will speak, show photos of the clinics, and exhibit crafts for sale from the village. Author Suzanne Strempek Shea will be in attendance as well, with copies of her book This Is Paradise: An Irish Mother’s Grief, an African Village’s Plight, and the Medical Clinic That Brought Fresh Hope to Both. Members of Billy’s Malawi Project USA, the registered nonprofit that helps raise funds for the clinic in this country, will be on hand to talk about their work.

Free and open to the public. Donations are welcome. Lunch will be available to order at the Irish House Restaurant and Trinity Pub. For further information on the clinic, please email or visit the website.

From Malawi to Morgan Road
By Suzanne Strempek Shea

I eavesdrop. Frequently.

It’s in the writer’s job description to be nosy, and noticing. Always. To spot the ticking second hand of the watch worn in the casket, to walk into the October North Atlantic and feel the exact level of cold, to taste the bread from a hometown bakery and catch the memories. Writers take in all they can, for inspiration, for information. And listening is among my favorite parts of being a writer and being alive.

Fourteen years ago while helping my friend Fran Ryan sell her beautiful knitwear at the Eastern States Exposition, I found my ear tuned to a woman selling crafts from Africa and collecting donations. To every passerby, she began her story: “I’ve just built a medical clinic in Malawi in memory of my son, Billy, who died there.” I asked for the rest of the story, and was told one of great tragedy but also of great transformation.

This is ParadiseAs can happen, the listening lead to a book. This Is Paradise: An Irish Mother’s Grief, an African Village’s Plight, and the Medical Clinic That Brought Fresh Hope to Both details the work of Mags Riordan, a Cork native and longtime Dingle resident who was a secondary school guidance counselor in 1999, when her 25-year-old son, world traveler Billy, drowned on his third trip to his beloved Cape Maclear, Malawi, which he called paradise.

Delivering a stone to the Cape a year after Billy’s death, Mags began to see why he fell for the impoverished country of 15 million known as “The Warm Heart of Africa.” Initially considering an education effort in Billy’s memory, she switched to a medical one after witnessing famine and a cholera outbreak, and being asked to help an injured child simply because she was European and might have a first aid kit. She realized there wasn’t so much as Panadol in the village, and little chance for more in a region then holding only one doctor for 800,000 but needing so much, with challenges including rampant malaria and a local HIV/AIDS rate as high as 34 percent. Her response, the Billy Riordan Memorial Clinic, was built and continues on via private donors and to date has served more than 350,000 people and saved countless lives.

I hope you’ll join me Sunday, April 8 from 1:00 to 4:00 pm, at the Irish Cultural Center of Western New England, when Mags Riordan returns to West Springfield to update clinic supporters on the latest from her home in Chembe Village, Cape Maclear, Malawi, where an HIV/AIDS clinic was opened last spring thanks in part to the help of the many who’ve donated over the years. Our hosts at the ICC are graciously offering the space for an afternoon that is sure to be informative and inspiring, and we thank them for helping kick off Mags’ return to New England. We’ll have photos of the clinics, Mags will speak, crafts from the village will be sold, along with copies of This Is Paradise. The Irish House Restaurant will be open to serve lunch ordered from the menu. Members of Billy’s Malawi Project USA, the registered nonprofit that helps raise funds for the clinic in this country, will be on hand to talk about their work, too. Mags Riordan’s story is proof that one woman indeed can change a corner of world, and of the gifts that can result from stopping to listen.

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