Irish entertainer offers wit and humor

Máirtín de Cógáin (courtesy photo)

Irish entertainer offers wit and humor

An Irishman falls in love with a woman and follows her to the United States, where he earns his fortune in the ring.

At first glance, Máirtín de Cógáin’s story sounds similar to the plot for the 1992 film “Far and Away,” starring Tom Cruise. But while Cruise’s character, Joseph Donnelly, ends up in Oklahoma in the 1890s, de Cógáin ended up in Scripps Ranch in 2014. And the modern immigrant isn’t actually a fighter. He’s a singer, actor and storyteller who currently plays a heavyweight boxer (and 23 other characters) in a one-man show.

His sharp wit and humor help to soften the grueling hardships of the Irish Diaspora, yet serve to remind audiences of the pioneer spirit that newcomers have historically brought to America.

“For an Irish musician, the United States is a marvelous place,” de Cógáin said. “You could keep touring here for years. But it’s very tough to get in. It can be very harrowing. The hoops you have to go through to come here can be soul-destroying for an artist.”

Between 1820 and 1930, driven in large part by a potato famine, an estimated 4.5 million Irish migrated across the Atlantic to make a new life here. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 33 million U.S. citizens claim Irish ancestry and today account for 10 percent of the nation’s total population.

De Cógáin’s one-man play, “Debog Man,” is based loosely on the life story of a very colorful figure from that era: boxing legend Jim Corbett, who left a small Irish village for America to become the heavyweight boxing champion of the world.

“It’s a show I’ve been doing for nearly 20 years now,” said the seventh son of music teachers from Carrigaline in County Cork, “in the very south of Ireland.”

In addition to singing and playing music, de Cógáin’s father was also a politician, so there was plenty of discourse and dialog around the kitchen table.

“Story telling has always been big in my house,” de Cógáin said. “To get your story in, you had to be fairly good. You had to really speak up and learn quickly how to bring people along with your idea.”

A talented entertainer by the time he finished college in Ireland, de Cógáin was performing in a pub in Cork when he met a foreign exchange student from Los Angeles. He invited her up on stage and performed a solo dance with a broom.

“She was putty in my hands after that,” he declared. “I said I wanted tea, and she said she had a kettle. There was no turning back after that.”

The exchange student, Mitra, became his wife. They eventually moved to Kansas, and then Minnesota for “six long winters” before settling in Scripps Ranch with their two children.

The de Cógáins have been here for four years now, and much of U.S. culture has rubbed off on Máirtín. He is involved as a parent in Scripps Ranch Little League and said he and his family have made a lot of friends.

But the entertainer also added that “the Irish spirit is prevalent in Scripps Ranch” in places like St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church, where the parish priest, Father Nicholas Clavin, is a national champion Gaelic football player from Ireland; and at Jerabek Elementary School, where other Irish families in Scripps Ranch send their kids.

“Debog Man” will be performed by de Cógáin in San Diego on June 26 and 27 at Lestat’s Coffeehouse in Normal Heights. He then takes his one-man show to San Francisco on June 28, and then to Los Angeles on July 9 and 10 at the Wren Theater.

He will also tour on the East Coast this summer, teaching story telling at the Swannanoa Gathering, an educational program consisting of week-long workshops in various folk arts, sponsored by Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. For more information regarding de Cógáin, visit mairtinmusic.com.

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