‘Irish Gabe’: A Tribute
A celebration in the memory of Gabe Hannon will be held at Pier 49 on Friday, Jan. 6, at 5 p.m.
Newport neighbor Nikki Groom passed the following note along:
Gabe was like a local celebrity in Newport: His crumpled fedoras recognizable the town over. Almost everyone who frequented the bars along Thames Street had enjoyed his special charisma at one time or another. He was in his fifties or sixties (it was hard to tell), with a silver head of hair and a silver tongue. Despite his age, his company was irresistible to us - in our late twenties and early thirties. He was fond of cracking jokes and venturing nonsensical sayings in his lilting accent that would make you spit out your drink laughing. I adored him not only for this, but also because he was my link with home, his isle so close to mine. I once asked him how he came to be awarded American citizenship and he told me he’d befriended an Indian tribe on the West coast and paid them to adopt him. True or not, this story has Gabe written all over it.
Gabe was both charming and a charmer – and a generous one at that. After drinks one night, he invited my friend and me back to his single story house off Thames Street for midnight shepherd’s pie and sweet tea with milk (a comfort concoction enjoyed as much by the English as the Irish). Saying it was delicious wouldn’t do the former justice. I practically melted into that pie. He explained he’d owned a successful bar and seafood restaurant in Southern Ireland where he’d honed his culinary skills. Another time, after a heavy night out, he offered us a to-die-for fry-up - complete with smoked bacon, bangers, buttered fried veg’, eggs, and hot crusty bread, with thick salted butter and large mugs of Barry’s.
I’d guess it was in his bar on the other side of the Atlantic – or perhaps in countless numbers of others he’d frequented closer to home – that he learned to be extra cautious. It made him nervous to have empties hanging around. At the Pelham, he’d put them on the bar for staff to clear away. Once, a brief brawl did break out while we were there with him. He was proven right, then.
My friend would make him cross. She’d use too much salt and pepper in her cooking or voice an opinion contrary to his on some topic or another. They’d squabble and I’d play peacemaker. He could be a stubborn man. He would dub her Shiatsus “little shets,” but was evidently fond of them. He even played an active role in Newport’s first puppy wedding and joked it should have made front-page news.
There would be times when Gabe would disappear for what felt like weeks on end – ostensibly to visit friends and family in Ireland. In the weeks he was gone, Newport never seemed quite the same.
I hadn’t spent any real amount of time in Newport in over a year when I heard of his passing via Facebook. I felt a kick of regret that I hadn’t made more of an effort to stay in touch. My friend said that it was typical he’d picked her birthday on which to leave this life and it was true. We began reminiscing back and forth about the time we’d spent with him. Every memory seemed to involve something that would make us laugh. It soon became apparent that there were many others out there who felt the same way.
His Facebook page began filling up with tributes. Someone had an idea to create a ‘Gabe Hannon’ group in which we could all express our memories and condolences, and post photographs.
When another group member posted a link to his website (http://www.gabehannon.com), I realized how private he’d been about himself. I learned that he’d sailed around the world before he’d reached the age of eighteen and had lived in Ireland, England, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa before moving Stateside. He’d created New York exhibition-worthy art from throw-away materials and was a published poet. The artist’s statement on his website states that his works are “Made of bits and pieces of memory - and materials - of days long gone.”
There is a quote that Gabe posted to his Facebook wall just a month before he passed that I think sums up his attitude to life and death particularly eloquently:
“When I die, I want the last words to be, “I left a million dollars under the…”
While his funeral will be held by his relatives in Ireland, a celebration in memory of Gabe Hannon will be held at Pier 49 restaurant on January 6 starting at 5 p.m. All are welcome for some food, drink, and to share a story. Pier 49 is located at the Newport Harbor Hotel at 49 Americas Cup Avenue.