I was in the United States on business last week.

Long plane flights are an opportunity to catch up on reading. I am afraid I have never got used to the idea of watching a film on a plane. I do not know why.

I read an excellent biography, by Christopher Finan, of Governor Al Smith of New York, entitled “Al Smith, the happy warrior.” Al Smith was the Democratic party’s nominee for President in 1928, the election won by President Herbert Hoover. He was the first Catholic to be nominated for President by a major party, and his religion was a factor in the campaign.

The book gives a good account of Al Smith’s volatile relationship with Franklin Roosevelt, who succeeded him as Governor of New York and went on to win the Presidential election in 1932. Smith was a New York city politician, which limited his appeal outside the North East, whereas Roosevelt came from upstate New York, and had a better appeal in rest of the country.

Smith strongly opposed the constiutional Prohibition on sales of alcohol in the United States during the 1920s, which created so many business opportunities for Al Capone and friends.

Al Smith pioneered much important legislation at state level, notably on factory safety and widows pensions. When he retired from politics, he chaired the company that built the Empire State building.

Al Smith’s father’s family came from a German speaking part of Italy, and his mother’s people were Mulvihills from Co. Westmeath in Ireland. He visited Westmeath in the 1930s.

Before going to the United States, I went to Fairyhouse for the Irish Grand National. I did not back the winner.

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