The Duke of Earl
Project info

As I walk through this world
Nothing can stop the Duke of Earl
And you, you are my girl
And no one can hurt you, oh no
Yes, I’m gonna love you
Come on let me hold you darlin'
‘Cause I’m the Duke of Earl
And when I hold you
You will be my Duchess, Duchess of Earl
We’ll walk through my dukedom
And the paradise we will share
Yes, oh, I, I’m gonna love you
Nothing can stop me now
‘Cause I’m the Duke of Earl

As a child I often lied to people about where I was born. “Boston, Massachusetts,” I’d say. However, the truth was far less exciting – no one was as interested when I told them “Stockport”. That said, it wasn’t a complete fabrication, as I am a dual-national, American/English citizen. My grandmother, Grace, moved to Boston from Ireland in her twenties. Here, she fell in love with my grandfather, Joseph “Joey” O’Donnell. I never met Joey as he passed away when I was a baby: he was still in America. I grew up romanticising his life and the country he lived in, to the point that I developed a fiction about him, believing it until four years ago. In January of 2011 I sat down with my grandmother to talk about her memories of Joey and America. I planned to drive across America, hitting all of the significant places in the story, ending at his grave. Until our conversation I believed him to have been a jazz musician – signed at an early age, he toured around the north-east before falling in love and starting a family. Family pressures had been too much for him in his early twenties, though, so he left for a second shot at a career in music on the west coast. This failed, so he moved to Las Vegas, indulging in a lifestyle that consumed him and ultimately ended his life too soon.However, this wasn’t true. At least, not all of it. Talking about it properly for the first time with my grandmother revealed a story that was far more complex and much less cinematic. Somehow, I had developed a false narrative of my grandfather’s life – perhaps through the few photographs I had seen of him, or the vague stories I had been told of his life. Suddenly I realised how little I had known of him; my family hadn’t told me much about him, possibly because it hurt them too much to remember.This revelation complicated things; it shook up my understanding of my identity and the country I romanticised, and also distanced me from Joey. I was 22 at the time and perhaps too immature to process it properly. This journey would take sensitivity and a lot of thought, not only because it was important to me, but also my family.By 2015, I was ready. Four years of thinking, talking, reading and researching had led to a much deeper understanding of Joey and my relation to the States. No longer was he a two-dimensional character picked out of a Hollywood script, but instead a real person with all the complexities that involves. I was anxious about visiting a homeland I’d never known; to be greeted by customs officials checking my USA passport with a “Welcome home, sir!” In the words of Jack Kerouac, I longed to see what America had to say.