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Bicentennial Abroad A Declaration of Independence

Would you like a hint of what it was like to come of age in the Age of Aquarius? Meet a character who would have cheerfully hopped aboard a vessel bound for “not sure, we’ll know when we get there?” Learn what the Outward Bound program teaches you about adventure and self-reliance? Get to know the story of an author you might very well run into on a pub crawl right here in Syracuse?

Then you’ll want to pick up this book.

Ask me what genre it is, and I’d be challenged: a memoir, coming-of-age story, travelogue, family history, Irish roots. All that, yet not any one of them – more a unique mix that follows the trail of a young man’s adventures as he pieces together the years he spent from high school, into college, and on as he travels the world seeking the indefinable “something” we’re all certain is out there when we have the assurance, enthusiasm, and resilience of youth.

Donald Moriarty O’Leary —blessed with a name that makes clear his heritage, and conjures up one of the great characters of literature— didn’t set out on his adventures with an eye toward writing a book. In fact, he’ll tell you that as part of the Outward Bound experience, students were expected to keep a daily journal, something he often found difficult to accomplish following a day of rock climbing, bee stings, sleeping in the wilderness, and learning to survive.

But perhaps it was that journal, and the taste for exploration that Outward Bound fostered, that ultimately led O’Leary to take the time to reconstruct his story and share it with us in this, his first book.

Within a few pages, we can be fairly sure that O’Leary is everyone’s favorite idea of a loquacious, funny, energetic Irish kid from Tipperary Hill. He fulfills our romantic notions of the Irish love of a beer, good friends, a laugh, and an interest in both the every day and the erudite, as a late high school trip to Boston includes both “getting served” and a nostalgic trip to Walden Pond – even some reflection on Thoreau and his philosophy. In fact, O’Leary puts it best himself: “I wanted to be a writer, an artist, a singer, an athlete … lead a cavalry charge, swing from tree to tree, climb the highest peaks, cross the great divide … endless dreams.”

Buckle your seat belt and enjoy the ride as O’Leary enters college, elects to study abroad (casting off in 1976 – hence the “Bicentennial”), visits Amsterdam, Paris, Scotland, takes a detour to Morocco, and with many a twist and turn, ends up on the “auld sod,” where he’ll see the places his ancestors called home.

And no, it’s not over yet – there is still a wide world to visit, and O’Leary manages to cross off more than his fair share of dream destinations, all the while meeting people, attending concerts, eating, drinking, reading the “necessary” literature of youth, and having the kind of mind-shaping experiences that can only happen when you’re young enough to let them.

Dotted with many photos, the book can be sipped or swilled with equal pleasure and convinces you that the author was having as much fun rediscovering his youthful adventures as you’re having reading about them.

Nancy Roberts
Writer, voice over artist, information achitect, very curious person.