Firm Foundation: Colleen Reali
by Kennth Callahan
In her essay entitled How Irish America Sees Ireland, Rosita Boland, the Clare-born writer for the Irish Times concluded, based on numerous interviews, that when Irish Americans talk about identifying with the Irish, they tend to mean those who came to settle in America, and “not those of us living in Ireland.”
Without examining the veracity of that conclusion, it is most definitely one not applicable to Colleen Reali and her extended family, who says of her childhood growing up in St. Mark’s parish as “like growing up in Ireland—we had one foot planted in West Park and one in Kerry.” Colleen is the daughter of Ray and Joan Hartnett Reali, the middle daughter between Maureen and Dar. Her sisters have returned to permanently reside in Kerry in the Republic of Ireland.
Ray grew up in Lakewood, his people from Mayo, Roscommon and Dublin. He attended St. James grade school and finished at Lakewood High. Joan was born and raised on a small farm in Lehid, outside Kenmare, in County Kerry, the youngest of six. Joan followed siblings to Cleveland when she was 17, seeking opportunity in America. Joan and Ray first met at Winterhurst ice skating rink in Lakewood, where Ray offered to teach her how to ice skate.
Colleen remembers her family home as being fairly steeped in traditional Irish country trappings: daily tea with milk, holy water, devotional statues of Jesus and Mary. The family faithfully attended the Friday night ceili at the old West Side Irish American Club on Madison Avenue, where Colleen took lessons in the Irish language.
Colleen danced competitively with the Burke School of Irish Dance; she was awarded the Oireachtas, and danced in World Cup Championship competition three times, twice in Dublin and once in Galway. Colleen spent summers on the family home in Kerry. Her parents own a home outside of Kenmare, near the Ring of Kerry.
After St. Mark’s, Colleen attended Magnificat High School, graduated from Fordham University with a B.A. in History and Political Science and obtained her J.D. from St. John’s University of Law. She has devoted the majority of her professional life as an Assistant Cuyaho
In 2014 Colleen was appointed by Judge Francine Goldberg to serve as a Magistrate in the Domestic Relations Division of the Common Pleas Court, where she continues to serve. She and her husband have a daughter, Caroline, age 5.
ga County Prosecutor, earning major felony convictions in some of the area’s most notorious crimes.
Of growing up in a very Irish American family, Colleen says she learned how to live her faith. In her home and neighborhood she says, “you take care of the people who take care of you,” a sense of community expressed in her work on the board of the Irish American Archives, the Mayo Society, and her work with the Irish American Law Society of Cleveland, where she participated in the Seminar in Galway in 2016. This summer, she and 15 Reallis will visit Kenmare and Mulranny.
Colleen Reali is a woman clearly dedicated to the two communities she is planted in, Greater Cleveland and the Republic of Ireland, a dedication formed by the strong values instilled by family and friends.
*Callahan is a retired Common Pleas Court judge and a partner at Collins and Scanlon.