Philip J. Duffy

Writer, director, cinematographer, photographer

Philip Duffy was an Irish-American photographer from Iowa. He was also my great uncle who everyone knew simply as, “Uncle Joe.”

Born 1927 in Sioux City, Iowa, Philip lead a troubled life. At age 13, he witnessed the tragic death of his father, my great grandfather, Lester Duffy. Lester was buried alive in a ditch digging accident while Philip stood by, helpless. In 1945, Philip joined the Navy and it was on the GI Bill that he was afforded the opportunity to attend film school in Baltimore. After this time, Uncle Joe moved back to Iowa and took a staff job as the sports photographer at the Sioux City Journal.  In 1971 at age 44, Uncle Joe traveled to Ireland to film his most popular documentary, A Hundred Thousand Welcomes, which earned him modest international acclaim. What follows after this period is a mystery. At some point between 1975 and 1983, Uncle Joe disappeared. It wasn’t until 1985 that he resurfaced. My mother and I (age 7) were volunteering at St. Mary’s Catholic Church soup kitchen in Kansas City at the time and miraculously, we discovered Uncle Joe in line for supper one day. He was homeless, living in a shelter in Kansas City called The Shalom House. The Catholic sisters at The Shalom House said his charm and eager helpfulness earned him a permanent bed in the otherwise temporary shelter. Having reunited with the family, much to the joy of everyone, Uncle Joe died in his sleep shortly thereafter.

A Hundred Thousand Welcomes

1971

Duffy’s seminal filmmaking work was a documentary set in the Irish countryside in a village called, Knockshambo in County Mayo. A Hundred Thousand Welcomes offers a rare glimpse into life on the western coast of Ireland on the location of our distant relatives’ homestead in 1971. The film was copied and circulated on VHS, sold to tourists and even, rumor has it, aired on RTÉ, Irish state television.