Scotland votes ‘no’ as political waves hit Irish shores

The nationalist effort in Scotland was defeated 45 percent to 55 percent, but now a new debate begins over increasing devolved power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has wasted no time in reiterating republican calls for a border poll, while DUP First Minister Peter Robinson has rejected the idea. The Belfast Telegraph reports:

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers can call a border poll at any time, according to the 1998 Good Friday agreement that brought about peace. It also specifies that the cabinet minister shall order a referendum if it appears likely that a majority of those voting would seek to form part of a united Ireland. The proportion of Protestants has fallen to 48% from 53% 10 years ago, census data showed, while the proportion of Catholics increased to 45% from 44%.

Of course, not all Catholics would want a united Ireland, and surely some Protestants would quietly vote to break from the U.K., especially if the Irish economy continues to rebound, as discussed in my previous post.

Here’s another thought piece about some of the calculations in Northern Ireland, written before the vote, including whether London wants to keep its bond with Ulster. How strongly does Dublin want the six counties?

At the very least there is going to be a lot of discussion about devolving more power to Belfast, especially corporate tax rates. The Irish Times reports:

The big focus initially will be on whether the British government now allows the Northern Executive to bring corporation tax here in line with the general 12.5 per cent rate that applies in the South. David Cameron has already promised that he would make a decision on corporation tax soon after the completion of the referendum.

Many economists and most politicians believe that reducing the level of corporation tax from its current general figure of 21 per cent would be a “game changer” for Northern Ireland: it would boost international investment and create thousands more jobs.

The Celtic Tiger is purring again

The Irish economy is on the rebound according to recent news reports, and Ireland’s Ambassador to the U.S. Anne Anderson was only to happy to talk about it during a National Foreign Trade Council forum here in Washington. Here’s my coverage in the Washington Business Journal.


Anderson would not be drawn out on the potential economic impact to Ireland if Scotland votes for independence. She also declined to speculate about the possibility of a reunification vote with Northern Ireland within the next decade.

Ian Paisley, “the ultimate Orangeman,” dead at 88

The anti-Catholic, anti-Irish republic(an) firebrand was at the center of political turmoil during The Troubles. He eventually entered a power-sharing government with a former IRA man.

BBC obit here. Coverage from Irish Central here.

Before making headlines for shaking hands with Queen Elizabeth, former IRA man Martin McGuinness entered a power-sharing government with Paisley at Stormont. They became partners, even friends, who were nicknamed “the Chuckle Brothers.”

“Our relationship confounded everybody,” McGuinness says in this video clip, followed by comments from Gerry Adams:

Scotland referendum stirs debate about impact on Ireland

The Scottish independence referendum is a week away, and one recent poll showed a swing toward the Yes side, stirred a vigorous debate the implications for Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Here’s a sampling of opinions:

Eamonn McCann writes in The Irish Times that Westminster is embarrassing itself trying to hold on to Scotland, but wouldn’t give a flip if Northern Ireland wanted to break away. “The political establishment in London couldn’t care less about the North.”

The Irish Examiner says a “yes” vote for Scotland would pose a major risk for Northern Ireland. Nothing will be the same afterward, regardless of the outcome. “Profound change will come. If the referendum passes, an immediate constitutional crisis occurs. There is no clear pathway forward, and the questions for now unanswerable, are myriad. In the event of defeat, greater devolution is now certain to follow. Like the ‘Irish Question’ the issue of Scottish independence is unlikely to go away.”

Scotland and Northern Ireland friendship flags.

Scotland and Northern Ireland friendship flags.

The Telegraph, in England, suggests that a “yes” vote could reawaken sectarian violence in Scotland similar to that in Northern Ireland. “If Northern Irish sectarianism had sprung from the dispossession of Catholics by 17th-century Protestant planters, Scottish sectarianism came from too large and fast an influx of Irish Catholics in the 19th century. … Such hatred has diminished with prosperity and with relative calmness in Northern Ireland, but there are many Scots who are terrified that independence will exacerbate old tribal resentments. An Orange order parade in favour of “No” is due to take place on Saturday in Edinburgh. It may well be counterproductive, especially if some of their less disciplined members fall out with nasty elements of the “Yes” campaign.”

The Belfast Telegraph says the “Better Together” campaign against Scottish independence “has made the same sort of mistakes that unionism has made over the years in Northern Ireland: far too much criticism of their opponents and not enough effort to set out the value and merits of their own beliefs. … If Northern Ireland and unionism are to survive, then the pro-Union lobby needs to be ready for the border poll and coherent enough to avoid the catastrophic errors and complacency of Better Together.”

Robert Fisk, writing in the Independent, details the similarities and the differences between Scotland’s nationalist effort and those of Ireland in the early 20th century. He says, “there is life after independence from the UK. The day the British left in 1922, the Union flag came down, the Irish Tricolour was hoisted over Dublin Castle – seat of their Britannic Majesties for hundreds of years – a UK Governor General (who was of course Irish) took his seat, and anyone lucky enough to receive mains electricity could turn the switch by the dining room door – and the lights came on, just as they always did.”

Ongoing research: Irish emigrants in 1912-1923 revolutionary period

I’m enrolled in an online course called “Irish Lives in War and Revolution: Exploring Ireland’s History 1912-1923.” The massive open online course (MOOC) is a partnership between Trinity College Dublin and FutureLearn. Nearly 14,000 have signed up, with slightly more than half living outside Ireland, including 27 percent in the US, according to The Irish Times.

The course is quite naturally focused on the lives of Irish men, women and children living through the extraordinary 12-year period of war and revolution that made modern Ireland, now part of ongoing centennial reflections. For me it’s reawakened a question thus far not considered by the course: What about the men, women and children who left Ireland during the period?

My maternal grandmother left Ireland in September 1912, two weeks before the Solemn League and Covenant signing in Belfast. My maternal grandfather sailed away in May 1913, shortly after the founding of the Ulster Volunteer Force and just before labor strikes erupted in Dublin. Their brothers and sisters followed to America through the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence and Civil War.

First I wanted to look at the raw numbers, presented here with additional notes.

Ireland’s average population at the time was about 4.3 million. The 10-year annual average emigration for 1904-1913 was 31,732.

1912: 29,344 emigrated

52.2 percent were men.
11,852 (40.3 percent) from Ulster, most of the four provinces
85.9 percent were between 15 and 35.

1913: 30,967 emigrated

53.1 percent were men
12,392 (40.0 percent) from Ulster, most of the four provinces
85.4 percent were between 15 and 35 years old

1914: 20,314 emigrated

Just over half were men. Ulster had the heaviest emigration. Nearly 87 percent were between 15 and 35 years old.
Using half the year’s annual total, more than 70,000 people left Ireland in the two and a half years from 1912 to the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914. 

1915: 10,659 emigrated

More than half were men. Ulster had the heaviest emigration. Nearly 84 percent between 15 and 35 years old.
The report of the Registrar-General for Ireland notes the loss by emigration during 1915 is only 2.5 per 1,000 of the population, the lowest rate on record since statistics began in 1851.

The Lusitania is sunk by a German submarine torpedo off the coast of Queenstown (Cobh) in May.

1916: 7,302 emigrated

In a reversal, the majority to leave were women (5,559), and only 3.4 percent were between the ages of 15 and 35 years old. Ulster still had the most emigration.
Taking just one fourth of the annual total for 1916, more than 93,100 people left Ireland in the period 1912 up to the Easter Rising.

1917: 2,111 emigrated

More than half were women and more than half were from Ulster.

1918: 980 emigrated

More than half were women. Leinster had the most emigrants (567), followed by Ulster (329).
The annual emigration rate dropped to 0.2 percent per 1,000 population.

1919: 2,975 emigrated

Nearly 62 percent were females, nearly 57 percent from Ulster.

1920: 15,531 emigrated

61 percent women, more than one third from Ulster.
The annual emigration rate of 3.5 percent per 1,000 population is near the running 10-year average of 3.8 percent.

1921: 13,635 emigrated

Women and natives of Ulster continue to lead the way out of war-torn Ireland. As a summer truce leads to the Anglo-Irish Treaty at the end of the year, nearly 134,000 have left Ireland in the period 1912-1921.

1922: 19,500 emigrated

The total includes separate estimates of 4,500 from the newly created Northern Ireland and 15,000 from the Irish Free State.

1923: 29,570 emigrated

The total includes separate estimates of 9,000 from Northern Ireland and 20,570 from the Irish Free State, which ended its civil war in May.


NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade to allow gay groups

It was inevitable, and it has finally happened.

Organizers of New York’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade have agreed to allow gay groups to march under their own banner. Irish Central broke the story. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who supported lifting the ban, will serve as the grand marshal.

Boston will be next, perhaps before March 17, 2015.

GAA and NCAA football games capture Ireland’s attention

Ireland hosted two huge football games Saturday [30 August]; a GAA semifinal match in Limerick between Kerry and Mayo, and an NCAA season opener in Dublin between Penn State University and University of Central Florida.

Kerry and Penn State walked off as winners in thrilling games that each came down to the final minute (and overtime for Kerry-Mayo).

This was the fifth time U.S. college teams have played the American version of football in Ireland, a game that has been called the Emerald Isle Classic, the Shamrock Classic and, this year, the Croake Park Classic. The event is aimed at attracting Irish-American visitors to Ireland.

ESPN reported, “Penn State players received the Dan Rooney Trophy, a football made of ancient Irish bog wood that was specially commissioned for the game.” Rooney is owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and a former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland.

Kerry footballer, left, runs past Mayo opponent. Irish Independent photo.

Kerry footballer, left, runs past Mayo opponent. Irish Independent photo.

The Kerry-Mayo contest was the rematch from an earlier game that ended in a tie. The GAA relocated west to Limerick because of the NCAA game, a decision that generated its share of grumbling. From the Irish Independent:

When players imagine and talk about playing on the big stage, that’s Croke Park they’re imagining and talking about. When you and I think of All-Ireland games, we think of walking up to Croke Park. And the spike in your stomach when you catch the first glimpse of the stadium and everything it houses for you, your family and your team. Memories, maybe medals and most definitely magic.

My wife and I watched the GAA contest at Fadó Irish Pub in Washington, where fans of the Kingdom heavily outnumbered Mayo supporters. Here’s the game report. We look forward to watching the final contest 21 September against the winner of the Dublin – Donegal match.

Historic IRA ceasefire hits 20th anniversary

Recognising the potential of the current situation and in order to enhance the democratic process and underlying our definitive commitment to its success, the leadership of the IRA have decided that as of midnight, August 31, there will be a complete cessation of military operations. All our units have been instructed accordingly.

– Irish Republican Army ceasefire statement of August 1994

Some great coverage of this historic event is emerging from Irish and British media outlets.

Writing for the BBC, Vincent Kearney recounts obtaining the ceasefire statement through a republican source as a reporter for the Belfast Telegraph. He tells the back story leading up to the deal, such as the secret meetings between Gerry Adams and John Hume facilitated by a Catholic priest at Clonard Monastery.

Kearney recalls the violence preceding the Downing Street Declaration between prime ministers John Major of Britain and the recently deceased Albert Reynolds of Ireland. He also quotes republican leader and now Deputy First Minster Martin McGuinness:

People make a mistake if they think that the engagement that took place between ourselves and the British government back channel, for want of a better word, was the motivating factor in bringing about the IRA ceasefire of 1994, that’s not the way the process worked. What brought about the IRA ceasefire was the coming together of Irish America, support from the White House, the Albert Reynolds input and, of course, the initiative led by Gerry Adams and by John Hume, with the support of Father Alec Reid.

Adams, Reynolds and Hume shortly after the IRA ceasefire. Belfast Telegraph image.

Adams, Reynolds and Hume shortly after the IRA ceasefire. Belfast Telegraph image.

The Irish Times has a couple of pieces by two insiders. Nancy Soderberg, a foreign policy adviser to former President Bill Clinton, details the persistence of Reynolds and others to obtain a visa for IRA man Joe Cahill to sell the ceasefire to republican hardliners in the U.S. Former Reynolds press secretary Seán Duignan tells the same story from the Irish side.

Henry George and land agitation in Ireland

Writing in The Irish Story, Barry Sheppard details how a 19th century American writer and economist influenced Irish land reform. He says in the post:

The name Henry George is not normally one which is automatically associated with Irish land reform, indeed he has been all but forgotten, even by those interested in the history of Irish and international land reform. Yet at various stages his name crops up in relation to Irish land reform from the period of the Land War in the 1880s through to the 1930s and beyond, when a new period of Irish land reform gathered pace under a domestic administration.

George traveled to Ireland in 1881 to cover the Land War for The Irish World newspaper. He spent a year in the country speaking about his views on a single tax on land, which he believed should be nationalized rather than held by individual owners. More about George’s life and views here.

GeorgeDuring his stay in Ireland George was arrested twice by the ruling British authorities. He was able to have a letter smuggled to U.S. President Chester A. Arthur, which was published on the front page of The Washington Post on Sept. 17, 1882:

I would not, Mr. President, think of addressing you on this subject were my case an isolated one, as then it would merely show an abuse of power by certain individual officials.  But, on the contrary, such cases are constantly occurring, and many American citizens have already in various parts of this country been subjected to similar, and even to much worse indignities and hardships — and this evidently not by accident, but because of being Americans.

The British later apologized for the two detentions, but not before the Land League was able to capitalize for its own benefit. Such incidents, Terry Golway writes in his John Devoy biography “Irish Rebel” (see my previous post) helped “raise the Irish-American movement from its ratholes.”

George’s influence in Ireland lasted decades beyond his death in 1897, according to Sheppard.

That he was for all intents and purposes and outsider makes his impact even more impressive.  It is also his status as an outsider which has also kept him on the periphery of Irish history.

Statue of John Devoy planned for Kildare

Irish Central posted a story about efforts to erect a life-size bronze statue of Irish rebel John Devoy in his hometown of Naas, County Kildare. Plans call for raising $45,000 for the commission and installation, which is targeted for September 2015, six month before the Easter Rising centennial.

DEVOY2Here’s a quick glimpse at Devoy’s fascinating life, from his 1871 exile to America as a convicted Fenian to organizing the rescue of other Irish rebels imprisoned in Australia. He influenced Irish politics through the Land War period, the Rising and War of Independence. I highly recommend Terry Golway’s excellent biography, “Irish Rebel: John Devoy and America’s Fight for Irish Freedom.”

Here’s a link to the John Devoy Memorial Fund to contribute.