International Fund for Ireland launching new strategy

The International Fund for Ireland is launching a new “Community Consolidation-Peace Consolidation” strategy for 2016-2020. The effort seeks to move beyond creating conditions to remove some of the more than 100 “peace walls” in Northern Ireland to actually start dismantling the physical barriers.

“We have a role to take risks that governments can’t take,” IFI Chairman Dr. Adrian Johnston said during a 28 September briefing at the Embassy of Ireland in Washington, D.C. The new strategy will be officially unveiled in November.

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While cross-community outreach has continued to expand in the North, “paramilitaries still have a stronghold on the housing estates, with masked men on the streets looking for trouble or in the middle of trouble,” Johnston said.

He was accompanied on his U.S. visit by eight young women and men who are involved in various community programs across the North and the border communities of the Republic of Ireland. They told stories of how dissident republican and loyalist gangs continue to disrupt life through drugs, extortion and other criminal activity.

According to a brochure outlining the new strategy:

  • an average of 3.4 sectarian attacks occur daily in Northern Ireland
  • there are nearly three times as many daily attacks on police
  • threat levels are still considered “severe,” according to British intelligence officials
  • the Independent Monitoring Commission says republican dissidents are recruiting young men with “no previous terrorist experience.”

The new IFI strategy will put “renewed emphasis on addressing the factors that prevent young people from positively influencing their own lives and their communities,” the brochure says.

The first peace walls were constructed by the British Army in 1969 as a temporary, military response to sectarian violence. But many of those walls have now been in place longer than the Berlin Wall, and 30 new walls have been erected since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

“Community appetite for interface barrier removal continues to gather pace,” IFI says, “yet statutory authorities face an increasing challenge to secure the necessary funding for the required economic and social regeneration interventions that make physical change sustainable.”

In other words, if and when the walls come down, there better be jobs and other opportunities in place to fill the gap. “Right now, we are in a state of limbo,”  Johnston said.

Visiting the Irish Memorial in Philadelpha

PHILADELPHIA–My hotel on a business trip here is a block from The Irish Memorial, Leacht Cuimhneacháin na nGael. The bronze sculpture and 1.75-acre park opened in October 2003 near the Delaware River waterfront at Penn’s Landing.

There’s plenty of information and images at this memorial website. Some photos from my visit below:

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Ireland will host Catholic world family meeting in 2018

Dublin will host the next World Meeting of Families in 2018.

The announcement came as Pope Francis wrapped up this year’s gathering in Philadelphia, concluding a historic nine-day trip to Cuba and the U.S. It’s too soon to say whether the pontiff, who turns 79 in December, will go to Ireland.

Held every three years and sponsored by the Holy See’s Pontifical Council for the Family, the event is described as “the world’s largest Catholic gathering of families.”

The Irish Catholic church as been rocked over the last decade by clergy sex abuse and Magdalene laundry scandals. A gay marriage referendum won overwhelming approval in May, and there is talk of liberalizing the country’s abortion laws, both against the wishes of the church.

Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin welcomed the announcement that the WMF would take place in Ireland. “Despite many challenges, the family remains at the heart of faith and of so much that we hold important in this country,” he  told The Irish Times.

Ireland hosted the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in 2012. Pope John Paul II was the last pontiff to visit Ireland, in September 1979.

Northern Ireland hosts first Famine Commemoration

Today (26 September) the National Famine Commemoration is being held for the first time in Northern Ireland, in Newry, County Down.

In recognition of the fact that the Great Famine affected all parts of the island of Ireland, the location of the annual commemoration has rotated in sequence between the four provinces since 2008. The 2011 event was in Clones, County Monaghan, an Ulster county in the Republic of Ireland.

“The annual Famine Commemoration is a solemn tribute to those who suffered in the most appalling circumstances that prevailed during the Great Famine,” Irish Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys said in a release earlier this year. “While the scale of suffering was greater in some parts of Ireland than in others, all parts of the island suffered great loss of life and the destruction of families and communities through emigration.”

The BBC has a nice package of stories and info-graphs about the commemoration and the impact of the famine in Ulster/Northern Ireland.

Coinciding with this year’s commemoration is the release of the first paperback edition of “Commemorating the Irish Famine: Memory and Monument,” by Emily Mark-Fitzgerald. The 2013 book explores more than 100 monuments around the world that recognize the events of 1845-1852.

Here’s a look at three memorials in Northern Ireland. Here’s one in Philadelphia, which I hope to visit next week during a business trip.

Dubs beat The Kingdom in All-Ireland

Hate to say it, but Dublin beat defending champions Kerry in the All-Ireland Finals on Sunday. The match played through torrential rain at Croke Park, home of the Gaelic Athletic Association.

“The win was sweet because it was the first time Dublin have beaten Kerry in three successive championship encounters (after 2011 and ‘13) and two successive final contests,” The Irish Times reported. “In the end the disappointment was far more profound for Kerry, who never performed – as acknowledged by manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice.”

The All-Ireland championship dates to 1887. Kerry has won 37 times, the most any county.

Panel will assess paramilitaries and criminal groups in N.I.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has commissioned an independent assessment of paramilitary organisations and organized crime in the six-county province.

The move is aimed at averting the collapse of the power-sharing government at Stormont. The 18 September announcement immediately convinced two unionist parties that had walked away from the government to rejoin negotiations with nationalist parties.

“This assessment will be independently reviewed and checked by three individuals who I will appoint,” Villiers was quoted in the Belfast Telegraph. “This assessment will be published by mid-October and will be available to inform the parties’ discussions and conclusions in the cross party talks.”

The Irish Times offers this “key questions” piece on the political situation.

Grassroots peace efforts continue despite Stormont crisis

Bill Shaw shrugged when asked about the latest crisis at Stormont.

“It doesn’t matter what they are doing at Stormont,” he told Irish Network-DC 10 September. “The peace process was birthed by community workers. It’s community activists that are taking the biggest risks, not the politicians.”

Bill Shaw. Photo by @IrishNewworkDC

Bill Shaw. Photo by @IrishNetworkDC

Shaw works at 174 Trust, a Christian-based social justice organization that has been “building peace and promoting reconciliation” in North Belfast for more than 30 years. He has been the director since the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998.

The organization is located inside a remodeled former Presbyterian church on Duncairn Avenue. Groups and activities range from A.A. and Aspergers support to a Boxing Club and an Older Peoples Group. There are after school programs and pregnancy care. There are plenty of art exhibits and performances, even an Irish language class.

“We are finding common issues that will bring people together,” Shaw said. “People don’t stop being Catholic or Protestant, but they go back to segregated communities as changed people.”

Tampa mayor seeks stronger economic ties with Ireland

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn positions himself in the long line of Irish-American  political figures. During his first term in office he instituted the Mayor’s River O’ Green Fest, coloring the Hillsborough River a fine shade of emerald.

Now in his second term and with an eye on the Florida governorship, Buckhorn and other Tampa Bay officials have just returned from an economic development trip to Ireland. At a press conference, he said diversity is a key to success:

“Dublin, in particular, is a great role model for what Tampa could become. In 2000, everyone looked like me. You walk around Dublin now, and you hear a multiplicity of languages and see different ethnicities and a lot of young people. They have done exactly what we are attempting to do here.”

As a former resident who maintains personal, professional and property relationships with the Florida city, I hope Buckhorn’s efforts to improve ties with Ireland are successful.

Peace and politics on edge in Northern Ireland

The power-sharing government in Northern Ireland is going though yet another crisis. Whether this round, largely driven by police and government statements about the IRA remaining an active organization, is enough to unravel Stormont remains to be seen.

Scotland-based journalist Peter Geoghegan published this 28 August roundup piece in Politico‘s European Edition. The theme is captured by this quote from a unionist political commentator:

“…There is a general sense of despondency with the [power-sharing] assembly. People don’t hate each other, but Sinn Féin and the DUP hate each other.”

In a 30 August editorial, The Guardian says “everything possible must be done to prevent the collapse of a devolved system that, for all its limitations, has helped bring genuine security and has restored growth to Northern Ireland after long decades of conflict which revealed the bankruptcy of both unionist hegemony and republican violence.”

On hurling … and moonlighting … in Ireland

I always enjoy Dan Barry’s pieces about Ireland or Irish America in The New York Times, including his latest on the very Gaelic sport of hurling. (Barry’s 2013 story about Duffy’s Cut is linked in my last post.)

The lede of the hurling story, datelined Kinvara, in County Galway, is a little curious, or ironic, to my thinking:

Thirty men battle on a deep-green field, each one wielding what looks like a field hockey stick moonlighting as a broken oar.  (My emphasis.)

Of course Barry is using the verb moonlighting in its common definition of a secondary job. But the word has origins in the nighttime agrarian violence of late 19th century Ireland. It was the guerrilla warfare or terror tactic of rural nationalists fighting against the English land tenure system.

The-Hurling-Match. Painting by Martin Driscoll.

The Hurling Match. Painting by Martin Driscoll.

Barry hints at some of this background as he outlines hurling’s history:

For a while, the game enchanted the gentry, with landlords fielding teams to play other estates. But they gradually distanced themselves from the game, either having concluded that such Irish pursuits were beneath them or suspecting that hurling smacked of rebellious nationalism.

The game’s hold had loosened by the mid-19th century. The Roman Catholic clergy disapproved. The police distrusted large gatherings. Some areas used matches to settle scores. And the wholesale death and emigration caused by the Great Hunger, the potato famine, darkened everyday life in places like Kinvara.

But in the early 1880s, Michael Cusack … began championing Irish customs, at a time when English games, especially cricket, were growing in popularity. His crusade coincided with a renewed push by Irish nationalists for home rule. He and others soon established the Gaelic Athletic Association, which provided a nationwide structure for Irish sports based on parishes and territorial boundaries, all with an implicit rejection of English ways.

The game survived, and even thrived, in the destiny-determining decades that followed, through the audacious acts of rebellion, the Irish War of Independence, the civil war.

There is certainly plenty of evidence of nationalist sentiment within the ranks of the fledgling G.A.A., especially in the west of Ireland. For those interested in the subject, I recommend “Forging A Kingdom: The G.A.A. in Kerry, 1884-1934,” by Richard McElligott; and “Land, Popular Politics and Agrarian Violence in Ireland: The Case of County Kerry, 1872-1886,” by Donnacha Sean Lucey.

A search of Hansard, the official record of British Parliamentary debates, returns hundreds of hits for the term “moonlighting” from the 1880s into the early 20th century. For example, from May 1887: “The Government say they want to put down exceptional crimes—such as murder, firing into houses, mutilation of cattle, and Moonlighting.”

That is not to say that all hurlers or other G.A.A. participants were moonlighters. But some of these young, single men likely did engage in such activity, and everyone living in Ireland at the time was aware of the term. Surely nobody in late 19th century Ireland would have described a hurley, or camán, as “moonlighting as a broken oar.”

I don’t know if Barry and the Times‘ editors are aware of the historical meaning of moonlighting. I’ve dropped him a line to ask and will post his response, if any. It’s use here certainly isn’t incorrect. And at least the story doesn’t mention anyone boycotting the hurling matches for being too rough and tumble.

But that would be another blog post.