Mass at St. Patrick’s Church, Belfast

BELFAST~Given the long history of sectarian strife in Belfast, the opportunity to practice my faith here felt infused with extra meaning and significance, especially at a church named after Ireland’s patron saint. I’ve visited more than a dozen St. Patricks’ churches over the years.

Less then two weeks ago, Protestant loyalist bands marched past the church playing triumphalist tunes and otherwise intimidating Catholics, breaching Parades Commission protocol for 12 July. The regular 1 p.m. weekday Mass was cancelled. It wasn’t the first time this has happened.

St. Patrick’s at 199 Donegall St. opened in 1815, same year as the Battle of Waterloo and before Catholic Emancipation in Ireland. The church’s centennial was the second year of the First World War; its bicentennial just last year. More history here.

Today, the exterior sandstone of the Romanesque style church is under significant restoration, including original stone carvings by James Pearse, father of Patrick Pearse, a leader of the 1916 Easter Rising.

I enjoyed the 1 p.m. weekday Mass and contributed to the restoration.

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West Belfast tour of the Troubles

BELFAST~I took a black taxi tour of West Belfast, epicenter of The Troubles and still a flash point for sectarian conflict between the Protestant Shankill Road community and abutting Catholic Falls Road neighborhood. My visit was just nine days after the annual 12 July celebrations, the triumphalist commemoration of the 1690 victory of Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne. Some images:


Mural of William of Orange.

Shankill homes decorated with the British Union Jack.

Shankill homes decorated with the British Union Jack.


Site of Shankill bonfire, still smoldering nine days after the 12th of July.

Driving into the Nationalist (Catholic) Falls community. Gates close at night.

Driving into the Nationalist (Catholic) Falls community. Gates close at night.

Nationalist side of the "peace wall."

Nationalist side of the “peace wall.”


Nationalist hero Bobby Sands, who died on hunger strike in 1981.

Sinn Fein political office on the Falls Road, battened down for the evening.

Sinn Fein political office on the Falls Road, battened down for the evening.

It looks like 1,916 book titles about 1916 (but it’s not)

DUBLIN~In December, I filed this post about the number of new books and reissued titles being published for the 1916 Easter Rising centennial.

Below is a look at the shelves in Eason & Son on O’Connell Street next to the General Post Office, epicenter of the rebellion. The Dublin bookseller since 1819 closed during the week-long outbreak of violence, but employees still got paid, according to an exhibit inside the store.

Nearby, what seems like 1,916 books about 1916 line the shelves. There are only 252 titles in the inventory, according to the store’s online catalog.

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Visiting Glasnevin, part 2: More Irish heroes

DUBLIN~Here are gravestones of leading characters from the late 19th/early 20th century struggle for Irish independence. From top to bottom: Charles Stewart Parnell, Éamon de Valera, John Devoy,  Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa and Michael Collins.

Many, many other political heroes, plus more than 1.5 million regular Irishmen and Irishwomen, are buried at this historic cemetery.

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Reunited Ireland …

DUBLIN~…or just Brits out of Ireland? The graffiti below was marked on the plywood barrier of a city center Dublin construction site on 19 July 2016. As the 1916 Easter Rising remembrance winds down, and Brexit plays out, talk of reuniting the island of Ireland is a topic of growing debate, and will continue to be so as the centennial of partition quickly approaches.

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Visiting Glasnevin, part 1: Daniel O’Connell

DUBLIN~Here’s an amazing fact about Glasnevin Cemetery: the more than 1.5 million people interred on its 124 acres outnumber residents of the surrounding capital city. Some 800,000 of the dead are buried in unmarked graves, but their names are recorded in an extensive archive.

Kerryman Daniel O’Connell, best know as “The Liberator” for bringing Catholic emancipation to Ireland, established the Dublin Cemeteries, which opened the originally nine-acre site in 1932. Then, as today, Glasnevin is open to people of all faiths, or no religion at all.

O’Connell is honored with the most conspicuous grave at the cemetery: a large crypt underneath a 168-foot tower. Visitors can reach underneath the marble slab and pat the lead-lined oak casket … for good luck, or just to touch history. File_000 (8)File_000 (2)

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I’m flying to Ireland…join me virtually

I’m finally heading back to Ireland after four…long…years.

I launched this blog on tumblr in July 2012 after returning from my fifth trip to Ireland. As stated then and the blog subtitle, the goal is to “publish research and writing about Irish and Irish-American history and contemporary issues.” Now, 391 posts later, I’m returning to the source of my interest and affection.

Over the next two weeks I’ll be in Dublin, Belfast and Kerry. I’ll be reconnecting with family relations and sitting down with new people that I’ve met through the blog. I’ll be doing ongoing research about the Land War murder of John Foran, checking out a few 1916 centennial exhibits, and exploring other attractions. I’ve mapped out a really cool scenic drive.

Most of my posts will be images, with more detailed reporting and stories to follow later when I get home. Please join me virtually. Meanwhile, enjoy this drone-captured video of my grandfather’s hometown of Ballybunion, County Kerry. I’ll be happily on the ground here very soon.

The rough road to Dublin, 1932

The Irish Story has published an excellent piece by Barry Sheppard exploring how the 1932 Eucharistic Congress in Dublin “inflamed sectarian passions” in Northern Ireland.

Held once every four years, an International Eucharistic Congress is a gathering of Roman Catholic clergy, religious and laity for the purpose of bearing witness to the “Real Presence of Jesus” in the Eucharist, one of the church’s core beliefs. The 31st such Congress, 22–26 June 1932, arrived 10 years after the partition of Ireland and three years after the 1929 centennial of Catholic Emancipation. Sheppard quotes another author who described the later event as “the public identification of the new state with an apparently unified and triumphant Catholicism.”

Sheppard continues that contemporary newspaper representations of the Congress portrayed it as the apex of Irish history, or the high point of Irish religious history. Such “triumphalist reporting no doubt had negative connotations among the Protestant unionist population in Northern Ireland.”

The result were a series of bloody clashes in the north, and a hardening of the island’s already bitter sectarian divide. As I read the story, several questions immediately came to my mind:

  • What did English Catholic author C. K. Chesterton have to say about this?

I pulled my copy of “Christendom in Dublin” from the shelf. Chesterton doesn’t mention the violence in the north in his 1933 book about the Congress. He does open with a chapter titled “The Flutter of the Flags,” a breezy discourse on the Union Jack, the tricolour of the then Irish Free State and the Papal flag. “It must be remembered that, to the Dublin populace, the Union Jack is not so much the popular flag of the English people; it is the party flag of one Irish party; the old Orange party of Ascendancy.”

Later, Chesterton writes that seeing so much of Christendom in Dublin was like being taken to the top of a mountain and seeing all the kingdoms of the earth. He adds: “If any bright wit from Portadown or Belfast retorts that the Devil, in the person of the Papal Legate, would naturally take me there, I am content to bow and smile.”

  • What did the American press have to say about this?

This four-deck headline on page 2 of  the 27 June edition of The New York Times reflects the international coverage:

Catholics Mobbed in Belfast Region

Crowds Stone Pilgrims Boarding Trains for Eucharistic Congress in Dublin
Rioters Knock Girls Down
Tear Hats, Lunch Baskets and Umbrellas From Women–Buses and Steamers Attacked
  • What does history have to say about this?

In his 2009 book, “The Eucharistic Congress, Dublin 1932”, author Rory O’Dwyer observes that charges the event only served to further consolidate the partition of Ireland are undeniable. Still, Ireland’s religious and political divisions were already “firmly entrenched” by this time. Then, he slyly notes:

Two weeks (after the Congress), main streets in most Northern towns were profusely decorated with loyalist symbols of the Twelfth of July celebrations. There was no record of any damage to these decorations.

Midsummer “marching season” violence between Catholics and Protestants did occur long before the 1932 Congress, and some of the worst such rioting happened just three years later. That’s detailed in another piece in The Irish Story by John Dorney.

Ireland, America and the Fourth of July

The town of New Ross, County Wexford, is celebrating its fifth 4th of July Irish America Fest with a reading of the Declaration of Independence, raising of U.S. and Irish flags and a re-enactment of the Boston Tea Party. The festival also includes live music bands, plenty of food vendors and a giant fireworks display over the River Barrow.

New Ross, of course, is the location of the Kennedy Homestead, which describes itself as “a state of the art interpretative exhibit which explores the circumstances of Patrick Kennedy’s departure from Ireland in 1848 and pieces together the story of the most famous Irish–American family through the 20th century to the present day.”

So, given the American holiday and Ireland’s ongoing centennial commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising, I’m reprising here one of the posts from my earlier blog series on U.S.-Irish relations. Enjoy.


The Spirit of 1776 and Troubles in the North

We know that America played a key role in Ireland’s strike for independence in 1916. How about Ireland’s contribution to American independence in 1776?

On St. Patrick’s Day 1976, President Gerald Ford expressed “the appreciation of the American people to the people of Ireland” for their participation in the founding and growth of the United States. He voiced these to Taoiseach Liam M. Cosgrave in morning welcoming remarks and an evening state dinner toast.

Ford said:

Throughout our history–beginning with the many Irish-Americans who fought for freedom in 1776 and the 11 who signed the Declaration of Independence–men and women from your country have brought Irish courage, Irish energy, Irish strength, Irish devotion, and Irish genius to the United States of America.

I’m not sure what 11 signers Ford had in mind. Most other sources put the figure at nine men, with four born in Ireland.

Cosgrave said:

We are indeed greatly honored to have been invited here during your Bicentennial Year, a year which highlights the remarkable achievements of this truly great Nation. We are proud that throughout American history the Irish people have been closely identified with your endeavors.

He noted that in 1928, his father, W. T. Cosgrave, then head of the Irish government, visited the U.S. accompanied by his Minister for Defense Desmond Fitzgerald. His son, Foreign Minister Dr. Garrett Fitzgerald, joined the 1976 delegation to Washington.

Liam Cosgrave pins a shamrock to the lapel of Gerald Ford.

Liam Cosgrave pins a shamrock to the lapel of Gerald Ford.

Between the morning remarks and the evening dinner, Cosgrave and Fitzgerald met privately in the Oval Office with Ford, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and other officials.  (Here’s the Memorandum of Conversation, with handwritten notes.) They talked about trade, but also discussed the situation in Northern Ireland, which erupted into sectarian violence four years earlier. (That very day, four Catholic civilians were killed by a bomb planted by the Ulster Volunteer Force in Dungannon, County Tyrone.)

Cosgrave worried about money being sent to Ulster. “Much of it goes under the shelter of humanitarian aid,” he said. “They [the record doesn’t identify who] are starting terrorist attacks again and seem to be focusing on trains. We have been able to cut down their supply of explosives, which has helped.”

FitzGerald suggested putting something in a communique “about not sending money to Ireland … would help coming from you.” But after an unrecorded and “inclusive” discussion, Cosgrave decided that “it might be counterproductive to make much of it.”

The notes suggest that Ford promised to do more “after the election is out of the way.” He lost to Jimmy Carter eight months later.

Adams at National Press Club, 1998

This framed photo of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams hangs at the National Press Club in Washington D. C., and is from his May 1998 appearance. I noticed it the other day while having lunch at the historic venue. Here is video of Adam’s speech shortly after passage of the Good Friday Agreement. 

This is also a test of the WordPress app, which I’m using for the first time to increase my blogging power in advance of an upcoming trip to Ireland.