Post-Brexit United Ireland? A Q & A primer

Great Britain’s decision to leave the European Union has stirred talk of reuniting the island of Ireland as one political as well as geographic entity. It’s not going to happen soon (this year, next year…), but Brexit makes it more likely such an effort will be tried, whether successful or not, before the centennial of Irish partition in 2021. Here’s more background:

Why did Ireland split up, anyway?

How much time have you got? In the World War I era, Irish nationalists were close to obtaining limited domestic autonomy, called home rule, while remaining within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, which was created in 1800. The effort split internally as more militant nationalists, or republicans, demanded full independence from Britain. The Protestant majority in the northeast province of Ireland, called Ulster, wanted to keep the status quo, hence the term unionists. The May 1921 partition of Ireland was an attempt to keep both sides happy. Six counties in the northeast were renamed Northern Ireland and remained part of Britain. The other 26 counties of the island, predominantly Catholic, were at first called the Irish Free State, then later became the fully independent Republic of Ireland. Read a more detailed history on “The Emergence of the Two Irelands.”

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A 1937 map shows Irish Free State (south) and Northern Ireland.

What impact does Brexit have on this arrangement?

Voters in Northern Ireland voted by 56 percent to 44 percent to remain in the European Union (joining Scotland and the city of London), but the overall referendum total favored Brexit by 52 percent to 48 percent. Now, instead of an soft border between two E.U. countries (Ireland and Great Britain), a hard divide will be created between E.U. and non-E.U. nations. It will be more difficult for people and goods to cross the border.

What about reuniting the ‘two Irelands’ so both are in the E.U.?

The 1998 Good Friday Agreement that created a power-sharing (home rule) government in Northern Ireland contains a provision for a “border poll” on becoming part of a united Ireland. The Irish nationalist Sinn Féin party immediately called for such a referendum after the Brexit results were announced. “Not so fast,” British Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers and unionist politicians quickly responded. As The Guardian reports, “there cannot be a poll on Irish unity or remaining within the U.K. unless the majority of political representatives of both communities in Northern Ireland demand it.”

What does the polling say?

Last fall, an RTÉ/BBC cross border poll showed that just under one third of those surveyed in Northern Ireland favored political reunification of the island within their lifetime, compared to two thirds of respondents living in the Republic of Ireland. It’s important to remember that the poll was taken months before the Brexit vote. An economic downturn as the result of Britain leaving the E.U. in the coming months and years may prompt Northern Ireland to embrace the Republic. Historical note: A 1973 referendum in Northern Ireland asked whether people wanted to remain part of the U.K. or rejoin Ireland. The remain vote won by a landslide 98 percent, but Catholic nationalists boycotted the election for a variety of reasons.

What else could happen in Northern Ireland?

There are already suggestions that Northern Ireland might join Scotland, if and when it splits from Great Britain as the result of Brexit. Northern Ireland and Scotland have shared historic and cultural ties. It’s also possible that a few of the six counties in Northern Ireland could rejoin Ireland, while the others remain linked to Britain. Or Northern Ireland could opt for its own independence.

As Brits split, Ireland’s fate awaits

Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, by a referendum margin of 52 percent to 48 percent, will have enormous consequences for Ireland and Northern Ireland, including the possibility of driving a potential reunification of the island. This analysis by The Irish Times Deputy Political Editor Pat Leahy is a good first read:

What does ‘Brexit nightmare’ mean for Ireland?

More to come…MH

Biden in Ireland; McIlroy out of Olympics

As we await the outcome of the Brexit referendum, two other stories are worth a quick look:

  • U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s sentimental state visit to Ireland, and
  • Golfer Rory McIlroy’s decision to skip the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro due to concerns about the Zika virus.

Biden, in Ireland through 26 June, has met with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and President of Ireland Michael Higgins. According to a White House statement, Biden discussed the Brexit with both Irish leaders, as well as “the continuing need for reconciliation in Northern Ireland, particularly the need to deal effectively with the past.”

In addition to numerous stops in Dublin, Biden is also visiting his ancestral roots in counties Louth and Mayo. His maternal great-great-grandfather emigrated from the port of Newry, County Down, in 1849, according to genealogists. That was the middle of an Gorta Mór.

The Irish Times said: “Biden’s gregarious and emotional, garrulous and generous. He’s also, by all accounts, a bit of a spoofer. In other words, he’s a proper Irishman.”

***

As for McIlroy, The New York Times reports:

The Olympics were fraught with complications for McIlroy from the start. As a Northern Irishman, he had the choice to compete for Britain or Ireland. In 2012, he earned the animus of people in Ireland, including those in the Golfing Union of Ireland who had shepherded his development, by suggesting that he was leaning toward representing Britain because he had always felt more British than Irish.

In 2013, he said, “If I was a bit more selfish, I think it would be an easier decision.” He later pledged his allegiance to Ireland, and when asked in May about his commitment to competing, he said he was focused on the bigger picture. With golf guaranteed a spot in the Olympics for only the next two Summer Games, he said, it was imperative that the sport put its best foot forward.

Ireland, Northern Ireland brace for possible Brexit

British voters will decide 23 June whether to remain in the European Union. If they opt for the so-called “Brexit,” the decision is likely to have significant impacts on Ireland and Northern Ireland, including the peace process, trade and other cross-border activity.

Here’s a sample of reporting in advance of the referendum. I’ll probably add a few more links before the vote, so email subscribers should check back for updates. Referendum results will be covered in a separate post.

Read fact-check reporting on Ireland-Northern Ireland border issues from FactCheckNIThe Journal.ie and FullFact.org.

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How Brexit could lead to a united Ireland – and wage cuts for thousands
From RT

Sinn Féin leaders have already signaled that if Northern Ireland is no longer part of the EU, the party will call for a vote on reunification with the 26 counties, as is their right under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Brexit could unravel Northern Ireland peace process
From Deutsche Welle (Germany)

[F]ears of border chaos may not be as far-fetched as they first appear. Even during the Troubles, people could move with relative ease between both jurisdictions due to an informal arrangement known as the Common Travel Area (CTA). But a recent report by MPs on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee said that in the event of Brexit, the future of the CTA “would be put into question.” Irish Premier Enda Kenny recently raised the prospect of border controls being reimposed if Britain left the EU. Former UK prime ministers John Major and Tony Blair recently warned that Brexit could undermine the Northern Irish peace process and reopen the question of a united Ireland.

Brexit to prompt major cut in Irish growth forecasts, warns ESRI
From The Irish Times

The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has warned that its growth forecasts for the Irish economy will be downgraded significantly if the UK votes to leave the EU. The institute said uncertainty ahead of … [the] vote had already damaged Ireland’s trade position with several headline indicators pointing to a slide in export-related activity.

Central plank of Irish foreign policy imperilled by EU plebiscite
NewsLetter (Northern Ireland)

Although a Brexit would raise questions about the future of the UK … the most dramatic immediate political tremor will be felt in Dublin. A British exit from the EU would demolish a central plank of the Republic’s foreign policy towards Northern Ireland and would also push northern nationalism towards a strategic rethink. … [A] UK exit from the EU would push Dublin towards also leaving the EU within a relatively short timeframe.

British MP’s killing recalls earlier IRA assassinations

The shooting/stabbing death of Labour Party MP Jo Cox on 16 June is the first killing of a British politician since Conservative MP Ian Gow was assassinated by the IRA in a 1990 car bombing.

Four other British politicians in addition to Gow were killed by militant Irish republicans since 1979, according to a timeline in The Guardian. The list includes the 1984 bombing at the Brighton hotel, which targeted then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet attending a political conference. Thatcher escaped, but Conservative MP Sir Anthony Berry and four others were killed.

The IRA claimed responsibility for killing Gow because of his close association with Thatcher and his role in developing British policy on Northern Ireland. In a 2010 remembrance in The Telegraph, Bruce Anderson wrote:

In October 1984, the IRA came close to assassinating her. In 1990, by murdering Ian, they helped to bring her down. If Ian Gow had been slain while protecting Margaret Thatcher, he would have died with a smile on his face. But when she most had need of him, her enemies had ensured that he would not be available.

Ian Gow and Margaret Thatcher in 1984. He was assassinated by the IRA six years later.

Ian Gow follows Margaret Thatcher in 1984. He was assassinated by the IRA six years later.

When Bloomsday feels like doomsday

It’s 16 June: BloomsdayThe nearly global celebration marks the day in 1904 when the character Leopold Bloom treks through Dublin in James Joyce’s ”Ulysses.” Think literary St. Patrick’s Day with nicer weather.

Now, however, the date has a darker meaning in Ireland. It’s the anniversary of the 2015 collapse of a fifth-floor apartment balcony in Berkeley, Calif. Five Dublin students and an Irish-American woman were killed, another seven were injured. Most were in the U.S. on J-1 Summer Work and Travel visas.

U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Kevin F. O’Malley issued a statement to media (not yet posted on the embassy website). It says, in part:

On the first anniversary of the unimaginable tragedy that unfolded in Berkeley, California on June 16 last year and affected all of Irish society, the people of the United States extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families, friends, and loved ones of the students who lost their lives or were injured. In a remembrance ceremony today in Ballsbridge with U.S. Embassy personnel, we planted an apple tree in the Embassy’s front courtyard and unveiled a memorial plaque to serve as a living tribute to those affected by the tragedy.

As serious readers of “Ulysses” know, the novel references the horrific fire and sinking of the steamboat “General Slocum,” which occurred a day earlier in New York City. An estimated 1,021 of the 1,342 passengers were killed, mostly German-American women and school children, though some historians suggest the death toll was higher. It was the worst disaster in New York history until 9/11.

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The “General Slocum,” before the 1904 tragedy.

In The Freeman’s Journal, a national paper in Ireland until 1924, the story was reported on page 5 of the 16 June 1904 edition. Contemporaries of Leopold Bloom read these multi-deck headlines:

Appalling American Disaster

Excursion Steamer on Fire

500 Lives Lost

Wild Scene of Panic

Children Thrown Overboard

Women Trampled to Death

Here’s the passage from “Ulysses,” which was serialized between 1918 and 1920, before being published in full in 1922:

Terrible affair that “General Slocum” explosion. Terrible, terrible. A thousand casualties. And heartrending scenes. Men trampling down women and children. Most brutal thing. What do they say was the cause? Spontaneous combustion. Most scandalous revelation. Not a single lifeboat would float and the fire hose all burst. What I can’t understand is how the inspectors ever allowed a boat like that . . .

Or how 111 years later Berkeley inspectors ever allowed a balcony like that …

UPDATES: ‘Blood,’ ‘Snow’ and the Irish Proclamation

I want to update three blogs from earlier this year. Links are provided to the original post. It’s also a good time for me to say, “Thanks for reading!”

Thanks for repairing ‘Deed of Blood’

In May, I wrote about finding the missing passages of a 19th century political pamphlet, “A Deed of Blood,” which had been cut from the text of a copy I borrowed from the University of Notre Dame. I received a nice note from Therese C. Bauters, supervisor of Interlibrary Lending Services, at ND’s Hesburgh Library:

I received your return of “Deed of Blood” and thank you for your good will in sending us the missing pages (cut out).  Why anyone would ruin material is always beyond my understanding. The Notre Dame Libraries appreciate your thoughtfulness in sending the information to complete this title.  We will have it prepared and bound together.

Cover of the 1888 pamphlet.

Cover of the 1888 pamphlet.

More on ‘Alfred D. Snow’ crew list

In March, I wrote about the wreck of the ship “Alfred D. Snow” near the Wexford coast in 1888, based on my review of U.S. consulate in Ireland records at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. The Cork consulate’s documentation included a list of the 28 missing crew. Later reporting contains several discrepancies in the men’s names, including the lone Irishman aboard the ill-fated ship. I reached out to John Power, author of “A Maritime History of County Wexford.”

“The receiver of wrecks in Wexford at the time was William Coghlan and the Lloyds agent was Jasper Welsh. The two were very intelligent in collecting information because they visited every shipwreck around the Wexford coast [in those] days. They would have supplied the report to the local People newspaper.

Power sent me a clipping from the newspaper, published three weeks after the tragedy, with “the correct list of the crew,” including “Michl. O’Sullivan, a native of Ireland, aged 38.” The crew list in the consulate’s records, which is undated, shows the Irishman as “Thos Lloyd” (or Floyd) of “Ireland England.”

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Crew list from 'Alfred D. Snow' at U.S. consulate office in Cork, 1888.

Crew list from ‘Alfred D. Snow’ at U.S. consulate office in Cork, 1888. The Irishman is the last name on the bottom image.

 

 

 

 

 

Irish American Partnership and ‘Proclamation Day’

In January, I heard former Irish President Mary Robinson speak at the fourth annual Nollaig na mBan breakfast in Washington, D.C.  The event is sponsored by The Irish American Partnership, which distributed copies of the 1916 Irish Proclamation to the guests. As part of the nation’s centennial commemoration, the Irish government and national school system encouraged students to “write a proclamation for a new generation.”

In its “1916 Commemoration Report,” released in April, the Partnership reports that $12,000 was raised at the breakfast for Ireland’s first presidential library, appropriately honoring the Republic’s first woman president–Robinson. It also reproduces two of the student proclamations, one from the Tarbert National School in North Kerry. This  is six miles from where my maternal grandmother lived until her emigration four years before the Easter Rising. The Tarbert students wrote, in part:

…we shall undertake the responsibility to keep our rivers, lakes and coastline unpolluted. … We wish to promote and preserve the Irish language throughout all the counties of Ireland. We treasure our history and culture, our myths and legends, our poets and musicians, our Irish dancing and Gaelic games.

Former Irish President Mary Robinson gave the keynote speech at the fourth annual Nollaig na mBan hosted by the Irish American Partnership. The event celebrates Irish and Irish-American female leaders and the positive impact they have worldwide.

Former Irish President Mary Robinson gave the keynote speech at the fourth annual Nollaig na mBan hosted by the Irish American Partnership. The event raised $12,000 for her presidential library.

 

 

Ali in Ireland: More than a boxer

The 3 June 2016 death of boxing legend and global personality Muhammad Ali is generating retrospectives and remembrances around the world. There’s plenty of coverage of his visits and connections to Ireland.

  • Ali fought in Dublin in 1972. “Ever the showman, [he] immediately captured the heart of a nation by announcing that he had Irish roots.” Ali was the great grandson of Abe Grady, who left Ennis in County Clare sometime in the 1860s and married an emancipated slave in Kentucky. From the BBC.
  • “On the morning they played their Croke Park final against Kerry in September 2002, each member of the Armagh [Gaelic football] squad woke up in the CityWest Hotel to find an inspiring letter had been pushed under their doors in the middle of the night.” From The Belfast Telegraph.
  • In June 2003, Ali and former South African president Nelson Mandela opened the 11th Special Olympics World Summer Games in Dublin. From The Irish News.
  • Ali returned to Ennis in 2009. From the Daily Mail.
  • “The Parkinson’s Association of Ireland is deeply saddened to hear of the death of the great Muhammad Ali.” Letter in The Irish Times.
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Ali in Ennis. Photo: AP.

 

Exploring Irish history through texts and ephemera

An excellent exhibit at the University of Delaware Library’s Special Collections Gallery explores Irish history before and after Easter Week 1916 through literary texts, political broadsides, manuscripts, letters, periodicals, graphics and other ephemera.

Cover of rare first edition.

Cover of rare first edition.

A rare first edition of William Butler Yeats’ “Easter, 1916” is the iconic centerpiece of ” ‘A terrible beauty is born’: The Easter Rising at 100,” which closes 12 June. Images and commentary on the exhibit material will remain available online.

The exhibition was curated by Maureen Cech, UD’s senior assistant librarian and coordinator, Accessions and Processing, Manuscripts and Archives Department. I asked her a few questions via email after viewing the exhibit in mid May.

Which parts of the exhibit are held by University of Delaware Special Collections? Where did the other portions come from, especially the Yeats first edition? What other Irish-related material is available for researchers at UD?

MC: Most of the material is from Special Collections’ holdings. Our senior research fellow Mark Samuels Lasner, whose collection is on loan to UD, lent me a few wonderful pieces around the Yeatses, including a beautiful pencil sketch of Lily and Lolly by John B. Yeats and a poster advertising W.B. Yeats’s first produced play in London designed by Aubrey Beardsley; several items relating to Wilfrid Scawen Blunt; and an excellent volume of Beltaine.

I was also lucky enough to have faculty in the English department here at UD lend me some items: Prof. Bernard McKenna lent, among other things, two medals from the War of Independence; and Prof. Jim Burns lent several documents that had belonged to his grandfather from de Valera’s campaign in the United States in 1918-1919 for support and funds for the Republic. They add a really personal touch to the exhibit.

Irish holdings in Special Collections (including the first edition of W.B. Yeats’s “Easter, 1916”) have been built over the years, beginning with faculty input and support, especially from Irish scholar Robert Hogan, who was part of the UD faculty until his retirement in the early 1990s. Our strength would be toward the 20th century (representing both the Republic and Northern Ireland), especially in terms of manuscript material, but we do have some great items from the 19th century, including a diary kept during the Great Famine. We also continue to collect new Irish literature, in English and Irish.

What is your favorite item in the exhibit, and why, and/or something you learned about Irish history?

MC: I learned an enormous amount researching this exhibit and figuring out how to tell a very complicated, multi-layered story in a finite amount of space. Some were trying to define what it meant to be Irish, but there are no simple dichotomies of English or Irish, Catholic or Protestant. Throughout the exhibit I wanted to examine how the leaders of the 1916 Rising got to that point, the physical force tradition they drew on and felt was their only option, and the parliamentary efforts they felt had failed them, as well as contemporary reactions to the Rising. It’s a pivotal point in Irish history and one that created a lot of ambivalence and anxiety when it happened and of course still carries a lot of gravity. 2016 has been a time of reflection in Ireland.

I suppose if I had to pick a favorite item it would be two matchbook covers from Tuam from around the end of the 19th century. They were unexpected finds. One depicts Irish sports (hurling and Gaelic football) and the other reproduces portraits of prominent political figures like Charles Stewart Parnell and William O’Brien. Both are representative of the politicization of advertising that was happening in the 19th century and how buying local and supporting Irish industries (and not English ones) was a political act.

A hand-colored Christmas postcard from Kathleen Clarke, widow of Rising leader and signatory Tom Clarke.

A hand-colored Christmas postcard from Kathleen Clarke, widow of Rising leader and signatory Tom Clarke.

As a librarian, archivist, curator & specialist in literary collections, what are your thoughts about how ephemera (the political broadsides, manuscripts, letters, periodicals, and graphics in the exhibit) reflect patriotism and popular culture, as compared to bound books, official documents and other materials intended to be held long term? How well, or poorly, do you think today’s digital media will reflect our contemporary world 100 years from now?

MC: The press was incredibly important in spreading ideas in Ireland in the 19th and 20th centuries. Ephemera like newspapers and publications was cheaper, produced more quickly, distributed more broadly, and aimed at a wider audience than other kinds of publications. The industrial revolution came late to Ireland, after the Great Famine, so developing Irish industries was very important. Advertising became very politicized starting in the 19th century, encouraging people directly to “buy Irish” and/or incorporating nationalistic elements like shamrocks into advertisements.

That’s a very complex question because it addresses ideas of postmodern archives in which we consider ideas of collecting and who’s doing the collecting and the institutional biases that create (intentionally or unintentionally) gaps and silences in the archival record. The archival record is never 100 percent complete, at least as we know it now. But it might become more complete because more people are able to create records, and institutions are recognizing the value of multiple voices and multiple narratives.

It’s also a difficult question because born-digital materials represent a different kind of ephemerality–not only do we need to ask whether it is meant to last, as with traditional analog ephemera, but will it last? How will we continue to determine what is ephemeral? How will our traditional definitions of “enduring value” in archives change? Our collecting activities as archivists are becoming more active and robust in order to accommodate new forms of expression. We are developing collecting strategies and creating short-and long-term born-digital and electronic preservation plans. There are projects that are documenting the new ways in which we communicate and document our lives, like the Library of Congress archiving Twitter and some institutions documenting social movements like Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street, which have large born-digital components.

New media have democratized record-keeping and creation in really exciting ways, ones that will hopefully reduce the amount of gaps and silences in the archival record. So I think it will depend on how well we are able to document what is created at the rate at which it is created and remains “permanent.”

On the First Day of June

On the first day of June, 2012, my wife and I attended the Listowel Writers’ Week, which this year opens on the same date. We attended a reading by poet Paul Durcan at the Listowel Arms Hotel, the lovely River Feale shimmered outside the ballroom window, just beyond where the poet sat at a small platform.

A highlight of the performance was his reading of “On the First Day of June.”

I was walking behind Junior Daly’s coffin
Up a narrow winding terraced street
In Cork city in the rain on the first day of June …

… Outside in the streets and the meadows
In Cork and Kerry
On the first day of June on the island of Ireland
Through the black rain the sun shown.

Four years later, it remains one of my favorite moments in Ireland.