Kerry’s Deenihan named first minister for diaspora

Kerry T.D. Jimmy Deenihan has been named Ireland’s first Minister of State for the Diaspora.

The Irish Times calls the post “a huge boost for the Irish abroad, marking the first significant official gesture towards political representation for Irish people living outside the country.”

One of his first duties will be exploring whether Irish citizens living outside the Republic are given the right to vote in presidential elections.

Deenihan was Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Earlier in his career he helped in the effort to restore the Lartigue monorail. My wife and I met him briefly at the Listowel museum in 2012. His full bio is here. 

The appointment was part of a larger shakeup in the Irish government.


12th parades begin peacefully

Orange Order parades have begun peacefully, the BBC reports.

There were no incidents as a feeder parade passed a sectarian flashpoint at shops in Ardoyne in north Belfast. … Chief Constable George Hamilton said:

“I’m optimistic, but it’s a cautious optimism and I’m just hoping that people take responsibility for their own actions and they need to understand that, as I’ve said throughout the past couple of weeks, the police will do our piece to keep people safe and also to collect evidence where people step outside of the law.”

The Irish Times reports that the Police Service of Northern Ireland is deploying 3,500 officers, with about one third deployed to north Belfast hot spots. After several years of relative calm, loyalist violence erupted last July when Orangemen were banned by the Parades Commission from returning home past the Ardoyne shops. The commission decision was upheld this year.

Here’s a good background piece about “Orangeism,” also from the BBC. By the way, that “L.O.L” on their banners refers to Loyal Orange Lodge, not laughing out loud.

Ring of Kerry cycle race raises money for charities

My wife and I rode our bicycles along the Mount Vernon Trail, an extended bluff that overlooks the Potomac River south of Washington, D.C. Here the river is wide and tidally influenced, like the lower Shannon between Kerry and Clare. We could smell the salt water.

KerryAlso this weekend was the 31st annual Ring of Kerry charity cycle, which raises money for Kerry charities. Taoiseach Enda Kenny was among some 10,000 cyclists on the scenic but grueling 112-mile route, according to The Irish Times.

Some call the race Kerry’s version of the Tour de France. Here’s the official race website, including the charities. Here’s one of my earlier posts about bicycling in Ireland.

Here we go again: marching season in Northern Ireland

It’s July, and that means Orange parade season in Northern Ireland.

The trouble has already begun as the two main unionist parties walked out of talks at Stormont after the Parades Commission banned Orangemen from marching by a republican area of north Belfast on 12 July.  The Guardian reports there are renewed fears that serious street disorder will break out in the coming days over the ban.

[Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa] Villiers said: “The last thing Northern Ireland needs is any kind of public disorder which could put police officers at risk of injury or worse and which would damage Northern Ireland’s reputation abroad and undermine efforts to attract jobs and investment. Any reaction or protest needs to be both peaceful and lawful, as called for by unionist leaders in their statement today. “

Here’s the full statement from five unionist leaders, including Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson. We will see what happens, but in Northern Ireland in July, it usually isn’t anything good.

An Orange Order parade. Image from

An Orange Order parade. Image from


Boston Mayor Walsh named Irish-American of the Year

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh was named Irish American of the Year by Irish America magazine. He was elected in November and moved into City Hall in January.

In remarks at the magazine’s ceremony, Walsh said:

Whether they were in the South during the turn of the century in counties like Cork and Kerry, or in the North in Belfast and Derry in the Troubles, or whether it’s on the east coast or the west coast, or in Dublin or Galway, or anywhere in between, we have to remember our history. Irish history is not one filled with victories in battle; it was one of struggle where we ultimately persevered and got those victories through hard work.

AP corrects Tuam reporting as Donohue blasts media coverage

The Associated Press issued an extended correction of its coverage of mid-20th century infant and child deaths at Tuam, County Galway. At the same time, Catholic League President Bill Donohue issued a blistering report about coverage of this story, the Magdalene Laundries and the movie “Philomena,” a drama that purports to tell the “true story” of a woman’s search for the son she was forced to give up for adoption from an Irish orphanage.

The story of nearly 800 bodies in unmarked graves at the Tuam orphanage for unwed mothers “caused stark headlines and stirred strong emotions and calls for investigation,” the AP says. “Since then, however, a more sober picture has emerged that exposes how many of those headlines were wrong. The case of the Tuam ‘mother and baby home’ offers a study in how exaggeration can multiply in the news media, embellishing occurrences that should have been gripping enough on their own.”

The story says one London editor “noted several top newspapers in the United States stated that 800 baby skeletons had been found in a septic tank, and that commentators fueled by a “Twitter mob” mentality compared the deaths to Nazi-era genocide.” Further evidence indicates there was no such septic tank, but rather a burial shaft that was common for the period.

Donohue quotes the same London editor in his spirited rebuke of the media coverage. The long-time church defender says,

The evidence that the public has been hosed is overwhelming. Truths, half-truths, and flat-out lies are driving all three stories. That’s a bad stew, the result of which is to whip up anti-Catholic sentiment. This is no accident.

Irish Central has done an extended interview with Donohue.

I tend to agree with Donohue that anti-Catholic bias colors at least some of the coverage. He rightly points out that many of those who claim to be shocked and dismayed about the treatment Irish nuns might or might not have subjected children to in the last century are only too willing to allow abortions to continue today. There’s more than whiff of hypocrisy.

Remembering the Washington Arsenal explosion

My wife and I attended the 150th anniversary of the Washington Arsenal explosion, which killed 21 women, most of them poor Irish immigrants. The memorial at the historic Congressional Cemetery in the city’s southeast district capped a week of remembrances. Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore visited the cemetery to place a wreath at the monument, titled “Grief,” in addition to meeting with U.S. political leaders about the immigration issue. There also was a memorial at the former arsenal site.


Here’s a taste of contemporary coverage of the explosion from the Washington Star the day after the horrible event:

The excitement attendant upon the terrible explosion and loss of life at the Arsenal yesterday was kept up throughout the entire day. An excited crowd of relatives of the laboratory employees, parents, brothers, sisters, anxious as to the fate of those dear to them, thronged about the outer gate leading to the Arsenal, and the scenes here were heart-rending. …

The scenes while the fire was in progress was truly heart-rending. Those who could, jumped from the windows, and many of them fainted as soon as they alighted on the ground. By the heroism of some persons present, some of the girls who were enveloped in flames, were saved from a frightful death. One young lady ran out of the building with her dress all in flames, and was at once seized by a gentleman, who, in order to save her, plunged her into the river. …

A singular feature of the sad spectacle was that presented by a number of the bodies nearly burned to a cinder being caged, as it were, in the wire of their hooped skirts. These bodies seemed more badly burned than those not enveloped in hoops, and it is probable that the expansion of the dress by the hoops afforded facilities for the flames to fasten upon them with fatal effect.

For more detail, blogger Allen Brown published this excellent post (with better photos than mine) about the event. And here’s a link to “The Washington Arsenal Explosion: Civil War Disaster in the Capital,” a definitive book by the late Brian Bergin.


Bergin’s daughter, Erin Bergin Voorheis, gave remarks at the cemetery memorial. She pointed out that shortly before the explosion a letter was read to the woman acknowledging receipt of their $170 contribution to the erection of a monument to the victims of a similar disaster at Pittsburgh 21 months earlier. Seventy-eight workers were killed in the explosion, again mostly poor Irish immigrant women.

At the Washington arsenal, “the surviving workers were poor, but rich in organizing skills,” Bergin Voorheis said. Within two days of the tragedy they managed to stage what was until then the city’s largest funeral. President Abraham Lincoln lead the throng of mourners to Congressional Cemetery.

Again, the surviving workers and other city residents collected donations to fund a monument for the Washington victims. Irish sculptor Lot Flannery of Limerick was given the commission. His work, “Grief,” was erected by March 1865 and was to be dedicated at the cemetery on the one-year anniversary of the explosion. But Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865 diverted the nation’s attention, and the ceremony presumably never took place, according to Paul Williams, president of Historic Congressional Cemetery.

The north face of the monument’s base panel makes note that the memorial was “Erected/By Public Contribution/By the Citizens of/ Washington D.C./June 17th 1865. And on June 22, 2014, it was “officially” dedicated in remembrance of the female victims.

ctz plaque

Tragedy and triumph in Irish transportation

I’ve come across two historical transportation stories.

This month marks the 125th anniversary of the Armagh train tragedy, which remains Ireland’s largest rail disaster. The Belfast Telegraph explains:

The train was packed as it pulled away from the station at 10:15 am, but around three miles out of the city a nightmare unfolded as the train was trying to pull up the slope out of Armagh, but was pulled back by its weight. A decision was taken to decouple the front four carriages, move them to Hamiltonsbawn, and then to return for the remaining eight carriages. Stones were placed behind the wheels of those carriages, but they rolled backwards, crushed the stones and began to build up speed as they continued back down the slope. The runaway carriages crashed into another train, resulting in the loss of 89 lives. All denominations suffered – Catholic, Church of Ireland, Methodist and Presbyterian.

June 1889 rail disaster at Armagh.

June 1889 rail disaster at Armagh.

This August will mark the centennial of the death of John Phillip Holland, builder of the first successful submarine, known as the Fenian Ram. His experimentation began in Drogheda, County Louth. In America, a later design became the U.S. Navy’s first commissioned submarine, according to this story in The Irish Times.

He died in August 1914, relatively poor, and just weeks before HMS Pathfinder became the first ship to be sunk by a torpedo fired by submarine – and nine months before a German U-boat set its sights on the Lusitania.

Mother-and-baby home shame erupts in Ireland

Lurid headlines are erupting from Ireland about infant and child deaths, illegal adoptions and vaccine trials at mother-and-baby homes operated by Catholic-run institutions in the early to middle 20th century.

Here we go again, as if earlier scandals of priest sex abuse of children and the Magdalene laundries weren’t bad enough. This could be worse.

The story is evolving. Here’s a sampling of headlines and commentary:

Ireland Mother-and-Baby Home Inquiry May Delve Beyond Deaths, U.S. News & World Report.

The examination is expected to be part of a larger investigation called for by politicians and Catholic Church officials into the Catholic-run institutions, and comes in the wake of the recent discovery that nearly 800 babies died at the St. Mary’s Mother and Baby Home in Tuam between 1926 and 1961.

Ireland Investigating Complaints Against Unwed Mother Homes, The New York Times

Charlie Flanagan, Ireland’s minister for children, said in a radio interview on Tuesday that it was important “that a light be shone on these dark periods.” He added, “I believe that Tuam should not be looked at in isolation because over the last century we have had mother-and-baby homes right up and down the country.”

Discovering home truths in a society that failed mothers and their babies, The Irish Times 

The surprising thing about the Tuam disclosures is that we are surprised. Modern Ireland has an amazing capacity for self-induced amnesia. The systemic abuses that took place in industrial schools, mental hospitals, county homes and laundries were well documented but largely ignored.

Learning from the past can be a disturbing process. It involves an examination of failures and the acceptance of hurtful conclusions. It means making amends for past societal wrongs. It should establish why certain things happened, rather than heap blame on those who implemented policy. An examination of current discriminatory practices would also help. As a society, we have an uncomfortable road to travel.

Ireland was no country for young women but for men another story, Irish Central 

What Ireland did with the help and instruction of the religious orders in the twentieth century was to remove love and responsibility from each man’s actions, by replacing them with judgment and condemnation.

The society they created together is what we’re looking at now. We know now that tens of thousands of Irishmen abandoned the women they impregnated and the child that was the result, over and over again, for most of the the 20 century.

They did this without injury to their livelihoods or reputations. They discovered they could walk between the raindrops, so they did.


Pittsburgh AOH Division 15 update

During a recent visit to Pittsburgh I was able to spend more time with the Ancient Order of Hibernians archive at the Heinz History Center. In an earlier post I reported there was a critical gap in the Division 15 (Hazelwood) meeting minutes from 1925 to 1935.

I believe I’ve found the missing record.

A separate box from the Division 15 records contains “unknown meeting minutes from 1924 to 1935.” These “unknown” minutes begin at Nov. 23, 1924. One book of the Division 15 minutes ends at Oct. 26, 1924. The “unknown” minutes end before another Division 15 book begins.

The “unknown” minutes contain numerous references to Manus Gallagher, a division officer holder mentioned frequently in the Division 15 records. Gallagher helped my grandfather obtain U.S. citizenship.

St. Stephen's Church in Hazelwood after the November 1924 fire.

St. Stephen’s Church in Hazelwood after the November 1924 fire.

The “unknown minutes” also contain numerous references to St. Stephen’s and Father Daniel J. Devlin, parish priest of the Hazelwood church from the late 19th century until his death in 1935. The Dec. 28, 1924, entry makes reference to the November 1924 church fire at St. Stephen’s and the AOH division agreeing to donate $500 for the rebuilding fund in $100 installments. Father Devlin’s thank you note to the division is mentioned in the next passage.

I did not find any references to my grandfather’s February 1935 streetcar accident. I had thought the division might vote to offer some financial support, as it often did with other sick or injured members. The minutes also did not make any reference to the 1928 candidacy of Al Smith, the nation’s first Irish-Catholic presidential nominee.

I notified the History Center staff about my belief that the “unknown” minutes belong with the rest of the Division 15 records. I hope they will adjust their finding aid.