Debate heats up over separation of church, state and schools

Debate in Ireland is heating up about the role of religion in managing school admissions. The Humanist Association of Ireland is calling for a ban on baptism certificates or other proof of a child’s religious affiliation.

Brian Whiteside, an official with the secularist group, told The Irish Times:

There is a new reality that has to be addressed. One third of couples are getting married in non-religious ceremonies. It’s reasonable to ask what sort of schools they want for their children.

The HAI says it “promotes the ideals and values of Humanism, working for people who choose to live an ethical life without religion.” The organization has made strong inroads in Ireland’s marriage ceremony business, as the Irish Independent reported last summer.

About 257,000 of 4.5 million living in the Republic in 2011, or just under 6 percent, said they had no religion. Catholics remained the majority at about 85 percent, according to the Central Statistics Office, and the church controls about 90 percent of Ireland’s primary schools.

The schools debate is more than just the usual separation of church and state struggle. It also brings full circle a vision for the Irish education system that began in the first half of the 19th century, long before independence.

Historian Diarmaid Ferriter writes this opinion column in the Times about Thomas Davis, a Young Irelander, poet and journalist, who argued for a state-endowed secular system of third-level education based on national colleges. Davis believed a “mixed education” was a vital component of an inclusive form of nationality in Ireland.

Deenihan addresses Washington’s Irish community

Irish Minister for Diaspora Affairs Jimmy Deenihan says he is within weeks of issuing “a new strategy to improve Ireland’s connection with the diaspora.”

The policy paper is part of the government’s review of its relationship with Ireland’s scattered sons and daughters. It has been in the works since Deenihan, a Fine Gael TD from north Kerry, was appointed to the new ministerial post in July and is based on interviews with individuals and submissions from Irish organizations from around the world.

Deenihan is a on a four-day visit to Washington, D.C. and Boston. He addressed the annual meeting and reception of Irish Network-DC at the Embassy of Ireland in Washington on 22 January. (Full disclosure: I am a member of Irish Network-DC.)

Kerry T.D. Jimmy Deenihan at the Embassy of Ireland in Washington on Jan. 22.

Kerry T.D. Jimmy Deenihan at the Embassy of Ireland in Washington on Jan. 22.

Deenihan noted how the Irish diaspora maintained a strong relationship with the homeland through the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. But new measures are needed to meet the challenges of the 21st century, especially engaging the younger generation of Irish emigrants, he said.

The global Irish diaspora is estimated at 70 million people, including about half in the U.S. Some 156,000 people born in the Republic of Ireland were living in America at the start of the 21st century, with an estimated 50,000 Irish currently living in the country illegally.

Deenihan told The Irish Times he doesn’t think the new Republican majority in Congress can stop President Obama from sparing four million illegal immigrants of various nationalities from deportation. He said undocumented Irish should start preparing the paperwork required for temporary relief from deportation under Obama’s executive order.

Deenihan was less specific about immigrant issues in his talk at the Embassy. He mentioned meeting with Congressman Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, and other members of the new majority “because they are the ones in power.” But he suggested Republicans “will work together” with Congressional Democrats on Ireland’s behalf.

As for the forthcoming policy paper and improving relations with the diaspora, Deenihan said groups such as Irish Network-DC and 18 other chapters under the umbrella Irish Network USA organization are critical.

He also said his office would begin reaching out to alumni of Irish universities, regardless of where they were born, who can help Ireland with economic development and other opportunities. Tech companies working in Ireland such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Google are also being asked to help build connections.

“That should suit the Irish diaspora quite well because we are spread so wide,” Deenihan said.

Irish art exhibit to open in Chicago

Deenihan announced that he will open a major exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. “Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690 – 1840″ will feature more than 300 objects from public and private collections.

An exhibition of 18th century decorative and fine arts from Ireland has never been undertaken on either side of the Atlantic, according to AIC. The exhibit opens on St. Patrick’s Day and continues through June 7.

The Irish in Pittsburgh, circa 1930

In 1930, U.S. Census enumerators recorded for the first time whether Irish immigrants hailed from the Irish Free State or Northern Ireland. A decade had passed since the island’s partition during the Irish War of Independence and Civil War. In America, the Great Depression was barely two years old, and the Irish here were still transitioning from a mostly downtrodden people to among the most successful immigrant groups to ever reach these shores.

Many tens of thousands of these Irish immigrants populated the American cities of Boston, Chicago and Pittsburgh. In 1930, my grandparents and their four children (two more came later), plus other relatives from Kerry, were among those being counted in the Pennsylvania city.

In his excellent Townland of Origin website/blog, Joe Buggy recently posted about a set of maps from the National Historic Geographical Information System showing the 1930 distribution of first and second generation Irish immigrants in these three cities. As Buggy notes:

There can sometimes be ambiguity as to whether a first generation immigrant is the foreign-born person who immigrated or their native-born children. Social science researchers and demographers mostly refer to the first generation as those who are foreign-born and immigrated to the U.S.

The three NHGIS maps are below, and under that is a map of Pittsburgh neighborhoods. My grandparents settled in Hazelwood, shown in dark blue inside the deep bend of the Monongahela River (at bottom) from the area extending to the 5 position of a clock face. There, up to 30 percent of the residents were Irish, and the percentage reached up to 60 percent in the adjoining Greenfield section.

Map 1930 NHGIS

 

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Aspects of the Famine in north Kerry, 1845 – 1852

Continuing the Famine theme of the previous post, I’ve been reading and studying a new book: “Teampall Bán: Aspects of the Famine in north Kerry,” by John D. Pierse. As regular readers of this blog know, this part of Ireland is where my maternal grandmother and grandfather emigrated from (1912 and 1913, respectively) and is of great interest to me.

“The graveyard which has come to symbolize the Famine for the north Kerry an Listowel areas is undoubtedly Teampall Bán, located on the outskirts of the town off the Ballybunion Road, just beyond the old Lartigue railway overbridge,” Pierse writes in his Preface.

Back, left and front, right, of the book.

Back, left and front, right, of the book.

The Kerryman reports:

Seven years in the making, “Aspects of the Famine” focuses on the Listowel Union area comprised of the baronies of Iraghticonnor and Clanmaurice – encompassing pretty much all of rural Kerry north of Tralee. John along with his son Maurice, historian Kay Moloney Caball (My Kerry Ancestors), researcher Martina Flynn and former Institute of Advanced Studies Professor Pádraig de Brún painstakingly analysed as many records as they could find pertaining to the Listowel Workhouse, where so many perished, Listowel Presentation Convent and much else.

The book is to have its formal launch on 22 January in Listowel and will benefit the local Tidy Towns organization. For book orders contact Mary Hanlon at maryehanlon@hotmail.com.

Sultan’s aid to Famine Ireland: new telling of an old tale

In 1847 a Sultan of the Ottoman Empire provided relief to Ireland during the Great Hunger, An Gorta Mor. That the ruler sent money appears beyond dispute. Whether he also directed shiploads of food to the Irish port of Drogheda, County Louth, is more of a mystery.

Freelance writer Tom Verde has produced a well-researched telling of this old tale in the Jan./Feb. 2015 issue of AramcoWorld magazine, which is dedicated to Arabic and Islamic cultures.

Whatever the truth, this chapter in the history of “The Great Hunger” has nonetheless been immortalized in paint and in stone, and may yet be made into a feature film—should the ambitions of Turkish producer Omer Sarikaya be fulfilled. Yet, at its heart lies the undisputed fact of a generous gesture on the part of an Ottoman ruler toward a people to whom he owed nothing but the mercy required of him by faith and personal character.

Here’s a link to the full story.

Former Irish President Mary McAleese was criticized for believing too much of the story during her 2010 visit to Turkey. Verde reports the proposed movie, in the works since 2012, will be released later this year.

The nearly 170-year-old story appears to have gained new popularity in the age of the Internet, as well as increased attention to the relations between Islam and the West.

There were nearly 50,000 Muslims living in Ireland in April 2011, “a sharp rise on five years previously,” the Central Statistics Office reported in October 2012.  From 1991 to 2011, the number of Muslims increased from just 0.1 to 1.1 per cent of the total population.

Nollaig na mBan aids Northern Ireland Human Rights Fund

A £10 million Human Rights Fund is being established to continue peace building efforts in Northern Ireland over the next decade. The public appeal is just getting started and got a $10,000 boost from The Irish American Partnership, which presented a Nollaig na mBan (Women’s Christmas) breakfast Jan. 6 at the University Club of Washington, D.C.

The fund is a co-effort of The Atlantic Philanthropies and The Community Foundation for Northern Ireland, which have jointly committed £4 million toward the goal.

A $10,000 check is presented to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Fund. From l. to r.: Norman Houston, Northern Ireland Bureau; Melanne Verveer; Avila Kilmurray, Monique Choiniere Miller, Committee Chair; Mary Sugrue McAleer, Irish American Partnership.

A $10,000 check is presented to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Fund. From l. to r.: Norman Houston, Northern Ireland Bureau; Melanne Verveer; Avila Kilmurray, Monique Choiniere Miller, Committee Chair; Mary Sugrue McAleer, Irish American Partnership.

Avila Kilmurray, CFNI’s former director, said the fund will be used “to embed a culture of rights and peace building” in the North, where nearly 50 “peace walls” still divide Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. Some of the walls were erected since the Good Friday Agreement, Kilmurray said.

“There is still a danger of recourse to violence, especially among young men,” she said.

Kilmurray emphasized the role women have played in bridging the sectarian divide in the North since before the 1998 accord. She insisted that continuing to focus on human rights issues can move the region past the entrenched “politics of zero sum game.”

First U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer delivered the breakfast’s keynote address, focusing on her days as Assistant to President Bill Clinton and Chief of Staff to First Lady Hillary Clinton. She recalled their historic 1995 Christmastime visit to Belfast.

(Verveer now runs the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security here in Washington, where Hillary Clinton is Honorary Founding Chair. Though Verveer never shed her diplomat’s reserve, just a wee bit of “Ready for Hillary” enthusiasm seeped through her talk.)

Like Kilmurray, Verveer emphasized the positive role that women have played in peace building and politics. Yet fewer than 10 percent of peace negotiations include women, she said.

“So many places I have gone I have seen the influence of the women of Northern Ireland,” Verveer said. “Women are agents of peace, and agents of change and they should be equal partners.”

Is Dublin’s Georgian heritage at risk?

The Irish Times begins the new year with several stories about how Dublin’s Georgian heritage is threatened by degradation and development.

Dereliction has become “endemic” in the north Georgian core of the city, according to Independent Senator David Norris. O’Connell Street and the surrounding Georgian and Victoria district are slipping into ever greater degradation with derelict historic buildings, a build-up of household rubbish and inappropriate infill developments on the site of former Georgian houses, the Times reports.

The Georgian period stretched through the reigns of four King Georges from 1714 to 1830. The style of buildings in the period derived from Palladian Architecture.

Dublin image from Panoramio.

Dublin image from Panoramio.

A sidebar in the Times package details the 1757 creation of the Wide Streets Commission, which was “responsible for creating the grand Georgian boulevards of the capital and for turning it from an east-west to a north-south orientated city though the development of new bridges.”

Here’s a link to the Irish Georgian Society. And another blog about the period from Dublin by Lamplight.

Best of the Blog, 2014

This is my second annual “Best of the Blog,” a look at some of the most important news stories, historical anniversaries and personal favorite posts of the past year. The posts are not numbered to avoid the appearance of rank. They follow below this “Happy Christmas from Ireland” video, produced by Dublin documentary filmmaker Cathal Kenna. It features views from each of the Irish island’s 32 counties. Enjoy!

And now, here are the stories:

  • One of the biggest stories of the year in Ireland involved protests over water charges. As Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole wrote, “If the Irish are finally catching the mood of anti-austerity anger that has been rolling across much of the European Union, it may be a case not so much of the straw that broke the camel’s back as the drop that caused the dam to burst.” … Less controversial, the Irish postal system is also bracing for modernization in 2015.
  • On a personal note, my wife and I moved to Washington, D.C. this year, which allowed me to get more active in Irish news and history. I’ve met some great people and enjoyed numerous events as a member of Irish Network DC. … My book, “His Last Trip: An Irish American Story,” found a home at the Carnegie Library and the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh; the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Washington, Pa.; the Archives of Irish America in New York; and the County Kerry Library in Tralee. … A version of the story about my grandfather Willie Diggin also was published by History Ireland.
  • I came across two new books about County Kerry: “Forging a Kingdom: The GAA in Kerry 1884-1934” by Richard McElligott; and “The Kerry Girls: Emigration and the Earl Grey Scheme” by Kay Maloney Caball.
  • 2014 was the centennial of gun running operations at Larne (Ulster Volunteers) and Howth (Irish Volunteers), as well as the start of the Great War. … It also marked the 100th anniversary of the passage and suspension of Home Rule in Ireland. … October was the 90th anniversary of the closing of the Lartigue monorail in Kerry. … This year also was the 20th anniversary of the historic 1994 IRA ceasefire.
  • This year’s scandals included reporting (and misreporting) about infant and child deaths, illegal adoptions and vaccine trials at Catholic-run mother-and-baby homes in the early-to-middle 20th century. … Gerry Adams spent a few nights in custody about the 1972 abduction and murder of Jean McConville, a widow wrongly suspected of informing against the IRA. He also faced criticism about how he handled, or mishandled, allegations of rape by members of the IRA.
  • Organizers of St. Patrick’s Day parades in New York and Boston may have banned gays from marching for the last time in 2014. It now appears a gay veterans group will march in Boston and Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has welcomed gays in New York for 2015. … The 55th annual Rose of Tralee winner Maria Walsh revealed she was lesbian the day after being crowned. It wasn’t a big deal.
  • Ian Paisley, “the ultimate Orangeman,” died at 88. … Albert Reynold, a former Irish prime minister active in the Northern Ireland peace process, died at 81.
  • After a record-setting 18-month gap, the Obama administration finally nominated (and the Senate approved) St. Louis trial lawyer Kevin O’Malley as Ambassador to Ireland. … Former Senator Gary Hart was named U.S. Special Envoy to Northern Ireland, helping with a year-end deal in the province. … Kerry T.D. Jimmy Deenihan has been named Ireland’s first Minister of State for the Diaspora. … Emigration continued to be a major concern in Ireland, and some wondered if those who have left the country should be able to participate in elections back home.
  • Kerry won the All-Ireland Championship.

Early Christmas present: deal reached in North

The Irish and British governments and the five Northern Executive parties reached a wide-ranging agreement on budget and welfare reform, as well as the legacy of the Troubles and other contentious issues such as flags and Orange parades.

“On one of the darkest days in the bleak midwinter we have forged a broad agreement that will undoubtedly give rise to brighter days in Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland and indeed throughout the island of Ireland,” said Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan, as reported in The Irish Times.

The agreement, which still requires final ratification, also could clear the way for Northern Ireland to reduce its corporate tax rate, now 21 percent, to the same as Ireland’s, 12.5 percent, The New York Times said. That could happen by 2017, according to the The Wall Street Journal.

Ulster Bank has troubles in two Irish towns

I cover banking and money in my regular day job at the Washington Business Journal. That’s why these two bank-related stories in The Irish Times caught my eye.

An ATM machine at the Claremorris, County Mayo, branch of Ulster Bank began pushing out more than twice as much as what customers entered into the keyboard. “The result was that an unknown number of card holders walked off with funds for a Christmas shopping spree way in excess of what they had been planning,” the Times reported.

Naturally, the bank said it would trace the customers by their card and PIN identification, which is also input during the transaction. They’ll have to return the money.

ulster

In the other story, some 1,000 residents of Ferbane, County Offaly, marched to protest Ulster Bank’s decision to close the town’s last bank branch. The Times reported:

“…a coffin bearing the words “West Offaly Rip” was carried from a sports field outside town, by six pall bearers who placed it on the steps of the Ulster Bank in the town’s main street. The pall bearers were followed by a lone piper, children from local schools, traders, residents’ associations and members of local sporting groups and the IFA. Shops and businesses closed for the duration of the march and subsequent rally. …. One protester warned, “Ferbane will leave Ulster Bank, if Ulster Bank leaves Ferbane.”

“An Ulster Bank spokeswoman said banking had changed significantly over the last few years and “more of our customers are using digital technology to bank with us where and when it is convenient for them”.

It’s the same in the U.S., where big banks are pulling out of rural locations and focusing more on metropolitan areas.