GAA and NCAA football games capture Ireland’s attention

Ireland hosted two huge football games Saturday [30 August]; a GAA semifinal match in Limerick between Kerry and Mayo, and an NCAA season opener in Dublin between Penn State University and University of Central Florida.

Kerry and Penn State walked off as winners in thrilling games that each came down to the final minute (and overtime for Kerry-Mayo).

This was the fifth time U.S. college teams have played the American version of football in Ireland, a game that has been called the Emerald Isle Classic, the Shamrock Classic and, this year, the Croake Park Classic. The event is aimed at attracting Irish-American visitors to Ireland.

ESPN reported, “Penn State players received the Dan Rooney Trophy, a football made of ancient Irish bog wood that was specially commissioned for the game.” Rooney is owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and a former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland.

The Kerry-Mayo contest was the rematch from an earlier game that ended in a tie. The GAA relocated west to Limerick because of the NCAA game, a decision that generated its share of grumbling. From the Irish Independent:

When players imagine and talk about playing on the big stage, that’s Croke Park they’re imagining and talking about. When you and I think of All-Ireland games, we think of walking up to Croke Park. And the spike in your stomach when you catch the first glimpse of the stadium and everything it houses for you, your family and your team. Memories, maybe medals and most definitely magic.

My wife and I watched the GAA contest at Fadó Irish Pub in Washington, where fans of the Kingdom heavily outnumbered Mayo supporters. Here’s the game report. We look forward to watching the final contest 21 September against the winner of the Dublin – Donegal match.

Historic IRA ceasefire hits 20th anniversary

Recognising the potential of the current situation and in order to enhance the democratic process and underlying our definitive commitment to its success, the leadership of the IRA have decided that as of midnight, August 31, there will be a complete cessation of military operations. All our units have been instructed accordingly.

– Irish Republican Army ceasefire statement of August 1994

Some great coverage of this historic event is emerging from Irish and British media outlets.

Writing for the BBC, Vincent Kearney recounts obtaining the ceasefire statement through a republican source as a reporter for the Belfast Telegraph. He tells the back story leading up to the deal, such as the secret meetings between Gerry Adams and John Hume facilitated by a Catholic priest at Clonard Monastery.

Kearney recalls the violence preceding the Downing Street Declaration between prime ministers John Major of Britain and the recently deceased Albert Reynolds of Ireland. He also quotes republican leader and now Deputy First Minster Martin McGuinness:

People make a mistake if they think that the engagement that took place between ourselves and the British government back channel, for want of a better word, was the motivating factor in bringing about the IRA ceasefire of 1994, that’s not the way the process worked. What brought about the IRA ceasefire was the coming together of Irish America, support from the White House, the Albert Reynolds input and, of course, the initiative led by Gerry Adams and by John Hume, with the support of Father Alec Reid.

Adams, Reynolds and Hume shortly after the IRA ceasefire. Belfast Telegraph image.

Adams, Reynolds and Hume shortly after the IRA ceasefire. Belfast Telegraph image.

The Irish Times has a couple of pieces by two insiders. Nancy Soderberg, a foreign policy adviser to former President Bill Clinton, details the persistence of Reynolds and others to obtain a visa for IRA man Joe Cahill to sell the ceasefire to republican hardliners in the U.S. Former Reynolds press secretary Seán Duignan tells the same story from the Irish side.

Henry George and land agitation in Ireland

Writing in The Irish Story, Barry Sheppard details how a 19th century American writer and economist influenced Irish land reform. He says in the post:

The name Henry George is not normally one which is automatically associated with Irish land reform, indeed he has been all but forgotten, even by those interested in the history of Irish and international land reform. Yet at various stages his name crops up in relation to Irish land reform from the period of the Land War in the 1880s through to the 1930s and beyond, when a new period of Irish land reform gathered pace under a domestic administration.

George traveled to Ireland in 1881 to cover the Land War for The Irish World newspaper. He spent a year in the country speaking about his views on a single tax on land, which he believed should be nationalized rather than held by individual owners. More about George’s life and views here.

GeorgeDuring his stay in Ireland George was arrested twice by the ruling British authorities. He was able to have a letter smuggled to U.S. President Chester A. Arthur, which was published on the front page of The Washington Post on Sept. 17, 1882:

I would not, Mr. President, think of addressing you on this subject were my case an isolated one, as then it would merely show an abuse of power by certain individual officials.  But, on the contrary, such cases are constantly occurring, and many American citizens have already in various parts of this country been subjected to similar, and even to much worse indignities and hardships — and this evidently not by accident, but because of being Americans.

The British later apologized for the two detentions, but not before the Land League was able to capitalize for its own benefit. Such incidents, Terry Golway writes in his John Devoy biography “Irish Rebel” (see my previous post) helped “raise the Irish-American movement from its ratholes.”

George’s influence in Ireland lasted decades beyond his death in 1897, according to Sheppard.

That he was for all intents and purposes and outsider makes his impact even more impressive.  It is also his status as an outsider which has also kept him on the periphery of Irish history.

Statue of John Devoy planned for Kildare

Irish Central posted a story about efforts to erect a life-size bronze statue of Irish rebel John Devoy in his hometown of Naas, County Kildare. Plans call for raising $45,000 for the commission and installation, which is targeted for September 2015, six month before the Easter Rising centennial.

DEVOY2Here’s a quick glimpse at Devoy’s fascinating life, from his 1871 exile to America as a convicted Fenian to organizing the rescue of other Irish rebels imprisoned in Australia. He influenced Irish politics through the Land War period, the Rising and War of Independence. I highly recommend Terry Golway’s excellent biography, “Irish Rebel: John Devoy and America’s Fight for Irish Freedom.”

Here’s a link to the John Devoy Memorial Fund to contribute.

A view I’d love to see for myself

More evidence the world is getting smaller.

The FiveThirtyEight blog has an interesting post about Geograph, which has collected photographic images of nearly all the 244,034 one-kilometer squares of Great Britain and 41 percent of the 87,933 grid squares on the island of Ireland (Republic and Northern Ireland).

“Geograph was started by geography enthusiasts, sponsored by the government, rescued from a chaotic collapse by its devoted contributors and populated with millions of photos from thousands of people around the island nations it covers,” Carl Bialik writes in the post.

Naturally, I went to the site to look for familiar sights from my ancestral homeland of north Kerry. One in particular caught my eye.


The 2010 image by Graham Horn (copyrighted but licensed for reuse) is taken from the Loop Head Peninsula of southwest County Clare. The view is looking east toward Kerry and Ballybunion on the far side of the Shannon estuary. The peak in the background over the top of the lookout tower is Knockanore Hill, where my grandfather was born.

I’ve made numerous visits to the Ballybunion strand and the 880-foot top of Knockanore, where I’ve looked across the Shannon estuary at the distant shore of Loop Head. But I’ve never been to the Clare peninsula to look back at the north Kerry coast, as in this image.

It remains a view I’d still like to see for myself someday.

In his post, Bialik also discusses Google’s Street View and raises the question of whether Geograph could ever go global. Satellites and digital technology have made such near total photographic coverage of the earth possible. But it isn’t a new idea.

Early in the 20th century French banker and philanthropist Albert Kahn dispatched teams of photographers with bulky Authochrome cameras. His project, called “Archives of the Plant,” featured images from more than 50 countries, including what are still believed to be the first color photos of Ireland in 1913.

Two of three Aran Islands require water imports

Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Two of the three Aran Islands are running dry of drinking water and have required a massive importing operation from Galway. Inis Meain and Inis Oirr need the help, while the largest island, Inis Mor, has so far avoided problems, the Irish Independent reports.

The problem is caused by a combination of low rainfall, porous limestone terrain that makes it difficult to retain water in reservoirs, and high supply demand from visiting summer tourists.


Remarks of former taoiseach stir debate over Home Rule, revolution


Some thoughtful pieces have been added to the debate: Ronan Fanning writes on why it is unwise to commemorate the September 1914 Home Rule Bill. Stephen Collins says that Bruton’s proposal deserves serious consideration. Both are good reads.


Former taoiseach John Bruton has stirred up debate in Ireland by insisting that it’s better to note the centenary of Home Rule, this September, than the 1916 Easter Rising and subsequent War of Independence.

Such armed revolutions would have been “completely unnecessary,” Burton says, if Ireland had stuck to the parliamentary path. In public comments and a post on his website, Bruton argues:

Ireland could have achieved better results, for all the people of the island, if it had continued to follow the successful non violent parliamentary Home Rule path, and had not embarked on the path of physical violence, initiated by the IRB and the Irish Citizen Army in Easter Week of 1916.


Others disagree, among them (no surprise here) Gerry Adams. He was quoted in The Irish Times as saying:

For the record, the 1916 Rising was a seminal event in Irish history, a decisive blow in the struggle for Irish freedom. It is incredible that a former taoiseach – a position that would never have existed but for the Easter Rising and the [Black and] Tan War – would denigrate the sacrifice of the participants and their families in this way.”

And here’s a more detailed op-ed by Éamon Ó Cuív, a grandson of Irish-American republican leader Éamon de Valera.

Of beauty pageants and birthdays


Boston native Maria Walsh, who moved to Mayo and now lives in Philadelphia, was named the 2014 Rose of Tralee. A few days later she came out as gay.


The Rose of Tralee and me each date to 1959. We’re both 55 this month.

I noticed the coincidence reading some news coverage of the annual event, which takes place this year 15-20 August. I follow @RoseofTralee on my @markieam Twitter feed because of the Kerry connection.

The Rose of Tralee International Festival is based on the love song “The Rose of Tralee” about the impossible union of 19th century merchant William Pembroke Mulchinock for his family’s maid, Mary O’Connor.

She was lovely and fair as the rose of the summer,
Yet ’twas not her beauty alone that won me.
Oh no, ’twas the truth in her eyes ever dawning
That made me love Mary, the Rose of Tralee.

Here are the song lyrics; the story of William and Mary; and a detailed history of the event, all from the festival’s official website.

Winner Haley O Sullivan from Texas is congratulated by fellow contestants at last year's Rose of Tralee event. Image from Irish Independent.

Winner Haley O’Sullivan from Texas is congratulated by fellow contestants at last year’s Rose of Tralee event. Image from Irish Independent.

Of course, many people scoff at such pageants as being hopelessly old fashioned or exploitative of the young women. “I know people snigger at it, but over a million people watch it every year, they’re over run with girls interested in being part of it,” RTÉ weather presenter and festival judge Nuala Carey told the Irish Independent.

And if the event helps the Kerry economy, all the better.

The Rose festival is the Irish version of the 92-year-old Miss America Pageant, which last year returned to its Atlantic City roots after running off to Las Vegas for several years. I covered the pageant in the early 1980s as a young reporter in Atlantic City. I was a peer of the contestants. But I missed history, having left the city a year before the first African-American winner was crowned, an event nearly as dramatic as the U.S. electing its first black president 25 years later.

Likewise, the Rose of Tralee has expanded from a field of local colleens from the town or Kerry to an international pool that welcomes young women of “Irish birth or ancestry.” The reigning Rose is from Texas. Who in 1959 would have thought that was possible?

I suppose I have a soft spot in my heart for both events. After all, what’s not to like about youth, beauty and talent, and the late summer festivals that bring people together to celebrate all three?

Centennial of Howth gun running/Bachelor’s Walk killings

Before the Easter Rising of April 1916, there was the Howth gun running and Bachelor’s Walk killings of late July 1914.

John Dorney sets the stage in this overview for The Irish Story website:

In the summer of 1914 Ireland was in turmoil over whether Home Rule or self government would be granted to it. In the north the Ulster unionists had formed their own militia, the Ulster Volunteer Force to resist Irish self government. In April they imported over 25,000 rifles and five million rounds of ammunition at Larne. In June, 60 officers at the British Army garrison on the Curragh threatened to resign their commissions if they were ordered to occupy strategic positions in Ulster in aid of the civil power.

Guns being landed at Howth in 1914. National Museum of Ireland via The Irish Times.

Guns being landed at Howth in 1914. National Museum of Ireland via The Irish Times.

In response to these events, Irish Volunteers landed some 1,500 surplus Mauser rifles from Germany at Howth on a sunny Sunday at the end of the July. Outnumbered Dublin police and British troops were mostly helpless to stop the weapons from being spirited away. But the day devolved into violence as the troops were heckled returning to their barracks and opened fire on the crowd. Three people were killed and dozens were injured.

While the weapons haul of the nationalists was a small fraction of that secured months earlier by unionists, “it was clear the political and military temperature in Ireland was dangerously high, and the arms had been landed in defiance of a British proclamation prohibiting such importations,” Diarmaid Ferriter writes in the Irish Independent.

This critical event of Ireland’s revolutionary period was overshadowed a few days later with the start of World War I, and 21 months later in the Rising.

Blog celebrates second anniversary; book finds home in libraries

This month the blog celebrates its second anniversary, a total of more than 200 posts. Thanks to all those readers who have clicked on the content and sent notes of support.

The biggest developments of the past year were publishing my book, “His Last Trip: An Irish American Story,” and moving to Washington, D.C., where I’ve been more plugged into Ireland through Irish Network D.C., which has sponsored speaker events about Northern Ireland, the Republic’s banking and economic crisis, and the police and criminal justice services on both side of the boarder.

Regarding my book, I’m happy to report that copies have been accepted at the Carnegie Library and the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh; the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Washington, Pa.; and the County Kerry Library in Tralee. I checked the Kerry library’s online catalog recently and was pleased to see the book was checked out. Due Aug. 8.

Here a link back to my 2013 serialized version, “Willie’s Emigration Centennial.”

A copy of my book about my grandfather Willie Diggin, and his streetcar company lunchbox with name engraved in the top.

A copy of my book about my grandfather Willie Diggin, and his streetcar company lunchbox with name engraved in the top. The book is available in libraries and archives in Pittsburgh and Kerry.