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.


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.

Dublin gets double exposure in NYT

The New York Times has published two complimentary travel-style pieces about Dublin in less than a month.

The newspaper spotlighted the capital in its “36 hours in … ” feature Nov. 12. The story began:

Dublin’s been through tumultuous change in recent decades, from the Celtic Tiger years, when BMWs were de rigueur, to the post-crash depression, when the cacophony of incessant building suddenly went silent. Today, signs of economic recovery are emerging, but it’s a more refined wave of affluence than what the flashy boom years had to offer. The city is finding a new way to exist — neither ostentatious with wealth nor bowed down under debt.

The Times published a second story, “Christmas in Dublin: Good Cheer and Great Deals, on Dec. 9. Writer Ratha Tep praised “a newly energized city rich not only with jovial cheer, but also an abundance of artisan offerings and a creative, literary spirit. Better yet, much of it can been enjoyed frugally, all in the city’s compact, eminently walkable center.”

The positive media coverage is good for business. Tourism Ireland projects 7.74 million visitors will come to Ireland in 2015, surpassing the previous record year of 2007 (my story from my visit that year) and a 6 percent gain on the expected total for this year.

O'Connell Street Bridge.

O’Connell Street Bridge.


Ireland’s Catholic Church records to go online summer 2015

Great news for genealogists and historians who can’t get to Ireland: the National Library of Ireland is digitizing all Catholic Church records in Ireland. They will be available by summer 2015, for free.

“The records are considered the single most important source of information on Irish family history prior to the 1901 Census.  Dating from the 1740s to the 1880s, they cover 1,091 parishes throughout Ireland, and consist primarily of baptismal and marriage records,” NLI said in a statement.

The National Diaspora Programme, Ireland Reaching Out (Ireland XO), has welcomed making the resources available online without charge, IrishCentral reported. Another article in Crux was brought to my attention by the lovely Angie Drobnic Holan.

Irish Network DC hosts third annual charity fundraiser

My wife and I were pleased to attend and support Irish Network DC’s Third Annual Charity Reception at the Dupont Circle Hotel. Ambassador of Ireland to the U.S. Anne Anderson was among the many guests.

The event helped raise money for Solas Nua (new light), which is dedicated to bringing fresh Irish artistic talent to American audiences, and Co-operation Ireland, an all-island peace-building charity. Read more about each group from the provided hyperlinks, and donate if you can.

Nollaig Shona Dhuit !




A man, his camera and over 200 Kerry cemeteries

What started as a hobby turned into a job and became an obsession.

Now Tralee resident Joe Maher has created a website filled with headstone images from more than 200 County Kerry cemeteries, representing more than 130,000 dearly departed since the 1770s.

Joe Maher. Image from Irish Mirror.

Joe Maher. Image from Irish Mirror.

“The idea came to me when I started my family tree in 2008 and hit many dead ends,” Maher, no pun intended, writes in the About page of his website, www.kerryburials.com. He started the job in May 2013 and just finished up last month.

“I took more than 50,000 pictures and I did things like clear away ivy and fill in faded lettering with white chalk to make sure I got the right shot,” Maher told the Irish Mirror. “The photographs need to be properly indexed, which could take four or five years and money I don’t have.”

Kay Caball of the always excellent My Kerry Ancestors website and blog also wrote a post about Maher. Both sites contain useful links for genealogists and history buffs with an interest in Kerry.

Maher’s photo collection includes the Celtic cross and burial marker of my maternal relatives, the Diggin family of Lahardane townland on Knockanore Hill, just outside Ballybunion. Thirteen members of the family are buried at Kilehenney Cemetery on the Sandhill Road, near the entrance of the Ballybunion Golf Club.

Now Maher is beginning to photograph and index headstones from County Cork. Support his efforts with a donation if you can.

Irish Water protests changing Irish politics?

“People are no longer afraid of the Government. They’re increasingly aware that the Government is afraid of them.” — Paul Murphy, Irish Socialist Party

Months of protest over proposed water changes in Ireland have forced a major U-turn by the government. Here’s news coverage from IrishCentral, plus a background piece from the BBC.

But below the surface of water charges are deeper political issues.

Some protests were violent and represent “an anarchic campaign being fomented by extreme left-wing factions across the country to undermine democratic politics,” Stephen O’Byrnes writes in the Irish Times.

But Conor Pope suggests Irish protesters “should pat themselves on the back … for putting manners on the Government like never before.” He wonders if “had they done a little bit more, a little bit sooner, could the worst ravages of the austerity age have been avoided?”

A recent Irish Times‘ “Inside Politics” podcast explores the present and future state of Irish politics. Click on “Fractured Democracy” from this link.

Irish scientist was climate change pioneer

I discovered a connection to Ireland in a New York Times op-ed about the environmental impact of the Civil War. It’s also a reminder of how the past continues to influence the present.

[The Civil War] was an environmental catastrophe of the first magnitude, with effects that endured long after the guns were silenced. It could be argued that they have never ended. … The overwhelming need to win the war was paramount, and outweighed any moral calculus about the [environmental] price to be borne by future generations. Still, that price was beginning to be calculated – the first scientific attempt to explain heat-trapping gases in the earth’s atmosphere and the greenhouse effect was made in 1859 by an Irish scientist, John Tyndall.

John Tyndall from europena blog.

John Tyndall from europena blog.

Tyndall was born in 1820 in County Carlow. He life spanned from Catholic Emancipation through the Great Famine and up the second Home Rule Bill of 1893. Here’s a fuller biography from the Tyndall National Institute, a namesake scientific research center based at University College Cork. There’s also a Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research based in England (plus a mountain in California and a glacier in Colorado.)

This BBC piece by Richard Black details Tydall’s  “far-from-snappy title[d]” study, “On the Absorption and Radiation of Heat by Gases and Vapours, and on the Physical Connexion of Radiation, Absorption, and Conduction.”

What Tyndall had demonstrated for the first time was that gases in the atmosphere absorb heat to very different degrees; he had discovered the molecular basis of the greenhouse effect. … Tyndall’s lab experiments do not prove that humanity’s CO2 emissions are warming the planet … because in the real world, other factors can influence and outweigh those lab findings. But Tyndall did show how man-made global warming can work; and he did so 150 years ago.

Gerry Adams’ poor history threatens all journalists

What to make of Gerry Adams’ recent observations about Michael Collins’ tactics with the critical media of nearly 100 years ago? Speaking at a $500-a-plate Friends of Sinn Féin fundraiser in New York City, he said:

He [Collins] went in, sent volunteers in, to the [newspaper] offices, held the editor at gunpoint, and destroyed the entire printing press. That’s what he did. Now I can just see the headline in the Independent tomorrow, I’m obviously not advocating that.

As context, Adams and the Irish Independent have feuded for years. Now Adams is feeling extra pressure related to the Mairia Cahill abuse scandal.

According to the Independent:

…there is no evidence that Michael Collins or any of his followers held a gun to the editor of the Irish Independent/Freeman’s Journal. In 1919, a crowd of IRA men smashed the printing presses because of the newspaper’s criticisms; in 1922, Rory O’Connor, a Republican leader, smashed the presses because the newspaper was pro-Michael Collins.

Regardless the historical inaccuracy of Adams’ remark, the Independent‘s editors and other journalists in Ireland and elsewhere are outraged by the comment. An Independent editorial said:

If Mr Adams knew a little bit more about the Republic, he might understand the sensitivities of the Irish media about journalists being held at gunpoint. Someone might tell Mr Adams that Veronica Guerin, a crusading journalist, wife and mother, was murdered at gunpoint.Mr Adams might also recall that the courageous journalist Martin O’Hagan, who was kidnapped by the IRA, was shot by their terrorist kissing cousins the LVF.

The National Union of Journalists’ Irish organizer Seamus Dooley told the Independent his group opposes threats to journalist from politicians.

The price of seeking election is accepting that you will be held to account. Mr Adams is free to dislike the Sunday Independent but he is not free to threaten or use bullying language towards journalists. It is ironic that he should make his comments in America, where freedom of expression is prized. I also would remind Mr Adams that journalists are workers who deserve the right to be treated with dignity in the conduct of their job. If he has a complaint, let him lodge a complaint with the Press Ombudsman.

Joel Simon of the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists told the Independent:

While we realize Gerry Adams was joking when he made a remark about ‘holding an editor at gunpoint’, we are not amused. We are living through a period of record violence against journalists around the world. Quite simply this is not a laughing matter.

To date, neither of the media organizations has issued statements on their websites to bolster their comments reported by the Independent. And other than IrishCentral‘s coverage of the dinner, I haven’t seen any U.S. media reaction to Adams’ remarks.

Adams tells the same story about Collins and the press in his personal blog without the qualification that he is “obviously not advocating that.” He uses the episode and other stories of violence from Ireland’s revolutionary period to expose the hypocrisy of contemporary politicians who praise Collins but “ignore the brutality and the violence the men and women of that generation of the IRA” while condemning the IRA of the late 20th century.

I’ve given Adams the benefit of the doubt more often than not over the years. He played a critical role in helping to end the Troubles, and I general support his party’s goal of reunifying the 32 counties. But as a career journalist I can’t abide casual cracks about holding editors at gunpoint or destroying printing press. Instead of telling the dinner crowd he wasn’t advocating such action against the Independent, Adams should have noted the important role of a free press, even one that’s critical of him, in a free country.

But to me what’s more disturbing than Adams’ remark is reporting about the “laughter” and guffaws it drew from those well-heeled Irish-American supporters of Sinn Féin. Their amusement at threats to the free press scares me more than Adams.

Ireland hit by “forgotten famine” after revolutionary period

There’s a lot of attention being focused on the centennial anniversaries of Ireland’s revolutionary period, 1912 to 1923, which continues to reverberate through the island’s politics, economy and society.

But the death and misery of the period did not subside after the civil war ended in May 1923. A new report by online historian Fin Dwyer at irishhistorypodcasts.ie details the “forgotten famine” of 1924-1925. He writes:

The harvest in 1923 and, in particular, 1924 was nothing short of disastrous. The weather, while not particularly cold, was unusually wet. Crop yields collapsed.  The potato – still the main food source for many rural poor – rotted in the fields. Fodder was impossible to find and animal stocks died in large numbers from hunger related diseases. To compound this crisis, it was not possible to dry out turf – the main fuel source for the rural poor. ….

Even though the government voted through £500,000 in aid, the crisis continued to deepen and by early January 1925, the worst predictions began to materialise in the west. … President W.T. Cosgrave described the situation of distress as “considerably greater than normal, but comparison with 1847 is, I am glad to say not justified. There is no question of famine in that sense.” Using the worst famine in modern European history as a bench mark nevertheless illustrated the depth of crisis.

But Dwyer goes on to detail how the governing Cumann na nGaedheal party engaged in a “callous and dangerous denial and cover up” as news of the starvation, especially in the West of Ireland, began to attract international attention. He writes:

Concerned with the interests of large farmers and their emerging new state, this fear of international rebuke touched a nerve with Irish politicians. After only three years of Independent rule, they were nothing short of hypersensitive about the country’s international image. When faced with a choice of downplaying the starvation or risking their international reputation, the choice was simple for the politicians of Cumann na nGaedhael.

Great piece by Dwyer. Give it a read.

Buying history at “independence sales” in Ireland

Historian Diarmaid Ferriter is calling on wealth collectors to buy up artifacts from Ireland’s revolutionary period and donate them to the Republic.

In an opinion piece for the Irish Times, he writes:

Auction houses have been gleefully trumpeting their “independence sales” in recent times, as they seek to drum up business selling Irish historical memorabilia from the 1916-1923 period. … There is something unseemly about this kind of historical artifact being traded in this way, but it is equally a pity that those who have the wealth to buy them do not see fit to donate them to the State, thereby bringing significant pieces of our heritage into public ownership.

Ferriter is a member of the Expert Advisory Group on Centenary Commemorations, which is focused on recognizing the historical events of 1912 to 1922. Lots of great stuff on the website linked above.