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.


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 rte.ie.

An Orange Order parade. Image from rte.ie.


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.