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.

More troubles about the past for Adams; Hart named envoy

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams has new troubles with the past not six months since being released from police questioning about the 1972 abduction and murder of Jean McConville.

This time around Adams and republicans are facing harsh accusations about how they handled, or mishandled, allegations of rape by members of the IRA. Adams claims the charges are being politicized by opponents.

For perspective on IRA justice during the Troubles and the political implications of this scandal, in the North and the Republic, read this piece by Brian Feeney. He is head of history at St Mary’s University College in Belfast, and the author of Sinn Féin: A Hundred Turbulent Years and Insider: Life in the IRA.


An additional note about the North: former U.S. Senator and two-time presidential candidate Gary Hart has appointed to help jump-start political negotiations in Northern Ireland. As the Belfast Telegraph says with a sigh, Hart is “the latest in a decades-long parade of special U.S. peace process envoys — and a man long off the radar of mainstream American political life.”

But the story also contains this reality check:

One Washington insider with long-time involvement in Irish affairs said that Belfast’s politicians shouldn’t take high-level US governmental attention for granted. “Northern Ireland, like lots of places around the world, tends to think that their problems are the biggest on the board. And they aren’t,” he said.

Can Hart finish the work on “flags, parades and the past” that Richard Haas nearly concluded at the end of 2013? Let’s see.

Former Irish diplomat discusses Northern Ireland

Retired Irish diplomat John Rowan discussed the early years of the Northern Ireland peace process and other topics at a recent Irish Network DC event. Rowan joined Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs in 1974 and was posted to the Embassy in Washington in 1976, during some of the bloodiest days of the Troubles.

John Rowan at Irish Network DC event.

John Rowan at Irish Network DC event.

Rowan said nationalist leader John Hume was “a hero” of the earliest efforts to bring peace to Northern Ireland through a strategy that “broadened the problem” beyond Ulster’s borders.

In America, it initially was tough getting much interest from the Jimmy Carter Administration, Rowan said, because the president and his top advisers had no connections or interests in Irish affairs. The U.S. State Department was dominated by those who favored the “special relationship” with the United Kingdom, while much of Irish diaspora in America supported the IRA.

Hume’s efforts soon got a boost from four prominent Irish-American politicians: Senators Edward Kennedy and Daniel Moynihan, Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill and New York Governor Hugh Carey. They came to be known as the four horsemen.

“They visited Northern Ireland and they researched,” Rowan said. “They wanted people about a solution, not fighting for a solution.”

By 30 August 1977 Carter was persuaded to issue a key statement on U.S. policy in Northern Ireland, which signaled the start of America playing a more active role in the peace process. The statement said, in part:

The United States wholeheartedly supports peaceful means for finding a just solution that involves both parts of the community of Northern Ireland .and protects human rights and guarantees freedom from discrimination–a solution that the people in Northern Ireland, as well as the Governments of Great Britain and Ireland can support. Violence cannot resolve Northern Ireland’s problems; it only increases them and solves nothing.

“It was a game changer,” Rowan said. “We had another party interested in being our partner, a very powerful partner that would express its views. We also found that the diaspora was not monolithic in its support for armed struggle.”

Of course, it took another 21 years of incremental steps and set backs to reach the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Hume shared the Noble Peace Prize with unionist leader David Trimble. Since then the six counties of Ulster have enjoyed a level of peace and progress, if still imperfect, that was unimaginable in 1977.

Rowan said he expects to see “some derivation” of the Northern Ireland Executive created by the landmark agreement in the years ahead. “There will be some realignment on the nationalist and unions sides,” he said.

It’s possible, Rowan said, that Sinn Fein could eventually hold the position of First Minister instead of Deputy First Minister. He does not expect to see a unification referendum any time soon, nor does he believe the six counties might form their own statelet independent of Britain.

“That would not be viable,” he said, noting that Ulster is too dependent on government help to leave the U.K., which also why it’s unlikely the Republic would want to embrace the region. “The private sector is too fragile.”

O’Malley moves into U.S. Embassy in Ireland, now 50

St. Louis lawyer Kevin O’Malley has moved into the U.S. Embassy in Dublin as America’s new Ambassador to Ireland. All four of his grandparents emigrated from Westport, County Mayo.

In a welcome published in the Irish Independent, he writes:

How fortunate I feel to take up my new role as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland at this auspicious moment – and at a time when the relationship between our peoples and our governments holds such great promise. I am greatly honoured President Barack Obama asked me to represent the United States to a country I hold so dear.

Obama was criticized on both side of the Atlantic for taking 18 months to fill the position. Here’s O’Malley’s official video welcome:

He moves into the unique Ballsbridge building ahead of 50th anniversary celebrations in November. Here’s a video about embassy:

Should the Irish abroad be able to vote back home?

“The Irish abroad should be given a voice by being given a vote in our general elections, as other states allow their citizens,” writes Colum Kenny, professor of communications at Dublin City Universty and author of An Irish-American Odyssey: The remarkable rise of the O’Shaughnessy Brothers.

His op-ed in The Irish Times contends that current proposals to try such an arrangement by giving the diaspora a vote only in presidential polls are “patronizing.”

“And what of catches that deprive emigrants and their children of educational and social welfare benefits if they wish to return after living outside Ireland for some years?”

Be sure to read the lively comments about taxation and representation at the bottom of the post. An online poll was showing nearly 60 percent “yes” to allow overseas voting as of this post, Oct. 4, 2014.

A “dark year” for farm fatalities in Ireland

Farm deaths in rural Ireland have reached 23 as the year nears the three quarter mark. That’s seven more deaths than all last year and five more than the annual average of 18.

The Irish Times reports the surge of fatalities “comes at at time when there has never been a greater focus on farm safety.” The story reports that the Irish Farmers’ Association held the first National Farm Safety Awareness Day in July. A support group called Embrace Farm has also launched a video campaign called “What’s Left Behind” to call attention to the issue.

The primary causes of farm fatalities are, in descending order, tractor and other vehicles, machinery, animals, trips and falls, drowning, collapse of working platforms, wood/forestry related and electrocution, according to a May 2012 report by Teagasc, the agriculture and food development authority in Ireland.

The fatalities mentioned above apply only to the Republic and not the six counties of Northern Ireland. I was curious to see how these figures compared to the Ireland of 100 years ago, before partition, when more people were employed in less mechanized farming. So I uploaded the Annual Report of the Registrar-General for Ireland during the year 1914.

The statistical abstract contains nearly 200 “causes of death in Ireland,” which total 71,345 for the year, but there is not a category for farm fatalities. The report says there were 532 deaths from “injuries.” Assuming 5 percent of the total was related to agricultural work yields nearly 27 fatalities, or four more than the nine month total for the 26 counties.

I suspect the figure was likely much higher.

Letters to Ireland: Republic plans to modernize postal service

Every year I mail a Christmas card to a relation in Ireland who lives in the rural house where my grandfather was born in 1894. All that’s required for the address is the surname, the townland name, Lahardane, and County Kerry. No street name or number are required, because none exist.

That’s about to change.

The Republic is preparing to introduce postal codes in spring 2015. Each of the country’s more than 2.1 million residential and business addresses will be assigned a seven-digit mix of numbers and letter.

Some people worry the upgrade will erase a wee bit of Ireland’s small country charms. Others are happy to see the modernization. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Ireland has tried, and failed, to deliver a postal-code system before. But costs—and, until recently, resistance by postal workers—have stymied efforts. The current system comes with a price tag of $32 million and, this time, the stamp of approval of the country’s postal service. …

An Post, Ireland’s postal service, argued for years that postal codes were too expensive and complicated. There were also fears that postal codes would make it easier for private courier services to swoop in, triggering layoffs of postal workers. Supporters quietly argued that codes actually might boost post-office traffic by making it easier to send junk mail.

There are other concerns, as The Irish Times reports:

Critics say the opportunity has been missed to use Ireland’s clean-slate status to produce a technologically innovative postcode system that would be at the cutting edge globally; similar to the competitive leap that was provided when the State switched to a digital phone network in the 1980s, well ahead of most of the world. …

Because each postcode will reveal the exact address of a home or business, privacy advocates are concerned that online use of postcodes could link many types of internet activity, including potentially sensitive online searches, to a specific household or business.

Irish postal workers model new uniforms in front of the GPO in 2011.

Irish postal workers model new uniforms in front of the GPO in 2011.

The headquarters of Ireland’s mail service, the General Post Office in Dublin, was at the center of the 1916 Rising. It will be the focus of attention through April 2016 as the nation prepares to celebrate the centennial of the event. A museum on the site details “the little known story of the staff who were actually in the GPO on Easter Monday.”

I’ll look forward to sending a last Christmas card to Lahardane that doesn’t require a postal code. I know it will arrive safely.

Scotland votes ‘no’ as political waves hit Irish shores

The nationalist effort in Scotland was defeated 45 percent to 55 percent, but now a new debate begins over increasing devolved power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has wasted no time in reiterating republican calls for a border poll, while DUP First Minister Peter Robinson has rejected the idea. The Belfast Telegraph reports:

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers can call a border poll at any time, according to the 1998 Good Friday agreement that brought about peace. It also specifies that the cabinet minister shall order a referendum if it appears likely that a majority of those voting would seek to form part of a united Ireland. The proportion of Protestants has fallen to 48% from 53% 10 years ago, census data showed, while the proportion of Catholics increased to 45% from 44%.

Of course, not all Catholics would want a united Ireland, and surely some Protestants would quietly vote to break from the U.K., especially if the Irish economy continues to rebound, as discussed in my previous post.

Here’s another thought piece about some of the calculations in Northern Ireland, written before the vote, including whether London wants to keep its bond with Ulster. How strongly does Dublin want the six counties?

At the very least there is going to be a lot of discussion about devolving more power to Belfast, especially corporate tax rates. The Irish Times reports:

The big focus initially will be on whether the British government now allows the Northern Executive to bring corporation tax here in line with the general 12.5 per cent rate that applies in the South. David Cameron has already promised that he would make a decision on corporation tax soon after the completion of the referendum.

Many economists and most politicians believe that reducing the level of corporation tax from its current general figure of 21 per cent would be a “game changer” for Northern Ireland: it would boost international investment and create thousands more jobs.

The Celtic Tiger is purring again

The Irish economy is on the rebound according to recent news reports, and Ireland’s Ambassador to the U.S. Anne Anderson was only to happy to talk about it during a National Foreign Trade Council forum here in Washington. Here’s my coverage in the Washington Business Journal.


Anderson would not be drawn out on the potential economic impact to Ireland if Scotland votes for independence. She also declined to speculate about the possibility of a reunification vote with Northern Ireland within the next decade.

Ian Paisley, “the ultimate Orangeman,” dead at 88

The anti-Catholic, anti-Irish republic(an) firebrand was at the center of political turmoil during The Troubles. He eventually entered a power-sharing government with a former IRA man.

BBC obit here. Coverage from Irish Central here.

Before making headlines for shaking hands with Queen Elizabeth, former IRA man Martin McGuinness entered a power-sharing government with Paisley at Stormont. They became partners, even friends, who were nicknamed “the Chuckle Brothers.”

“Our relationship confounded everybody,” McGuinness says in this video clip, followed by comments from Gerry Adams: