Irish elections set for 26 February

A national election in Ireland has been set for 26 February, “one of the shortest election campaigns in the history of the State,” RTÉ reported. Certainly quicker than the U.S.

“Bookmakers, political scientists and election number crunchers,” predict that Taoiseach Enda Kenny will become the first Fine Gael leader to win back-to-back general elections,” The Guardian said. The turnaround of the Irish economy since the last general election in 2011 is certainly in his favor.

But Fine Gael support is at 28 percent, down two points from November, in the latest Irish Times poll. Fianna Fáil, ousted from leadership in the last general election of 2011, is up 2 points at 21 percent. Full poll here, and more discussion on this Times‘ “Inside Politics” podcast:


The election date falls on a Friday, the same as in 2011, which drew 62 percent turnout. Having voters go to the polls at week’s end is thought to help with the youth turnout.

The new Irish government will resume operations on 10 March.

The compact election calendar in Ireland is a stark contrast to the long grind of the U.S. presidential campaign. Only four of 50 states will have held primary or caucus elections for the Republican and Democratic presidential nominees before 26 February. Remaining primaries and caucuses are scheduled through June.

The winning nominees will not be officially named until party conventions in July. The fall general election campaign concludes with the vote on 8 November. The new president and Congress do not take office until January 2017.

Popular broadcaster Terry Wogan dies at 77

Sir Terry Wogan, a Limerick-born star of the British Broadcasting Corporation, died 31 January after a short bout with cancer. He was 77. Read the BBC’s obituary.

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In The Guardian, Martin Kettle writes that Wogan rarely drew explicit attention to his Irishness.

And yet, although he lived, worked and died in Britain, was knighted by the Queen, and was never reluctant to wave the union jack when the needs of the BBC required it, his Irishness was there whenever he opened his mouth. For more than 40 years he was probably the most prominent Irish person, and certainly the most familiar Irish voice, in Britain, rivaled for fame only by [footballer] George Best and Bono, neither of whom could match Wogan’s length of time in the spotlight.

…Whether he liked it or not, Wogan was a significant Irish presence in Britain right through the era of Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley. To some Irish nationalist eyes that may perhaps brand him as someone who made dubious accommodations with Britishness at a sensitive time. To his British listeners, however, and possibly to many of his Irish ones too, Wogan was a reminder that there was also much more to the British-Irish relationship than nationalist and loyalist politics, and that people on both sides of the Irish Sea have more in common than some of them sometimes like to pretend.

Irish Times columnist Martin Doyle wrote that “Ireland has had no finer ambassador to Britain.” Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny said Wogan “acted in no small way as a bridge between Ireland and Britain.”

Ireland 1916: By the numbers

With so much attention this year on the centennial of the 1916 Easter Rising, it seemed like a good time to recheck a great source of historical statistical data: the annual reports of the Registrar-General for Ireland. You can find the 1916 abstract, plus reports for 1887-1922, at the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency website, and other locations.

The London government’s annual snapshot for 1916 was released by Registrar-General E. O’Farrell on 10 July 1917 at Dublin Castle. The report contains only a brief reference to the events of Easter Week in the section of death data. It says:

VIOLENCE: The number of deaths registered in Ireland during the year 1916, as having been caused by violence in its various forms was 2,265, in comparison with 1,955 in 1915, and an average of 1,880 for the ten years 1906-1915. The 2,265 deaths in 1916 comprise 32 cases of homicide, 107 of suicide, and 2,126 other deaths by violence, including accidental cases. … Included in the latter are 412 deaths registered as having been caused by wounds received during the Rebellion of Easter Week. Among them are 315 deaths of civilians, and 97 of military and police, the 315 deaths among the civil population comprising 263 of males and 52 of females. Only 4 of the deaths by execution, following trials by courts-martial, were registered during the period up to 31st December last.

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The General Post Office after the Rising.

Contemporary sources use different figures for the Rising’s death toll. For example, research by the Glasnevin Trust shows 485 men, women and children “killed during or as a direct result” of the rebellion, or 54 percent of the total. The government executed 15 leaders in the immediate aftermath of the Rising, plus Roger Casement a few months later. The reason for the low count in the 1916 annual report is not clear.

The Rising occurred in the 20th month of the First World War, and the number of people leaving Ireland declined as the cost of living increased.

Emigration dropped to 7,302 people in 1916, a rate of 1.7 per 1,000 population (total 4.3 million). This was below the prior 10-year average of 28,071 (6.4 per 1,000) and marked the first time annual emigration fell below the 10,000 threshold since the government began keeping the annual record in 1851.

Read my previous blog post about emigration during Ireland’s revolutionary period, 1912-1923.

The 1916 abstract also includes the average prices of these common provisions: 9 pence for a 4-pound loaf of bread; 22 shillings, 6 pence per hundredweight of oatmeal; 6 shilling, 2 3/4 pence per hundredweight of potatoes; and 97 shillings per hundredweight of beef. These prices are all noticeably higher than previous years back to 1906 shown in the report.

The annual statistical reports were published by E. Ponsbury Ltd, 116 Grafton St., across the street from Trinity College Dublin. Today, the building is advertised as a swanky apartment and vacation rental.

Video, voices and other images of Ireland

The joys of life and the sorrow of death are expressed in two new artistic works focused on Ireland.

Mourning the loss of her husband, Dutch photographer Bertien van Manen made several visits to Ireland. The result: a 60-page collection of images titled Beyond Maps and Atlases(The title is derived from the final lines of the Seamus Heaney poem, “A Herbal.“)

It is “a book in which death is an oblique presence, hinted at in ghostly landscapes – mist-shrouded fields, looming trees, shadowy rural nightscapes – and in images of the Atlantic, that vast emptiness that lies beyond the west of Ireland,” Sean O’Hagan wrote in The Guardian. “It is also, inevitably, a book about the profound absence that the death of someone close leaves in its wake.”

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The statue of Jesus: Clifden, Connemara.

A more upbeat look at Ireland has been produced by native media company Sonder Visuals. The montage of drone-captured images of rural and urban, natural and built, Ireland fly past as quickly as the many voices (and dialects) that describe living there.

In a recent Facebook post, the Embassy and Consulates of Ireland USA describe this 9-minute video as “very insightful and beautiful.” Have a look-and listen-for yourself:

Fleeing to Ireland? Not so fast, Billy

Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly says he is “fleeing to Ireland” if Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (a registered independent and self-described democratic socialist) is elected president. “I’m not going to pay 90 percent of my income to that guy,” the conservative and combative host of “The O’Reilly Factor” said on his show.


Now the Washington Post‘s Henry Farrell, “a recent emigrant from Ireland and current U.S. citizen,” has written a piece suggesting O’Reilly might be surprised by what he finds in Ireland:

From the perspective of its Western European neighbors, Ireland is a small, market-friendly, right-of-center country. But from the perspective of American conservatism, Ireland looks like a hellhole of socialism.

Farrell notes that O’Reilly can’t claim Irish citizenship through ancestry because he is more than one generation removed from the island. His great grandfather was from Co. Cavan. A recent episode of “Finding Your Roots” profiled the Irish ancestry of O’Reilly, as well as Bill Maher and Soledad O’Brien. Watch it here.

Farrell continues that Ireland is not a conservative paradise. Taxes are high; gun ownership is highly restricted; and medicine is socialized.

“If O’Reilly really thinks that Ireland is a good alternative to a Sanders-led America,” Farrell concludes, “it’s probably because he’s unfamiliar with what Ireland is really like as a country.”

Farrell doesn’t mention the socialist strands of Irish revolutionary history, most notably 1916 leader James Connolly.

O’Reilly, no stranger to controversy, got into trouble last year for claiming that he saw “Irish terrorists kill and maim their fellow citizens in Belfast with bombs.” It turned out he only saw photographs shown by police while on a freelance reporting trip to Northern Ireland in 1984, for a book he never finished.


Thanks to my lovely wife, Angie Drobnic Holan, who tipped me to the Post story and the PBS show. 


Alan Rickman, portrayed Dev, dies at 69

Alan Rickman, the British actor who 20 years ago portrayed Éamon de Valera, died 14 January at age 69.

The Irish Times said Rickman’s “delicious, purse-mouthed take” on the American-born Irish leader in Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins (top) “could hardly have been less flattering if the old fixer (bottom) had horns sprouting from his temples.”

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Irish tourism can’t rely on ‘hazy green image’

Irish tourism could grow by as much as 6 percent this year, building on last year’s success, Fáilte Ireland said in its annual review and forecast, released 11 January. The report said:

The recent upturn in tourism fortunes, although very welcome, has been fueled largely by factors external to the tourism industry. Improving economies of key source markets, favorable exchange rates and increased air access all contributed to making 2015 a record year. To build on this initial success, the next phase of growth must be driven by factors from within the sector including; sustaining better value for money and offering more compelling and authentic branded visitor experiences rather than relying on a hazy green image and warm welcome.

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Of course, some of this year’s visitor increase will be driven by black-and-white images of the 1916 Easter Rising, and the very colorful live events commemorating the centennial, especially in the first third of the year. Sustained efforts such as Ireland’s Ancient East and Wild Atlantic Way are also drawing tourists.

The Republic’s tourism authority has raised a few concerns:

The prospect of external shocks, over which the industry has no control, has been highlighted by the recent tragic events in Paris and the consequent lock down of Brussels.  Tourism businesses have raised the possibility that this may have a negative impact on tourism from long haul markets and particularly, the United States.

The report also warns of an “acute shortage” hotel rooms in Dublin city, causing room rates to increase markedly year on year and creating a danger of business being lost due to supply constraints. An estimated 5,000 additional rooms are needed in the capital region.

Good Friday Agreement generation reaching age 18

Northern Ireland is reaching a key demographic milestone this year: children born just before or after the April 1998 Good Friday Agreement are reaching adulthood. They’re turning 18.

The Irish Times has interviewed 10 of these young people “about their lives, attitudes and expectations.” The BBC did a similar piece at the 15th anniversary of the peace accord in 2013.

Just under 25,000 people in Northern Ireland turn 18 this year, or 1.3 percent of the 1.86 million living in the six counties, according to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. The largest age cohort are 51, born in 1964-1965, or just before the Troubles. Nearly 27,000, or 1.4 percent, are in this group.

Here are a few select quotes from young people interviewed by the Times:

It’s like one step forward, two steps back. The DUP and Sinn Féin refuse to set aside their differences, and that’s something that annoys me every day. There would be so much more progress if they would really work together properly.


The people here are the best in the world. They’re so friendly they’ll just sit down beside you, when you’re on the train or whatever, and have a random conversation with you. You don’t get that anywhere else.


The trouble here is that some people still think the history is the present. They’re so caught up in the past. … The past isn’t irrelevant, no way. It’s still history. It’s important to learn about the terrible events that happened.


The best thing about Belfast is seeing it move on. Twenty or 30 years ago you would still worry about where you could go, who you could see. I’m part of this change. I can go where I want. I both hate the place and love it – but I’m changing it right now by going down that street.

Mary Robinson on climate change, women’s leadership

Recent flooding in Ireland is linked to global climate change, and those who live on the island can “expect more in the future,” says former Irish President Mary Robinson. Nevertheless, 2015 marked a “significant year for sustainable development” around the world, thanks in part to the milestone climate accord reached in Paris in December.

Robinson spoke 6 January 2016 at the the fourth annual Nollaig na mBan breakfast in Washington, D.C., (photos in previous post). The event, hosted by the Irish American Partnership, raised $12,000 for Ireland’s first presidential library, appropriately honoring the Republic’s first woman president. See my earlier post.

Robinson, who participated in the climate conference, said the gathering of nearly 200 countries was most notable for the attention that was given to smaller, more vulnerable nations. While “the agreement is weak,” she said, “business will have heard that signal” and have to act accordingly.

“This is a new stage in the way we will live with Mother Nature,” Robinson said. “We are in a new era where women’s leadership matters more than ever.”

Here’s Robinson’s September 2015 TED Talk on “Why climate change is a threat to human rights.” And here’s a December 2015 Democracy Now interview with Robinson from Paris.

Robinson did not address the 1916 Easter Rising centennial, or 2016 elections in Ireland and the U.S. (which could produce America’s first woman president). Such matters dominated the breakfast chatter before Robinson’s talk. It appears she wanted to keep the “honorable tradition” (her term) of past presidents avoiding direct comment on Irish policy and politics.


The Irish American Partnership also released its 2015-2016 Annual Campaign Report during the event. The Partnership “works to empower the next generation of Irish leaders by supporting educational initiatives through direct grants to primary schools, science teacher training, university access scholarships, employment learning programs and … provides forums for visiting leaders from Ireland to speak in the U.S., connecting Irish-Americans with their heritage and promoting economic development through tourism, trade, and mutual exchange.

Mary Robinson addresses Nollaig na mBan in Washington, D.C.

Former Irish President Mary Robinson gave the keynote speech at the fourth annual Nollaig na mBan hosted by the Irish American Partnership. The event celebrates Irish and Irish-American female leaders and the positive impact they have worldwide.

Former Irish President Mary Robinson gave the keynote address at the fourth annual Nollaig na mBan hosted by the Irish American Partnership. The event celebrates Irish and Irish-American female leaders and the positive impact they have worldwide. Her first-in-Ireland presidential library will open in 2017.

Mary Robinson greets guests at the Nollaig na mBan event in Washington, D.C.

Mary Robinson greets guests at the Nollaig na mBan event in Washington, D.C., 6 January 2016.