Best of the Blog, 2017

Welcome to the fifth annual Best of the Blog, which follows my 2012 launch anniversary and 500th post in July. I hope you enjoy this Irish news and history feature year-in-review. I’ve got some great things planned for 2018, including … wait for it … my seventh trip to Ireland!


In 2017, the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly and fallout from Brexit created some of the biggest headlines, including debate about the border between the North and the Republic, and a surge of Irish passport applications from Ulster and other U.K. residents seeking E.U benefits.

Heading into 2018, it remains uncertain whether the nationalist/unionist power-sharing Assembly can be reconstituted by April’s 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. For now, it appears the island of Ireland will avoid check points and other hassles of a “hard border” once the North and Britain leave the E.U. in March 2019. Meanwhile, expect to hear more talk about a united Ireland, with the North welcomed into the E.U.

Among political personalities in 2017, Sinn Féin‘s Martin McGuinness died … Gerry Adams retired … the DUP’s leader Arlene Foster teamed with Tory PM Theresa May … and Fine Gael‘s Leo Varadkar replaced Enda Kenny as taoiseach. Much was made of the fact that Varadkar, just 38, is openly gay and the son of an Irish mother and Indian father. He leads a precarious governing partnership with Fianna Fáil that could easily erode and spark snap elections. … A national referendum is set for June on whether to repeal the constitutional amendment that bans most abortions. 

U.S. philanthropist and businessman Brian Burns, the grandson of Kerry emigrants, was nominated by the new Trump administration to replace former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Kevin O’Malley. Burns withdrew due to health concerns, however, and a replacement has not been named. Reece Smyth is the current chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Dublin. … In August, Daniel Mulhall became the new Irish Ambassador to the U.S.

The Past

Here is some of my original research and curated content about Irish and Irish-American history milestones in 2017.

170 years ago:

150 years ago: 

125 years ago:

100 years ago:

The Irish Americans

I produced original research about Irish prisoners in the U.S. during the late 19th and early 20th century:

Other stories about the Irish in America included:

The Irish shrine mural in Baltimore by artist Wayne Nield.

The Census

Ireland’s 2016 Census was released to the public in 2017. Among many details about modern Ireland, it shows:

The Church

I added to my list of St. Patrick’s Churches, with visits to:

  • Rome, Italy, where the church’s 1888 founding coincided with the papal warning about the Irish Land War.
  • Cumberland, Md., Newry, Pa. and Harrisburg, Pa., where Irish immigrant laborers and ascendant professionals carried the Catholic faith of their homeland to America.

Stained glass image of St. Patrick in Harrisburg, Pa. church.

The Media

I explored U.S. press coverage of Northern Ireland; Dublin media protesting descriptions of the Irish capital in an ESPN The Magazine profile of native son Conor McGregor; and Irish media “past, present and future.”

Freelance Stories:

In 2017, I published three stories outside the blog:

I have a story about the Famine set to publish in the Winter issue of Prologue, the magazine the National Archives and Records Administration. Two other pieces are under consideration with two other publications.

Guest Posts:

I always appreciate the offerings of guest bloggers, this year including:

Lovely Louth countryside. Photo by Cathy Cahill.

The Departed

  • Ronan Fanning, professor emeritus of modern Irish history at University College Dublin and the author of several books, in January at age 75.
  • Thomas Kenneth Whitaker, “the most influential public servant” in the history of the Republic of Ireland, in January, a month and a day after his 100th birthday.
  • Martin McGuinness, former IRA man and Sinn Féin leader, in March at age 66.
  • Dan Rooney, former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland and longtime owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, in April at 84.
  • Liam Cosgrave, former Irish prime minister, in October at age 97.
  • William Hastings, Northern Ireland hotelier, in December at age 89.

Visiting Ireland in 2018

  • Me, to Mayo and Dublin, in February
  • An exhibition from the Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., to Dublin and Cork, from March through October.
  • Pope Francis to Dublin, in August, with a possible historic side trip to Northern Ireland.

BOB Archive