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About admin

I am a proud Irish-American journalist living in metro Washington, D.C. In 1997 I claimed Irish citizenship through my maternal grandparents from Lahardane townland (Ballybunion) and Kilelton townland (Ballylongford) in north County Kerry. I have made five trips to Ireland since 2000, exploring most of the island, including the partitioned north. I have published numerous articles about Ireland in newspapers, magazines and websites, including my online blog. I received a Journalism Fellowship from the German Marshall Fund of the United States that paid for a month-long reporting trip to Ireland in 2001. I generally support the reunification of the island of Ireland for reasons of historical and geographic integrity. I recognize there are vast differences in the religious, social and political traditions of north and south, just as I realize there are differences between native Irish and Irish Americans.

December 1918: The bishop & the president

This is the first in a series of short posts exploring December 1918 events that became a turning point in the struggle for Irish independence. In Ireland, the republican Sinn Féin party routed the 19th century home party in the first parliamentary elections since 1914. This set the stage for the Irish War of Independence, which began in January 1919. In America, Irish immigrants and their first-generation offspring submitted hundreds of letters and petitions, and held public rallies, to pressure the U.S. government to support Irish freedom. A U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing highlighted their efforts. MH

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Ireland and other small nations seeking independence from imperial rulers seized on the January 1918 words of President Woodrow Wilson: “National aspirations must be respected. Self determination is not a mere phrase; it is an imperative principle of action.”

Supporters of Irish independence in Ireland and in America, whether immigrants or their offspring, embraced “self-determination” more than any other ethnic group. And they weren’t shy about demanding it.

Shahan

Bishop Thomas Joseph Shahan, rector of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., wrote a Nov. 30 letter to Wilson.1

In keeping these words of truth, we hold that the right of Ireland to ‘self-determination’ is immeasurably stronger than that of any other nation for which you have become the advocate. Moreover, Ireland’s claims are a hundredfold reinforced by her centuries of brave, though unavailing, struggle against foreign domination, tyranny, and autocracy.

A similar appeal by “the principal Irish societies of Washington” also was delivered to the Wilson White House, The Washington Post reported.2 “It voices the opinion of a public meeting, held by representatives of the Irish societies, that the American nation, through its president, has a unique opportunity to enforce this fundamental principal for the freedom of Ireland at the upcoming peace table, and the president is petitioned to use his good office to that end.” 

The signatory groups included the Friends of Irish Freedom; Ancient Order of Hibernians; Ladies Auxiliary of the AOH; Irish-American Union; Gaelic Society; Irish History Society; Irish History Study Club; and Shamrock Club.

At the time, the Irish were the largest ethnic group in the U.S. capital, representing about one fifth of all foreigners.3 Nationwide, Irish immigrants were about 10 percent of the foreign-born population, down from the one third post-Famine peak of 50 years earlier. First-generation Irish Americans far outnumbered their immigrant parents.

Bishop Shahan was the New Hampshire-born son of Irish immigrants. His letter to Wilson (grandson of an Ulster-Scot) was read at the Dec. 12 House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on “The Irish Question” by  Professor Joseph Dunn of the Catholic University of America faculty. Dunn testified that Wilson “not only acknowledged receipt of the bishop’s letter, but replied in such a sympathetic tone as would make interesting reading for members of this honorable committee.”4

Wilson

This was an optimistic interpretation of Wilson’s Dec. 3, 1918, note to Shahan; barely 100 typed words on White House stationary that never mentioned Ireland by name, only generalities:5

…it will be my endeavor in regard to every question which arises before the Peace Conference to do my utmost to bring about the realization of the principals to which your letter refers. The difficulties and delicacies of the task are very great, and I cannot confidentially forecast what I can do.

Once Wilson got to Paris, the self-determination of countries formerly ruled by vanquished Germany was easier to support than pressing ally Britain to loosen its grip on Ireland. By summer 1919, Wilson reluctance to support Ireland bitterly disappointed the Irish, by then at war with Britain. 

Shahan remained an “ardent supporter of Irish independence,” according to the Catholic University of America archives of his papers. His concerns were “not only as a source of personal interest, but also because religious matters were inextricably bound into the struggle for freedom and recognition for Ireland.”

NEXT: House hearing on the ‘Irish Question’  

Irish ambassador, film producer discuss “Black ’47”

“Black ’47,” a fictional big-screen treatment of the Great Famine, debuted in March at the Berlin Film Festival; opened in September in Ireland; and has shown since October on limited U.S. screens. The New York Times described the film as an “occasionally exhilarating action-revenge plot” set against the bleak historical period. John Dorney at The Irish Story wrote:

Essentially it is a kind of revenge western epic – imagine a cross between Clint Eastwood’s the “Outlaw Josey Wales” and Quentin Tarnatino’s “Django Unchained” – but set in Famine era Ireland.

Think of “Rambo” in mid-19th century Ireland, with single-shot pistols and rifles (which more than once fail to fire), rather than automatic weapons.

My wife and I attended a 2 December screening at the American Film Institute’s “European Union Film Showcase.” Irish Ambassador to the United States Dan Mulhall spoke about the Famine before the lights dimmed, and Jonathan Loughran, one of the film’s producers, participated in a Q & A session after the credits rolled.

The Famine is “fundamental to any understanding of Ireland’s story,” Mulhall said, and also is the “origin story” of more than 33 million Irish Americans.

With more than 1 million dead and 1 million emigrated, it was “a food crisis of unparalleled scale,” he said, the last mass hunger event in the Western world. Ireland’s population was 8.5 million at the time, a level not expected to recover until 2045, nearly 200 years later.

Loughran, originally from Dublin, said working on the film “re-woke feelings I forgot” in leaning about the Famine as a child. He said reactions to the film have been better than expected, especially among the Irish.

“It stoked some republican feelings in people,” Loughran said.

He praised Australian actor James Frecheville, who plays former Connaught Ranger Martin Feeney, for learning Irish, which is spoken by various characters the film, their words either interpreted by others in the scene, or shown in subtitles.

“Black ’47” is said to be the first feature film about the Famine, and Loughran thinks there is room for more treatments. “It could become its own genre, there are so many stories to be told.”

Here’s the official trailer:

A few of my previous posts about the Famine:

George H.W. Bush, disengaged during Troubles, dies at 94

Irish political leaders are offering their condolences on the 30 November death of former U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush.

“He will be remembered for the directness with which he expressed his policy principles and his efforts to achieve bipartisanship,” Irish President Michael D. Higgins said in a statement. “On behalf of the Irish people I offer our deepest sympathies to his family and to the people of the United States.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar tweeted:


Unlike U.S. presidents John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, or Barack Obama, Bush never had much of a relationship with the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland. Bush was Reagan’s vice president from 1980 to 1988, then won the office in 1988, spanning some of the bloodiest years of The Troubles.

Once Clinton defeated Bush in the 1992 U.S. election, he sought to “establish distance” from his predecessor’s approach to Ulster, according to John Dumbrell in “The United States and the Northern Irish Conflict 1969–94: from Indifference to Intervention,” a 1995 piece.

George H. W. Bush

“The Bush administration had followed a cautious, State Department line, strongly opposing the MacBride principles and interpreting the situation in the province as ‘unripe’ for mediation.” … Since the Carter presidency of the late 1970s,  “Washington has asserted the legitimacy of its interest in the province and-with the exception of the Bush years-presented something approaching a coherent, interventionist strategy.”

The Good Friday Agreement was reached during Clinton’s second term of office, 20 years ago this year. In 2010, introducing Clinton for a Atlantic Council Distinguished Leadership Award, Bush recognized his successor’s role in the Northern Ireland peace process.

Catching up with modern Ireland: November

I made my second trip of the year to Ireland in November. As in February, the weather was delightfully mild and mostly dry. As in America, more and more people seemed transfixed by their smart phones. In the West of Ireland, I noticed more wind turbines sprouting from fields and hilltops to supply electrical power to keep those phones charged. At several churches, Mass attendance remained thin, especially at the massive Galway Cathedral. (Below and bottom of the post.)

Here’s the monthly roundup for November:

      • “Successive Irish Governments have abandoned rural Ireland. Their vision is of a prosperous elite, big cities and a trickle down of wealth. A trickle that runs dry before it reaches rural Ireland,” Sinn Féin  President Mary Lou McDonald said. … “Rural Ireland isn’t dying. … The situation is far from perfect, but in contrast to the grim days when rural Ireland raised its sons and daughters for the boat, these days a mix of foreign and indigenous industrial employers has penetrated deep into provincial Ireland with high-quality, interesting and engaging, jobs,” Donal O’Donovan wrote in the Irish Independent.
      • Medical devices now make up almost 10 percent of all Irish exports. The Republic is second only to Germany as the largest European exporter of such equipment, The Irish Times reported. Most of the firms are clustered around Galway.
      • “Lessons from Northern Ireland for Americans who see political opponents as the enemy,op-ed in The Hill.
      • Ireland is moving to reinstate birthright citizenship, bucking the trend in other Western countries to tighten restrictions on immigration, The New York Times reported.
      • Tourism Ireland announced it will increase 2019 spending by €10 million, to €45 million, and will launch its first new global advertising campaign in seven years to help attract more overseas visitors to the island of Ireland. The “Fill your Heart with Ireland” campaign will launch during December in the United States, Britain, France and Germany, then roll out more than 20 other markets in the new year. The promotional boost is driven in part by concerns about Brexit.
      • “Is Ireland Really A Startup Nation?”, column in Forbes.
      • The Irish Aviation Authority is investigating the 9 November spotting by several commercial airline pilots of an unidentified flying object over the Republic. Some have speculated the fast-moving lights were probably meteorites entering Earth at a low angle. 

EU approves Brexit deal, tough UK vote pending

European Union (EU) have approved British Prime Minister Theresa May’s  Brexit package, setting the stage for a divisive and decisive vote by the British parliament on 11 December.

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, quoted by The Irish Times, said the deal allows for an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom (UK), including Northern Ireland, from the EU, scheduled for 29 March 2019.  It “assures us that there’ll be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and that we’ll continue to have tariff-free and quota free trade between Britain and Ireland, which is very important for our economy.”

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, whose votes are critical to May’s governing coalition, has said it would try to block the Brexit deal because it binds London to many EU rules, and could weaken the province’s ties to Britain. The agreement “is worse than no deal and worse than staying in the EU,” DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, according to the BBC.

Business and farming groups in the North have urged the DUP to support the deal to provide certainty. Two years ago, Northern Ireland voted against Brexit, but the Leave side prevailed with strong support in England.

For now, both sides have agreed that unless they come up with a better plan in the next four months, the UK would remain locked inside the European customs union, obligated to respect most E.U. regulations on goods that pass between the two sides, including tariffs with the rest of the world.

In addition to the legally-binding Brexit language, the EU approved a non-binding political declaration on the future relationship with the UK. It contains a list of hoped-for outcomes on trade, customs inspections, tariffs, fisheries rights, aviation, and the ability of citizens to visit and live in the other’s territory, according to the Washington Post.

JFK, Ireland, and the Sixth Floor Museum

U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated 55 years ago 22 November. In May, I visited the scene of that historic crime, now The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas.

The scene of the crime. Assassin shot from far right window, square, not arched. Sixth floor is one floor below top row of windows.

A museum about any murder would be a sad place. This one is particularly depressing (though well designed), since it also represented a huge loss of American innocence and idealism. In my opinion, it also marked the end of an Irish-American century that began with massive immigration of the Great Famine.

The museum doesn’t display much about JFK’s Irish heritage or his June 1963 homecoming. One video display quickly flashes the day after the assassination front page of The Irish Press, which contained a statement from Irish President Éamon de Valera:

During his recent visit here we came to regard the President as one of ourselves … We were proud of him as being of our race.”

Four oral histories held by the museum do contain Irish connections in interviews with:

  • Peter Rice, an Army presidential helicopter pilot who accompanied Kennedy on the 1963 trip to Ireland.

  • Rosian Zerner, who was in Dublin, Ireland, at the time of the assassination.

  • Eamon Kennedy, an Ireland native and photographer at the Dallas Times Herald during the assassination.

  • Dr. Peadar Cremin, who as a 14-year-old boy witnessed JFK in Ireland.

Kennedy was flawed, I know, and it’s easy to slip into sentimentality about him. But my stop at the Dallas museum seemed inevitable and necessary, the completion of a history trail on both sides of the Atlantic.

I have visited the Kennedy Homestead in County Wexford, where JFK made his triumphant June 1963 homecoming, five months before the murder, and seen the Kennedy tributes in Galway, his last stop in Ireland. I have been inside the Dáil Éireann chamber, where he gave a memorable speech.

When I lived in Boston, I explored the JFK Presidential Library and Museum, but skipped the boyhood home tour.

I have attended Mass at Holy Trinity, St. Stephen Martyr, and St. Matthew’s churches in Washington, D.C., where he worshiped in the Roman Catholic faith. Kennedy’s former presence is recognized at all three churches, most notably St. Matthew’s Cathedral, where a marble plaque is imposed in the floor in front of the sanctuary. This is the spot where Kennedy’s casket was stationed during his funeral Mass.

Most movingly, I have stood at the eternal flame next JFK’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery. Now, too, the Philip Johnson-design cenotaph in Dallas.

John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza, Dallas.

Q & A with Felix Larkin, Irish newspaper historian

Historian Felix M. Larkin specializes in the study of Irish newspapers, including editorial cartoons. He is an expert on the Freeman’s Journal, the prominent Dublin newspaper published from 1763 to 1924. His work is widely published in books and journals. See Larkin’s website for more details of his biography and bibliography.

In 2008, Larkin helped found the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland (NPHFI), a “very cumbersome name – which, however, does have the merit of accurately describing what the focus of our activities is,” he said in a 2013 address. The organization’s mission, as stated on its homepage, is to facilitate contact between researchers and writers in the field of newspaper, periodical, journalism and printing history, and strengthen the links between teaching and research institutions, libraries, and other organizations concerned with media history.

I met Larkin earlier this month at NPHFI’s 2018 conference at the National University of Ireland/Galway. In the Q & A below, conducted via email shortly afterward, Larkin discusses the importance of studying history through newspapers; weighs the advantages and pitfalls of such research in the digital age; and cautions about “State-sponsored jamborees relating to supposedly iconic anniversaries,” such as the Irish War of Independence and Civil War over the next five years. MH

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You helped found the NPHFI in 2008. What are your surprises, insights, delights, or disappointments about its first decade? What would you like see happen with the Forum by 2028?

LARKIN: I have been genuinely surprised by the success of the NPHFI, as newspaper history is really a niche subject. We have had 11 successful annual conferences, and have inspired six essay collections and at least two more that are in preparation. In addition, we have put together and maintain the immensely useful on-line Irish Bibliography of Press History, which is a great resource for scholars.

The insight that I have gained from my experience with the NPHFI is the extent to which journalism history benefits from an inter-disciplinary approach – and I say this as someone who is trained as a historian and deeply respects the rigorous methodology of history. The delights are, of course, the very interesting people I have met through the NPHFI and the friendships that I have made.

My only real disappointment is that, notwithstanding the NPHFI’s 10 years of effort, mainstream history does not yet acknowledge the importance of newspapers in the social and political life of the last two centuries. Thus, for example, the new Cambridge History of Ireland doesn’t have a chapter, or even a dedicated subsection within a chapter, on newspapers. (Editor’s note: See Larkin’s 7 June 2018 piece in The Irish Catholic.)

As regards 2028, my main hope is that I will still be around to enjoy the proceedings of the NPHFI conferences! My hope more generally for the future of the NPHFI is that it will remain faithful to its focus on the print media – newspapers and periodicals – as distinct from broadcasting and the electronic media which receive quite enough attention in other forums. Ironically, as newspapers decline in popularity and influence, it is all the more necessary to have a place specifically dedicated to the study of their history – lest they fall off our radar completely.

Digital newspaper archives are more common today than in 2008, allowing more people to access the content. What tips or cautions would you offer about historical research of newspapers/periodicals? Any specific advice for those exploring Irish papers, especially regarding the run of War of Independence and Civil War centenaries over the next five years?

LARKIN: I have always believed that one of the reasons why so few people have worked on newspaper history is the sheer quantity of material to be waded through – whether you are using the print editions, microfilm or a digital archive. Obviously, being able to search a digital newspaper archive makes the task easier, but there is a danger that it makes researchers lazy in two respects: first, they may be inclined to disregard newspapers and periodicals that have not yet been digitized and so fail to take account of important strands of opinion; and secondly, they may be content simply to find what it is that they are looking for and so miss other items – shall we call them the “unknown unknowns” (quoting Donald Rumsfeld) – that may be equally or more important.

Using a digital archive also means that you miss out on a sense of what the paper looked like – its size and general appearance – and this is important for context, especially for specialist newspaper historians.

As regards newspapers in the period of the War of Independence and the Civil War, during such periods of great conflict there is a tendency for newspapers to become more partisan than in normal times – and there is a greater risk of censorship and intimidation – and so historians using newspapers as a source need to be even more conscious of bias in newspaper coverage than they would ordinarily be.

Are there any periods of history, or types of stories, or kinds of research, that you think are under-explored in the realm of Irish newspapers and periodicals?

LARKIN: Oh yes! There is relatively little work done on Irish newspapers before the 1840s. I accept that newspapers don’t reach the zenith of their power and influence until the second half of the 19th century, but there is a rich earlier history of the press to be explored – and we have not done that. For instance, only one early-period paper was offered in response to the Call for Papers for the most recent NPHFI annual conference – and we were very glad to have it.

A century from now, will there be a Digital Content History Forum of Ireland? Your thoughts about the shrinking contemporary newspaper industry, and whether today’s digital content will even be available for future research, given the rapid evolution of technology?

LARKIN: Well, I am a historian – not a fortune-teller. I find it difficult enough to deal with the past without worrying about the future. So I would be very reluctant to speculate about the future of newspapers as a print medium – or about what aspects of the media, print or otherwise, will interest historians in future years.

What does concern me, however, is the declining quality of journalism in the print media – e.g. the jettisoning of sub-editing and other “checking” functions in the interests of cutting expenditure – which means that newspapers are an increasingly less reliable source for future historians, as well as for their current readers. We seem to have come a long way from the Woodward & Bernstein standard of “the best obtainable version of the truth”.

As regards access to digital sources, I am old enough to remember accessing music on vinyl, then tape cassette, then CD and now via my computer – such rapid change, and nothing was compatible with the previous iteration of the technology. The same thing will inevitably happen with today’s digital portals. We can only hope that libraries will retain – and maintain in working order – obsolete equipment so that data can be recovered as technology progresses and made available in whatever new forms emerge. But I am not optimistic on that score.

Other thoughts or comments about NFPHI … or the upcoming centenary period?

LARKIN: There have been four chairpersons of the NPHFI to date, and each of us was a founding member. The term of office of our current chair, Regina Uí Chollatáin, ends next year – and we will have to find her successor from the ranks of those who have come on board in the years since our foundation. The baton is being passed to the next generation, and this will bring its challenges – but it is also healthy, an opportunity for renewal. We have a great crop of younger scholars who work with the NPHFI and I am satisfied that the NPHFI will be in good hands for many years to come.

On the upcoming centenary period, suffice it to say that I am not much in favor of commemorating or celebrating historical events. It is more important to try to understand the past in all its complexity. That’s the responsibility of the historian, and historians should be very uneasy when faced with State-sponsored jamborees relating to supposedly iconic anniversaries. Such jamborees rarely add anything to the sum of human knowledge.

Car rental in Ireland? #BoycottBudget

I just finished my eighth trip to Ireland, which was grand, except for being mugged by Budget.ie. My 32-hour rental cost about $300.

In all my travels, I’ve never been so furious about price and service, whether car rentals (different firms), sleeping accommodations, food and beverage, or other shopping, tours, museums, and entertainment.

As in the past, I rented an automatic vehicle, which always costs more. I knew this. The main reason for my higher-than-normal charges, according to Budget, was due to booking through their Irish web portal, rather than its U.S. site. This locked me into collision damage waiver (CDW) insurance, unless I could provide written proof of coverage from my credit card company. On previous trips, renting from other companies, I waived such coverage because it is covered by my credit card.

Blog posts from the TripAdvisor and Sher She Goes offer more tips on renting a car in Ireland. The Car Rental Council of Ireland, which represents the industry, also has additional information about renting in the Republic and Northern Ireland.

I’m not alone in my negative experience with Budget. “Never use them,” is the simple advise of one of more than two dozen negative reviews on Yelp. I certainly agree. In Galway, I had to walk several blocks to retrieve my vehicle, which was filthy, from a dingy garage. I should have kept my business with Sixt or Dooley, which I’ve used in the past.

Budget is part of Avis Budget Group, which operates in 180 countries. The firm also owns Zipcar, Payless, and other brands. The Group had record $2.8 billion revenues for the third quarter ending 30 September, according to U.S. regulatory filings.

My November gouging by Budget will now contribute to the company’s fourth quarter revenues, but it won’t take bread from my mouth, thanks be to God. And life is too short to spend much more time on this topic.

My last word: #BoycottBudget.

You’d be better off hiking this road in Donegal than driving a rental car. Photo by Rita Wilson/Donegal Film Office.

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Killone photos

ENNIS ~ My “Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited” series explores aspects of the book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert.

The Charleston, S.C.-born, Harvard-educated, New York City newspaper editor traveled around Ireland during the first six months of 1888, a period of resurgent agrarian violence and nationalist political agitation. His book, published later that year, focused on these topics. Like most visitors to Ireland, however, Hurlbert also explored the country’s landscapes and landmarks, including the ruins of Killone Abbey in County Clare.

The American journalist leveraged his visit to the abbey ruins to criticize the violence in the land reform movement, as discussed in my original post about this section of Hurlbert’s diary. A year later, an Irish priest mocked the characterization in his Hurlbert unmasked rebuttal pamphlet.

See black and white images of the abbey, circa 1865, or more than 20 years before Hurlbert’s visit, at this link to the Robert French photography collection at the National Library of Ireland. Below, photos from my 11 November 2018 visit to the site, 130 years after Hurlbert.

Approach to Killone Abbey, November 2018.

The abbey opened in 1190 and abandoned in the 17th century.

Looking back toward the photo vantage above.

During his 1888 visit, American journalist William Henry Hurlbert commented about the “picturesque lake” and the “confusion, squalor and neglect” of the abbey graveyard.

I’m always drawn to the view from the surviving window frames of ancient ruins.

Photo feature: John F. Kennedy in Galway, 1963

GALWAY ~  John F. Kennedy, great grandson of an Irish emigrant and America’s first Irish-Catholic president, 55 years ago made this West of Ireland city the last stop of his historic homecoming to Ireland.

“You send us home with the warmest memories of you and of your country,” Kennedy said during 29 June remarks in Eyre Square. “Though other days may not be so bright as we look toward the future, the brightest days will continue to be those in which we visited you here in Ireland.”

He spent about an hour in Galway. Less than five months later he was assassinated in Dallas.

Below is a video clip from the Galway event; two photos of the memorial bust in Eyre Square; and two photos of the mosaic of Kennedy, located inside the Galway Cathedral, which opened two years after his visit.

Earlier and coming posts:

Between Duganstown and DallasA unique cohort of Irish and Irish Americans lived through the triumph of Kennedy’s return to Ireland; but died before the tragedy in Dallas.

I’ll have a post on the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza later this month.