Category Archives: Arts & Culture

Irish media: past, present and future

I am reading Newspapers and Nationalism: the Irish provincial press, 1850-1892, by Dr. Marie-Louise Legg.

The book offers a “survey and analysis of the ‘Fourth Estate’and its impact and involvement on nationalist politics in Ireland in the second half of the Victorian age,” as detailed in this review. Legg “gets inside the period and writes to us about the newspapers themselves, their editors, the people who bought them and, those who actually read them and whether or not were influenced by them in their morals, intellects and politics.”

This title belongs to the important niche of books about Irish media, including:

These studies explore how journalism impacted politics and society, and visa versa, before, during and after Ireland’s revolutionary period, 1912-1922, now commemorating its “decade of centenaries.”

There are also important contemporary developments in Irish media.

  • Irish lawmakers are trying to criminalize the use of social media and technology to spread “fake news” to influence political debate, as detailed by Poynter’s Daniel Funke.
  • Irish Times columnist Una Mullally organized a forum to explore sexual harassment, gender discrimination and female under representation in the media industry.
  • The Irish Times’ parent company has agreed to acquire all the publishing and media interests of Landmark Media Group, the Cork-based owner of the Irish Examiner newspaper and other media assets.
  • Dublin-based Maximum Media, the company behind “digital lifestyle brands” JOE.ie, Her.ie, SportsJOE.ie and HerFamily.ie, is investing in a new Galway office and adding 20 new jobs  in copywriting, design, journalism, sales and client services.

Learn more about what’s happening in the industry today–and what’s on the horizon for tomorrow–at The Institute of Future Media & Journalism (FuJo) at Dublin City University.

Image of press plates, circa 1935, from the Independent Newspapers Collection at the National Library of Ireland.

Guest post: Frank Sinatra at Kate’s Bar, Derry

I’m always happy to publish a guest post from people visiting or just returned from Ireland. This piece is by Dick Davis, a retired San Francisco Bay area stockbroker and author of “Bus Journey Across Mexico” and other photo journals; and Victor A. Walsh, a retired California State Parks historian who has written about Ireland and Irish America for the San Francisco Irish Herald, Irish America, Eire-Ireland, and Journal of American Ethnic History. MH

Massive 17th-century siege walls surround the city of Derry (Londonderry to Loyalist Protestants) in Northern Ireland.  Waterloo Street, which parallels the old gray walls, rises steeply above the Bogside. In a 2002 visit, at a late hour, it’s empty; the buildings a silhouette of dark forms in the black night.

At the corner where Waterloo turns toward Diamond Square, we spot a brightly lit pub — a glow of life on the otherwise dreary street. The sign in front says, “Tonight Frank Sinatra”; below in smaller letters, “Jimmy Breslin.”

This is nuts, I think. I’m in Ireland, not New Jersey, and Frank’s dead.

We enter Kate’s Bar. It’s packed. Men are standing shoulder to shoulder drinking black pints of Guinness. Wisps of cigarette smoke and loud conversation fill the stale air. Some of the men are wearing white polo shirts with a football patch. Three ladies, near the front corner by the mike, more than fill a bench meant to seat four.

They remind me of buxom cafeteria workers from my high school days, only without aprons. All of them are blondes and their hair is curled and teased in the beehive style of the early ‘60s. It’s clear that they are here to listen to Frank.

We push through the throng of people, and find two tall stools against the back wall. A fellow next to me with tousled wavy black hair tells us that there are some empty tables in the next room. “Thanks,” says my friend Vic, “but we want to hear the music of Hoboken, Ireland.”  He nods somewhat quizzically and introduces himself as Declan.

Just as he begins to speak, someone yells, “Mop,” and Declan springs into action. A tray in front of a golden retriever sitting underneath the bar in front of us has been kicked over. As Declan quickly mops up the floor, he tells us that the dog belongs to a blind man, a regular seated at the bar. The tray is refilled, and the dog goes back to contentedly lapping up the Guinness.

At the far end of the bar stands an animated chap alternately talking and listening to his neighbor. When a point is made or something funny is said, he twirls his hand in a spiral motion and pokes his finger at the ceiling. I couldn’t tell if he was challenging God or keeping score.

Being newcomers, we begin to attract attention. “Where you from?” asks a thin fellow with a brown, droopy moustache. “California, near San Francisco,” I reply. “Oh, you’re a Yank,” he says in a friendly manner. He introduces himself as “Fergus,” with an emphasis on the “fer.”

We chat, and soon Declan returns. Like several other men at the pub, he is wearing a white polo shirt with a Celtic Football Club badge embroidered in green with a shamrock in the center. The patch is sewn on the right side of his shirt. On the left side, stitched in a circle with Irish flags are the words, “Celtic Supporters Club, McSheffrey and Deery.”

“Can I buy one of these shirts here?” I ask him. “They’re not for sale. They’re commemorative. They honor the memory of me friends, Eddie McSheffrey and Paddy Deery. We lost them to The Troubles here in ’87.”

“To your friends,” I saluted with my glass raised high and took a drink. Fifteen years, I thought, and The Troubles are still here, but friends are never forgotten.  

The stone walls that encircle Derry rose out of history. They stood in 1689 when Protestant defenders repelled a 105-day siege by the Catholic army of King James II.  They straddle the steep ground above ‘Free Derry’, the Catholic Bogside where British paratroopers in 1972 without provocation opened fire on unarmed Catholic civil rights marchers, killing 13 (a 14th person died later) and wounding 17 protesters in a massacre remembered as “Bloody Sunday.”

The murals and slogans painted on the walls and ramparts—“No Surrender”, “End The Torture”; “We Salute Those Who Gave Their Lives For Irish Freedom”—are a living testament to what divides the two cultures into segregated communities: one Protestant, British and Unionist; the other, Catholic, Irish and Republican.

As I think about this, someone whistles. The crowd claps, a cheer goes up, and a ruddy-faced version of Jimmy Breslin steps forward and screams into the mike, “It’s time for Frank!”

He’s dressed like a young Sinatra in a white-on-brown plaid sports jacket and fedora with the hat cocked and the brim turned down. He taps the mike; the crowd quiets as he fixes his gaze on the lady with the tallest beehive and sings, “I’ve got a crush on you…” She throws back her head; her face enveloped in a great smile. Her two friends nudge and jostle her.

As Sinatra croons “You do something to me…,” I look out at the blissful gathering, sparkling eyes, happy faces, people at the bar talking and laughing, small men dancing with large women, more joy and love than I’d ever seen in a church on Sunday.

Fergus comes over, taps me on the shoulder, and whispers, “To New Jersey,” referring to Sinatra’s home state.

Declan, who had disappeared when Frank began, returns with a white polo shirt. “Let me check the sizes. I couldn’t see in that cave-dark store room,” he explains. It’s extra-large, my size. As he hands it over to me, I could see a tear of joy in his eyes. “The club stocks the shirts, but we never sell our memories,” he says.

In June 2017, I returned to Derry with my granddaughter and grandson. We visited the Museum of Free Derry. The film clips on The Troubles were both personal and deeply moving, especially Prime Minister David Cameron’s apology on June 15, 2010, for what happened on Bloody Sunday. The Bogside was jubilant; the fallen finally remembered as victims, not perpetrators. In this sense Free Derry represents a future together as much as a past apart. .

Afterwards, we walk up Waterloo looking for Kate’s Bar. Uncertain, we ask around until I spot a pub called Castle Bar. For me, it’s still Kate’s.

When we enter, my commemorative polo shirt catches people’s attention. At the bar, I ask if anyone remembered Kate’s. “Yes,” an older fellow shouts while nudging his way forward. When he sees the polo shirt, he slowly bends his head, kisses the logo with the two names, and then praises me for bringing my grandkids, letting them know about The Troubles.

The mood is subdued; almost reverential. No one spoke. Words did not matter for the faces in that moment of silence simmered with the memory of tribal wrongs.

(Editor’s Note: Patrick Deery and Edward McSheffrey were among nearly 100 people killed in Northern Ireland in 1987. Nearly 3,600 violent deaths–nationalists, loyalists, British troops and innocent civilians– occurred during The Troubles, which lasted from 1968 to 1998.)

The worst of the Troubles ended nearly 20 years ago with Good Friday Agreement, but neighborhoods in Derry/Londonderry remain divided between Unionist/Loyalists, top, and Nationalists/Republicans, below. June 2017 photos by Dick Davis.

Unholy trinity of bad news for Ireland

UPDATE:

Fintan O’Toole hits on two of the three items mentioned below, and more, in his column “Ireland is nobody’s little darling anymore.”

ORIGINAL POST:

It’s said that death and other bad news come in threes. This trio just arrived:

  • France won the right to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup, with Ireland finishing a distant third in voting behind South Africa. The World Rugby Council decision also means the tournament is likely to head to the Southern Hemisphere in 2027.
  • Ireland is the worst performing country in Europe for taking action against climate change, according to the 2018 Climate Change Performance Index. Dropping 28 places from last year, Ireland now ranks 49 out of 59 countries. Ireland is also “back-sliding” on its targets to achieve a 100 percent renewable energy system by 2050.
  • Dublin is now rated one of the worst cities in the world to emigrate to due to the lack of affordable housing and high cost of living, according to Expat Insider 2017.

Expensive Dublin will not be hosting any rugby World Cup games in 2023, and the Irish government located in the capital city isn’t doing enough to combat climate change.

Synge’s ‘Playboy’ arrived in Ireland long before Hef’s mag

The New York Times proclaims: “Hugh Hefner, the Original Playboy, Is Dead at 91.” Vanity Fair describes the dearly departed (27 September 2017) magazine publisher as “the indefatigable (albeit Viagra-enhanced) Playboy of the western world.”

We can only wonder what the late Irish playwright John Millington Synge would have thought. His play, “The Playboy of the Western World,” debuted in January 1907 at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin,  well before the December 1953 appearance of “Hef’s” Chicago-based skin mag. As The Washington Post reports:

Hefner had planned to call his magazine Stag Party, but when the publishers of another men’s magazine named Stag threatened to sue, a colleague came up with an inspired afterthought: Playboy.

The Online Etymology Dictionary says the term for a “wealthy bon vivant” dates to 1829.

Synge died in 1909, two years after his play offended Irish moral sensibilities and sparked riots. In a 2011 theater review, The Guardian noted:

Synge had clad his maidens in shifts, presumably to mollify strict moralists among his Abbey audience. But perhaps he half-suspected a truth which Hugh Hefner would later turn into a different Playboy business: that a scantily clad woman can be even more inflammatory to the jaded imagination of male puritans than one who is wholly naked.

Playboy magazine was banned in Ireland until 1995. Twenty years later, Ireland became the first nation in the world to legalize same sex marriage by popular referendum.

Synge

Yeats, Kennedy, ‘Vietnam’ and ‘The Second Coming’

William Butler Yeats’s 1919 poem “The Second Coming” is referenced in Episode 6 of “The Vietnam War,” the 18-hour documentary series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.

The series narrator mentions that Robert F. Kennedy cited the poem in a 1968 op-ed piece about the overseas war and domestic woes. But the voice-over transposes the poem’s third and fourth lines as viewers see Kennedy’s image, intoning “Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,” then “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold,” rather than the other way.

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold,” was the headline of Kennedy’s 10 February op-ed in The New York Times. The then-U.S. Senator from New York quoted the same two lines as above, but in the correct order.

Kennedy also quoted the lines in a 4 January 1968 speech at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. Watch a short clip of the speech featuring this segment starting at 1:35.

Kennedy was not the first person to cite the poem in relation to the war. In a December 1967 New York Times wire service piece published in numerous U.S. newspapers, journalist James Reston reported “The Second Coming” was one of the favorite poems of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, a hold-over from the administration of the assassinated President John F. Kennedy. Like the Kennedy brothers, McNamara was the American-born grandson of Irish immigrants.

Yeats’s poem began getting fresh attention in 1965, the centenary of his birth. It surfaced later in 1968 in Joan Didion’s collection of essays, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” which takes its title from the final line of the poem.

“ ‘The Second Coming’ ” may well be the most thoroughly pillaged piece of literature in English,” Nick Tabor wrote in a 2015 piece for The Paris Review. He suggested “dozens if not hundreds” of writers and other artists have cribbed Yeats’s lines “in mediums ranging from CD-ROM games to heavy-metal albums to pornography. These references have created a feedback loop, leading ever more writers to draw from the poem for inspiration.”

It’s worth remembering that Yeats wrote the poem at the end of Word War I and the beginning of the Irish War of Independence. The violence and unrest of the 1960s was hardly new to the world.

Robert Kennedy was assassinated in June 1968. The Vietnam War dragged on until 1975.

Here’s my earlier post about Irish connections in the Vietnam documentary.

Halfway to holiday, visiting St. Patrick’s in Harrisburg

I’m writing this post 17 September, which many pubs and other marketers with even the most tenuous connections to Ireland now promote as “Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day.” By coincidence, I was in Harrisburg, Pa., for some Irish research at the Pennsylvania State Archives (though not their Molly Maguires collection) and visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral on State Street, two blocks from the hilltop capitol.

The parish and earlier iterations of the church date to the early 19th century, when the construction of a vast system of canals, railroads, and turnpikes along the Susquehanna River brought many Irish immigrants to the area, according to the cathedral’s official history. Construction of the present building began in 1904 and was completed three years later.

St. Patrick. (Note the gloves.)

The church was officially dedicated 14 May 1907, though liturgies began earlier in the year. The Ancient Orders of Hibernians, Division 5 in Harrisburg, gathered at the new cathedral for a 7 a.m. St. Patrick’s Day Mass, a Sunday that year, either inspiring or requiring extra piety.

The fraternal group paid the $1,800 for the transept window of St. Patrick, holding a shamrock to explain the Trinity to the royal court at Tara. The men surely admired the beautiful stained glass from Munich, Germany.

“The Apostle of Ireland is a splendid figure … arrayed in full pontificals, even to the gloves,” is how the Harrisburg Telegraph described the window in a story detailing the church’s architecture and amenities.

But even the grand new worship space had to compete with the holiday’s contemporary commercialism.

“It is doubtful if St. Patrick ever in his life saw such a profusion of tributes to himself as are now displayed,” The (Harrisburg) Courier reported. “[H]is memory has not only been kept green, but his fame has increased. It may be whispered that there are certain tokens which he might not appreciate.”

The paper detailed an array of tchotchkes such as high hats and pipes, “green pigs of every variety,” “clovers growing in pots” and boxes decorated with harps and green flags. The items sold for a few pennies to 20 cents.

About 100 clerics attended the official dedication in May, including Archbishop P.J. Ryan of Philadelphia. He donated the exterior statue of St. Patrick that is mounted over the entrance of the church.

Two days after the dedication, Irish nationalists in Dublin denounced the limited self-government for Ireland bill offered by Irish Chief Secretary Augustine Birrell. The Sinn Fein Society called the measure “an insult to Ireland” and urged nationalists in the London parliament to “devise measures for the material betterment of Ireland and securing international recognition and support of Ireland’s political rights.”

Timothy Healy and William O’Brien were at the forefront of this latest split with Irish Parliamentary Party leader John Redmond. The Catholic Church hierarchy also rejected Birrell’s bill. Read more about this period of Irish history.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Harrisburg is the 20th St. Patrick’s church that I’ve visited in four countries. See the list.

Guest post: ‘Conversations with Friends’ is great company

I’m always happy to welcome guest posts, especially from my wife, Angie Drobnic Holan, who has her own excellent, if intermittent, blog. Angie’s last post here was on the Irish connection in “Fantastic Beasts and How to Find Them.” MH

***

In the novel Conversation with Friends, County Mayo-born author Sally Rooney portrays a slice of contemporary Dublin life among college students navigating 21st century art and commerce. These students are seekers, trying to find a way in the world that’s honest and authentic, while still covering their bills and financing their own bohemian lifestyles. It’s not such a stretch to think of it as a contemporary version of earlier novels like Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth, but thankfully with a less fatal end. Life is better today, but young people still face fateful questions of identity, love and getting by financially.

The novel is told from the point of view of Frances, a spoken word artist, who performs around Dublin with her best friend and former lover Bobbi. Bobbi is outspoken, outgoing and charming, while Frances is observant, reserved and cool. One night after a performance, the two young women are approached by a freelance photographer, Melissa, who eventually proposes writing a profile of the duo. While spending time with Melissa, they meet her actor husband Nick.

There’s a spark and a connection between Frances and Nick, that starts with emails and theater dates. “It was easy to write to Nick, but also competitive and thrilling, like a game of table tennis. We were always being flippant with each other. When he found out my parents live in Mayo, he wrote: ‘we used to have a holiday home in Achill (like every other wealthy South Dublin family I’m sure.)’ I replied: ‘I’m glad my ancestral homeland could help nourish your class identity. P.S. It should be illegal to have holiday home anywhere.’ ”

The flirtation leads an old-fashioned affair that propels the novel and naturally re-orders all of the relationships of the characters. Meanwhile, the different professional ambitions and financial requirements of each character come into play, illustrating that while these four may be equals in love, they are hardly economic equals. Frances’ challenges here are greater than the others; she tries to keep her working-class background in its own world and while meeting the financial requirements of a artistic lifestyle.

As its title suggests, Conversation with Friends is a wordy novel, driven by references to art, philosophy and academia. If that sounds pretentious, then this probably won’t be your cup of tea. But the novel is also driven by timeless human emotion, and some of the most touching passages are Frances’ desires to know and be known by Nick as she ponders the age-old question of whether she’s a worthwhile human being, “someone worthy of praise, worthy of love.” And it also has pointed things to say about the world economy and the arbitrary way it deals out wealth.

First-time author Sally Rooney, 27, has a great touch for both the human heart, social commentary and fast-paced dialogue. A former debating champion at Trinity College, Rooney has gotten buzzy write-ups for the novel from both The Guardian and The New Yorker. That’s not surprising to me; I found the novel enormously appealing and finished it in essentially one sitting. While informed by its Dublin setting, Conversations with Friends feels like a novel that perfectly captures international youthfulness in 2017 whether it’s Dublin or Dallas, Portland or Paris. I’ll certainly be on the lookout for whatever Sally Rooney writes next.

@DanMulhall begins tenure as Ireland’s ambassador to USA

UPDATE:

They met … Still no U.S. Ambassador to Ireland.

ORIGINAL POST:

Waterford-born diplomat Daniel Mulhall has begun his tenure as Ireland’s 18th Ambassador to the United States. He was scheduled to meet President Donald Trump 8 September at the White House.

They may talk about Twitter, in addition to more touchy topics.

Mulhall tweets Irish poetry and other messages to highlight Ireland’s achievements via @DanMulhall. His 13.2K followers are shy of @realDonaldTrump‘s nearly 38 million, but his tweets are far more literary.

He is also planning to write regular blog posts to explain his role as ambassador, and deal with issues related to today’s Ireland and its links with the U.S., including culture, literature, and history.

“When the world changes, diplomacy has to change,” Mulhall said during a private reception I attended.

His priorities as ambassador, he said, include working with Trump and Congress on issues of importance to Ireland, including immigration; economic promotion; and engaging the 35-million-strong Irish-American community, “a huge asset for Ireland.”

Mulhall specialized in modern Irish history at University College Cork. He is the author of A New Day Dawning: A Portrait of Ireland in 1900, and co-editor of The Shaping of Modern Ireland: A Centenary Assessment.

See his full biography and personal message on the embassy website.

Dan Mulhall

Fintan O’Toole’s ‘State of Us’ series

Fintan O’Toole, a columnist at The Irish Times for nearly 30 years, has just finished a four-part series of reflections about the state of modern Ireland. His thoughts are contextualized by last year’s Easter Rising centenary and the massive political, social, economic and religious changes on the island, north and south, especially over the past decade.

The series is called the “State of Us,” and it’s well worth the read.

Part 1: Ireland’s story doesn’t make sense any more

Part 2: Irish identity is no longer fit for purpose

Part 3: Irish nationalism needs a revolution

Part 4: The ties that bind

Dubs dispute ESPN’s description of their fair city

Dublin media are howling over descriptions of the Irish capital in an ESPN The Magazine profile of native son Conor McGregor, who is scheduled to box Floyd Mayweather Jr. on 26 August, near Las Vegas.

“In the piece, McGregor’s childhood upbringing in the ‘projects’ of Crumlin and Drimnagh suggests he was brought up in the Gaza Strip or 1920s Chicago, not a neighbourhood in which this writer lived for six happy and peaceful years, oblivious to the grenades whizzing by, or the fact that I should have been taking an armed escort whenever I had to cross the Liffey,” Jennifer O’Connell complained in The Irish Times.

RTE radio presenter Rick O’Shea took to Twitter: “I grew up in both the ‘projects’ *ahem* of Crumlin and Drimnagh. This is lazy stereotyping bullshit of the highest order.”

I sure don’t claim to know every corner of Dublin from my half dozen visits over 17 years, but the story by Wright Thompson sure does seem over the top:

Dublin is best understood by exploring its many divisions, its unending physical and mental boundaries. The city, and its current champion, McGregor, are defined by those limits. It’s a clannish, parochial place. Crossing the wrong street has traditionally been reason enough for an ass-whipping.

Other divisions in the city revolve around class, and while Conor’s success allows him safe passage across gangland boundaries, it can’t overcome his Dublin 12 roots. The Irish national daily papers have long served as the mouthpiece of the upwardly mobile and educated. McGregor rarely makes their pages. On the first morning of the prefight media tour, The Irish Times and the Independent ran a combined 128 words about it: one small story about Mayweather’s tax problems.

Ah, ha! Could that be the problem: Thompson’s jab at the Dublin media?

As The Guardian noted: “This is not the first time that U.S. media’s depiction of the supposed dangers of life in Europe have attracted ridicule.”

“Whatever the neighborhood, Conor McGregor’s charisma transcends Dublin’s tribalism,” is the published cutline below this Finbarr O’Reilly photo in the ESPN story.