Category Archives: Arts & Culture

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.

Watch “Ireland’s Wild Coast” before 31 August

Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is airing the 2-hour nature documentary “Ireland’s Wild Coast” on its U.S. stations. The full film is available online through 31 August.

Emmy Award-winning wildlife cameraman Colin Stafford-Johnson narrates his odyssey along Ireland’s rugged Atlantic coast and nearby inland forests. Over the course of a year, he traveled from the Skellig and Blasket islands in southwest Kerry, up the coastline to Donegal’s Malin Head, the island’s most northern point, then finished at the Sea of Moyle on the Antrim coast.

The film explores marine, avian, mammalian and other creatures. Stafford-Johnson provides poetic, personal insights into the wild animals and wild places he discovered along the way.

Here’s my 2014 post about the Stafford-Johnson-narrated, John Murray-directed “On A River In Ireland” (also known as “The Secret Life of the Shannon”). The video link is still good.

Wildlife cameraman Colin Stafford-Johnson.

On tea … Joshua Tree … Northern Assembly … and eternity

These stories are related only through their connections to Ireland:

  • While global coffee culture has jabbed at classic black tea’s popularity over the past decade as scores of java joints opened in Dublin, “demure and comforting tea has slugged back in the Irish capital,” The Washington Post reports.
  • U2 celebrated the 30th anniversary release of The Joshua Tree with concerts at Croke Park in Dublin. In The Irish Independent, Ed Power notes that Ireland has “changed utterly” over those three decades.

Divorce was still illegal in 1987, contraceptives difficult to come by. Few under the age of 30 were genuinely religious — nonetheless all felt compelled to attend Mass. Emigration, meanwhile, was a fact of life and nobody had any money. Life is never quite grim if you are young and carefree. Nonetheless, this was a grey country to which U2 had introduced a spark of color.

  • Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire is on a three-day visit to Washington, D. C., and New York, to brief political and business leaders about Brexit and the collapsed Northern Ireland Assembly, the BBC reports.
  • Finally, on a bicycle ride through a local cemetery, I noticed the gravestone at left. Irish to the last … and forever:

Happy Blogiversary: Five years, 500 posts

This is my 500th post since I launched the blog on 22 July 2012, with the goal of publishing “research and writing about Irish and Irish-American history and contemporary issues.”

This post also coincides with the publication of my latest story for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It’s about Ireland’s Great Famine, based on several letters written to a Catholic priest in 1847.

The Published Stories section of the blog contains all of my Irish-related work for outside newspapers, magazines and websites since 2000. Best of the Blog contains my annual round up of each year’s most significant stories, and other favorites exclusive to the site. See the list of St. Patrick’s churches I’ve visited, and check out other Irish interest places to visit.

Angie Drobnic Holan, my wife, has lovingly contributed to this effort as webmaster and editor. She has been unfailingly supportive, including the many evenings when she implored, “It’s time to turn off the computer and come to bed.”

I also want to thank my readers, especially those who subscribe to the blog via email. I appreciate the “Likes,” shares and re-tweets on social media. Sure, this blog doesn’t get the traffic of commercial sites, but l am grateful to everyone who stops by for a look, especially readers in Ireland.

Himself, at Carrigafoyle Castle, North Kerry, 2012.

In pursing my Irish history interests, I’ve been fortunate to visit numerous archives and libraries, where I obtained much valuable assistance. Among some of the places I’ve been able to visit:

My research also has benefited from the always-expanding menu of online resources. My laptop has become a time machine. It has whisked me back to 19th century Ireland and America through digitized documents and letters, newspaper archives, maps, photographs and vintage video.

Thanks again for reading the blog and supporting my work. Please keep coming back.

An Gorta Mor exhibit going to Ireland in 2018

A large portion of the art and artifacts from the Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., will travel to Ireland in 2018. The “Coming Home: Art and the Great Hunger,” exhibition will be on view at Dublin Castle from March to June, and at the West Cork Arts Centre in Skibbereen from July to October.

In addition to displaying paintings, sculpture and other items from this one-of-a-kind collection, the touring exhibition also will include a program of poetry and literature readings, concerts, theater and lectures.

The Ragpickers,, 1900, by Henry Allan, is part of the Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum collection.

The estimated cost of the exhibition is $800,000, according to the official website. Of this amount, Quinnipiac has committed $200,000, with the balance to come from corporate, foundation and individual donations, including one $250,000 “presenting sponsor” and three $100,000 “lead sponsors.”

It will be interesting to see who or what organizations pony up.

In March 2013, I spent a day at the museum and related collection of printed materials at the Lender Family Special Collection Room at the University’s Arnold Bernhard Library. The combination of narrative and visual materials made for a moving and engrossing experience.

I am sure these images and materials will have an even more profound impact back “home” in Ireland.

Northern Ireland ‘Journey’ nears critical bend in road

“The Journey,” a fictional “imagining” of the real-life partnership between unionist firebrand Dr. Ian Paisley and former IRA man Martin McGuinness, recently debuted in Washington, D.C., as part of its wider U.S. release.

The movie isn’t as awful as early reviews suggested last fall, though there is merit to that criticism. It’s worth seeing for those who follow Northern Ireland politics. The long, twisted history of the Troubles, and the actors’ thick accents, are probably too much for more casual viewers.

A line near the end of Colin Bateman’s screenplay caught my attention and could prove to be prescient in the coming weeks. It is spoken by McGuinness (Colm Meaney) to Paisely (Timothy Spall) as they are about to agree on the power-sharing deal that resulted in the 2007 Northern Ireland Assembly:

This is our only opportunity to build something that will last, at least for our lifetime.

The real-life duo got the Assembly off the ground and developed such a close working relationship that they become known as  the chuckle brothers. Peace and progress flourished in Northern Ireland. But Paisley died in September 2014, and McGuinness died in March.

Now, the suspended Belfast Assembly is facing a 29 June deadline to reorganize, or the north could return to direct rule from Westminster. This matter is complicated by the Paisley-founded, pro-unionist DUP entering a Tory coalition to control the London Parliament, which will put Irish republicans on the defensive. This comes as the U.K. also begins to negotiate its exit from the European Union–Brexit–which threatens the return of a “hard border” between the north and the Republic.

At the same time, the annual Orange Order marching season, in which Protestants celebrate a 1690 military victory over Catholics, is getting underway and approaching its 12 July peak. The season always raises tensions between the two cultural and political communities in the north.

What could possibly go wrong?

What you need to know about Knock’s vision visitors

The Virgin Mary recently appeared–believers say–in the sun and clouds above Knock, the County Mayo village where she first presented herself to the faithful in 1879. Unlike that 19th century debut, viewed by 15 witnesses on a rainy evening, the latest vision at Ireland’s national Marian shrine is documented in video and photographs, quickly and easily disseminated around the world.

According to Catholic Online:

The sun appeared as an elongated shape in the videos, not as a circle. Rays of light were also captured on camera. As clouds passed before the sun, filtering out the brightest light, people were able to look directly at the vision. They reported the vision moved, and spun, a classic miracle of the sun, often associated with apparitions of the Virgin Mary.

Among the handful of secular news outlets that covered Our Lady’s alleged appearance, the tone was more skeptical, even cheeky. “Clouded vision,” said the headline in the U.K.’s Daily Mail.

This wasn’t the first digital-age sighting of the Virgin at Knock. Scores of videos claiming to show Mary’s image are posted online, in addition to sympathetic histories and pilgrimage travelogues, including a trailer for the 2016 independent film Strange Occurrences in a Small Irish Village.

The pilgrimage business is good for the West of Ireland. Knock airport’s 9.1 percent first quarter growth–more than 134,000 total passengers–was the highest year-over-year gain among five airports in the Republic, The Irish Times reported. Monsignor James Horan, the late priest who built the airport in the 1980s on the “foggy, boggy site” near the shrine, must be smiling from about the same altitude as the latest Marian appearance.

The 1879 apparition at Knock was a crowded affair, with the Virgin Mary joined by Saint Joseph, Saint John the Evangelist, the Lamb of God (representing Jesus Christ) and adoring angels appearing on the gabled wall of the local church. This didn’t get much immediate press attention. Word of the vision and miraculous cures spread quickly among believers, however, and published accounts began to appear by a year later. The Irish Examiner reported crowds of up to 20,000 were trekking to the village.

“A deeper and more touching outpouring of sincere faith and religious fervour it would be impossible even to conceive than what I witnessed at Knock,” an unnamed “pilgrim” wrote in a 25 September 1880 letter to the newspaper.

The same year, The Nation carried advertisements for “The Illustrated Record of the Apparitions at Knock,” a free booklet that included witness depositions, a list of miraculous cures and six images. A 1 3/4-inch diameter medal also was available for sixpence, plus postage.

Pope John Paul II visited Knock in 1979. He said:

Since I first learnt of the centenary of this Shrine, which is being celebrated this year, I have felt a strong desire to come here, the desire to make yet another pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Mother of Christ, the Mother of the Church, the Queen of Peace. Do not be surprised at this desire of mine. It has been my custom to make pilgrimages to the shrines of our Lady, starting with my earliest youth and in my own country.

John Curry was the last of the 1879 witnesses to die. In 1943, at the age of 68, he was buried without a headstone in a communal cemetery plot owned by the Little Sisters of the Poor on Long Island, New York. Recently, he was re-interred at the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Manhattan.

“What you choose to believe is up to you,” Dan Barry wrote in a lovely piece for The New York Times. “This is merely the story of an Irish immigrant who died without means in Gotham obscurity, then rose to such post-life prominence that, amid considerable pageantry, the archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, will celebrate his requiem Mass and pray over his new earthly home.”

I visited Knock not long after the 2001 terror attacks in America, during a month-long journalism fellowship that took me to both sides of the Irish border. I arrived at the shrine on a rainy Monday afternoon, “the busloads of believers nowhere in sight,” I wrote in my Oct. 1 journal entry. As a believer, I said the requisite prayers, but there were no apparitions that evening. In fact, my “sincere faith and religious fervour” was exhausted from having hiked to the summit of Croagh Patrick the day before. No visions up there, either, but a fantastic view and fulfilling experience.

I slept well that night at the Belmont Hotel in Knock and awoke to a bright day. I bypassed a second visit to the shrine and pressed on to my next appointments. I am glad that I made the pilgrimage, however, and followed in the footsteps of John Curry and John Paul, and millions of other believers; past, present and future; with or without digital recording equipment; with or without seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary.

Undated photo of the original church at Knock where the apparition appeared in 1879.

In praise of the Irish diaspora

I’ve been reading “The Princeton History of Modern Ireland,” edited by Richard Bourke and Ian McBride. It was one of the Irish history books under the Christmas tree five months ago.

The book offers 21 chapters by different historians that range from broad essays about major developments of Irish society and politics to more focused looks at specific factors that played an important role in shaping that trajectory, as Bourke writes in the Introduction.

Among the “standout entries,” Tom Deignan wrote in his August 2016 Commonweal review, are “explorations of the Irish language as well as the diaspora, topics that are often shoved to the margins but provide key insights into Ireland and its history.”

I especially liked Enda Delaney‘s “Diaspora” chapter, which concludes the book. These two passages caught my eye:

To write the Irish story without the diaspora is to render a partial account. It is worth remembering that in 1910 the Irish-born population of New York at 250,000 people was only exceeded by the populations of Dublin and Belfast. In other words, the third largest “Irish” city was across the Atlantic. (p. 493).

***

Irishness was never circumscribed by place of birth, as hundreds of studies of the diaspora clearly show, even if the venerable inhabitants of the “motherland” are sometimes less than keen to acknowledge this. (p. 502).

Immigrants at Ellis Island.

“Angela’s” Pulitzer: Catching up 20 years on

Margaret Cashill of Tampa, one of my former newsroom colleagues, suggested this blog post and sent along a few links. Thanks Margaret! MH

Columbia University President, George Rupp (left), presents Frank McCourt with the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Biography.

In April 1997, Frank McCourt’s memoir of his “miserable Irish upbringing” won the Pulitzer Prize for biography/autobiography. Angela’s Ashes had published a year earlier.

Twenty years on from the Pulitzer, there is a wave of developments associated with the book:

  • Angela’s Ashes: The Musical is preparing to open this summer, with performances in Limerick, site of the book, as well as Dublin and Belfast. “There’s a recognition of the brand across the world. … But this is a show I want to stand on its own two feet in Ireland,” producer Pat Moylan told The Irish Times.
  • Leamy House on Hartstonge Street in Limerick, the author’s old school, has been purchased by a Limerick businessman. The building hosts multiple tenants, including the Frank McCourt Museum, which the new owner plans to keep in place, according to the Limerick Leader.
  • The Leader also reported that hundreds of people have contributed to a large montage portrait of the famous Limerick writer.

McCourt was born in New York. His parents returned to their native Ireland during the Great Depression. He was 67 when Angela’s Ashes won the Pulitzer.

In a September 1996 book review under the headline “Generous Memories of a Poor, Painful Childhood,” The New York Times wrote:

“Writing in prose that’s pictorial and tactile, lyrical but streetwise, Mr. McCourt does for the town of Limerick what the young Joyce did for Dublin: he conjures the place for us with such intimacy that we feel we’ve walked its streets and crawled its pubs. He introduces us to the schoolmasters who terrorized (and occasionally inspired) their pupils, the shopkeepers who extended credit to the poor and the priests who listened to the confessions of young boys preoccupied with sex and sin and shame.”

McCourt later wrote ‘Tis (1999) and Teacher Man (2005). He died in 2009.

Rooney & O’Reilly: Dead … and gone

I’ve been away from the blog for an Easter trip to Rome. During my absence, two Irish Americans made headlines for very different reasons:

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney dies

In my native Pittsburgh and across most of America, Dan Rooney was best known as chairman of the NFL Steelers, the son of the team’s late and much beloved founder. But he also was U.S. Ambassador to Ireland from July 2008 to December 2012, a co-founder of The Ireland Funds, and principal benefactor of the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature at Trinity College Dublin.

He died April 13 at age 84. His grandfather emigrated from Newry, County Down to Montreal, Canada, then moved to Ohio and Pittsburgh, where the late ambassador was born.

“Deeply committed to Ireland and the Irish people, he was always conscious of his Irish roots,” Irish President Michael D. Higgins told The Irish Times.  Said former U.S. President Barack Obama:

Dan Rooney was a great friend of mine, but more importantly, he was a great friend to the people of Pittsburgh, a model citizen, and someone who represented the United States with dignity and grace on the world stage. I knew he’d do a wonderful job when I named him as our United States Ambassador to Ireland, but naturally, he surpassed my high expectations, and I know the people of Ireland thank fondly of him today.

Obama and Rooney, right, in 2014. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette image.

Bill O’Reilly ousted from Fox News

Conservative news anchor Bill O’Reilly and the Fox News Channel parted ways after 20 years in the wake of a New York Times exposé about the media company paying $13 million to settle sexual harassment allegations against the cable television ratings king.

O’Reilly describes the claims as “completely unfounded” and himself as the victim of “the unfortunate reality many of us in the public eye must live with today.”

His great-grandfather emigrated from Clonoose, County Cavan, according to a 2016 episode of the PBS series “Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.” O’Reilly also was a 2014 inductee in Irish America magazine’s Hall of Fame.

The honor recognizes “the extraordinary achievements of Irish-American leaders, from their significant accomplishments and contributions to American society to the personal commitment to safeguarding their Irish heritage and the betterment of Ireland.” Among 45 honorees since 2011: liberal cable television anchor Chris Matthews; former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and President Donald Trump’s Ambassador to Ireland nominee Brian P. Burns.

But not Dan Rooney, though the magazine has written about him.

I’ve reached out to the New York-based publication by email and Twitter to ask if they plan to keep O’Reilly among their honorees. Maybe they could switch him with Rooney. If you agree, contact the magazine at: @irishamerica, or submit@irishamerica.com.