Category Archives: Arts & Culture

Best of the Blog, 2018

Welcome to the sixth annual Best of the Blog. This has been a productive and successful year, thanks to two trips to Ireland and several new projects and features. Average daily site visits increased 52 percent over last year, and total traffic for the year by November surpassed the 2016 benchmark. Thank you, loyal readers and new visitors, for your interest and support. See more detailed acknowledgments at the bottom of the post. First, our yearly roundup:

Ireland Under Coercion, RevisitedThis project explored aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. The series followed Hurlbert’s six-month reporting trip to Ireland, from his views about the agrarian agitation and home rule politics of the period, to his descriptions of Irish landscapes and landmarks. * I retraced some of Hurlbert’s footsteps during my February and November trips to Ireland. * A condensed version of my research appeared under the headline “An American Journalist in Ireland Meets Michael Davitt & Arthur Balfour” on The Irish Story website. * The work was recognized in the American Journalism Historian Association’s “News & Notes” feature.

Map of Ireland showing Hurlbert’s 1888 travels.

Ireland’s Famine Children “Born at Sea”My research of the online Famine Irish Passenger Record Data File held by the National Archives & Records Administration (NARA) resulted in a Winter 2017/18 story in NARA’s Prologue Magazine. * In September, I gave a presentation about the story at the Irish Railroad Workers Museum in Baltimore.

Pittsburgh Irish: I added a new section to the blog that collects my original work related to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, my native city and state, a 19th and early 20th century hub for Irish immigrants. This year’s work included several pieces about World War I and its aftermath:

Another two-part piece, Troublesome Men: The Irish Nationalist Feud in Western Pennsylvania, 1894-1896,explored divisions among pro-independence Irishmen in Western Pennsylvania ahead of the 1895 Irish National Alliance convention in Chicago. Two members of the Pittsburgh delegation were ousted from the meeting. See PART 1 & PART 2.

Pittsburgh in the 1890s.

Other Popular Stories in 2018:

Catching Up With Modern Ireland: I introduced a monthly roundup of aggregated news, feature, and opinion content from Irish and Irish-American media. Coverage included the May repeal of Ireland’s constitutional abortion ban; the August visit of Pope Francis to Ireland; and the October re-election of Irish President Michael D. Higgins. … Brexit and the sidelined Northern Ireland Assembly remained in the news throughout 2018, the former a key issue for 2019. …  Former President Bill Clinton received the Freedom of Belfast honor for the Good Friday Agreement; Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan was floated as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, a post that remains unfilled; and Irish-American gangster James “Whitey” Bulger was murdered in federal prison. … Fáilte Ireland unveiled its “Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands” tourism brand to drive visitor growth across the Midlands region. … Solas Nua, the Washington, D.C.-based Irish arts group, staged “The Frederick Douglass Project” about Douglass’ 1845 lecture tour of Britain and Ireland; “Black ’47,” a fictional film treatment of the Great Famine debuted to generally good reviews; and the “Coming Home: Art & The Great Hunger” exhibit from Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., toured Ireland. …. I’ll post a December update before the new year.

 

AOH and other Irish Americans dedicated a new statue of St. Patrick in the garden outside Old St. Patrick’s Church in Pittsburgh, top, and the twin spires of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. I visited both churches in 2018. More in the St. Patrick’s Churches section of the blog.

Go raibh maith agat…

Many people assisted me in producing the blog this year, in America and in my travels to Ireland. My dear wife, Angie Drobnic Holan, is my biggest supporter. She edits some of the longer pieces and provides technical assistance. Most importantly, she encourages my work, including reminding me when “it’s time to turn off the computer.”

These people and institutions also helped in 2018: 

IN IRELAND: the Michael Davitt Musuem, Straide, Co. Mayo; National University of Ireland, Galway, ArchivesTrinity College Dublin, Archives; National Library of Ireland, Dublin; National Print Museum, Dublin; and the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland, especially co-founder Felix Larkin, who helped with the Hurlbert project and welcomed me at NPHFI’s annual conference in Galway. Another round of applause for all the conference’s excellent presenters. … Also, thanks for the continued friendship and assistance of John Dorney at The Irish Story; Kay Caball at My Kerry Ancestors; and Mary Cogan at Listowel Connection. … Special thanks to my relations, Michael & Nancy Lynch of Navan, for their hospitality, and for the gift of a 40-page F.S.L. Lyons’ pamphlet, Parnell, dated from 1963.  

IN AMERICA: the National Archives & Records Administration, College Park, Md., and the editors at Prologue Magazine; Luke McCusker at the Irish Railroad Workers Museum in Baltimore; historian Daniel W. Crofts, who helped with the Hurlbert project; and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which published my story about Frederick Douglass. … Also, Amy Brunner and Christopher Lemery of the University of Pittsburgh Library System, on separate requests through the “Historic Pittsburgh” website. … In Washington, D.C., Georgetown University and Catholic University of America libraries, especially Shane MacDonald at CUA’s Research Center and University Archives; the arts group Solas Nua; and Dan Mulhall, Ambassador of Ireland to the U.S. and the Irish Embassy staff, who always warmly welcome Irish Network-DC. … The Arlington Public Library, Arlington, Va., provided several books from university library collections via its Interlibrary Loan service. … Apologies if I’ve missed any person or institution.

Finally, thanks again to all those who visited the blog, especially email subscribers (at right) and those who follow me on Twitter and retweet the content. Your comments and suggestions are always welcome.

Best wishes for 2019.

Previous Years of “Best of the Blog”

The road leading to Killone Abbey in County Clare. The ruin was visited by American journalist William Henry Hurlbert in 1888, and by myself in November 2018.

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:

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. 

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.

On returning to Ireland, a look back at previous trips

I’m traveling to Ireland for the Newspaper & Periodical History Forum of Ireland’s 2018 Conference, “The Press & the Vote,” at NUI Galway. Watch for my tweets (@markaholan) and posts over the coming week.

First, here are links to photo features from my last two trips.

February 2018

Douglas Hyde Center in Co. Roscommon.

July 2016

Belfast mural of nationalist hero Bobby Sands, who died on hunger strike in 1981. (July 2016)

Catching up with modern Ireland: October

As of 30 October, traffic on this site surpassed our highest annual total, in 2016. Thanks very much for your readership and support, including several of you who emailed suggestions for this month’s roundup, which starts in arts and ends in crime:

  • Anna Burns became the first Northern Irish author to win the Man Booker prize, for Milkman, a novel about a young woman being sexually harassed by a powerful man during the Troubles. Authors John Banville, Anne Enright, and Roddy Doyle of the Irish Republic won the prize earlier.
  • On Broadway, Jez Butterworth’s “thrilling new play” The Ferryman “mines the folksy clichés of Irish archetypes — as garrulous, drink-loving, pugilistic souls — to find the crueler patterns of a centuries-old cycle of violence and vengeance,” according to this New York Times review.
  • “The extent to which many English people are ignorant about Ireland has become painfully clear. … I’ve noticed a tonal shift in the way I and other Irish people speak about the English. Our anger is more sincere. We are more ready to call them out on all those centuries of excess.” I Didn’t Hate the English — Until Now
  • An Bord Pleanála approved a 25-story residential tower in Cork city. If built, it would become the county’s tallest tower.
  • Ireland ranked 5th on the 2018 CAF World Giving Index, behind the U.S. and ahead of the U.K.
  • The Republic will impose tobacco-style health warning labels on alcohol as part of a sweeping package of restrictions intended to tackle one of the world’s worst rates of binge drinking.
  • “When confronted with a film that identified prime suspects in a massacre of unarmed British citizens [Loughinisland, County Down, in 1994], the authorities made no apparent effort to further question those suspects—and arrested the filmmakers instead.” Why Were a Filmmaker and a Journalist Arrested in Northern Ireland?
  • In a case that reminds me of the “agrarian outrages” of the late 19th century, north Kerry bachelor dairy farmer Michael Ferris, 63, of Rattoo, was found guilty of manslaughter for the 2017 death of John Anthony O’Mahony, an unmarried tillage farmer, 73, of Ardoughter, Ballyduff.  Ferris drove the pallet forks of his teleporter into the car occupied by O’Mahony, apparently enraged by the older man’s use of a crow banger, according to the Irish Examiner.
  • In America, the notorious James “Whitey” Bulger, 89, once head of Boston’s Irish mob, was killed in federal prison. Read my “Southie memories” piece from his 2013 trial.

James “Whitey” Bulger in 1959, early in his criminal career.

Photo feature: St. Patrick’s Cathedral, NYC

This week I returned to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City for the first time since before the church’s massive exterior and interior restoration from 2012 to 2016. This year is the 160th anniversary of the laying of the church’s cornerstone on 15 August 1858.

Great Catholic Ceremony,” The New York Times headlined its front page coverage the next day. “Intense Assemblage of 100,000 Persons”  … “Magnificent Ceremony — Unlimited Enthusiasm“. The story suggested that the proposed “ecclesiastical structure … if completed … will have no parallel on this continent.”

The church opened 20 years later, and the twin spires were added in 1888, then the tallest structures in New York. Here are a few images of this stunningly beautiful and popular worship space.:

Himself, thinner, more humble-looking than most statues of the saint.

The main sanctuary.

Shamrock detail on front doors. 

The twin spires at night.

See the St. Patrick’s Churches section of the blog for more photos and links to other worship spaces dedicated to Ireland’s patron saint.

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Froude-Burke

This is an extra installment of my “Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited” blog series, which explores aspects of American journalist William Henry Hurlbert’s 1888 travels in Ireland. The full series, including background material and a related article published outside this blog, are available on the project landing page. #IUCRevisited

***

“…of one episode of that mission, no man living perhaps knows so much as I, and I make no excuse for this allusion to it here …”
–William Henry Hurlbert

In his 1888 book, Hurlbert claimed a behind-the-scenes role in the notorious 1872 American lecture series that pitted English literary historian James Anthony Froude against Irish Dominican priest Father Thomas Nicholas Burke. Sources suggest that Hurlbert wasn’t overstating his closeness to both men, or to the event, which 16 years later influenced his views about Irish nationalist activities on both sides of the Atlantic.

In 1872, Hurlbert was the highly-regarded editor of the New York World. America was still recovering from the civil war. Ireland was a generation past the Great Famine and slowly building toward the agrarian uprising and nationalist agitation that erupted in the 1880s.

Father Burke

Hurlbert’s “esteem” for Froude’s “rare abilities” dated to the Englishman’s novel, The Nemesis of Faith, published in 1849, the year Hurbert obtained a divinity degree from Harvard. His friendship with the Galway-born Father Burke began when both were in Rome during the 1867 Feast of St. Peter, the eighteenth centenary commemoration of the saint’s martyrdom. Hurlbert fondly noted his time with Burke during an 1878 visit to Ireland. Their friendship “ended only with his life,” in 1883, at Tallaght, near Dublin.

Froude’ autumn 1872 lecture tour was arranged to promote his book, The English in Ireland in the Eighteenth Century. His book and lectures emphasized why the Irish required English supervision and were transparently anti-Catholic. Writing 16 years later, Hurlbert said he worried the lecture tour “would do a world of mischief, by stirring up ancient issues of strife between the Protestant and the Catholic populations of the United States [that would] be answered angrily, indiscreetly, and in a fashion to aggravate prejudice.”

Only Father Burke, who happened to be in America on other matters in 1872, could respond “temperately, loftily, and wisely,” Hurlbert reasoned.

“…his appearance in the arena as the champion of Ireland, would lift the inevitable controversy high above the atmosphere of unworthy passion, and put it beyond the reach of political mischief-makers. How nobly he did his work … is now [a] matter of history.”

Hurlbert “begged” Burke “to find or make time” to produce a series of lectures replying to Froude’s speeches. Burke agreed, Hurlbert reported, only after “consulting with the highest authorities of his Church, and with two or three of the coolest and most judicious Irish citizens of New York.” And while the Irish priest’s brogue was “a memory as of music in the ears of all who heard it,” his criticism of intemperate Irish nationalism sounded even sweeter to Hurlbert, especially on American soil.

To illustrate his point, Hurlbert reported that while Froude was giving lectures in Boston, “all the Irish servants of the friend with whom he was to stay had suddenly left the house, refusing to their employer the right to invite under his roof a guest not agreeable to them.” Hurlbert revealed that he learned of this in “a letter from Boston,” which he shared with Burke, who “read it with a kind of humorous wrath.”

At his next lecture, Burke prefaced his remarks “with a few strong and stirring words, in which he castigated with equal sense and severity the misconduct of his country-people,” Hurlbert wrote in 1888, a claim confirmed by the newspaper coverage of 16 years earlier. On 26 November 1872, at the Academy of Music in New York, Father Burke told his audience that earlier that day he had been “handed a paragraph,” or clipping, from the New York Tribune about the Boston incident. He said:

“The reading of it causes me very great pain and anguish of mind, for it recorded an act of discourtesy offered to my learned antagonist, Mr. Foude, and supposed to be offered by Irishmen in Boston. In the name of the Irishmen in America, I tender the learned gentleman my best apologies. I beg to assure him for my Irish fellow-countrymen in this land that we are only too happy to offer him the courtesy and the hospitality that Irishmen never refused even to their enemies.”

I couldn’t find any reporting of the servants’ walkout in that day’s Tribune, but it was described in The New York Times, which added that Froude also had been “bustled by some rude persons” in New Haven, Connecticut. “We do not know what truth there may be in these stories; but we much fear that Mr. Froude is not in an earthly Paradise,” the Times reported.

In his 1906 biography The Life of Froude, Herbert W. Paul wrote that Froude was the Boston guest of George Peabody, “equally well known in England and the United States as a philanthropist.” During the visit:

“…politicians had to think of the Irish vote, and the proprietors of newspapers could not ignore their Catholic subscribers.The priests worked against him [Froude] with such effect that Mr. Peabody’s servants in Boston, who were Irish Catholics, threatened to leave their places if Froude remained as a guest in their master’s house. Father Burke, who had begun politely enough, became obstreperous and abusive. Froude’s life was in danger, and he was put under the special protection of the police.” (My emphasis.)

Froude

There is one problem here. Boston financier George Peabody died in 1869, three years before Froude’s trip to Boston. W.H. Dunn, in his 1960s biography of Froude, corrected Paul in a footnote that speculated Froude had stayed with George H. Peabody, shown in the city directory at 76-78 Milk Street. I found an 1872 Boston newspaper account that mentions “Dr. Peabody of Harvard” among “several prominent gentlemen” who occupied the stage of the “half filled” Tremont Temple for one of Froude’s lectures.

Paul and Dunn each noted that Froude witnessed the historic 9 November 1872 fire, which killed 13 to 20 people and destroyed hundreds of buildings over 65 acres in Boston’s city center. The fire was stopped near Milk Street. Both biographers quote from one of Froude’s letters that described the tragedy. Paul wrote that Froude donated $700 to the relief effort, which included help for many Irish immigrant families displaced by the fire.

There is other evidence that Irish domestic servants protested Froude’s visit to America. In William J. Fitzpatrick’s 1886 biography, The Life of the Very Rev. Thomas N. Burke, the author states:

“It was at this time that a memorable incident occurred–the strike of the Noras and Biddys. The female servants of different hotels agreed among themselves that Mr. Froude’s bell must not be answered; and in one case they threatened to leave in body unless the ‘Masthur’ got rid of the enemy of their country.”

Fitzpatrick’s biography also cites letters from two people who confirmed Hurlbert’s role in the lecture drama. One is Major Patrick M. Haverty, a Dublin-born friend of Father Burke who came to America in the late 1840s. Haverty assisted General Thomas F. Meagher in organizing the Irish Brigade during the U.S. Civil War, and was an established publisher and bookseller in New York at the time of the priest’s 1872 visit.

Father Burke and Hurlbert: “…were great friends; visited the art galleries together; and enjoyed their mutual criticisms,” Haverty wrote. “When Father Burke came to New York one of the first to call on him was Mr. Hurlburt (sic).”

Patrick James Smyth, an Irish Home Rule M.P for Westmeath at the time of Froude/Burke lectures, was the second source. He wrote that Hurlbert had tried to arrange a dinner to introduce the visiting Englishman and Irishman before the lectures got underway. Father Burke was about to accept, Smyth wrote, but: “I advised him to wait until his lectures were over, because I knew that he was so impressible that if he were once brought into friendly contact with his opponent he would not have the heart to deliver such stunning and keen thrusts when he appeared against him in the forum.”

Father Burke’s lectures easily carried popular opinion in America, which still harbored deep anti-Anglo feelings a century after its own revolution against England, and were more recently inflamed during the Civil War. Americans bristled at Froude’s anti-democratic and anti-Catholic rhetoric. Besides, they liked an underdog, in this case, Ireland. 

A few years after his return from America, Father Burke said that any Irishman living abroad would experience “a yearning and a craving and a love for Ireland … that he never felt before.” But he never became a strong voice for Irish independence that some hoped. “Advanced nationalists often made it a source of complaint and resentment against Burke that after his return to Ireland he confined himself to priestly functions,” Fitzpatrick wrote. Hurlbert observed that the 1882 murder of two English government officials by militant nationalists in Dublin’s Phoenix Park “went near to breaking the heart and hope of poor Father Burke” a year before his death.

Hurlbert insisted “the strike of the servant girls at Boston” was a “precursory symptom” of the “social plague of boycotting” that he found so prevalent in Ireland during his 1888 visit. His friend’s 1872 rebuke to the Irish workers, Hurlbert concluded, anticipated the papal decree against such activity issued during his travels.

Hurlbert added that he didn’t expect any immigrant “to divest himself of his native sympathies or antipathies,” but once in America he was required to divest “of the notion that he retains any right actively to interfere in the domestic affairs of the country of his birth. For public and political purposes, the Irishman who becomes an American ceases to be an Irishman.”

NOTES: 

Burke and Froude from pages 4-6 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. Additional information on Burke from pages 41, 54, and 222.

“The reading of it …”  The New York Tribune, Nov. 27, 1872, page 1

“We do not know what truth…”  The New York Times, Nov. 27, 1872, page 4

Herbert Paul, The Life of Froude, Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, London, 1905, pages 223-228.

Waldo Hilary Dunn, James Anthony Froude, A Biography, Vol. 2, 1857-1894. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1961-63: footnote, page 611; fire, page 384.

“Dr. Peabody of Harvard…” The Boston Globe, Nov. 15, 1872, page 8

William J. Fitzpatrick, The Life of the Very Rev. Thomas N. Burke, Vol. 2, New York, 1886: “Nora and Biddys…”, pages 77-78; “he was so impressible…”, page 77; “visited the art galleries together…”, page 62; and “An Irishman abroad” and “advanced nationalists…”, page 78-79.

“carried popular opinion…” Wayne C. Minnick, 1951, “The Froude-Burke Controversy” in Speech Monographs, 18, pp. 31–36.

The Irish servants walkout in Boston resurfaced in Andrew Urban’s 2017 book, Brokering Servitude: Migration and the Politics of Domestic Labor During the Long Nineteenth Century. Urban cited Hurlbert as his source, in addition to earlier English newspaper reports about Irish worker protests in America.

Catching up with modern Ireland: September

Before getting to this month’s roundup, I want to thank the Irish Railroad Workers Museum in Baltimore and those who attended my 15 September talk on Ireland’s Famine Children ‘Born at Sea’. Also this month, year-to-date traffic on the blog surpassed last year’s total. Thanks for reading. MH

  • September began with the 99th annual Dublin City Liffey Swim, a 2.2 K (1.3 mile) “towards the sea” race underneath a dozen key bridges.
  • A confluence of events has shunted unification on to the political agenda.” From Talk of a united Ireland is rife. But is it a fantasy?
  • The four-volume Cambridge History of Irelandpublished in April, received its American launch this month with events in Washington, D.C., New York, and Boston.
  • For a few days early in the month it appeared that U.S. President Donald Trump was going visit Ireland as part of trip to Paris to mark the end of World War I. Within two weeks, the Irish leg was cancelled.
  • By almost every measure Ireland today is a more inclusive, progressive and safer place to live than it once was, and the oppressive control exerted by church and State have been dramatically lessened. People live longer, cars are safer, roads are better, homes – if you are lucky enough to have one – are warmer and food is better and cheaper than it was.” From Is Ireland a better place to live now than 20 years ago.
  • The BBC reported on the dwindling number of iconic red telephone boxes in Northern Ireland, though some have been re-purposed as mini libraries, defibrillator kiosks, and information centres.
  • Travel to Ireland increased by nearly 8 percent in the eight-months through August, compared to the same period in 2017, the CSO said.
  • Listowel, in Kerry, the home of the late John B. Keane and the annual “Writer’s Week,” is this year’s All-Ireland Tidy Town, topping 883 entries in the 60th annual competition.

“Tidy Town” winner Listowel, from the Listowel Connection blog.

GAA’s “American Invasion” began 130 years ago

On 25 September, 1888, a delegation of Irish athletes arrived in New York City for an “American Invasion Tour” intended to raise money and promote awareness for the sports of the four-year-old Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA).

The New York Times reported that “50 stalwart young lads with remarkably well developed limbs sprang down the gangplank of the steamer Wisconsin … (carrying) blackthorn sticks and ‘hurling’ clubs in their hands … Their sticks commanded universal respect, and a big policeman eyed them with special interest …”

The 1888 hurling team. Image from Haverford College.

The visiting athletes were greeted by “many friends … and representatives from several Irish societies,” the Times reported. “Almost all trades and professions are represented among the young men.”

Their arrival coincided with a period of increased Irish immigration to America due to ongoing domestic agrarian unrest and political turmoil. These issues were now receiving extra scrutiny from a special commission that opened in London a few weeks earlier. American journalist William Henry Hurlbert also published a book about the “Irish problem” based on his travels in the country earlier that year. (See my “Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited” blog serial.)

“One of the main ideas considered by the founders of the GAA was the revival of the ancient Tailteann Games, An Aonach Tailteann,” the organization says in its online history. “However, terrible weather and infighting between the two athletic organisations in America resulted in low attendances and gate receipts.”

The GAA tour was to have included exhibitions in New York; Boston; Philadelphia; Trenton, Newark, and Patterson, New Jersey; Providence, Rhode Island; and Lowell, Massachusetts. But dates were cancelled and the tour ended in just five weeks. The GAA had to borrow money from agrarian activist Michael Davitt help the athletes return to Ireland. About half the young men decided to stay in America.

Two years ago, the diary kept team member Pat Davin, brother of GAA co-founder Maurice Davin, emerged in public and was put under auction, as reported by The Irish Times. In one passage the diarist complained about “very plain-looking” American women at a New York dance; in another, about the lack of strong drink at a Massachusetts banquet.

1888 Invasion medal.

Davin’s dairy went unsold at the 2016 auction and remains in the hands of the private owner, said County Kilkenny-based Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers. A commemorative medal from the 1888 tour sold in May for about $2,200, slightly less than was paid for a similar medal eight years ago.

 

“Although the tour was deemed a failure in some regards, its overall cultural impact was noticeable and lasting,” according to Haverford College“The tour was well received by Irish American communities in general and eventually resulted in the formation of several GAA branches.”

During his travels in Ireland, Hurlbert obtained a copy of the newly published Poems and Ballads of Young Ireland, which included “Marching Song of the Gaelic Athletes.” The poem by Irish nationalist Douglas Hyde later became the GAA anthem. It begins:

We, the numerous men of Eire,
Born beneath her pleasant skies,
To our gatherings on our mountains.
In our thousands we arise.
See the weapons on our shoulders,
Neither gun nor pike we bear,
But should Ireland call upon us
Ireland soon should find them there.

(Poem continues)