Category Archives: History

U.S. Rep. Murphy’s downfall recalls that of C.S. Parnell

U.S. Congressman Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) 5 October announced his resignation from office after details of his extramarital affair emerged from a divorce suit involving his mistress and her husband.

Sound a little familiar?

In 1890, Irish Parliamentary Party leader Charles Stuart Parnell was brought down by the divorce proceedings of Capt. William O’Shea and his wife, Katherine. Parnell for years had been having an affair with the spouse of his House of Commons colleague. The revelation shattered his alliance with the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland and split his pro-Home Rule political movement.

Tim Murphy

In the contemporary case, the divorce filing revealed that Murphy urged his mistress to have an abortion when they believed she was pregnant. It turned out she was not with child, but Murphy’s public pro-life stance caused a firestorm of hypocrisy.

Parnell had three children with Kitty O’Shea before they were married in June 1891. He died four months later, age 45.

Eleven years earlier, Parnell addressed the U.S. Congress at the invitation of Speaker of the House Samuel Randall (D-Pa.). Parnell’s speech got a tepid reception, largely because he did not detail the Land War and Home Rule questions in Ireland.

Murphy received the 2011 Public Service Award from the American Ireland Fund for his support of its issues and causes. I haven’t found details of his ancestral heritage.

Last St. Patrick’s Day, Murphy was among eight Irish-American House members to co-sponsor legislation (H.R. 1596) to create a 23-member commission to study the creation of a National Museum of Irish American History in Washington, D.C. If the long-stalled project ever gets completed, I bet that Parnell’s visit will be part of the exhibition. I wouldn’t make the same wager on the soon-to-be former Congressman Murphy.

Ireland’s second Cosgrave dies at 97

Former Irish prime minister Liam Cosgrave died 4 October 2017. He was 97.

The former Fine Gael leader was the son of W. T. Cosgrave, who in the 1920s led the first government of the 26-county Irish Free State. Liam Cosgrave was taoiseach from 1973 to 1977.

  • “He always believed in peaceful co-operation as the only way of achieving a genuine union between the people on this island, and in the 1970s he celebrated that this country had embarked, in his own words, ‘on a new career of progress and development in the context of Europe’ ” current Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said in an official statement.
  • Cosgrave visited U.S. President Gerald Ford at St. Patrick’s Day during the American bicentennial year of 1976, as detailed in this 2016 post from our archive.

Liam Cosgrave, left, with his father in 1957.

Post-Famine: Ireland is world’s most “food secure” nation

One hundred seventy years after “Black ’47,” the worst year of Ireland’s Great Famine, the 26-county Republic is now considered the world’s most “food secure” nation, according to a new report.

The sixth annual Global Food Security Index is based on food affordability, availability, quality and safety. Other factors include access to financing for farmers and prevalence of undernourishment. The report was designed and constructed by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

See the details for Ireland‘s first place finish score of 85.6. The United Kingdom, including the six counties of Northern Ireland, ranked third at 84.2, behind the United States at 84.6.

While The Irish Times has not yet reported the Economist’s finding, the venerable daily could not resist the appetizing news that eight Irish restaurants have received the Michelin Guide “Bib” award for  “good quality at good value.” Four of the trendy eateries are in Dublin city, while the other four are in counties Kildare, Clare, Galway and Down.

It’s long, long way from the 19th century potato blight.

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.

How the Vietnamese are similar to the Irish

I am watching the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary series “The Vietnam War.” Among those interviewed in the film is journalist Neal Sheehan, who covered the earlier years of the conflict as a reporter for UPI. His book, A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, received the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction.

Sheehan was born in 1936 and raised on a dairy farm in Holyoke, Massachusetts, about 100 miles west of Boston. Online biographies say either his mother or both parents were Irish immigrants, but I haven’t been able to determine what county she or they were from.

In A Bright Shining Lie, this passage about the North Vietnamese Communists caught my attention (my emphasis added):

Ho Chi Minh and his disciples became Communists through an accident of French politics. They were mandarins, Vietnamese aristocrats, the natural leaders of a people whom foreigners have repeatedly sought and failed to conquer and pacify. There are only a small number of such peoples on earth. The Irish are one. The Vietnamese are another. The violence of their resistance forms history and legend to remind the living that they must never shame the dead.

Neil Sheehan at work in the Saigon office of UPI, 1963. (©Bettmann/CORBIS)

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.

@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

‘The one element that just won’t mix’

This image is from the 26 June 1889, issue of Puck magazine. It is part of the American Democracy display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., which I visited recently with some friends.

The display says, in part:

Although the ideal of Americanization was to welcome all foreigners, some groups were viewed as too disruptive for the rest of the pot. In this example, Irish radicals were seen as too unruly to mix in.

The C.J. Taylor cartoon appeared alongside an editorial criticizing supporters of Irish independence as “American only in name.”

The Irishman at the left edge of the mortar is caricatured as an ape-like fellow with a bloody dagger in his right hand and, in his left, a flag of Clan na Gael, the U.S.-based Irish republican organization founded in 1867. The sash across his chest says “Blaine Irishman,” a reference to James G. Blaine, a U.S. politician and 1884 Republican Party nominee for president. His unsuccessful candidacy included a bid to sway the mainly Democratic Irish American constituency to his party.

In June 1889, the Special Commission on “Parnellism and Crime” was still meeting in London to probe the links between Irish agrarian violence and the Home Rule movement led by Charles Stuart Parnell. His extramarital affair would be exposed later in the year, and he died in 1890.

In the U.S., Dr. Patrick Henry Cronin was murdered in May 1889, deepening the Clan na Gael feud between John Devoy and Alexander Sullivan. Trials related to the crime began before the end of the year.

In 1889, a total of 64,923 people emigrated from Ireland, of which nearly 58,000 were destined for the United States. Irish immigration was nearing a post-Famine ebb before swelling again in the early 20th century.

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