Category Archives: Irish America

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.

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.

The Americans, and Irish Americans, in Ireland

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) of Ireland 21 September 2017 released migration and diversity data from the last national census. The report shows there were 535,475 non-Irish nationals living in the country in April 2016, a 1.6 percent decrease from 2011.  However, the numbers of people holding dual citizenship (Irish-other country) increased by 87.4 percent to 104,784 persons.

America was among 12 nations with over 10,000 of its citizens living in Ireland, which combined accounted for 73.6 percent of the total non-Irish national population. The 10,519 U.S. citizens living in Ireland last year was slightly fewer than the 11,015 recorded in the 2011 census.

The number of U.S. citizens living in greater Dublin increased to 4,092 in 2016, up from 3,473 in 2011. Over that five years, Cork and Limerick cities also gained Americans; Galway and Waterford cities lost U.S. residents. (My ancestral county of Kerry’s U.S. population declined to 401 from 481.)

Irish-Americans (17,552) comprised the largest group of dual citizenship residents, followed by Irish-U.K. (15,428). Again, Dublin was the stronghold for this demographic, with just over a quarter (26.4 percent) of the statewide total. The Irish-American population also increased in the other Irish cities. (Irish-Americans in Kerry reached 1,000, from 891 in 2011.)

Over 700 U.S. companies have operations in Ireland, employing more than 150,000 people (Irish, Americans, and others), according to the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland. Business sectors include software, pharma, med-tech and finance.

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.

All wet: Houston’s Irish slosh through Harvey

Stories of Irish men and women caught in the flood waters of Hurricane Harvey, which continues drenching Houston, are surfacing in media.

“I have never seen anything like it in my life,” County Down (NI) man Chris Bohill told RTÉ (via The Belfast Telegraph.) “Where I live there was a park and a baseball field now it’s just an ocean. It is phenomenal.”

The Irish Echo has a story about a County Carlow girl battling a rare form of cancer who was trapped in an apartment as she waited to see a specialist at the city’s Children’s Hospital.

The Irish Times has a roundup of several first person accounts. Earlier this year, the Times reported on Houston’s “small, but proud Irish community.”

The city is home to an Irish Network chapter, and The Irish Society of Houston.

Photo by Thomas B. Shea/AFP/Getty Images, via abcnews.go.com.

Ill-fated Irish Convention opened 100 years ago

Delegates to the Irish Convention outside Trinity College Dublin in July 1917.

A British government-backed convention to resolve “the Irish question” opened 25 July 1917, in Dublin. Delegates met through March 1918 as World War I continued to rage on the continent.

Sometimes called “Lloyd George’s Irish Convention,” after the British prime minister, it “was marked by his characteristic defects as a statesman,” County Cork’s William O’Brien wrote in his 1923 history, The Irish Revolution. “It was improvised, it was uncandid, and it was open to be changed into something quite different at a moment’s notice.”

And It failed.

I wanted to read U.S. newspaper coverage of the convention opening, especially in Pittsburgh. My maternal grandparents and other relations from Kerry arrived in the city shortly before the 1916 Easter Rising. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette offered this 26 July, 1917, editorial assessment:

There will be no disappointment if the Irish Convention which opened in Dublin yesterday to try to formulate a Home Rule plan fails of agreement, for there is no hope that anything like a conclusion acceptable to all can be reached. … If [politicians of opposing views] can meet once and part without having engaged in a fist fight and widening the breach between the factions … they can meet again. And the oftener they meet … the better chance there is that there eventually will be a meeting of the minds leading to concessions, compromise and a willingness to give a trial to some scheme of self-government that will put an end to the factional fight of centuries’ duration.

The convention’s effort to deliver Home Rule, which had been promised just before the war began in 1914, was derailed in spring 1918, as London linked the deal to enforced conscription in Ireland. (Many Irishmen voluntarily served in the British military.) The death blow came after the war, as U.S. President Woodrow Wilson abandoned the Irish at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. The Irish War of Independence began soon after.

The 4-minute video below contains soundbites from several speakers at a Trinity College Dublin centenary symposium about the convention. In addition to their various historical points, it’s worth listening to the diversity of Irish accents.

Ballot & Bullet: Remembering Dev and Danny Boy

Two July 1917 events in the west of Ireland shaped the county’s struggle for independence from Britain. A century later, however, both seem to have be mostly forgotten, prompting criticism from at least one historian.

The first and most significant event was the election of Sinn Féin candidate Éamon de Valera in County Clare. The by-election was called to fill the seat left vacant when Irish Parliamentary Party member Willie Redmond was killed in World War I. The IPP represented the late 19th century effort to secure limited domestic autonomy for Ireland, called home rule. de Valera, one of the rebels of the 1916 Easter Rising who was released from prison in June 1917, belonged to the new generation of Irish republicans seeking a clean break from Britain, even if it required violence ahead of politics.

As John Dorney explains on The Irish Story website:

His victory marked a decisive breakthrough for the Sinn Féin party and the beginning of the eclipse of the constitutional nationalists of the Irish Parliamentary Party. The following year, 1918, Sinn Féin, headed by de Valera, won a crushing victory in a general election and early the following year, declared independence, leading the Irish War of Independence.

The post also features Dorney’s 35-minute podcast interview with Clare historian Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc, who details the election and sets the context for this period between the Rising and the War. It’s a great listen.

O Ruairc raises the second event toward the end of the interview. While celebrating Dev’s victory in Ballybunion, Co. Kerry, local man Daniel Scanlon was shot and killed by an officer of the Royal Irish Constabulary. Scanlon belonged to the Irish Volunteers, at the time transitioning to the Irish Republican Army. O Ruairc describes Scanlon’s death as one of the first of the War of Independence. (Read an account in the Bureau of Military History Witness Statement of William McCabe, page 3.)

The 100th anniversary of Scanlon’s death and Dev’s election appear to have been largely ignored by the Irish government and media. The historian complains:

We hear a lot talk from politicians about how important this period of our history is commemorated … As far as I can see the 100th anniversary of this guy’s death was not commemorated.  … This period of history is passing us by because the government’s official Decade of Centenaries [1912-1922] was disbanded after the last election a year ago, after the big 2016 centenaries. … It’s an indictment of the Decade of Centenaries that it was four years long; we went from 1912 to 1916 and then we stopped. I think what we are going to see for the rest of the Decade of Centenaries is that stuff that happened outside Dublin is not [considered] important. … It will be left to the people that always commemorate it, local historians, relatives, with not much state support behind it.

In fairness, the official Decade of Centenaries website does note de Valera’s by-election win in its 1917 timeline. He is hardly forgotten in Ireland, given the large role he played as the 26 counties became the Irish Free State and eventually the Republic. By 1963, the elder statesman was still on the scene to welcome John F. Kennedy to Ireland.

Scanlon, who was 24 in 1917, is easier lost in the Irish revolutionary period. The RIC officer charged with his death was soon acquitted. It also should be remembered that Scanlon’s death came 15 months after another Ballybunion native, Patrick Shortis, 26, was killed during the Rising in Dublin.

Both of these rebel deaths catch my attention since my grandfather emigrated in 1913, at age 19, from the same village. He joined several cousins and other North Kerry immigrants in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The city’s daily newspapers carried numerous stories about de Valera’s victory, but not a word of Scanlon’s death that I can locate.

Both Shortis and Scanlon are remembered with small plaques on the sides of buildings in Ballybunion. A bronze statue of de Valera stands outside the courthouse in Ennis, Co. Clare, where his 71 percent to 29 percent ballot victory was tabulated a century ago.

The level of attention generated by last year’s 1916 centenary events would be hard to sustain over a decade. Through the end of 2018, there will continue to be more focus on the events of World War I. But O Ruairc has a point about the general decline of interest in historical events from the period between the Rising the start of the War of Independence.

The memorial to Daniel Scanlon in Ballybunion.