Category Archives: Irish America

An Irish shrine in the heart of Baltimore

The Irish Railroad Workers Museum and Shrine at 918 Lemon St. in Baltimore.

I visited The Irish Railroad Workers Museum and Shrine at the edge of downtown Baltimore.

The museum is dedicated to the tens of thousands of Irish who began immigrating to the city during the Great Famine and continued to the middle of the 20th century. Many worked at the nearby Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

The museum is contained within two row houses typical of the West Baltimore neighborhood of the period. There is a nice introductory video narrated by Martin O’Malley, former Baltimore mayor (1999-2007) and Maryland governor (2007-2015) in the museum welcome center, which also contains artifacts from the nearby St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church (now a Baptist worship space) and B&O rail yards. The adjoining house is restored as a typical workers’s home of the period.

The Memorial Garden in the rear features the shrine mural by artist Wayne Nield. The image depicts three phases of the Irish experience: the famine of the 1840s (right), the treacherous voyage across the Atlantic (center) and the new life in America (left), where the predominantly rural immigrants remade themselves as city dwellers.

Museum Board Member Barry Larkin and Managing Director Luke McCusker were very friendly and informative during my visit. I hope to return soon.

The shrine mural by Wayne Nield.

The Manchester martyrs: From last letters to lasting legends

A few compelling “last letters” from prison before their 1867 execution helped turn three Irish rebels into the Manchester martyrs. Their story went viral 150 years ago this month, long before social media, and contributed to the rise of Irish nationalism through the late 19th and early 20th century.

Read my latest story for the Dublin-based Irish Story website.

 

1917: Year of shipwrecks off Irish coast

More than three dozen ships were sunk off the Irish coast in 1917, most in German attacks related to World War I. About 600 people, including merchant crews and civilian passengers, died in these episodes, but the toll likely was much higher. Some survived these ordeals.

The Irish Shipwrecks Database (ISD) lists 41 vessels as sent to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, Irish Sea and St. George’s Channel in 1917. Some of the wrecks were more than 100 miles off the coast, others within sight of shore. My review of other sources indicates the database is missing at least a few navy ships and cargo vessels sunk by German submarines, and also does not included a few of the U-boats destroyed in Irish waters by the U.S. and British navy.

About half the vessels listed in the ISD were torpedoed by German submarines. Others struck mines floating in the sea lanes. A few vessels were captured, stripped of food and other valuables, then scuttled. The wrecked watercraft included cargo ships under steam and sail, merchant cruisers, minesweepers and fishing trawlers.

The 41 shipwrecks in 1917 is the third highest total in the ISD behind 64 sunken vessels in 1867 and the same number in 1852. The ISD shows five shipwrecks in both 1918 and 1916, including the Aud.

Germany renewed its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare in early 1917 after restricting such activity in the wake of sinking the British liner Lusitania in May 1915. America entered the war in April 1917, and a month later the U.S. Navy arrived at Cork. The war continued through November 1918.

The deadliest episode of 1917 was the 25 January sinking of the Laurentic at Lough Swilly, County Donegal. The British steam ship, which had been converted into an armed merchant cruiser, hit a mine about 90 minutes after leaving the harbor. One hundred twenty one men were rescued from the crew of 475.

S.S. Laurentic

The Laurentic was carrying a valuable cargo of gold ingots. As of October 2017, 542 of the gold bars had been recovered from the original load of 3,211 as high-tech salvage crews continue searching the bottom for the rest of the treasure.

The second deadliest 1917 Irish shipwreck occurred two weeks after the Laurentic, on 7 February, when the passenger steamer California was torpedoed 38 miles from Fastnet Rock, off the Cork coast. A total of 43 people were killed–30 crew and 13 passengers–among the 205 aboard.

While these episodes were widely reported in Irish newspapers, other ship sinkings were not mentioned at all, or matter-of-factly. For example, on 24 April, this story appeared on page 5 of the Freemans Journal:

IRISH STEAMER SUNK

Another Irish ship, with a cargo of grain, flour and general merchandise, for an Irish port, has been sunk by a German submarine. It is understood that the crew was rescued.

The 1917 Irish shipwrecks are getting some contemporary media attention at this year’s centenary:

Guest post: Welcome home to Ireland

I’m always happy to publish a guest post from people visiting or just returned from Ireland. My good friend Sister Cathy Cahill, OSF, a globe-trotting retreat leader and spiritual director, just sent the correspondence below. Last year, she wrote about the 1916 Easter Rising centenary. MH

***

It is always a joy to be in Ireland! The greeting that always takes me by surprise and warms my Irish-American heart is, “Welcome home!” It comes from friends and strangers alike.

My current visit comes after two weeks in Thailand and Myanmar. The contrast could not be greater with regard to climate, culture, pace, and scenery. After a few days in Dublin, where my sister’s quiet neighborhood has become a huge construction zone for much-needed apartments, I’ve shifted to the pastoral setting of County Louth for some rest and renewal.

Lovely Louth countryside.

There are none of the cranes dotting the horizon here as there were in Dublin. As I gaze out the window, it is sheep and cattle and verdant countryside that meet the eye.

The papers and radio programs are filled with voices raised against the latest problem on people’s minds, the tracker-mortgage scandal. It seems bankers have systematically overcharged consumers on mortgages. Much cynicism is voiced about whether bankers will be held accountable.

The good news that has grabbed headlines is the release of Ibrahim Halawa, a Dubliner who was held in an Egyptian prison for four years. An Irish citizen, Halawa got caught up in a protest while visiting family in Egypt. The ordeal has been long and harrowing so the joy of his return is great.

The Irish are happy to shout, “Welcome home!”

JFK assassination papers contain IRA reference

Nearly 3,000 more records related to the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy were released to the public 26 October. Almost 4,000 records became available in July under a 1992 law requiring the disclosure of U.S. government documentation of the event. A few thousand remaining files remain under review.

By coincidence, the releases come in the centenary of JFK’s birth. His death in Dallas was five months after his triumphal visit to Ireland.

My search of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration’s special Kennedy Assassination Records database found about two dozen documents with references to “Ireland” or “Irish.” The document images are not available online, but the result list provides some basic details.

The collection includes a 22 November 1963 condolence cable from Taoiseach Seán Francis Lemass to President Lyndon Johnson, and resolutions of sympathy from Dáil Éireann. Johnson replied to Lemass on 29 November.

The records include “Irish participation in JFK funeral,” “participation by the Irish Guards,” and “guidance on memorials to President Kennedy in Ireland.”

Most intriguing, however, is a one-page 29 November cable from the American Embassy in Dublin to the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. The description says:

Telegram reporting information from FBI informant claimed IRA in Ireland planned to “commit mayhem in Dallas.”

Without reading the cable, it is impossible to say whether this “mayhem” foretold the assassination, or retaliation on the city for the murder of the world’s most famous Catholic Irish-American.

In 1992, Oklahoma historian Kendrick Moore suggested the IRA may have killed Kennedy because he spoke out against isolationism from the Protestant north during his June 1963 visit. “It had to be the IRA; they are the last ones you would suspect,” he told The Oklahoman newspaper.

There are many conspiracy theories surrounding the Kennedy assassination. Here’s another: The index of the September 1964 Warren Commission report on the assassination is missing one letter, and only one letter: I for Ireland.

JFK in Dallas shortly before the 22 November 1963 assassination.

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.