Category Archives: Northern Ireland

Brexit feck it; no confidence next?

UPDATE: 

“A day after overwhelmingly rejecting her Brexit deal, rebel Tories and Democratic Unionist party MPs swung behind the prime minister to defeat Labour’s motion of no confidence by 325 votes to 306 – a majority of 19,” The Irish Times reports.

BBC Q & A on Brexit and the Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland border,  and cool multimedia feature, The hardest border, from 2017.

ORIGINAL POST:

The U.K. Parliament has overwhelmingly rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit proposal. Now she faces a no confidence vote. There’s plenty of online coverage of May’s 432-202 humiliation, but what most caught my eye was this historical note in The Washington Post:

Historians had to go as far back as the Victorian age to find a comparable party split and parliamentary defeat — to Prime Minister William Gladstone’s support for Irish home rule in 1886, which cut the Liberal Party in two.

Gladstone lost by a smaller margin than May, but he was removed from office soon after. He returned as PM in 1892, for the fourth time; and he tried and failed for the second time to pass home rule for Ireland.

Gladstone, standing, proposed home rule for Ireland in 1886.

Arlene Foster, leader of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which props up May’s current government, has said her members will continue their support and not vote no confidence. I’ll update this post with the outcome of that vote and other Brexit developments.

For now, I close by paraphrasing 19th century American journalist William Henry Hurlbert, who wrote about the 1886 home rule vote during his 1888 travels in Ireland. Hurlbert opposed the efforts of Irish nationalists to secure home rule. Here, I’m substituting Brexit for home rule, Britain for Ireland:

Brexit for Britain is not now a plan–nor so much as a proposition. It is merely a polemical phrase, of little importance to persons really interested in the condition of Britain, however invaluable it may be to the makers of party platforms … or to Parliamentary candidates.

Two found books about Northern Ireland

Since the current troubles in Northern Ireland began in 1968, there has been an explosion of research on the area. Hundreds of books and an even larger number of articles have been published. … It is quite possible that, in proportion to size, Northern Ireland is the most heavily researched area on earth.
–John Whyte, in the Preface of Interpreting Northern Ireland, January 1990

It’s now two years since the Northern Ireland Assembly collapsed in a feud between Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party, an unfortunate anniversary overshadowed by concerns about how the impending Brexit will impact the north’s border with the Republic of Ireland.

My neighborhood book kiosk.

By coincidence, two books about Northern Ireland just arrived at my reading chair, both published before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. My wife plucked them from the “Little Free Library” outside the Episcopal church near our apartment building.

Maybe you’ve seen one of these literary kiosks, typically emblazoned with the motto: “Take a book. Leave a book.” We’ve done both.

In addition to Whyte’s 1990 Interpreting Northern Ireland is The Committee: Political Assassination in Northern Ireland by Sean McPhilemy, which was published in February 1998, two months before the historic peace accord.

Both books are among over 18,800 reference materials relevant to the Northern Ireland “Troubles” listed in the CAIN (Conflict Archive on the INternet) Bibliography, last updated in April 2016. Entries mainly refer to books, but also include journal and newspaper articles, pamphlets, and dissertations. (Allow me to link to my own 2001 piece for the Mobile (Ala.) Register, written as part of a German Marshall Fund journalism grant.)

At 21 and nearly 30 years old, the books are dated, thought not rare or antiquarian. As should be the aim of any good journalism (McPhilemy) and scholarship (Whyte), each attempted to provide the fullest picture of reality with the best information available at the time. 

Whyte’s bibliography stretches 27 pages. His concluding chapter includes a subtitle: “Has Research on the Northern Ireland Problem Been Worth While?” He notes there was not nearly as much academic attention to revolutionary Ireland in the period 1916-1923.

Yet the people muddled through to some kind of settlement. From Irish experience one might deduce that research actually does harm: that the more work is done on a problem, the longer it takes to solve it. I do not put that forward altogether seriously–there were other reasons besides a mere absence of academics why the last round of troubles proved easier to bring to an end. But it could be argued from Irish experience that research does not seem to do much good.

Whyte died in May 1990, just a few months after his book was published; felled by a heart attack at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on his way to a conference in Virginia. He was traveling with Garret FitzGerald, the former Fine Gael Taoiseach, who two months later wrote the Forward of Interpreting Northern Ireland:

It is a tribute to the comprehensive and objective character of this work that one can say with assurance that no one is likely to be able to write intelligently about the Northern Ireland conflict in future without having first taken account of John Whyte’s last book.

McPhilemy’s 1998 book is based on his 1991 “sensation documentary” for British television. Both alleged to reveal that Unionist members of the Northern Ireland business community, Protestant clergy, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and British security forces colluded with Loyalist terrorists to murder Irish Republicans and other Irish nationalists.

Irish America magazine publisher Niall O’Dowd and U.S. Congressman Peter King each qualified their promotional blurbs on the dust jacket with “If McPhilemy is right…”, and “If McPhilemy’s allegations are true…” , respectively. 

As it turned out, the book has spent more time under the noses of judges and juries than regular readers. Its post-publication history is a long docket of libel cases based on its central allegations and due to complexities that emerged in the then new “age of the Internet and global book publishing,” as The New York Times reported in 1999

Former Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble, alleged to have assisted the secret loyalist committee, was the most high-profile plaintiff. He won two judgements against online retailer Amazon.com for distributing The Committee via its online platform. The book was published in America by Roberts Rinehart Publishers, which also was sued and settled.

It probably didn’t hurt Trimble’s case(s) that he co-won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the Good Friday Agreement. He also became the first “first minister” of the Northern Ireland Assembly, 1998-2002.

Online sales of The Committee were supposed to have stopped, but the book is still available from Amazon. The full text can be viewed on the Internet Archive. Here in Washington, D.C., the Library of Congress has a copy; as does the Ralph J. Bunche Library at the U.S. Department of State; and most university libraries. Digital and print versions are also available at Queen’s University Belfast, and at the National Library of Ireland, Dublin.

I understand that reputations can be damaged by shoddy or malicious reporting or scholarship. I respect libel laws, but suspect they too often are used as a cudgel to suppress information. I am encouraged that it is difficult to disappear books; whether recently created or a little aged; whether posted online; sold in a store; shelved at a library; or placed in the neighborhood book kiosk.

Catching up with modern Ireland: December

The most important story of (December) 2018 will likely be the most important story of (January) 2019: Brexit, and the impact on the Irish border. British Prime Minister Theresa May scratched the scheduled 11 December vote on her Brexit package when it became clear parliament would not accept the deal approved weeks earlier by the European Union. Now the vote is set for the week of 14 January, date to be determined.

  • In mid-December, the Irish government published a “sobering” contingency plan in case of a no-deal exit by Britain from the European Union, a move that officials say would hurt Ireland more than any other country in the bloc, The New York Times reported. A second story in the Times described how Brexit could disrupt trade and reinvigorate the conflict between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
  • “Ireland can lay credible claim to offer a haven from the populist plague that has infected so many other countries.”Chris Johns in The Irish Times.
  • Hopes for a new class of visa for Irish citizens were dashed in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican. Outgoing U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, had pushed the measure through the lower chamber in the waning days of the session, The Irish Times reported.
  • Tourism Ireland declared 2018 “the best year ever for overseas tourism to the island of Ireland,” with some 11.2 million visitors. Dublin Airport reported that it welcomed more than 30 million passengers for the first time in its 78-year history. I was happy to contribute to those numbers with visits in February and November, the first time I’ve traveled to Ireland more than once within one year.
  • Over 3,500 people were refused entry to Ireland at passport control in the last year, TheJournal.ie reported, including nearly 200 Americans. (Happily, as noted above, I wasn’t among them.)
  • The Irish Times‘ U.S. correspondent Suzanne Lynch profiled Scituate, Massachusetts, as “the most Irish town in America,” based on 2010 U.S. Census data. The Daily Mail reported the same story in 2011, as have other media. Lynch quoted Niall O’Dowd, editor of IrishCentral.com, who warned that Ireland is in danger of losing its diaspora in the coming decades. “You have to work at a diaspora. Diasporas can die.”
  • Irish President Michael D. Higgins signed the bill legalizing abortion in Ireland, as approved by referendum earlier in year. The procedures are expected to become available in January.
  • The bestselling books in Ireland for 2018, according to The Irish Times.
  • 2018 deaths of Irish celebrities and other notables, per Legacy.com.

Ring of Kerry. Tourism Ireland image.

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.

George H.W. Bush, disengaged during Troubles, dies at 94

Irish political leaders are offering their condolences on the 30 November death of former U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush.

“He will be remembered for the directness with which he expressed his policy principles and his efforts to achieve bipartisanship,” Irish President Michael D. Higgins said in a statement. “On behalf of the Irish people I offer our deepest sympathies to his family and to the people of the United States.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar tweeted:


Unlike U.S. presidents John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, or Barack Obama, Bush never had much of a relationship with the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland. Bush was Reagan’s vice president from 1980 to 1988, then won the office in 1988, spanning some of the bloodiest years of The Troubles.

Once Clinton defeated Bush in the 1992 U.S. election, he sought to “establish distance” from his predecessor’s approach to Ulster, according to John Dumbrell in “The United States and the Northern Irish Conflict 1969–94: from Indifference to Intervention,” a 1995 piece.

George H. W. Bush

“The Bush administration had followed a cautious, State Department line, strongly opposing the MacBride principles and interpreting the situation in the province as ‘unripe’ for mediation.” … Since the Carter presidency of the late 1970s,  “Washington has asserted the legitimacy of its interest in the province and-with the exception of the Bush years-presented something approaching a coherent, interventionist strategy.”

The Good Friday Agreement was reached during Clinton’s second term of office, 20 years ago this year. In 2010, introducing Clinton for a Atlantic Council Distinguished Leadership Award, Bush recognized his successor’s role in the Northern Ireland peace process.

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. 

EU approves Brexit deal, tough UK vote pending

European Union (EU) have approved British Prime Minister Theresa May’s  Brexit package, setting the stage for a divisive and decisive vote by the British parliament on 11 December.

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, quoted by The Irish Times, said the deal allows for an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom (UK), including Northern Ireland, from the EU, scheduled for 29 March 2019.  It “assures us that there’ll be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and that we’ll continue to have tariff-free and quota free trade between Britain and Ireland, which is very important for our economy.”

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, whose votes are critical to May’s governing coalition, has said it would try to block the Brexit deal because it binds London to many EU rules, and could weaken the province’s ties to Britain. The agreement “is worse than no deal and worse than staying in the EU,” DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, according to the BBC.

Business and farming groups in the North have urged the DUP to support the deal to provide certainty. Two years ago, Northern Ireland voted against Brexit, but the Leave side prevailed with strong support in England.

For now, both sides have agreed that unless they come up with a better plan in the next four months, the UK would remain locked inside the European customs union, obligated to respect most E.U. regulations on goods that pass between the two sides, including tariffs with the rest of the world.

In addition to the legally-binding Brexit language, the EU approved a non-binding political declaration on the future relationship with the UK. It contains a list of hoped-for outcomes on trade, customs inspections, tariffs, fisheries rights, aviation, and the ability of citizens to visit and live in the other’s territory, according to the Washington Post.

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.

Note to Readers: Peace and the Irish wars at 100

Now through May 2023 will be packed with the 100th anniversaries of major milestones in Ireland’s struggle for independence and the island’s partition. I’ll be doing original research and reporting about the period, and aggregating the work of others.

Subscribe to the blog via email, at right, and bookmark the site.

The 11 November centennial of the armistice ending World War I, and the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, will get plenty of global attention in the coming weeks and months. “The mood during that [1918-19] winter was pregnant with hopes and fears for the future,” historian John Horne wrote in an overview for The Irish Times. “… Paris produced dreams and disillusion in equal measure.”

U.S. and British elections of 5 November and 14 December, 1918, respectively, each had a big impact on the Paris conference and with Irish relations in Washington and London. The Irish War of Independence began on 21 January, 1919, and wasn’t resolved until the end of the Irish Civil War on 24 May, 1923. The island was divided into the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland.

My posts about this period will focus more on how the Irish in America influenced and were impacted by events in their homeland. I’ll be looking for untold stories of how Irish immigrants in America were touched by the upheaval. I intend to access historical materials at the National Archives & Records Administration, Library of Congress, and Irish collections in the U.S.

I also will be attending the 9-10 November Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland conference, “The Press and The Vote,” in Galway, which will focus on the December 1918 U.K. general election. I hope there will be other future trips to Ireland.

This is a fascinating period of history. Please join me in exploring it. Your ideas and comments are very welcome.

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month was 6 a.m. Eastern in the U.S.