Category Archives: Northern Ireland

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.

Catching up with modern Ireland: August

Pope Francis’ visit dominated the news from and about Ireland in August, but there were other developments. Here’s my regular monthly roundup:

  • Northern Ireland set a new world record on 29 August for the longest peacetime period without a government, 590 days and counting, the Associated Press reported. The Catholic-Protestant power-sharing administration at Stormont collapsed in January 2017. People gathered across the North to protest that “Stormont is Dormant.”

  • The number of Irish people returning to live in the Republic of Ireland has overtaken those leaving the country for the first time since 2009. See full details from the Central Statistics Office.
  • The Drinks Industry Group of Ireland reported there are nearly 1,500 fewer pubs in the country than in 2005, a 17.1 percent decrease. Off licenses increased by 11.6 percent, and wine-only establishments increased by 3.1 percent.
  • A statue of former U.S. President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama was unveiled at Barack Obama Plaza, a fast-food and petrol station on the outskirts of Moneygall, County Offaly.
  • Kirsten Mate Maher of Waterford was crowned the 2018 Rose of Tralee. She is the first African-Irish “Rose,” and the third mixed-race woman to win the title, according to The Irish Times.
  • Wild fires revealed a giant EIRE sign carved into the ground at Bray Head, County Wicklow. The World War II relic was created to warn Allied and Axis pilots of Ireland’s neutral status. In July, a previously undiscovered henge, or circular enclosure, close to the neolithic passage tomb Newgrange, emerged as the result of exceptionally dry weather.
  • A major fire gutted the 233-year-old Primark building in Belfast city centre. It was not immediately clear whether the remaining sandstone facade of the historic five-story building could be saved.

Flames billow from the Primark store in the Bank Buildings on Castle Street, in Belfast city centre. Image from BBC.

Catching up with modern Ireland: July

I’m publishing this month’s roundup a little early due to travel. Upcoming posts will remain minimal through early September as I work on other projects. Thanks for supporting the blog. MH

  • Northern Ireland would be better off financially as part of a united Ireland, according to the “Northern Ireland’s Income and Expenditure in a Reunification Scenario” report by Gunther Thurmann, who worked on the German desk at the International Monteary Fund during German reunification, and Fianna Fail Senator Mark Daly. The new report includes the December 2016 analysis by the U.S. House of Representatives Congressional Research Office, requested by Congressman Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), in the wake of the Brexit vote.
  • “There’s no such thing as Irish science; there’s only global science.” — Mark Ferguson, director general of Science Foundation Ireland, at a 25 July, Irish Network-DC event at the Embassy of Ireland, Washington, D.C. SFI was created by a 1998 government initiative and has put Ireland at the forefront of scientific research and development. Ferguson said he sees new opportunities for Ireland resulting from Brexit.
  • In a reflection of the diversity of modern Ireland, a new graveyard for all denominations – and for none – opened in Killarney, County Kerry, The Irish Times reported.
  • A previously undiscovered henge, or circular enclosure, close to the neolithic passage tomb Newgrange, was spotted by an historian flying a drone over the Boyne Valley, County Meath. Unusually dry weather caused the outlines of the site to emerge like subterranean shadows.
  • Friday, 27 July, offered a night of stargazing in Ireland, with a total lunar eclipse, a “blood moon,” and rare looks at Mars, Jupiter and the International Space Station.
  • “We used to blame everything on the British. Now we blame the church.” — Archbishop Eamon Martin, leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, in America magazine story, “What is Ireland’s future after repealing its ban on abortion?
  • The touring “Coming Home: Art & The Great Hunger” exhibit from Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., opened this month in Skibbereen, County Cork, where it will remain through 13 October. The exhibit opened in Dublin earlier this year. It will show in Derry, Northern Ireland, the first quarter of 2019.

“Derrynane,” a 1927 oil on canvas by Jack B. Yeats, is part of the “Coming Home” exhibit.

12 July 1958: The wedding beyond the marching

On 12 July 1958, the BBC for the first time “live” broadcast a massive Orange parade in Northern Ireland. About 25,000 men from 300 lodges participated in the five-mile march from Belfast to “The Field” at Finaghy, according to news reports.

That day, 60 summers ago, was “dull and wet” across the Six Counties as Orangemen marked the 268th anniversary of the Battle of Boyne. I didn’t see any reports of violence at these soggy, pre-Troubles marches in my quick search of the Irish Newspaper Archives.

But the date is important to me for something that happened in America. That Saturday morning, 3,400 miles from Belfast, Richard Holan and Lenore Diggin were married at St. Stephen Catholic Church in Pittsburgh.

The bride recalled that her mother, an emigrant of Ballylongford, Kerry, had raised an eyebrow about scheduling the wedding on the Orangemen’s day. Her father, also from Kerry, had died 17 years earlier.

The religious and political baggage of an historic date, however, seldom stop the nuptials of two people in love. And I’m glad of it. Happy 60th wedding anniversary, Mom & Dad.

Lenore & Rich, June 2018, just before their 60th anniversary.

Catching up with modern Ireland: June

No sooner were the votes counted in last month’s successful repeal of Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion, than feminists and other liberals turned their attention to a new referendum. This time the targets are removing language about blasphemy and the women’s role in the home.

The Republic’s constitution “recognizes that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved. The State shall, therefore, endeavor to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labor to the neglect of their duties in the home.”

Regarding blasphemy, the constitution says, “The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.”

The referendum, likely in October, would be held alongside the presidential election – if one is called, Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan said in a government statement. Both referendum issues are expected to cruise to easy passage with only minimal opposition.

But is the pendulum swinging too far to the left? As Father Gerard Moloney wrote in The Irish Times:

Now there is a sense that we have replaced one form of intolerance with another. Just as it was difficult to speak out against the cozy religious, social and moral consensus of 50 years ago, it is difficult to speak out against the dominant cultural mindset of today. … A new secular judgmentalism has replaced the old religious judgmentalism of yesteryear.

Also in June:

  • The American Chamber of Commerce Ireland released polling data showing that that 84 percent of the Irish population believe U.S. companies are critical to the economic future.  Over 155,000 Irish work for American companies.
  • The same week as the survey release (coincidence?), Amazon opened a 170,000-square-foot building in Dublin and announced that it will add 1,000 jobs to the 2,500 people it already employees in Ireland.
  • Another Irish-British handshake: While not the same magnitude as the 2012 palm-to-white-gloved-palm between Martin McGuinness and the Queen, Charles, the Prince of Wales, and former IRA bomber and Sinn Féin assembly member Gerry Kelly shook right mitts in Belfast.
  • This headline over a Derek Scally column in The Irish Times put a modern spin on an historic phrase: German’s difficulty could be Ireland’s opportunity.
  • For the second time in as many months, Irish Ferries was forced to cancel thousands of bookings as it postponed the inaugural sailing of the WB Yeats at least until September.
  • In case you are wondering: The impasse over restoring the Northern Ireland Assembly has reached 18 months, and debate also continues on the post-Brexit fate of the border between the North and the Republic.
  • Why both matter: Northern Ireland sends almost double the amount of trade to the Republic that it receives in return, according to a Cross-Border Supply Chain survey the by Northern Ireland Statistical & Research Agency and the Department for the Economy. (Click graphic to see more detail.)

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisted: Final thoughts

This is the last post in a blog serial that has explored aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. All of the hyperlinks below are to earlier posts in the series. All of the posts and other background material are available at the project landing page. Thanks for supporting #IUCRevisited.

***

“I went to Ireland … to learn what I could of the social and economical conditions of the Irish people as affected by the revolutionary forces which are now at work in the country.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

I discovered the digital edition of Ireland Under Coercion several years ago while researching the 1888 Kerry murders of James Fitzmaurice and John Foran. The former was shot at dawn, 31 January 1888, at Lixnaw, as Hurlbert awoke in Dublin for his first full day in Ireland. He mentions the murder several times in the book. Foran was shot in late July, as the first edition of IUC was in production for its August 1888 release.

Period illustration of the murder of James Fitzmaurice, survived by his daughter Nora, which occurred in January 1888 as Hurlbert began his six-month travels in Ireland.

I was intrigued by the book from an American journalist traveling in Ireland during a flare up in the decade-long Land War. Hurlbert’s six-month reporting trip began shortly after the Times of London published its “Parnellism and Crime” series and ended just as a special judicial commission began hearings that largely disproved the newspaper’s allegations. He was in Ireland as the Vatican issued the Papal decree against boycotting and the rent-withholding Plan of Campaign. Tenant evictions continued on several large estates during this period. The rapidly growing number of nationalist newspapers that covered these events, Hurlbert asserted, did so less for domestic consumption than for foreign audiences. Across the Atlantic, the Irish in America played a significant role in their homeland politics as mass emigration continued from Ireland.

Like other journalists who wrote books about their visits to Ireland during this period, Hurlbert described the beauty of the landscape. He also detailed the sights of Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Kilkenny and smaller towns. Today, there is a romantic, late 19th century aura to his travels by rail and jaunting car. One of my favorite passages in the book:

“I pity the traveler of the future here, if he is never to know the delight of traversing these wild and picturesque wastes in such weather as we have had today, on a [jaunting] car, well-balanced by a single pleasant companion, drinking, as he goes, deep draughts of the Atlantic air.”

A rural road in Donegal. Photo by Rita Wilson/Donegal Film Office.

Hurlbert’s main focus was the big issues of the day: Home Rule, boycotting and moonlighting. He interviewed numerous people who shaped the period: Land League leader Michael Davitt; Chief Secretary for Ireland Arthur Balfour; Catholic clergy and tenant activists Father James McFadden of Donegal, Father Patrick White of Clare, and Father Daniel Keller of Cork; Ulster Protestant clergymen and unionist supporters Rev. Dr. “Roaring” Hugh Hanna and Rev. Dr. Richard Rutledge Kane, both in Belfast; physically-challenged Irish aristocrat Arthur MacMurrough Kavanagh; and the aging Fenian John O’Leary

To be sure, there are challenges to reading Hurlbert’s book. His conservative, pro-landlord, pro-unionist views frequently come across as smug, elitist and–history shows–wrong. He didn’t write the ugliest Irish stereotypes of the day, but they lurk between the lines. Many of his references to Irish and other world history, literature, and the law will be obscure to most modern readers.

Title page from digitized edition of Ireland Under Coercion.

Hurlbert’s 19th century writing style, meandering prose often filled with personal asides and other tangents, is grammatically correct; yet can be cumbersome for 21st century readers who prefer shorter sentences. Too many of the journal-dated sections of the book lack smooth transitions between paragraphs and could have benefited from subheads. Near the end of the book, Hurlbert accommodated the eleventh-hour request from one of his hosts to protect sources by replacing their names or other identifying information with clusters of * * * * *. It’s an unacceptable contrivance for a piece of journalism.

I don’t doubt that Hurlbert’s grave concerns about the outcome of Irish agrarian agitation and nationalist movements were deeply influenced by his experiences of witnessing the terrible American Civil War. Neither do I disagree with the contemporary critics who charged that Ireland Under Coercion was the American expat’s barely-disguised bid to cozy up to the British establishment. The project apparently generated some late-career income for Hurlbert after what appears to have been a comfortable and enjoyable tour of Ireland. He would need it, as his private life was soon caught up in a public scandal.

There is certainly more material in the book than I have been able to explore in the 40 previous posts of this series. I expect to return to this project in the future. For now, however, I’m moving on to other work. Thanks again for supporting Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited. MH

Map of Ireland showing Hurlbert’s 1888 travels.

NOTES: Top quote from page 10 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American.  

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Beautiful Belfast

This is a work-in-progress blog serial about aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Previous posts and other background material are available at the project landing page#IUCRevisited

***

“If Belfast were not the busiest and most thriving city in Ireland, it would still be well worth a visit for the picturesque charms of its situation and of the scenery which surrounds it.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Hurlbert ended his six-month reporting trip to Ireland in Belfast. He admitted that his “flying visit” was solely “to take the touch of the atmosphere of the place” in order to write about Ulster’s unionist sympathizers. Many journalists, myself included, have made similar quick trips to Belfast to report on the deep cleaves of Irish political, religious and social history.

Queens College Belfast, circa 1888. Public Records Office of Northern Ireland.

Hurlbert, the former New Yorker, described Belfast as “very well laid out … with broad avenues and spacious squares  … an essentially modern city.” He noted the city’s incorporation in 1613 under James I, but did not mention that earlier in 1888 it was granted city status by Queen Victoria. Since the late 18th century, he said, the city had grown “after an almost American fashion” to a population of more than 200,000, second largest in Ireland. He noted the waterfront city had filled surrounding marshlands to accommodate its expansion, similar to Boston’s Back Bay district.

“Few American cities which are its true contemporaries can be compared with Belfast in beauty,” Hurlbert wrote. He admired the “imposing” front facade and “graceful central tower” of Queens College; the Botanic Gardens, “much prettier and much better equipped” than public gardens in Boston or New York; the “whilom mansion” of the Marquis of Donegal “still called the Castle“;  and the Queens Bridge over the River Langan, “a conspicuous feature in the panorama  [with its] five great arches of hewn granite.”

Queen’s Bridge, circa 1888. Public Records Office of Northern Ireland.

Hurlbert also noted the Richardson and Co. warehouse; the Robinson and Cleaver store; and “the famous shipyards of the Woolfs (sic) on Queen’s Island.” In contrast to his observations about “the worst quarters of Dublin” at the beginning of the book, Hurlbert gushed:

The banks, the public offices, the clubs, the city library, the museum, the Presbyterian college, the principal churches, all of them modern, all of them bear witness to the public spirit and pride in their town of the good people of Belfast.

High Street in Belfast, circa 1888. Public Records Office of Northern Ireland.

NOTES: From pages 199, and 407-410 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American

NEXT: Civil War

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Catching up with modern Ireland: May

Irish voters overturned a 35-year-old constitutional abortion ban by a decisive two thirds margin. More about that at the bottom of this post. First, a quick look at some other Irish news in May, from both sides of the Atlantic:

Let me make it plain: the departure from the EU of our nearest neighbour is not a good thing for Ireland. This development generates unwelcome challenges and uncertainties for us. It deprives Ireland of an influential, like-minded country around the EU negotiating table. It complicates our bilateral relations with Britain at a time when we continue to need to work closely together as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement so as to promote peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. 

  • Researchers in universities across Ireland are embarking on an effort to help Irish bees survive and thrive. Their work grows from the 2015 All-Ireland Pollinator Plan.
  • Solas Nua, the Washington, D.C.-based Irish arts group, staged “The Frederick Douglass Project” over several weeks. The “project” is  actually two short plays about Douglass’ 1845 lecture tour of Britain and Ireland – D.C.-based Psalmayene 24’s An Eloquent Fugitive Slave Flees to Ireland, which deals with Douglass’s life before his eastward journey across the Atlantic, and Dublin-based Deirdre Kinahan’s Wild Notes, which explores his arrival. As The Irish Times reported:

The aim of the production is to highlight this critically-important time in Douglass’s life to an American audience. “This is about exploring the parallels of the Irish and African-American experience – Douglass arrived in Ireland during the Famine – but it is also about what happens when two worlds meet and the perceptions and misperceptions that both sides hold,” said Rex Daugherty, the show’s artistic director.

My wife and I enjoyed the production. I think it would do well in Ireland, where there is probably more awareness of Douglass’ 1845 visit than in America. The themes of human subjugation are universal, as made more clear in Kinahan’s play.

Is Catholic Ireland dead and gone? Probably not

The most predictable commentary about the 25 May abortion referendum has focused on the diminished role of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Some examples:

The New York Times headlined the referendum result as a “Rebuke to Catholic Conservatism.” A follow up story described Ireland as “a country that is clearly part of Europe’s secular sprint out of the Roman Catholic fold” and noted Pope Francis’ focus on the Southern Hemisphere. But an opinion piece by Eamon Maher, co-editor of the 2017 title Tracing the Cultural Legacy of Irish Catholicism: From Galway to Cloyne and Beyond, offered more nuisance:

The importance of Friday’s vote as a blow to the institutional Catholic Church should not be understated.  … But if it’s clear that the institution of the church no longer commands the moral authority or the loyalty in Ireland that it once did, the end of Catholic Ireland, too, is an overstatement. Ireland remains defined by its relationship with Catholicism, because it has yet to develop another way to be.

Patsy McGarry, the religious affairs correspondent at The Irish Times since 1997, added some historical perspective in his column, which described as “out of kilter” those observations that the referendum outcome represents the end of Catholic Ireland:

More accurately, what it illustrated was an end to a particular model of clerically dominated Catholic Church in Ireland. … What we are witnessing is the disappearance of what might be described as “the church that Paul built,” a reference to Cardinal Paul Cullen. Archbishop of Dublin from 1852, he “Romanised” the church, centralized its structures, and introduced processions and devotions from Europe. He laid the foundations for an Irish Catholic Church which became a powerful alternative institution in the late 19th century so that by independence in 1922 it was more powerful than the new state itself, particularly in education and healthcare. It dominated Ireland through most of the 20th century. [That institution may be gone, but with] 78.3 per cent of Irish people still identified as Catholic … reports of the death of Catholicism in Ireland are, to borrow from Mark Twain, “greatly exaggerated.”

Finally, some voices from the Irish Catholic Church itself, as reported in Crux:

Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh said the referendum result “confirms that we are living in a new time and a changed culture for Ireland. For the Church it is indeed a missionary time, a time for new evangelization.”

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin added, “The Irish Church after the Referendum must renew its commitment to support life. … Reshaping the Church of tomorrow must be marked by a radical rediscovery of its roots.”

There will more about this issue in the run up to Pope Francis’ scheduled August visit to Dublin for the World Meeting of Families.