Category Archives: Northern Ireland

As abortion referendum nears, Ireland seems divided

Republic of Ireland voters head to the polls Friday, 25 May, for a referendum to decide whether to repeal or retain the anti-abortion Eighth Amendment in the country’s constitution, which gives equal value to the life of the fetus and the woman.

Early polling showed the repeal side favored to prevail, but the margin has narrowed in recent weeks, and anything is possible in the final days of the campaign on such an emotionally charged issue.

Here’s a short roundup of news and commentary as of 20 May, starting with a background piece:

History lesson: What happened during the 1983 abortion referendum?

An extremely strong campaign had emerged early in the 1980s to lobby the government to introduce a ‘Pro-Life amendment’. The move came in the wake of the Roe versus Wade verdict in the U.S. Supreme Court, which allowed for the introduction of less restrictive regimes. There was genuine fear in Ireland that the courts could do something similar here unless a Constitutional provision prohibiting abortion was introduced. … [The Eighth Amendment] passed on 7 September 1983 with a 67 percent majority. It was signed into law just one month later.

From TheJournal.ie

As polls narrow before the [2018] abortion vote, is rural Ireland setting up a Brexit moment?

The polls have narrowed so much that a result once nearly taken for granted now hangs in the balance; the media are under fierce attack for bias; and questions are swirling about foreign influence and online ads. … The long shadow of two recent surprise election results – the Brexit referendum across the Irish sea, and Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 US presidential poll – is hanging over Irish voters. … The final result is expected to hinge on the one in five voters still undecided.

Emma Graham-Harrison, The Guardian

‘Dark ads’ cast a shadow over Ireland’s referendum on abortion

Attempts by Facebook and Google to tackle ‘dark ads’ and foreign interference in the run-up to Ireland’s referendum on abortion haven’t been entirely successful, according to an online transparency group.

From CNN

The Irish Exception

[Repealing the amendment] would put an end to an all-but-unique experiment in Western public policy: an attempt to combine explicitly pro-life laws and generally pro-family policy making with a liberalized modern economy and the encouragement of female independence and advancement.

Ross Douthat, The New York Times

Irish abortion referendum: Abortions could be offered to NI women

Women from Northern Ireland could cross the border to have an abortion if there is a yes vote in the upcoming referendum. … Abortions are only allowed in Northern Ireland if a woman’s life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her physical or mental health. Rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities are not circumstances in which they can be performed legally. Currently women from Northern Ireland can travel to England to have a free NHS abortion after charges were abolished in June 2017.

From the BBC

Legalizing abortion would betray Ireland’s future

In Ireland, one might suspect that on a sociopolitical level this referendum is further evidence of a longer-term reaction against the Catholic Church, whose decline in authority and influence in Ireland has been paralleled by referendums in 1995 that legalized divorce and in 2015 that legalized same-sex marriage. If so, there will be no small irony involved: that the Catholic Church’s support for the Eighth Amendment will hurt the amendment’s chances in Ireland.

The Editors, America, the Jesuit Review

One way or the other, the referendum will change Irish politics

If it is a No vote … the consequences for Leo Varadkar’s Government will be calamitous. This shaky and unsure coalition is almost certainly in its last year – actually probably its last six months – … and a defeat on Friday would be sufficiently destabilizing to bring the end closer, and maybe much closer. It is hard to see how the Government could muster the political capital to do anything after such a devastating defeat. … [A Yes vote] will reinforce the image of Varadkar as a young, liberal, progressive leader – and crucially as one who wins elections … [and] would carry the Government through the forthcoming Brexit travails and into the autumn budget.

Pat Leahy, The Irish Times

Which side will prevail in Ireland’s abortion referendum? Image from the BBC.com

Catching up with modern Ireland: April

The April roundup of developments in modern Ireland and Northern Ireland includes a few history items, plus a look ahead to the May 25 national referendum on abortion. The same day, Ireland begins to enforce tough data protection rules. The National Planning Framework attempts to imagine Ireland in 2040.

My Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited blog serial, which explores the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert, will continue in May.

***

  • Two significant anniversaries were noted in April: 20 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, and 100 years since the start of Ireland’s World War I conscription crisis.
  • Helen Dixon, Ireland’s data protection commissioner, will become the “top cop” for enforcement of U.S. tech giants operating in Europe when new privacy regime comes into force on May 25, The Washington Post reported.
  • Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) announced that he will not seek re-election in November, thus relinquishing the spot of second in line for the presidency. A poll in TheJournal.ie showed a slight majority opposed the idea of Ryan as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, which remains unfilled 15 months into the Trump administration.
  • Catholics could outnumber Protestants in Northern Ireland by 2021, the centenary of partition, according to researcher Paul Nolan.
  • The National Planning Framework under Project Ireland 2040, released in February, “sets out a strategy to relieve pressures on Dublin by making other cities an attractive home for business and individuals,” The Irish Times reported.
  • Less than a month remains until voters in Ireland decide whether or not to replace the country’s abortion ban. Mid-April polling showed repeal will be supported by about the same margin as the successful same-sex marriage referendum in 2015.
  • Bloomberg featured the “bivalve bucket list” for eating oysters in Ireland.
  • Fáilte Ireland unveiled its “Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands” tourism brand to drive visitor growth across the Midlands region. It joins the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland’s Ancient East tourism campaigns.

 

Good Friday Agreement, now 20, also heralded digital age

In April 1998 I was working as a reporter at the Mobile Register newspaper in Alabama. My newsroom was not yet connected to the Internet, and I was still two years away from owning my own laptop computer.

Anxious to learn about the eleventh-hour efforts to reach a peace agreement in Northern Ireland, I drove to one of the city’s few Internet cafes. There, using a  dial-up connection, I navigated to the New York Times, which had gone online two years earlier. That is how I learned that Irish nationalists and unionists, and the British and Irish governments, had reached a deal to end 30 years of sectarian violence known as The Troubles.

My datebook for 10 April 1998, shows only the Delta airlines’ flight number and arrival time of a childhood friend making an Easter weekend birding trip to the Alabama Gulf coast. I did not note the historic peace deal. In the coming days and weeks, however, I did clip newspaper and magazine articles about the agreement, which I added to a folder of hard copy stories about Ireland that I had kept since the 1980s.

Today–after seven trips to the island of Ireland–I read Irish news from Irish media with a tap on my smart phone. I follow Irish politicians and political parties on Twitter. Sadly, I discarded most of my old clip file in the haste of a move, the result of mistaken thinking that the yellowing stories were no longer relevant. I did keep the front section of the 24 May 1998, issue of the New York Times, which reported the favorable vote on both sides of the Irish border to ratify the deal. It began:

The voters of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic have given overwhelming support to the peace agreement aimed at settling the sectarian conflict that has convulsed their island for centuries. … The referendum on the historic compromise was the first time since 1918 that Irish throughout the island had voted at the same time on the same issue, and the ballot counting today came on the 200th anniversary of one of the island’s many violent events, the first day of the Rising of 1798, in which Irish rebels tried to free their island from the British.

At a graffiti-covered “peace wall” separating Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods in Belfast, Northern Ireland, July 2016. Note William of Orange, “King Billy,” charging on white horse in the mural at right, which indicates what side I was on at the moment.

In the spirit online news reading, here are just a few of stories about the 20th anniversary of the GFA:

  • The Journal.ie offers this background piece on the deal.
  • Kerrie Hope Patterson was born in Northern Ireland less then 30 minutes after the agreement was signed, the Belfast Telegraph reports. Today, the “peace baby” is a student at Trinity College Dublin.
  • The Agreement “ended the bloodshed in Northern Ireland but has failed to achieve broader reconciliation between the nationalist and unionist political parties,” Padraig O’Malley writes in the Boston Globe.

Rare Irish atlas stolen from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Library

In May 1798, British authorities preemptively arrested senior leaders of the United Irishmen in Dublin at the beginning of a summer-long rebellion that killed tens of thousands. It resulted in repeal of the Irish parliament, direct rule from London, and more than a century of additional uprisings.

Also in May 1798, London book publishers Robert Laurie and Jason Whittle produced a new edition of An Hibernian Atlas: or General Description of the Kingdom of Ireland, which first appeared in 1776, the year of another revolution against Britain. The book’s full subtitle described the detailed information contained between its leather-bound covers:

Divided into Provinces; with Its Sub-Divisions of Counties, Baronies, &c. Boundaries, Extent, Soil, Produce, Contents, Measure, Members of Parliament, and Number of Inhabitants; Also the Cities, Boroughs, Villages, Mountains, Bogs, Lakes, Rivers and Natural Curiosities Together with the Great and Bye Post Roads. The whole taken from actual Surveys and Observations By Bernard Scale, Land Surveyor and beautifully engraved on 78 Copper Plates by Messrs. Ellis and Palmer.

The book contained 37 hand-colored maps: a general map of Ireland, four province maps, and 32 county maps; with the county maps colored by baronies, the provinces by counties and the general map by provinces. An imprint at the foot of each map read “Published 12th May, 1798”.

Today, one of the 1798 editions of An Hibernian Atlas is among 173 rare books believed stolen from the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh. More than 590 maps and 3,230 plates from another 130 antiquarian books are also missing from the library’s special collection.

As if the theft of this historical material was not bad enough, it turns out that library officials were warned in 1991 (Yes, 27 years ago!) that the valuable collection of centuries-old maps and rare books would be much safer and better preserved in more secure, nearby research libraries, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. Nothing happened, except the suspected crime.

Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish immigrant who forged his fortune in Pittsburgh’s 19th century steel industry, endowed 2,509 public libraries in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. His mission was to make books and other cultural material more widely available to the working class, including those who toiled in his mills. In Ireland, 80 branches were opened between 1897 and 1913, a decade before the island’s partition in the finally successful revolution against Britain. Many survive today.

Carnegie Library Falls Road, Belfast, during my 2016 visit.

In Pittsburgh, the missing books and maps were pilfered from the Carnegie’s “main branch,” which opened in 1895. The library and adjoining Carnegie music hall and art gallery are very familiar to me. My father introduced me to culture here in the 1960s. I researched Ireland for a book about my Kerry-born grandparents at this library, and it is now part of the collection.

A 1798 edition of An Hibernian Atlas was listed for $8,500 (7,125 Euros) on Abe.Books.co.uk, as I published this post. Another online dealer offered a 1809 edition for $2,453. Several dozen copies of various 18th and 19th century editions of the book can be found at libraries around the world. Trinity College Dublin has also made it available online.

It’s a shame, however, that the copy is missing from my native city’s Carnegie library. It also appears to be a very serious crime.

Catching up with modern Ireland: March

I’ve now spent most of the first quarter of the year producing my Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited blog serial, which explores aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Before continuing the series, here’s another end of the month wrap up of developments in modern Ireland and Northern Ireland:

  • Pubs in the Republic opened on Good Friday (30 March) for the first time in 91 years, the result of repealing a 1927 law that also banned alcohol sales on Christmas Day and St. Patrick’s Day. The March 17, booze ban was lifted in 1960. Good Friday liquor sales remain prohibited in Northern Ireland.

Irish pubs opened on Good Friday for the first time in 91 years. This Dublin establishment photographed during my February visit. Note E.U., Irish and U.S. flags.

  • Speaking of St. Patrick’s Day, here’s my annual roundup. Also from this month, my piece on “More hand wringing about Catholic Ireland.”
  • Former U.S. President Bill Clinton will receive the Freedom of Belfast honor 10 April, in ceremonies that mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. He also will visit Dublin.
  • Ireland expelled a Russian diplomat, joining the U.K., U.S. and other nations in a growing feud with Moscow. The Russians promptly ordered the Irish envoy to its capital to return to Dublin.
  • The Republic’s referendum on whether to repeal the country’s constitutional ban on abortion is now set for May 25.
  • A bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland cleared a hurdle in Parliament. Such unions are already legalized in England, Scotland and Wales, as well as the Republic.
  • The U.K. is set to leave the E.U. at the end of March 2019. Resolving the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic remains a major sticking point of the Brexit, according to this Q & A from the BBC.
  • Hawk Cliff Beach, about 30 minutes south of Dublin, is becoming Ireland’s first “clothing optional” beach.
  • Atlas Obscure published the photo feature, “A Last Look at Ireland’s Disappearing Storefronts.” Graphic designer Trevor Finnegan has been built his collection of images over eight years, including this 2014 feature in the TheJournal.ie.

Butcher shop in Waterford, County Waterford. Photo by Trevor Finnegan.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, 2018

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Here’s my annual holiday round up of news and features about the Irish and Irish America.

Annual Washington Festivities

Barack and Enda … Enda and Donald … Donald and Leo. The mid-March Washington meeting of U.S. president and Irish taoiseach has changed each of the last three years. Given the political uncertainties for both leaders, we could see another pairing in 2019. What’s more important is that Ireland, including the north, continues to receive this annual day of unmatched attention.

Coverage of this year’s early meeting:

St. Patrick’s Parades
  • In the digital age, it’s possible to watch the Dublin parade from anywhere in the world via Ireland’s RTÉ Player.
  • In New York City, marchers will carry a banner demanding “England Get Out of Ireland” for the 70th year, the New York Times reports.

For several years I’ve made an extra effort to visit St. Patrick’s churches in my travels. See my full list. Here are a few favorites:

  • Belfast, Northern Ireland: Given the city’s long history of sectarian strife, the opportunity to practice my Catholic faith felt infused with extra meaning and significance.
  • Rome, Italy: The church’s foundation stone was laid 130 years ago as Irish tenant farmers battled absentee landlords. The Vatican’s response to the trouble wasn’t welcomed back home.
  • Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Typical of the Eastern U.S., the parish and earlier iterations of the church date to the early 19th century, when Irish immigrants helped to build a vast system of canals, railroads, and turnpikes. A new building and vibrant Irish-American community were established by the early 20th century.

Stain glass image of St. Patrick in Harrisburg, Pa. church.

Fading of the Green

“The ranks of Americans who trace their ancestry back to Ireland – long one of the most prominent subgroups in American society – are slowly declining,” Pew Research reported a year ago, citing U.S. Census Bureau figure in an update of its original 2015 post.

The trend continues. The latest available data in the 2016 American FactFinder shows 32.3 million American identify as having Irish heritage, down from nearly 36 million in 2006. This map used to be much greener:

The American Conservative offered a review of Breandan Mac Suibhne’s book, The End of Outrage, which “studies the Irish habit of ambivalently accepting the present while willfully forgetting the past.”

Under the headline “Slow Fade of Pennsylvania Irish,” the review by Charles F. McElwee III continues:

The dispersing of Irish Catholic hamlets to suburbia, accompanied by the closure or demographic change of parishes, has further erased remnants of this once identifiable cultural tribe. … Millennials will likely be the last generation to fully comprehend … [Irish Catholic] tribal qualities. The Irish Catholic experience peaked during the Second Vatican Council, but has slowly faded with the death of older relatives, the changed cultural makeup of urban neighborhoods, the dissolution of cash-strapped and scandal-ridden parishes, and an overall indifference towards tradition in this modern era.

Euros and Greenbacks

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Ireland released “U.S.-Ireland Business 2018: A Two-Way Relationship.” The 92-page report tells the story of how over 700 established and new U.S. companies continue to invest in Ireland; and how up to 400 Irish firms now have operations in the U.S., while 300 more export to America. U.S. firms employ more than 155,000 people in Ireland; Irish affiliated entities have more than 100,000 workers on their payrolls in all 50 states.

Fields of Green
  • There’s been a small uproar (tempest in a pint?) since January, when ESPN’s Max Kellerman suggested Notre Dame University should ditch its “Fighting Irish” mascot as a “pernicious, negative stereotype of marginalized people.” Writing in the The Federalist, Matthew Boomer responded: “As an Irish-American and Notre Dame alumnus I am happy to explain why calling for the leprechaun’s head, far from being a blow for justice, is an utterly futile and self-serving exercise in which one attempts to establish progressive bona fides by tearing down an actual symbol of progress.”
  • With baseball season just a few weeks away, former news researcher Bill Lucey bats home a nice post about “Baseball and its Irish Roots” on his DailyNewsGems blog.

Catching up with modern Ireland: February

I spent February producing my Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited blog serial, which explores aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. I also traveled to Ireland for a week of research and visiting relations in Dublin, Navan and Mayo. Before continuing my exploration of Hurlbert’s book, let’s catch up on developments about modern Ireland and Northern Ireland:

  • 6 February was the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Ireland and Great Britain. Here’s an overview from John Dorney of The Irish Story.
  • Should there be an “Irexit” of Ireland from the European Union? A poll from TheJournal.ie said no.
  • The Washington Post reported on the battle over the Irish language in Northern Ireland.
  • Team Ireland had five athletes at the Winter Olympics: two from Ireland; one from America; one from France; and one from Norway. None won a medal.
  • The New York Times offered a feature story about the Great Western Greenway in Mayo.
  • I was blessed with mild weather during my visit. February ended with the island getting pummeled by a fierce winter storm.

A mild February afternoon in Mayo.

Catching up with modern Ireland: January

I’ve spent January producing my Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited blog serial, which explores aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Thanks for the great reader response. Before the next post, I want to catch up with the month’s developments in modern Ireland and Northern Ireland:

Tourism poster of Innisfallen, Killarney, in County Kerry, from the 1920s.

Best of the Blog, 2017

Welcome to the fifth annual Best of the Blog, which follows my 2012 launch anniversary and 500th post in July. I hope you enjoy this Irish news and history feature year-in-review. I’ve got some great things planned for 2018, including … wait for it … my seventh trip to Ireland!

***

In 2017, the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly and fallout from Brexit created some of the biggest headlines, including debate about the border between the North and the Republic, and a surge of Irish passport applications from Ulster and other U.K. residents seeking E.U benefits.

Heading into 2018, it remains uncertain whether the nationalist/unionist power-sharing Assembly can be reconstituted by April’s 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. For now, it appears the island of Ireland will avoid check points and other hassles of a “hard border” once the North and Britain leave the E.U. in March 2019. Meanwhile, expect to hear more talk about a united Ireland, with the North welcomed into the E.U.

Among political personalities in 2017, Sinn Féin‘s Martin McGuinness died … Gerry Adams retired … the DUP’s leader Arlene Foster teamed with Tory PM Theresa May … and Fine Gael‘s Leo Varadkar replaced Enda Kenny as taoiseach. Much was made of the fact that Varadkar, just 38, is openly gay and the son of an Irish mother and Indian father. He leads a precarious governing partnership with Fianna Fáil that could easily erode and spark snap elections. … A national referendum is set for June on whether to repeal the constitutional amendment that bans most abortions. 

U.S. philanthropist and businessman Brian Burns, the grandson of Kerry emigrants, was nominated by the new Trump administration to replace former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Kevin O’Malley. Burns withdrew due to health concerns, however, and a replacement has not been named. Reece Smyth is the current chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Dublin. … In August, Daniel Mulhall became the new Irish Ambassador to the U.S.

The Past

Here is some of my original research and curated content about Irish and Irish-American history milestones in 2017.

170 years ago:

150 years ago: 

125 years ago:

100 years ago:

The Irish Americans

I produced original research about Irish prisoners in the U.S. during the late 19th and early 20th century:

Other stories about the Irish in America included:

The Irish shrine mural in Baltimore by artist Wayne Nield.

The Census

Ireland’s 2016 Census was released to the public in 2017. Among many details about modern Ireland, it shows:

The Church

I added to my list of St. Patrick’s Churches, with visits to:

  • Rome, Italy, where the church’s 1888 founding coincided with the papal warning about the Irish Land War.
  • Cumberland, Md., Newry, Pa. and Harrisburg, Pa., where Irish immigrant laborers and ascendant professionals carried the Catholic faith of their homeland to America.

Stained glass image of St. Patrick in Harrisburg, Pa. church.

The Media

I explored U.S. press coverage of Northern Ireland; Dublin media protesting descriptions of the Irish capital in an ESPN The Magazine profile of native son Conor McGregor; and Irish media “past, present and future.”

Freelance Stories:

In 2017, I published three stories outside the blog:

I have a story about the Famine set to publish in the Winter issue of Prologue, the magazine the National Archives and Records Administration. Two other pieces are under consideration with two other publications.

Guest Posts:

I always appreciate the offerings of guest bloggers, this year including:

Lovely Louth countryside. Photo by Cathy Cahill.

The Departed

  • Ronan Fanning, professor emeritus of modern Irish history at University College Dublin and the author of several books, in January at age 75.
  • Thomas Kenneth Whitaker, “the most influential public servant” in the history of the Republic of Ireland, in January, a month and a day after his 100th birthday.
  • Martin McGuinness, former IRA man and Sinn Féin leader, in March at age 66.
  • Dan Rooney, former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland and longtime owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, in April at 84.
  • Liam Cosgrave, former Irish prime minister, in October at age 97.
  • William Hastings, Northern Ireland hotelier, in December at age 89.

Visiting Ireland in 2018

  • Me, to Mayo and Dublin, in February
  • An exhibition from the Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., to Dublin and Cork, from March through October.
  • Pope Francis to Dublin, in August, with a possible historic side trip to Northern Ireland.

BOB Archive

Outside views: Brexit, taxes and tourism

Following my last post about Irish media, it’s always interesting to see how media outside of Ireland covers the island. Here are three recent examples: