Category Archives: Politics

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 Irish as 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.

Ireland Under Coercion: Milltown Malbay

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


“Only yesterday no fewer than 23 of these publicans from Milltown Malbay appeared at Ennis here to be tried for ‘boycotting’ the police. … An important feature of this case is the conduct of Father White, the parish priest.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

One of the more controversial aspects of Hurlbert’s Ireland Under Coercion was his coverage of boycotting activity in Miltown Malbay, about 20 miles west of Ennis in County Clare. Citing government officials and reports, Hurlbert accused Father Patrick White of helping to organize the activity.

Father White strongly rebutted Hurlbert’s characterizations in his own booklet, Hurlbert unmasked : an exposure of the thumping English lies of William Henry Hurlbert in his ‘Ireland Under Coercion’ , published in 1890 or 1891, about two years after Hurlbert’s book.

Hurlbert arrived in Ennis on 18 February 1888, a few days after his London meeting with Michael Davitt. (See post 15 and post 16). The American reporter had left Ireland four days earlier for an unexplained side trip to Paris, which suddenly became “unnecessary.”

At Ennis, Hurlbert connected with Colonel Alfred Turner, a high-ranking police commissioner; Cecil Roach, a resident magistrate from neighboring County Kerry, and Richard Stacpoole, “a gentleman of position and estate” who had welcomed London journalist Bernard Becker to the region eight years earlier.

“I was struck by the extraordinary number of public houses in Ennis,” Hurlbert remarked. He reported being told by a police sergeant that Milltown Malby, with a population of 1,400, had 36 pubs, and that 23 of the publicans had boycotted the police. Hurlbert reported that during their trials, one was acquitted; one discharged; 10 signed guarantees in court to refrain from further conspiracies; and 11 were sent to the gaol (jail).

Main Street in Milltown Malbay, circa 1890, a few years after Hurlbert’s visit. Image from The Lawrence Photograph Collection, National Library of Ireland.

Col. Turner told Hurlbert that Father White “was the moving spirit” of the local boycotting activity. Hurlbert wrote:

All this to an American resembles a tempest in a tea-pot. But it is a serious matter to see a priest of the Church assisting laymen to put their fellow-men under a social interdict … [I]t is a serious scandal that a parish priest should lay himself open to the imputation of acting in concert with any political body whatever, on any pretext whatever, to encourage such proceedings.

In three days of diary entries and 30 pages of the book, Hurlbert weaved in and out of the case. He reproduced the full police report of a related case handed to him by Col. Turner, as well as letters between Col. Turner and Father White. As the book was going to press later that year, the policeman and the priest each provided additional letters to Hurlbert to further clarify their positions. These were published in the Appendix.

Father White devoted half of his 32-page pamphlet to rebutting Hurlbert’s characterization of himself and the situation in Milltown Malbay. “He has libeled me, and libeled me unsparingly,” the priest wrote. He considered taking Hurlbert to court, “but legal friends … dissuaded me” because a Tory or Unionist sympathizer on the jury would probably nix a favorable verdict.

The tit-for-tat of the episode is too tedious to detail here. It does illustrate how local tensions between police and communities unfolded against the national developments of the Land War and Home Rule movement. In fact, as Hurlbert noted, the case of one boycotted family in Milltown Malbay was raised in Parliament in a debate between John Redmond, then a nationalist M.P. for Wexford North, and Chief Secretary for Ireland Arthur Balfour.

The Clare County Library has compiled a number of resources about Milltown Malbay, including the relevant extract from Hurlbert’s book and an article about the July 1888 evictions on the Vandeleur Estate, Kilrush. Unfortunately, Hurlbert unmasked is not so easy to access.

NOTES: Pages 165 to 195 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. I obtained a copy of Hurlbert unmasked thanks to an inter-library loan from Hesburgh Libraries at the University of Notre Dame. The pamphlet is also available at the National Library of Ireland.

NEXT: On boycotting

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Meeting Davitt

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


“Mr. Davitt spent an hour with me today, and we had a most interesting conversation.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Hurlbert sought to interview Michael Davitt since his late January arrival in Dublin. The American journalist finally connected with the agrarian activist nearly three weeks later in London; Hurlbert having been called away from his travels in Ireland for reasons he did not explain in the book.

Hulbert reported that he had followed Davitt’s career “with lively personal interest” since they met in 1878 during the Irishman’s first visit to America. Davitt had just received his “ticket of leave,” or parole, from Dartmoor Prison, where he had served half of a 15-year sentence for treason related to his Fenian activities.


Davitt returned to Ireland in 1879 and helped found the Irish National Land League. Hurlbert, then editor of the New York World, said he dispatched a correspondent to Ireland to interview Davitt. He quotes Davitt from the nine-year-old interview as saying “the only issue upon which Home Rulers, Nationalists, Obstructionists, and each and every shade of opinion existing in Ireland could be united was the Land Question.”

(Davitt wrote at least one piece about the Land League for the New York World, on 4 June 1894, a year after the newspaper changed owners and Hurlbert departed as editor.)

In the 1888 London interview, Hurlbert reported that Davitt, then 42, was supporting English poet and writer Wilfrid Scawen Blunt in an upcoming by-election in Deptford, England. Blunt had become a supporter of Irish nationalism a few years earlier. According to Hurlbert, the parliamentary candidate told Davitt that Chief Secretary for Ireland Arthur Balfour “meant to lock up and kill” the four “pivots” of the Irish movement: William O’Brien, Timothy Harrington, John Dillon and Davitt.

“How did you take it?” Hurlbert asked.

“Oh, I only laughed, and told him it would take more than Mr. Balfour to kill me, at any rate by putting me in prison,” Davitt replied. “As for being locked up, I prefer Cunninghame Graham‘s way of taking it, that he meant ‘to beat the record on oakum.’ ”

Graham was a journalist, socialist and Scottish nationalist M.P. who spent six weeks in prison for participating in the November 1887  Trafalgar Square Riots against unemployment and coercion in Ireland. He reportedly displayed great stoicism and refused to accept special privileges while incarcerated. As for oakum, the hard labor of unraveling old ropes was a common punishment in Victorian prisons; work Davitt had done during his Dartmoor imprisonment, despite having lost one arm in an industrial accident at age 11.

Statue of Michael Davitt outside the museum in his honor at Straide, County Mayo, his birth and burial place. Note the armless right sleeve of his jacket.

Blunt lost the by-election two weeks after Davitt’s interview with Hurlbert. In his own book about the Land War in Ireland, published in 1912, Blunt recalled his first meeting with Davitt in 1886 at the Imperial Hotel in Dublin:

“He is a most superior man, with more of the true patriot about him than any of those I have yet met. He knows the west of Ireland well, and is more interested in the Land Question even than Home Rule; an odd looking man, dark, sallow, gaunt, disfigured by the loss of his right arm, which is gone from the shoulder.”

Hurlbert also praised Davitt:

“If all the Irish ‘leaders’ were made of the same stuff with Mr. Davitt, the day of a great Democratic revolution [in Ireland] … might be a good deal nearer than anything in the signs of the times now show it to be. … I have always regarded him as the soul of the Irish agitation, of the war against ‘landlordism’  … and of the movement towards Irish independence. Whether agitation, the war, and the movement have gone entirely in accordance with his views and wishes is quite another matter. … [But] he has never made revenge and retaliation upon England either the inspiration or the aim of his revolutionary policy.”

NOTES: From pages 159 to 164 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. Davitt’s 1879 quote on page 17. Blunt quote from page 50 of The Land War in Ireland: Being a Personal Narrative of Events. Davitt’s 1884 freelance story noted in Joseph Pulitzer and the New York World, by George Juergens, Princeton University Press, 2015, pages 258-259.

NEXT: More Davitt 

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

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 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.

Visiting Ireland in photos, part 2

Two statues, two graves.

Michael Davitt, 1846-1906, native of County Mayo, was an agrarian activist, journalist, MP and humanitarian.

Douglas Hyde, 1860-1949, native of County Roscommon, was the first president of the Gaelic League and the first president of Ireland.

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Unnamed sources

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


“When he wants to throw out some offensive innuendo on the Irish Party, or the Irish people, or the Irish Priests–anything Irish so it be on the National side–he nearly always introduces some unnamed and, as I believe, unnameable individual to to the work for him.”
–Father Patrick White commenting on William Henry Hurlbert

In a fortuitous coincidence, my launch of this project coincided with the January 2018 release of Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.

Micheal Wolff

Wolff’s book about the American presidential administration and Hurlbert’s 1888 publication about Irish political agitation share one significant characteristic: frequent use of unnamed sources.

As we’ve discovered in this blog serial, Hurlbert was very transparent about his sympathies for Irish landlords and the unionists supporters of London’s ruling conservative Tory government. He openly disdained Irish nationalists and the island’s urban and rural poor.

In his attacks on the latter, Hurlbert often relies on unnamed sources to make his point, as Father Patrick White noted in his rebuttal pamphlet to the American’s book, Hurlbert unmasked : an exposure of the thumping English lies of William Henry Hurlbert in his ‘Ireland Under Coercion.’ [The text doesn’t show a year published. It appears to have been released in 1890 or 1891.]

Father White was Catholic parish priest in Miltown Malbay, about 20 miles west of Ennis, County Clare. In his book, Hurlbert accused the priest of organizing boycott activities, which Father White strongly rebutted in his pamphlet. I’ll return to this matter in a future post.

In a section of Hurlbert unmasked headlined “Mr. Hurlbert’s Anonymous Informants,”  Father White savaged the American author’s use of unnamed sources, which included a …

  • Catholic from the south of Ireland
  • sarcastic Nationalist acquaintance of mine
  • jarvey with a knowing look
  • shrewd Galway man
  • resident of the county who gave me his views on the Plan of Campaign
  • magistrate familiar with Gweedore

“I will not here mince words,” Father White wrote. “Such tactics as these are cowardly and contemptible … [Hurlbert] finds vent by this devise for a stream of contempt and scorn poured out on the Irish representatives, which must have been pleasant reading, indeed, for all Unionists.”

William Henry Hurlbert

Or, as the New York Sun noted in its 1891 review of Hurlbert umasked, “the third person singular indefinite is a difficult witness to rebut.”

Father White heaps more scorn on Hurlbert for cloaking some of the people he encountered late in his travels with a series of  “* * * *” in place of their name or identifying characteristics. The priest calls the device “a sensational novelty” and “a fit crowning to the work.”

In a footnote, Hurlbert explained:

After this chapter had actually gone to press, I received a letter from the friend who had put me into communication … [with these people] begging me to strike out all direct indications of their whereabouts, on the ground that these might lead to grave annoyance and trouble for these poor men from the local tyrants. … What can be said for the freedom of a country in which a man of character and position [his “friend”] honestly believes it to be ‘dangerous’ for poor men to say things recorded in the text of this chapter about their own feelings, wishes, opinions, and interests?

The explanation bolsters Hurlbert’s contention that the worst coercion in Ireland came from shadowy and violent agrarian activists, not the police and government officials who enforced the laws of London. Ireland Under Coercion does identify people in this latter group, which is why the book remains relevant for historical study.

Which brings us back to 2018, and the furor that Fire and Fury has created over reporting with unnamed sources, whether in daily online journalism or modern book publishing. I give the last word to my wife, Angie Drobnic Holan, editor of PolitiFact, from her 9 January review of Wolff’s book:

The lack of sourcing is a problem because it means evidence is given a back seat to narrative oomph. It encourages people to suspend their critical thinking skills and follow their emotions into a pleasing narrative. That narrative might be true or it might not be, and it’s almost impossible to independently evaluate.

NOTES: Bulleted “sources” from pages 54, 71, 88, 125, 152 and 179, respectively; footnote from page 361, of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. … Father White’s comments on pages 24, 25 and 28 of Hurlbert unmasked : an exposure of the thumping English lies of William Henry Hurlbert in his ‘Ireland Under Coercion.’ Special thanks to Hesburgh Libraries at the University of Notre Dame. … New York Sun, 31 January 1891, page 7.

NEXT: Kilkenny visits

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

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:

Irish media: past, present and future

I am reading Newspapers and Nationalism: the Irish provincial press, 1850-1892, by Dr. Marie-Louise Legg.

The book offers a “survey and analysis of the ‘Fourth Estate’and its impact and involvement on nationalist politics in Ireland in the second half of the Victorian age,” as detailed in this review. Legg “gets inside the period and writes to us about the newspapers themselves, their editors, the people who bought them and, those who actually read them and whether or not were influenced by them in their morals, intellects and politics.”

This title belongs to the important niche of books about Irish media, including:

These studies explore how journalism impacted politics and society, and visa versa, before, during and after Ireland’s revolutionary period, 1912-1922, now commemorating its “decade of centenaries.”

There are also important contemporary developments in Irish media.

  • Irish lawmakers are trying to criminalize the use of social media and technology to spread “fake news” to influence political debate, as detailed by Poynter’s Daniel Funke.
  • Irish Times columnist Una Mullally organized a forum to explore sexual harassment, gender discrimination and female under representation in the media industry.
  • The Irish Times’ parent company has agreed to acquire all the publishing and media interests of Landmark Media Group, the Cork-based owner of the Irish Examiner newspaper and other media assets.
  • Dublin-based Maximum Media, the company behind “digital lifestyle brands”,, and, is investing in a new Galway office and adding 20 new jobs  in copywriting, design, journalism, sales and client services.

Learn more about what’s happening in the industry today–and what’s on the horizon for tomorrow–at The Institute of Future Media & Journalism (FuJo) at Dublin City University.

Image of press plates, circa 1935, from the Independent Newspapers Collection at the National Library of Ireland.