Some images from my current visit to Ireland. More posts to follow.
Some images from my current visit to Ireland. More posts to follow.
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:
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.
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:
Ireland’s 2016 Census was released to the public in 2017. Among many details about modern Ireland, it shows:
I added to my list of St. Patrick’s Churches, with visits to:
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.”
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.
I always appreciate the offerings of guest bloggers, this year including:
Visiting Ireland in 2018
I’m always happy to publish a guest post from people visiting or just returned from Ireland. This piece is by Dick Davis, a retired San Francisco Bay area stockbroker and author of “Bus Journey Across Mexico” and other photo journals; and Victor A. Walsh, a retired California State Parks historian who has written about Ireland and Irish America for the San Francisco Irish Herald, Irish America, Eire-Ireland, and Journal of American Ethnic History. MH
Massive 17th-century siege walls surround the city of Derry (Londonderry to Loyalist Protestants) in Northern Ireland. Waterloo Street, which parallels the old gray walls, rises steeply above the Bogside. In a 2002 visit, at a late hour, it’s empty; the buildings a silhouette of dark forms in the black night.
At the corner where Waterloo turns toward Diamond Square, we spot a brightly lit pub — a glow of life on the otherwise dreary street. The sign in front says, “Tonight Frank Sinatra”; below in smaller letters, “Jimmy Breslin.”
This is nuts, I think. I’m in Ireland, not New Jersey, and Frank’s dead.
We enter Kate’s Bar. It’s packed. Men are standing shoulder to shoulder drinking black pints of Guinness. Wisps of cigarette smoke and loud conversation fill the stale air. Some of the men are wearing white polo shirts with a football patch. Three ladies, near the front corner by the mike, more than fill a bench meant to seat four.
They remind me of buxom cafeteria workers from my high school days, only without aprons. All of them are blondes and their hair is curled and teased in the beehive style of the early ‘60s. It’s clear that they are here to listen to Frank.
We push through the throng of people, and find two tall stools against the back wall. A fellow next to me with tousled wavy black hair tells us that there are some empty tables in the next room. “Thanks,” says my friend Vic, “but we want to hear the music of Hoboken, Ireland.” He nods somewhat quizzically and introduces himself as Declan.
Just as he begins to speak, someone yells, “Mop,” and Declan springs into action. A tray in front of a golden retriever sitting underneath the bar in front of us has been kicked over. As Declan quickly mops up the floor, he tells us that the dog belongs to a blind man, a regular seated at the bar. The tray is refilled, and the dog goes back to contentedly lapping up the Guinness.
At the far end of the bar stands an animated chap alternately talking and listening to his neighbor. When a point is made or something funny is said, he twirls his hand in a spiral motion and pokes his finger at the ceiling. I couldn’t tell if he was challenging God or keeping score.
Being newcomers, we begin to attract attention. “Where you from?” asks a thin fellow with a brown, droopy moustache. “California, near San Francisco,” I reply. “Oh, you’re a Yank,” he says in a friendly manner. He introduces himself as “Fergus,” with an emphasis on the “fer.”
We chat, and soon Declan returns. Like several other men at the pub, he is wearing a white polo shirt with a Celtic Football Club badge embroidered in green with a shamrock in the center. The patch is sewn on the right side of his shirt. On the left side, stitched in a circle with Irish flags are the words, “Celtic Supporters Club, McSheffrey and Deery.”
“Can I buy one of these shirts here?” I ask him. “They’re not for sale. They’re commemorative. They honor the memory of me friends, Eddie McSheffrey and Paddy Deery. We lost them to The Troubles here in ’87.”
“To your friends,” I saluted with my glass raised high and took a drink. Fifteen years, I thought, and The Troubles are still here, but friends are never forgotten.
The stone walls that encircle Derry rose out of history. They stood in 1689 when Protestant defenders repelled a 105-day siege by the Catholic army of King James II. They straddle the steep ground above ‘Free Derry’, the Catholic Bogside where British paratroopers in 1972 without provocation opened fire on unarmed Catholic civil rights marchers, killing 13 (a 14th person died later) and wounding 17 protesters in a massacre remembered as “Bloody Sunday.”
The murals and slogans painted on the walls and ramparts—“No Surrender”, “End The Torture”; “We Salute Those Who Gave Their Lives For Irish Freedom”—are a living testament to what divides the two cultures into segregated communities: one Protestant, British and Unionist; the other, Catholic, Irish and Republican.
As I think about this, someone whistles. The crowd claps, a cheer goes up, and a ruddy-faced version of Jimmy Breslin steps forward and screams into the mike, “It’s time for Frank!”
He’s dressed like a young Sinatra in a white-on-brown plaid sports jacket and fedora with the hat cocked and the brim turned down. He taps the mike; the crowd quiets as he fixes his gaze on the lady with the tallest beehive and sings, “I’ve got a crush on you…” She throws back her head; her face enveloped in a great smile. Her two friends nudge and jostle her.
As Sinatra croons “You do something to me…,” I look out at the blissful gathering, sparkling eyes, happy faces, people at the bar talking and laughing, small men dancing with large women, more joy and love than I’d ever seen in a church on Sunday.
Fergus comes over, taps me on the shoulder, and whispers, “To New Jersey,” referring to Sinatra’s home state.
Declan, who had disappeared when Frank began, returns with a white polo shirt. “Let me check the sizes. I couldn’t see in that cave-dark store room,” he explains. It’s extra-large, my size. As he hands it over to me, I could see a tear of joy in his eyes. “The club stocks the shirts, but we never sell our memories,” he says.
In June 2017, I returned to Derry with my granddaughter and grandson. We visited the Museum of Free Derry. The film clips on The Troubles were both personal and deeply moving, especially Prime Minister David Cameron’s apology on June 15, 2010, for what happened on Bloody Sunday. The Bogside was jubilant; the fallen finally remembered as victims, not perpetrators. In this sense Free Derry represents a future together as much as a past apart. .
Afterwards, we walk up Waterloo looking for Kate’s Bar. Uncertain, we ask around until I spot a pub called Castle Bar. For me, it’s still Kate’s.
When we enter, my commemorative polo shirt catches people’s attention. At the bar, I ask if anyone remembered Kate’s. “Yes,” an older fellow shouts while nudging his way forward. When he sees the polo shirt, he slowly bends his head, kisses the logo with the two names, and then praises me for bringing my grandkids, letting them know about The Troubles.
The mood is subdued; almost reverential. No one spoke. Words did not matter for the faces in that moment of silence simmered with the memory of tribal wrongs.
(Editor’s Note: Patrick Deery and Edward McSheffrey were among nearly 100 people killed in Northern Ireland in 1987. Nearly 3,600 violent deaths–nationalists, loyalists, British troops and innocent civilians– occurred during The Troubles, which lasted from 1968 to 1998.)
I visited The Irish Railroad Workers Museum and Shrine at the edge of downtown Baltimore.
The museum is dedicated to the tens of thousands of Irish who began immigrating to the city during the Great Famine and continued to the middle of the 20th century. Many worked at the nearby Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.
The museum is contained within two row houses typical of the West Baltimore neighborhood of the period. There is a nice introductory video narrated by Martin O’Malley, former Baltimore mayor (1999-2007) and Maryland governor (2007-2015) in the museum welcome center, which also contains artifacts from the nearby St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church (now a Baptist worship space) and B&O rail yards. The adjoining house is restored as a typical workers’s home of the period.
The Memorial Garden in the rear features the shrine mural by artist Wayne Nield. The image depicts three phases of the Irish experience: the famine of the 1840s (right), the treacherous voyage across the Atlantic (center) and the new life in America (left), where the predominantly rural immigrants remade themselves as city dwellers.
Museum Board Member Barry Larkin and Managing Director Luke McCusker were very friendly and informative during my visit. I hope to return soon.
A few compelling “last letters” from prison before their 1867 execution helped turn three Irish rebels into the Manchester martyrs. Their story went viral 150 years ago this month, long before social media, and contributed to the rise of Irish nationalism through the late 19th and early 20th century.
Read my latest story for the Dublin-based Irish Story website.
… the numbers of faithful keep on falling, according to 2016 Census data released 12 October. A few of the details:
These numbers require more exploration and context. Growing secularism and diversity are part of the reason. Church scandals are another. One place to start is this 2013 piece by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin:
The causes of the crisis lie within the church itself. Much of the heritage of Catholic-dominated Ireland still entraps us from being free witnesses to the Christian message within a secular society that is seeking meaning. It is not a time to be lamenting; it is a time to be rising to the challenge with courage and Christian enthusiasm.
U.S. Congressman Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) 5 October announced his resignation from office after details of his extramarital affair emerged from a divorce suit involving his mistress and her husband.
Sound a little familiar?
In 1890, Irish Parliamentary Party leader Charles Stuart Parnell was brought down by the divorce proceedings of Capt. William O’Shea and his wife, Katherine. Parnell for years had been having an affair with the spouse of his House of Commons colleague. The revelation shattered his alliance with the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland and split his pro-Home Rule political movement.
In the contemporary case, the divorce filing revealed that Murphy urged his mistress to have an abortion when they believed she was pregnant. It turned out she was not with child, but Murphy’s public pro-life stance caused a firestorm of hypocrisy.
Parnell had three children with Kitty O’Shea before they were married in June 1891. He died four months later, age 45.
Eleven years earlier, Parnell addressed the U.S. Congress at the invitation of Speaker of the House Samuel Randall (D-Pa.). Parnell’s speech got a tepid reception, largely because he did not detail the Land War and Home Rule questions in Ireland.
Murphy received the 2011 Public Service Award from the American Ireland Fund for his support of its issues and causes. I haven’t found details of his ancestral heritage.
Last St. Patrick’s Day, Murphy was among eight Irish-American House members to co-sponsor legislation (H.R. 1596) to create a 23-member commission to study the creation of a National Museum of Irish American History in Washington, D.C. If the long-stalled project ever gets completed, I bet that Parnell’s visit will be part of the exhibition. I wouldn’t make the same wager on the soon-to-be former Congressman Murphy.
Ireland will hold a national referendum by June 2018 on whether to repeal the constitutional amendment that bans most abortions. A referendum on removing blasphemy and “woman’s life within the home” language in the constitution is slated for next October. A third referendum on extending voting rights to Irish citizens living outside the Republic will take place in 2019.
“Any amendment to our Constitution requires careful consideration by the people,” Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said in the government’s 26 September announcement. “They should be given ample time to consider the issues and to take part in well-informed public debate.”
Ironically, announcement of the abortion referendum comes about nine months before the vote, set to occur the same summer that Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the World Meeting of Families in Dublin.
Dáil Éireann, the national legislative assembly, still must fix the final dates and, more importantly, the language for the referendums. On the abortion issue, the outcome could turn on whether the language is considered too liberal, or still restrictive.
The debate kicked off 30 September, as about 30,000 people attended the annual “March for Choice” in Dublin. The New York Times reported:
The Eighth Amendment, passed in 1983, gives an unborn child a right to life equal to that of its mother. At the time, Ireland was seen as one of the most conservative Catholic nations in the world, but a series of church scandals and growing secularism have the country rethinking many of its government’s positions. The United Nations has called the amendment a violation of women’s rights.
In 2015, Ireland became the first nation in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by popular referendum, rather than through legislative or judicial orders. The Times suggested the marriage issue was less contentious than abortion, quoting one woman who said “it was something that no one was scared to speak out on, but this is a very personal thing that people are more hesitant to speak about,”
The Guardian said, “The religious right in the country, particularly lay Catholic groups, see the [abortion] referendum as their last chance to roll back 25 years of social liberal reform.”
I’m writing this post 17 September, which many pubs and other marketers with even the most tenuous connections to Ireland now promote as “Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day.” By coincidence, I was in Harrisburg, Pa., for some Irish research at the Pennsylvania State Archives (though not their Molly Maguires collection) and visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral on State Street, two blocks from the hilltop capitol.
The parish and earlier iterations of the church date to the early 19th century, when the construction of a vast system of canals, railroads, and turnpikes along the Susquehanna River brought many Irish immigrants to the area, according to the cathedral’s official history. Construction of the present building began in 1904 and was completed three years later.
The church was officially dedicated 14 May 1907, though liturgies began earlier in the year. The Ancient Orders of Hibernians, Division 5 in Harrisburg, gathered at the new cathedral for a 7 a.m. St. Patrick’s Day Mass, a Sunday that year, either inspiring or requiring extra piety.
The fraternal group paid the $1,800 for the transept window of St. Patrick, holding a shamrock to explain the Trinity to the royal court at Tara. The men surely admired the beautiful stained glass from Munich, Germany.
“The Apostle of Ireland is a splendid figure … arrayed in full pontificals, even to the gloves,” is how the Harrisburg Telegraph described the window in a story detailing the church’s architecture and amenities.
But even the grand new worship space had to compete with the holiday’s contemporary commercialism.
“It is doubtful if St. Patrick ever in his life saw such a profusion of tributes to himself as are now displayed,” The (Harrisburg) Courier reported. “[H]is memory has not only been kept green, but his fame has increased. It may be whispered that there are certain tokens which he might not appreciate.”
The paper detailed an array of tchotchkes such as high hats and pipes, “green pigs of every variety,” “clovers growing in pots” and boxes decorated with harps and green flags. The items sold for a few pennies to 20 cents.
About 100 clerics attended the official dedication in May, including Archbishop P.J. Ryan of Philadelphia. He donated the exterior statue of St. Patrick that is mounted over the entrance of the church.
Two days after the dedication, Irish nationalists in Dublin denounced the limited self-government for Ireland bill offered by Irish Chief Secretary Augustine Birrell. The Sinn Fein Society called the measure “an insult to Ireland” and urged nationalists in the London parliament to “devise measures for the material betterment of Ireland and securing international recognition and support of Ireland’s political rights.”
Timothy Healy and William O’Brien were at the forefront of this latest split with Irish Parliamentary Party leader John Redmond. The Catholic Church hierarchy also rejected Birrell’s bill. Read more about this period of Irish history.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Harrisburg is the 20th St. Patrick’s church that I’ve visited in four countries. See the list.