Category Archives: Easter Rising

Ballot & Bullet: Remembering Dev and Danny Boy

Two July 1917 events in the west of Ireland shaped the county’s struggle for independence from Britain. A century later, however, both seem to have be mostly forgotten, prompting criticism from at least one historian.

The first and most significant event was the election of Sinn Féin candidate Éamon de Valera in County Clare. The by-election was called to fill the seat left vacant when Irish Parliamentary Party member Willie Redmond was killed in World War I. The IPP represented the late 19th century effort to secure limited domestic autonomy for Ireland, called home rule. de Valera, one of the rebels of the 1916 Easter Rising who was released from prison in June 1917, belonged to the new generation of Irish republicans seeking a clean break from Britain, even if it required violence ahead of politics.

As John Dorney explains on The Irish Story website:

His victory marked a decisive breakthrough for the Sinn Féin party and the beginning of the eclipse of the constitutional nationalists of the Irish Parliamentary Party. The following year, 1918, Sinn Féin, headed by de Valera, won a crushing victory in a general election and early the following year, declared independence, leading the Irish War of Independence.

The post also features Dorney’s 35-minute podcast interview with Clare historian Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc, who details the election and sets the context for this period between the Rising and the War. It’s a great listen.

O Ruairc raises the second event toward the end of the interview. While celebrating Dev’s victory in Ballybunion, Co. Kerry, local man Daniel Scanlon was shot and killed by an officer of the Royal Irish Constabulary. Scanlon belonged to the Irish Volunteers, at the time transitioning to the Irish Republican Army. O Ruairc describes Scanlon’s death as one of the first of the War of Independence. (Read an account in the Bureau of Military History Witness Statement of William McCabe, page 3.)

The 100th anniversary of Scanlon’s death and Dev’s election appear to have been largely ignored by the Irish government and media. The historian complains:

We hear a lot talk from politicians about how important this period of our history is commemorated … As far as I can see the 100th anniversary of this guy’s death was not commemorated.  … This period of history is passing us by because the government’s official Decade of Centenaries [1912-1922] was disbanded after the last election a year ago, after the big 2016 centenaries. … It’s an indictment of the Decade of Centenaries that it was four years long; we went from 1912 to 1916 and then we stopped. I think what we are going to see for the rest of the Decade of Centenaries is that stuff that happened outside Dublin is not [considered] important. … It will be left to the people that always commemorate it, local historians, relatives, with not much state support behind it.

In fairness, the official Decade of Centenaries website does note de Valera’s by-election win in its 1917 timeline. He is hardly forgotten in Ireland, given the large role he played as the 26 counties became the Irish Free State and eventually the Republic. By 1963, the elder statesman was still on the scene to welcome John F. Kennedy to Ireland.

Scanlon, who was 24 in 1917, is easier lost in the Irish revolutionary period. The RIC officer charged with his death was soon acquitted. It also should be remembered that Scanlon’s death came 15 months after another Ballybunion native, Patrick Shortis, 26, was killed during the Rising in Dublin.

Both of these rebel deaths catch my attention since my grandfather emigrated in 1913, at age 19, from the same village. He joined several cousins and other North Kerry immigrants in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The city’s daily newspapers carried numerous stories about de Valera’s victory, but not a word of Scanlon’s death that I can locate.

Both Shortis and Scanlon are remembered with small plaques on the sides of buildings in Ballybunion. A bronze statue of de Valera stands outside the courthouse in Ennis, Co. Clare, where his 71 percent to 29 percent ballot victory was tabulated a century ago.

The level of attention generated by last year’s 1916 centenary events would be hard to sustain over a decade. Through the end of 2018, there will continue to be more focus on the events of World War I. But O Ruairc has a point about the general decline of interest in historical events from the period between the Rising the start of the War of Independence.

The memorial to Daniel Scanlon in Ballybunion.

Happy Blogiversary: Five years, 500 posts

This is my 500th post since I launched the blog on 22 July 2012, with the goal of publishing “research and writing about Irish and Irish-American history and contemporary issues.”

This post also coincides with the publication of my latest story for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It’s about Ireland’s Great Famine, based on several letters written to a Catholic priest in 1847.

The Published Stories section of the blog contains all of my Irish-related work for outside newspapers, magazines and websites since 2000. Best of the Blog contains my annual round up of each year’s most significant stories, and other favorites exclusive to the site. See the list of St. Patrick’s churches I’ve visited, and check out other Irish interest places to visit.

Angie Drobnic Holan, my wife, has lovingly contributed to this effort as webmaster and editor. She has been unfailingly supportive, including the many evenings when she implored, “It’s time to turn off the computer and come to bed.”

I also want to thank my readers, especially those who subscribe to the blog via email. I appreciate the “Likes,” shares and re-tweets on social media. Sure, this blog doesn’t get the traffic of commercial sites, but l am grateful to everyone who stops by for a look, especially readers in Ireland.

Himself, at Carrigafoyle Castle, North Kerry, 2012.

In pursing my Irish history interests, I’ve been fortunate to visit numerous archives and libraries, where I obtained much valuable assistance. Among some of the places I’ve been able to visit:

My research also has benefited from the always-expanding menu of online resources. My laptop has become a time machine. It has whisked me back to 19th century Ireland and America through digitized documents and letters, newspaper archives, maps, photographs and vintage video.

Thanks again for reading the blog and supporting my work. Please keep coming back.

2016 Census results detail modern Ireland

Ireland’s population increased to 4,761,865 in 2016, up 3.8 percent from 2011, according to data collected last year on the 100th anniversary of the start of the 1916 Easter Rising. The state had experienced 8 percent growth in the 2011, 2006 and 2002 census counts.

The proportion of the population who were non-Irish nationals fell to 11.6 percent in 2016 from 12.2 percent in 2011, the first decline since the census question was introduced in 2002. This is partially explained by a near doubling of people holding dual nationality, a separate category.

The 6 April data release is the first of 13 reports on Census 2016 that are due to be published this year. The Central Statistics Office will publish 11 thematic profiles, which will each explore topics such as housing, the homeless, religion, disability and carers in greater detail.

Highlights of the initial report include:

  • Self-identified Roman Catholics fell 3.4 percent, from 84.2 percent of the population in 2011 to 78.3 percent in 2016. Nearly 10 percent of census respondents said they have no religion.
  • The country is slightly older, with average age of 37.4 in April 2016 compared with 36.1 five years earlier. County Fingal, north of Dublin, had the youngest average age at 34.3, while Kerry and Mayo in the west were each at 40.2
  • The largest number of Irish speakers who use the language daily outside the education system remain concentrated in the Gaeltacht areas of counties Donegal, Galway and Kerry.
  • Private residences with no internet connection fell to 18.4 percent of dwellings, down from 25.8 percent in 2011.

Irish history professor Ronan Fanning dies

Ronan Fanning, professor emeritus of modern Irish history at University College Dublin and the author of several books, died 18 January at age 75.

In 2015, Fanning published A Will to Power, a biography of Éamon de Valera, one of the most complicated and controversial figures of Irish revolutionary history. His Introduction included this anecdote:

By a strange coincidence my father died on the same day as Éamon de Valera, 29 August 1975, some hours before him. He was buried in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery, again on the same day, less than one hundred yards away from where de Valera was buried an hour later in the republican plot. I was reminded on that morning that de Valera would remain as divisive a figure in death as in life. A family friend, who knew that my father was never an admirer of de Valera … said to me at his graveside as the undertaker was hurrying us out to make way for the state funeral, ‘What’s the first thing your father will say to St. Peter when he sees him? “There’s another Irishman, a long fellow, coming up after me and he’ll cause havoc if you let him in!”

Ronan Fanning is to be cremated at Glasnevin. Below, he speaks about British policy in Ireland after the 1916 Easter Rising.

T. K. Whitaker, Irish economist, dies at 100

Thomas Kenneth Whitaker, described as “the most influential public servant” in the history of the Republic of Ireland, died 9 January, a month and a day after his 100th birthday. Born eight months after the Easter Rising, a boy at the time of partition, the County Down native also was involved in Northern Ireland issues.

Read The Irish Times obituary, and “supreme mandarin and good citizen” column by Fintan O’Toole. Video below released for his 100th birthday.

Irish history under the Christmas tree

Santa brought me three new Irish history books for Christmas. Two are 2007 titles about late 19th and early 20th century republican political agitation, which came from my wish list. The third book, selected by my wife, covers a range of topics from the 16th to 21st century.

The Princeton History of Modern Ireland 
Edited by Richard Bourke & Ian McBride:

The book is divided into two sections, described by Bourke in the Introduction:

Part 1 contains six overarching narrative chapters dealing with the main developments in society and politics throughout the period covered by the book. The aim here is to present readers with an up-to-date rendition of the course of Irish history. Part 2 then focuses on topics and themes that played a peculiarly important role in the shaping of that trajectory. These chapters range from exercises in intellectual, cultural, and literary history to analyses of formatively significant subjects like religion, nationalism, empire, and gender.

The IRB: The Irish Republican Brotherhood, from the Land League to Sinn Féin
By Owen McGee

This title won the 2009 NUI Centennial Prize for Irish History. McGee “argues that [the IRB] was never primarily an insurrectionary conspiracy; rather it was a popular fraternal organization and propagandistic body, committed to bringing about popular politicization in Ireland along republican lines,” according to publisher Four Courts Press.

Michael Davitt: freelance radical and frondeur
By Laurence Marley

Another title from Four Court Press. In a review for History Ireland, Seán O’Brien described the book as:

…the first substantial biography of Michael Davitt in 25 years and the only book to deal with all of the roles he assumed in public life. It presents Davitt as an ad hoc activist temporarily allied with a number of different movements but ultimately unable to maintain a lasting connection with any of them. Examining the details of the principled positions that led to his alienation from the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Parnellites, British labour and the House of Commons, the book makes a strong case for Davitt’s role as a kind of radical consultant, compelled to struggle by his ethical principles but unable to suppress them enough to remain loyal to an organisation.

 

Best of the Blog, 2016

The centennial of the 1916 Easter Rising and my sixth trip to Ireland made this a great year for the blog. Major elections in Ireland, the U.S. and the U.K. also produced outcomes that will have significant impacts for years to come. And there were other historical anniversaries and interesting contemporary developments. So let’s get right to the annual wrap-up:

Elections of 2016

  • In February, the national election in the Republic of Ireland ended in what Irish Times columnist Una Mullally described as a “weird, fractured, all-over-the-place result.” … In my ancestral home of County Kerry, brothers Michael and Danny Healy-Rae, both independents, took the top two of five seats in polling that ousted Fine Gael Minister of Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan and others. … It took until late April for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to reach a deal on forming a new minority government coalition.
  • A May vote on all 108 seats of the Northern Ireland Assembly resulted in the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and [nationalist] Sinn Féin remaining the two largest blocks, “while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising,” the London-based New Statesman said. … Children born just before or after the April 1998 Good Friday Agreement began to turn 18 in 2016 and enter the electorate. 
  • In June, United Kingdom voters decided to leave the European Union by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent, while the Northern Ireland electorate favored remaining in the E.U. by 56 percent to 44 percent. The so-called “Brexit” raises a number of tough questions about border controls with the Republic and the northern peace process. It has stirred talk of reuniting the island of Ireland, allowing the six northern counties to remain in the E.U. by joining the Republic.
  • For the second consecutive U.S. presidential election  cycle, two Irish-American candidates vied for the number two job. … Donald Trump’s victory drew harsh criticism from many Irish and Northern Irish political pundits as “America’s Brexit.” … Trump invited Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny to the White House for St Patrick’s Day in 2017, continuing a tradition that dates to 1952. Aside from the photo op, however, there are serious issues to discuss, such as the tax conditions of U.S. businesses operating in Ireland and Irish immigration.

The entrance of Trump’s Doonbeg golf course in County Clare with U.S., Irish and Trump flags.

Rising centennial

  • Sunday, 24 April was the calendar centennial of the start of the 1916 Easter Rising. It also was Census Day in Ireland, which revealed a changing, modernizing country. … The 100th anniversary generated plenty of opinions and interpretations in Ireland, the U.K., the U.S. and throughout the world.
  • I produced more than a dozen stories about 1916, including a five-part series on U.S.-Irish relations; Q & A style interviews with an Irish film producer and a U.S. archivist; and other original features. This work is gathered into the new 1916-2016 section of the blog.

Books about 1916 on the shelves at Eason & Son on O’Connell Street next to the General Post Office, epicenter of the rebellion. July 2016.

Other news and features

  • Irish tourism continued to grow in 2016, fueled in part by 1916 centennial. Fáilte Ireland suggested the market needs to continue “offering more compelling and authentic branded visitor experiences rather than relying on a hazy green image and warm welcome.” … In July, I visited the new, interactive Epic Ireland emigration museum in Dublin, then later contrasted it with the stalled effort to open an Irish American Museum in Washington, D.C. … I also visited Titanic Belfast, which was named the world’s leading tourist attraction for 2016. … For those considering a trip to Ireland, I published travel suggestions based on my visit. … I also introduced a new section of the blog featuring U.S. museums, libraries, cultural centers and programs devoted to Irish ancestry and contemporary connections.
  • 2016 was the 75th anniversary of the Belfast Blitz. … It also was a Leap Year, which marked the 128th (or only the 32nd) anniversary of the opening of the Listowel & Ballybunion Railway, a personal interest of mine, on 29 February 1888.
  • New York drug maker Pfizer and Dublin-based Allergan called off their proposed $160 billion merger after the U.S. Treasury Department announced new steps to curb tax-avoiding maneuvers called “inversions.” … The European Union’s antitrust commission ordered Ireland to collect €13 billion ($14.5 billion) of back taxes from tech giant Apple.
  • Revolution in Color,” a 90-minute documentary told Ireland’s struggle for independence from Home Rule to Civil War through beautifully colorized archive newsreel and photos. … The Journey,” a new film about the unlikely Northern Ireland peace partnership between Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness and the late unionist firebrand Rev. Ian Paisley, debuted to dreadful reviews. … Sonder Visuals produced a montage of drone-captured images of Ireland–rural and urban, natural and built–that fly past as quickly as the many voices (and dialects) that describe living there.

Freelance stories

In 2016, I published three Irish stories outside of the blog:

Guest posts:

I was pleased to welcome several guest bloggers this year, including:

I appreciate their contributions and encourage other readers to contact me for future guest posts.

Departed in 2016

  • Alan Rickman, British actor who portrayed Éamon de Valera, at 69.
  • Sir Terry Wogan, Limerick-born star of the BBC, at 77.
  • John McLaughlin, former Jesuit priest, speechwriter for President Richard M. Nixon and conservative provocateur, at 89.
  • Dr. Edward Daly, former Bishop of Derry, at 82. In an iconic photograph from “Bloody Sunday” in January 1972, he waved a blood-stained handkerchief ahead of a group of injured civil rights protesters as they tried to pass through British troops.
  • William Trevor, novelist and short story writer, at 88.

From the Archive:

View of the coast at County Kerry .

Christmas and New Year message from Ireland

Irish President Michael D. Higgins highlights the plight of migrants in global trouble spots such as Syria in his annual Christmas and New Year message.

“The circumstances of the birth of Christ, with its forced migration, homelessness and powerlessness, are being re-enacted for us the world over, in the conditions of migrants – including infants and children – as they wait, not knowing what the future will hold for them,” Higgins says.

His message also gives a final node to this year’s 1916 Easter Rising centennial.

“We commemorated how one hundred years ago a small group of women and men set in train a series of events that ultimately led to an independent State. In doing so, we celebrated elements of our past that can provide us with a lasting source of pride and confidence, as well as a compass for the future. We also reflected on aspects of our history that had been forgotten, evaded or even downplayed.”

Irish Ambassador reflects on 1916 centennial in U.S.

When Anne Anderson became Irish Ambassador to the U.S. in 2013, planning for the 1916 Easter Rising centennial commemoration in America was one of her early diplomatic duties.

“We knew 1916 would have huge resonance in the U.S., more than anywhere outside of Ireland,” Anderson told a 15 December Irish Network D.C. audience. “The road to the Rising and its aftermath have very big connections to Irish America.”

Ambassador Anne Anderson, left, interviewed by Fionnuala Sweeney of The Cipher Brief.

The Embassy faced several challenges, such as teaching a new generation of Irish Americans about an event more familiar to their parents and grandparents, and also reaching beyond the 30 million U.S. residents of Irish heritage, “not just those already part of the family,” Anderson said.

Cultural events, such as the three-week “Ireland 100” festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., were blended with more historically-focused examinations. The Embassy tracked more than 300 events across the U.S. “that we knew about,” Anderson said, including many “absolutely organic, grassroots” 1916 gatherings outside big Irish hubs such as New York and Boston.

“People were motivated by a sense of joy in their Irishness,” Anderson said. “The brand that Ireland has is extraordinarily positive.”

In the U.S., as in Ireland, the 1916 centennial commemoration required sensitivity to British and unionist perspectives, Anderson said. There were no attempts to “airbrush history.”

This year’s experiences will inform future commemorations as Ireland and Irish America move through the “Decade of Centenaries,” which extends until 2022, and includes the 100th anniversaries of the War of Independence and partition of the island.

“We are looking at what is most significant in the U.S.,” Anderson said, such as Eamon de Valera’s 1919-1920 fundraising tour in America. “But we always felt the biggest year in America would be 1916 (2016).”

Irish government puts new focus on arts and culture

The Irish government is launching an ambitious five-year program that “places creativity at the center of public policy.” Called Creative Ireland, the program will build on the legacy of this year’s successful 1916 centennial.

The arts initiative is based on the core proposition that participation in cultural activity drives personal and collective creativity, with significant implications for individual and societal well-being and achievement. It will have a strong focus on children.

“Creative Ireland is about placing culture at the center of our lives, for the betterment of our people and for the strengthening of our society,” Taoiseach Enda Kenny said in a news release. “Together we can do extraordinary things: we can make Ireland the first country in the world to guarantee access for every child to tuition and participation in art, music, drama and coding.”

Another of the program’s goals is to make Ireland a global hub for the production of film, television and animation. More at the Creative Ireland website, and check out this announcement video: