Tag Archives: Catholic

What you need to know about Knock’s vision visitors

The Virgin Mary recently appeared–believers say–in the sun and clouds above Knock, the County Mayo village where she first presented herself to the faithful in 1879. Unlike that 19th century debut, viewed by 15 witnesses on a rainy evening, the latest vision at Ireland’s national Marian shrine is documented in video and photographs, quickly and easily disseminated around the world.

According to Catholic Online:

The sun appeared as an elongated shape in the videos, not as a circle. Rays of light were also captured on camera. As clouds passed before the sun, filtering out the brightest light, people were able to look directly at the vision. They reported the vision moved, and spun, a classic miracle of the sun, often associated with apparitions of the Virgin Mary.

Among the handful of secular news outlets that covered Our Lady’s alleged appearance, the tone was more skeptical, even cheeky. “Clouded vision,” said the headline in the U.K.’s Daily Mail.

This wasn’t the first digital-age sighting of the Virgin at Knock. Scores of videos claiming to show Mary’s image are posted online, in addition to sympathetic histories and pilgrimage travelogues, including a trailer for the 2016 independent film Strange Occurrences in a Small Irish Village.

The pilgrimage business is good for the West of Ireland. Knock airport’s 9.1 percent first quarter growth–more than 134,000 total passengers–was the highest year-over-year gain among five airports in the Republic, The Irish Times reported. Monsignor James Horan, the late priest who built the airport in the 1980s on the “foggy, boggy site” near the shrine, must be smiling from about the same altitude as the latest Marian appearance.

The 1879 apparition at Knock was a crowded affair, with the Virgin Mary joined by Saint Joseph, Saint John the Evangelist, the Lamb of God (representing Jesus Christ) and adoring angels appearing on the gabled wall of the local church. This didn’t get much immediate press attention. Word of the vision and miraculous cures spread quickly among believers, however, and published accounts began to appear by a year later. The Irish Examiner reported crowds of up to 20,000 were trekking to the village.

“A deeper and more touching outpouring of sincere faith and religious fervour it would be impossible even to conceive than what I witnessed at Knock,” an unnamed “pilgrim” wrote in a 25 September 1880 letter to the newspaper.

The same year, The Nation carried advertisements for “The Illustrated Record of the Apparitions at Knock,” a free booklet that included witness depositions, a list of miraculous cures and six images. A 1 3/4-inch diameter medal also was available for sixpence, plus postage.

Pope John Paul II visited Knock in 1979. He said:

Since I first learnt of the centenary of this Shrine, which is being celebrated this year, I have felt a strong desire to come here, the desire to make yet another pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Mother of Christ, the Mother of the Church, the Queen of Peace. Do not be surprised at this desire of mine. It has been my custom to make pilgrimages to the shrines of our Lady, starting with my earliest youth and in my own country.

John Curry was the last of the 1879 witnesses to die. In 1943, at the age of 68, he was buried without a headstone in a communal cemetery plot owned by the Little Sisters of the Poor on Long Island, New York. Recently, he was re-interred at the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Manhattan.

“What you choose to believe is up to you,” Dan Barry wrote in a lovely piece for The New York Times. “This is merely the story of an Irish immigrant who died without means in Gotham obscurity, then rose to such post-life prominence that, amid considerable pageantry, the archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, will celebrate his requiem Mass and pray over his new earthly home.”

I visited Knock not long after the 2001 terror attacks in America, during a month-long journalism fellowship that took me to both sides of the Irish border. I arrived at the shrine on a rainy Monday afternoon, “the busloads of believers nowhere in sight,” I wrote in my Oct. 1 journal entry. As a believer, I said the requisite prayers, but there were no apparitions that evening. In fact, my “sincere faith and religious fervour” was exhausted from having hiked to the summit of Croagh Patrick the day before. No visions up there, either, but a fantastic view and fulfilling experience.

I slept well that night at the Belmont Hotel in Knock and awoke to a bright day. I bypassed a second visit to the shrine and pressed on to my next appointments. I am glad that I made the pilgrimage, however, and followed in the footsteps of John Curry and John Paul, and millions of other believers; past, present and future; with or without digital recording equipment; with or without seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary.

Undated photo of the original church at Knock where the apparition appeared in 1879.

Is Leo Varadkar Ireland’s first post-Catholic leader?

Leo Varadkar has secured the leadership of the Fine Gael party and is now in line to replace Enda Kenny as Ireland’s next taoiseach, or prime minister.

Much is being made of the fact that Varadkar is openly gay and just 38, making him the Republic’s youngest leader. He is also the son of an Irish mother and Indian father. (Remember that Éamon de Valera, who spent several terms as Irish leader over a long stretch of the 20th century, was the American-born son of an Irish mother and Spanish father.)

The New York Times and other media noted that Varadkar comes to power two year after Irish voters approved same-sex marriage. The Times barely conceals its glee that Ireland “has rapidly been leaving its conservative Roman Catholic social traditions behind” and that Varadkar, though raised Catholic, does not practice the faith.

The U.K. Independent used a similar “once-staunchly Catholic country” formulation in its lead story, while initial coverage from RTE, BBC, NPR, CNN, The Guardian and other outlets did not mention religion.

Leo Varadkar is the new Fine Gael leader. Image from RTE.

Writing in The Irish Times, Miriam Lord observed that Fine Gael voters:

…patted themselves on the back for not making a big deal of the fact that Leo Varadkar is a gay man or that his father is an immigrant from India. Because it isn’t a big deal. Smiling at the way news outlets all over the world were announcing Catholic Ireland’s “first gay prime minister” when, sure, nobody paid a blind bit of difference to that at home, because why would they?

But, she concluded, “it was this very indifference to ‘origins and identity’ that made them feel very, very proud.”

Varadkar’s confirmation as taoiseach is expected–but not assured–later this month. He has said that he is committed to holding a referendum next year on whether to repeal the constitutional ban on abortion, which has already bolstered the secular narrative of a post-Catholic Ireland.

Celebrating the 100th anniversary of JFK’s birth

John Fitzgerald “Jack” Kennedy was born 29 May 1917 in Brookline, Massachusetts, near Boston, a year after the Easter Rising and a month after the U.S. entered World War I.

In 1960, Kennedy was elected president of the United States. He was not the first Irish American to win the nation’s highest office, but he was the first Catholic. Three years later, JFK made a triumphant return to Ireland, land of his ancestors. Five months after, he was assassinated in the U.S.

The end of May brings the official opening of numerous centennial celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of JFK’s birth.  The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, and the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C., have partnered for a series of events and initiatives, including the “JFK 100: Milestones & Mementos” exhibition.

Here are some other links to JFK-related content, starting with my own work on the blog:

Here are other external links of interest:

John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site, Boston (boyhood home)

The Kennedy Homestead,  Wexford, Ireland (ancestral home)

John F. Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C. (centennial celebration)

Official White House biography

University of Virginia Miller Center (essays, etc.)

RTÉ Archives and The Irish Times (coverage of the 1963 Ireland visit)

 

JFK’s triumphant return to County Wexford, Ireland, land of his ancestors.

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.

U.S. media plays sectarian card in N.I. election coverage

News of Sinn Féin‘s big gains in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections is reaching American media outlets, and with it the usual sectarian shorthand that has virtually disappeared from Irish and British coverage.

While Jewish-Muslim tension remains fundamental to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Catholic-Protestant animosity has a shrinking role in today’s Northern Ireland political narrative. But the storyline remains catnip to many U.S. news outlets.

Here’s the top of The New York Times‘ Assembly election coverage, which appeared at the bottom of page 10 of the 5 March print issue:

Sinn Féin, the main Catholic nationalist party in Northern Ireland, won its greatest number of legislative seats ever after a snap election this weekend, creating a virtual tie with its Protestant rivals and throwing nearly two decades of peaceful power sharing into turmoil.

This is an improvement over the 16 January Times’ story reporting the pending election:

Voters in Northern Ireland will go to the polls on March 2 in a snap election that was forced by the main Catholic party, Sinn Féin, after the collapse of a regional government in which Catholics and Protestants shared power.

The newer story introduces the concept of a nationalist party — instead of simply Catholic –in the first sentence. In the January story, the word nationalist isn’t used at all. The fourth paragraph does explain: “Sinn Féin wants Northern Ireland to stay in the European Union and eventually reunite with Ireland.” The word unionism is introduced in the same graph. Both stories were written by Sinead O’Shea.

The Washington Post published an Associated Press story on its website, though none has appeared in print as of 5 March. Here’s the lede:

Northern Ireland’s snap election has left the rival extremes of politics virtually neck and neck for the first time — and facing a bruising battle to put their Catholic-Protestant government back together again in an increasingly polarized landscape. The big winner from Saturday’s final results to fill the Northern Ireland Assembly is the Irish nationalist party that triggered the vote, Sinn Féin.

“Unionist” doesn’t appear until the fifth paragraph, in the formal name Democratic Unionist Party, then a graph later as lowercase “unionists committed to keeping Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom.”

The descriptions could benefit from modifiers such as “predominantly Catholic nationalists” or “historically Protestant unionists,” leaving room for those who do not fit the easy stereotype. We are a long way from the days of “Home Rule is Rome Rule.” Northern Ireland is increasingly diverse in its religious (or non-religious), racial and political make up. Winners of 13 of 90 seats in this election are from parties or independents that eschew traditional Catholic or Protestant affiliation. Their 14.4 percent share is up from 12.9 percent in the May 2016 election.

Think it’s impossible for U.S. media to avoid this sectarian shorthand? NPR’s coverage, by Colin Dwyer, shows how the basic political divide can be explained without using religious identifiers.

When the dust finally settled Saturday on Northern Ireland’s snap assembly election, it became clear a new political reality now awaits voters there. After an exceedingly strong showing by Sinn Féin, Northern Ireland’s government is split all but down the middle between Irish nationalists and their pro-British counterparts.

The story does not use the words Catholic or Protestant.  Only an online photo caption describes “the Catholic Falls Road” in Belfast. The word nationalist appears three times in this story, lowercase unionist four times, plus an additional reference to the Democratic Unionists.

The opening of The Irish Timeselection wrap-up is representative of how Northern politics is reported on the island of Ireland, and in Britain. Note the use of the word republican instead of nationalist:

Sinn Féin has emerged as the biggest winner in the North’s Assembly election after the party came to within one seat of matching the Democratic Unionist return of 28 seats. In a dramatic shake-up, unionists lost their long-enduring and highly symbolic overall majority in Stormont as the republican party came very close to securing more first preference votes than the DUP.

Peace walls, right, gated roads , center, and boarded windows are reminders of the lingering Catholic-Protestant divide in Belfast. Mark Holan photo, July 2016.

I’m not saying sectarian labels are never used in Irish and British media coverage, but they are becoming as sparse as people in Northern Ireland church pews. I wonder if these newsrooms have made conscious decisions to keep religious affiliation out of their political coverage.

To be sure, the “peace walls” separating Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods in Belfast are a stark reminder that sectarianism still exists in Northern Ireland. And the U.S. media coverage does include the important contemporary context of Brexit and the Northern Ireland renewable energy scandal.

Alan Bairner wrote a chapter about international and local media coverage of the Troubles in the 1996 book, Northern Ireland Politics, edited by Arthur Aughey and Duncan Morrow. Remember, this was more than 20 years ago, and two years before the Good Friday Agreement.

Certainly the people of Northern Ireland could have no grounds for complaint about the levels of interest shown by the international media, although they were frequently uneasy about the quality of the analysis which resulted from that media interest. … There is little evidence, for example, that British or, indeed, international coverage of the Troubles had a significant impact on the views of people in Northern Ireland itself. Most Northern Irish people formulate political views on the basis of numerous factors and their reaction to media output, regardless of its aim, is more or less predetermined.

And the local press coverage?

It would be preposterous to suggest that the owners and editors of Northern Ireland’s local newspapers are responsible for the divisions in their society. It is undeniable, however, that their papers, through the choice of stories which are published and even the use of language to tell these stories, give voice to the rival perspectives of the two communities and, as a consequence, give added strength to these perspectives in the eyes of those who hold them. Therefore, local papers as well as the [Protestant] News Letter and the [Catholic] Irish News have helped to reproduce sectarian attitudes and in so doing they have become complicit in the maintenance of the politics of division.

(I added the paragraph beginning “Such descriptions … ” and made other minor revisions from the original post. MH)

Confederate battle flag and NI marching season

It’s marching season in Northern Ireland, and this year there’s some extra attention on appearances of the Confederate battle flag, subject of much controversy in the American South.

Writing in National Catholic Reporter, Mary Ann McGivern notes the similarity of arguments between those who believe celebrating Protestant King William of Orange’s 1690 victory over Catholic King James II is a matter of heritage, and those who say it represents hate. She writes:

As far as I can see, most of the people who wield these symbols of supremacy and privilege don’t have the ugly history in the forefront of their minds. The flags and songs are an excuse for drinking and maybe for finding someone to beat up — in short, for exercising privilege today.

flag

The U.S. has been focusing attention on the June murder of nine African-Americans inside their South Carolina church, and the alleged 21-year-old killer photographed with the battle flag on a website attributed to him and filled with racist rants. South Carolina political leaders are trying to remove the flag from the statehouse grounds. But Business Insider reported the “stars and bars” also flies in other nations around the world, for various reasons. In Northern Ireland, the dissident Red Hand Defenders have marched with the flag due to their links with Ulster-Scots who fought for the Confederacy.

Now, with marching season building to its 12 July climax, the Confederate flag has been erected outside the home of a black family in East Belfast. One local politician told the UK Independent“The flying of this flag is closely intertwined with historical slavery and racist tension, as can be seen by its glorification during recent racially-motivated attacks in the US.”

And in Co. Antrim, the Belfast Telegraph reported Confederate and Nazi flags were flown along with the Union Jack and loyalist paramilitary flags near a Carrickfergus bonfire site. The BBC later reported the Nazi flags were removed.

Scotland votes ‘no’ as political waves hit Irish shores

The nationalist effort in Scotland was defeated 45 percent to 55 percent, but now a new debate begins over increasing devolved power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has wasted no time in reiterating republican calls for a border poll, while DUP First Minister Peter Robinson has rejected the idea. The Belfast Telegraph reports:

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers can call a border poll at any time, according to the 1998 Good Friday agreement that brought about peace. It also specifies that the cabinet minister shall order a referendum if it appears likely that a majority of those voting would seek to form part of a united Ireland. The proportion of Protestants has fallen to 48% from 53% 10 years ago, census data showed, while the proportion of Catholics increased to 45% from 44%.

Of course, not all Catholics would want a united Ireland, and surely some Protestants would quietly vote to break from the U.K., especially if the Irish economy continues to rebound, as discussed in my previous post.

Here’s another thought piece about some of the calculations in Northern Ireland, written before the vote, including whether London wants to keep its bond with Ulster. How strongly does Dublin want the six counties?

At the very least there is going to be a lot of discussion about devolving more power to Belfast, especially corporate tax rates. The Irish Times reports:

The big focus initially will be on whether the British government now allows the Northern Executive to bring corporation tax here in line with the general 12.5 per cent rate that applies in the South. David Cameron has already promised that he would make a decision on corporation tax soon after the completion of the referendum.

Many economists and most politicians believe that reducing the level of corporation tax from its current general figure of 21 per cent would be a “game changer” for Northern Ireland: it would boost international investment and create thousands more jobs.

Scotland referendum stirs debate about impact on Ireland

The Scottish independence referendum is a week away, and one recent poll showed a swing toward the Yes side, stirred a vigorous debate the implications for Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Here’s a sampling of opinions:

Eamonn McCann writes in The Irish Times that Westminster is embarrassing itself trying to hold on to Scotland, but wouldn’t give a flip if Northern Ireland wanted to break away. “The political establishment in London couldn’t care less about the North.”

The Irish Examiner says a “yes” vote for Scotland would pose a major risk for Northern Ireland. Nothing will be the same afterward, regardless of the outcome. “Profound change will come. If the referendum passes, an immediate constitutional crisis occurs. There is no clear pathway forward, and the questions for now unanswerable, are myriad. In the event of defeat, greater devolution is now certain to follow. Like the ‘Irish Question’ the issue of Scottish independence is unlikely to go away.”

Scotland and Northern Ireland friendship flags.

Scotland and Northern Ireland friendship flags.

The Telegraph, in England, suggests that a “yes” vote could reawaken sectarian violence in Scotland similar to that in Northern Ireland. “If Northern Irish sectarianism had sprung from the dispossession of Catholics by 17th-century Protestant planters, Scottish sectarianism came from too large and fast an influx of Irish Catholics in the 19th century. … Such hatred has diminished with prosperity and with relative calmness in Northern Ireland, but there are many Scots who are terrified that independence will exacerbate old tribal resentments. An Orange order parade in favour of “No” is due to take place on Saturday in Edinburgh. It may well be counterproductive, especially if some of their less disciplined members fall out with nasty elements of the “Yes” campaign.”

The Belfast Telegraph says the “Better Together” campaign against Scottish independence “has made the same sort of mistakes that unionism has made over the years in Northern Ireland: far too much criticism of their opponents and not enough effort to set out the value and merits of their own beliefs. … If Northern Ireland and unionism are to survive, then the pro-Union lobby needs to be ready for the border poll and coherent enough to avoid the catastrophic errors and complacency of Better Together.”

Robert Fisk, writing in the Independent, details the similarities and the differences between Scotland’s nationalist effort and those of Ireland in the early 20th century. He says, “there is life after independence from the UK. The day the British left in 1922, the Union flag came down, the Irish Tricolour was hoisted over Dublin Castle – seat of their Britannic Majesties for hundreds of years – a UK Governor General (who was of course Irish) took his seat, and anyone lucky enough to receive mains electricity could turn the switch by the dining room door – and the lights came on, just as they always did.”

Best of the Blog, 2013

This is my first annual “Best of the Blog,” a look at some of the most important news stories, historical anniversaries and personal favorite posts of the past year. I am not numbering the list to avoid the appearance of rank. Most links are to my original posts.

Enjoy, and Happy New Year:

  • The most significant personal milestone of the year was the centennial of my grandfather’s May 1913 emigration from County Kerry. I detailed Willie Diggin’s trip in a series of posts and recently published book, “His Last Trip: An Irish-American Story.”
  • The year 2013 marked the 150th anniversary of the Irish Brigades fighting in the Battle of Gettysburg and Irish-Catholic anti-conscription riots in New York City. It was the 100th anniversary of the Dublin labor lockout and the formation of the Irish Volunteers.
  • Ireland also noted the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s return to his ancestral homeland in June 1963. November marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of America’s first Irish-Catholic president.
  • Ireland liberalized its abortion laws in 2013 after a contentious debate with the Catholic Church, including a controversial appearance at the Boston College commencement by Irish PM Enda Kenny. Kenny won the abortion battle, but his effort to abolish the Seanad Éireann was defeated in a nationwide referendum.
  • The Irish community in Boston was in the news with the trial and conviction of mobster James “Whitey” Bulger, and the election of new mayor Martin J. Walsh.
  • The Irish Independent obtained recorded telephone conversations between former Anglo Irish Bank executives that revealed the depth of deception leading up to a government bailout of the failed financial institution. The Irish banking scandal and property bust reached all the way to Tampa, where I have covered problems with a retail and entertainment complex called Channelside Bay Plaza.
  • The Gathering Ireland 2013 focused on increasing visitors to their ancestral homeland. Project officials said it delivered more than a quarter million overseas tourists as of Dec. 23.
  • RIP: The passing of Seamus Heaney, 1939-2013, was probably the most significant death in Ireland during the year. Watch New York Times video tribute. The death of Margaret Thatcher also caused quite a stir on the island, though hardly as affectionate.
  • U.S. President Barack Obama and other global leaders attended the G8 Summit at County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, something that would have been unthinkable a generation ago. Nevertheless, as the year ended, U.S. envoy Dr. Richard Haass and Northern Ireland political leaders were still trying to finalize on agreement to solve ongoing problems with flags, parades and the past.
  • The past year was the 125th anniversary of the murder of Kerry farmer John Foran, a victim of the agrarian violence so widespread across Ireland in general and Kerry in particular during the last quarter of the 19th century. I look forward to doing more research and writing about this episode and the period in the new year.
This image of Kerry was used to illustrate a New York Times story headlined "Lost In Ireland. I've had it posted at my desk since it was published in October 2010. In 2014, I'll be moving to Washington, D.C. and look forward to seeing what's beyond the hill.

This image of rural road in Kerry illustrated a New York Times story headlined “Lost In Ireland. It was published in October 2010. I’ve kept the picture posted at my work desk ever sense. In 2014 I’ll be moving to Washington, D.C. and look forward to seeing what’s beyond the hill.

Old St. Patrick Church, Pittsburgh

I visited my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pa., and was fortunate to have enough time to visit Old St. Patrick Church, my favorite Catholic shrine and place of prayer.

Here’s a previously published blog I wrote about this sacred space.

I don’t get to visit Old St. Patrick’s every trip to Pittsburgh. But I put myself there frequently during my meditative time. The church door and garden gate are never locked.

Below are three images from my latest visit. Note the green sanctuary lamp over the altar and green harp to the left of the tabernacle.