Tag Archives: County Kerry

An Irish-American’s most perilous summer, 1918

The veteran’s grave needed tending. Robust June grass encroached on all sides of the metal marker flush to the ground, where a small American flag placed at Memorial Day also designated his final resting place.  

The twin sharp points of the hand-clippers I used to trim grass around a nearby family tombstone helped perforate the overgrowth. Soon, I peeled away the creeping grass and rubbed away the dirt. The bronze, beveled edges of the marker gleamed again in the sun. I saluted:

JOHN WARE

Pvt. U.S. Army
World War I
1886 – 1982

He was among 4.7 million soldiers and sailors, including immigrants like himself, mobilized in America for the early 20th century battle of 19th century empires. It began with an assassination in 1914, and quickly escalated into a toxic mix of nationalism, imperialism and militarism. By the war’s end in November 1918, the casualty count was measured in millions, with nearly 117,000 U.S. fatalities and more than 200,000 U.S. wounded.

John Ware, in 1918 or 1919.

These were the dangers 31-year-old John Ware faced 100 summers ago as he joined the army and shipped off to the European front. Regretfully, I never asked him about his service before he died at age 96, when I was in my early 20s, a missed opportunity of long-ago Christmas dinners and other family gatherings.

My trip to Calvary Cemetery in Pittsburgh prompted me to take a closer look at some family documents and photos of John, with additional research. This is his story:

He was born in County Kerry, Ireland, near Ballylongford. He immigrated to Pittsburgh in 1910; worked as a streetcar conductor from the Frankstown Avenue car barn in the city’s Homewood district; and worshiped at Holy Rosary Catholic Church.

Two sisters followed him to Pittsburgh. One wed another Kerryman, who became John’s brother-in-law and my grandfather. The other sister, like her older brother, never married. All four of these Irish immigrants are buried within a few feet of each other at Calvary.

In June 1917, two months after America entered the war, John registered in the first round of the U.S. military draft. Men between the ages of 18 and 45 were required to sign up, both U.S. citizens and resident aliens who had filed a declaration of intent to become a citizen. John was already well into that process, and he was naturalized a month later.

Immigrants who had not filed a declaration of intent were exempt from the draft, but many of them volunteered for the military. The federal government soon offered fast-track citizenship to these soldiers and sailors.

John was drafted into the army on April 28, 1918. The surviving record notes his transformation from citizen to soldier occurred at 4:30 that Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh. That day, one of the city’s newspaper headlines declared:

Allies Halt German Drive At The Threshold of Ypres

Enemy’s Slight Gains Made At Cost of Staggering Losses

The next morning, John and his address at 7115 Kelly St. were listed in the Pittsburgh papers with other “Names of Those Who Go.” That afternoon, he and 287 other area draftees entrained to Camp Lee, Virginia, a year-old combat training base south of Richmond.

Irish soldiers

That spring, Irish immigrants and their supporters were making other headlines in Pittsburgh. On May 5, 1918, thousands gathered at the downtown Lyceum Theater to protest British conscription of their countrymen without the benefit of limited domestic political autonomy, called home rule. They passed a resolution calling on President Woodrow Wilson to demand freedom for Ireland.

Rev. Patrick O’Connor, pastor of nearby St. Mary of Mercy Church, an historically Irish immigrant parish since the Great Famine, reminded the Lyceum audience of “the glorious record of past generations of Irishmen in defense of this great country.”

It was not only blood the Irish were sacrificing, O’Connor said, but also treasure. He told the story of an Irish workman earning $80 a month who had purchased $500 worth of Liberty Bonds, or half his annual salary.

During the last week of June 1918, an Irish socialite known as the “Countess of Kingston” visited Pittsburgh to debut a traveling exhibit of war items: “German Uniforms, Helmets, Military Equipment, Hand Grenades, Propaganda Literature, Iron Cross, Lusitania medal, British Battleship Vindictive Souvenir, German Prison Bread, and a Wonderful Collection of British War Pictures,” according to newspaper promotions.

The exhibit, staged at Kaufmann’s 11th floor auditorium, was intended to raise money for the Shamrock Fund, a charity for wounded Irish soldiers in the British army. Pittsburgh was selected for the debut because of the generous reception Lady Kingston received during a previous fundraising stop.

Honest and faithful

As Pittsburghers visited the Irish war exhibit, John shipped off to Europe with the 145th Infantry Regiment of the 37th Division. The unit fought through the summer and fall. John’s record says he was in the Alsace Lorraine Sector, a disputed territory between northeast France and southwest Germany.

A few more details can be gleaned from John’s military record

Wounds received in service: “None.”

Character: “Very good.”

Remarks: “Service honest and faithful. No A.W.O.L., nor absence.”

John’s tour of duty ended Jan. 30, 1919, about 10 weeks after the armistice. He was released two weeks later, on Valentines Day, from Camp Dix, New Jersey. The Army issued him $53.54 in travel pay (about $500 today) for the 350 mile return to Pittsburgh. Perhaps he remembered a similar westbound train trip as the last leg of his journey from Ireland nine years earlier.

Like many soldiers, he sat for a photograph in his uniform. The image survives with his Honorable Discharge record.

John returned to his streetcar job. For the next few years he read newspaper accounts of Ireland’s war of independence from Britain, which resulted in the island’s partition, and a brutal civil war. The following decades brought World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

More death and injury.

John was luckier than tens of millions of soldiers and civilians in all those places. His 65 years after WWI was twice as long as the life he easily could have lost in France that perilous summer 100 years ago.

Tending his grave at this year’s centennial seemed the least I could do.

Grave of John Ware, Calvary Cemetery, Pittsburgh, June 2018.

12 July 1958: The wedding beyond the marching

On 12 July 1958, the BBC for the first time “live” broadcast a massive Orange parade in Northern Ireland. About 25,000 men from 300 lodges participated in the five-mile march from Belfast to “The Field” at Finaghy, according to news reports.

That day, 60 summers ago, was “dull and wet” across the Six Counties as Orangemen marked the 268th anniversary of the Battle of Boyne. I didn’t see any reports of violence at these soggy, pre-Troubles marches in my quick search of the Irish Newspaper Archives.

But the date is important to me for something that happened in America. That Saturday morning, 3,400 miles from Belfast, Richard Holan and Lenore Diggin were married at St. Stephen Catholic Church in Pittsburgh.

The bride recalled that her mother, an emigrant of Ballylongford, Kerry, had raised an eyebrow about scheduling the wedding on the Orangemen’s day. Her father, also from Kerry, had died 17 years earlier.

The religious and political baggage of an historic date, however, seldom stop the nuptials of two people in love. And I’m glad of it. Happy 60th wedding anniversary, Mom & Dad.

Lenore & Rich, June 2018, just before their 60th anniversary.

Rare Irish atlas stolen from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Library

UPDATE:

The former archivist at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh and the owner of a rare book shop in the city are under investigation for theft, receiving stolen property and criminal mischief, according to hundreds of pages of documents unsealed 28 June 2018, in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

ORIGINAL POST:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Irish press

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

***

“It was difficult to recognize the [eviction] events yesterday witnessed by us at Glenbehy [Glenbeigh] in the accounts which we read of them to-day when we got the newspapers.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Few newspaper readers pay as close attention to press coverage as reporters who cover the same topics and events for competing publications. Hurlbert, the veteran New York City journalist, was no exception.

As detailed in my previous post, Hurlbert witnessed the 22 February 1888, eviction of tenant farmer James Griffin in Glenbeigh, County Kerry, which he described as being “as dull as a parish meeting.” The American reporter, whose coverage revealed his own conservative, pro-landlord bias, was wary of Irish nationalist propaganda. “I shall be curious to see whether the story of this affair can possible be worked up into a thrilling narrative,” he wrote.

In the 23 February 1888, entry of Ireland Under Coercion, Hurlbert does not name the newspaper coverage of the Griffin eviction he found “difficult to recognize.” He suggested that because “these accounts are obviously intended to be read, not in Ireland, where nobody seems to take the least interest in Irish affairs beyond their own bailiwick, but in England and America, it is only natural, I suppose, that they should be coloured to suit the taste of the market for which they are destined.”

There is a grain of truth here. News of Irish tenant evictions and the Home Rule struggle certainly attracted the attention of politicians and large immigrant communities across the Atlantic Ocean and the Irish Sea.

But Irish newspaper readership was growing in the 1880s. As noted by Marie-Louise Legg and other historians, Ireland’s literacy rate increased as its population declined since the mid-century Famine. About 31 new papers, a 25 percent increase, began circulating during the period. “An important feature of the 1880s was not just the increase in numbers of provincial newspapers, but the increase in the number of newspapers which claimed to have nationalist politics,” Legg observed.

The Irish press “performed a central and essential role in the spread of the Land League,” Legg wrote. Agrarian activism “flourished on a network of communications dependent on the press, and newspaper proprietors and editors were major Land League politicians.”

James Daly of the Connaught Telegraph helped to organize the League’s first meeting in County Mayo in 1879. In Kerry, brothers Edward and Timothy Harrington, owners of the Kerry Sentinel, were both Irish nationalist MPs. North Meath MP Pierce O’Mahony generated considerable attention about mass evictions at Glenbeigh in 1887 with his newspaper article “The Truth About Glenbeigh” (where at least one reporter was assaulted as the authorities removed tenants.)

An evicted family in Glenbeigh, probably 1887.

Hurlbert probably read the 23 February 1888, issue of The Irish Examiner, published in nearby Cork. Under the headline “An Extraordinary Display of Force,” Griffin was said to have “naturally anticipated a little extra persecution on the part of the landlord,” and the tenant took the eviction “calmly and even cheerfully.” Where Hurlbert concluded that Griffin was “very well off” for not paying rent, the Examiner described his farm as “good land, as land goes in Glenbeigh,” where “the chief crop seems to be rock.”

Published beneath the page 3 news story was a letter from Father Thomas Quilter, the Glenbeigh parish priest who calmed neighboring tenants during the Griffin eviction. Quilter wrote the episode was another example of “the hydra of landlordism.” In a nod to one of Aesop’s Fables, Quilter also wrote the eviction “was a fiasco, the mountain in labor with the tiny product.”

The Freeman’s Journal, a national paper, recalled the 1887 Glenbeigh evictions in its next-day, page 5 story about Griffin. It suggested that his removal was “the first shot in a new [eviction] campaign.”

Two days later, the weekly Kerry Sentinel said the booing, horn-blowing neighbors who watched the eviction from the hillside, which Hurlbert described, “had by their presence shown their sympathy for Mr. Griffin, and that was all that was required of them, and their was no use in their coming into unnecessary collision with the police.”

All three of these pro-tenant papers confirmed that Griffin was an active leader in National League agitation, who in fact owed quite a lot of back rent. They also portrayed the 50 or so police and military on hand to carry out the eviction as brusque and heavy-handed.

On 27 February 1888, The Times of London, hardly sympathetic to tenant activism, noted Griffin’s eviction near the end of a page 7 roundup of Irish news. The story made the point the same Hurlbert did in his book: while Griffin refused to pay rent on the farm he occupied illegally since his first eviction in 1883, the landlord Rowland Winn remained liable for all the property taxes.

Griffin’s eviction does not appear to have been reported in the American press, according to my search of three newspaper databases containing hundreds of titles. Plenty of other cases during this period, including the 1887 Glenbeigh evictions, were covered in detail.

NOTES: From page 215 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. … Pages 119-120, 125, and 135 (reporter assaulted at Glenbeigh) of Newspaper and Nationalism: The Irish Provincial Press, 1850 – 1892, by Marie-Louise Legg, Four Courts Press, 1999. .. Newspapers accessed via Irish Newspaper Archive and Newspapers.com.

NEXT: Cork tourism

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: An eviction

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

***

“We are here on the eve of battle! An eviction is to be made to-morrow … ”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Near the end of February 1888, Hurlbert witnessed an eviction on the Winn (Wynn) estate in Glenbehy (Glenbeigh), County Kerry. The date, 22 February, was George Washington’s birthday. The American reporter suggested the “stern old Virginian landlord” would be amazed at the “elaborate preparations” required to evict a tenant in Ireland.

Tenant James Griffin was targeted for removal from the small holding eight miles southwest of Killorglin, and about twice the distance northeast of Cahersiveen, which his family had leased since the 1850s. He was evicted from the property in 1883 and again in 1887 for failing to pay several years of back rent but “re-entered unlawfully immediately afterwards,” according to Hurlbert. Griffin “was then and he is now, an active member of the local branch of the National League … actively deterring and discouraging other tenants from paying their rents.”

In 1886 and 1887, Sir Redvers Buller, special police commissioner, and Father Thomas Quilter, parish priest, negotiated new lease agreements between the landlord and about 70 tenants on the estate. Only a handful of the tenants paid the reduced rents they agreed, however, either because of pressure from the National League or because they were too poor. In turn, the authorities burned and leveled numerous houses to prevent re-entry by evicted tenants who did not meet their new rent obligations.

This “made a great figure in the newspaper reports and ‘scandalized the civilized world’,” Hurlbert reported. He suggested “the sympathy excited by the illustrations of the cruel conflagration and the heartrending descriptions of the reporters, resulted in a very handsome subscription for the benefit of the tenants of Glenbehy.”

Period newspaper illustration of 1887 Glenbeigh evictions.

Hurlbert contended that because of  the subscription fund and “despite, or because, of the two evictions through which he has passed,” James Griffin was “very well off” with “a very good horse and cart, and seven or eight head of cattle.” He remained 240 pounds in arrears.

On the five mile hike to the Griffin house, Hurlbert joined other “gentlemen of the Press” in addition to about 50 police and troops deployed for the eviction. The group passed Winn’s Folly, “a modern medieval castle of considerable size” that no one ever lived in except as a temporary police barrack. It remains a tourist curiosity.

Hurlburt continued:

After we passed the castle we began to hear the blowing of rude horns from time to time on the distant hills. These were signals to the people of our approach, and gave quite the air of an invasion to our expedition. We passed the burned cottages of last year just before reaching Mr. Griffin’s house … [As the eviction began] there was no attempt at a resistance, and but for the martial aspect of the forces, and an occasional blast of a horn from the hills, or the curious noise made from time to time by a small concourse of people, chiefly women, assembled on the slope of an adjoining tenancy, the proceedings were as dull as a parish meeting.

The authorities took about two and a half hours to complete the eviction process, which required that “everything belonging to the tenant, and every live creature, must be taken out of the house.” Hurlbert suggested that New York City authorities could evict 50 tenants in the same amount of time. Griffin, “a stout, stalwart man of middle age … took the whole thing most coolly,” Hurlbert reported. An Irish bailiff told him that Griffin was “going to America.”

Troops on their way to an eviction in Glenbeigh, County Kerry, circa 1888-1890. The Eblana Photograph Collection, National Library of Ireland.

The scene got a little tense when Father Quilter tried to pass through the police cordon to deliver a telegram, the contents of which Hurlbert did not reveal in his narrative. “A squad of men” was put in charge of the house to prevent re-entry and “the rest of the army reformed for the march back” to the scattered boos and groans of the bystander tenants, Hurlbert observed.

“I shall be curious to see whether the story of this affair can possible be worked up into a thrilling narrative,” he wrote. I will explore Irish press coverage of the eviction that Hurlbert witnessed in the next post.

NOTES: From pages 196 to 214 of  Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American.

NEXT: Irish press 

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: On boycotting

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

***

“The author … tells a story … of ‘boycotting’ long before Boycott.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Hurlbert mentioned “boycott” about two dozen times in his book, which is somewhat remarkable considering the word had not existed eight years earlier. It resulted from the 1880 social and commercial ostracism of County Mayo land agent Captain Charles Boycott in a key early protest of the decade’s agrarian agitation in Ireland.

In his discussion about boycotting in Milltown Malbay (See previous post), Hurlbert referenced a passage from the 1852 book Fortnight in Ireland, by  Sir Francis Head. The book was based on Head’s one-week visit to the island, his first, near the end of the Great Famine.

In a description of religion conversion efforts tied to charity (“Protestant missionary zeal with Protestant donations of meal”, in Hurlbert’s phrasing), Head noted 36 years earlier:

Any Roman Catholic who listens to a Protestant clergyman, or to a Scripture reader, is denounced as a marked man, and people are forbidden to have any dealings with him in trade or business, to sell him food or buy it from him.

A boycott! The phenomenon is even older, however, according to Samuel Clark in his seminal work, Social Origins of the Irish Land War:

The practice was obviously not invented by Irish farmers in 1880. For centuries, in all parts of the world, it had been employed by active combinations [social groups] for a variety of purposes. In rural Ireland itself the practice of refusing to bid for involuntarily vacated farms or for distrained livestock had a long history, as did the ostracism of landgrabbers. Even during the Land War, the tactic was used well before the Boycott affair; and it had been advocated on numerous occasions before [Charles Stewart] Parnell recommended it in September 1880.

Parnell

It seems an oversight by Hurlbert that as he reported about boycotting in County Clare, he did not reference Parnell’s speech eight years earlier at Ennis. Parnell spoke weeks before Boycott’s troubles began in the Lough Mask area of Mayo, 80 miles to the north. Parnell said:

When a man takes a farm from which another has been evicted, you must shun him on the roadside when you meet him – you must shun him in the streets of the town – you must shun him in the shop – you must shun him on the fair green and in the market place, and even in the place of worship, by leaving him alone, by putting him in moral Coventry, by isolating him from the rest of the country, as if he were the leper of old – you must show him your detestation of the crime he committed.

Davitt

Michael Davitt also used the image of a leper in his 29 January 1888, speech at Rathkeale; the oration about not overusing the term “Bloody Balfour” that caught Hurlbert’s attention upon his arrival in Ireland. Davitt also said:

I maintain that a landgrabber is a thief, when he covets and steals his unfortunate neighbor’s holdings, and I want to say once more, what I repeated on a hundred platforms, that the landgrabber incurred malediction in the days when the Holy Bible was written: ‘Cursed be he who removes his neighbor’s landmark.’ He is a cowardly, slimy renegade, a man who should be look upon as a social leper, contact with whom should be considered a stigma and a reproach.

As noted in an earlier post, Davitt complained in his diary that the Freeman’s Journal (and other papers) did not report this portion of his speech. It was, however, quoted in Parliament the week that Hurlbert was in Clare.

In Ireland Under Coercion, Hurlbert reported that some landlords and their workers suggested they were able to withstand boycotts without much impact. In places such as Kerry, however, he noted that the “dual government” of the Land League “enforce[d] their decrees by various forms of outrage, ranging from the boycott, in its simplest forms, up to direct outrages upon property and the person.”

This included the murder of boycotted Kerry farmer James Fitzmaurice, two days after Davitt’s Rathkeale speech. See my earlier post.

Period illustration of the January 1888 murder of boycotted Kerry farmer James Fitzmaurice in front of his daughter Nora. She was not physically harmed.

I’ll give the last word to Father Patrick White, parish priest of Milltown Malbay, who Hurlbert reported as being “the moving spirit” behind a series of boycotts in Clare. Father White denied the allegation in his rebuttal booklet, Hurlbert unmasked: an exposure of the thumping English lies of William Henry Hurlbert in his ‘Ireland Under Coercion’ . He explained:

There was unquestionably boycotting in the district, and as [local Land League] president … I had to take note of it. The people, goaded by desperation by the terrible distress of [18] ’78, ’79 and ’80, were up in arms against the heartlessness and the cruelties of the Landlord system, which had paved the way to it. … Against such an obstacle as this neither an appeal to justice nor argument of was of any value whatsoever, so boycotting was resorted to. Desperate diseases require desperate remedies … The people fully appreciated my difficulty [as a priest] acting as president with them, and never pressed me to accept, or put from the chair, any boycotting resolution.

I’ll return to this issue in a future post about another word that came out of the late 19th century agrarian agitation in Ireland: moonlighting.

NOTES:  Hurlbert referenced Fortnight on page 172 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. Quote about “dual government,” etc., on page 219. Quote from Head on page 155 of Fortnight. Quote from Clark on page 311 of Social Origins. Quote from Father White on pages 17-18 of Hurlbert Unmasked.

NEXT: Killone Abbey

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Watch “Ireland’s Wild Coast” before 31 August

Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is airing the 2-hour nature documentary “Ireland’s Wild Coast” on its U.S. stations. The full film is available online through 31 August.

Emmy Award-winning wildlife cameraman Colin Stafford-Johnson narrates his odyssey along Ireland’s rugged Atlantic coast and nearby inland forests. Over the course of a year, he traveled from the Skellig and Blasket islands in southwest Kerry, up the coastline to Donegal’s Malin Head, the island’s most northern point, then finished at the Sea of Moyle on the Antrim coast.

The film explores marine, avian, mammalian and other creatures. Stafford-Johnson provides poetic, personal insights into the wild animals and wild places he discovered along the way.

Here’s my 2014 post about the Stafford-Johnson-narrated, John Murray-directed “On A River In Ireland” (also known as “The Secret Life of the Shannon”). The video link is still good.

Wildlife cameraman Colin Stafford-Johnson.

Irishmen registered for U.S. draft 100 years ago

One hundred years ago, on 5 June 1917, the United States conducted its first military draft to support the war in Europe it entered two months earlier. Many Irish-born or Irish-American men lined up to sign up, including my grandfather, Willie Diggin, and his future brother-in-law, John Ware, both emigrants of Kerry. Below is an edited chapter of my book, “His Last Trip: An Irish-American Story,” about draft day in Pittsburgh. MH

***

The United States tried to isolate itself from the war that erupted in August 1914, but American industry was closely tied to events in Europe. Pittsburgh steel mills operated around the clock to meet the demands of the unprecedented military buildup on the continent. Carnegie Steel alone hired 8,000 additional workers in 1915 as Willie began his career as a streetcar motorman, two years after his arrival from Ireland.

When America finally entered the war in April 1917, Congress quickly authorized a draft to build the military. The first round of registration set for June 5 required men ages 21 to 31 to sign up, including non-citizens. This presented a conflict for Irish immigrants with strong nationalist views who had openly supported Germany against England, Ireland’s historical oppressor. Such a position now became treasonous.

Only a few people openly opposed the war in Pittsburgh. In the final days before the draft four men ages 19 to 21 were arrested and charged with treason for distributing fliers opposing the conscription. Churches asked the mayor to close bars so that “young men under the exhilaration or depression of the day may have removed from them the temptation of drink.” The president of the liquor retailers association promised his members would voluntarily go dry for the day because “it was the least we could do and patriotism demanded it from us.”

Willie Diggin, undated.

Willie registered at the Hazelwood Police and Patrol Station at the corner of Hazelwood Avenue and Lytle Street. The two-story brick building was located a half mile west of the streetcar car barn where he worked. Uniformed police officers bustled about the station, enhancing the military atmosphere. American flags snapped in the breeze as showers and thunderstorms raked across the city. News accounts reported that most registration lines were “orderly and cheerful.”

Nearly 3,200 men registered in Hazelwood between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m., a pace of 228 per hour. Many of the men were workers from the nearby B & O Railroad switch yards and J&L steel mill. They shuffled through the lines with smudged faces, dirty hands and soiled clothing. Willie was joined in the line by other streetcar men in their Pittsburgh Railways uniforms.

Continue reading

“Coolatully,” a play about rural Ireland, makes U.S. debut

“Coolatully,” a fictional village in rural Ireland and the title of a 2014 one-act play by Fiona Doyle, is making its U.S. debut in Washington, D.C. Solas Nua (new light), a contemporary Irish arts organization, is presenting the play at Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint through 26 March.

The play is set in post-Celtic Tiger rural Ireland, where jobs are tough to find and the fictional town can no longer field a hurling team because too many players have left for Canada, New Zealand and Australia. (If there’s any mention of America, I missed it, reminding U.S. audiences that we aren’t the only option for emigrants.) Kilian, the hero of a long-past teen league championship match, is torn between staying or leaving.

More in this short Solas Nua video featuring members of the D.C. cast:

In a review of an earlier London production, The Guardian said the play “paints a plausible picture of the modern Celtic twilight … [and] tells us, very touchingly, what it is like to be young in rural Ireland today and pins down vividly the tendency to romanticize the past and future to make up for the disquieting present.”

Doyle has written nearly a dozen plays, according to her literary agency bio. She studied in Berlin and London, and lives in County Kerry.

 

 

Obama will return to Ireland in ‘coming year or so’

Outgoing President Barack Obama will return to the Republic of Ireland “in the coming year or so,” according to U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Kevin O’Malley. “The last sentence the president said to me … [4 January] when we were saying goodbye, was ‘please tell them I’m coming’,” O’Malley told RTÉ host Marian Finucane.

While the location or context of his return is less clear than the timing, Obama is generally popular in Ireland. His May 2011 visit included a stop in Moneygall, County Offaly, the ancestral home of his great-great-great grandfather.

Since then, a service plaza was erected in Obama’s honor on the M7 motorway just outside the village. In addition to petrol and fast food, the place is packed with Obama souvenirs, plus memorabilia of popular presidents Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy. In a contemporary sense, it might be the most Irish-American spot in all of Ireland, through certainly not the most scenic or historic.

Barack Obama in Moneygall in 2011.

Obama, who also visited Northern Ireland in June 2013 for a G8 summit, leaves office 20 January, the inaugural of President-elect Donald Trump, who owns a golf resort in Doonbeg, County Clare. O’Malley will leave his Dublin post a few days earlier due to a demanded from the incoming administration that all non-career ambassadors depart immediately.

IrishCentral, citing a tweet from New York Times writer Maggie Haberman, reports the next U.S. Ambassador to Ireland will be philanthropist and businessman Brian Burns, the grandson of an emigrant from Sneem, County Kerry.  Burns, 80, and his wife, Eileen, have been close friends of Trump through the Palm Beach and Mar-A-Lago connection.

O’Malley, a St. Louis trial lawyer whose grandparents emigrated from County Mayo in the early 20th century, was appointed by Obama in June 2014 after a record-setting 18-month gap following the departure former ambassador and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney.