Tag Archives: County Offaly

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Two nicknames

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

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“I found a good car at the railway station, and set off at once for Portumna.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

In late February 1888, Hurlbert traveled from Cork city to Portumna in western County Galway, in the Irish Midlands. He stopped in Parsonstown, noting its ancient (and present) Irish name of Birr, from St. Brendan’s Abbey of Biorra. The American reporter described the town as “a clean prosperous place, carefully looked after by the chief landlord of the region, the Earl of Rosse,” a peerage of the Parsons family, and thus the town’s name in the 19th century.

This historic limestone boulder in Birr is referred to as the ‘Navel of Ireland’ and is often considered to mark the center of Ireland.

Hurlbert also mentioned that Sir William Petty called the place Umbilicus Hiberniae, or the “Navel of Ireland,” in his 1650s Survey of Ireland, since it was believed to be the center of Ireland. Other references to this nickname date to the 12th century.

The true geographic center of Ireland is actually 35 miles to the north, in Carnagh East townland, County Roscommon, near Altlone. The town straddles the River Shannon and also includes portion of County Westmeath.

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Hurlbert made his way to Portmuna Castle on the estate of the Marquis of Clanricarde, where he was the guest of land agent Edward Shaw Tener. As they discussed the agrarian agitation in Ireland, Tener stated that he knew the agent’s job came with personal risk. Hurlbert then referenced an earlier passage of his book:

But he [Tener] takes this part of the contract very coolly, telling me that the only real danger, he thinks, is incurred when he makes a journey of which he has to send a notice by telegraph–a remark which recalled to me the curious advice given me in Dublin to seal my letters, as protection against ‘ the Nationalist clerks in the post offices.’ “

Portumna Castle

Tener said that his precautions were required “not at all against the tenants  … nor the people here at Portumna, but from mischievous and dangerous persons at Loughrea and Woodford,” outside the estate. “Woodford … got the name of the ‘cockpit of Ireland‘, because it was there that Mr. [John] Dillon, in October 1886, opened the ‘war against the landlords’ with the ‘Plan of Campaign’.”

NOTES: From pages 249 to 257, of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American

NEXT: Battling books

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

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.

Ulster Bank has troubles in two Irish towns

I cover banking and money in my regular day job at the Washington Business Journal. That’s why these two bank-related stories in The Irish Times caught my eye.

An ATM machine at the Claremorris, County Mayo, branch of Ulster Bank began pushing out more than twice as much as what customers entered into the keyboard. “The result was that an unknown number of card holders walked off with funds for a Christmas shopping spree way in excess of what they had been planning,” the Times reported.

Naturally, the bank said it would trace the customers by their card and PIN identification, which is also input during the transaction. They’ll have to return the money.

ulster

In the other story, some 1,000 residents of Ferbane, County Offaly, marched to protest Ulster Bank’s decision to close the town’s last bank branch. The Times reported:

“…a coffin bearing the words “West Offaly Rip” was carried from a sports field outside town, by six pall bearers who placed it on the steps of the Ulster Bank in the town’s main street. The pall bearers were followed by a lone piper, children from local schools, traders, residents’ associations and members of local sporting groups and the IFA. Shops and businesses closed for the duration of the march and subsequent rally. …. One protester warned, “Ferbane will leave Ulster Bank, if Ulster Bank leaves Ferbane.”

“An Ulster Bank spokeswoman said banking had changed significantly over the last few years and “more of our customers are using digital technology to bank with us where and when it is convenient for them”.

It’s the same in the U.S., where big banks are pulling out of rural locations and focusing more on metropolitan areas.

“O’Bama” cuz pulls the prez

Since I’ve written about JFK and Ronald Reagan over the past few weeks it seems only fair to link to this Politico Magazine story about the shrewd young Irishman who has made the most of Barack Obama’s Irish “roots.”

Henry Healy has made himself a minor celebrity in Ireland and the U.S. by exploiting his uncle’s genealogy research that traced Obama’s great-great-great grandfather to the village of Moneygall in County Offaly.

All in good fun and hospitality, of course.

Obama visited the village in May 2011, naturally tipping a pint at the local pub. I did a drive-by visit with my wife and some Irish friends in May 2012, seeing the outside of the ancestral home and sticking my head in Ollie Hayes’ place. Pictures below:

Plague

Outside