Tag Archives: County Roscommon

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

Guest post: Witnessing Irish history over 30 years

I’m always happy to publish a guest post from people visiting or just returned from Ireland. My good friend Sister Cathy Cahill, OSF, a veteran retreat leader and spiritual director, sent this correspondence from Dublin. MH

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When I visited Ireland the first time in the spring of 1986, the talk on the radio and on the streets was all about the divorce referendum. It didn’t pass that year, but narrowly prevailed 10 years later by 50.3 percent to 49.7 percent.

When I was here last year, all the buzz was around the marriage equality referendum. I was part of the rejoicing when the “YES” vote succeeded 62.1 percent to 37.9 percent, making Ireland the first nation to do so by referendum rather than legislation.

This year, the big concern is that Ireland is without a government because of an inconclusive election (the incumbent party got only 25.5 percent of the vote) and the inability of politicians, so far, to form a coalition. Sound familiar: elected officials having trouble finding agreeable solutions to problems?

Parading in Dublin with images of Easter Rising patriots. Photo courtesy of Sr. Cathy Cahill.

Parading in Dublin with images of Easter Rising patriots. Photo courtesy of Sr. Cathy Cahill.

Of course, this year is also the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising, when brave Irishmen and Irishwomen said “No More!” to English rule. I arrived a few weeks after the official commemoration on Easter Sunday. Imagine my delight when I happened upon the “Citizens’ Centenary Celebration” in front of the GPO on Sunday, 24 April, the actual 100th anniversary of the event that change Ireland forever.

I was surprised at the tears that welled up as I listened to the speeches, the songs, and reading of the great proclamation. I wondered about my grandfather, who left County Roscommon in 1895 and settled in Providence, Rhode Island. What were his reactions when the news of the insurrection made its way across the Atlantic? I’m sure he was a nationalist sympathizer.

When the names of the proclamation signers were read and I heard “Joseph Mary Plunkett,” I immediately thought of his poem,  “I See His Blood Upon the Rose.” It’s been 60 years since Irish nuns in America had us memorize it!

There also were songs about the women who took part in the Rising and then written out of history. There were songs bemoaning the divisions that still exist and songs celebrating the strides toward unity that have been made. The variety of groups taking part in a parade reflected the needs of today’s Ireland. Labor unions, refugees, Travellers, homeless, and many others.

As an Irish American, I am grateful to be here at this time. I pray for the day when striving for liberty and independence does not involve violence.

U.S.-Irish relations at St. Patrick’s Day: 1916-2016 (P2)

This blog series focuses on U.S.- Irish relations at St. Patrick’s Day over the past 100 years. Since this is the centennial of the Easter Rising, I’m looking at 1916 and each 25 years afterward: 1941, 1966 and 1991. I’m also writing a post on St. Patrick’s Day 1976, the year of the American bicentennial.

Part 2: The Rising’s 25th anniversary & Ireland’s neutrality

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not recognize St. Patrick’s Day 1941 with any Irish guests or events, according to his official calendar. But with the war in Europe now in its second year, Ireland was certainly on the president’s mind nine months before the Pearl Harbor attack.

Roosevelt knew the U.S. would enter the conflict sooner or later. On March 15, 1941, he told the annual dinner of the White House Correspondents Association:

Upon the national will to sacrifice and to work depends the output of our industry and our agriculture. Upon that will depends the survival of the vital bridge across the ocean—the bridge of ships that carry the arms and the food for those who are fighting the good fight. Upon that will depends our ability to aid other Nations which may determine to offer resistance. Upon that will may depend practical assistance to people now living in Nations that have been overrun, should they find the opportunity to strike back in an effort to regain their liberties and may that day come soon! This will of the American people will not be frustrated, either by threats from powerful enemies abroad or by small, selfish groups or individuals at home.

Perhaps of note to Irish and Irish-Americans who heard the speech or read accounts of it, Roosevelt said:

The world has no use for any Nation which, because of size or because of military might, asserts the right to goosestep to world power over the bodies of other Nations or other races. We believe that any nationality, no matter how small, has the inherent right to its own nationhood. (My emphasis.)

At the time, Roosevelt, U.S. Ambassador to Ireland (since April 1940) David Gray and other American officials were frustrated with Ireland’s position of neutrality in the war. The U.S. and Britain wanted access to Irish ports and airfields. On St. Patrick’s Day 1941 (two days after Roosevelt’s speech) Irish leader Eamon de Valera addressed the Irish people and America in a radio broadcast.

“A small country like ours that had for centuries resisted imperial absorption, and that still wished to preserve its separate national identity, was bound to choose the course of neutrality in this war,” he said.  “It has taken an effort of centuries to win back the independence we have got. We are determined that it shall not be lost again.”

On March 18, Gray wrote to Roosevelt from Dublin. He opened by saying “we are very full of your speech made the other night at the White House Correspondents dinner.” Then he complained about de Valera:

“He cannot get out of this self-centered dream world and realize that the lrish will be goose-stepping if Britain goes down. …  This running a government on hatred of another country is a  very dangerous thing and is bound to land him on the scrap heap eventually.”

The struggle over Irish neutrality would continue through the war years. All of Roosevelt’s Irish-related correspondence for 1941 and other years is available online.

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Roosevelt shortly after re-election to his third term in 1940.

In New York City, County Roscommon native Father Edward Flanagan supported Ireland’s neutral stance in a St. Patrick’s Day homily commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Easter Rising. In Washington, D.C., Irish-Americans gave “serious thoughts to the present situation of their ancestors’ homeland,” The Washington Post reported. Rev. Dr. Tracy John Ellis compared the barbarism of St. Patrick’s fifth century Europe to the “barbarism on the loose” in 1941 Europe.

Very Rev. Ignatius Smith of Catholic University told several hundred men gathered at the Mayflower Hotel for the annual Society of Friendly Sons of St. Patrick banquet that “subjugated nations can learn from Ireland that they are never really conquered as long as they are determined to be free.” The Post‘s reporting is silent as to whether he mentioned the Rising anniversary or offered an opinion about Irish neutrality.

The growing militarism of the day was visible elsewhere in Washington as the Irish War Veterans Post 17 conducted a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, and also laid a wreath at the statue of Commodore John Barry (a Wexford man) in Franklin Park.