Tag Archives: emigration

More hand wringing about Catholic Ireland

Another St. Patrick’s Day is nearing, so it must be time for another story about the decline of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

Last March, Fordham University’s former Irish Studies Director John P. McCarthy wrote the dirge in The Catholic World Report. Later in the year new CSO data confirmed the diminishing demographics of Catholic Ireland. Now, America, the Jesuit Review, Senior Editor James T. Keane takes on the dreary duty of considering “The Future of Catholic Ireland.” (The online version of this headline adds the adjective “uncertain” before future.)

Cover of the March 5, 2018, issue of America.

The magazine cover features a lovely photo of St. Coleman’s Cathedral towering behind the almost equally famous pastel houses of nearby West View in Cobh. I will never forget my first visit there nearly 20 years ago. (My photos are prints, not digital!)

It was a sunny May afternoon highlighted by walking the waterfront where my maternal grandmother and grandfather emigrated in September 1912 and May 1913, respectively. They were both deeply Catholic, at least in the superficial ways of their generation. I do not know what was in their hearts regarding the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, or the Pope, then Pius X. I do not doubt, though I can not prove, that St. Coleman’s was the last church each visited on Irish soil, to light a votive, whisper a prayer, and bless themselves.

St. Coleman’s spire under construction in 1914.

There is a small detail about St. Coleman’s that I learned on that first visit that has remained with me ever since. The great bulk of the church was completed after more than 40 years of construction when my grandparents made their way from north Kerry to Cobh, then Queenstown. But the gracefully tapering spire was still wrapped in scaffolding. This last segment of external work was not finished until 1915.

Is there is a metaphor here? The church then under construction is now over a century old; the once teenage emigrants are now dead for decades. But lead me not into the temptation of sentimentality. As Keane writes near the end of his America piece:

[Dublin] Archbishop [Diarmuid] Martin (See his 2014 St. Patrick’s Day post in America.) also cautioned against equating the reality of Irish life with the cultural perceptions of what he called “the Auld Sod brigade,” Irish-American descendants of emigrants whose sentimental memories (real or not) of Ireland are not always or often shared by the nation’s residents. The world of potato farms improbably coaxed out of rocky soil, or of Gothic Revival chapels full of sturdy peasants on the path to the priesthood, has more life in those sentimental memories than in reality. The church may never again look as it did in [the seminary of St. Patrick’s College at] Maynooth 100 years ago, but the history of places like the Aran Islands suggest it will persist in some vital way.  … [T]he future of Irish Catholicism, whatever it may be, is tied up with the future of an Ireland that is now far different from what many Americans imagine. … The Irish are Europeans now.

I suggest the ranks of “the Auld Sod brigade” are as depleted as the pews of Archbishop Martin’s Dublin churches. Keane writes that reports of “physical abuse in Irish schools, orphanages, Magdalene laundries and other church institutions have been legion in the Irish media in recent years.” Does he think that Irish Americans have missed these stories? … or the reports of Ireland’s 2015 approval of a same-sex marriage? … or the current coverage leading up to the likely May repeal of its constitutional ban on most abortions? Nearly every one of these accounts includes an obligatory context paragraph about the changed church in “once conservative” Ireland.

Certainly the decline of the church is not news to those of us who regularly visit Ireland and still practice the faith. We have seen the empty pews and accepted the Blessed Sacrament from the hands of priests native to Asia or Africa, instead of Kerry or Kildare. For the most part, we embrace the more liberal, modern, “European” Ireland.

These reports about the decline of the Catholic Church in Ireland have become hackneyed.  I am more interested in what Keane describes as “some unanticipated future” of the faith in Ireland. The day after his America piece was published, author Angela Hanley, writing in The Irish Times, described “a small, quiet revolution taking place” within the church.

People who have been totally alienated from the Roman imperial model of church are still seeking to express their Catholic faith within community, because they truly understand this is most authentic place for faith practice. They are finding this community, which may or may not include priests, not in the formal structure of church but in homes.

That’s the Holy Spirit at work, in Ireland, in America and elsewhere. It gives me hope for the future rather than more hand wringing that “romantic [Catholic] Ireland’s dead and gone.”

Should the Irish abroad be able to vote back home?

“The Irish abroad should be given a voice by being given a vote in our general elections, as other states allow their citizens,” writes Colum Kenny, professor of communications at Dublin City Universty and author of An Irish-American Odyssey: The remarkable rise of the O’Shaughnessy Brothers.

His op-ed in The Irish Times contends that current proposals to try such an arrangement by giving the diaspora a vote only in presidential polls are “patronizing.”

“And what of catches that deprive emigrants and their children of educational and social welfare benefits if they wish to return after living outside Ireland for some years?”

Be sure to read the lively comments about taxation and representation at the bottom of the post. An online poll was showing nearly 60 percent “yes” to allow overseas voting as of this post, Oct. 4, 2014.

Ongoing research: Irish emigrants in 1912-1923 revolutionary period

I’m enrolled in an online course called “Irish Lives in War and Revolution: Exploring Ireland’s History 1912-1923.” The massive open online course (MOOC) is a partnership between Trinity College Dublin and FutureLearn. Nearly 14,000 have signed up, with slightly more than half living outside Ireland, including 27 percent in the US, according to The Irish Times.

The course is quite naturally focused on the lives of Irish men, women and children living through the extraordinary 12-year period of war and revolution that made modern Ireland, now part of ongoing centennial reflections. For me it’s reawakened a question thus far not considered by the course: What about the men, women and children who left Ireland during the period?

My maternal grandmother left Ireland in September 1912, two weeks before the Solemn League and Covenant signing in Belfast. My maternal grandfather sailed away in May 1913, shortly after the founding of the Ulster Volunteer Force and just before labor strikes erupted in Dublin. Their brothers and sisters followed to America through the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence and Civil War.

First I wanted to look at the raw numbers, presented here with additional notes.

Ireland’s average population at the time was about 4.3 million. The 10-year annual average emigration for 1904-1913 was 31,732.

1912: 29,344 emigrated

52.2 percent were men.
11,852 (40.3 percent) from Ulster, most of the four provinces
85.9 percent were between 15 and 35.

1913: 30,967 emigrated

53.1 percent were men
12,392 (40.0 percent) from Ulster, most of the four provinces
85.4 percent were between 15 and 35 years old

1914: 20,314 emigrated

Just over half were men. Ulster had the heaviest emigration. Nearly 87 percent were between 15 and 35 years old.
Using half the year’s annual total, more than 70,000 people left Ireland in the two and a half years from 1912 to the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914. 

1915: 10,659 emigrated

More than half were men. Ulster had the heaviest emigration. Nearly 84 percent between 15 and 35 years old.
The report of the Registrar-General for Ireland notes the loss by emigration during 1915 is only 2.5 per 1,000 of the population, the lowest rate on record since statistics began in 1851.

The Lusitania is sunk by a German submarine torpedo off the coast of Queenstown (Cobh) in May.

1916: 7,302 emigrated

In a reversal, the majority to leave were women (5,559), and only 3.4 percent were between the ages of 15 and 35 years old. Ulster still had the most emigration.
Taking just one fourth of the annual total for 1916, more than 93,100 people left Ireland in the period 1912 up to the Easter Rising.

1917: 2,111 emigrated

More than half were women and more than half were from Ulster.

1918: 980 emigrated

More than half were women. Leinster had the most emigrants (567), followed by Ulster (329).
The annual emigration rate dropped to 0.2 percent per 1,000 population.

1919: 2,975 emigrated

Nearly 62 percent were females, nearly 57 percent from Ulster.

1920: 15,531 emigrated

61 percent women, more than one third from Ulster.
The annual emigration rate of 3.5 percent per 1,000 population is near the running 10-year average of 3.8 percent.

1921: 13,635 emigrated

Women and natives of Ulster continue to lead the way out of war-torn Ireland. As a summer truce leads to the Anglo-Irish Treaty at the end of the year, nearly 134,000 have left Ireland in the period 1912-1921.

1922: 19,500 emigrated

The total includes separate estimates of 4,500 from the newly created Northern Ireland and 15,000 from the Irish Free State.

1923: 29,570 emigrated

The total includes separate estimates of 9,000 from Northern Ireland and 20,570 from the Irish Free State, which ended its civil war in May.

TOTAL EMIGRATION FOR THE PERIOD 1912-1923: 182,888

Columnists spar over undocumented Irish in America

An opinion column in The Irish Times by freelance writer Colm Quinn has drawn quite a sharp response by IrishCentral founder and editor Niall O’Dowd.

On the surface, both pieces are about the status of some 50,000 undocumented Irish immigrants in the US. But the deeper issue in Quinn’s column is about the state of Irish America.

“When it comes to Ireland’s view of itself in the psyche of the United States, it seems we are still stuck in the 1960s, when “Irish” America reigned supreme,” Quinn writes. “The reality is the US has moved on. Irish America is now mainstream and any expectation of special treatment because of the past is misplaced.”

O’Dowd never directly tackles this larger issue. He disputes that Irish leaders and their political peers in Washington, D.C. are seeking special treatment for the undocumented emigrants. But he spends far more column inches in an ad hominem attack on Quinn.

I generally like O’Dowd’s stuff. He’s better than stooping to such tactics. He might have acknowledged that Quinn mentions one his own beefs: that the U.S. has failed to appoint an ambassador to Ireland for over two years.

Quinn’s contention that, “In 2014, an Irish-American is a lot more American than Irish” is too simplistic. That’s been true for decades and misses the point of whether there’s still a special relationship between residents and leaders of the two nations.

And he doesn’t help his credibility by referring to U.S. “midterm elections in October.” Election Day is Nov. 4.

Take a deep breath lads, then try making another run at these issues in the future.