Tag Archives: kerry

Ill-fated Irish Convention opened 100 years ago

Delegates to the Irish Convention outside Trinity College Dublin in July 1917.

A British government-backed convention to resolve “the Irish question” opened 25 July 1917, in Dublin. Delegates met through March 1918 as World War I continued to rage on the continent.

Sometimes called “Lloyd George’s Irish Convention,” after the British prime minister, it “was marked by his characteristic defects as a statesman,” County Cork’s William O’Brien wrote in his 1923 history, The Irish Revolution. “It was improvised, it was uncandid, and it was open to be changed into something quite different at a moment’s notice.”

And It failed.

I wanted to read U.S. newspaper coverage of the convention opening, especially in Pittsburgh. My maternal grandparents and other relations from Kerry arrived in the city shortly before the 1916 Easter Rising. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette offered this 26 July, 1917, editorial assessment:

There will be no disappointment if the Irish Convention which opened in Dublin yesterday to try to formulate a Home Rule plan fails of agreement, for there is no hope that anything like a conclusion acceptable to all can be reached. … If [politicians of opposing views] can meet once and part without having engaged in a fist fight and widening the breach between the factions … they can meet again. And the oftener they meet … the better chance there is that there eventually will be a meeting of the minds leading to concessions, compromise and a willingness to give a trial to some scheme of self-government that will put an end to the factional fight of centuries’ duration.

The convention’s effort to deliver Home Rule, which had been promised just before the war began in 1914, was derailed in spring 1918, as London linked the deal to enforced conscription in Ireland. (Many Irishmen voluntarily served in the British military.) The death blow came after the war, as U.S. President Woodrow Wilson abandoned the Irish at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. The Irish War of Independence began soon after.

The 4-minute video below contains soundbites from several speakers at a Trinity College Dublin centenary symposium about the convention. In addition to their various historical points, it’s worth listening to the diversity of Irish accents.

Ballot & Bullet: Remembering Dev and Danny Boy

Two July 1917 events in the west of Ireland shaped the county’s struggle for independence from Britain. A century later, however, both seem to have be mostly forgotten, prompting criticism from at least one historian.

The first and most significant event was the election of Sinn Féin candidate Éamon de Valera in County Clare. The by-election was called to fill the seat left vacant when Irish Parliamentary Party member Willie Redmond was killed in World War I. The IPP represented the late 19th century effort to secure limited domestic autonomy for Ireland, called home rule. de Valera, one of the rebels of the 1916 Easter Rising who was released from prison in June 1917, belonged to the new generation of Irish republicans seeking a clean break from Britain, even if it required violence ahead of politics.

As John Dorney explains on The Irish Story website:

His victory marked a decisive breakthrough for the Sinn Féin party and the beginning of the eclipse of the constitutional nationalists of the Irish Parliamentary Party. The following year, 1918, Sinn Féin, headed by de Valera, won a crushing victory in a general election and early the following year, declared independence, leading the Irish War of Independence.

The post also features Dorney’s 35-minute podcast interview with Clare historian Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc, who details the election and sets the context for this period between the Rising and the War. It’s a great listen.

O Ruairc raises the second event toward the end of the interview. While celebrating Dev’s victory in Ballybunion, Co. Kerry, local man Daniel Scanlon was shot and killed by an officer of the Royal Irish Constabulary. Scanlon belonged to the Irish Volunteers, at the time transitioning to the Irish Republican Army. O Ruairc describes Scanlon’s death as one of the first of the War of Independence. (Read an account in the Bureau of Military History Witness Statement of William McCabe, page 3.)

The 100th anniversary of Scanlon’s death and Dev’s election appear to have been largely ignored by the Irish government and media. The historian complains:

We hear a lot talk from politicians about how important this period of our history is commemorated … As far as I can see the 100th anniversary of this guy’s death was not commemorated.  … This period of history is passing us by because the government’s official Decade of Centenaries [1912-1922] was disbanded after the last election a year ago, after the big 2016 centenaries. … It’s an indictment of the Decade of Centenaries that it was four years long; we went from 1912 to 1916 and then we stopped. I think what we are going to see for the rest of the Decade of Centenaries is that stuff that happened outside Dublin is not [considered] important. … It will be left to the people that always commemorate it, local historians, relatives, with not much state support behind it.

In fairness, the official Decade of Centenaries website does note de Valera’s by-election win in its 1917 timeline. He is hardly forgotten in Ireland, given the large role he played as the 26 counties became the Irish Free State and eventually the Republic. By 1963, the elder statesman was still on the scene to welcome John F. Kennedy to Ireland.

Scanlon, who was 24 in 1917, is easier lost in the Irish revolutionary period. The RIC officer charged with his death was soon acquitted. It also should be remembered that Scanlon’s death came 15 months after another Ballybunion native, Patrick Shortis, 26, was killed during the Rising in Dublin.

Both of these rebel deaths catch my attention since my grandfather emigrated in 1913, at age 19, from the same village. He joined several cousins and other North Kerry immigrants in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The city’s daily newspapers carried numerous stories about de Valera’s victory, but not a word of Scanlon’s death that I can locate.

Both Shortis and Scanlon are remembered with small plaques on the sides of buildings in Ballybunion. A bronze statue of de Valera stands outside the courthouse in Ennis, Co. Clare, where his 71 percent to 29 percent ballot victory was tabulated a century ago.

The level of attention generated by last year’s 1916 centenary events would be hard to sustain over a decade. Through the end of 2018, there will continue to be more focus on the events of World War I. But O Ruairc has a point about the general decline of interest in historical events from the period between the Rising the start of the War of Independence.

The memorial to Daniel Scanlon in Ballybunion.

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.

Detailing Irish prisoners in Western Pennsylvania

In 1917, 220 Irish immigrants were incarcerated for minor offenses at the Allegheny County Workhouse and Inebriate Asylum near Blawnox, Pennsylvania, about 10 miles east of downtown Pittsburgh.

The Irish were 4.5 percent of the 4,826 people taken to the workhouse throughout the year as the United States entered World War I. They probably emigrated from most of the 32 counties of pre-partition Ireland under British rule.

I came across these details while researching a long-deceased Irish-Catholic relation from Kerry who I thought might have spent time in the workhouse. The prisoner turned out to be a black Baptist from Ohio with the same first and last name.

Old postcard image of the Allegheny County Workhouse.

The Irish incarcerated during 1917 were third behind U.S. citizens (74.32 percent) and Austrians (7.56 percent). Strong Irish immigration to Western Pennsylvania in the 19th and early 20th century probably means the U.S. total included a significant number of first generation Irish Americans. Assuming just 10 percent of the U.S.-born prisoners had such heritage, the Irish total would increase to 14 percent of the workhouse population.

That’s more in line with the 12.32 percent of Irish natives incarcerated at the workhouse from the time it opened in 1869, according to the institution’s 1917 annual report.

Men and women who committed more serious crimes were usually sentenced to Western Penitentiary, about 15 miles west of the workhouse along the Allegheny/Ohio rivers. The original “Western Pen” opened in 1826. It was replaced in 1882 by the building now being closed after more than a century. (Allegheny County Workhouse closed in 1971.)

I’ve found only spotty historical records for Western Pen that detail prisoners’ nation of origin. Irish natives averaged 3.5 percent of those incarcerated in 1881, 1884, 1886, 1888, 1890, 1895 and 1896.

Of course, the workhouse and Western Pen statistical reports lack many details, and historical and social context, including the percentages of Irish living in the general population of Pittsburgh and surrounding counties. Other questions: What types of crimes did the Irish commit? How often was their arrest the direct or indirect result of anti-Irish or anti-Catholic prejudice? How many had been criminals in Ireland? What impacts did Irish penetration of law enforcement and the legal system have on criminal justice? How about other upward social mobility for the Irish?

One small detail is available. About 15 percent of all prisoners who entered the workhouse during its first 48 years of operation could not read or write. Among the Irish, illiteracy was nearly 18 percent over the same period. In 1917, however, only 20 native Irish were illiterate, less than 0.5 percent of all those incarcerated.

Here are more general details about the workhouse:

  • In 1917, the average daily population was 843. It cost an average of 74 cents per day to confine each inmate, but earnings from their labor reduced the expense to 19 cents per prisoner per day.
  • Prisoners worked on a 1,100-acre farm, which was expanded in 1917 to help feed the troops in Europe. Inmates also produced brushes, brooms, carpets, chairs, and blacksmithed goods. They provided laundry services and other hired labor.
  • Of the 4,826 people incarcerated during 1917, 92 percent were men, and about 70 percent of the prison population was white. The most common occupation of the prisoners was laborer. There were 26 butchers, 27 bakers and 19 boilermakers … five soldiers, three sailors and three police.
  • The most cited offense was “suspicious person” (1,317), followed by disorderly conduct (977) and vagrancy (736). A total of 602 offences were related to consuming and selling alcohol. The most frequent sentence was 30 days (2,721 prisoners,) while 27 received terms of two years or longer.

See the 1917 statistical report for the Allegheny County Workhouse, with annual updates through 1922. Here are Western Pen reports for 1881 to 1890. Workhouse prisoner names can be searched on Ancestry.com.

Burns still waiting on Senate vote for Irish ambassadorship

“To think of it: my grandfather was a very poor immigrant in County Kerry in 1892 and a little over 120 years later I am being selected as a representative of 35 million or 40 million Americans of Irish heritage and this president to go to Ireland. It is astonishing; I have to pinch myself.”

U.S. Ambassador to Ireland nominee Brian Burns in The Irish Times.

“The extraordinary support provided by Brian Burns, members of the Burns family, and their associates and friends has helped make Boston College one of the world’s leading centers for the study and appreciation of Ireland and the Irish diaspora.”

Christian Dupont, head librarian at the John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College (Brian Burns is a son of John J. Burns. This is a great collection, which I visited in 2013.)

“I read the Irish papers from time to time, and I see nothing but criticism for President Trump. That’s a huge error.”

Burns quoted in the Palm Beach (Fla.) Daily News

As of 20 February, a Senate vote to confirm Burns has not been scheduled.

Brian Burns at BC in 2012.

Ellis Island, Annie Moore and other Irish news of 1892

Happy New Year!  Today is the 125th anniversary of the opening of the Ellis Island immigration center in New York. Cork teenager Annie Moore, joined by two younger brothers, was the first immigrant to enter this busy portal to America. She stepped off a steamship gangplank and into the massive building, where she was greeted by U.S. government officials.

The “rosy-cheeked Irish girl” was handed a $10 gold piece in a brief ceremony scaled back from earlier plans for a “pretentious opening,” The New York Times reported. Her arrival in America also was noted a few days later in a one-paragraph brief on page 2 of the Irish Examiner.

The attention didn’t last long.

“Annie may have stepped off the boat and into American legend—the first of 12 million to pass through Ellis Island in its 62 years of operation—but as an actual person she seemed to dissolve the minute she reached Manhattan,” Jesse Green wrote in this 2010 New York magazine piece that explores the fact and fiction of the popular immigration story.

The Times story that helped make Annie a legend also reported that Ellen King, “on her way from Waterford, Ireland, to a small town in Minnesota,” was the first to purchase a railroad ticket at Ellis Island. And it hinted ominously of detained immigrants placed “in a wire-screened inclosure (sic).”

The arrival of these immigrants at Ellis Island was not the only Ireland-related news reported by the Times in the first days of January 1892. Other stories included:

  • The  wreck of the schooner Catherine Richards off the coast of county Kerry on 29 December 1891, killing six crew.  The sailing vessel was carrying a cargo of grain from Africa to Limerick.
  • The 31 December 1891, explosion at Dublin Castle, two months after the death of Charles Stuart Parnell, which stirred “whisperings that the ‘physical force’ party were tired of their enforced inactivity and had given up all hope of Ireland gaining her independence through Parliamentary agitation.”
  • The pending U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn the Supreme Court of Nebraska and allow James E. Boyd to become governor of the state. Boyd was born county Tyrone in 1834 and emigrated to America 10 years later with his family. Boyd’s father applied for U.S. citizenship in Ohio but never completed the process, later moving the family to Nebraska, where his son become involved in business and politics. Once Boyd won the 1890 governor’s contest, outgoing Gov. John M. Thayer challenged his citizenship and refused to yield the office. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that Boyd and other residents of Nebraska gained citizenship when the state joined the union in 1867.

Five years after opening, the Ellis Island center that welcomed Annie Moore burned to the ground in a massive fire that also consumed 40 year of federal and state immigration records. It is the replacement building opened in December 1900 that became the iconic symbol of U.S. immigration through 1954. This is where my Kerry-born maternal grandmother and grandfather arrived in 1912 and 1913, respectively. Today, it operates as the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration.

The original immigration center at Ellis Island, top, opened New Year’s Day, 1892. It burned to the ground five years later. It was replaced by the iconic building, below, that is now a national museum of immigration.

“His Last Trip” was 75 years ago

About half seven in the morning of 17 December 1941, my Kerry-born grandfather braked his streetcar to a stop in front of St. Mary of Mercy Catholic Church, the inbound terminus of a trip to Pittsburgh’s city center.

As he stood to tug a cord that flipped an exterior sign to show his outbound destination, a heart attack dropped him to the floor of the motorman’s cab. Someone summoned a priest from the church to administer the last rites.

Willie Diggin was 47, a husband and the father of six girls. After a home wake, he was buried five days before Christmas.

I researched and wrote His Last Trip as a 12-part blog serial to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Willie’s 1913 emigration from North Kerry. The linked section also contains information about the similarly-titled book I later developed about Willie.

And this weekend, he is remembered with a Mass intention at St. Mary of Mercy.

Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord …

William Diggin.jpeg

Guest post: ‘Fantastic Beasts and How to Find Them’ has an Irish-American backstory

I’ve published several guest posts on the blog this year, but nothing could make me happier than to welcome my wife, Angie Drobnic Holan, to this space. Angie has her own excellent blog, and she is also quite the Harry Potter fan. MH

***

Even most Harry Potter fans may not realize there’s an Irish connection in the new movie, “Fantastic Beasts and How to Find Them.”

The film takes place in New York City in the 1920s. That’s before Harry Potter was born, but his future headmaster Albus Dumbledore was then at the magical school Hogwarts, where he taught a budding zoologist named Newt Scamander. The movie is about Scamander’s search for magical beasts, a search that takes him to the United States.

It turns out there’s a thriving magical community in the States, complete with a U.S. school of magic. That school is called Ilvermorny, and it was founded by an Irish immigrant to America.

Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is mentioned in the film only in passing, but Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling — who wrote the screenplay for “Fantastic Beasts and How to Find Them” — provided a detailed backstory for the school on her website Pottermore. (Read the lengthy story in full on the Pottermore website; registration required.)

The story begins in County Kerry. There, a young witch named Isolt Sayre is born in 1603. (Read the real history of Ireland in this period.) Isolt is part of a magical family, but her parents die, leaving her in the care of an eccentric and malevolent aunt. The aunt, a practitioner of dark magic, hates non-magical human beings and tries to make Isolt hate them as well.

Rowling describes Isolt as growing up “in the valley of Coomloughra,” and notes that her father “was a direct descendant of the famous Irish witch Morrigan, an Animagus [a wizard who can turn into an animal] whose creature form was a crow.” The aunt, Gormlaith Gaunt, takes Isolt to “the neighbouring valley of Coomcallee, or ‘Hag’s Glen.’”

Coomloughra is a real place, located about 20 miles west of Killarney. The area offers one of Ireland’s best ridge walks, a strenuous 4- to 5-hour hike over several mountain peaks in the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks range.

The Coomloughra Horseshoe Loop Walk in Kerry.

The Coomloughra Horseshoe Loop Walk in Kerry.

To get away from Gormlaith, Isolt runs away, first to England and then to America, disguising herself as a boy and traveling on the Mayflower. Hiding in the forests of North America, Isolt befriends magical creatures and has many adventures. She meets and marries a non-magical man, they start a family and eventually open their own school of magic: Ilvermorny.

But the aunt eventually learns of Isolt’s whereabouts and comes to find her, seeking to punish the niece for both running away and marrying a man who is not a wizard. A great battle ensues, and Isolt’s family eventually wins the day. To train and teach magical children in more peaceable ways, they open the school of Ilvermorny.

Ilvermorny, located in Massachusetts, grows and flourishes, accepting wizards and witches from around North America into one of its four houses: the Horned Serpent, the panther Wampus, the Thunderbird (one is seen in “Fantastic Beasts”) and the magical creature the Pukwudgie.

The story of this Irish-American witch has a lot of classic elements of J.K. Rowling’s wizarding stories. The story encourages open-mindedness, bravery and adventure, and it calls for peace between magic and non-magic people.

While Ilvermorny is mentioned only briefly in “Fantastic Beasts,” Rowling and the filmmakers have promised more movies to continue the story of Newt Scamander. The movie out now shows how Scamander befriends the American witches Tina and Queenie Goldstein, who are both alumnae of Ilvermorny. Perhaps we will learn more about the magical school started by an Irish immigrant in subsequent installments of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”

Irish abortion fight takes modern twists

Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.
— ‘September 1913‘ by W. B. Yeats

As if last year’s referendum to approve same-sex marriage left any doubt about Ireland’s drift from conservative, religious-based values, a couple of stories this week add more evidence.

Two Irish women live-tweeted their trip to England so that one of them could get an abortion, which is banned in their home country. The Eighth Amendment to Ireland’s Constitution gives equal protection to a woman and a fetus, with a few rare exceptions that allow the procedure.

In a story with the usual whiff of pro-abortion, anti-Catholic glee, The New York Times reported:

Ireland has changed significantly in recent years. It became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote in 2015, and the Roman Catholic Church has lost its once-dominant role, in part because of a series of sexual abuse scandals.

Rose of Tralee statue in Town Park. What if she gets pregnant?

Rose of Tralee statue in Town Park. What if she gets pregnant?

A day after the tweet-by-tweet abortion trip, a contestant in the Rose of Tralee International Festival drew cheers from the audience when she called for repeal of the Eighth Amendment. According to The Irish Times, she said:

“I think we can do better here in Ireland. I think it is time to give women a say on their own reproductive rights. I would love to see a referendum on the eighth coming up soon. That would be my dream.”

The live broadcast of the 57th annual beauty and talent pageant also featured a man dressed as a priest who rushed the stage to protest on behalf of divorced fathers having equal visitation and other parenting rights. The Fathers 4 Justice group is known for high-profile demonstrations.

Two years ago, the Kerry-based festival crowned its first openly gay Rose.

I’m flying to Ireland…join me virtually

I’m finally heading back to Ireland after four…long…years.

I launched this blog on tumblr in July 2012 after returning from my fifth trip to Ireland. As stated then and the blog subtitle, the goal is to “publish research and writing about Irish and Irish-American history and contemporary issues.” Now, 391 posts later, I’m returning to the source of my interest and affection.

Over the next two weeks I’ll be in Dublin, Belfast and Kerry. I’ll be reconnecting with family relations and sitting down with new people that I’ve met through the blog. I’ll be doing ongoing research about the Land War murder of John Foran, checking out a few 1916 centennial exhibits, and exploring other attractions. I’ve mapped out a really cool scenic drive.

Most of my posts will be images, with more detailed reporting and stories to follow later when I get home. Please join me virtually. Meanwhile, enjoy this drone-captured video of my grandfather’s hometown of Ballybunion, County Kerry. I’ll be happily on the ground here very soon.