Tag Archives: Mayo

Irish labor built Pennsylvania’s famous Horseshoe Curve

ALTOONA~As the Great Famine began to ease in the early 1850s, about 450 Irishmen began working on an extraordinary engineering project in south-central Pennsylvania. Their accomplishment remains in place today as a vital segment of the American economy.

Working with only picks, shovels and some explosives–but no machinery–the men shaved the face of adjoining mountains to fill in two ravines and lay the grade for a railroad line. They built the Horseshoe Curve for the Pennsylvania Railroad.

A display at this National Historical Landmark, about 10 miles west of Altoona, offers only a few details about the men. They are said to have been recruited for the job because they were “former mine workers,” mostly from counties Cork, Mayo and Antrim. Keep in mind this project was completed 20 years before the Molly Maguire unrest began in Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal region, some 200 miles to the northeast.

The 2,375-foot curve, which opened to freight and passenger traffic in February 1854, reduced the trip between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia from 20 days by wagon to about 15 hours by train. It remains part of the nation’s critical east-west rail corridor.

A westbound freight train climbs the grade through a light rain in this July 2017 image. Below, trees obscure the entrance of the road tunnel.

 

Surf and turf: Beach reappears as wildfires spread

These two environmental stories caught my eye:

Dooagh Beach is back! The strand on the west side of Achill Island, Mayo, disappeared 33 years ago during a storm.  Now, a “freak tide” has deposited hundreds of tons of sand where for more than three decades there has been nothing but rocky tide pools.

This Smithsonian.com story links to other coverage.

Meanwhile, The Irish Times reports that 30 to 40 gorse fires are raging across the country. The majority of the fires are burning around the Border area and Roscommon and Sligo, but the most significant blaze is in Cloosh Valley in Galway, according to the Times.

The beach is back. Image by Sean Molloy/Achill Tourism Via Reuters.

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.

Biden in Ireland; McIlroy out of Olympics

As we await the outcome of the Brexit referendum, two other stories are worth a quick look:

  • U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s sentimental state visit to Ireland, and
  • Golfer Rory McIlroy’s decision to skip the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro due to concerns about the Zika virus.

Biden, in Ireland through 26 June, has met with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and President of Ireland Michael Higgins. According to a White House statement, Biden discussed the Brexit with both Irish leaders, as well as “the continuing need for reconciliation in Northern Ireland, particularly the need to deal effectively with the past.”

In addition to numerous stops in Dublin, Biden is also visiting his ancestral roots in counties Louth and Mayo. His maternal great-great-grandfather emigrated from the port of Newry, County Down, in 1849, according to genealogists. That was the middle of an Gorta Mór.

The Irish Times said: “Biden’s gregarious and emotional, garrulous and generous. He’s also, by all accounts, a bit of a spoofer. In other words, he’s a proper Irishman.”

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As for McIlroy, The New York Times reports:

The Olympics were fraught with complications for McIlroy from the start. As a Northern Irishman, he had the choice to compete for Britain or Ireland. In 2012, he earned the animus of people in Ireland, including those in the Golfing Union of Ireland who had shepherded his development, by suggesting that he was leaning toward representing Britain because he had always felt more British than Irish.

In 2013, he said, “If I was a bit more selfish, I think it would be an easier decision.” He later pledged his allegiance to Ireland, and when asked in May about his commitment to competing, he said he was focused on the bigger picture. With golf guaranteed a spot in the Olympics for only the next two Summer Games, he said, it was imperative that the sport put its best foot forward.

“Quiet Man” star Maureen O’Hara dies at 95

Dublin-born actress Maureen O’Hara, co-star with John Wayne in “The Quiet Man,” has died at 95. She became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1946 and held dual Irish-U.S. citizenship, according to The Irish Times, which has way more coverage than I can provide here.

O’Hara wrote a 2004 autobiography, ‘Tis Herself. She died in Boise, Idaho, which sure is a long way from Cong, County Mayo, location for the 1952 movie.

O’Malley moves into U.S. Embassy in Ireland, now 50

St. Louis lawyer Kevin O’Malley has moved into the U.S. Embassy in Dublin as America’s new Ambassador to Ireland. All four of his grandparents emigrated from Westport, County Mayo.

In a welcome published in the Irish Independent, he writes:

How fortunate I feel to take up my new role as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland at this auspicious moment – and at a time when the relationship between our peoples and our governments holds such great promise. I am greatly honoured President Barack Obama asked me to represent the United States to a country I hold so dear.

Obama was criticized on both side of the Atlantic for taking 18 months to fill the position. Here’s O’Malley’s official video welcome:

He moves into the unique Ballsbridge building ahead of 50th anniversary celebrations in November. Here’s a video about embassy:

GAA and NCAA football games capture Ireland’s attention

Ireland hosted two huge football games Saturday [30 August]; a GAA semifinal match in Limerick between Kerry and Mayo, and an NCAA season opener in Dublin between Penn State University and University of Central Florida.

Kerry and Penn State walked off as winners in thrilling games that each came down to the final minute (and overtime for Kerry-Mayo).

This was the fifth time U.S. college teams have played the American version of football in Ireland, a game that has been called the Emerald Isle Classic, the Shamrock Classic and, this year, the Croake Park Classic. The event is aimed at attracting Irish-American visitors to Ireland.

ESPN reported, “Penn State players received the Dan Rooney Trophy, a football made of ancient Irish bog wood that was specially commissioned for the game.” Rooney is owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and a former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland.

Kerry footballer, left, runs past Mayo opponent. Irish Independent photo.

Kerry footballer, left, runs past Mayo opponent. Irish Independent photo.

The Kerry-Mayo contest was the rematch from an earlier game that ended in a tie. The GAA relocated west to Limerick because of the NCAA game, a decision that generated its share of grumbling. From the Irish Independent:

When players imagine and talk about playing on the big stage, that’s Croke Park they’re imagining and talking about. When you and I think of All-Ireland games, we think of walking up to Croke Park. And the spike in your stomach when you catch the first glimpse of the stadium and everything it houses for you, your family and your team. Memories, maybe medals and most definitely magic.

My wife and I watched the GAA contest at Fadó Irish Pub in Washington, where fans of the Kingdom heavily outnumbered Mayo supporters. Here’s the game report. We look forward to watching the final contest 21 September against the winner of the Dublin – Donegal match.

Guest post: Visit to Ireland, Part 2

Our friend Tim McDonnell visited Ireland in October. This is the second half of his guest post about the visit. Part 1 is here. MH

5-Star Eating

Contrary to popularly held beliefs, the food in Ireland was excellent and dramatically exceeded our expectations. Fresh fish, lamb, the mixed grill, full Irish breakfast, brown bread and seafood chowder, fresh scones – all as good as you’ll taste anywhere in the world. But – beyond the more native dishes, there is a very global and diverse range on offer, like any good culinary hub. It was not just the high end restaurants, although we went to several – like O’Grady’s in Barna, the Lodge in Doonbeg, Market Lane in Cork City – heck, we even ate in Stormont’s royal dining hall called “The Long Gallery.” It was also family restaurants like O’Loughlin’s in Miltown Malbay (Clare), Kate McCormack’s in Westport (Mayo), Paddy’s Barn in Downpatrick (Down), and our B&B’s in Doonbeg and Cork City – and the homemade variety with family and good friends in Dublin and Crosshaven (Cork). There’s nothing like local hosts and guides – but if you don’t have family over there or any Irish friends to help personalize your trip, not to worry. Just stop in for a pint at a pub anywhere on the road and lighten up for a laugh – one of the easiest things you can do is befriend an Irishman.

The Self-Deprecating Celebrity

Guest blogger Tim McDonnell, far right. Others left to right are Tim's wife, Amber, his cousin Edelle O'Meara of Galway and jockey Davy Russell.

Guest blogger Tim McDonnell, far right. Others left to right are Tim’s wife, Amber, his cousin Edelle O’Meara of Galway and jockey Davy Russell.

My cousin from Galway, Edelle O’Meara, is dating Ireland’s best horse-racer Davy Russell – and we got to spend some time with the man himself while we were over. Horse racing is one of Ireland’s favorite past times, and everywhere we went, the Irish people knew Davy. As recognizable there perhaps as Evan Longoria might be for the average person walking in downtown Tampa. Davy generously provided tickets for Edelle, my wife and I, along with Amber’s parents, to watch him compete at the Limerick Races in Limerick City. He placed us in a suite along with the University of Limerick racing society – and came up to the suite before the races started to give the students betting advice on the 5 races that he was set to compete in. As Americans, we thought he would be explaining why he expected to win all 5 races – but he went in a much different direction with it. It sounded something like, “Ah Jeannie Mac, that horse there could fall over twice and still beat my horse to the line in this race.” And, “Ah sure, you see now, if I were a betting man – I would wager that my horse in this race will end up in that man’s yard right over there.” Belly laughs all around. Entertaining, endearing, and easy friends – like most everyone on the island, God Bless it. I think we may have even made a couple Euro betting against his advice.

Guest post: Visit to Ireland, Part 1

I’ve written earlier of Tim McDonnell’s efforts to start a food collection to help feed the hungry in Tampa through the Salvation Army in the spirit of St. Patrick. It’s been quite an accomplishment for the former executive director of Chicago’s Irish American Heritage Center since he arrived in Tampa about two years ago.

Tim just got back from his third trip to Ireland/Northern Ireland at the beginning of October. (His mom is from Brownstown, Co Kildare; his paternal grandparents from Westport, Co. Mayo and Bruree, Co. Limerick.) Below is Part 1 of Tim’s guest post:

The Spirit of St. Patrick

Absolutely worth visiting is the St. Patrick’s Trail and all of the St. Patrick sites on the northern half of the island (where St. Patrick spent his time). The top 3 ‘must do’ sites, though, are: 1) the St. Patrick Centre exhibition and his grave in Downpatrick (he is buried alongside St. Brigid, St. Columcille, and Arthur Guinness’ grandfather – truly ‘holy ground’! – next to Down Cathedral); 2) St. Patrick’s first church at Saul – one of the more spiritually engaging sites on earth, comparable to the experience we had at St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sisteen Chapel in Vatican City (as my friend Tim Campbell says “Saul is very ‘thin’…..the distance between heaven and earth there is very slight”); 3) Croagh Patrick – we lucked out with clear skies and were able to climb Ireland’s holy mountain, where St. Patrick fasted for 40 days and 40 nights and by legend ‘drove the snakes out of Ireland.’ It will take a bit of faith and endurance to get all the way up, particularly at the top with the loose rocks and vertical climb – but it is the most spiritually rewarding thing that I have ever done, and it also blesses all climbers with the best views on the island.

The view from the summit.

The view from the summit.

 The Scoti

Also worth visiting is Ulster Scots country up in the northeast. People of this heritage informed us that they believe that Northern Ireland is a Scottish province on the island of Ireland and that calling the Ulster Scots Irish is like calling Canadians Americans. They also told us that the inhabitants of Ireland were referred to by the Romans as the “Scoti” in the 4th and 5th centuries and were known to be part of the Gaelic kingdom of Dal Riata, which spanned the west coast of Scotland and the eastern part of Ulster in what is today’s Northern Ireland. They characterized the creation of the Ulster Plantation of the 17th century, which helped lay the foundation for a few hundred years of conflict, as ‘just the Scots returning home.’ Interesting stuff and worth a bit of homework. Although the history, cultural dynamics, and politics are a bit complicated, the north is breathtakingly beautiful, and the people are as welcoming as anywhere else on the island.

Check back within the week for Tim’s thoughts on food in Ireland and a story of the country’s most famous jockey. MH

Bicycling in Ireland

UPDATE: In The New York Times story linked below, the writer stops at a pub and asks where she can lock up her bike. “No one ever takes bikes here,” says the Mayo publican. But Radio Kerry reports there is a growing problem with bike thefts in “The Kingdom.”

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My lovely and talented wife Tweeted a link to this New York Times story about the Great Western Greenway in County Mayo, which we’d both love to bicycle on our next visit to Ireland.

Here’s a link to a map and information about the 42 km (26 mile) trail between Westport and Achill, plus some history about the former railroad line. This Cycle Ireland site has info on dozens of additional bike routes.

Several years ago Angie and I peddled around Innishmore on the Aran Islands. This video from Aran Bike Hire gives a good sense of it.

Below, my butt on the bike!

Markonbike