Halfway to holiday, visiting St. Patrick’s in Harrisburg

I’m writing this post 17 September, which many pubs and other marketers with even the most tenuous connections to Ireland now promote as “Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day.” By coincidence, I was in Harrisburg, Pa., for some Irish research at the Pennsylvania State Archives (though not their Molly Maguires collection) and visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral on State Street, two blocks from the hilltop capitol.

The parish and earlier iterations of the church date to the early 19th century, when the construction of a vast system of canals, railroads, and turnpikes along the Susquehanna River brought many Irish immigrants to the area, according to the cathedral’s official history. Construction of the present building began in 1904 and was completed three years later.

St. Patrick. (Note the gloves.)

The church was officially dedicated 14 May 1907, though liturgies began earlier in the year. The Ancient Orders of Hibernians, Division 5 in Harrisburg, gathered at the new cathedral for a 7 a.m. St. Patrick’s Day Mass, a Sunday that year, either inspiring or requiring extra piety.

The fraternal group paid the $1,800 for the transept window of St. Patrick, holding a shamrock to explain the Trinity to the royal court at Tara. The men surely admired the beautiful stained glass from Munich, Germany.

“The Apostle of Ireland is a splendid figure … arrayed in full pontificals, even to the gloves,” is how the Harrisburg Telegraph described the window in a story detailing the church’s architecture and amenities.

But even the grand new worship space had to compete with the holiday’s contemporary commercialism.

“It is doubtful if St. Patrick ever in his life saw such a profusion of tributes to himself as are now displayed,” The (Harrisburg) Courier reported. “[H]is memory has not only been kept green, but his fame has increased. It may be whispered that there are certain tokens which he might not appreciate.”

The paper detailed an array of tchotchkes such as high hats and pipes, “green pigs of every variety,” “clovers growing in pots” and boxes decorated with harps and green flags. The items sold for a few pennies to 20 cents.

About 100 clerics attended the official dedication in May, including Archbishop P.J. Ryan of Philadelphia. He donated the exterior statue of St. Patrick that is mounted over the entrance of the church.

Two days after the dedication, Irish nationalists in Dublin denounced the limited self-government for Ireland bill offered by Irish Chief Secretary Augustine Birrell. The Sinn Fein Society called the measure “an insult to Ireland” and urged nationalists in the London parliament to “devise measures for the material betterment of Ireland and securing international recognition and support of Ireland’s political rights.”

Timothy Healy and William O’Brien were at the forefront of this latest split with Irish Parliamentary Party leader John Redmond. The Catholic Church hierarchy also rejected Birrell’s bill. Read more about this period of Irish history.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Harrisburg is the 20th St. Patrick’s church that I’ve visited in four countries. See the list.

Guest post: ‘Conversations with Friends’ is great company

I’m always happy to welcome guest posts, especially from my wife, Angie Drobnic Holan, who has her own excellent, if intermittent, blog. Angie’s last post here was on the Irish connection in “Fantastic Beasts and How to Find Them.” MH

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In the novel Conversation with Friends, County Mayo-born author Sally Rooney portrays a slice of contemporary Dublin life among college students navigating 21st century art and commerce. These students are seekers, trying to find a way in the world that’s honest and authentic, while still covering their bills and financing their own bohemian lifestyles. It’s not such a stretch to think of it as a contemporary version of earlier novels like Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth, but thankfully with a less fatal end. Life is better today, but young people still face fateful questions of identity, love and getting by financially.

The novel is told from the point of view of Frances, a spoken word artist, who performs around Dublin with her best friend and former lover Bobbi. Bobbi is outspoken, outgoing and charming, while Frances is observant, reserved and cool. One night after a performance, the two young women are approached by a freelance photographer, Melissa, who eventually proposes writing a profile of the duo. While spending time with Melissa, they meet her actor husband Nick.

There’s a spark and a connection between Frances and Nick, that starts with emails and theater dates. “It was easy to write to Nick, but also competitive and thrilling, like a game of table tennis. We were always being flippant with each other. When he found out my parents live in Mayo, he wrote: ‘we used to have a holiday home in Achill (like every other wealthy South Dublin family I’m sure.)’ I replied: ‘I’m glad my ancestral homeland could help nourish your class identity. P.S. It should be illegal to have holiday home anywhere.’ ”

The flirtation leads an old-fashioned affair that propels the novel and naturally re-orders all of the relationships of the characters. Meanwhile, the different professional ambitions and financial requirements of each character come into play, illustrating that while these four may be equals in love, they are hardly economic equals. Frances’ challenges here are greater than the others; she tries to keep her working-class background in its own world and while meeting the financial requirements of a artistic lifestyle.

As its title suggests, Conversation with Friends is a wordy novel, driven by references to art, philosophy and academia. If that sounds pretentious, then this probably won’t be your cup of tea. But the novel is also driven by timeless human emotion, and some of the most touching passages are Frances’ desires to know and be known by Nick as she ponders the age-old question of whether she’s a worthwhile human being, “someone worthy of praise, worthy of love.” And it also has pointed things to say about the world economy and the arbitrary way it deals out wealth.

First-time author Sally Rooney, 27, has a great touch for both the human heart, social commentary and fast-paced dialogue. A former debating champion at Trinity College, Rooney has gotten buzzy write-ups for the novel from both The Guardian and The New Yorker. That’s not surprising to me; I found the novel enormously appealing and finished it in essentially one sitting. While informed by its Dublin setting, Conversations with Friends feels like a novel that perfectly captures international youthfulness in 2017 whether it’s Dublin or Dallas, Portland or Paris. I’ll certainly be on the lookout for whatever Sally Rooney writes next.

@DanMulhall begins tenure as Ireland’s ambassador to USA

UPDATE:

They met … Still no U.S. Ambassador to Ireland.

ORIGINAL POST:

Waterford-born diplomat Daniel Mulhall has begun his tenure as Ireland’s 18th Ambassador to the United States. He was scheduled to meet President Donald Trump 8 September at the White House.

They may talk about Twitter, in addition to more touchy topics.

Mulhall tweets Irish poetry and other messages to highlight Ireland’s achievements via @DanMulhall. His 13.2K followers are shy of @realDonaldTrump‘s nearly 38 million, but his tweets are far more literary.

He is also planning to write regular blog posts to explain his role as ambassador, and deal with issues related to today’s Ireland and its links with the U.S., including culture, literature, and history.

“When the world changes, diplomacy has to change,” Mulhall said during a private reception I attended.

His priorities as ambassador, he said, include working with Trump and Congress on issues of importance to Ireland, including immigration; economic promotion; and engaging the 35-million-strong Irish-American community, “a huge asset for Ireland.”

Mulhall specialized in modern Irish history at University College Cork. He is the author of A New Day Dawning: A Portrait of Ireland in 1900, and co-editor of The Shaping of Modern Ireland: A Centenary Assessment.

See his full biography and personal message on the embassy website.

Dan Mulhall

‘The one element that just won’t mix’

This image is from the 26 June 1889, issue of Puck magazine. It is part of the American Democracy display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., which I visited recently with some friends.

The display says, in part:

Although the ideal of Americanization was to welcome all foreigners, some groups were viewed as too disruptive for the rest of the pot. In this example, Irish radicals were seen as too unruly to mix in.

The C.J. Taylor cartoon appeared alongside an editorial criticizing supporters of Irish independence as “American only in name.”

The Irishman at the left edge of the mortar is caricatured as an ape-like fellow with a bloody dagger in his right hand and, in his left, a flag of Clan na Gael, the U.S.-based Irish republican organization founded in 1867. The sash across his chest says “Blaine Irishman,” a reference to James G. Blaine, a U.S. politician and 1884 Republican Party nominee for president. His unsuccessful candidacy included a bid to sway the mainly Democratic Irish American constituency to his party.

In June 1889, the Special Commission on “Parnellism and Crime” was still meeting in London to probe the links between Irish agrarian violence and the Home Rule movement led by Charles Stuart Parnell. His extramarital affair would be exposed later in the year, and he died in 1890.

In the U.S., Dr. Patrick Henry Cronin was murdered in May 1889, deepening the Clan na Gael feud between John Devoy and Alexander Sullivan. Trials related to the crime began before the end of the year.

In 1889, a total of 64,923 people emigrated from Ireland, of which nearly 58,000 were destined for the United States. Irish immigration was nearing a post-Famine ebb before swelling again in the early 20th century.

All wet: Houston’s Irish slosh through Harvey

Stories of Irish men and women caught in the flood waters of Hurricane Harvey, which continues drenching Houston, are surfacing in media.

“I have never seen anything like it in my life,” County Down (NI) man Chris Bohill told RTÉ (via The Belfast Telegraph.) “Where I live there was a park and a baseball field now it’s just an ocean. It is phenomenal.”

The Irish Echo has a story about a County Carlow girl battling a rare form of cancer who was trapped in an apartment as she waited to see a specialist at the city’s Children’s Hospital.

The Irish Times has a roundup of several first person accounts. Earlier this year, the Times reported on Houston’s “small, but proud Irish community.”

The city is home to an Irish Network chapter, and The Irish Society of Houston.

Photo by Thomas B. Shea/AFP/Getty Images, via abcnews.go.com.

Fintan O’Toole’s ‘State of Us’ series

Fintan O’Toole, a columnist at The Irish Times for nearly 30 years, has just finished a four-part series of reflections about the state of modern Ireland. His thoughts are contextualized by last year’s Easter Rising centenary and the massive political, social, economic and religious changes on the island, north and south, especially over the past decade.

The series is called the “State of Us,” and it’s well worth the read.

Part 1: Ireland’s story doesn’t make sense any more

Part 2: Irish identity is no longer fit for purpose

Part 3: Irish nationalism needs a revolution

Part 4: The ties that bind

Trump attacks U.S. businesses in Ireland

President Donald Trumps’ neutral (at best) stance on right-wing hate groups is a big headline in U.S. media, but his jab at U.S. manufacturers in Ireland is drawing attention in the Republic.

During 15 August remarks at Trump Tower, the president said some corporate CEOs were leaving his manufacturing council:

… out of embarrassment because they make their products outside. And I’ve been lecturing them, including the gentleman that you’re referring to, about you have to bring it back to this country. You can’t do it necessarily in Ireland and all of these other places. You have to bring this work back to this country. That’s what I want. I want manufacturing to be back into the United States so that American workers can benefit. (My emphasis in bold. The panel was disbanded 16 August.)

Here’s a sample of the headlines from Ireland:

Shane Nolan a vice president of IDA Ireland, which seeks foreign direct investment for the Republic, told BreakingNews.ie that Trump’s latest reaction is not surprising. “We tend to get called out in certain snippets as we are a prominent heart of US globalization,” he said.

It should be noted that Trump operates a golf course and hotel at Doonbeg, County Clare, though, of course, it is not a manufacturing business.

Just two months ago, Trump praised the Republic an interview with The Economist.

I own great property in Ireland that I bought during their downturn. And I give the Irish a lot, a lot of credit. They never raised their taxes. You know you would have thought when they were going through that really…they would’ve double and tripled their taxes. They never raised it a penny. And they got through it and they are thriving now. Ireland’s done an amazing job. A lot of companies have moved to Ireland and they like it.

The entrance of Trump’s Doonbeg golf course in County Clare during my July 2016 visit.

Dubs dispute ESPN’s description of their fair city

Dublin media are howling over descriptions of the Irish capital in an ESPN The Magazine profile of native son Conor McGregor, who is scheduled to box Floyd Mayweather Jr. on 26 August, near Las Vegas.

“In the piece, McGregor’s childhood upbringing in the ‘projects’ of Crumlin and Drimnagh suggests he was brought up in the Gaza Strip or 1920s Chicago, not a neighbourhood in which this writer lived for six happy and peaceful years, oblivious to the grenades whizzing by, or the fact that I should have been taking an armed escort whenever I had to cross the Liffey,” Jennifer O’Connell complained in The Irish Times.

RTE radio presenter Rick O’Shea took to Twitter: “I grew up in both the ‘projects’ *ahem* of Crumlin and Drimnagh. This is lazy stereotyping bullshit of the highest order.”

I sure don’t claim to know every corner of Dublin from my half dozen visits over 17 years, but the story by Wright Thompson sure does seem over the top:

Dublin is best understood by exploring its many divisions, its unending physical and mental boundaries. The city, and its current champion, McGregor, are defined by those limits. It’s a clannish, parochial place. Crossing the wrong street has traditionally been reason enough for an ass-whipping.

Other divisions in the city revolve around class, and while Conor’s success allows him safe passage across gangland boundaries, it can’t overcome his Dublin 12 roots. The Irish national daily papers have long served as the mouthpiece of the upwardly mobile and educated. McGregor rarely makes their pages. On the first morning of the prefight media tour, The Irish Times and the Independent ran a combined 128 words about it: one small story about Mayweather’s tax problems.

Ah, ha! Could that be the problem: Thompson’s jab at the Dublin media?

As The Guardian noted: “This is not the first time that U.S. media’s depiction of the supposed dangers of life in Europe have attracted ridicule.”

“Whatever the neighborhood, Conor McGregor’s charisma transcends Dublin’s tribalism,” is the published cutline below this Finbarr O’Reilly photo in the ESPN story.

Watch “Ireland’s Wild Coast” before 31 August

Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is airing the 2-hour nature documentary “Ireland’s Wild Coast” on its U.S. stations. The full film is available online through 31 August.

Emmy Award-winning wildlife cameraman Colin Stafford-Johnson narrates his odyssey along Ireland’s rugged Atlantic coast and nearby inland forests. Over the course of a year, he traveled from the Skellig and Blasket islands in southwest Kerry, up the coastline to Donegal’s Malin Head, the island’s most northern point, then finished at the Sea of Moyle on the Antrim coast.

The film explores marine, avian, mammalian and other creatures. Stafford-Johnson provides poetic, personal insights into the wild animals and wild places he discovered along the way.

Here’s my 2014 post about the Stafford-Johnson-narrated, John Murray-directed “On A River In Ireland” (also known as “The Secret Life of the Shannon”). The video link is still good.

Wildlife cameraman Colin Stafford-Johnson.

Irish government report inches toward island’s reunification

An Irish government committee 2 August released a report provocatively titled “Brexit & The Future of Ireland, Uniting Ireland and its people in peace & prosperity.”

It focuses on what Ireland needs in the final Brexit agreement now being netotiated between the E.U. and the U.K., “particularly in the event of the people of Northern Ireland voting for a United Ireland and what Ireland needs to do in order to peacefully achieve its constitutional obligation.” The report outlines 18 recommendations.

I’m still working my way through the report. I’ll come back with more.

Of note for now, it includes a December 2016 analysis of Northern Ireland finances by the U.S. House of Representatives Congressional Research Office, starting on page 14. U.S. Congressman Brendan Boyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat, requested the analysis, which highlights “the difficulty in getting the accurate figures” about expenditures and revenue in the six counties.