1917: Year of shipwrecks off Irish coast

More than three dozen ships were sunk off the Irish coast in 1917, most in German attacks related to World War I. About 600 people, including merchant crews and civilian passengers, died in these episodes, but the toll likely was much higher. Some survived these ordeals.

The Irish Shipwrecks Database (ISD) lists 41 vessels as sent to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, Irish Sea and St. George’s Channel in 1917. Some of the wrecks were more than 100 miles off the coast, others within sight of shore. My review of other sources indicates the database is missing at least a few navy ships and cargo vessels sunk by German submarines, and also does not included a few of the U-boats destroyed in Irish waters by the U.S. and British navy.

About half the vessels listed in the ISD were torpedoed by German submarines. Others struck mines floating in the sea lanes. A few vessels were captured, stripped of food and other valuables, then scuttled. The wrecked watercraft included cargo ships under steam and sail, merchant cruisers, minesweepers and fishing trawlers.

The 41 shipwrecks in 1917 is the third highest total in the ISD behind 64 sunken vessels in 1867 and the same number in 1852. The ISD shows five shipwrecks in both 1918 and 1916, including the Aud.

Germany renewed its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare in early 1917 after restricting such activity in the wake of sinking the British liner Lusitania in May 1915. America entered the war in April 1917, and a month later the U.S. Navy arrived at Cork. The war continued through November 1918.

The deadliest episode of 1917 was the 25 January sinking of the Laurentic at Lough Swilly, County Donegal. The British steam ship, which had been converted into an armed merchant cruiser, hit a mine about 90 minutes after leaving the harbor. One hundred twenty one men were rescued from the crew of 475.

S.S. Laurentic

The Laurentic was carrying a valuable cargo of gold ingots. As of October 2017, 542 of the gold bars had been recovered from the original load of 3,211 as high-tech salvage crews continue searching the bottom for the rest of the treasure.

The second deadliest 1917 Irish shipwreck occurred two weeks after the Laurentic, on 7 February, when the passenger steamer California was torpedoed 38 miles from Fastnet Rock, off the Cork coast. A total of 43 people were killed–30 crew and 13 passengers–among the 205 aboard.

While these episodes were widely reported in Irish newspapers, other ship sinkings were not mentioned at all, or matter-of-factly. For example, on 24 April, this story appeared on page 5 of the Freemans Journal:

IRISH STEAMER SUNK

Another Irish ship, with a cargo of grain, flour and general merchandise, for an Irish port, has been sunk by a German submarine. It is understood that the crew was rescued.

The 1917 Irish shipwrecks are getting some contemporary media attention at this year’s centenary:

Guest post: Welcome home to Ireland

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 globe-trotting retreat leader and spiritual director, just sent the correspondence below. Last year, she wrote about the 1916 Easter Rising centenary. MH

***

It is always a joy to be in Ireland! The greeting that always takes me by surprise and warms my Irish-American heart is, “Welcome home!” It comes from friends and strangers alike.

My current visit comes after two weeks in Thailand and Myanmar. The contrast could not be greater with regard to climate, culture, pace, and scenery. After a few days in Dublin, where my sister’s quiet neighborhood has become a huge construction zone for much-needed apartments, I’ve shifted to the pastoral setting of County Louth for some rest and renewal.

Lovely Louth countryside.

There are none of the cranes dotting the horizon here as there were in Dublin. As I gaze out the window, it is sheep and cattle and verdant countryside that meet the eye.

The papers and radio programs are filled with voices raised against the latest problem on people’s minds, the tracker-mortgage scandal. It seems bankers have systematically overcharged consumers on mortgages. Much cynicism is voiced about whether bankers will be held accountable.

The good news that has grabbed headlines is the release of Ibrahim Halawa, a Dubliner who was held in an Egyptian prison for four years. An Irish citizen, Halawa got caught up in a protest while visiting family in Egypt. The ordeal has been long and harrowing so the joy of his return is great.

The Irish are happy to shout, “Welcome home!”

JFK assassination papers contain IRA reference

Nearly 3,000 more records related to the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy were released to the public 26 October. Almost 4,000 records became available in July under a 1992 law requiring the disclosure of U.S. government documentation of the event. A few thousand remaining files remain under review.

By coincidence, the releases come in the centenary of JFK’s birth. His death in Dallas was five months after his triumphal visit to Ireland.

My search of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration’s special Kennedy Assassination Records database found about two dozen documents with references to “Ireland” or “Irish.” The document images are not available online, but the result list provides some basic details.

The collection includes a 22 November 1963 condolence cable from Taoiseach Seán Francis Lemass to President Lyndon Johnson, and resolutions of sympathy from Dáil Éireann. Johnson replied to Lemass on 29 November.

The records include “Irish participation in JFK funeral,” “participation by the Irish Guards,” and “guidance on memorials to President Kennedy in Ireland.”

Most intriguing, however, is a one-page 29 November cable from the American Embassy in Dublin to the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. The description says:

Telegram reporting information from FBI informant claimed IRA in Ireland planned to “commit mayhem in Dallas.”

Without reading the cable, it is impossible to say whether this “mayhem” foretold the assassination, or retaliation on the city for the murder of the world’s most famous Catholic Irish-American.

In 1992, Oklahoma historian Kendrick Moore suggested the IRA may have killed Kennedy because he spoke out against isolationism from the Protestant north during his June 1963 visit. “It had to be the IRA; they are the last ones you would suspect,” he told The Oklahoman newspaper.

There are many conspiracy theories surrounding the Kennedy assassination. Here’s another: The index of the September 1964 Warren Commission report on the assassination is missing one letter, and only one letter: I for Ireland.

JFK in Dallas shortly before the 22 November 1963 assassination.

Ophelia brings weather madness to Ireland

UPDATE:

Storm Brian brings flooding to Limerick city, disrupts rail service.

ORIGINAL POST:

Ireland’s worst storm in more than 50 years has killed three people, disconnected power to more than 360,000 others, closed schools and businesses, blocked roads and halted transit systems, plus other chaos.

The remnants of Hurricane Ophelia lashed the island’s southwest coast with winds of more than 90 mph. Surging seas pounded coastal waterfronts as rainfall created scattered inland flooding.

Nearly 20,000 additional people were left without power in Northern Ireland as the storm moved northeastward across the island. Ophelia also disrupted talks aimed at restoring the Northern Executive and Assembly, The Irish Times reported.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton was due to meet the DUP and Sinn Féin in Belfast … to encourage them to end the political deadlock. That plan had to be abandoned due to the storm, although there is a possibility he could meet the parties sometime on [17 October].

Eleven people died when Hurricane Debbie hit Ireland in September 1961. The National Geographic explains “three weird impacts” from the latest storm.

Catholicism is still Ireland’s largest religion, but …

… the numbers of faithful keep on falling, according to 2016 Census data released 12 October. A few of the details:

  • Catholics were 78.3 percent of the population in April 2016, compared to 84.4 percent five years earlier.
  • The percentage of Catholics in Ireland peaked in 1961 at 94.9 percent.
  • Ireland’s 3,729,115 Catholics in 2016 was 132,220 fewer than 2011, while the nation’s total population grew by 173,613.
  • People born outside of Ireland were 12 percent of the country’s total Catholic population, the same as 2011. It was 7.2 percent in 2002.
  • The average age of Catholics was 38.2, slightly older than the general population 37.4.

These numbers require more exploration and context. Growing secularism and diversity are part of the reason. Church scandals are another. One place to start is this 2013 piece by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin:

A Post-Catholic Ireland?: Renewing the Irish church from within

The causes of the crisis lie within the church itself. Much of the heritage of Catholic-dominated Ireland still entraps us from being free witnesses to the Christian message within a secular society that is seeking meaning. It is not a time to be lamenting; it is a time to be rising to the challenge with courage and Christian enthusiasm.

U.S. Rep. Murphy’s downfall recalls that of C.S. Parnell

U.S. Congressman Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) 5 October announced his resignation from office after details of his extramarital affair emerged from a divorce suit involving his mistress and her husband.

Sound a little familiar?

In 1890, Irish Parliamentary Party leader Charles Stuart Parnell was brought down by the divorce proceedings of Capt. William O’Shea and his wife, Katherine. Parnell for years had been having an affair with the spouse of his House of Commons colleague. The revelation shattered his alliance with the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland and split his pro-Home Rule political movement.

Tim Murphy

In the contemporary case, the divorce filing revealed that Murphy urged his mistress to have an abortion when they believed she was pregnant. It turned out she was not with child, but Murphy’s public pro-life stance caused a firestorm of hypocrisy.

Parnell had three children with Kitty O’Shea before they were married in June 1891. He died four months later, age 45.

Eleven years earlier, Parnell addressed the U.S. Congress at the invitation of Speaker of the House Samuel Randall (D-Pa.). Parnell’s speech got a tepid reception, largely because he did not detail the Land War and Home Rule questions in Ireland.

Murphy received the 2011 Public Service Award from the American Ireland Fund for his support of its issues and causes. I haven’t found details of his ancestral heritage.

Last St. Patrick’s Day, Murphy was among eight Irish-American House members to co-sponsor legislation (H.R. 1596) to create a 23-member commission to study the creation of a National Museum of Irish American History in Washington, D.C. If the long-stalled project ever gets completed, I bet that Parnell’s visit will be part of the exhibition. I wouldn’t make the same wager on the soon-to-be former Congressman Murphy.

Ireland’s second Cosgrave dies at 97

Former Irish prime minister Liam Cosgrave died 4 October 2017. He was 97.

The former Fine Gael leader was the son of W. T. Cosgrave, who in the 1920s led the first government of the 26-county Irish Free State. Liam Cosgrave was taoiseach from 1973 to 1977.

  • “He always believed in peaceful co-operation as the only way of achieving a genuine union between the people on this island, and in the 1970s he celebrated that this country had embarked, in his own words, ‘on a new career of progress and development in the context of Europe’ ” current Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said in an official statement.
  • Cosgrave visited U.S. President Gerald Ford at St. Patrick’s Day during the American bicentennial year of 1976, as detailed in this 2016 post from our archive.

Liam Cosgrave, left, with his father in 1957.

Post-Famine: Ireland is world’s most “food secure” nation

One hundred seventy years after “Black ’47,” the worst year of Ireland’s Great Famine, the 26-county Republic is now considered the world’s most “food secure” nation, according to a new report.

The sixth annual Global Food Security Index is based on food affordability, availability, quality and safety. Other factors include access to financing for farmers and prevalence of undernourishment. The report was designed and constructed by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

See the details for Ireland‘s first place finish score of 85.6. The United Kingdom, including the six counties of Northern Ireland, ranked third at 84.2, behind the United States at 84.6.

While The Irish Times has not yet reported the Economist’s finding, the venerable daily could not resist the appetizing news that eight Irish restaurants have received the Michelin Guide “Bib” award for  “good quality at good value.” Four of the trendy eateries are in Dublin city, while the other four are in counties Kildare, Clare, Galway and Down.

It’s long, long way from the 19th century potato blight.

Debate begins on repealing Ireland’s abortion ban

Ireland will hold a national referendum by June 2018 on whether to repeal the constitutional amendment that bans most abortions. A referendum on removing blasphemy and “woman’s life within the home” language in the constitution is slated for next October. A third referendum on extending voting rights to Irish citizens living outside the Republic will take place in 2019.

“Any amendment to our Constitution requires careful consideration by the people,” Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said in the government’s 26 September announcement. “They should be given ample time to consider the issues and to take part in well-informed public debate.”

Ironically, announcement of the abortion referendum comes about nine months before the vote, set to occur the same summer that Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the World Meeting of Families in Dublin.

Dáil Éireann, the national legislative assembly, still must fix the final dates and, more importantly, the language for the referendums. On the abortion issue, the outcome could turn on whether the language is considered too liberal, or still restrictive.

The debate kicked off 30 September, as about 30,000 people attended the annual “March for Choice” in Dublin. The New York Times reported:

The Eighth Amendment, passed in 1983, gives an unborn child a right to life equal to that of its mother. At the time, Ireland was seen as one of the most conservative Catholic nations in the world, but a series of church scandals and growing secularism have the country rethinking many of its government’s positions. The United Nations has called the amendment a violation of women’s rights.

In 2015, Ireland became the first nation in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by popular referendum, rather than through legislative or judicial orders. The Times suggested the marriage issue was less contentious than abortion, quoting one woman who said “it was something that no one was scared to speak out on, but this is a very personal thing that people are more hesitant to speak about,”

The Guardian said, “The religious right in the country, particularly lay Catholic groups, see the [abortion] referendum as their last chance to roll back 25 years of social liberal reform.”

March for Choice in Dublin, 30 September. Photograph by Dara Mac Dónaill, The Irish Times.

Synge’s ‘Playboy’ arrived in Ireland long before Hef’s mag

The New York Times proclaims: “Hugh Hefner, the Original Playboy, Is Dead at 91.” Vanity Fair describes the dearly departed (27 September 2017) magazine publisher as “the indefatigable (albeit Viagra-enhanced) Playboy of the western world.”

We can only wonder what the late Irish playwright John Millington Synge would have thought. His play, “The Playboy of the Western World,” debuted in January 1907 at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin,  well before the December 1953 appearance of “Hef’s” Chicago-based skin mag. As The Washington Post reports:

Hefner had planned to call his magazine Stag Party, but when the publishers of another men’s magazine named Stag threatened to sue, a colleague came up with an inspired afterthought: Playboy.

The Online Etymology Dictionary says the term for a “wealthy bon vivant” dates to 1829.

Synge died in 1909, two years after his play offended Irish moral sensibilities and sparked riots. In a 2011 theater review, The Guardian noted:

Synge had clad his maidens in shifts, presumably to mollify strict moralists among his Abbey audience. But perhaps he half-suspected a truth which Hugh Hefner would later turn into a different Playboy business: that a scantily clad woman can be even more inflammatory to the jaded imagination of male puritans than one who is wholly naked.

Playboy magazine was banned in Ireland until 1995. Twenty years later, Ireland became the first nation in the world to legalize same sex marriage by popular referendum.

Synge