Welcome to the fifth annual Best of the Blog, which follows my 2012 launch anniversary and 500th post in July. I hope you enjoy this Irish news and history feature year-in-review. I’ve got some great things planned for 2018, including … wait for it … my seventh trip to Ireland!
In 2017, the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly and fallout from Brexit created some of the biggest headlines, including debate about the border between the North and the Republic, and a surge of Irish passport applications from Ulster and other U.K. residents seeking E.U benefits.
Heading into 2018, it remains uncertain whether the nationalist/unionist power-sharing Assembly can be reconstituted by April’s 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. For now, it appears the island of Ireland will avoid check points and other hassles of a “hard border” once the North and Britain leave the E.U. in March 2019. Meanwhile, expect to hear more talk about a united Ireland, with the North welcomed into the E.U.
Among political personalities in 2017, Sinn Féin‘s Martin McGuinness died … Gerry Adams retired … the DUP’s leader Arlene Foster teamed with Tory PM Theresa May … and Fine Gael‘s Leo Varadkar replaced Enda Kenny as taoiseach. Much was made of the fact that Varadkar, just 38, is openly gay and the son of an Irish mother and Indian father. He leads a precarious governing partnership with Fianna Fáil that could easily erode and spark snap elections. … A national referendum is set for June on whether to repeal the constitutional amendment that bans most abortions.
U.S. philanthropist and businessman Brian Burns, the grandson of Kerry emigrants, was nominated by the new Trump administration to replace former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Kevin O’Malley. Burns withdrew due to health concerns, however, and a replacement has not been named. Reece Smyth is the current chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Dublin. … In August, Daniel Mulhall became the new Irish Ambassador to the U.S.
Here is some of my original research and curated content about Irish and Irish-American history milestones in 2017.
170 years ago:
- Famine letters to America, 1847 (For the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
150 years ago:
- The Manchester martyrs: From last letters to lasting legends (For The Irish Story)
125 years ago:
100 years ago:
- Irish reaction as America entered World War I
- U.S. Navy steamed into Ireland 100 years ago
- 1917: Year of shipwrecks off Irish coast
- Celebrating the 100th anniversary of JFK’s birth
- Ill-fated Irish Convention opened 100 years ago
- Ballot & Bullet: Remembering Dev and Danny Boy
The Irish Americans
I produced original research about Irish prisoners in the U.S. during the late 19th and early 20th century:
- Detailing Irish prisoners in Western Pennsylvania
- How an 1879 prisoner report won good press for the Irish
Other stories about the Irish in America included:
- How a personal scandal that caused the political downfall of U.S. Rep. Murphy recalled that of 19th century Irish leader C.S. Parnell
- My visit the Irish shrine in the heart of Baltimore
- Damian Shiels’ new book, “The Forgotten Irish: Irish Emigrant Experiences in America”
Ireland’s 2016 Census was released to the public in 2017. Among many details about modern Ireland, it shows:
- The population increased 3.8 percent from 2011; average age climbed to 37.4 years from 36.1 five years earlier; and private residences without internet fell below 20 percent.
- More than 10,000 Americans were living in Ireland, and Irish-Americans (17,552) comprised the largest group of dual citizenship residents, followed by Irish-U.K. (15,428).
- Catholics were 78.3 percent of the population in April 2016, compared to 84.4 percent five years earlier and a peak 94.9 percent in 1961.
I added to my list of St. Patrick’s Churches, with visits to:
- Rome, Italy, where the church’s 1888 founding coincided with the papal warning about the Irish Land War.
- Cumberland, Md., Newry, Pa. and Harrisburg, Pa., where Irish immigrant laborers and ascendant professionals carried the Catholic faith of their homeland to America.
I explored U.S. press coverage of Northern Ireland; Dublin media protesting descriptions of the Irish capital in an ESPN The Magazine profile of native son Conor McGregor; and Irish media “past, present and future.”
In 2017, I published three stories outside the blog:
- Irish Immigrants, Unbanned, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, about Famine-era letters to a Pennsylvania priest. (Linked above)
- Life Without End Date, a genealogy and history story, not Ireland related, also in the Post-Gazette.
- The Manchester martyrs: From last letters to lasting legends, about the 150 anniversary of the execution of three Irish nationalists, for The Irish Story. (Linked above)
I have a story about the Famine set to publish in the Winter issue of Prologue, the magazine the National Archives and Records Administration. Two other pieces are under consideration with two other publications.
I always appreciate the offerings of guest bloggers, this year including:
- Frank Sinatra at Kate’s Bar, Derry, by Dick Davis and Victor A. Walsh
- Welcome home to Ireland, by Sister Cathy Cahill, OSF
- ‘Conversations with Friends’ is great company, by Angie Drobnic Holan
- Ronan Fanning, professor emeritus of modern Irish history at University College Dublin and the author of several books, in January at age 75.
- Thomas Kenneth Whitaker, “the most influential public servant” in the history of the Republic of Ireland, in January, a month and a day after his 100th birthday.
- Martin McGuinness, former IRA man and Sinn Féin leader, in March at age 66.
- Dan Rooney, former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland and longtime owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, in April at 84.
- Liam Cosgrave, former Irish prime minister, in October at age 97.
- William Hastings, Northern Ireland hotelier, in December at age 89.
Visiting Ireland in 2018
- Me, to Mayo and Dublin, in February
- An exhibition from the Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., to Dublin and Cork, from March through October.
- Pope Francis to Dublin, in August, with a possible historic side trip to Northern Ireland.