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About admin

I am a proud Irish-American journalist living in metro Washington, D.C. In 1997 I claimed Irish citizenship through my maternal grandparents from Lahardane townland (Ballybunion) and Kilelton townland (Ballylongford) in north County Kerry. I have made five trips to Ireland since 2000, exploring most of the island, including the partitioned north. I have published numerous articles about Ireland in newspapers, magazines and websites, including my online blog. I received a Journalism Fellowship from the German Marshall Fund of the United States that paid for a month-long reporting trip to Ireland in 2001. I generally support the reunification of the island of Ireland for reasons of historical and geographic integrity. I recognize there are vast differences in the religious, social and political traditions of north and south, just as I realize there are differences between native Irish and Irish Americans.

Ireland’s Carnegie libraries commemorated with new stamps

Scotland-born industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie amassed an early 20th century steel industry fortune estimated at $309 billion in today’s money, more than double the $136 billion of Bill Gates’ software wealth. More importantly, Carnegie was “the father of modern philanthropy,” including the funding of 2,509 public libraries in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.

In Ireland, 80 Carnegie library branches were opened between 1897 and 1913, a decade before the island’s political partition and civil war. Carnegie died 11 August 1919, at age 83.

The centenary of his death has prompted fresh reflections of his life. In Ireland, An Post has issued new stamps (above) that commemorate four of the libraries in the Republic: Kilkenny town, County Kilkenny; Clondalkin, County Dublin; Enniskerry, County Wicklow; and Athea, County Limerick.

“A characteristic of the Carnegie libraries is that, apart from their contribution to scholarship and learning, they were invariably housed in beautiful buildings – architectural ornaments in the towns and cities in which they were located,” Felix M. Larkin, chairman of An Post’s Philatelic Advisory Committee, said during the 14 August unveiling.

Larkin, a founding member of the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland (See my November 2018 Q & A with him.), more broadly noted:

Felix Larkin speaking at the launch of the Carnegie library stamps in Dublin, 14 August 2019. Photo by Pól Ó Duibhir.

“Libraries are the foundation of all scholarship, where books, newspapers, photographs, prints and drawings – and now digital material too – are lovingly preserved for posterity. And they are preserved not only for use by the elite scholar laboring away in a university, in an ivory tower (so to speak), but for everyone with the curiosity to want to learn more about history, literature and a host of other things – or indeed just to enjoy the pleasure of reading and be enriched by it. Libraries are fundamentally democratic centers of learning, open to everyone – and free.”

Read Larkin’s full remarks.

As a native of Pittsburgh, where Carnegie made his fortune, I have mixed views of the man. On one hand, he was a captain of the era’s brutal, labor-crushing industrialism, including the bloody Homestead strike of 1892. On the other hand, Carnegie funded libraries, museums, and other cultural institutions in the region that directly contributed to my ability “to learn more about history, literature and a host of other things.”

One of the most satisfying accomplishments of my writing life is to have my book about my Irish immigrant grandfather placed in both the open stacks and reference sections of the main Carnegie branch in Pittsburgh … a place where I did some of the research. It is also a beautiful building.

Belfast’s Harland & Wolff shipyard is nearly sunk

The 158-year-old Harland & Wolff shipyard on the Belfast waterfront is in bankruptcy proceedings and its last 130 workers are at risk of losing their jobs.

The firm’s receivers and union representatives are searching for a buyer and trying to make other imaginative accommodations to maintain the yard. Employment at H&W peaked at 35,000 in the 1920s , the decade after its workers built the Titanic.

The ill-fated liner is the focus of Titanic Belfast, an “experience attraction” that has become one of the world’s top visitor destinations. The museum and other adjoining former H&W property in Belfast’s “Titanic Quarter” are part of a booming redevelopment site.

That renewal is now threatened by uncertainty about the pending Brexit, which also likely will complicate efforts to salvage the remaining H&W operation.

One of the two 1970s-era gantry cranes at the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast. This photo was taken during my July 2016 visit to Titanic Belfast.

One of my readers is the grandson of a former Harland & Wolff worker who helped build the Titanic and other ships during the early 20th century. This is portion of an essay that Joseph Wade Sr. (the grandfather) wrote in the 1970s:

My father was a joiner, a craftsman of fine woodwork, and worked on the interior finish of the great ships being built. It was the custom in those days for sons to follow in their fathers’ footsteps. When my older brother became of age, he started as an apprentice joiner. Two years later in 1908, when I reached the age of 14, I, too, started as an apprentice in the art of fine woodworking, and so we were a family of wood workers.

Apprentices were only accepted between the ages of 14 and 16. As boys, we were indentured for 6 years. Father had to deposit 5 pounds, which in those days, was a lot of money.  At the finish of our apprenticeship, the money was returned.

Joseph Wade, Sr., about 1918.

My father, brother, and I left our home shortly after 5:00 in the morning. We had about a 40 minute walk to work. We started work at 6 o’clock and worked until 8:20 when we stopped for breakfast. We started again at 9. Our lunch period was from 1 until 2, and our day finished at 5:30, then a 40 minute walk back home. With an average rainfall of 230 or more days a year, many times we were well soaked on our way to and from work.

As apprentices, we spent time in the shops preparing the work, and time on the ships installing it. The great shipyard of Harland and Wolff covered miles of territory. They had the facilities to build and finish eight large liners. Later, six more slip-ways were added, increasing their capacity to 14. Up to this time, they had built and completed over 390 ships, The White Star Line, the Olympic, was designated 400, and the 401 was the Titanic.

Read the full essay.

Visiting Ireland 2019: Best of the rest

From Westport, we drove through Connamara, then flew to Inisheer, smallest of the three Aran Island. On our return to the mainland, we made a short stop in Galway, then drove south to North Kerry, my grandparent’s homeland.

A stunning view in Connemara, south of Westport.

A road in Inis Oirr (Inisheer), with An Súnda Salach (Foul Sound) at right.

Buskars in the Latin Quarter, Galway city.

Looking west at late dusk from the sea cliffs at Ballybunion, in North Kerry, with 15th century castle ruin at right. The land in the distance is Loop Head Pinensula, County Clare.

This is my last post from the road. More photos and reporting from this visit will appear in future articles. Previous posts:

Visiting Ireland 2019: In the west

We left the Antrim coast and Northern Ireland and drove back into the Republic, with stops in Sligo, then Westport.

The poet’s grave at Drumcliffe, County Sligo.

Sligo town at dusk.

Low tide at Aughris Head, Co. Sligo,on the Wild Atlantic Way. The iconic Benbulben is the darker summit at right. 

A relief on the base of statue of St. Patrick in Westport. This image shows the saint banishing the snakes from Ireland and using the shamrock to teach the Holy Trinity.

Between Achill Island and Westport on the Great Western Greenway hike and bike trail.

Visiting Ireland 2019: Antrim coast

We enjoyed two days of hiking along the Antrim coast between Portrush and Fair Head/Ballycastle, including the Giant’s Causeway (detail of the unusual stone formation.) In bottom image, note the red roof of the “bothy,” a small cottage built as a fisherman’s refuge, now used camp site for hikers and kayakers.

Visiting Ireland 2019: Remembering the dead

Belfast is pocked with memorials to 20th century conflict and disaster. For example:

The Titanic …

World War I …

The Troubles …

There are more than a dozen memorial pocket parks focused on The Troubles scattered through the sectarian neighborhoods of West Belfast. The top and middle image are in the republican/Catholic Falls Road; the bottom photo on the loyalist/Protestant Shankill Road. Both neighborhoods also contain wall murals about the conflict.

As I visited these sites, I wondered how much longer the Titanic disaster and World World I will resonate among 21st century people now that the centenary of each event has passed? Also, while it would be naive to suggest the brutalities of The Troubles be forgotten, would it be better for the long-term prospects for peace without so many graphic memorials, which seem to perpetuate hate in the city’s sectarian neighborhoods.

Visiting Ireland 2019: Days 1 & 2 photos

Along the River Boyne, County Meath. The “Battle of the Boyne” between Protestant and Catholic forces was fought here in 1690. 

Stone bridge over an abandoned canal along the Boyne. The canal project began in the mid-1700s.

Entrance to Newgrange Stone Age passage tomb, Meath. It is more than 5,000 years old.

St. Patrick’s grave, Downpatrick, County Down, Northern Ireland.  Saints Brigid and Columcille also are said to be buried here. 

Statue of Queen Victoria outside Belfast City Hall, County Antrim.

Hotel Europa in Belfast. During the Troubles it became know as the most bombed hotel in the world.”  U.S. President Bill Clinton stayed here in 1995, three years before the Good Friday Agreement.

Back to Ireland as blog reaches seventh anniversary

This month marks the blog’s seventh anniversary, which is a good opportunity to thank readers for their interest in my work. I am grateful to my email subscribers; people who have written to me about the content; and those who help share it on social media. I’m also grateful to the archivists, librarians, and historians who have guided me along the way.

Please explore the site, including this year’s centennial project on American reporting of Irish independence in 1919; and earlier work such as Nora’s Sorrow and Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited, which each deal with the Land War period of the 1880s.

Other highlights include my St. Patrick Churches feature; Links and Places to Visit pages; and monthly and annual roundups.

My wife, Angie Drobnic Holan, has lovingly contributed to this effort as editor and webmaster. She and I will be traveling in Ireland and Northern Ireland over the next two weeks, and we will post words and images about the island’s natural beauty and contemporary culture.

Further ahead, I’ve been asked to present my Irish-related research at the American Journalism Historians Association‘s annual conference in Dallas; and the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland annual conference in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Details coming this fall.

For now, thanks again for supporting the blog, and watch for our posts from Ireland. MH

Angie and I at the Marian Year, 1954, shrine in Lahardan townland, County Kerry, in 2012. My grandfather was a born near this hillside holy well in 1894.

Irishman Shane Lowry wins Open at Royal Portrush

Republic of Ireland golfer Shane Lowry has won the British Open at Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland. It is the first time since 1951 the Open has been held on the island of Ireland. The earlier tournament also was played at Portrush, on the County Antrim coast, and won by Englishman Max Faulkner.

Irishmen Fred Daly of Portrush; Padraig Harrington of Dublin; Darren Clarke of Dungannon, NI; and Rory McIlroy of Holywood, NI; have also won the Open, but at courses in England or Scotland.  The tournament was first played in 1860.

“Forget the demarcation between the North and South of this island: the Irish stand as one when it comes to golf,” Alistair Tait of Golfweek reported. “As far as Irish golf fans are concerned, Royal Portrush is an Irish golf course.”

The course at Royal Portrush opened in 1888, 33 years before the political partition. During the Troubles, the IRA bombed six buildings in Portrush town in August 1976, with no fatalities; but shot and killed two Royal Ulster Constabulary officers in April 1987 … nine days after Lowry was born in Mullingar, County Westmeath, in the Republic.

Now 32, Lowry lives in Clara, County Offaly, also in the Republic. It remains to be seen what impact, if any, his victory might add to ongoing discussions of reuniting the island of Ireland, which are mainly driven by the likelihood of a chaotic Brexit. I’ll update this post with any related commentary.

My wife and I look forward to visiting Portrush later this month.

Irishman Shane Lowry as he nears his 2019 Open victory. Image from theopen.com.

How Dev’s tour shifted U.S. press coverage of Ireland

As Ireland’s strike for independence heated up after the Great War, Irish  newspapers in America frequently complained about real or perceived pro-British bias in the mainstream U.S. press. Their readers echoed the criticism of how big city dailies and wire services reported Irish news.

At a January 1919 meeting in Chicago, for example, nationalists suggested “the American press was ‘muzzled’ when it came to printing the truth about the Irish question.” Someone in the audience shouted, “Let’s boycott the press.” Ironically, the mainstream Chicago Tribune provided this reporting.1

An estimated 50,000 supporters turned out in June 1919 to hear Éamon de Valera at Fenway Park in Boston. Stage is at the center of the image.

Coverage of the June 1919 American arrival of Éamon de Valera, and the massive crowds that turned out to hear him in cities across the country, began to change the perception of some Irish Americans. In a July 26, 1919, editorial headlined “American Newspapers Aligned on Ireland’s Side,” The Irish Standard, Minneapolis, Minn., suggested:

It is the conscience of the American people rather than any impulse originating in the editorial sanctums that is forcing a change in the attitude of many of our big newspapers toward Ireland. But whatever may be the real cause it is palpably evident that there has been noted a great change in this respect during the past few weeks, coincident with the coming of President de Valera of the Irish republic to our shores.

The editorial assessed coverage of de Valera’s late June visit to Boston by the Globe, Herald, and Post of that city. It also analyzed the above-mentioned Chicago Tribune, “the Hearst papers” (then 20 dailies in 13 cities2), and “big newspapers” in New York City, without naming titles.

The Standard noted the use of quotation marks around the words “Irish Republic” and “President” before de Valera’s name, “intended to indicate sarcasm,” was beginning to disappear from the dailies, a sign of legitimacy and respect. It concluded:

Changes in attitude of the kind noted are significant of what has already taken place in the minds and hearts of the American people. The newspapers are not directing, but following the lead of public opinion in the matter.

A month earlier, at his public debut in New York City, de Valera told the gathered reporters:

It is to the press rather than to the diplomats that the representatives of the common people must appeal if they really wish to save democracy. One of the objects of my visit was that I might present my case to the people in my own words and not as the English propagandists often represent me.3

De Valera would soon have problems with newspaper coverage of his efforts in America, including John Devoy’s Gaelic American. In the summer of 1919, however, the professor and the press enjoyed a brief honeymoon.