Author Archives: Mark Holan

About Mark Holan

I am an Irish-American journalist living in Washington, D.C. I obtained Irish citizenship in 1997 through my immigrant grandparents from County Kerry. I have traveled to Ireland a dozen times and explored most of the island, including the partitioned north. I have written nearly 1,000 posts for this blog since 2012 in addition to freelance work for popular and academic publications.

On marriage, family, and the Irish constitutional referendum

UPDATE: Both referendum questions were defeated by margins of nearly 3-to-1, an embarrassment for the coalition government that put forward the measures. The Irish Times editorialized: “The timing was rushed, the rationale unclear, the propositions confusing and the campaigning lackluster. It was an accident waiting to happen.” Whether the outcome is merely a botched one-off or indicates a conservative turn from the progressivism of the past two decades remains to be seen. I’ll have more analysis in a future post as Ireland now prepares for a general election in 2025. MH

ORIGINAL POST:

My maternal grandparents were married 100 years ago this week at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Pittsburgh. They are seated in the wedding photo below, joined by five siblings of both families. All seven emigrated from Kerry between 1910 and 1921. Other members of both families remained in Ireland.

The newlyweds welcomed six children over the next eight years, all of them girls. My mother, 93, is the only survivor.

I remember these relations ahead of the March 8 referendum on proposed language changes in the Republic of Ireland’s 1937 Constitution. One measure would include “other durable relationships” beyond marriage; another eliminates language about women’s “life within the home.”

The language about women was controversial 87 years ago. The conservative influence of the Roman Catholic Church on the constitution was and is a target of secularists and progressives.

I will report the referendum results as they become available. Until then, an affectionate nod to my traditionally married grandparents and their families, which the Irish Constitution describes as “the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society.” That language will remain in place regardless of the referendum outcome.

Nora Ware and Willie Diggin, seated. Standing, left to right, John Ware, Mary Diggin, Michael Diggin, Bridget Ware and Annie Diggin. March 4, 1924. (Thank you JVS for the restored photo.)

The Lartigue monorail’s 1888 opening–illustrated

In about the same time that it takes to read this sentence, I could take a photo (or short video) by tapping my smart phone, upload the image and a few words of description to any of several social media platforms, and publish the content for viewing on a similar device or computer nearly anyplace in the world. Just … like … that.

Images and words did not move as quickly on Leap Year Day 1888, when the Listowel & Ballybunion Railway opened between the two County Kerry towns. The 9.5-mile, elevated single-track system–a monorail–came to be known by the surname of its inventor, Charles Lartigue. It would operate through October 1924.

It took a month for illustrations and descriptions of the Lartigue to reach U.S. newspaper readers in 1888. The words and images appeared from late March until June, often edited to say the service opened “a few days ago,” but occasionally citing the unusual Feb. 29 date.

The three-image display above is from the April 7, 1888, issue of The Daily American, Nashville, Tennessee. The images first appeared March 10, 1888, in the The Illustrated London News[1]Image on page 246; story on previous page.

An accompanying story in the Tennessee paper was attributed to the London Standard. A different story, most likely from another British paper, appeared in the Chicago Tribune, St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Indianapolis (Indiana) Journal, Savannah (Georgia) Morning News, Sunday News-Leader of Wilkes-Berra, Pennsylvania, among other U.S. papers. The content in a few cases was attributed the New York Graphic.[2]The New York Graphic most likely was The Daily Graphic: An Illustrated Evening Newspaper, published from 1873 to 1889. It should not to be confused with the New York Evening Graphic, published from … Continue reading

Several U.S. papers published the signalman image (above, bottom right), typically cropped in a single column square. A similar-sized illustration of the Lartigue’s twin-boiler steam locomotive and pannier-style passenger carriages also appears in the displays of several papers. It is enlarged below for easier viewing.

This “railway and train” image was not from The Illustrated London News. Other illustrations of the Lartigue circulated in popular periodicals until black and white photographs of the monorail became widely available before the end of the century. The British Strand magazine featured eight photos with an 1898 story written by William Shortis, the Ballybunion station manager. Robert French of the William Lawrence studios in Dublin photographed the line, though the precise date of his assignment to Kerry is unclear.

Black and white moving images of the Lartigue were captured by the British Pathé newsreel company. Its “Along the Line” film is inexplicably dated to 1931–seven years after the monorail was discontinued and scrapped. I’ll have more on the Lartigue closing in October.

As I’ve written earlier, the quirky Lartigue provides a perfect movie opportunity for the eccentric styles of film directors Wes Anderson or the Coen brothers.

This illustration is taken from the Lartigue Museum in Listowel, Kerry. Date and original source unknown.

References

References
1 Image on page 246; story on previous page.
2 The New York Graphic most likely was The Daily Graphic: An Illustrated Evening Newspaper, published from 1873 to 1889. It should not to be confused with the New York Evening Graphic, published from 1924 to 1932, or a London weekly published under several variations of the Graphic banner from 1869 until the 1930s.

Irish immigrants and the press in key U.S. metros, 1920

The 1920 U.S. Census counted just over 1 million Irish immigrants. About 8 of every 10 were concentrated in seven states: New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut, and California. Most of the immigrants and their American-born families clustered in and around major cities, which were robust with daily newspapers and other periodicals.

In 1920, nearly 40 percent of the 2,300 dailies in America were published in the same seven states, according to the N. W. Ayer & Son’s annual directory. Nearly a dozen Irish-interest weeklies were published in key metros such as New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Francisco.

The snapshot below was developed from these two sources. It is part of my ongoing exploration of American Reporting of Irish Independence. (Double click the images to enlarge.)

Guest post: John Bruton (1947-2024), an appreciation

Dublin historian and former public servant Felix M. Larkin’s last contribution to this site was about ‘Periodicals and journalism in twentieth-century Ireland‘, two volumes of essays co-edited with Mark O’Brien. Larkin is the author of ‘Living with History: occasional writings’, among other works. MH

***

John Bruton, who died on Feb. 6, 2024, was one of the most significant figures in Irish public life for more than 50 years. He was taoiseach from December 1994 to June 1997, and the European Union’s ambassador to the United States from 2004 to 2009.

Bruton’s book

In 2015 Bruton published a collection of essays entitled Faith in Politics. The pieces ranged widely over politics, economics, history, and religion. Included in the last category was a paper he gave at the 2012 Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, in which he reflected on the “added value” that Christians can bring to politics. He concluded that paper by saying that “no Christian, and Catholics in particular, should be afraid to bring their beliefs into the public square”. This is today an unfashionable idea in an increasingly secular Ireland, but Bruton never shrank from writing and speaking against the grain of the prevailing consensus.

Also unfashionable was his defense of the constitutional nationalist tradition in Irish history. John Redmond, the long-time leader of the Irish party at Westminster, was his great hero. In a seminal address in the Royal Irish Academy in 2014, reproduced in his book, he argued that “the 1916 Rising was a mistake” and left us with a baleful legacy of political violence. He feared that our continued commemoration of the Rising ran the risk of “saying that killing and dying is something that will be remembered by future generations, but patient peaceful achievements will be quietly forgotten”.

Elsewhere in his book he expressed concern about what he saw as the “higher level of skepticism about politicians nowadays”, but his “faith in democratic, constitutional politics” was absolute – hence the title of his book. His steadfast defense of constitutional politics both today and in the past is perhaps his greatest legacy to his fellow countrymen. I am proud to have known him.

***

Journalists, historians, authors, researchers, and travelers to Ireland are welcome to offer guest contributions. Submissions are generally from 500 to 1,000 words, with an accompanying photo or graphic. Use the contact form on the Guest Posts page, where you can see earlier contributions.

N.I. Assembly reopens after two years; led by Sinn Fein

UPDATES:

Feb. 7: The death of former taoiseach John Burton, King Charles’ cancer, other news in Ireland and the rest of world have pushed the Northern Ireland Assembly off the home pages of Irish media. This post is now closed.

Michelle O’Neill

Feb. 4: Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak have arrived in Belfast for bilateral talks impacting Northern Ireland and other issues between the two island neighbors. …  See “How the world reported Michelle O’Neill’s election as First Minister of Northern Ireland.”

Feb. 3: Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill has been named first minister of the restored Northern Ireland Assembly after a two-year boycott by unionists. O’Neill, 47, the nationalist party’s vice president, emphasized that she would be “a first minister for all” — including unionists and republicans, Protestants and Catholics, those who want a “United Ireland” and those who want to remain “British Forever” (alongside a growing number in the middle ground), The Washington Post reported. “To all of you who are British and unionist: Your national identity, culture and traditions are important to me. None of us are being asked or expected to surrender who we are. Our allegiances are equally legitimate. Let’s walk this two-way street and meet one another halfway.”

O’Neill has waited for the job since Sinn Féin topped May 2022 elections in the North, three months after the DUP walked out of the Assembly. The DUP’s Emma Little-Pengelly, 44, will serve as deputy first minister, giving the power-sharing government its first all-female co-executives. Though technically equals, this is the first time a nationalist has been first minister.

The growth of nationalist political representation is unsurprising, The New York Times noted:

Demographics have shifted significantly in Northern Ireland, with the Protestant majority’s slow erosion there first attributed to the Catholic Church’s opposition to birth control and then to economic factors like the decline in industrial jobs, which were held predominantly by Protestants.

Catholics outnumbered Protestants in Northern Ireland for the first time in 2022, according to census figures. And Northern Ireland is not the binary society it once was. Decades of peace drew newcomers in, and like much of the world, the island has grown increasingly secular. The labels of Catholic and Protestant have been left as a clumsy shorthand for the cultural and political divide.A large percentage of the population identifies as neither religion. And when it comes to political attitudes, the largest single group — 38 percent — regards itself as neither nationalist nor unionist, according to the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey.

Feb. 1: Britain’s parliament approved revamped rules governing Northern Ireland trade that were negotiated between the government and the DUP. This prompted the DUP to formally requested the reconstitution of the power-sharing government. Opposition to the trade deal has been minimal, Reuters reported.

ORIGINAL POST:

Jan. 30: The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has agreed to return to the Northern Ireland Assembly after a two-year walkout arising from its disagreements about Brexit trade protocols. The decision by the North’s main unionist party means nationalist Sinn Féin could lead the Assembly for the first time in the nearly 26 years since the Good Friday Agreement.

“This is obviously good news, but this is only one step and there are about 10 things that could still go wrong,” an unnamed U.K. official told reporter Shawn Pogatchnik at Politico.eu. Or, as former Ulster Unionist Party communications director Alex Kane wrote in The Irish Times: “I’ve seen far too many ‘breakthroughs’ come and go in Northern Ireland to abandon my usual pessimism just yet.”

This story is developing. Today (Feb. 1) the U.K. Parliament is set to vote on special legislation designed to allay DUP concerns about how Northern Ireland is treated under Brexit. Then there is the matter of making Sinn Féin‘s Michelle O’Neill the Assembly’s first minister, a position the party earned by topping May 2022 elections in the six counties.

I’ll curate this post over the next week or so. Email subscribers are reminded to visit the website directly for the latest updates. MH

Stormont, the Northern Ireland Assembly building, outside Belfast.

Why G.B. Shaw, feminists denounced 1937 ‘Eire’ constitution

Voters in the Republic of Ireland on March 8 will decide two proposed changes to the State’s 87-year-old Constitution. Both amendments are related to family life. The first will replace the clause describing women’s place as “within the home” with a new government commitment to value the work of all family care givers. The second will broaden the definition of the family to include all households with “durable relationships,” including the roughly one third of couples with children born out of wedlock.[1]See the current and proposed language.

In 1937, Irish leader Éamon de Valera proposed to update the 1922 Constitution that founded the Irish Free State, which he had opposed because it fell short of republican goals. His revised Constitution asserted full sovereignty for the 26 counties, which were renamed Eire, the Irish word for Ireland. As it widened the separation from Britain, Dev’s draft gave deference to the Catholic Church, confirming the longtime “Rome rule” suspicions of many Irish Protestants.

Since then, Ireland has dramatically modernized and secularized, especially in the past quarter century. Several amendments to the Constitution have removed language about the “special” role of the Church and penalties for blasphemy; while others have legalized divorce, same-sex marriage, and abortion. And the 1937 language about the role of women has received increased attention.

Shaw in 1936.

This section also drew criticism at the time of its introduction, notably from Anglo-Irish author and playwright George Bernard Shaw. He complained “its attitude toward women is simply going back ages,” adding the passage was “worse than ridiculous.”[2]”G.B.S. Says De Valera Has Fascist Aims In ‘Eire'”, The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 2, 1937. Shaw continued:

De Valera’s new constitution, reactionary in its attitude toward women, is just another example of the world’s despair and revolt against democratic and parliamentary institutions which do nothing but talk, talk and get no action.  … It’s true that the work of women in the home is extremely important, and so, for that matter, is the work of men who maintain the home. But that is not sufficient reason for writing into the constitution that men should never be anything but breadwinners, and women nothing but home-workers. … Although the constitution generally appears to be modeled after that of the United States, it has a dash of Fascism in the provisions relating to women and marriage.

Two weeks after Shaw’s telephone interview with a Universal Service correspondent, Dáil Éireann TD Patrick McGilligan (Fine Gael-Dublin North-West) raised the celebrity’s author’s comments during a debate about the Constitution. This prompted a laugh from de Valera.

“He talks through his hat sometimes,” de Valera (Fianna Fáil-Clare), president of the Dáil’s executive council, said of Shaw.[3]See Dáil Éireann debate, May 13, 1937, Vol. 67, No. 3.

Then 54, de Valera was the New York City-born son of an Irish immigrant mother who relinquished the care of her two-year-old toddler to relatives in Ireland. Shaw, then 80, was born in Dublin but moved to London at age 19 and remained in England for the rest of his life. The two famous Irishmen shared a frequently antagonistic but generally good-humored relationship, as revealed in public spats and private correspondence before and after 1937.[4]Bernard Shaw. “Two Unpublished Letters To Eamon De Valera: With an Introduction by Brad Kent.” Shaw, vol. 30, 2010, pp. 27–35. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.5325/shaw.30.1.0027. In 1945, Shaw famously defended de Valera for offering condolences to the German minister in Dublin upon hearing of Hitler’s death. The playwright, in a letter to The Times, London, described the politician as “a champion of the Christian chivalry we are all pretending to admire. Let us recognize a noble heart even if we must sometimes question its worldly wisdom.’’

Feminist criticism

The Dáil approved de Valera’s draft Constitution in mid-June 1937 by a vote of 62 to 48. De Valera placed it on the ballot of the national elections set for a few weeks later for ratification.

De Valera in 1937.

In addition to Shaw, “a minority of vocal activists” opposed the clause about women in the home.[5]Diarmaid Ferriter, The Transformation Of Ireland. [New York: The Overlook Press, 2005] 421. They included feminists such as Louie Bennett, Hannah Sheehy-Skiffington, and Kathleen Clarke, widow of 1916 Rising martyr Tom Clarke. Mary Hayden of University College, Dublin, and the Women’s Graduate Association, also protested.[6]Thomas Bartlett, Ireland: A History. [Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2010] 450.

Irish journalist R.M. O’Hanrahan, in a pre-plebiscite analysis distributed by the North American Newspaper Alliance, noted these college and university educated women were “up in arms” about the language that referenced their gender. While these women advised a “no” vote on the Constitution, “the effect of this vote cannot be very marked as the time for organizing opposition meetings is rather short,” O’Hanrahan predicted.[7]“Women In Irish Election”, The Boston Globe, June 28, 1937.

He was proven correct. Historian Thomas Bartlett has observed, “in the crucial areas of paternalist control they failed to make any impression. It is clear that many women and mothers agreed with de Valera’s construction of their role” because the Constitution won approval with 56.5 percent in favor to 43.5 percent against. Subsequent protests by feminists in 1938 and 1943 failed to remove the offending language.[8]Bartlett, Ireland, 450.

But the Constitution’s passage was “not very convincing,” de Valera biographer David McCullagh has argued. The leader’s claim that a majority of the Irish people supported his update was “an implicitly partitionist reading,” since nobody in the six counties of Northern Ireland could vote. Observers then and now agree they would have rejected it and changed the outcome. Just over 1.3 million people cast ballots in the referendum, nearly 76 percent of registered voters, but only 38.5 percent of the total electorate voted in favor.[9]David McCullagh, De Valera (Vol. II), Rule, 1932-1975. [Dublin: Gill Books, 2018] 134.

The revised Constitution took effect at the end of 1937. “It is there now and it is better that people should get to like it the more they study it,” de Valera said.[10]Ibid. In fact, the longer the Irish people have lived under the Constitution, the less they have liked it.

References

References
1 See the current and proposed language.
2 ”G.B.S. Says De Valera Has Fascist Aims In ‘Eire'”, The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 2, 1937.
3 See Dáil Éireann debate, May 13, 1937, Vol. 67, No. 3.
4 Bernard Shaw. “Two Unpublished Letters To Eamon De Valera: With an Introduction by Brad Kent.” Shaw, vol. 30, 2010, pp. 27–35. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.5325/shaw.30.1.0027.
5 Diarmaid Ferriter, The Transformation Of Ireland. [New York: The Overlook Press, 2005] 421.
6 Thomas Bartlett, Ireland: A History. [Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2010] 450.
7 “Women In Irish Election”, The Boston Globe, June 28, 1937.
8 Bartlett, Ireland, 450.
9 David McCullagh, De Valera (Vol. II), Rule, 1932-1975. [Dublin: Gill Books, 2018] 134.
10 Ibid.

Guest post: ‘When the IRA Came to New York’

I am pleased to present the book excerpt below from Mark Bulik’s ‘Ambush at Central Park: When the IRA Came to New York’ (Fordham, 2023), the true story of four comrades from the Irish War for Independence, and their paths to a bullet-riddled reunion in Manhattan. This all but forgotten April 1922 incident was the only officially authorized action of its kind by the Irish Republican Army on American soil. Bulik is also the author of ‘The Sons of Molly Maguire: The Irish Roots of America’s First Labor War.’ MH

Chapter 1: The Ambush

When the relentless avengers of the Irish Republican Army finally caught up with Cruxy O’Connor in Manhattan that fine spring evening, they sent six bullets his way — one for each man the informer had sent to an early grave the year before.

Four of the gunshots found their target, and as a cop reached the crumpled victim on the steps of a finishing school at 84th and Central Park West, O’Connor was clutching a revolver with a spent shell in each chamber. After one of his attackers dropped the gun, the fallen O’Connor apparently had grabbed it, intending to defend himself. But the weapon was useless by then — his assailant had emptied the revolver at him.

O’Connor hadn’t had much luck in the weapons department lately.

There was that machine gun they had given him for the ambush the year before — when he told them that it jammed just as the shooting started, the boys started looking at him funny. Not long after that, he’d made the mistake of taking a pistol to Sunday Mass. The coppers threw a cordon around the church, and oh dear God, what a massacre that led to. Six men died, including Willie Deasy, his next-door neighbor, just twenty years old.

Pa Murray and the boys blamed him. They had stalked O’Connor through three countries — he’d barely escaped with his life when they tried to poison him. And he’d had to quit his job as a bookkeeper at the B. Altman department store a month earlier, after the gunmen had started haunting his workplace.

For weeks now, his only escape from the cramped apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan had been a walk and a smoke. He varied his route, just to be on the safe side. But there were some evenings, like this one, when he couldn’t stay cooped up in the flat on Columbus Avenue with his parents, his brother, his sister-in-law, and their toddler. The warm spring evening beckoned, its soft westerly breezes stirring the curtains of Manhattan. He needed a cigarette. He needed a stroll.

It was a few minutes to eight o’clock on the evening of April 13, 1922. O’Connor came bounding down the stairs of his apartment building, but even as he headed out the door, he knew, on some level, that this was crazy. Three of County Cork’s deadliest gunmen — Murray, Danny Healy, and Martin Donovan — were out there somewhere in the New York night, just itching to take a shot. There’d be hell to pay for what he’d done, and the devil’s own bill collectors wanted their due.

O’Connor headed east up 83rd Street, toward Central Park, where the sheer black rock of Bolivar Hill loomed like a dungeon wall. When he reached Central Park West, he turned north on the west side of the street.

The temperature was in the low 60s, so there were plenty of other pedestrians out taking the night air. O’Connor smoked nervously, his eyes on their faces. When he reached 84th Street, he glanced to the left, and sweet Jesus, there was Pa Murray himself, with another guy, headed straight for him.

O’Connor dashed across the street to the wall that lines Central Park, glancing back at Murray and puffing furiously on a cigarette. He headed north, then suddenly reversed himself, and that’s when Danny Healy came out from behind a tree right smack in front of him. In a gray coat and gray fedora, Healy looked like some kind of natty avenging angel.

It all happened so fast. Healy, pointing a revolver at his chest, saying something like “I’ve got you now.”

Then pulling the trigger.

***

Danny Healy and Martin Donovan had been near the corner of 83rd and Columbus, staking out the flat, when O’Connor walked out the door and headed toward the park. Pa Murray and Mullins, a guy from Derry who signed on for the hunt, were a little further up Columbus, near 84th Street.

Healy asked Donovan to tell Murray and Mullins to head up 84th Street toward the park, where they might be able to head off O’Connor, while Healy came up from behind him. Once he caught sight of Murray, O’Connor had been too preoccupied to notice Healy until he stepped out from behind the tree.

The gunman thought his first bullet caught O’Connor in the chest, but he dashed across Central Park West into the 84th Street intersection. Healy chased him, blazing away, hitting O’Connor twice. To Healy’s astonishment, O’Connor kept going, ducking around a trolley.

Healy followed, firing a shot that thudded into a building. Four bullets gone, only two left, and his prey was still scrambling. O’Connor kept changing direction, like a panicked hare flushed by a pack of hounds. He tried to go north on the west side of Central Park West, but almost ran into Donovan, who pointed a revolver and squeezed the trigger.

Nothing — a misfire.

But the bullets were finally having an effect on O’Connor’s adrenaline-infused body. Wounded, winded, and bleeding, he slumped to the sidewalk.

“I caught up with him and fired twice more at him, hitting him,” Healy recalled.

As Healy blasted away, the getaway car came roaring up to the intersection, a kid from the Bronx at the wheel. Healy knew he was supposed to get in, but he just stood there, frozen, surrounded by a large group of gaping pedestrians. He couldn’t imagine he was going to get away with it. This wasn’t home, where people knew to look away when Murray and the boys cut someone down in the street. This was the very heart of Manhattan — and a horde of people were staring straight at him.

One thought kept going through his head: “No chance of escape.”

Then Donovan’s commanding voice rang out: “Run for it, Danny. Run!”

 (Story continues below cover image.)

Christ, but Healy took him literally. Donovan saw Healy snap out of it, but instead of getting in the car, Healy walked casually for a bit, then broke into a run west on 84th Street. And Donovan saw the crowd of stunned pedestrians form into a posse that quickly gave chase. Dozens of them. They figured it was an underworld hit, and they weren’t about to let a bunch of gangsters get away with murder in the middle of Manhattan.

Donovan climbed into the car. It looked natural enough — he was wearing a chauffeur’s coat he’d gotten from the Bronx kid’s family. And then they were all giving chase, the car and the crowd, until the car got ahead of the posse and kept pace with Healy for a bit while they tried to talk him into getting in so they could all get the hell out of there.

The trouble they went through to get that getaway car — “Over 1,000 cars in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade,” and they couldn’t use one of them, Donovan complained.

Finally Johnny Culhane from the Bronx came through — he had an auto rental and taxi business — but he wanted no part of driving a getaway car for a killing. Culhane was already facing a boatload of legal trouble involving several hundred Ireland-bound tommy guns the feds had confiscated from a rust bucket docked in Hoboken. As Culhane begged off, his seventeen-year-old son James jumped in, exasperated.

“I’ll drive the damn car,” he said.

Which was how they ended up with a kid from the Bronx as wheelman. And now, after all that, Healy wouldn’t get in the car.

Even with half of Manhattan on his tail.

Clearly, someone would have to put a stop to this posse business, Donovan realized. At 34, he was the grownup in the group, older than the others by a decade. He’d have to do it, or it wouldn’t get done.

It would have helped if he’d still had the revolver, but Donovan had tossed it after it misfired — why keep a useless, incriminating weapon at a crime scene? So now he’d have to pull off a bluff — one man against close to fifty. But Donovan had gotten Danny Healy into this mess by recruiting him for the O’Connor job. Healy hadn’t hesitated then. Donovan didn’t now.

He got out of the car and confronted the crowd, just fifteen feet away. If even one of them dared to make a quick lunge, he’d be hopelessly overpowered in seconds. So Donovan slid a hand into his coat pocket, as if to pull a gun.

“What do you want — trouble?” he asked the man at the front.

“No.”

“Well, where are you going?”

“I’m going right back to where I came from.” The man turned on his heels and did just that, followed by most of the crowd.

Then another quick conversation with Danny about getting in the car, but it didn’t do any good. The normally reliable Healy was rattled, out of his element, not thinking straight. Donovan had shouted “run,” so run he would. Healy and O’Connor, the shooter and the shot, had one thing in common that fine spring evening — they were bound and determined to stretch their legs.

Even if it killed them.

***

As the getaway car pulled away, Healy continued on foot, passing the building where O’Connor lived, 483 Columbus Avenue. But he wasn’t alone.

A single pursuer remained on his tail.

Healy zigzagged his way through the street grid of the Upper West Side toward the subway entrance at 79th and Broadway, unable to shake the man tracking him. He caught a bit of luck inside the station — a  train was just about to leave as he entered. He jumped in as the doors closed, leaving his pursuer behind.

Healy got off at 42nd Street, emerging into the bright lights and swirling human tides of Times Square. “Crowded at night,” he noted. He headed south, to the rendezvous point — Jimmy McGee’s apartment on the East Side near 38th Street. Jimmy was a big shot in the marine engineers’ union and served as a dockside fixer for the boys. On this job, he had fixed them up with revolvers, including the one that misfired for Martin Donovan.

After a long time, Pa Murray showed up at McGee’s place. But Donovan was still out on the street, and they were starting to worry. Had he gone back to the Bronx with their teenage driver? Had someone from the crowd that Martin turned back decided to come after him?

Finally, Donovan arrived. No, he told them, nobody had interfered with him after that show of bravado on 84th Street. That was the thing about Martin — the man could radiate cool menace with a look and a word. He’d make you think he was reaching for a gun, even if all he had in his pocket was lint.

This passage is based on Danny Healy’s witness statement to Ireland’s Bureau of Military History, his pension application in the Irish Military Archives and contemporary newspaper accounts. 

United Ireland in 2024? Fiction and fact

Happy New Year! The arrival of 2024 means it is time for the reunification of Ireland, at least according to a 1990 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Declan McVeigh described the television fiction and its historical context in The National UAE:

During the brief discussion, Data gives Cpt Picard a list of successful armed rebellions in ages past, including “the Irish unification of 2024”. This prospect – debated between an entirely fictitious robot and a spaceship captain – was deemed by the BBC to be so objectionable that the episode was not broadcast unedited on U.K. television until September 2007, nearly a decade after the signing of the Good Friday peace agreement that largely ended the 30-year conflict known as the Northern Ireland Troubles.

This 1937 map shows the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland 16 years after partition.

The 34-year-old episode has been reported before but seems to be getting fresh attention now that the designated year has arrived. In fact, future documentaries about Irish politics are unlikely to cite 2024 as the year of the island’s reunification. Just over half – 51 percent – of northern voters would reject a unity referendum, according to an Irish Times/ARINS poll published in early December, while 64 percent of the Republic of Ireland electorate favors eliminating the 103-year-old partition.

Nevertheless, talk of a (re)united Ireland has grown since the 2016 Brexit vote removed Northern Ireland from the European Union. The Republic remains part of the E.U. The economic advantages of that membership have become as much of a driving force toward Irish reunification as the north’s shift to a Catholic majority, or the island’s geographic and historical integrity. Such economic factors were foreseen in a 1923 U.S. press dispatch from Belfast:

The war will continue until Ulster (Northern Ireland) joins the Irish Free State (now the Republic), or until the Free State relinquishes its insistence on a united Ireland. … Ulstermen declare they are not ready to give up their connection to England and never will be, unless it is shown that a united Ireland would be of benefit to them. … There is much speculation but little information in Ireland as to whether and when there will be a united Ireland. … Continued peace in the south, combined with loss of business or reduction of profits to Ulster industry, might shorten the separation.[1]United Press correspondent Charles McCann in a story widely published in U.S. newspapers two years after partition.

Talk of a united Ireland continued in 1924 as the Irish Boundary Commission began its deliberations through 1925. Ultimately, the 1921 partition lines remained unchanged. Newly released Irish state papers show officials discussed the possibility of redrawing the border in 1975 as a way of reducing Troubles-related violence. It didn’t happen.

The reunification issue has ebbed from time to time, but it has never ceased.

Below the Sinn Féin t-shirt logo are two quotes from Irish politicians that caught my attention late last year. They are followed by a passage from a New York Times op-ed about partition. We’ll have to see what really happens with Irish reunification in 2024 … and beyond.

Logo on the front of t-shirts being sold in Sinn Féin’s online gift shop. The marketing chatter says, “In every phase of struggle Irish America has stood with the cause of Irish Independence and Unity. Lets celebrate the link between Ireland and ‘our exiled children’,” a reference to language in the 1916 proclamation.  .

“Irish Unity is the very best opportunity for the future. In the words of Rita O’Hare, ‘We must keep going. A United Ireland lies ahead.’ ”

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald, Nov. 11, 2023. O’Hare died in March 2023. She was the party’s general secretary and representative to the United States.

“They (Sinn Féin) think in their minds that they would get the United States behind a united Ireland. They wouldn’t. They would actually turn our friends into enemies.”

–Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Nov. 18, 2023. In September, Varadkar said, “I believe we are on the path to unification. I believe that there will be a united Ireland in my lifetime.”

“It’s the unionists — the largely Protestant faction clinging fiercely to British citizenship and Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom — who question the terms of the peace they live under and struggle to articulate their future. And it’s the Irish nationalists — those, largely Catholic, who regard the partition of Ireland as an untenable injustice — who are brimming with confidence.”

–Contributing writer Megan K. Stack, “A United Ireland May Be More Than a Dream“, in The New York Times, Nov. 21, 2023.

References

References
1 United Press correspondent Charles McCann in a story widely published in U.S. newspapers two years after partition.

Best of the Blog, 2023

Welcome to my 11th annual Best of the Blog, a roundup of the year’s top work. I appreciate the support of my regular readers, especially email subscribers (Join at right.) and other visitors. This year’s site traffic surpassed 2022 on Dec. 1 and will finish second only to 2020, when COVID quarantine rocketed readership.

BPL reading room.

As aways, I also want to thank the archivists and librarians who assisted my research during the year. 2023 was split between Cambridge, Massachusetts, where my wife finished her Nieman Fellowship, and our return to Washington, D.C. In New England I visited collections at Harvard University, Boston College, Boston Public Library, Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and Colby College in Waterville, Maine. In DC I have made numerous trips to the Library of Congress. The New York Public Library and Kings College London provided remote help with digital scans of requested material. I am always grateful for the easy access to historic newspaper archives provided by Newspapers.com, the Irish Newspaper Archives, and other collections.  Finally, thanks to authors and publishers who have sent me their Irish-related books.

BACK TO IRELAND

In March I made my eleventh trip to Ireland, the first since before COVID. My wife and I were happy to see our relations in Kerry. We enjoyed St. Patrick’s Day in Kilkenny, which we visited for the first time. In November we flew into the Dublin airport enroute to Brussels and on our return to DC. I enjoyed the airborne views of Ireland but missed having a proper second visit. Hope to get back in 2024.

Dingle Peninsula, March 2023.

POPULAR POSTS

This year’s most viewed post explored the history behind an Academy Award-nominated movie:

Two other posts about contemporary events in Ireland also included historical background:

JOURNALISM HISTORY

I added a dozen posts to my American Reporting of Irish Independence series, which now totals more than 150 entries since December 2018. I continue to explore this topic as I work toward a book.

This year’s highlights included:

When a boatload of reporters steamed to the Easter Rising (1916)

Arthur Gleason’s ‘inside’ reporting of post-Rising Ireland (1916-17)

Reporter vs. reporter: Ackerman and Grasty in Ireland (1920/21)

Praying and ‘knocking heads together’ to end Irish Civil War (1923)

Killarney National Park, March 2023.

FREELANCE PIECES … 

… & GUEST POSTS

Journalists, historians, authors, researchers, and travelers to Ireland are welcome to offer submissions. Use the contact form on the Guest Posts landing page to make a suggestion.

Kilkenny Castle, March 2023.

YEARS PAST:

More great content in our “BOB” archive: