Author Archives: admin

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.

On Robert Emmet, St. Patrick, and Irish Savannah

I’m on business in Savannah, Georgia, which claims to have America’s second largest St. Patrick’s Day parade, in large measure due to its once thriving native Irish population and subsequent generations of Irish Americans.

According to Visit Savannah:

As the Civil War and the Industrial Revolution moved masses of people into the larger cities in the north for factory work, jobs began to fill, and eventually Boston, New York and others turned the Irish away at the ports to keep work open for “native-born Americans.” But Savannah was one of the few port cities still open to the Irish, still in need of an able workforce for its shipping, agricultural and railroad industries. Savannah’s Irish heritage and cultural groups filled and multiplied, and its neighborhoods spilled out into the general population.

Emmet Park, a grassy strip on a bluff overlooking the Savannah River, is a year-round focal point of the city’s Irish heritage. It is named, of course, after Irish patriot and orator Robert Emmet. Here’s the historical marker erected by the Georgia Historical Society and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee:

At the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, site of the annual St. Patrick’s Day Mass, a statue of St. Patrick stands near the front entrance. Ireland’s patron saint is also depicted in one of the church’s stained glass windows.

See my 2014 post on Irish Savannah, from Arcadia Publishing’s popular “Images of America” series.

Photo essay: From Downpatrick to Croagh Patrick

With Sept. 17 being halfway to St. Patrick’s Day, this is a good opportunity to share a few more photos from my August trip to Ireland. My wife and visited the St. Patrick’s Centre in Downpatrick, County Down, in Northern Ireland; and Croagh Patrick–or Patrick’s Mountain–in County Mayo, Republic of Ireland.

Let’s start in the west, where the Mayo County Council and Croagh Patrick Stakeholders Group (the Catholic Church, plus mountaineering, archaeological, and tourism interests) are in the planning stages of sustainable access and habitat restoration on the iconic mountain, which is eroded and otherwise damaged by too many visitors.

Submissions or observations about the proposed development (linked above) must be submitted by Sept 24. Here is the electronic comment form.

I was nearly alone when I hiked to the summit on a Sunday afternoon in October 2001. Last month, my wife and I couldn’t find a spot in the car park at the foot of the mountain because it was so crowded. Different seasons, to be sure, but Ireland’s booming tourism and easy access to the site have placed too many people to the pilgrims’ path. This isn’t difficult to imagine, when you consider this year’s photo of lines of people on Mount Everest.

Croagh Patrick is the pointier peak on the right. (Damn that overhead wire.)

The St. Patrick’s Centre promotes itself as “the only permanent exhibition in the world about Ireland’s Patron Saint.” The fine niche museum provides a straightforward multimedia look at the saint’s life and legend. There’s also a nice cafe and gift shop.

We also visited the nearby St. Patrick’s Grave and St. Patrick’s Shrine, a mosaic with panels showing key moments of the saint’s life. The former is located in the neighboring cemetery of Down Cathedral of the Church of Ireland; the latter is found inside St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, a few blocks from the centre.

Entrance to the St. Patrick Centre in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland.

St. Patrick’s grave outside of Down Cathedral, a short walk from the centre.

St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Downpatrick.

Sculpture of St. Patrick and shamrocks over the front door of the church.

One of the mosaic panels shows Bishop Tassach of Raholp, one of Patrick’s disciples, administering Viaticum to the saint as he died at Saul.

Irish Bibliography of Press History now updated

The Irish Bibliography of Press History (IBPH) has been updated for the first time in over a year. This searchable, open access resource of secondary literature on the history of print media in Ireland is an initiative of the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland (NPHFI). (Disclosure: I am a member.)

“The number of new entries in this update indicates the encouragingly healthy state of research being carried out in the history of Irish print media and the IBPH now contains nearly 1,200 individual entries,” IBPH Editor James T. O’Donnell wrote. The latest entries are indicative of the database:

  • Christopher Doughan, The voice of the provinces: the regional press in revolutionary Ireland, 1914-1921 (Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2019)
  • Davide Mazzi, Views of Place, Views of Irishness: Representing the Gaeltacht in the Irish Press, 1895-1905 (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2019)
  • Louise Ryan, Winning the Vote for Women: The Irish Citizen newspaper and the suffrage movement in Ireland (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2018). (See my coverage of her presentation at last year’s NPHFI conference.)
  • Joe Breen and Mark O’Brien (eds.), The Sunday Papers: a history of Ireland’s weekly press (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2018)
  • Ian Kenneally and James T. O’Donnell (eds.), The Irish regional press, 1892-2018: revival, revolution and republic (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2018)

As relates to the study of the Irish in America and the Irish-American press, the IBPH includes, among many other entries:

  • Christoper Dowd, “The weird tales, spicy detectives, and startling stories of Irish-America: Irish characters in American pulp magazines” , Irish Studies Review, Special Issue: Texts and Textures of Irish America, Vol. 23, No. 2 (2015), pp. 176-183
  • James M. Farrell, “Reporting the Irish Famine in America: Images of ‘Suffering Ireland’ in the American press, 1845-1848” , in Ciaran Reilly (ed.) The famine Irish: emigration and the great hunger, (Dublin: History Press Ireland, 2016)
  • Alan O’Day, “Media and power: Charles Stewart Parnell’s 1880 mission to North America”, in Hiram Morgan (ed.) Information Media and Power Throughout the Ages, (Dublin: UCD Press, 2001)
  • Bernadette Whelan, “American propaganda and Ireland during world war one: the work of the Committee on Public Information” , in American propaganda and Ireland during world war one: the work of the Committee on Public Information.

“Though the IBPH continues to grow, and hopefully be useful, I am sure there is still much out there that is missing and more coming down the line, so, as always, if you aware of any forthcoming or previously published works that should be included in the IBPH and aren’t I would be most grateful for your suggestions,” O’Donnell wrote. The website linked in the first paragraph above contains a “suggestion sheet” and contact details.

For example, the IBPH does not including the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: Diary of an American, by New York editor William Henry Hurlbert. I have recommended it for inclusion in the next update of the database. Here is my 2018 blog serial about Hurlbert’s reporting: Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited and related piece for The Irish Story website, “1888: An American Journalist In Ireland Meets Michael Davitt & Arthur Balfour”.

Map of Ireland showing Hurlbert’s 1888 travels.

 

Charles Stewart Parnell returns to Parliament … sort of

UPDATE:

Historians Conor Mulvagh and Diarmaid Ferriter discuss Parnell, plus a report on the opening of  the Charles Stewart Parnell museum at Avondale House in 1986, all from RTÉ Radio.

ORIGINAL POST:

Long-dead Irish Parliamentary Party leader Charles Stewart Parnell, MP from 1871 to 1891, this week haunted the Brexit debate in the House of Commons.

Charles Stewart Parnell

Jacob Rees-Mogg, a Tory leader who supports the split from Europe, said the successful cross-party efforts to block a no-deal Brexit were “the most unconstitutional use of this House since the days of Charles Stewart Parnell, when he tried to bung up Parliament.”

As The Irish Times explained, Parnell disrupted the chamber’s sedate procedures in pursuit of Irish Home Rule more than 130 years ago.

Under Parnell’s leadership, the Irish Party adopted obstructionist tactics that brought the work of the Commons to a standstill for days on end. The most famous filibuster lasted for 41 hours in 1881 but the Irish MPs made a nuisance of themselves day in and day out in pursuit of their political goal.

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, a Member of the European Parliament he wants to divorce, also revealed that he has “long been a great admirer” of Parnell. In fact, he keeps a picture of the 19th century constitutional nationalist in his Brussels office.

Parnell was “the Great Disruptor of the U.K. parliament” Farage said, according to several media reports. “I have tried, in the same way, to cause some disruption in the European Parliament … If you believe in the cause of national freedom and self-determination, you cannot consent to Brussels rule or being a member of the European Union.”

Many Irish seemed displeased about Parnell being exhumed by the Brexiteers.

“It is a compliment to Parnell – back-handed or otherwise – to suggest that his impact continues to resonate today. But beyond that, the politics espoused by Rees-Mogg and Farage shows no sympathy with Ireland,” the Times editorialized.

“No doubt [Rees-Mogg] was trying to imply that the Irish are always troublesome and that insistence on the backstop is in a tradition of Irish obstruction of British politics,” historian Felix Larkin wrote in a letter to The Guardian. “But he should remember that if it were not for Daniel O’Connell he would be ineligible to take his seat in the House of Commons by virtue of his [Catholic] religion.”

Parnell was even trending on Twitter. Some select posts:

  • Nice to see Parnell causing a bit of bother in the House of Commons again.
  • [Rees-Mogg] doesn’t deserve to even mention [Parnell’s] name.
  • Fairly certain that Parnell would have kicked the shit out of Rees-Mogg.

Rest in Peace: Parnell’s grave at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, July 2016.

Pence hit for cross-Ireland commute; Brexit comment

UPDATE:

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

The Doonbeg boondoggle: “Pence’s stay at Trump’s resort reeks of corruption.” Washington Post editorial

“As Pence read from the autocue and Irish eyes definitely stopped smiling, it was clear he was channeling His Master’s Voice. Trump is a fan of Brexit and of Boris.” — Miriam Lord in The Irish Times

ORIGINAL POST:

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is being roundly criticized for spending his two nights in Ireland at the Doonbeg, County Clare, golf resort owned by his boss, U.S. President Donald Trump.

Most of Pence’s business is in Dublin, 180 miles east on the opposite side of the island. In America, this would be like Pence staying in Allentown, Pennsylvania, while he conducted business in Washington, D.C. Cue the Billy Joel classic.

“… the opportunity to stay at the Trump National in Doonbeg, to accommodate the unique footprint that comes with our security detail and other personnel, made it logical,” Pence said, according to Politico.

The bigger story is that Pence (and Trump) appear to be throwing Ireland under the Brexit bus. The Irish Times reported the Veep’s meeting with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar “did not go entirely to plan” as the American leader “made an unexpected intervention … on Brexit that is far from helpful as Ireland enters a crucial period in the those negotiations.”

Varadkar told Pence that Ireland “must stand our ground on the withdrawal agreement, an agreement which was carefully negotiated to overcome all these risks. … And so Mr Vice-President I ask that you bring that message back to Washington with you. This is not a problem of our making.”

Pence refused to take questions from dozens of assembled reporters, The Guardian reported.

U.S. Vice-President Pence signs the guest book at Áras an Uachtaráin. Also shown, left to right, Sabina Higgins, Irish President Micheal D Higgins, and Karen Pence. MAXWELLPHOTOGRAPHY.IE

 

Kerry & Dublin Tie in All-Ireland Final; Redo Sept. 14

An epic All-Ireland Final between defending champions Dublin and all-time wins leader Kerry has ended tied, requiring a Sept. 14 rematch.

  • “The closing stages of this game were incredible to witness, Croke Park shaking on its foundations at every tackle made and score kicked. The tension was unbearable,” RTÉ’s Peter Sweeney reported.
  • “Packed with drama from start to finish neither outfit could summon a knockout blow in an intense game featuring so many intriguing subplots,” Cian O’Connell wrote for the GAA website.

Michael Fitzsimons, Dublin (in blue), and Paul Geaney, Kerry, (green), during the tie match Sept. 1. GAA photo.

Dublin is playing for a record fifth straight All-Ireland title. Kerry won four successive titles from 1929 to 1932, then repeated the feat 1978 to 1981. A last-minute goal by Offaly in the 1982 final defeated Kerry by one point. Wexford also claimed four consecutive All-Ireland crowns from 1915 to 1918.

Kerry has the most wins since the tournament began in 1887, with 37, and Dublin is next with 28. Galway, with nine titles, is a distant third place. (The championship was not played in 1888, when teams traveled to America to raise money and promote awareness for the sports of the then four-year-old Gaelic Athletic Association.)

Read more history of the championship and Sam Maguire Cup.

Catching up with modern Ireland: August

I’m posting the August round up a few days before the Kerry-Dublin All-Ireland Final, and will update the result in a fresh post. I did not publish a July round up due to my two-week travels in Ireland.

In late July/early August, people on both sides the Irish border shrugged when I asked about Brexit: there was concern, but not panic. Now, developments are gathering pace ahead of the Oct. 31 deadline. Brexit is intensifying like a hurricane, with the outcome equally unpredictable. British PM Boris Johnson has abruptly suspended the opening of Parliament; an alternative proposal to solve the Irish border riddle is gaining attention.

People on each side of the border voiced caution when I asked about whether a messy, “no deal” Brexit would lead to Irish reunification. “Not right off,” was the general consensus. The passage below is from Daniel Finn’s Aug. 21 piece in Foreign Affairs, Ireland’s Rocky Road to Unity: Can Demographic Shifts Undo a Hundred Years of Separation?

The terms of the impending separation from the European Union [Brexit] remain uncertain, but nothing since the June 2016 referendum has discouraged the belief that the end result will be messy and disruptive. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, Northern Ireland will take a much bigger and more immediate hit than the rest of the United Kingdom, because of its reliance on cross-border trade with the south. In a region that voted to remain in the EU by a solid majority (56 to 44 percent), that prospect is widely and bitterly resented. Especially among soft nationalists and soft unionists—those who take a more pragmatic and transactional view of the union with Britain—the shock of a chaotic Brexit could push more voters to embrace Irish unity as a safer option than remaining tethered to the United Kingdom.

  • Fáilte Ireland and accountancy firm Crowe have developed a Brexit Readiness Check for businesses to determine “how prepared you are to respond to the potential impact of Brexit.”
  • Catholics and Protestants lived side by side in Northern Ireland for decades, “but they had very few social or economic ties across the communities,” academic researchers Joseph M. Brown and Gordon C. McCord wrote in The Washington Post story marking the 50th anniversary of the Troubles. “This meant geographic proximity bred violence instead of mutual tolerance.”
  • The New York Times this month published several stories about Ireland and Northern Ireland, ranging from surfing and television to abortion and housing:

Chasing Waves on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

In ‘Derry Girls,’ the Lighter Side of Life in a Conflict Zone

Climate of Fear: When One Part of a Country Bans Abortion

Housing Crisis Grips Ireland a Decade After the Property Bubble Burst

From an evening walk on Inisheer, looking west to Inis Meain.

St. Colman’s Cathedral celebrates its centennial

UPDATE:

  • At the centenary Mass, Bishop of Cloyne William Crean said: “One hundred years on an unimaginably different Ireland, Europe and global reality prevails. In the North of Ireland, the ancient divisions have eluded resolution. In the south, a liberal secular world view seeks to suppress the Christian narrative.” Notwithstanding the church’s clergy sex abuse scandals and other challenges, he was confident “the prophets of doom were mistaken” in condemning the church to “a dire future”. Coverage from The Irish Times.
  • Engineers Journal detailed, “The building of St Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh, 1868-1915“.

ORIGINAL POST:

One of Ireland’s most iconic Catholic churches, St. Colman’s Cathedral in Cobh, has reached its 100th anniversary.

A special Mass will be celebrated Sunday, Aug. 25, by Bishop William Crean, joined by Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, Apostolic Nuncio, and clergy and parishioners from the 46 parishes of the Diocese of Cloyne in County Cork. Irish composer Bernard Sexton has created special music and hymns for the centenary.

The foundation stone for St. Colman’s was laid in 1868, a year after the Fenian Rising. The neo-Gothic church was substantially completed in 1915, when the harbor town was still known as Queenstown. The war-delayed consecration took place Aug. 12, 1919, followed two weeks later by solemn commemoration ceremonies overseen by Cardinal Michael Logue, according to this diocesan history.  

The Irish Examiner exclaimed:

A splendid symbol of the undying faith of the Irish people–a faith as firmly fixed as the granite walls of the Cathedral itself–the Mother Church of the Dioceses of Cloyne looks on the heaving waters of the eternal sea, and proclaims that Catholic Ireland discerns truth beyond material mundane affairs … Ireland and Irish Catholics can feel a justifiable pride in the imposing edifice that overlooks Cork Harbour, which is now finished and devoted to the service of God. … St. Colman’s Cathedral now stands for all time a monument to the Faith and zeal of Irish Catholics …1

St. Colman’s Cathedral in Cobh, formerly Queenstown, in County Cork.

The cathedral was not the only big building opened that summer in Cork. In July, the first tractors rolled off the Ford plant assembly line on the site of a former city park and racecourse on the south bank of the River Lee. The plant had 330,000 square feet of covered floor space. It provided employment for nearly 2,000 workers in the desperate post-war economy.

“On the edge of the sidewalks in Cork there is a human curbing of idle men,” Chicago Daily News correspondent Ruth Russell reported. “Just now most of them are sons of farmers or farm hands, for the farmer of the south is turning his acres back to grazing and extra hands are not needed.”2

These two developments, spiritual and commercial, happened as the Irish revolution continued to gather pace. By October 1920, the hunger strike death of Lord Mayor of Cork Terence James MacSwiney shocked the city and the world. His funeral was from the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Anne, about 10 miles from St. Colman’s in the heart of Cork city.

St. Colman’s was the last dominate structure hundreds of thousands of Irish emigrants viewed as they sailed to America from Queenstown/Cobh in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. My Kerry-born grandmother and grandfather were among this cohort, leaving six years before the dedication ceremonies. I am certain they would have wandered up the hill to whisper a prayer inside St. Colman’s before their departure. Because of that, I was as emotionally moved to enter St. Colman’s as to walk the Cobh waterfront the first time I visited Ireland in 2000.

May God grant that St. Colman’s of Cobh stands to welcome the faithful of Ireland and the world for another 100 years.

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.