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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.

Protestant preacher helped promote Irish independence

Scots-Irish Presbyterian minister James Alexander Hamilton Irwin of Killead Church, County Antrim, arrived in America in March 1920 to help promote Irish independence. His particular mission: counter the prevailing notion that Irish nationalism was strictly a Catholic desire. The Protestant preacher toured with republican leader Éamon de Valera, who had reached U.S. shores in June 1919.

Rev. J.A.H.Irwin, a Presbyterian minister from near Belfast, arrived in America in March 1920 to present the case of Irish Protestants in favor of self-determination for Ireland. Library of Congress photo.

In one of his earliest U.S. newspaper interviews1, Rev. Irwin, then 44, said:

I have come to the United States mainly because I feel that the Irish issue is likely to be misconstrued to the American public. I knew that a deputation was sent to represent the extreme Unionist, and I knew that the southern aspect was capably presented by Mr. de Valera and his friends, but I felt that there was an entirely different aspect and point of view that neither of these parties could or would put before the American people.

It is absolutely and entirely false to say the issue [of Irish independence] is a religious one. … The question is purely political and economic. [Unionist leader] Sir Edward Carson … has allowed himself and his followers to use [sectarianism] as the last refuge of a defeated politician. He knows that it is the only weapon he can use with effect on the American people, who are lovers of freedom and justice, and who, he knows, would resent any form of Catholic aggression.

The Irish Press of Philadelphia, a pro-nationalist weekly with ties to the provisional republican government in Dublin, reported on Rev. Irwin’s April 5, 1920, address to the Protestant Friends of Ireland2 in New York. “A sea of Irish faces, 5,000 strong, all eagerly wait[ed] to hear the speaker of the evening,” began the story3 by Agnes Newman, sister of 1916 Easter Rising martyr Sir Roger Casement.

Dr. Irwin emphasized the fact that if Britain would withdraw her present army of occupation from Ireland not one hair upon the head of a man, woman or child would be injured in any part of Ireland. He strongly denounced the oppression and cruelty of the present ‘Reign of Terror’ and said he had traveled these thousands of miles not in the cause of humanity alone, but in the cause of Christianity.

Within weeks of his U.S. arrival, Unionist forces began a smear campaign against Rev. Irwin. “His views [are] absolutely opposed to the whole mass of Irish Presbyterian opinion … his statement … a mass of falsehoods and misrepresentations. He has no credentials to speak for either Presbyterians or Protestants,” stated a widely-circulated April 10, 1920, letter from Belfast, attributed only to “responsible representatives.”4

Nevertheless, Rev. Irwin became a regular platform guest with de Valera as the Irish bond drive toured through the Southern states of America, including a controversial stop in Birmingham, Alabama. (I’ll explore that in a future post.) Rev. Irwin also visited several Canadian cities.

Upon his January 1921 return to Ulster, the preacher was arrested by British authorities on weapons charges. As colorfully described by the Fermanagh Herald, “a farmer’s gun for which there was no ammunition, and a revolver which would not revolve, with ammunition that would not fit it.”5

News coverage on both sides of the Atlantic suggested Rev. Irwin was the first Presbyterian minister arrested by the British state since the rebellion of 1798. These contemporary sources reported he was held at the Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast, and/or the Ballykinlar internment camp in County Down; either for a few days or several weeks of a two-year sentence.

That summer, a special commission impaneled at Killead church considered complaints about  the preacher’s activities in America. The majority opinion was that “if outsiders had left the congregation alone there would have been no occasion for the commission. It was due, they said, to outside influence for political purposes.”6 Rev. Irwin remained at Killead for another five years, moved to Scotland until 1935, then settled in Dublin.7

In 1937, de Valera consulted with Rev. Irwin about the composition of the new Constitution of Ireland. The preacher later joined de Valera’s Fianna Fáil political party, where he served on the national executive from 1945 until his death in 1954.8

Rev. J.A.H. Irwin in March 1921. Library of Congress photo.

Ruth Russell remembered in stone … 57 years later

On Oct. 2, 1961, former journalist and retired public school teacher Ruth Russell, “of sound and disposing mind and memory,” signed her Last Will and Testament in Chicago. Her first direction was to be buried in Fayetteville, Arkansas, “next to the grave of my sister, Cecilia Russell.” Her second direction called on the University of Arkansas to use the proceeds of the $10,000, 1960 U.S. Series H Bond she donated to establish a scholarship in Cecilia’s name to help “needy and worthwhile individuals” with the study of French.1

Ruth Russell, 1919 passport photo.

Ruth Russell, who reported from revolutionary Ireland in 1919 for the Chicago Daily News, died two years later, on Nov. 28, 1963, of heart disease.2 She was 74.

Headlines about the assassination and burial of U.S. President John F. Kennedy had dominated the news during the final week of her life. Irish President Éamon de Valera, 81, was among the international mourners who attended Kennedy’s funeral in Washington, D.C. Russell had interviewed de Valera 44 years earlier in Dublin. He provided a supportive letter that was published at the front of her 1920 book, What’s the matter with Ireland? “You succeeded in understanding Irish conditions and grasped the Irish viewpoint,” the revolutionary leader wrote.3

See my five-part monograph, “Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland

Russell’s body was conveyed to Fayetteville, a 650-mile journey mostly likely accomplished by rail. She had moved there in 1954 after retiring from the Chicago public school system to join Cecilia, a romance languages at the University of Arkansas since 1942.4 Ruth remained in Fayetteville after her sister died in October 1959. In August 1963, nearly two years after signing her will, she returned to Chicago and entered the Rosary Hill Convalescent Home, 16 miles southwest of the Hyde Park neighborhood of her childhood.5 She died in the care of Dominican Sisters.

Mourners prayed the rosary for Russell the evening of Dec. 2, 1963, at Moore’s Chapel, Fayetteville; followed the next morning by the funeral Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church.6 Father Edward R. Maloy presided at the burial in the church cemetery on a clear, dry day as temperatures climbed to near 60.7 The priest prayed:

Eternal rest grant unto her, O’ Lord,
And let perpetual light shine upon her.
May her soul, and the soul of all the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen

Fr. Maloy and whatever number of mourners joined him at the graveside turned from the headstone Ruth Russell purchased after her sister’s death: the surname engraved slightly above center; Cecilia’s first name and birth and death years in the bottom left corner. The bottom right space for Ruth’s name and years to be similarly etched remained smooth that day … and for the next 57 years.

Russell grave, March 2019.

Like her sister, Ruth Russell never married or had children. Her will named two nephews, two young heirs of one of her late brothers, and a brother-in-law, as one-fifth beneficiaries to any funds that remained after her estate was settled, excluding the $10,000 bond for the university scholarship. None of these people, or her Fayetteville friends, engaged a monument company to inscribe Ruth’s name on the headstone. Such oversights are not unusual, as I detailed in a 2017 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story, “Life Without an End Date“.

I first learned that Ruth’s name was not on the gravestone through the Findagrave.com website, part of my research of Illinois and Arkansas newspaper obituaries that referenced her life in Chicago and Fayetteville. Paul A. Warren, operations director at St. Joseph’s, confirmed the oversight when he provided the photo above, and a copy of the church’s handwritten burial log that shows Ruth’s internment details.

With Paul’s help, and the excellent work of the Emerson Monument Company, Springdale, Ark., (Thank you Alison and Glenn), Ruth’s name was added to the gravestone in March 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across America. It is a fitting memorial at the 100th anniversary of her reporting from Ireland and activism on behalf of Irish independence. It is a lasting remembrance … at last … like the Cecilia Russell Memorial Scholarship that Ruth endowed and that remains active at the university.

Rest in peace, Ruth.

Russell grave, March 2020.

St. Patrick’s Day primary & JFK in 1960

UPDATE:

Here’s the headline I expected to see: Joe Biden Wins Big in St. Patrick’s Day Democratic Primaries. The former vice-president had convincing victories in Florida, Illinois, and Arizona.

ORIGINAL POST:

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Illinois, Florida, and Arizona will hold Democratic presidential primaries on St. Patrick’s Day, a rare political event now overshadowed by the global health crisis. Ohio, which also had a scheduled March 17 primary, has postponed until June 2.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who frequently boasts of his Irish heritage, is poised to gather more delegates in his march to the nomination. The remainder of the primary schedule, and both party’s national conventions this summer, now seem in jeopardy.

U.S. elections are held on Tuesdays based on 19th century reasoning to avoid the Sunday sabbath and Wednesday agricultural market days. The party primary system was created shortly before World War I. In presidential election years since then, St. Patrick’s Day first fell on a Tuesday in 1936, but there was no primary. Republicans and Democrats took a break between the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary earlier in March, and the Wisconsin primary in April.

The same happened in 1964, the next time St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Tuesday of a presidential election cycle. Four years earlier, Irish-American U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts won the New Hampshire primary on March 8, 1960,  with 85 percent of the vote, the balance split among three fringe or protest candidates. In the Republican primary, then-Vice President Richard Nixon won nearly 90 percent of the vote, with 3 percent writing in Kennedy’s name. The next primary was April 5, 1960, in Wisconsin.

Eight days after Kennedy’s New Hampshire victory, the Associated Press released a St. Patrick’s Day photo of him widely published in U.S. newspapers. JFK was not the first Irish American Catholic to run for the nation’s highest office, (Al Smith, 1928), but he became the first to win.

The first and only previous St. Patrick’s Day presidential primary was in 1992, when Illinois and Michigan each held nominating contests. President George H.W. Bush carried two thirds of the GOP vote in both states over former Nixon speech writer Pat Buchanan. For the Democrats, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton won slim majorities in a crowded field in both contests.

Clinton defeated the incumbent Bush in November 1992. The new president become a great friend of Ireland, contributing to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement during his second term.

Chicago magazine tells the story of the 1970 Illinois primary that forced bars and pubs to close on St. Patrick’s Day because of an early 20th century law–since repealed–designed to keep politicians from buying votes.

St. Patrick’s Day in America, 1920: Politics and poetry

The Irish War of Independence had grow increasingly violent by St. Patrick’s Day, 1920. In America, Sinn Féin leader Éamon de Valera continued his effort to raise money and political support for the Irish cause. His St. Patrick’s Day message was quoted in many U.S. newspapers. It said, in part:

Sons and Daughters of the Gael, wherever you be today, in the name of the Motherland, greeting! … Never before have the scattered children of Eire had such an opportunity for noble service. Today you can serve not only Ireland, but the world. … Those of our race who are citizens of this mighty land of America, whose thought will help to mould the policy of the leader among Nations–how much the world looks to you this St. Patrick’s Day–hopes in you–trusts in you. You can so easily accomplish that which is needed. You have only to have the will–the way is so clear. What would not the people in the old land give for the power which is yours!1

Éamon de Valera

New York City’s Irish community “answered the call to arms” in de Valera’s message “by throwing the greatest parade in the history of a city that held its first in 1766.”2 The Irish leader attended the March 17 Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, celebrated by Archbishop Patrick Hayes, who was appointed to the post a year earlier. Both men were seated together at the parade reviewing stand in front of the landmark church, along with New York City Mayor John F. Hylan and New York State Gov. Al Smith.

By odd coincidence, considering the Irish visitor, all four of these honorary parade-goers were New York natives. De Valera was born in the city in 1882 to a Irish immigrant mother and a Spanish father, who died three years later. The toddler was sent to Ireland to be raised in County Limerick by his relatives.

Any small talk about their shared birthplace, however, was secondary to the simmering tensions between de Valera and the American-based Friends of Irish Freedom, which was led by Gaelic American newspaper editor John Devoy and New York Supreme Court Judge Daniel F. Cohalan. At issue were disputes over control of the money being collected for Ireland and the efforts to influence American political leaders and U.S. policy.

None of this was on public view for the big day. As Hannigan writes:

At the end of St. Patrick’s Day, when Ireland held the city in its thrall, the impression may have been that the various combatants had put aside their personal grievances for the greater good. Though de Valera and Cohalan were at the same dinner by evening’s end with the appearance all was well, the truth was much different. The two men seemed to picture of professionalism that night, the politicking, scheming and plotting continued backstage. It would come to a boil very soon.”3

***

For St. Patrick’s Day 1920, Denis Aloysius McCarthy released a poem that emphasized the historic connections between Ireland and America, especially in the struggle for freedom. Like de Valera’s message, “St. Patrick’s Day” also was circulated in U.S. papers.4 It including these stanzas:

When America first uprose
And flung defiance at her foes
No laggards were the Irish then
In purse or purpose, means or men.

And ever since in all our wars,
Wherever gleamed the Stripes and Stars,
The loyal Irish, heart and hand,
Have fought for this beloved land.

So in the springtime of the year
When St. Patrick’s Day again is here,
T’is not alone on Irish breasts
The spray of Ireland’s shamrocks rests.

Our great Republic’s heart
Reveals today its tend’rer part,
As, smiling in her state serene,
She wears a touch of Ireland’s green.

Denis A. McCarthy

This poem should not confused with McCarthy’s “St. Patrick’s Day Memories” , from his 1906 collection, Voices From Erin.

The poet and journalist emigrated from Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, to America in 1886. He eventually settled in Boston. The Boston Globe did not mention him as having strong feelings about Irish independence in its August 1931 news obituary.

St. Patrick’s Day 2020 disrupted by pandemic & politics

UPDATES:

March 14:

  • The U.S. government reversed an earlier exemption from the 30-day European travel ban for Ireland and the U.K. The prohibition on the two islands will take effect midnight March 16.
  • Masses are being cancelled across most dioceses in Ireland for at least the next three weeks.

March 13:

  • It’s not just St. Patrick’s Day parades that are cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic; it’s also St. Patrick’s Day masses, scheduled either for Sunday or March 17. The Catholic Archdioceses of Washington, D.C., is closing all its churches from March 16 through March 27. In Chicago, Old St. Patrick’s Church is closed March 13-March 23. The Cleveland diocese cancelled its March 17 masses. A growing number of dioceses are suspending the weekly mass obligation.

St. Patrick’s in Washington, D.C., on March 10. The doors are being closed March 16.

March 12:

  • “I know that some of this is coming as a real shock. And it’s going to involve big changes in the way we live our lives. And I know that I’m asking people to make enormous sacrifices. But we’re doing it for each other,” Varadkar said in announcing that Ireland’s schools, universities and childcare facilities are being closed until at least March 29.
  • The board of the New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade announced “with a heavy heart” that the 2020 edition is postponed until “a later date,” the first scratch since 1762.
  • Varadkar and Trump met at the White House. But they did not shake hands or exchange the traditional bowl of shamrocks, the Associated Press reported. Varadkar addressed the Ireland Funds gala dinner Wednesday night at the National Building Museum, according to The Journal.ie.
  • White House officials have confirmed that Ireland is not included in the 30-day European travel ban announced by President Trump to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. The Washington Post explains why. In his Oval Office address, Trump only named the U.K. as being exempt.

March 11:

  • New York parade pin

    There has been mixed reporting through the day about whether New York City will cancel its scheduled March 17 parade for the first time since 1762. “This is 259 years consecutive years the parade has been marching in New York. It’s an unbelievable tradition to break,” parade president Tommy Smyth told The Daily News. Here is the parade’s official website.

  • Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Savannah, and smaller U.S. cities have cancelled parades set for March 14 or March 15.
  • Ireland recorded its first coronavirus death, said to be an elderly patient in the eastern portion of the island, The Irish Times reported.

ORIGINAL POST:

It’s not a usual season of St. Patrick’s Day events, socially or politically. Ireland has cancelled all parades due to ongoing threats from coronavirus. The official statement:

Due to the unique nature and scale of the St Patrick’s Day festivities, in terms of size, the mass gathering of local and international travelers, and the continued progression of community transmission in some European countries, along with the emergence of a small number of cases of local transmission in Ireland, the Government has decided that St Patrick’s Day parades, including the Dublin parade, will not proceed.

There are 50 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Republic and Northern Ireland as of March 10, but the number is likely to grow. The last time the parade was canceled was in 2001 because of foot-and-mouth disease.

On the U.S. side of the Atlantic, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh cancelled the city’s iconic parade “out of an abundance of caution.”  Other parades across America also have been scratched, including Newport, R.I., Hartford, Conn., Denver, and San Francisco.

Organizers in New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Savannah say their events are still on for this weekend, but that could change any moment.

Varadkar and Trump in 2018. “Wash your hands.”

Political events

Nominal Taoiseach Leo Varadkar cancelled a series of meetings in New York in connection with Ireland’s bid for a seat on the United Nations’ Security Council. He is still scheduled to travel to Washington, D.C., for events on March 11 and March 12, including a White House meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump and the traditional shamrock presentation.

The Irish Times’ U.S.  correspondent Suzanne Lynch reported Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence will boycott [my emphasis] the annual St. Patrick’s lunch at the U.S. Capitol because of tensions with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The B-word, of course, comes from the Irish Land War. A White House spokesman, referring to Pelosi’s ripping up a copy of Trump’s State of the Union address earlier this year, said:

Since the Speaker has chosen to tear this nation apart with her actions and her rhetoric, the president will not participate in moments where she so often chooses to drive discord and disunity, and will instead celebrate the rich history and strong ties between the United States and Ireland at the White House on March 12.  … The relationship between our two countries has never been stronger.

Fine Gael‘s Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin are in close talks about forming a coalition government in Ireland, now more than a month since the general election failed to produce a majority. The Journal.ie noted Enda Kenny curtailed his St. Patrick’s trip in 2016 while in a similar position of government formation talks.

On March 10, Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster (DUP) and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill (Sinn Fein) cancelled their scheduled trip to Washington.

Ireland’s broadband push recalls rural electrification effort

In a ceremony days before Christmas 1947, Ballymacelligott parish priest Fr. M. O’Donoghue “made alive” an electric connection to the rural community four miles east of Tralee in County Kerry. (The town obtained electricity 20 years earlier.) “Appropriately the first house to be lighted up was the House of God,” The Kerryman reported.1

The church connection completed a year of similar events in the Irish government’s Rural Electrification Scheme. At the time, about two thirds of Irish homes were without electricity. It would take until the late 1970s to connect 99 percent of those homes, with the Black Valley in Kerry, about 25 miles south of Ballymacelligott, being among the last places lighted.

Now, two generations after completing the electric grid, the Irish government has embarked on a similar effort to supply high-speed broadband service beyond the country’s cities and towns. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in November hailed the initiative as the “biggest investment in rural Ireland ever” and the “most important since rural electrification”.2

Dromiskin, County Louth, c. 1949. ESB Archives

The €3 billion National Broadband Plan (NBP) “aims to radically change the broadband landscape in Ireland,” the government’s website says. “It will ensure that all citizens and businesses have access to high speed broadband no matter where they live or work.”

Over the next four years, 1.1 million rural residents will receive broadband service through a combination of commercial and State-led investment, according to the plan, “securing equal access for every person in Ireland to opportunities which will transform [their] lives,” whether through agriculture and other economic development, healthcare, or education. The 90 percent coverage goal includes portions of Ballymacelligott. 

The project is likely to have its share of setbacks on the way to success, as happened with rural electrification. That history is detailed at the online Electricity Supply Board (ESB) Archives, and in Michael J. Shiel’s 1984 book, The Quiet Revolution: The Electrification of Rural Ireland, 1946-1976. Sheil was a Galway-born, Electricity Supply Board (ESB) engineer at the start of the venture who eventually became one of its directors. He also was one of its first customers, with his residence transformed into a “show house” to persuade reluctant farmers about the benefits of electricity.3

Electrification had massive social and cultural consequences for rural Ireland. Many rural households replaced the free 100W bulb they received with a lower wattage because the new light made them feel sick or “tended to put out [the glow of] the fire.4 Others at first agreed to take electricity, then changed their minds, in part because of the costs. They became known as “backsliders.” 

In a 1984 review of The Quiet Revolution, Dan Collins wrote: “Some to this day regret that rural Ireland ever became ensnared in the State-backed corporate scheme which they argued sounded the death knell for many of the old traditions which characterized the unique heritage of the Irish.”5 Historian Diarmaid Ferriter at least twice has used an anecdote from Quiet Revolution about a War of Independence veteran who asserted, “it wasn’t for street lamps that we fought.”6

But rural electrification expanded inexorably. Shiel, in a 2007 chapter for a U.S. energy management publication,7 maintained that government officials and business leaders recognized the positive social and psychological components of rural electrification. “They viewed electricity not only as a means to improve rural productivity, but also as a way to free rural people, particularly women, from the age-old drudgery of farm life. … It gave rural people a belief in themselves and their potential, which had hitherto been lacking.”

Kitchen Power: Women’s Experiences of Rural Electrification”, an exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland/Country Life, Mayo, explores the female perspective of the “quiet revolution” until July. Listen to oral history interviews with four women who lived through the transformation.

The digital divide is also a problem in rural America, just as spotty electric service kept these communities isolated during the Great Depression. In January, the U.S. government announced a Rural Digital Opportunity Fund totaling $20.4 billion over 10 years.

“It’s about time. They take care of their cities, but they don’t take care of you,” President Donald Trump said in a speech to the American Farm Bureau Federation, exploiting the same rural/urban division that is also exposed in Ireland, whether related to garda stations or post offices, economic development or healthcare services.8

Faster access to the internet will not by itself solve such problems on either side of the Atlantic. “Utopia of course is far from being reached,” Shiel concluded in his 1984 book. “At the time of writing there are immense problems, economic and social, looming. The progress of the people of rural Ireland, however, … has been by any standards remarkable.”9  

And so the remarkable changes in rural Ireland since 1947 … or even since 1984 … will continue with the implementation of broadband service. Sometime in the coming years the Ballymacelligott church pews will be digital hot spots.

First pole at Kilsallaghan, County Dublin, Nov. 5, 1946. ESB Archives.

Ruth Russell in revolutionary Ireland talk coming March 7

Thank you Irish Railroad Workers Museum. Angie & I enjoyed giving the presentation. Thanks to all who attended and asked great questions. MH

***

I am presenting “What’s the matter with Ireland?” at 11 a.m. Saturday, March 7, at the Irish Railroad Workers Museum in Baltimore. The free talk is based on my research and writing about journalist Ruth Russell, who reported from revolutionary Ireland in 1919, then became active in the Irish cause in America.

Please register in advance. The museum is located at 918 Lemon St., a group of five alley houses where many Irish immigrants lived from the mid-19th century. It is near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

Ruth Russell in 1919

Russell worked for the Chicago Daily News, then a leading U.S. provider of foreign news. Her reporting from Ireland was syndicated across America, including the Baltimore Sun. What’s the matter with Ireland? was the title of her 1920 book based on that reporting.

I presented my research at 2019 annual conferences of the American Journalism Historians Association and the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland. Here is my five-part monograph:

My wife Angie Drobnic Holan, PolitiFact.com editor-in-chief, will join me to read selections of Russell’s work. We also will recreate portions of Russell’s December 1920 testimony before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland.

The Irish Railroad Workers Museum and Shrine at 918 Lemon St. in Baltimore.

Irishman leading global caronavirus response

The first case of the Covid-19 coronavirus has been confirmed in the Republic of Ireland, The Journal.ie reports. One case of caronavirus was confirmed in late February in Northern Ireland.

Irishman Michael J. Ryan is a leading figure in the global effort to fight the threat in his role as executive director of the World Health Organization’s health emergencies program. He appears frequently in media reports.

“This is a reality check for every government on the planet,” The New York Times quoted Ryan on Feb. 28. “Wake up. Get ready. This virus may be on its way.”

Michael J. Ryan

Ryan completed his medical training at the National University of Ireland, Galway; a Master’s in Public Health at University College Dublin; and specialist training in communicable disease control at the Health Protection Agency in London and the European Program for Intervention Epidemiology Training, according to his WHO biography.

Ryan is from Curry, on the Sligo/Mayo border, according to The Irish Times:

… he developed his taste for travel from devouring his grandmother’s copies of National Geographic. He trained as a trauma surgeon but switched to public health after suffering a life-altering back injury during the first Iraq war in 1990. That led to training in communicable diseases and a full-time post in the WHO, when he ended up as a troubleshooter in some of the most hostile environments in the world.

Catching up with modern Ireland: February

Sinn Féin topped the Feb. 8 Irish general election poll, but the Republic’s political parties have yet to agree to a governing coalition. The longer the debate drags, the increased likelihood of a new election, which some analysts say could benefit Sinn Féin. … Other February news:

  • One case of caronavirus was confirmed in Northern Ireland late in the month.
  • This island of Ireland was pummeled by three named storms: Dennis, Ciara, and Jorge.
  • An abandoned cargo vessel, or “ghost ship” washed up near the village of village Ballycotton, County Cork, during Storm Dennis. The Alta appears to have been adrift without crew since September 2018, The New York Times reported.

The Alta, near Cork. Michael Mac Sweeney

  • Julian Smith was sacked as Northern Ireland Secretary as part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle. The move came less the a month after he helped restore the North’s power-sharing executive after a three-year impasse.
  • Too popular? USA Today‘s “need to know” travel piece reported that Ireland is “filled with cultural and historic wonders … and lately with lots of tourists, too. And at many of its top sights, reservations are now either required or highly recommended.”
  • Not your grandparents’ Ireland: One of Dublin’s largest Catholic churches will be demolished and replaced with a new building one tenth in size. … Two women celebrated Northern Ireland’s first same-sex marriage.
  • Elizabeth Cullinan, who wrote about Irish-American identity, veering away from the male tradition of “ward bosses and henchmen, larger-than-life political fixers, tavern social life and father-son relationships,” died at 86.

Finally, this February includes Leap Year Day, which marks the 132nd anniversary of the opening of the Listowel & Ballybunion Railway in 1888 … or the 33rd anniversary by the quadrennial date.

The monorail was also known as the Lartigue, after its French inventor, Charles Lartigue. It operated between Listowel and Ballybunion in North Kerry until 1924.

From my archives:

Watch a 2.5-minute video of archival film footage, “Along the Line“.

The Lartigue monorail in Kerry opened on Leap Year Day in 1888. The line closed in 1924.

 

 

Did JFK want to ‘get even’ for Boston’s anti-Irish Catholic bias?

In February 1960, a month after John F. Kennedy announced for the U.S. presidency, a syndicated newspaper columnist suggested the campaign was prompted by his family’s desire to “get even” for decades of prejudice against them.

“Get even … is a hard phrase to explain,” Edwin A. Lahey, chief correspondent for Knight Newspapers, wrote in a dispatch from the campaign trail in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He continued:

But basically it means that any ambitious man from Boston with Irish forebears needs spiritual compensation for the humiliating experiences of his grandparents, who suffered social ostracism and economic discrimination at the hands of the Boston Brahmins.  … Unless you have an Irish Catholic background, and have seen the Boston mind in operation, you cannot understand the full nuances of the phrase which describes a Boston Irishman’s success and distinction as a means of ‘getting even.’

Lahey was no slapdash columnist. In 1939, he joined the inaugural class of the Neiman Fellows at Harvard University. He became Washington bureau chief for the Chicago Daily News, then moved over to a similar post with the Knight chain.1

Lahey based the “get even” notion in his column on a just-published book, The Remarkable Kennedys, by Boston journalist Joe McCarthy. The 190-page work is a profile of the family, especially the candidate and his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., a business tycoon and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom just before World War II. McCarthy wrote:

Where does the Kennedy drive come from? Most probably it stems originally from the chafing, frustrating atmosphere of anti-Irish and anti-Catholic prejudice in Boston fifty years ago that made the young Joe Kennedy determined to push himself and his children to a place at the top of the world where they would not have to take a back seat to anybody.2

McCarthy (1916-1980) was born to 1890s Irish immigrant parents3 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, across the Charles River from Boston, a year before JFK’s birth. After graduating from Boston College, McCarthy began a newspaper reporting and magazine editing career that included producing an overview of Ireland for Time-Life.4 

Book advert in The Boston Globe, Feb. 28, 1960.

A profile of McCarthy based on the release of The Remarkable Kennedys colorfully described him as “a tall, slightly stooped, gray-haired man in his middle 40’s” who “lumbered” across the room and “slowly rummaged through a tiny pile of rumpled newspapers, envelopes and magazines he had stuffed under his weather-beaten trenchcoat thrown carelessly over the back of a chair.”5

In the book, McCarthy quoted Joe Kennedy as saying he moved his young family from Boston proper to suburban Brookline (where JFK was born) and other homes in New York, Cape Cod, and Florida, because “it was no place to bring up Irish Catholic children. I didn’t want them to go through what I had to go through.”6

There are numerous similar passages, such as this one in McCarthy’s voice:

Resentment probably burned hotter in Joe Kennedy than in most of the Boston Irish of his generation because he associated more closely with the Yankee Brahmins than did most Irish of his time. Consequently, he was more exposed to slurs, more aware from first-hand experience of the cool condescension with which Beacon Hill looked down on people of his religion and racial background.7

The Kennedy family’s Irish-Catholic heritage and their national ambitions were well documented before 1960, including beyond Boston and Massachusetts political circles. But JFK’s run for the White House and the political journalism of Lahey and McCarthy magnified the anti-Irish Catholic narrative.

The Lahey column swept across the country: The Miami Herald, Feb. 12; The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, Feb. 18; Detroit Free Press, Feb. 18; Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller-Times, Feb. 19; The Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal, Feb. 19; Press and Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, N.Y.), Feb. 21; Oakland (California) Tribune, Feb. 24; The Herald-News (Passaic, N.J.), Feb. 25; and likely many others that did not appear in my searches of digital newspaper archives. McCarthy’s book was serialized in many newspapers later that autumn, publishing just before Election Day.

In a book review, The New York Times also noted that “Kennedy, père, second generation descendant of Irish Catholic immigrants, suffered all the slights and indignities Brahmin Boston could contrive for its despised minorities in the decades around the turn of the [20th] century.”8

Kennedy’s Catholicism remained a larger campaign issue than his Irish roots, since prejudice against the religion was hardly confined to Boston’s elites. In November, “Kennedy’s victory not only broke through the age-old American bigotry against Catholics, but it also overcame the prejudice against the Irish.”9

Sixty years later, what is probably most remembered from McCarthy’s book is the prophetic quote that he obtained from JFK: “Just as I went into politics because [older brother] Joe died, if anything happened to me tomorrow, my brother Bobby would run for my seat in the Senate. And if Bobby died, Teddy would take over for him.”10

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