Category Archives: Arts & Culture

Catching up with modern Ireland: April

The COVID-19 pandemic remains the dominant story in Ireland, as it is in most of the world. Wish there was happier, more diverse news in this month’s roundup … maybe May:

  • As of April 27, the coronavirus death rate was roughly the same in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland: 1,102 deaths, or 22 per 100,000 population in the south; 405 deaths, or 21 per 100,000, in the north, according to The Irish Times. (The number of cases and fatalities reported by media and government varies widely.)
  • Reunification of the island of Ireland through cooperative pandemic exit strategy? “Happily, there is now an official agreement between the two jurisdictions that could facilitate the achievement of a harmonized approach,” one public health official wrote to the Times. “… there is a ‘compelling case’ for ‘a common approach to action in both jurisdictions’ where appropriate.”
  • On the other hand, Foreign Policy reported, “Not Even Coronavirus Pandemic Can Overcome Northern Ireland’s Divisions.”
  • Ireland said it would quadruple its contribution to the World Health Organization (WHO) after U.S. President Donald Trump said he would cut American funding.
  • Trump’s Doonbeg, County Clare, golf course has accepted Irish government relief to help pay furloughed workers.
  • First the St. Patrick’s Day parades, now the Twelfth of July parades: The Orange Order cancelled 17 Northern Ireland parades that commemorate the Battle of the Boyne. Locally organized Eleventh Night bonfires also are being discouraged.
  • Taoiseach Leo Varadkar rejoined the medical register to help out in the crisis. Varadkar studied medicine and worked as a doctor for seven years before leaving the profession for politics. He was removed from the medical register in 2013. The New York Times wrote an April 11 story about how the pandemic “Rescued the Image of Ireland’s Political Leader.”
  • Politicians in the Republic are still trying to form a coalition government from the outcome of the February elections.
  • The scheduled Aug. 29 college football game between the University of Notre Dame and Navy in Dublin has not yet been cancelled, despite the city’s ban on gatherings of more than 5,000 people.
  • Dublin’s Abbey Theatre is producing and posting on its YouTube channel a series of 50 pandemic-themed “theatrical postcards” called “Dear Ireland.”

Irish & American connections, before & during pandemic

In February, a month before the COVID-19 pandemic engulfed the world, I received a telephone call at my Washington, D.C., office from Michael Larkin in County Mayo, Ireland. He found me through this blog, and reached me on my mobile device, which is so much more than a phone.

More on that in a moment.

Thomas Larkin eventually returned to Mayo.

It turned out that Michael and I share a connection to Pittsburgh, the city of my birth; the destination of my Kerry emigrant grandparents; and the place where his ancestor, Thomas Larkin, secured employment with the Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania and became one of the early Telephone Pioneers of America. (Today–April 25–is National Telephone Day.)  

Michael, a health services professional, is the author of the 2019 book, Making the Right Connections. As he describes:

The book depicts the emigrant journey of Thomas Larkin, as well as themes relating to emigration, transatlantic connectivity, evolution of telecommunications, predictions made regarding the early telephones and an overview of the social history of Ireland and Irish America in the early 1900s.

While Thomas Larkin was just another Irish immigrant hoping to find employment of any kind in the USA, the words ‘connection’,  ‘connectedness’, etc., are particularly apt in the context of Irish American connectivity and also in the context of the early telephones, when the services of an operator were required to ‘make the connection’ in order for a telephone conversation to occur. 

“Believe me, the day will come when you will be able to ‘see’ the person who you are speaking to on the telephone”.

When Thomas Larkin uttered the above words, following his retirement from the Bell Telephone Company and return to a predominantly rural Ireland, they were greeted with suspicion and doubt. Perhaps if he could now ‘see’ the advances in telecommunications, or realize that some of his almost forgotten telephone memorabilia items illustrates and symbolizes Irish American connectivity in its many facets, he might simply say, “I told you so”. 

While my phone conversation with Michael was a “simple” voice connection, we just as easily could have seen each other across the Atlantic on Zoom, Skype or other digital platforms, which so many of us now use as we huddle in quarantine. I also connect with Michael, and with other friends and family in Ireland, via email and Twitter messages, sending words, images, and video in addition to voice. I can do it all on my “phone.”

Perhaps because of that incredible technology, and the extraordinary times we find ourselves living in, I am fond of the trove of my family’s hand-written letters between Ireland and Pittsburgh. The earliest date from the 1920s. The writers mention wars and sickness, economic hardships and other challenges. They also confirm good health, and share news of marriages, babies, graduations and other joys. We are often separated and unable to be with the each other, and yet always find ways to remain connected.

Making the Right Connections is available through Book Hub Publishing  and Mayo Books.

Many Irish Americans have found their ancestor’s name on these documents.

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: Mummers

Harry F. Guest

American journalist Harry F. Guest of the New York Globe spent January and February 1920 reporting from revolutionary Ireland. Upon his return to America, he wrote two dozen stories based on his interviews and observations, which were syndicated to U.S. and Canadian newspapers through May 1920. See earlier posts in this series and other stories about American reporting of Irish independence at the linked project landing page. Reader input is welcomed, including photos or links to relevant source material. MH

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Night With Irish Mummer Who Gives Performances In House Or Barn In Secret1

Guest attended “one of the most popular ways of keeping the torch of liberty lighted and fanning the flames of hatred of England in the south of Ireland … a revival of the ‘mummers‘, roving bands of actors who impersonate the ancient and modern Irish heroes.”

The reporter, guided by an escort on a dark and misty evening, “walked, or rather stumbled” across the fields to a farm house about two miles outside of Glengarriff, in County Cork. Approved by a sentry, the pair entered a barn filled with about 40 people, Guest estimated, “a dozen of whom were women.” Two lanterns dimly illuminated a small platform. He continued:

Thomas Ashe

From somewhere out of the darkness at the side of the stage a bent figure slowly made its way to the center. The face of the man was whitened and drawn as if in pain. ‘It’s Tom Ashe’ my companion whispered, meaning that the ‘mummer’ was impersonating Thomas Ashe, who died in Dublin in 1918, [sic, Sept. 25, 1917] following a hunger strike in prison. The bent figure on the platform straightened up and the lips moved:

My name is Ashe
and like a flash
From Kerry’s hills I came
And on the tree of Liberty
I carved a deathless name.

Guest quoted rhymes from other figures: Easter 1916 martyr Padriag Pearse; President of the Irish Republic Éamon de Valera, then touring America; and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland Sir John French, the government’s chief administrator at Dublin Castle. “Groans and hisses punctuated the [mummer’s] recital” for French, Guest wrote. Other impersonations included Wolfe Tone, Michael Dwyer, Robert Emmet, and Father John Murphy. 2

Guest noted that “if the audience feels secure enough,” a piper or fiddler might accompany the mummer and a dance after the performance. This was not the case at the show he attended. “The lanterns on the platform were put out, leaving the barn almost in darkness. The audience was not permitted to leave all together: they went out at twos and threes at intervals of a few minutes.”

Guest’s escort returned him to Glengarriff by a different route, “shorter, I’m thankful to say, for it was raining hard.”

Near Glengarrif, Co. Cork.

NEXT: Drastic Gov’t In Ireland Fosters Spirit of Hatred, Leading Churchmen Say 

Catching up with modern Ireland: March

There’s only one story to report in this month’s roundup: the COVID-19 pandemic, which exploded in Ireland and across the globe shortly before St. Patrick’s Day and soon cancelled parades, closed pubs and churches, and cloistered communities. As history’s longest March draws to a close, here are some key developments from the island of Ireland:

  • A combined 67 people have died, and more than 3,000 have tested positive for COVID-19, in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland as of March 29. Sadly, these numbers will grow.
  • Citizens of the Republic are on strict quarantine through April 12, Easter Sunday. Gardaí are patrolling the streets to enforce the lock down.
  • The Republic nationalized all its hospitals. “For the duration of this crisis the State will take control of all private hospital facilities and manage all of the resources for the common benefit of all of our people,” Ireland’s Health Minister Simon Harris said. “There can be no room for public versus private when it comes to pandemic.”
  • Aer Lingus completed the first of 10 scheduled round trips to bring personal protective equipment (PPE) from China to Ireland in a €208m deal, RTÉ reported March 29.

Leo Varadkar, who remains Ireland’s caretaker taoiseach after February’s election defeat, is a trained doctor. His handling of the COVID-19 crisis has generally been praised. Steve Humphreys/Pool via REUTERS

  • In the midst of the pandemic, the Republic is still trying to forge a new government. The Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil political parties, both center right but historic rivals, are reported to be nearing a deal on a new administration in the coming weeks. The left-wing Sinn Fein, which topped the Feb. 8 election, would be kept … well … isolated.
  • The Irish people paused March 26 to applauded healthcare and front line workers fighting the pandemic. “In the Dáil, TDs stood at the allotted hour, forgetting their discussions of emergency measures for a brief moment to clap with gusto in appreciation of the hundreds of battles being fought by medical staff around the country,” The Irish Times reported. In the North, the “Clap for Carers” tribute featured buildings lit blue and cathedrals ringing bells.
  • Irish Ambassador to the United States Dan Mulhall advised Irish citizens in America, especially those on short-term visas, to return to Ireland, “if there are doubts about the stability of your employment & your access to health care cover.”
  • The 50th Listowel Writers’ Week in North Kerry, scheduled for May 27-31, was postponed until 2021.
  • As encouragement to the people, Irish President Michael D. Higgins recorded his 27-year-old poem Take Care. Click the SoundCloud link in the tweet below:

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

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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.

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

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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.

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.

 

 

Language, Law, and the Maamtrasna Murders

Myles Joyce declared he was innocent of the August 1882 murders of five neighbors in rural Maamtrasna, County Galway. “I had no dealing with it, no more than the person who was never born,” he said.

Joyce, in his 40s, spoke Irish. The crown prosecutors and judge in the Dublin courtroom where he was tried for the crime spoke English. Joyce was denied a translator until he was found guilty and sentenced. He was hanged in December 1882.

Margaret Kelleher at Georgetown.

Margaret Kelleher, chair of Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama at University College Dublin, authored the 2018 book about the case, The Maamtrasna Murders: Language, Life, and Death in Nineteenth-Century. In a Feb. 19 talk at Georgetown University’s Global Irish Studies program, she acknowledged becoming aware of her own tendency to say Joyce spoke “only Irish”, instead of “Irish only,” a vestige of how the language was diminish by the official English of the ruling British state. Joyce was among just over 64,000 monoglot Irish speakers in a population of 5.1 million.

In April 2018, Irish President Michael D. Higgins granted a posthumous pardon to Joyce, concluding “the case was unsafe according the standards of the time.” Debate continues as to whether the British state that administering the 19th century court system that failed Joyce should take the same action. The bigger question, however, is whether such miscarriages of justice can be avoided today.

Kelleher reprised these thoughts from her 2018 piece in The Irish Times:

In contemporary Ireland, the arrival of new immigrants from a more diverse range of backgrounds than heretofore necessitates a significant expansion of translation and interpretation services in the judicial system; yet these needs are poorly addressed, where recognized, at service or policy level. … Our contemporary moment is one in which large-scale mobility (forced or voluntary) is occurring within a seemingly globalized society but individual migrants can find poor accommodation from judicial systems and legal processes.

I look forward to reading the book, now being published in North America by University of Chicago Press Books.

Reprising three stories for St. Valentine’s Day

It’s time for a break from the Irish elections. The first of the three previously publish stories below is focused on Ireland’s direct connection to St. Valentine. The Feb. 14 date in the other two stories is a coincidental element, but I hope you enjoy reading them all the same. MH

Statue and crypt of St. Valentine at Whitefriar Street Church, Dublin.

St. Valentine rests at Carmelite church in Dublin: The third century saint’s mortal remains are a popular attraction. Watch a 2-minute video, and link to more history from the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Whitefriar Street.

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Reporter’s 19th century visit to Ireland’s National Gallery: On Valentine’s Day 1888, American journalist William Henry Hurlbert toured the Dublin collection with Gallery Director Henry Edward Doyle. From my Ireland Under Coercion: Revisited series.

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An Irish-American’s most perilous summer, 1918: Kerryman John Ware immigrated to Pittsburgh in 1910; shipped to France as a U.S. soldier in 1917; and was finally released from the military on Valentine’s Day, 1919. From my Pittsburgh Irish series.