Category Archives: Arts & Culture

Irish government launches 5-year diaspora strategy

The Republic of Ireland has issued a new strategy to support and engage the state’s dispersed communities. “It takes a broad and inclusive definition of the diaspora, reflecting the diversity of the global Irish community today,” the government said.

At just 20 pages, Global Ireland: Ireland’s Diaspora Strategy 2020-2025 “is slender, but it contains real substance,” Minister of State for the Diaspora, Colm Brophy T.D., said during the report’s Nov. 19 virtual American debut, which was hosted by Irish Ambassador to the United States Daniel Muhall.

The plan has five strategic objectives:

  • People: ensure that the welfare of the Irish abroad remains at the heart of the state’s diaspora support.
  • Values: work with diaspora to promote Irish values abroad and celebrate the diversity of the diaspora.
  • Prosperity: build mutually beneficial economic ties with the diaspora.
  • Culture: support cultural expression among the diaspora.
  • Influence: extend Ireland’s global reach by connecting with the next generation.

The strategy vows to establish pathways to legal migration by Irish citizens to the US, continuing to support the E3 Visa bill, and seeking solutions for undocumented Irish citizens in the US to regularize their status. U.S. President-Elect Joe Biden figures to be a helpful partner in this regard.

The strategy also promises to “deepen our connection to people for whom Irish heritage is more distant, including the African-American and Hispanic communities in the United States.” The Embassy of Ireland in Washington and its U.S. consulates currently are partnering with organizations on both sides of the Atlantic to mark the 175th anniversary of Frederick Douglass’s 1845-46 visit to Ireland.

The strategy contains only one reference to Northern Ireland, a vow to build ties to the Ulster-Scots diaspora.

Brophy, a Fine Gael T.D. who has represented Dublin-South-West since 2016, assumed the role of diaspora minister in July. He has been unable to travel outside Ireland due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The cover image of the Global Ireland report (at top) is the lamp at Áras an Uachtaráin, a symbolic beacon, lighting the way for Irish emigrants and their descendants, welcoming them to their homeland.

See my recent article for the Irish Diaspora Histories Network: Home at War, 1920: Diaspora Witness Statements to the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland.

Guest post: The Fall of the Fitzmaurices

County Kerry native Kay Caball is a professional genealogist and author of the definitive Finding Your Ancestors in Kerry. (She has helped me.) Kay also wrote The Kerry Girls: Emigration and the Earl Grey Scheme, about the young women shipped to Australia in 1849/1850 from four of the county’s workhouses. Her new book is The Fall of the Fitzmaurices: The Demise of Kerry’s First Family, available through Kay’s My Kerry Ancenstors website, and O’Mahony’s Booksellers in Limerick. Kay provided this overview of the story. MH

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Ennobled as the 1st Earl of Kerry in 1723, Thomas Fitzmaurice, 21st Lord of Kerry, Baron of Lixnaw  and his wife, the former Lady Anne Petty, presided over great estates in Kerry and elsewhere. They and their family enjoyed prestige, influence and immense wealth. Within 100 years their land was gone, the Fitzmaurice earldom was no more. 

So what could have happened to this Kerry dynasty after almost 500 years of acquisition and expansion, which was then so reduced  in such a short space of time? We would have to say improvidence, extravagance, careless management, and improvidence.

Thomas, 21st lord, inaugurated a span of lavish spending; the main result of his expenditure on the ancestral seat of Old Court was a magnificent demesne and a well-appointed house run on a grand scale. His raised status as an earl in 1723 would appear to have spurred him to take on all the trappings expected of the title. He purchased and furnished a Dublin home in the prime fashionable area of St Stephen’s Green,1 while continuing to improve and develop his Kerry estates. His three daughters, Anne, Arbella, and Charlotte, made good if not spectacular marriages: each into new families with generous dowries. His sons, William and John, enjoyed exclusive educations at Westminster School and at the University of Oxford.

Thomas’ eldest son and heir, William, was not the wisest of men. After his father’s death in 1741, William became 2nd earl, and was head of the family fortunes and estate for just over six years. 

William was involved in a number of expensive court cases and family settlements, the most spectacular of which arose from his dalliance with a mistress that led to a scandal of epic proportions in the exclusive aristocratic circles of 18th century Dublin. Elizabeth Leeson, his mistress of two years, declared they were married, and though neither Church nor state had been involved in any nuptials, the courts decided there had been a valid marriage, and he was ordered to proceed with a Church ceremony or be excommunicated. William does not appear to have followed up with the Church ceremony, but Elizabeth, now titled Lady Elizabeth Fitzmaurice, conveniently died three years later. William then married the daughter of the earl of Cavan, against his father’s wishes.

So we come to Francis, who became the 3rd earl of Kerry in 1747 on the death of his father.  Francis was not then seven years of age. His mother initially became his guardian, but when she remarried and moved to England three years later, he became a ward in Chancery, and was left in the care of a tutor and servants. The Old Court estate and demesne in Kerry were closed up and allowed to deteriorate. Incompetent agents were responsible for managing and collecting the land rents. Francis, although left to fend for himself, had a good tutor, and he attended and graduated from Trinity College, Dublin at the age of 15, but afterwards led a lazy and indulgent life. To compound matters, he got involved with a married woman, Anastasia Daly, herself an heiress. Francis’ cousin, British Prime Minister William Petty-Fitzmaurice, 2nd earl of Shelburne and 1st Marquess of Lansdowne, said of Francis:

He fell in love with a married lady twenty years older than himself, the daughter of an eminent Roman Catholic lawyer, and she having obtained a divorce, married her – [she was] an extraordinarily vain person. Having to fight their way up into good society, and having no children, they sold every acre of land that had been in our family since Henry II’s time.2

Anastasia’s husband took an action against Francis Fitzmaurice, and there followed a sensational court case which revealed lurid and explicit descriptions of their sexual encounters. The aggrieved husband was awarded £5,000 compensation for the loss of the company of his wife. This would be over €974,235 in 2019,3 and resulted in the commencement of the large-scale sale of land and assets from the Fitzmaurice Lixnaw estates. Soon after, a divorce was granted by the Westminster Parliament, and Francis and Anastasia married in England in 1768. Initially, they settled in London, where they furnished three large houses lavishly within the space of 10 years, before moving to Paris in 1778. Even though Anastasia, now Countess of Kerry, had the pleasure of being presented at court, the couple were not given the recognition they felt they were due as part of the respected old Norman Irish nobility. Although they moved in aristocratic circles, British society at that time was conservative and rigid, and the young Protestant earl married to the older Irish Catholic divorcee, with a scandalous past, did not command the cream of invitations or acceptance into the milieu to which they aspired.

Their sojourn in Paris from 1771 to 1792 – where they lived extravagantly, dined, wined, entertained and shopped – came to an abrupt end when they had to flee during the Reign of Terror at the time of the French Revolution. Francis and Anastasia were lucky to escape with their lives, but their servants were executed. 

Though they had to abandon their possessions in Paris, their papers – letters, bills, receipts, invitations – were saved, and this collection of eight boxes of documents is now housed in the Archives Nationales, Paris. Their extravagant spending had meant frequent letters home to the earl’s agent, solicitors and auctioneers with instructions to sell or unload land or leases at almost any cost to keep banks and creditors at bay, copies of which survive in Paris.

Back in London in 1795, Anastasia was to live for only four more years. She died in 1799 and was buried in Westminster Abbey, where Francis erected a large monument to her. Francis died in 1818 and was buried with Anastasia. This, then, is the story of the fall of the Fitzmaurices, the premier family of Kerry for 583 years. 

Catching up with modern Ireland: October

Monument in Eyre Square, Galway city, marks JFK’s June 1963 visit. November 2018 photo.

In a few days (or weeks?) we should know whether Irish-American-Catholic Joe Biden wins the U.S. presidency, 60 years after the historic election of Irish-American-Catholic John F. Kennedy. A sentimental milestone for some (and eye roll for others), a Biden administration appears poised to pay close attention to the impact of Brexit on the Irish border and any U.S.-U.K trade deal, as well as visa and citizenship issues for Irish people in America. A Biden win would help take some of the sting from this year’s cancelled St. Patrick’s Day events on both sides of the Atlantic and the lost summer of tourism in Ireland. Let Trump rule his links at Doonbeg.

Here’s the October roundup:

  • On Oct. 22, the Republic of Ireland became the first European country to reimpose a nationwide lockdown following a surge in coronavirus cases. New quarantine rules apply until Dec. 1.
  • The five-year Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes report is to be finalized Oct. 30, though its public release date remains unclear. Expect a wave of damning coverage about how the Catholic Church and the State handled Ireland’s most vulnerable citizens.
  • “I continue to be amazed by the lack of knowledge or interest in the political and social affairs of both a part of the UK – the North – and also of our near neighbour – the Republic,” Conservative MP Simon Hoare wrote in a column for The Irish Times.
  • The Police Service of Northern Ireland began a three-month pilot program for new-look uniforms, but a proposal to drop the words “Northern Ireland” from the force’s official crest, replaced only with NI, was rejected, the Belfast Telegraph reported. PSNI was formed after the Good Friday Agreement as a more inclusive successor to the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
  • “Sublime Chaos” is the headline of a short New Yorker piece about the “mystical Irish Dadaism” of Dublin composer Jennifer Walshe. “When I was younger, I wanted to run away from Irish identity, which at times can be so narrow and confining and politically problematic,” said Walshe, born in 1974. “But it’s part of me, and it belongs to everyone here.” (Thanks ADH.)
  • The Book of Lismore, created in the late 15th century, has been donated to University College Cork (UCC) after centuries in a British estate. This major medieval manuscript, created at Kilbrittain, Co. Cork, in a golden age of Irish literature, is considered as one of the Great Books of Ireland.

Three from Kerry:

  • Europe’s rarest fern has been discovered in Killarney. Stenogrammitis myosuroides, has only ever previously been found in the mountainous cloud forests of Jamaica, Cuba, and Dominican Republic, according to The Guardian. “Kerry mousetail” has been suggested as the common name for the plant.
  • A plant appears, an animal disappears: Fungie, the resident male, bottlenose dolphin that helped transform Dingle from a small fishing and farming community into a global tourist destination, has vanished after 37 years, The New York Times (with lovely photos) and other media reported.
  • Finally, there’s some anthropologic evidence that natives of the Kingdom are less susceptible to COVID-19, says Maynooth University’s Ciarán Walsh.

Alas, the annual November conference of the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland is cancelled due to COVID. See details of previous conferences. Best wishes to members and past participants.

See past monthy and annual roundups.

The grounds of the Belfast Botanic Gardens and Palm House. November 2019 photo.

Irish history movie ideas: the Lartigue monorail

This is the second post in an occasional series about aspects of Irish history that I believe provide strong cinematic opportunities if dramatized for narrative and commercial appeal. First post: The Colors of Ireland. Ideas and comments are welcome. Enjoy. MH

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Take a look at this 3:30-minute archival footage of the Listowel & Ballybunion Railway, a unique monorail that opened in 1888 between the two Co. Kerry towns. There’s no sound.

I’m not sure why the footage is dated 1931. The money-losing monorail was discontinued in October 1924 after being rejected for consideration in the Irish Free State’s railway nationalization scheme.

The train was known as the Lartigue, after its French inventor, Charles Lartigue. It was the subject of affectionate poems, as reflected in these opening stanzas published a few weeks after it closed:1

Farewell, old train, beloved train; at last
you’ve ceased to run!
Unlike all other trains we’ve seen, of
wheels you had only one.
You battled hard, ‘gainst might odds
for close on thirty years.
And now to think your race is run, it
almost brings us tears.

In its day, the Lartigue was easy fodder for humorous stories because of the way passengers and freight had to be balanced on each side of the pannier-style rolling stock. One tells of a farmer who bought a cow in Listowel and wanted it transported to Ballybunion. To do so, he had to borrow another cow to balance his purchase. At Ballybunion, he faced the predicament of returning the borrowed cow, which required the balance of another animal. And on and on; a running gag for the potential movie.

Passengers on the Lartigue also were occasionally required to get out to push the train. Some were said to get sickened by sitting sideways instead of facing forward. The train’s plodding pace inspired the story of the conductor who offered a ride to an old woman riding a donkey. “No thanks,” she replied, “I’m in a hurry today.”

I see the Lartigue as a perfect opportunity for the eccentricity and distinctive styles of directors Wes Anderson or the Coen brothers. It needs a quirky story with an ensemble of charming and oddball characters to match the unusual train.

As you can see, the front of the Lartigue locomotive is more anthropomorphic the most regular trains. Perhaps this could be an animated film?

See my earlier posts about the Lartigue:

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

Catching up with modern Ireland: September

The extraordinary year 2020 is three quarters done. On the island of Ireland two big questions hang over the remaining quarter: can the COVID-19 pandemic be managed and contained without too large an increase of infections and deaths; and can Britain and the E.U. agree a final Brexit trade deal? The monthy roundup picks from there:

  • The Republic of Ireland postponed the scheduled April 2021 Census until April 2022 because of the pandemic and to ensure the decenial count “achieves the highest possible response rate, across all facets of Irish society,” Central Statistics Office Director General Pádraig Dalton said.
  • The pandemic has relieved Dublin’s housing crunch that in recent years sent rents skyrocketing and left many people struggling to afford, or find, a place to live, The New York Times reported. How so? Denied tourists and business visitors, short-term Airbnb rentals have been returned to the market.
  • U.S. Special Envoy to Northern Ireland Mick Mulvaney said the American government is “confident the EU and UK will be able to work this [trade deal] out in a way that’s acceptable to everybody.”
  • Ireland’s 3 billion euro ($3.5 billion) plan to connect rural areas to high-speed broadband is proceeding quicker than expected, according to David McCourt, chairman of National Broadband Ireland (NBI), the vehicle created by U.S. media and telecoms investment firm Granahan McCourt. He told CNBC that despite some hurdles in the early days of the coronavirus lockdown, the project could be completed in about seven years, under the originally slated 10 years. See my earlier post: Ireland’s broadband push recalls rural electrification effort.
  • As more of the world’s leading tech companies expand their operations in Ireland, the county is being forced to choose between its climate ambitions and investment from these giant firms, OilPrice.com reported. Massive data centers are great for the nation’s finances, but wearing on its energy infrastructure and increasing its carbon footprint.
  • Wild salmon returns have improved, likely due to an easier run for the fish into Ireland’s rivers during the COVID-19 lockdown, SeafoodSource says. But The Guardian carried a troubling report about how urban wastewater and nutrient runoff are polluting Ireland’s waterways.
  • Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden referenced his “Irish Catholic” roots during the Sept. 29 debate with President Donald Trump. The Irish Times described the televised confrontation as “shouting, interruptions and often incoherent cross talk.”

History News:

  • Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut received a $10,000 grant coronavirus relief grant through the National Endowment for the Humanities. It will be used to defray financial losses incurred during the museum’s extended closure during the pandemic.
  • The 100-mile (165K) National Famine Way hike/bike/history trail from Strokestown, Co Roscommon, to Dublin, opened after a decade of development. It follows the route of 1,490 tenants evicted from the Strokestown estate of Major Denis Mahon in 1847 and forced to walk to the “coffin ships” that would take them from Ireland to America and Canada.
  • The Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland has decided to bring charges against no more than one of 15 soldiers involved in the 1972 “Bloody Sunday” civil rights demonstrations in Derry, the BBC reports. Thirteen were killed and 15 wounded when troops opened fire on demonstrators.

The old man and the clock:

  • This photo of an old man enjoying his pint in a Galway pub captured international media attention. He apparantely didn’t have a watch or smart phone to avoid overstaying the 90-minute limit imposed by Ireland’s COVID-19 restrictions, so he brought a bedside alarm clock. 

John Joe Quinn at McGinn’s Hop House in Galway city. Photo, Fergus McGinn.

John Feerick on ‘Irish roots and American promise’

The dust jacket and marketing materials for John D. Feerick’s memoir, That Further Shore [Fordham University Press], say the author’s life “has all the elements of a modern Horatio Alger story: the poor boy who achieves success by dint of his hard work.” It’s also an Irish-American success story: the son of 1920s Co. Mayo immigrants who became the first in his family to attend college and law school.

Feerick was inspired by John F. Kennedy’s call to service in the 1960s. He helped frame the 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, in part because of Kennedy’s assassination. He became dean of Fordham University Law and president of the New York City Bar Association.

In 1995, Feerick joined the American delegation for Bill Clinton’s historic visit to Northern Ireland, which set the stage for the Good Friday Agreement. He was a founder of Fordham Law’s Belfast/Dublin Program, now in its 20th year.

John D. Feerick on Zoom, Sept. 23.

Ireland was always very present,” in songs, stories, and pictures on the wall of the small South Bronx apartment where he grew up, Feerick said during a Sept. 23 digital “fireside chat” hosted by Brehon Law Society. Like most Irish immigrants, his parents “never saw their parents again; they never saw their siblings again. They didn’t have any money to go back.”

Feerick has made numerous trips to both sides of the Irish border, including genealogical reasearch for his memoir, a labor of love some 18 years in the making. He enthused about meeting distant relations and finding records with small but dear details of information. He acknowledged the opportunites lost to question key people while they were alive: he doesn’t know for sure how his parents met in America.

“It means everything to me,” Feerick said of his Irish heritage. “It’s part of my roots.”

He has hesitated, however, to place his name on Ireland’s Foreign Birth Register, which confers citizenship and elegibilty for an Irish passport, as so many of us have done.

“I’ve wrestled with it, but haven’t done it,” he said. “I consider myself an American Irishman.”

Feerick was diplomatic in answering a question about the impact of Brexit on the Irish border, subject of my last post:

“I can’t imagine that responsible leadership would remove the open border between the north and south,” he said. “That was so integral to the Agreement.”

Feerick also briefly discussed his work with two recently deceased figures, one from each side of the Atlantic:

  • Irish nationalist politician John Hume of Derry, who died Aug. 3: They were introduced during a 1994 luncheon at Fordham. “I really didn’t appreciate how important he was,” Feerick said. “He said, ‘Great lunch, but I want more from you. Come to Northern Ireland.’ ” During the Clinton visit the following year, they laid the groundwork for the Fordham-Ulster Conflict Resolution Program, then the summer law program.
  • U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Sept. 18: They met in New York City law school circles. Feerick testified on Ginsburg’s behalf at her 1993 U.S. Senate confirmation hearing. “She was a person of fantastic commitment, especially on the issue of descrimiation against women,” he said. She became the outstanding lawyer in America in terms of gender descrimination.”

More of Feerick’s reflections about his life and writing his memoir are found in his Aug. 9 post for History News Network.

Catching up with modern Ireland: August

This month’s round up leads with two deaths, one on each side of the Atlantic, both connected to Northern Ireland: 1998 Nobel Prize-winning Irish politician John Hume, 83, of Derry, who helped forge the Good Friday Agreement; and journalist and author Pete Hamill, 85, the Brooklyn-born son of Belfast Catholic immigrants.

Hume

“Hume combined moral clarity against violence and strategic vision for what peace might entail with a politician’s embrace of life’s complexities, the need to compromise and to take risks, to find where power lies and to exploit it,” Tom McTague wrote in The Atlantic. “Hume was supremely successful in this effort, whether you agree with the ends he pursued or the tactics he deployed to achieve them; he was not a saint, but a man who made judgments that are not beyond reproach. He abhorred violence, but brought Sinn Fein’s leaders (who did not) to the top table of Northern Irish politics. In seeking out giants, we are too quick to seek out perfection, when no such thing exists. Hume’s legacy lies in the compromises he championed and the complexities he recognized.

***

Hamill

“Hamill was among the last symbols of a bygone era, when idiosyncratic newspaper columnists like Mike Royko in Chicago and Jimmy Breslin in New York were celebrities in the cities they covered,” Harrison Smith wrote in the Washington Post. “He was in the vanguard of the New Journalism movement, when writers such as Joan Didion, Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe, and Breslin applied the traditional tools of literary fiction to works of reporting, often while writing about ordinary people who usually never made headlines.”

***

Also in August:

  • The Irish Examiner was first to report that more than 80 people attended an Irish golf society event in Clifden, County Galway, breaching COVID-19 restrictions in spirit, if not in fact. Three Irish politicians have resigned their posts. The scandal is emblematic of larger problems in the three-party coalition cobbled together four months after Irish elections, the Examiner’s Gerald Howlin wrote under the headline, “Golfgate shows the government has the wrong clubs in the bag“.
  • In the Republic of Ireland, 1,777 people died of coronavirus as of Aug. 30, and 142 new cases at month’s end caused health officials to warn of a second national lock down, The Irish Times reported. At least 871 people have died from COVID-19 in Northern Ireland through Aug. 21.
  • The North’s top tourist attraction reopened Aug. 1 with safety measures to cope with the ongoing pandemic. “But it could be months, possibly years, before Titanic Belfast is anywhere near back to delivering the sort of economic statistics which has earned it international plaudits,” The Irish News reported.
  • Next to the museum, Harland & Wolff has benefited from ferry and cruise ship firms using the famous shipyard’s dry docks to carry out maintenance during the pandemic shutdown. The firm is still fighting for its long-term financial survival.
  • One more from the North: “No United Ireland. Not Now. Not Ever,” says Briefings For Britain, which insists “the impact of Brexit on Irish unity remains unclear.” … U.K. and E.U. negotiators are still trying to reach a trade agreement before the Dec. 31 end of the Brexit transition period.  
  • Fitch Ratings affirmed an A+ Stable Outlook for the Republic, factoring the uncertainties of the pandemic, Brexit, and the coalition government.
  • The Republic’s population is on the threshold of 5 million, reaching an estimated 4.98 million as of April, according to the Central Statistics Office. Total population on the island of Ireland, including the North, reached 5.1 million in 2016, exceeding the 1851 post-Famine census total for the first time.

A road on Inisheer, August 2019.

Catching up with modern Ireland: June

The main news from Ireland in June was the easing of COVID-19 restrictions and approval of a new coalition government. From the Associated Press and other media reports:

Centrist politician Micheál Martin became Ireland’s new prime minister on June 27, fusing two longtime rival parties into a coalition four months after an election that upended the status quo.

The deal will see Martin’s Fianna Fail govern with Fine Gael — the party of outgoing leader Leo Varadkar —and with the smaller Green Party. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, bitter opponents whose roots lie in opposing sides of the 1920s civil war that followed Ireland’s independence from the United Kingdom, have never before formed a government together.

Ireland’s new taoiseach, @MichealMartinTD

Under the plan approved by the three parties’ memberships, Martin is taoiseach, or prime minister until the end of 2022. He then hands the job back to his predecessor, Varadkar, who has won high praise for steering the country through the COVID-19 crisis. Until then, Varadkar will serve as deputy prime minister and minister for enterprise, trade and employment.

The historic coalition pushed aside leftist Sinn Fein, which did better than expected in the February election, but failed to run candidates in all constituencies and could not attract coalition partners. It becomes Ireland’s main opposition party.

Fianna Fail holds 38 seats in the 160-seat Dáil Éireann, the principal chamber of the Irish legislature. Sinn Fein has 37 seats; Fine Gael has 35, and Greens have 12 seats. The balance are other small parties and independents.

Other headlines from June:

    • Jean Kennedy Smith, a Kennedy clan sister who as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland in the 1990s helped pave the way for the Good Friday Agreement, died at 92. “The Irish people were willing to take me at face value, to give me the benefit of the doubt because I was a Kennedy,” she said in 1998.
    • Statues are being toppled around the world as protesters rise up against racism and other forms of oppression. TheJournal.ie offered a round up of statues and monuments already removed from Irish streetscapes (Nelson’s Pillar in Dublin), and those that could soon disappear (Columbus in Galway).
    • In a Washington Post op-ed, former Seattle police chief and Boston police commissioner Kathleen O’Toole, and Robert Peirce, an international policing consultant and former diplomat, wrote about their efforts to transform the Royal Ulster Constabulary into the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
    • A post-Brexit opinion poll found the U.K. departure from the E.U. has squeezed the political middle in Northern Ireland and pushed more people into unionist and nationalist trenches, The Guardian reported.
    • Bloomberg profiled notorious businessman Sean Quinn.
    • Ireland was elected to the United Nations Security Council. Mexico, India, and Norway also were selected for the same two-year terms on the 15-member panel.
    • The false widow spider, an invasive species first spotted in Ireland in 1998, has been multiplying quickly and is more venomous than first assumed, researchers at NUI Galway have found.
    • All in the family: New analysis of ancient human DNA from Newgrange, the Stone Age tomb mounds in the Boyne River valley, reveals a first-degree incestuous union, either between parent and child, or brother and sister. The finding, combined with other genetic and archaeological evidence, suggests that the people who built the mounds 5,000 years ago lived in a hierarchical society with a ruling elite.

Entrance at Newgrange, July 2019.

Irish history movie ideas: The Colors of Ireland

While reading and researching Irish history I sometimes consider how the events might look on film or video, dramatized to enhance narrative and commercial appeal. Three examples come to mind: “Michael Collins,” 1996, and “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” 2006, both against the backdrop of the Irish War of Independence; and “Black ’47,” 2018, set during the Great Famine. This is the first of an occasional series on episodes of Irish history that I believe provide abundant cinematic opportunities. Ideas and comments are welcome. Enjoy. MH

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In spring 1913, Madeleine Mignon-Alba and Marguerite Mespoulet traveled to Ireland to create what are widely believed to be the first color photographs of the country. Their effort was part of a larger project called “Archives of the Planet,” which sought to create a visual record of the globe, an effort that preceded Google Maps by a century.

The two French women, both in their mid-30s, were “experienced travelers and confirmed intellectuals,”1 Karine Bigand writes in the academic article linked in the note. Both had participated in earlier intercultural exchange projects conceived and financed by Albert Kahn, the French philanthropist who bankrolled the women’s Ireland trip. Bigand continues:

At first glance, these photographs are very much a reflection of the “romantic” representation of eternal rural Ireland … [but] the intention of the two photographers’ mission was not to produce a simple holiday album or a tourist report. It was not a pleasure trip but a mission, both ideological and scientific … The gaze on Ireland [was] not always as candid as it seems.

Imagine scenes of these women traveling across early 20th century Ireland, the first stirrings of revolution in the air, a year before the explosion of the Great War. The film would focus on their efforts to obtain images of the verdant landscapes, Galway markets, remote villages, and abandoned antiquities such as Clonmacnoise and Glendalough. It would dramatize their challenges with variable light, changeable weather, and rough terrain.

Their encounters with rural peasants still living in 19th century conditions would further drive the narrative tension. This could include both suspicion of the foreigners and their boxy Autochrome Lumière cameras, and happier connections between the visitors and the locals that transcend cultural differences and technology.

Both images on this page, and in the slide show below, taken by Madeleine Mignon-Alba and Marguerite Mespoulet during their May-June, 1913, travels in Ireland.

Here is an opportunity to introduce a fictional Irish guide and translator, who also could be the film’s omniscient narrator. At first I considered such a character as a man. “Why not another woman?”, my wife asked, which would further increase the film’s Bechdel Test rating. And what of the relationship between the two women: just photojournalists on assignment, or something more? 

Another opportunity for narrative tension is to consider that Mignon-Alba and Mespoulet visited Ireland in the waning years of the Lawrence Studio in Dublin. From 1880 until 1914, owner William M. Lawrence employed Robert French to photograph all 32 counties for postcards, albums, lecture sets, and other commercial enterprises. The estimated 40,000 images were all black and white. By 1913, both men were in their 70s and their collection — an important historical archive today — was being eclipsed as cameras became commonplace, including color photography, and moving pictures captured popular attention.2

There’s a natural contrast between the aging men doing black and white photography and the young women using color technology. Perhaps the photographers would meet in the movie, finding common ground — or not.

Hollywood will not make this movie. This is an art film. Irish, French, and European Union cultural organizations should finance it. It could include three languages — French, Irish, and English — with subtitles. It should have a dreamy background score appropriate to its cinematic sweep. I’d avoid mainstream actresses for the roles of Mignon-Alba and Mespoulet, but the aging Lawrence, French, and Kahn could be good cameo opportunities for Irish and French actors.

Potential first scene: Mignon-Alba and Mespoulet arrive at an Irish port filled with emigrants. They discuss why so many people leave Ireland, never to return. Potential last scene: Back in their Paris studio, the women realize their photo plates of one special encounter with Irish people were exposed to light and did not survive the journey; it remains only in their memories. Their remaining 73 photos become part of history and this film.

If some filmmaker has already tackled this project, please let me know. For now, watch a 3-minute slide show of the 1913 images from Ireland.

Three stories published beyond the blog

(I am currently working on long-term projects. The linked headlines below are from stories that I’ve freelanced this year beyond the blog. Please check back for occasional new posts over the summer. Enjoy. MH)

‘Likely to cause disaffection to His Majesty’, the Seizure of Irish newspapers
The Irish Story, May 17, 2020

At midday Sept. 20, 1919, as “squally,” unseasonably cold weather raked across Dublin, “armed soldiers wearing trench helmets” joined by “uniformed and plain clothes police” made simultaneous raids on three printing works that published six anti-establishment newspapers. (See “Secret” document related to the raids at bottom of this post.)

When Irish Was Spoken in Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh Quarterly, March 16, 2020

Douglas Hyde opened his 1906 speech in Gaelic, and many in the audience shouted back in Irish, according to the press reports: “It is doubtful if a more completely Irish assembly has ever been gathered together in Pittsburgh.”

Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland
The Irish Story, Jan. 8, 2020

The Chicago Daily News reporter interviewed leading Irish political and cultural figures. She also mixed with Ireland’s poorest citizens, people in the shadows of the revolution. Back in America, she joined a protest against British rule in Ireland, and testified favorably to the Irish republican cause before a special commission. 

See my American reporting of Irish independence series for more stories about journalists and newspaper coverage of the Irish revolution. See my Pittsburgh Irish archives for more on the city’s immigrants.

Memorandum outlining the September 1919 newspaper raids from the secret files of British authorities in Ireland. Army of Ireland, Administrative and Easter Rising Records, Subseries – Irish Situation, 1914-1922, WO 35/107, The National Archives, Kew.