Category Archives: Arts & Culture

W.B. Yeats arrives in New York, January 1920

Irish poet William Butler Yeats sailed into New York City on Jan. 24, 1920, for what was his fourth of five lifetime visits to America. The other tours were in 1903/4, 1911, 1914, and 1932/33. Cumulatively, he spent more than a year in the United States.

“Spurred no doubt by the strength of patriotic sentiment he encountered among Irish Americans, he made some of his most overtly nationalistic pronouncements while he was in America,” according to the Embassy of Ireland, USA. “By the time Yeats returned to the United States in 1920 everything in Ireland had, as he put it in Easter 1916  ‘changed utterly’ and the country was in the throes of a war of independence. The Easter Rising had revived Yeats’s interest in Irish affairs and encouraged him to move back to Ireland from London where he had lived for most of the previous three decades.” 

Clipping from the Daily News (New York, N.Y.), Jan. 27, 1920, page 10.

Yeats’ 1920 U.S. tour began a year after the first Dáil Éireann was established in Dublin, seven months after stowaway Éamon de Valera arrived in New York; and a week after the Irish bond drive was launched in America. It was Yeats first American visit with his wife, Georgie Hyde-Lees, whom he’d married in 1917.

He “looked every bit the idealist and dreamer he is said to be, with his unruly hair pushed back from his well-shaped brow and a flowing tie setting off the English tweed suit he wore,” The New York Times reported.1 The newspaper quoted him:

Ireland is now a country of oppression. While there is much talk of freedom, there is little to be had. Because of the great political battles now being waged one must guard his speech and even the mail is not allowed to pass untouched. It is quite [clear] something must be done in Ireland. A settlement will be difficult because of many factors, but a settlement there must be.

Of course, at the present time the Sinn Feiners are in the majority, and will remain so until something is offered, but the Dominion Government, which wants the largest possible measure of home rule, is also very powerful. I do not think that Ulster should be coerced any more than the remainder of the country. There should be some way to permit both to work out their destiny.

Personally, I am an Irish Nationalist, and believe that the present unrest will settle as soon as there is some form of self-government.

See more of my series: American Reporting of Irish Independence.

Famine remembrance exhibit returning to Dublin in April

The Irish Famine Exhibition is returning to the Stephens Green Shopping Centre in Dublin. It was initially curated in 2017 by historian Gerard McCarthy, a native of West Cork.

McCarthy says the Famine is a neglected subject in Ireland. “There are no dedicated exhibitions on the subject in our National State Funded Museums and there is rarely a mention of it in Ireland’s National Media,” he wrote in an email.

McCarthy hopes that his exhibition will contribute to keeping the story alive in the minds of Irish people and also educate tourists who have little or no knowledge of the subject. This year marks the 175th anniversary of the start of the Famine in 1845.

The exhibition is open from April 6 to September 25. It includes original artifacts from the period, such as the cast-iron pot below used to make soup, “perhaps the ultimate famine memorial,” according to the exhibit.

I’ve contributed two of my previously published Famine-related stories to the blog section of the exhibition website: www.theirishpotatofamine.com. One story, published in the U.S. National Archives’ Prologue magazine, is about famine-era children born at sea on their way to America; the other, for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is about period correspondence with a Pennsylvania priest.

Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum to remain open

A flurry of news coverage this time last year, some that I linked to from this blog, reported the potential 2020 closure of Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum in Hamden, Connecticut. A new administration at Quinnipiac University  supposedly was going to withdraw funding for the museum, the labor of love of president emeritus Dr. John Lahey.

There is no information about this posted on the museum website. In a recent call to the museum, I was told there are no plans or deadlines to close the museum, which continues to receive funding from the university. The museum is striving to become more self-sufficient. The 2019 media coverage was “blown out of proportion,” the museum representative said.

The media does hype matters, and gets things flat wrong, but I’m also skeptical of those who want to dismiss or blame press. Keep an eye on this.

The museum, and the related Lender Family Special Collection Room at the Arnold Bernhard Library on the university campus, are both great resources and worth the visit to central Connecticut, about a two-hour drive from Boston or New York City.

Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University.

Best of the Blog, 2019

Welcome to my seventh annual Best of the Blog–BOB. As always, I want to thank regular readers and new visitors for their support, including social media shares. Special thanks to my wife, Angie Drobnic Holan: editor, webmaster … my dear companion.

Back to Ireland …  

Inisheer, August 2019.

This year I made my ninth and tenth trips to the island of Ireland, traveling both times to the Republic and Northern Ireland. I’m starting this year’s BOB with a sampling of highlights from these 10 trips in just under 20 years:

May 2000: Pilgrimage to the Lahardane (Ballybunion) and Killelton (Ballylongford) townlands, North Kerry, birthplaces of my maternal grandfather and grandmother, respectively; and walked the Cobh waterfront where they emigrated in the early 20th century.

September/October 2001: Climbed Croagh Patrick … Interviewed surviving family at the Bloody Sunday Trust/Museum and watched testimony in the Bloody Sunday Inquiry at the Guild Hall, Derry. (Journalism fellowship from the German Marshall Fund.)

August 2007: (With Angie) Enchanted by the monastic ruins of Clonmacnoise (Offaly) and Glendalough (Wicklow). … Attended first play at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin: The Big House, by Lennox Robinson.

February 2009: Researched historic newspapers and census records at the National Library of Ireland and The National Archives of Ireland, Dublin, before they were digitized and made available online.

May/June 2012: (With Angie) Attended the Listowel Writers’ Week and heard Paul Durcan recite his poem “On the First Day of June” … on June 1, 2012 … at the Listowel Arms Hotel, the River Feale framed by the window at his back. … Strolled the Kinsale to Charles Fort (Cork) coastal walk, stopping for a lovely outdoor lunch.

July 2016: Toured the Falls/Shankill neighborhoods of Belfast by Black Taxi … Visited Titanic Belfast EPIC: The Irish Emigration Museum … and Glasnevin Cemetary (Part 1Part 2), the last two in Dublin.

February 2018: Researched at the Michael Davitt Museum and grave (Straide, County Mayo); and read Davitt’s papers at Trinity College Dublin. (Part 1 & Part 2).

November 2018: Walked a muddy, cow-crowded road to reach Killone Abbey (Clare), following the footsteps of American journalist William Henry Hurlbert, who wrote of visiting the site in 1888.

July/August 2019: (With Angie) Cycled the Great Western Greenway from Achill Island to Westport (Mayo). … Hiked the circumference of Inisheer (Aran Islands, Galway) on my 60th birthday, and viewed the Cliff of Moher, which I had visited on my 2000 trip, from the sea.

November 2019: Presented my research about American journalist Ruth Russell’s 1919 travels to Ireland at the Institute of Irish Studies, Queens University Belfast for the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland annual conference.

Here are 2019 photo essays from both sides of the border:

From an evening walk on Inisheer, August 2019.

A few more photo essays from Irish America:

Before morning Mass at Old St. Patrick’s Church, Chicago, March 2019.

1919, Revisited … 

This year I enjoyed exploring U.S. mainstream and Irish-American newspaper coverage of 1919 events in Irish history. Find all 32 stand-alone posts, plus the five-part monograph, Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland, at my American Reporting of Irish Independence series.

Other history highlights … 

… and guest posts

I am always grateful to the contributions of guest bloggers. This year:

The Antrim coast, July 2019.

Other news of note:

RIP Lyra McKee, journalist killed in Derry on April 19. She was 29, the same age as Ruth Russell when the American reporter arrived in Ireland in 1919. … U.S. President Donald Trump, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, and U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi–first, second, and third in succession of power in the American government–each visited Ireland in 2019. I’m not sure that’s ever happened before. … Republic of Ireland golfer Shane Lowry won the British Open at Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland, the first time since 1951 the Open has been held on the island of Ireland. … American businessman Edward F. Crawford became the new U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. …Abortion and same-sex marriage were decriminalized in Northern Ireland, in part due to the dormant Northern Ireland Assembly. … See more at my monthly roundups from 2019 and previous years of Best of the Blog.

Libraries and Archives

Special thanks for the in-person help I received at these institutions in 2019:

  • Catholic University of America, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, and Mullen Library, Washington, D.C.
  • Georgetown University, Lauinger Library, Washington, D.C.
  • Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
  • Arlington Public Library, Central Library, Arlington, Va., and the numerous libraries that made books available through the Interlibrary Loan program.
  • University of Pittsburgh Archives Service Center, Pittsburgh
  • Heinz History Center, Detre Library & Archives, Pittsburgh
  • The Archives of the Sister of Charity of Seton Hill, Greensburg, Pa.
  • The Newberry, Chicago
  • Chicago Public Library, Herald Washington Library Center, Chicago
  • Queens University Belfast, McClay Library Special Collections, Belfast

And digital assistance from these institutions:

  • University College Dublin, Papers of Éamon de Valera (1882–1975), (Thanks again John Dorney of The Irish Story.)
  • National Library of Ireland, Patrick McCartan Papers (1912-1938)
  • University of Chicago Library, Special Collections Research Center
  • Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, (Newspaper Collection), Springfield, Ill.
  • Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Main, Pennsylvania Dept. Collections
  • Villanova University, Falvey Memorial Library, Joseph McGarrity Collection, Philadelphia
  • University of Kentucky, Margaret King Library, Louisville
  • University of Louisville, Ekstrom Library
  • Louisville Free Public Library
  • The Filson Historical Society, Louisville
  • Library of Congress, Chronicling America
  • Newspapers.com
  • Irish Newspaper Archives

Thanks again to all the librarians, archivists, and readers. Keep visiting this “journalist’s blog dedicated to Irish and Irish-American history and contemporary issues.”

Catching up with modern Ireland: November

November began with more than 1,000 people from the academic, arts, business, community, education, health, labor, law, media, and sports sectors; on both sides of the Irish border, and the diaspora in America, Canada, and Australia; signing an open letter calling for a “new conversation” about the constitutional future of the island of Ireland. The “Ireland’s Future” group urged Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to establish a citizens’ assembly to pave the way for a united Ireland. By the month’s end, Varadkar and opposition party leader Micheál Martin had rebuffed the request.

“In recent decades Irish nationalism has moved beyond slogans like ‘England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity’ into an appreciation that co-operation rather than conflict is a far better route to an agreed Ireland. Attempting to take advantage of the Brexit confusion to pursue a united Ireland is little more than a reworking of that tired old cliché,” Irish Times columnist Stephen Collins wrote.

Other News 

  • A new round of talks to reopen the power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly, dormant since January 2017, is scheduled for Dec. 16, four days after U.K. elections that will impact the fate of Brexit.
  • Results of four by-elections in the Republic of Ireland were still being determined as I publish. Turnout was low. A national election is expected before May.
  • The Republic launched a Rural Broadband Plan to address the lack of digital coverage in black spots that cover 80 percent of its land mass. Varadkar hailed the project as the “most important since rural electrification.”
  • U.S. President Donald Trump’s Doonbeg golf course reported a $1.7 million loss for 2018, the fifth-straight year the County Clare club has failed to make a profit, The Washington Post reported, citing Irish government filings. In October, the Clare County Council approved the Trump Organization’s request to build 53 homes on the site; but a request to build a rock barrier to shield the seaside resort from erosion remains pending with Ireland’s national planning board. 
  • Irish and U.K. media outlets have reported more anti-immigrant, alt-right activity in the Republic, which previously prided (or fooled) itself that it avoided the racism and xenophobia that plagues Europe and America.

Book News

  • Laying it on the Line – The Border and Brexit, a collection of 26 essays by “informed voices” (Only one woman!) from the Republic, Northern Ireland, the U.K., and the USA was released late in the month.
  • Caitríona Perry, RTÉ’s former Washington correspondent, published, The Tribe: The Inside Story of Irish Power and Influence in US Politics. My friend Felix M. Larkin’s review in The Irish Catholic.
  • Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland was selected for The Washington Post‘s “10 Best Books of 2019,” and The New York Times’ “100 Notable Books of 2019.” It was not included in The Irish Times‘ “What Irish Writers are Reading” list.

NOTE: I’ll publish my seventh annual “Best of the Blog” near the end of December. The monthly roundup will resume in the new year. MH

From my morning walk through the Belfast Botanic Gardens in early November.

Some unusual maps of Ireland

The anthropomorphic maps of Ireland shown below were drawn by Lilian Lancaster (1852-1939 … also known under her married name, Tennant) in the mid-19th century. They are part of the “Purpose and Portrayal: Early Irish Maps and Mapmaking” exhibit at the Ulster Museum, Belfast, which I viewed earlier this month. The exhibit continues through 26 January 2020. Lancaster produced similar treatments of other countries, including the United States.

Below, note the discrepancy in the two maps of the former Kingdom of Great Britain & Ireland on the spine of David Cannadine’s Victorious Century, which I found next to each other on the shelf of a Barnes & Nobel store in Pittsburgh. The 2018 hardcover at left shows only Northern Ireland (under the “KI” of Kingdom), though the island’s political partition didn’t occur until 15 years after the 1800-1906 period assessed in the book. The 2019 softcover at right corrects the error. “Yes, it was an oversight, which was later put right!,” Cannadine replied to my email outreach.

Map images of the U.K. and/or the Republic of Ireland typically shade the north and south differently to make the distinction, keeping whole the island’s physical geography. Less-used maps showing only the 6-county North, or 26-county Republic, floating between the Atlantic Ocean and the Irish Sea must make cartographers crazy, and surely enrage # united Ireland supporters.

I can hardly wait to see the post-Brexit maps of Europe.

Belfast Botanic Gardens in photos

Nearing its 2028 bicentenary, the Belfast Botanic Gardens and Palm House are a popular gathering place for the city’s residents, like Central Park in New York City or the National Mall in Washington, D.C. While my early November walk was hardly peak time for blooms, it was a lovely and quiet morning as the overnight frost steamed off these historic grounds.

Catching up with modern Ireland: October

Brexit was supposed to happen by Oct. 31. It hasn’t. The departure deadline is now Jan. 31, 2020, but could happen sooner, depending on the outcome of a Dec. 12 election in the U.K., including 18 constituencies in Northern Ireland of 650 seats in the Commons. In the Republic, there are divergent opinions whether to call elections this month, or wait until May 2020.

More news and views:

  • Abortion was decriminalized and same-sex marriage legalized in Northern Ireland on Oct. 21 as the London parliament passed legislation while the Northern Ireland Assembly remains dormant.
  • It is hard to overstate how remarkable it is that the end of partition on the island of Ireland is being seriously considered, yet it is difficult to understate how ill-prepared everyone is for it to actually happen, Ed O’Loughlin wrote in the Atlantic: The ‘Messy and Angry’ Prospect of Ireland Reunifying
  • As if Brexit wasn’t confusing enough, an E.U. plan to eliminate daylight savings time in 2021 could put post-departure Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in different time zones, creating a new form of partition on the island.
  • Veteran IRA man Ivor Bell was acquitted of any involvement in the 1972 abduction, murder, and disappearance of mother-of-10 Jean McConville. The event is at the core of Patrick Radden Keefe’s 2019 book, Say Nothing.
  •  John Henry Newman, the founding rector/president of Ireland’s only Catholic university, precursor of University College Dublin (UCD), was canonized as a saint. UCD was criticized for originally saying it would not send a representative to Rome, citing its modern secular nature, a move some interpreted as anti-Catholic.
  • ” … few Irish Americans know any Irish history at all. … Ireland’s War of Independence need not be celebrated, but it should at least be remembered, above all by the Irish-American community,” John Rodden and John P. Rossi wrote in Commonweal: Why the Irish War of Independence Still Matters

Old buildings on a farm at Fairhead, County Antrim, August 2019.

Hyde’s ‘American Journey’ re-launched in D.C.

Irish language advocate and academic Douglas Hyde (1860-1949) in November 1905 began an eight-month tour of the United States to promote the Gaelic League, which he helped co-found in 1893. Money raised from the tour was used to hire and train additional Irish language teachers and organizers. The Gaelic League sustained a cultural revolution that nurtured the political sovereignty movement that erupted over the next two decades. 

My America Journey, Hyde’s collection of journal and diary entries, was first published in 1937 in Irish. Now, the University College Dublin Press has reissued the collection as a 362-page bilingual hardcover, which also contains newly discovered archival material, extensive illustrations, maps, and an introduction by Irish President Michael D. Higgins.

Daniel Mulhall

Hyde was “one of the most interesting and least known figures of late 19th and early 20th century Ireland,” Ambassador of Ireland to the United States Daniel Mulhall said during an Oct. 23 book launch at the University of Notre Dame’s Keough School of Global Affairs in Washington, D.C.

Hyde’s 1892 National Literary Society lecture, “The Necessity of De-Anglicising the Irish Nation”, ranks as “the most important speech in Ireland in 150 years,” Mulhall said. It awakened the realization that the Irish were an ancient people with their own language and culture, “not a pale imitation of our neighbor.”

The Irish community Hyde encountered in America was “fiercely committed to the welfare of their ancestral homeland,” the ambassador continued. Hyde encouraged the connection to be sure the immigrants who had crossed the Atlantic also didn’t drift away in spirit. It was the beginning of American influence on Irish affairs that continued through the revolutionary period, the Troubles, and continues to this day.

“I have personally experienced that commitment in the context of Brexit,” Mulhall said.

I’ll have more on Hyde’s book in future posts. For now, here is a link to “Objects, Aims and Philosophy of the Gaelic League Set Forth in Address“, an announcement of Hyde’s tour from the Executive Committee of the Gaelic League as published on the Oct. 14, 1905, front page of the Kentucky Irish American newspaper.

Statue outside of the Douglas Hyde Interpretive Centre in his native County Roscommon, February 2018.

Three Irish writers on the Irish question, October 1919

Ten months after the separatist Sinn Féin established the Dáil Éireann parliament in Dublin, and four months after Éamon de Valera arrived in America to raise money and political support for the Irish Republic, U.S. newspapers were packed with opinions about “the Irish question”. Below are short biographies of three native Irish writers and excerpts from columns they had published in October 1919.

***

Harris

Frank Harris (1855-1931) was born in Galway and emigrated to America in 1869, age 13. He worked odd jobs and eventually moved west and earned a law degree. Harris returned to Europe and began his journalism career as a correspondent for U.S. newspapers before settling in London, where he worked at several publications. He began to write novels in the early 20th century; returned to America at the outbreak of the Great War; and became the editor at Pearson’s, a left-leaning monthly featuring fiction and arts and political coverage. In 1917, he wrote an essay “An Englishman on Ireland”. The column below was originally published in Pearson’s (linked) and syndicated to U.S. newspapers in October 1919. Two years later, Harris wrote another essay, “The Reign of Terror in Ireland”, and also became an American citizen.

How England Robs Ireland, from Pearson’s magazine

If I have fought for the ‘underdog’ all my life, and have championed lost causes continually without hope of success; if, as Bernard Shaw says, I have been wise by dint of pity, it is partly because in Ireland pity is a religion and the general atmosphere is softer and more affectionate than in any country I know, with the possible exception of Russia. … I can live in England with pleasure; I couldn’t live in Ireland or face Irish life for a year; it is too poor and drab. … Yet I am a Sinn Feiner and want to see an Irish republic, though twenty years ago I should have been satisfied with Home Rule; for I know that England is incapable of justice to Ireland … When (Ireland) appeals to kith and in in America she is insulted … America deserts you! or rather Mr. Wilson!”

***

Desmond

Shaw Desmond (1877-1960) was born in County Waterford. An early (possibly first) novel, “Democracy”, was published in 1919. In a review, American author Upton Sinclair wrote “the work is deeply felt and intensely sincere.”1 Desmond went on to write more than 60 books, many of them about psychic phenomena, the occult, and spiritualism.

U.S. Converting Englishmen to Irish Freedom, from the New York Herald, Oct. 12, 1919

This is Ireland’s hour. There is not an Irishman throughout the world who does not feel it. England herself is feeling it. … In the twilight of the gods that to-day broods over Ireland the Irishman, whether Ulsterman or Southerner feels it. It is a feeling that rises above economic contentions, above policy, above reason itself. …

[Conservatives in Parliament] are astonished to find that Americans without distinction are ardent “Irishmen” whether they have Irish blood or not. When they hear of the Sinn Fein colors being carried down Fifth Avenue by New York regiments who are as anti-German as any Conservative among them they think it a horrible dream. To them it is as insoluble as so many other things American.

Ireland has put out the Sinn Fein constructive programme, which a prominent American lawyer told me the other day could be taken to any bank in Wall Street and money raised on it. Behind that programme is the brain of the movement–Arthur Griffith–for de Valera is only the inspirer. … I believe that Griffith and de Valera … feeling that the hour, which, if allowed to pass, may not return, has come, the psychological moment when Ireland has the ear of the world, are determined to put all on a throw of the dice. … We believe that English democracy has been educated to the point which has rendered Ireland’s self-government assured; that a way can be found out of the Ulster impasse; and that a little more patience will see the full fruition of Ireland’s hopes.

***

MacManus

Seumas MacManus (1867-1960) was born in Mountcharles, County Donegal. The author, dramatist, and poet began writing for U.S. publications in the 1890s, including a 1907 piece for the North American Review, “Sinn Fein“: “Very quietly and silently, during the past decade, a change has been coming over the face of things political in Ireland … one of the greatest, most revolutionizing, that Ireland has known for a century…”  In 1917, he published Ireland’s Cause. His book Lo, And Behold Ye!, “of kings and peasants, of saints and sinners, of fairies and others of the tribes of little folk in a maze of bewitching Irishry”2 was making its U.S. debut at the time this column was published.

Forces Opposed to Sinn Fein in Ireland Are in State of Collapse, from The Catholic Advance (Wichita, Kansas), Oct. 25, 1919

Ireland is the land of pilgrims. And the season just ended together with the year 1918 have been far and away the most wonderful pilgrimage seasons Ireland has known since the Middle Ages. The 1918 threatened conscription–Irishmen fighting under England’s flag–made wonderful impetus for the pilgrimage movement, and hundreds of thousands journeyed in prayer and penance to their favorite holy places. …

The most significant sign of the times in Ireland is the fact that the Freeman’s Journal, the oldest newspaper in Ireland and a newspaper that for long years had carried by far the greatest sway in Ireland, has just gone under and disappeared.3 While Sinn Fein was growing the Freeman’s Journal was prone to libel the character of the movement and the men. This was done only to prevent the virile new movement from indecently hurrying the demise of the played out [Irish Parliamentary Party, which supported late 19th century home rule.]

See more post in my American Reporting of Irish Independence series, including a similar opinion roundup from April 1919.

Irish Network USA gathers in DC

Irish Network USA holds its annual national conference Oct. 10-13 in Washington, D.C.

Irish Ambassador to the United States Dan Mulhall opens the event with an Oct. 10 reception at the Irish Embassy. He will be interviewed the following day on the state of Irish-US relations “in times of change” and what Brexit means for transatlantic ties.

Sean Davis, Enterprise Ireland; Alison Metcalfe, Tourism Ireland; and Seamus Carroll, IDA Ireland, & TBC, Invest Northern Ireland will discuss Ireland’s trade, investment and tourism relations with the US, what Brexit might mean for those relations, and the role of IN chapters in advancing economic objectives in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Another session will review the new diaspora policy the Irish government plans to publish in 2020 as part of its commitment to double Ireland’s global impact by 2025.

Irish Network USA is the national umbrella organization of 19 Irish Networks chapters in cities across America. Its more than 3,500 members connect with their peers and to develop relationships that will foster success in their business, economic, cultural and sports ventures, and bolster business opportunities and economic development between America and Ireland.