Category Archives: Arts & Culture

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.

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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!”

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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.

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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.

Catching up with modern Ireland: September

Political uncertainty means economic uncertainty. And so it is with the looming Oct. 31 Brexit deadline.

“Risks from the international environment are increasing due to continued uncertainty over Brexit and the growing evidence of a slowdown amongst some of Ireland’s most important trading partners. If a no-deal Brexit occurs in late 2019, it is not inconceivable that the Irish economy could contract in 2020,” the Economic & Social Research Institute said in a Sept. 26 report.

Brexit developments are changing daily. As The Telegraph explains, “Things are not going well.” Elsewhere …

  • The Catholic Church in Ireland recognized as a miracle the 1989 healing of an Athlone woman with multiple sclerosis claimed. She claimed the cure resulted from her visit to the Knock Shrine in County Mayo, site of an 1879 apparition.
  • The New York Times revealed Irish diplomats saved one its reporters from being arrested by Egyptian officials after the Trump administration refused their request for help.
  • A £1.25 billion contract to build five Royal Navy frigates is a lifeline to the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, which in August entered administration. About 130 people work at the historic shipyard, down from a peak of 35,000 in the 1920s , the decade after its workers built the Titanic.
  • An art exhibit that draws its inspiration from the W. B. Yeats’ poem “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen” has opened at the Irish Consulate in New York City. The exhibition, curated by the Hamilton Gallery in Sligo, features art works by 129 artists themed around the poem. The catalog is available on YouTube as a series of short videos.
  • Glaslough in County Monaghan won the 2019 Tidy Towns competition.
  • Finally–hate to say it–Dublin beat Kerry for a record fifth straight All-Ireland Championship.

Yeats statue in Sligo city. August 2019

On Robert Emmet, St. Patrick, and Irish Savannah

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

According to Visit Savannah:

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

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

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

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

Photo essay: From Downpatrick to Croagh Patrick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Downpatrick.

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

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