Category Archives: Arts & Culture

Catching up with modern Ireland: May

I’ve been away most of the month working on long-term projects. Thanks for supporting our archived content. Here’s the monthly roundup. MH

  • U.S. President Donald Trump is scheduled to meet Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on June 6 at Shannon Airport. Trump wanted the meeting at his Doonbeg golf resort in County Clare, where he will layover on his return from the U.K. earlier in the week. Varadkar wanted the meeting at Dromoland Castle Hotel, a neutral site that has hosted similar sessions with American leaders. Shannon was the compromise, Vox reports, citing the Washington Post. With Trump, of course, anything could happen. He scratched an announced November visit to Ireland.
  • Killarney National Park’s keystone oak woodlands are threatened by invasive rhododendron, The Irish Times warned. Earlier this year, wildfires damaged nearly 200 acres of heath and forest in or near the County Kerry park.
  • “Ireland has voted overwhelmingly to ease restrictions on divorce, taking another step toward liberalizing a Constitution that was once dominated by the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church,” The New York Times reported after the measure was overwhelmingly passed in a May 24 referendum.
  • Thousands marched in Belfast to support same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, including the partner of slain journalist Lyra McKee.
  • In European Union and local elections, the Green Party made gains at the expense of Varadkar’s Fine Gael. So far, right-wing Euroskeptics have not reached the Irish ballot box. … A recount of 750,000 votes is underway for the MEP seat representing Ireland South will begin June 4 and could take the rest of the month, TheJournal.ie says.
  • An RTÉ story has detailed high turnover rates in the Irish Defense Forces.
  • Fáilte Ireland’s new €150 million “Platforms for Growth” initiative will “transform the tourism landscape across the country” CEO Paul Kelly said in a release. The first “platform” will focus on developing Immersive Heritage and Cultural Attractions that include more hands-on experiences to bring local culture and heritage to life.

The entrance of Trump’s Doonbeg golf course in County Clare during my July 2016 visit.

Irish film celebrates archives & ordinary lives

I  got to watch “Keepers of the Flame,” a 2018 documentary about some of the more than 85,000 people who in the 1920s applied for state pensions based on their actions in the 1916 Easter Rising, and the subsequent Irish War of Independence, and Irish Civil War. Only 18,000 received any money.

The Irish Military Service Pensions Archive became public in 2017. Most of the massive collection of government forms, personal letters, and related materials is available online.

“We need those archives, not just in Ireland, but everywhere. And we need those archives in order to come to some sort of an approximation of who we are are,” Irish historian Diarmaid Ferriter says in the film. He co-wrote the script with director Nuala O’Connor.

Read the Irish Independent‘s 2018 interview for more of Ferriter’s views about the project.

The Irish pension archive, like the similar American Civil War archives that Damian Shiels has expertly mined for Irish immigrant stories, is remarkable because it contains fragments of so many lives forgotten in most historical accounts. Such stories “humanize and enrich history by reminding us that the study of the past should include the study of the lives of ordinary people, their attitudes, beliefs, motives, experiences and actions,” Bill McDowell wrote in “Historical Research: A Guide for Writers of Dissertations, Theses, Articles and Books.”

Among some of my own works in this effort:

I leave debates about the “archival sliver” versus “total archives” to others. If you love exploring archives, as I do, you must see this film. As someone said after the screening I attended: panning shots of shelves of boxes in temperature-controlled rooms never looked so good.

Below, the official trailer for “Keepers of the Flame.”

The Irish question, April 1919

Below are three opinions about “the Irish question” published in mainstream U.S. newspapers at the end of April 1919. Each includes a nod to America’s role in solving the problem. The first and third selections represent the views of contemporary Irish politicians; the third is from the review of an Irish-themed play in New York City. MH

Stephen L. Gwynn was an Irish Parliamentary Party MP for Galway city from 1909-1918, and a British Army officer during the war. His moderate Irish nationalism had fallen from favor by the time he wrote this April 28, 1919, piece for the Universal Services newspaper syndicate.

Gwynn

The only thing certain about the present situation in Ireland is that it will not last. The phalanx of Ulster Unionist members remains unbroken … [but] nobody seriously believes that the country can be ruled in permanence, as at the present, through a military occupation in force. Even setting aside all the protestations which have been made about the freedom of nationalities, government through a garrison of 70,000 or 80,000 troops is too costly a method. … At present, neither Ulster nor the rest of Ireland believes any threat or any promise issued by Great Britain. And who can blame them? … If America cannot help, I see nothing ahead by chaotic ferment … 1

New York-born journalist Heywood Broun in the 1930s would help found the American Newspaper Guild (later The Newspaper Guild). As drama critic at the New York Tribune, he filed this April 1919 review about the debut of the play “Dark Rosaleen,” (after the 19th century poem by James Clarence Mangan), which closed in July after 87 performances.

None of the possibilities of the Irish question is allowed to go by the boards. Whenever the playwrights have been in any doubt as to what to do next they have almost invariably decided to let somebody say something about Ireland fettered or Ireland free. Pessimistic summaries of Ireland’s present state and optimistic prophecies are received with equal enthusiasm. Personally, we can see no good reason why Ireland should not be free, but at the same time we never have been able to understand the emotional stimulus which audiences of Irish extraction or sympathies seem to derive from the sight of a number of comic characters in the play sitting about and weeping in their beer for the wrongs of poor old Erin. We never could figure out just how this was supposed to help along the cause of self-determination for the mush distressed country. However, there seems to be no doubt that material of this sort is sure fire in the theater, and do it proved last night.2

American journalist Harold E. Bechtold, managing editor of the Newspaper Enterprise Association, interviewed Seán Thomas O’Kelly, Irish envoy to the Paris peace conference. He later became the second president of Ireland.

O’Kelly

I asked him what would happen if the peace conference did not take up the Irish question or refused to recognize Ireland’s claim of independence. “In that case,” O’Kelly said, “Ireland will use every means that human ingenuity can devise to make the British government impossible in Ireland. I am also satisfied that the war will be carried out into the enemy camp and that England will have brought home to her own doors in most unwelcome form, vivid evidence of the Irish antipathy to English rule. Arms have been storied in every town and village in Ireland. … Irish people in the United States … all love Ireland, and if I know them correctly they will work with all their power to help Ireland gain her freedom.”3

Guest post: A touching surprise at The Mansion House

My good friend Sister Cathy Cahill, OSF, a Florida-based retreat leader and spiritual director, is a frequent visitor to Ireland. My only regret is that she and I haven’t been in the country at the same time. This is her third guest post for the blog. MH

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Although I’ve been in Dublin many times since my first visit in 1986, I’ve just made my first time to The Mansion House, the official residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin. For two days the mansion, built in 1710, was open to the public with an exhibit commemorating the 1916 Easter Uprising as well as the first sitting of Dáil Éireann in 1919. The latter took place in the mansion’s Round Room.

The history and importance of the building is enough to hold the interest of anyone interested in Irish history. Meeting Lord Mayor Nial Ring was an honor. But what really touched my heart was a plaque in the Entrance Hall. It reads:

Once again I was moved by the story of the Choctaws giving generously from their meager resources to assist the Irish people during the Great Famine in 1847. I was reminded of the Choctaw Nation sculpture I saw in County Cork shortly after its 2017 dedication. The striking sculpture of feathers pays tribute to the humanity of the Choctaw people who reached out beyond their own needs to respond in compassion to the suffering of others.

Shortly after the Mansion House plaque was installed, a group of Hiberians and other Irish joined in a march retracing of the Trail of Tears, the name of the forced migration of the Choctaw people from the Deep South to Oklahoma. It was a show of empathy and solidarity. The Choctaw tribe made Ireland’s then President Mary Robinson an honorary chief. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar visited the Choctaws last year, offering scholarships for study in Ireland.

Dev in 1919.

This year also marks the centenary of Éamon de Valera’s visit to the Chippewa reservation in Wisconsin. The American-born president of Ireland’s fledgling revolutionary government was made an honorary tribal leader. “Dev” accepted a ceremonial head dress and posed in his suit for a famous photo.

“We, like you, are a people who have suffered and I feel for you with a sympathy that comes only from one who can understand as we Irishmen can,” de Valera told the Native Americans.

Goodness and generosity are human traits that give me hope. I was delighted to see them commemorated in such a grand place as The Mansion House.

Photo essay: Art of Chicago/Galway sister city relationship

Chicago and Galway agreed their Sister Cities International relationship in 1997. Ten years later, the Grainne (“Grace,” in Gaelic) sculpture (top photo) by artist Maurice Harron was dedicated at Heritage Green Park across the street from Old St. Patrick’s Church in Chicago (bottom photo). Seven mosaic stone carvings representing Celtic culture that surround the statue were designed and crafted by Dennis Goggin and Reamonn Flaherty. The images, in descending order, are the Claddagh Ring; Irish Harp; Galway Hooker, Triskele (triple spiral); Celtic Knot; Tree of Life; and Celtic Sun. See photos of Old St. Patrick’s from this March 2019 visit. MH

Guest post: ‘Milkman’ is dark, grim & terrifically funny

I always welcome guest posts, especially from my wife, Angie Drobnic Holan, who maintains her own excellent, if intermittent, blog. Angie’s last post here was a review of Sally Rooney’ Conversation with Friends.

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Anna Burns is the latest in a long line of acerbic Irish writers who are able to cast jaundiced eyes on the hypocrisies and shortcomings of their own community because they know it so intimately from the inside out.

Belfast-born Burns, whose Milkman won last year’s Man Booker Prize for literature, said she based the novel on life experiences.

“I grew up in a place that was rife with violence, distrust and paranoia, and peopled by individuals trying to navigate and survive in that world as best as they could,” she said.

Milkman is a winding, stream-of-conscious narrative set in Northern Ireland’s Troubles of the 1970s or 1980s. We are plunged straight in: The narrator has a gun held to her chest, and the wielder of the gun is Somebody McSomebody, because the hit squads killed the milkman. But, she hastens to inform us, the so-called relationship between her and the milkman never existed. It was wanted by him and gossiped into existence by the community, but never real. That surreal set-up is gradually unspooled, logically and relentlessly, over the novel’s 350 pages.

Violence, paranoia and depression hover over the community like a fog. As we come to know the narrator, we learn she is an 18-year-old woman who variously carries the roles of middle daughter, maybe girlfriend, middle sister, oldest friend. She likes to read old books — Ivanhoe, Vanity Fair — as a means of escape, and sometimes she even reads while she walks.

The reading-while-walking is an act of defiance within the confines of a suffocating community, but it’s not a true escape from the ever-present political and religious divisions. Plus, it will get you branded as one of the beyond-the-pales, as Burns puts it. Here’s a passage where the narrator gets a scolding from a friend.

‘You brought it on yourself, longest friend. I informed you and informed you. I mean for the longest time ever since primary school I’ve been warning you to kill out that habit you insist on and that now I suspect you’re addicted to – that reading in public as you’re walking about.’ ‘But -’ I said. ‘Not natural,’ she said. But -’ I said. ‘Unnerving behavior,’ she said. But -’ I said. But -’ I said. ‘I thought you meant in case of traffic, in case I walked into traffic.’ ‘Not traffic,’ she said. ‘More stigmatic than traffic. But too late. The community has pronounced its diagnosis on you now.’

It’s a long Irish tradition to be dark and grim while being terrifically funny. Milkman delivers.

For more on Anna Burns’ Milkman:

Ron Charles of the Washington Post reviews the novel for an American audience: “Lovers of modernist fiction by William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce — I know you’re out there, waiting for a book to slake your thirst for something strange and complex — Milkman is for you.”

The New York Times profiles Anna Burns, outlining her struggles as a writer (both financial problems and health issues) and her thoughts on Northern Ireland.  

Claire Armitstead at The Guardian says of the novel’s Man Booker Prize win: “Milkman may not be the best novel in contention this year, but it is certainly a plucky and challenging one – also one that speaks directly to the #MeToo era and to political anxieties over hard borders in Ireland and around the more recently troubled world.”

Catching up with modern Ireland: March

The March 29 deadline for Brexit has come and gone. Now, facing an April 12 red line, Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union and the impact on both sides of the Irish border seems as shapeless as the “mists and squalls of Ireland” at the start of the Great War. Several Brexit selections begin this month’s roundup, followed by other news and features.

  • Anti-Brexit campaigners protested at six different points of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland on [March 30], fearing a return of customs checks could risk peace, jobs and their way of life, Reuters reported.
  • “It’s a further measure of the Brexiteers’ naïveté that they don’t realize that by forcing Northern Ireland to choose between the United Kingdom and Europe, they may have inadvertently hastened the eventual reunification of Ireland.” Patrick Radden Keefe in The New York Times.
  • “Their own culpable ignorance of Northern Ireland will not stop the Brexit zealots from blaming the Irish for the mess. In their eyes, Brexit would always have been a triumph were it not for the crazy complications of John Bull’s Other Island. Fintan O’Toole of The Irish Times, published in The Washington Post.”

The Irish border has nearly 300 crossings. Credit: PA Graphics

Other stories:

  • Everything you need to know about Ireland’s economy” (and aren’t afraid to ask) from the World Economic Forum.
  • Conor McGregor, the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s biggest star and one of the world’s highest-paid athletes, is under investigation in Ireland after a woman accused him of sexual assault, several media outlets reported. He was arrested in January but has not been charged. McGregor also announced his U.F.C. retirement, though a spokeswoman said it was unrelated to the investigation.
  • John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban” militant convicted in 2002 of supporting the terrorist organization, is due to be freed in May … and he’s moving to Ireland. Fox News and other outlets have recently recycled the  2017 Foreign Policy story that Lindh obtained Irish citizenship in 2013 through family’s ancestry.
  • Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum on April 11 will celebrate the return of over 50 pieces of art that traveled throughout Ireland in the Coming Home: Art and the Great Hunger exhibition. The touring collection drew more than 100,000 people since last year.

“An Irish Peasant and her Child,” Alfred Downing Fripp, Watercolor on paper, 1846, from Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum.

Photo essay: Visiting Old St. Patrick’s Church, Chicago

Old St. Patrick’s parish in Chicago was founded by Irish immigrants on Easter Sunday, 1846, at the onset of the Great Famine. The current church building was dedicated on Christmas morning, 1856. The church’s website timeline provides more history. The church also is detailed in the 1997 book, At the Crossroads: Old Saint Patrick’s and the Chicago Irish, by Ellen Skerret.

Images below from March 15, 2019. See the more than 20 St. Patrick’s churches that I have visited in America and Europe.

Catching up with modern Ireland: February

A short roundup for a short month. … Just over two week until St. Patrick’s Day, and less than a month until the scheduled Brexit. As I publish, however, there is growing talk of postponing the split until June. We’ll see.

  • The British are about to kick us in the teeth again,” Irish border resident Patrick O’Reilly tells The New York Times.

“The Brexit Apocalypse Bill, a belching omnibus of a vehicle, reversed into Dáil Éireann at teatime on Tuesday, polluting the chamber with rancid fumes which nobody requested and nobody wanted,” Miriam Lord writes in The Irish Times.

“If we’re heading for a hard Brexit, then we’re heading for a united Ireland,” Patrick Kielty opinions in The Guardian.

  • Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum has until June 2020 to become self-sustaining, Quinnipiac University President Judy Olian announced. The Hamden, Conn., school also withdrew its financial support and participation in New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade after 30 years.

This is more than just an institutional belt-tightening story; it’s another example of the “fading of the green.” As Charles F. McElwee III wrote last year in The American Conservative: “The Irish Catholic experience peaked during the Second Vatican Council, but has slowly faded with the death of older relatives, the changed cultural makeup of urban neighborhoods, the dissolution of cash-strapped and scandal-ridden parishes, and an overall indifference towards tradition in this modern era.”

Don’t be fooled by the upcoming St. Patrick’s celebrations.

Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University. Photo by Robert Benson.

    • Irish workers were described as the most productive in the world, adding an average of $99.50 (€87) to the value of the economy every hour they work, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The Republic’s rate was higher than its biggest trading partners, the United States ($72) and the United Kingdom ($61.10), and nearly twice the OECD average of $54.80. … The Irish Central Statistics Office, however, cautioned that Irish workers in the domestic sector, which excludes multinationals, added an average $54.20, just below the OECD average.
    • Irish novelist John Banville defended Irish actor Liam Neeson’s comments about wanting to revenge kill any “black bastard” 40 years ago after his friend was raped. Neeson apologized on Good Morning America. “I am not a racist,” he said.
    • The head of an 800-year-old mummy known as “The Crusader” was stolen from its crypt below St. Michan’s Church in Dublin.
    • The 17.3 C. (65 F.) 23 February temperature in Roscommon was shy of the record 18.1 C., set 23 February, 1891, in Dublin. Met Éireann forecaster Siobhán Ryan told the Times the high temperature was not attributable to global warming, but more likely the result of natural variability in the weather.
    • The first teaser for Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman was screened during the Academy Awards. The movie tells the story of Irish hoodlum Frank Sheeran, who claimed to have killed American union boss Jimmy Hoffa in 1975. The release date is unclear.
    • Finally, the end of February is the anniversary of the 1888 opening of Kerry’s unique Lartigue monorail, a favorite historical curiosity.

The Lartigue monorail opened Leap Year Day, 1888, and closed in 1924.

AT TOP: St. Patrick and St. Briget at  Saint Muredach’s Catholic Cathedral,facing the River Moy in Ballina, Mayo. February 2018.

Henry Clive’s ‘face’ of Ireland in 1921

The image above was created by graphic artist Henry Clive. It appeared on the program cover of a June 1921 Pittsburgh benefit event for the American Committee for the Relief of Ireland.

Clive was born Henry Clive O’Hara in 1881, in Australia, to an Irish father and an English mother, according to the Field Guide to Wild American Pulp Artists. He began his career in theater, then gradually transitioned to full-time work as an illustrator. In 1925–four years after this image appeared on the Pittsburgh program cover–Clive joined The American Weekly,  a Sunday magazine supplement of the Hearst newspaper syndicate. He died in 1960.

Many of Clive’s illustrations are available in online galleries, and its easy to see the stylistic similarities to the image above. The event program, part of the John B. Collins Papers at the University of Pittsburgh, does not contain details about his commission for this work.

Did the American Committee for the Relief of Ireland commission the work for other publications? Is the young woman the “Dark Rosaleen” of James Clarence Mangan’s 19th century nationalist poem? Was Clive influenced by the women featured in the 1913 first color photographs from Ireland, produced by Madeleine Mignon-Alba and Marguerite Mespoulet?

Does anyone know more about this image?