Category Archives: Arts & Culture

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.

Catching up with modern Ireland: August

I’m posting the August round up a few days before the Kerry-Dublin All-Ireland Final, and will update the result in a fresh post. I did not publish a July round up due to my two-week travels in Ireland.

In late July/early August, people on both sides the Irish border shrugged when I asked about Brexit: there was concern, but not panic. Now, developments are gathering pace ahead of the Oct. 31 deadline. Brexit is intensifying like a hurricane, with the outcome equally unpredictable. British PM Boris Johnson has abruptly suspended the opening of Parliament; an alternative proposal to solve the Irish border riddle is gaining attention.

People on each side of the border voiced caution when I asked about whether a messy, “no deal” Brexit would lead to Irish reunification. “Not right off,” was the general consensus. The passage below is from Daniel Finn’s Aug. 21 piece in Foreign Affairs, Ireland’s Rocky Road to Unity: Can Demographic Shifts Undo a Hundred Years of Separation?

The terms of the impending separation from the European Union [Brexit] remain uncertain, but nothing since the June 2016 referendum has discouraged the belief that the end result will be messy and disruptive. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, Northern Ireland will take a much bigger and more immediate hit than the rest of the United Kingdom, because of its reliance on cross-border trade with the south. In a region that voted to remain in the EU by a solid majority (56 to 44 percent), that prospect is widely and bitterly resented. Especially among soft nationalists and soft unionists—those who take a more pragmatic and transactional view of the union with Britain—the shock of a chaotic Brexit could push more voters to embrace Irish unity as a safer option than remaining tethered to the United Kingdom.

  • Fáilte Ireland and accountancy firm Crowe have developed a Brexit Readiness Check for businesses to determine “how prepared you are to respond to the potential impact of Brexit.”
  • Catholics and Protestants lived side by side in Northern Ireland for decades, “but they had very few social or economic ties across the communities,” academic researchers Joseph M. Brown and Gordon C. McCord wrote in The Washington Post story marking the 50th anniversary of the Troubles. “This meant geographic proximity bred violence instead of mutual tolerance.”
  • The New York Times this month published several stories about Ireland and Northern Ireland, ranging from surfing and television to abortion and housing:

Chasing Waves on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

In ‘Derry Girls,’ the Lighter Side of Life in a Conflict Zone

Climate of Fear: When One Part of a Country Bans Abortion

Housing Crisis Grips Ireland a Decade After the Property Bubble Burst

From an evening walk on Inisheer, looking west to Inis Meain.

St. Colman’s Cathedral celebrates its centennial

UPDATE:

  • At the centenary Mass, Bishop of Cloyne William Crean said: “One hundred years on an unimaginably different Ireland, Europe and global reality prevails. In the North of Ireland, the ancient divisions have eluded resolution. In the south, a liberal secular world view seeks to suppress the Christian narrative.” Notwithstanding the church’s clergy sex abuse scandals and other challenges, he was confident “the prophets of doom were mistaken” in condemning the church to “a dire future”. Coverage from The Irish Times.
  • Engineers Journal detailed, “The building of St Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh, 1868-1915“.

ORIGINAL POST:

One of Ireland’s most iconic Catholic churches, St. Colman’s Cathedral in Cobh, has reached its 100th anniversary.

A special Mass will be celebrated Sunday, Aug. 25, by Bishop William Crean, joined by Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, Apostolic Nuncio, and clergy and parishioners from the 46 parishes of the Diocese of Cloyne in County Cork. Irish composer Bernard Sexton has created special music and hymns for the centenary.

The foundation stone for St. Colman’s was laid in 1868, a year after the Fenian Rising. The neo-Gothic church was substantially completed in 1915, when the harbor town was still known as Queenstown. The war-delayed consecration took place Aug. 12, 1919, followed two weeks later by solemn commemoration ceremonies overseen by Cardinal Michael Logue, according to this diocesan history.  

The Irish Examiner exclaimed:

A splendid symbol of the undying faith of the Irish people–a faith as firmly fixed as the granite walls of the Cathedral itself–the Mother Church of the Dioceses of Cloyne looks on the heaving waters of the eternal sea, and proclaims that Catholic Ireland discerns truth beyond material mundane affairs … Ireland and Irish Catholics can feel a justifiable pride in the imposing edifice that overlooks Cork Harbour, which is now finished and devoted to the service of God. … St. Colman’s Cathedral now stands for all time a monument to the Faith and zeal of Irish Catholics …1

St. Colman’s Cathedral in Cobh, formerly Queenstown, in County Cork.

The cathedral was not the only big building opened that summer in Cork. In July, the first tractors rolled off the Ford plant assembly line on the site of a former city park and racecourse on the south bank of the River Lee. The plant had 330,000 square feet of covered floor space. It provided employment for nearly 2,000 workers in the desperate post-war economy.

“On the edge of the sidewalks in Cork there is a human curbing of idle men,” Chicago Daily News correspondent Ruth Russell reported. “Just now most of them are sons of farmers or farm hands, for the farmer of the south is turning his acres back to grazing and extra hands are not needed.”2

These two developments, spiritual and commercial, happened as the Irish revolution continued to gather pace. By October 1920, the hunger strike death of Lord Mayor of Cork Terence James MacSwiney shocked the city and the world. His funeral was from the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Anne, about 10 miles from St. Colman’s in the heart of Cork city.

St. Colman’s was the last dominate structure hundreds of thousands of Irish emigrants viewed as they sailed to America from Queenstown/Cobh in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. My Kerry-born grandmother and grandfather were among this cohort, leaving six years before the dedication ceremonies. I am certain they would have wandered up the hill to whisper a prayer inside St. Colman’s before their departure. Because of that, I was as emotionally moved to enter St. Colman’s as to walk the Cobh waterfront the first time I visited Ireland in 2000.

May God grant that St. Colman’s of Cobh stands to welcome the faithful of Ireland and the world for another 100 years.

Ireland’s Carnegie libraries commemorated with new stamps

Scotland-born industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie amassed an early 20th century steel industry fortune estimated at $309 billion in today’s money, more than double the $136 billion of Bill Gates’ software wealth. More importantly, Carnegie was “the father of modern philanthropy,” including the funding of 2,509 public libraries in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.

In Ireland, 80 Carnegie library branches were opened between 1897 and 1913, a decade before the island’s political partition and civil war. Carnegie died 11 August 1919, at age 83.

The centenary of his death has prompted fresh reflections of his life. In Ireland, An Post has issued new stamps (above) that commemorate four of the libraries in the Republic: Kilkenny town, County Kilkenny; Clondalkin, County Dublin; Enniskerry, County Wicklow; and Athea, County Limerick.

“A characteristic of the Carnegie libraries is that, apart from their contribution to scholarship and learning, they were invariably housed in beautiful buildings – architectural ornaments in the towns and cities in which they were located,” Felix M. Larkin, chairman of An Post’s Philatelic Advisory Committee, said during the 14 August unveiling.

Larkin, a founding member of the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland (See my November 2018 Q & A with him.), more broadly noted:

Felix Larkin speaking at the launch of the Carnegie library stamps in Dublin, 14 August 2019. Photo by Pól Ó Duibhir.

“Libraries are the foundation of all scholarship, where books, newspapers, photographs, prints and drawings – and now digital material too – are lovingly preserved for posterity. And they are preserved not only for use by the elite scholar laboring away in a university, in an ivory tower (so to speak), but for everyone with the curiosity to want to learn more about history, literature and a host of other things – or indeed just to enjoy the pleasure of reading and be enriched by it. Libraries are fundamentally democratic centers of learning, open to everyone – and free.”

Read Larkin’s full remarks.

As a native of Pittsburgh, where Carnegie made his fortune, I have mixed views of the man. On one hand, he was a captain of the era’s brutal, labor-crushing industrialism, including the bloody Homestead strike of 1892. On the other hand, Carnegie funded libraries, museums, and other cultural institutions in the region that directly contributed to my ability “to learn more about history, literature and a host of other things.”

One of the most satisfying accomplishments of my writing life is to have my book about my Irish immigrant grandfather placed in both the open stacks and reference sections of the main Carnegie branch in Pittsburgh … a place where I did some of the research. It is also a beautiful building.

Visiting Ireland 2019: In the west

We left the Antrim coast and Northern Ireland and drove back into the Republic, with stops in Sligo, then Westport.

The poet’s grave at Drumcliffe, County Sligo.

Sligo town at dusk.

Low tide at Aughris Head, Co. Sligo,on the Wild Atlantic Way. The iconic Benbulben is the darker summit at right. 

A relief on the base of statue of St. Patrick in Westport. This image shows the saint banishing the snakes from Ireland and using the shamrock to teach the Holy Trinity.

Between Achill Island and Westport on the Great Western Greenway hike and bike trail.

Back to Ireland as blog reaches seventh anniversary

This month marks the blog’s seventh anniversary, which is a good opportunity to thank readers for their interest in my work. I am grateful to my email subscribers; people who have written to me about the content; and those who help share it on social media. I’m also grateful to the archivists, librarians, and historians who have guided me along the way.

Please explore the site, including this year’s centennial project on American reporting of Irish independence in 1919; and earlier work such as Nora’s Sorrow and Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited, which each deal with the Land War period of the 1880s.

Other highlights include my St. Patrick Churches feature; Links and Places to Visit pages; and monthly and annual roundups.

My wife, Angie Drobnic Holan, has lovingly contributed to this effort as editor and webmaster. She and I will be traveling in Ireland and Northern Ireland over the next two weeks, and we will post words and images about the island’s natural beauty and contemporary culture.

Further ahead, I’ve been asked to present my Irish-related research at the American Journalism Historians Association‘s annual conference in Dallas; and the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland annual conference in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Details coming this fall.

For now, thanks again for supporting the blog, and watch for our posts from Ireland. MH

Angie and I at the Marian Year, 1954, shrine in Lahardan townland, County Kerry, in 2012. My grandfather was a born near this hillside holy well in 1894.