Category Archives: Business & Environment

Catching up with modern Ireland: August

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

Hume

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

***

Hamill

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

***

Also in August:

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

A road on Inisheer, August 2019.

Catching up with modern Ireland: July

This time last year my wife and I were enjoying a two-week holiday on both sides of the Irish border. Millions of other visitors did the same last summer. Now, tourism to Ireland is experiencing “an extraordinary collapse” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as detailed by the Central Statistics Office.

Visitors have declined by two thirds over the first six months of this year against the same period last year; while June arrivals plummeted 97 percent compared to June 2019.

“Decimated is how I’d describe the business,” Dublin-born Niall Leogue, owner of Caddie Tours near Washington, D.C., told The Irish Times. The 10 tours he had arranged for some 400 people have been cancelled.

“No one wants to travel at this point,” said Leogue, an acquaintance through  Irish Network-DC. “What this will come down to will be the confidence of the consumer. Without the consumer there is no travel.”

Those who do visit are testing Ireland’s famous welcome and creating a new threat: “Tourists, particularly American ones, who flout Ireland’s quarantine rule,” The New York Times reported. “They aren’t the only tourists ignoring the requirement that people arriving in Ireland isolate themselves for 14 days, but most of the public complaints involve Americans.”

The U.S. Embassy in Ireland warns Americans to be prepared for the Irish government to enforce new “travel restrictions with little or no advance notice.” Its July 28 alert continues:

The Irish government continues to advise against all non-essential foreign travel, and requires visitors arriving in Ireland, with limited exceptions, to restrict their movements and fill in a COVID-19 Passenger Locator Form indicating where they will self-isolate for 14 days. Failure to complete the form and providing false or misleading information is an offense under Irish law, with a fine of up to €2,500 (nearly $3,000) and/or imprisonment of up to six months.

Other news in July:

  • A Guardian editorial enthused: “Step by step, Ireland’s old nationalist politics, shaped by Britain in so many ways, have moved on. Ireland is prospering by doing things more rationally and in ways that are firmly rooted in the state’s membership of multilateral institutions.”
  • Archaeologists have discovered evidence of extensive activity at Navan Fort—a circular earthwork near Armagh city in Northern Ireland—including a vast Iron Age temple complex and residences perhaps occupied by the kings of Ulster.
  • The Irish government has provided €66,561 in funding to keep open the acclaimed Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN), which documents the Troubles. The comprehensive resource at Ulster University’s Magee campus in Derry still needs additional support to avoid future problems.
  • A Hong Kong property tycoon has proposed building a new city, called Nextpolis, between Dublin and Belfast, for up to 50,000 refugees of the troubled Asian financial hub.
  • Loftus Hall in County Wexford, said to the most haunted house in Ireland, is for sale, which has generated a wave of media reports.
  • Amazon announced it would add 1,000 jobs in Ireland, bringing its workforce in the country to 5,000.
  • First the pandemic cancelled St. Patrick’s Day parades, now it’s claiming Irish America summer events including the Pittsburgh Irish Festival, Milwaukee Irish Fest, and Great American Irish Festival (Utica, N.Y.), and businesses such as Fado Irish Pub in Washington, D.C., and the Irish Walk store in Alexandria, Va.
  • The Muslim celebration of Eid al-Adha will be hosted July 31 at Dublin’s Croke Park, home of the 136-year-old Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and symbol of an Irish identity that was nationalist and Catholic. The open stadium is being used to meet social distancing requirements. And in this case, the Irish welcome appears to be fully intact.
  • See previous monthly roundups and our annual “Best of the Blog.”

No masks: Galway city, August 2019.

Got a copy of this book for sale or loan?

UPDATE: It took two months, but I finally obtained a copy of the Doorley book through the inter-library loan service at Arlington County (Virginia) Public Library, a short walk from my apartment. St. Xavier University in Chicago is the lending institution. Thanks to both libraries. I have use of the book for a month, until Oct. 19. I’m still interested in buying a copy. MH

ORIGINAL POST:

It’s not only people quarantined by the COVID-19 pandemic, but also books.

I’ve been trying to obtain a copy of Irish-American diaspora nationalism: the Friends of Irish Freedom, 1916-35, by Michael Doorley. In a History Ireland article about the 1916-1921 revolutionary period, he wrote:

The development of the FOIF illustrates the impact of the changing character of the Irish immigrant group in America and the American political situation on Irish-American nationalism. Irish-Americans took pride in their American identity and their contribution to the American nation, and this sense of American identity also colored the Irish-American nationalism of the FOIF. Given the increasing tensions between Sinn Féin and the FOIF … [the November 1920] public rupture between both bodies was inevitable. 

For the record, my main interest in this book is to learn more background and context about the News Letter published from 1919 to 1922 by the FOIF-affiliated Irish National Bureau.

This book is shelved at three university libraries and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., within an hour of my apartment. Under normal circumstances, I would visit the stacks and read the book in the library. But the libraries are closed due to the pandemic.

My local Arlington County (Virginia) Public Library, a 5-minute walk from home, provides inter-library loans from a nationwide network. That service also is discontinued.

I can’t find Doorley’s book for sale online. Publisher Four Courts Press no longer has any copies in stock. I emailed the publisher about obtaining a .pdf copy of the 2005 title, but FCP replied this option is not available more than five years after publication. Amazon and other online book sellers do not list copies for sale.

I emailed Doorley, who I met last November at the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland conference in Belfast. He generously offered to make available a copy … but we discovered An Post is not delivering parcels to America, only letters, due to the pandemic. 

What to do? Patience will prevail, I suppose; the libraries or inter-library loan service will reopen eventually. That could take some time, however, given America’s poor handling of the pandemic. 

I hope that publishing this piece and posting it on social media will help. Does anyone have a copy of Doorley’s book for sale or loan?

Catching up with modern Ireland: June

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

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

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

Ireland’s new taoiseach, @MichealMartinTD

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

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

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

Other headlines from June:

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

Entrance at Newgrange, July 2019.

Irish history movie ideas: The Colors of Ireland

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catching up with modern Ireland: May

I’ll be reducing the number of new posts and republishing some of my earlier work over the summer as I work on larger projects for the fall and beyond. Stay safe. Here’s the May roundup:  

  • At least 1,652 people have died of COVID-19 in the Republic of Ireland, with another 522 in Northern Ireland. Both sides of the border are beginning to ease some lock-down restrictions in place since mid-March.
  • “The Irish Blessing” – an initiative of 300 religious congregations from different denominations on the island  – is intended as a blessing of protection on frontline workers battling the pandemic. Watch and listen to the recorded version of “Be Thou My Vision” below:

  • U.S media outlets widely reported the COVID-19 relief generously supplied by the Irish people to the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Reservation as repayment of a donation the Choctaw Nation sent to starving Irish families during the Great Famine.
  • Nearly four months after the general election in the Republic failed to produce a governing majority, coalition talks continue to grind forward. “Slowly, at times almost imperceptibly, Fianna FáilFine Gael and Green Party negotiators are crawling towards a government, conscious that public and political patience is running out,” The Irish Times reported. Party leaders had hoped for a deal by June. Now they wonder if one can be achieved by the middle, or even the end, of the month. “As always, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”
  • The U.K.’s highest court ruled that the former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams should not have been found guilty of unlawfully attempting to escape from Long Kesh prison in the 1970s because his internment was not legal to begin with. The ruling is expected to prompt more than 200 additional challenges from other former internees, including loyalists, the Belfast News Letter reported.
  • Ireland is vying against Canada and Norway for a two-year rotating seat on the United Nation’s Security Council. The vote is set for June 17. Ireland last held the seat in 2001; and earlier in 1981 and 1962.
  • The Ireland Funds America named Caitriona Fottrell is its new president and CEO, effective June 30. She has been with the global philanthropic network since 1993, currently as vice president. The Fund has chapters in 12 countries.
  • Ireland’s first direct container shipping service to the United States is set to begin in June, with weekly crossings between the Port of Cork and Wilmington, N.C., and Philadelphia, according to Maritime Executive. Readers of my series about New York Globe journalist Harry Guest‘s 1920 reporting from revolutionary Ireland will recall the U.S.-based Moore-McCormack Lines operated a commercial shipping service between Philadelphia and Dublin-Cork-Belfast, from September 1919 until 1925.
  • Actor Matt Damon flew out of Ireland in late May after three months of unscheduled lock down at a €1,000 per night Dalkey mansion. … Irish-American actress Kate Mulgrew announced she might move to Ireland if Donald Trump wins reelection in November.

The Ireland that fills my heart

With more than 11 million annual visitors kept home by the COVID-19 pandemic, Tourism Ireland has released a short video to remind prospective travelers they “can still dream of future holidays and adventures.” The campaign, titled I will return: Fill your heart with Ireland,” arrives at the 20th anniversary of my first visit in May 2000.

And that recalls my dearest experience of Ireland.

At Dublin Airport, I handed my new Irish/E.U. passport to the customs agent, having obtained citizenship through foreign birth registration. He waved me into the country without question. Then, as I waited for my luggage, I thought I heard my name called on the public address system.

“That couldn’t be me,” I thought. “Nobody knows me here.”

I took a taxi to my bed and breakfast in Portmarnock. The room wasn’t ready, but the innkeeper secured my suitcase and I took a mid-morning walk on the nearby strand.

When I returned, my host answered a telephone call.

“Yes, he is here,” he said.

It was for me.

Eithne

The voice at the other end of the line–and it was still a line–belonged to a woman in her 60s, a retired school teacher, the unmarried daughter of a North Kerry man. His brother was my mother’s father, who emigrated shortly before the Easter Rising.

My grandfather married a North Kerry women in Pittsburgh, where several of their siblings and other relations also lived. Because of these connections to Ireland, deepened by the citizenship through decent process, I shared my travel itinerary with my mother. She passed the details to her sister, who maintained regular contact with the woman on the phone, the one who had me paged at Dublin Airport. Her name was Eithne.

My plans to meet the Irish relations were unformed, something to be figured out during the trip, if any of them even cared to meet me. A holy trinity of Irish and Irish-American women assured those introductions. My plans changed within an hour of my arrival. Eithne insisted that I lodge with her.

The B&B host graciously released me from my booking. Eithne’s Jack Russell Terrier, named Beano, sniffed me suspiciously, but deigned that I enter the house on Griffith Avenue, Dublin, near Corpus Christi Catholic Church. I was very welcome in Ireland.

***

In the 50-second “I will return” video, edited from earlier campaigns, only a few people are seen among the verdant landscapes and historic sites; mostly from behind, all of them individually, none in groups. A few turn to the camera and motion as if to say “come over here,” suggesting an unseen companion outside the view and a metaphor of the “return to Ireland” dream theme of the promotional work. Like them, I have enjoyed solitary walks along Ireland’s “wandering lanes, and rugged cliffs, her fields laced with streams”, as the narrator intones. Conspicuous by its absence, however, are scenes of people-packed pubs and festivals. 

Over the last two months, relations and friends on both sides of the Irish border have shared their quarantine stories with me. Long term, I can’t imagine a socially-distanced Ireland. I want to be crowded around a Galway city busker, surrounded at an Abbey intermission, bumped into by other bookstore browsers, elbowed by relations around a kitchen table.

The “I will return” narrator is confident of being “welcomed in at every turn, into her kind embrace,” the pronoun a reference to Ireland at large. That welcome does not come from solitary exploration of unpopulated landscapes, lovely as they are. The Céad Míle Fáilte, the hundred thousand welcomes, comes from the Irish people. 

Before she died in 2016, Eithne introduced me to dozens of relations. I have enjoyed spending time with them during nine more visits to Ireland, three with my wife, whom I had not yet met in 2000. I’ve added new friends and professional contacts on my own. And I’ve enjoyed random encounters with farmers and merchants, archivists and waitresses, and many others working in the island’s important tourism industry. 

Collectively, they are the Ireland that fills my heart. It is to them I will return, to once again hear my name called in welcome.

Greens join government coalition talks in Ireland

Three months after the Republic of Ireland’s Feb. 8 general election, three-party negotiations could lead to a new coalition government … or not.

First, center-right Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil parties agreed to govern together for the first time in order to block left-wing Sinn Féin, which topped the polling, from power. Now, the two historic rivals have invited the Green Party to join a coalition to control Dáil Éireann, the lower house of parliament.

The Dail chamber. Photo: Irish Times

The Greens’ insistence on tackling climate change and Fianna Fáil‘s concerns about the impact of that on farming and rural communities is a potential deal breaker. There also is reported tensions within the Greens about whether to enter such a coalition.

Even if elected lawmakers reach an agreement, the deal must be approved by two thirds of the Green’s grassroots members. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil need majority approval from their members.

Pat Leahy, political editor at The Irish Times, writes:

They may or may not come out with a government, though history suggests so. Normally if a party goes into negotiations on a program for government, it comes out with a program for government. And normally if a party produces a program for government, its members approve its adoption. Though these are not, of course, normal times. (My emphasis.)

The three-way talks are expected to last until the end of the month. Sinn Féin says it remains open to forming a left coalition government with the Greens, independents, and other minor party progressives. Don’t bet on it. Given the massive disruptions and challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, it will be easier to sit in opposition for several years and build toward a majority in the next election, when life hopefully will have returned closer to normal.

Ireland has been in political deadlock since the inconclusive election in February. The caretaker government of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of Fine Gael has been forced to implement costly and extensive fiscal and political policies in response to the health crisis. The country is taking its first small steps toward reopening from quarantine.

Catching up with modern Ireland: April

The COVID-19 pandemic remains the dominant story in Ireland, as it is in most of the world. Wish there was happier, more diverse news in this month’s roundup … maybe May:

  • As of April 27, the coronavirus death rate was roughly the same in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland: 1,102 deaths, or 22 per 100,000 population in the south; 405 deaths, or 21 per 100,000, in the north, according to The Irish Times. (The number of cases and fatalities reported by media and government varies widely.)
  • Reunification of the island of Ireland through cooperative pandemic exit strategy? “Happily, there is now an official agreement between the two jurisdictions that could facilitate the achievement of a harmonized approach,” one public health official wrote to the Times. “… there is a ‘compelling case’ for ‘a common approach to action in both jurisdictions’ where appropriate.”
  • On the other hand, Foreign Policy reported, “Not Even Coronavirus Pandemic Can Overcome Northern Ireland’s Divisions.”
  • Ireland said it would quadruple its contribution to the World Health Organization (WHO) after U.S. President Donald Trump said he would cut American funding.
  • Trump’s Doonbeg, County Clare, golf course has accepted Irish government relief to help pay furloughed workers.
  • First the St. Patrick’s Day parades, now the Twelfth of July parades: The Orange Order cancelled 17 Northern Ireland parades that commemorate the Battle of the Boyne. Locally organized Eleventh Night bonfires also are being discouraged.
  • Taoiseach Leo Varadkar rejoined the medical register to help out in the crisis. Varadkar studied medicine and worked as a doctor for seven years before leaving the profession for politics. He was removed from the medical register in 2013. The New York Times wrote an April 11 story about how the pandemic “Rescued the Image of Ireland’s Political Leader.”
  • Politicians in the Republic are still trying to form a coalition government from the outcome of the February elections.
  • The scheduled Aug. 29 college football game between the University of Notre Dame and Navy in Dublin has not yet been cancelled, despite the city’s ban on gatherings of more than 5,000 people.
  • Dublin’s Abbey Theatre is producing and posting on its YouTube channel a series of 50 pandemic-themed “theatrical postcards” called “Dear Ireland.”

Irish & American connections, before & during pandemic

In February, a month before the COVID-19 pandemic engulfed the world, I received a telephone call at my Washington, D.C., office from Michael Larkin in County Mayo, Ireland. He found me through this blog, and reached me on my mobile device, which is so much more than a phone.

More on that in a moment.

Thomas Larkin eventually returned to Mayo.

It turned out that Michael and I share a connection to Pittsburgh, the city of my birth; the destination of my Kerry emigrant grandparents; and the place where his ancestor, Thomas Larkin, secured employment with the Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania and became one of the early Telephone Pioneers of America. (Today–April 25–is National Telephone Day.)  

Michael, a health services professional, is the author of the 2019 book, Making the Right Connections. As he describes:

The book depicts the emigrant journey of Thomas Larkin, as well as themes relating to emigration, transatlantic connectivity, evolution of telecommunications, predictions made regarding the early telephones and an overview of the social history of Ireland and Irish America in the early 1900s.

While Thomas Larkin was just another Irish immigrant hoping to find employment of any kind in the USA, the words ‘connection’,  ‘connectedness’, etc., are particularly apt in the context of Irish American connectivity and also in the context of the early telephones, when the services of an operator were required to ‘make the connection’ in order for a telephone conversation to occur. 

“Believe me, the day will come when you will be able to ‘see’ the person who you are speaking to on the telephone”.

When Thomas Larkin uttered the above words, following his retirement from the Bell Telephone Company and return to a predominantly rural Ireland, they were greeted with suspicion and doubt. Perhaps if he could now ‘see’ the advances in telecommunications, or realize that some of his almost forgotten telephone memorabilia items illustrates and symbolizes Irish American connectivity in its many facets, he might simply say, “I told you so”. 

While my phone conversation with Michael was a “simple” voice connection, we just as easily could have seen each other across the Atlantic on Zoom, Skype or other digital platforms, which so many of us now use as we huddle in quarantine. I also connect with Michael, and with other friends and family in Ireland, via email and Twitter messages, sending words, images, and video in addition to voice. I can do it all on my “phone.”

Perhaps because of that incredible technology, and the extraordinary times we find ourselves living in, I am fond of the trove of my family’s hand-written letters between Ireland and Pittsburgh. The earliest date from the 1920s. The writers mention wars and sickness, economic hardships and other challenges. They also confirm good health, and share news of marriages, babies, graduations and other joys. We are often separated and unable to be with the each other, and yet always find ways to remain connected.

Making the Right Connections is available through Book Hub Publishing  and Mayo Books.

Many Irish Americans have found their ancestor’s name on these documents.