Category Archives: Business & Environment

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.

Belfast’s Harland & Wolff shipyard is nearly sunk

The 158-year-old Harland & Wolff shipyard on the Belfast waterfront is in bankruptcy proceedings and its last 130 workers are at risk of losing their jobs.

The firm’s receivers and union representatives are searching for a buyer and trying to make other imaginative accommodations to maintain the yard. Employment at H&W peaked at 35,000 in the 1920s , the decade after its workers built the Titanic.

The ill-fated liner is the focus of Titanic Belfast, an “experience attraction” that has become one of the world’s top visitor destinations. The museum and other adjoining former H&W property in Belfast’s “Titanic Quarter” are part of a booming redevelopment site.

That renewal is now threatened by uncertainty about the pending Brexit, which also likely will complicate efforts to salvage the remaining H&W operation.

One of the two 1970s-era gantry cranes at the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast. This photo was taken during my July 2016 visit to Titanic Belfast.

One of my readers is the grandson of a former Harland & Wolff worker who helped build the Titanic and other ships during the early 20th century. This is portion of an essay that Joseph Wade Sr. (the grandfather) wrote in the 1970s:

My father was a joiner, a craftsman of fine woodwork, and worked on the interior finish of the great ships being built. It was the custom in those days for sons to follow in their fathers’ footsteps. When my older brother became of age, he started as an apprentice joiner. Two years later in 1908, when I reached the age of 14, I, too, started as an apprentice in the art of fine woodworking, and so we were a family of wood workers.

Apprentices were only accepted between the ages of 14 and 16. As boys, we were indentured for 6 years. Father had to deposit 5 pounds, which in those days, was a lot of money.  At the finish of our apprenticeship, the money was returned.

Joseph Wade, Sr., about 1918.

My father, brother, and I left our home shortly after 5:00 in the morning. We had about a 40 minute walk to work. We started work at 6 o’clock and worked until 8:20 when we stopped for breakfast. We started again at 9. Our lunch period was from 1 until 2, and our day finished at 5:30, then a 40 minute walk back home. With an average rainfall of 230 or more days a year, many times we were well soaked on our way to and from work.

As apprentices, we spent time in the shops preparing the work, and time on the ships installing it. The great shipyard of Harland and Wolff covered miles of territory. They had the facilities to build and finish eight large liners. Later, six more slip-ways were added, increasing their capacity to 14. Up to this time, they had built and completed over 390 ships, The White Star Line, the Olympic, was designated 400, and the 401 was the Titanic.

Read the full essay.

Visiting Ireland 2019: Best of the rest

From Westport, we drove through Connamara, then flew to Inisheer, smallest of the three Aran Island. On our return to the mainland, we made a short stop in Galway, then drove south to North Kerry, my grandparent’s homeland.

A stunning view in Connemara, south of Westport.

A road in Inis Oirr (Inisheer), with An Súnda Salach (Foul Sound) at right.

Buskars in the Latin Quarter, Galway city.

Looking west at late dusk from the sea cliffs at Ballybunion, in North Kerry, with 15th century castle ruin at right. The land in the distance is Loop Head Pinensula, County Clare.

This is my last post from the road. More photos and reporting from this visit will appear in future articles. Previous posts:

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.

Visiting Ireland 2019: Antrim coast

We enjoyed two days of hiking along the Antrim coast between Portrush and Fair Head/Ballycastle, including the Giant’s Causeway (detail of the unusual stone formation.) In bottom image, note the red roof of the “bothy,” a small cottage built as a fisherman’s refuge, now used camp site for hikers and kayakers.

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.

Across the sea and to the moon in 50 years

The long arc of Éamon de Valera’s political career comes into special focus this week through the convergence of two anniversaries, 50 years apart.

One hundred years ago, de Valera sailed to America as a stowaway aboard the SS Lapland. For 18 months he packed stadiums and convention halls to rally Irish America to the cause of independence in the homeland. Fifty years later, as president of the 26-county Republic of Ireland, de Valera delivered a different message to the cosmos with the help of two U.S. astronauts who landed the spaceship Eagle on the moon.

Lunar message disc included greeting in Irish from Éamon de Valera.

Greetings from 71 other heads of state were also etched onto the silicon disc, about the size of a U.S. 50 cent coin, left on the lunar surface. The text of de Valera’s salutation, written in Irish, is translated:

May God grant that the skill and courage which have enabled man to alight upon the moon will enable him also to secure peace and happiness upon the earth and avoid the danger of self-destruction.

A few days later, de Valera sent a conventional cable to U.S. President Richard Nixon, the tenth American leader to occupy the White House since Woodrow Wilson in 1919.

Mr. President, on behalf of the people of Ireland, I send you our sincerest congratulations and our unbounded admiration for the courage and skill of astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, and for the wonderful teamwork of all the others who made the landing possible. May God grant that the astronauts will return safely home and that this great achievement will contribute to the peace and happiness of mankind in the ear which has been opened.

The astronauts did return safely, but peace has not been secured and we have not avoided the danger of self-destruction. As for de Valera’s legacy, it remains under historical review.

Earth seen from the moon, July 1969. NASA photo.

Catching up with modern Ireland: June

We’ve reached the halfway point of 2019. My monthly roundup follows below. I will be in Ireland from late July through early August, posting about my travels. The monthly round up will return at the end of August. MH

  • My piece on Éamon de Valera‘s 1919 visit to Louisville, Kentucky, where he was drawn by up-and-coming caricaturist Wyncie King, was published on The Filson Historical Society Blog. The accompanying watercolor image probably has not been seen in 100 years.
  • Edward F. Crawford, 81, a wealthy Ohio businessman, was sworn in as the new U.S. ambassador to Ireland, more than two years after the Trump administration came into office.
  • “So let’s not wrap the death of “rural Ireland” in a shroud of nostalgia. Piety has never done the real rural Ireland any good. Dying worlds attract romantics and since “rural Ireland” has been dying for 170 years, it has been romanticised up to its neck,” Fintan O’Toole writes in a column for The Irish Times, part of a five-story exploration of rural Ireland.
  • New “mortality differentials” from the Central Statistics Office show Irish women live longer than men; marrieds longer than singles; professionals longer than unskilled workers; and Protestants longer than Catholics.
  • Fodor’s is dropping online and print references to Belfast’s political murals after the BBC suggested it guides pandered to damaging, unhelpful and unfair stereotypes of unionists. The guides described Catholic murals as “wildly romantic” and “aspire to the heights of Sistine Chapel-lite” while Protestant murals “resemble war comics without the humor.” The guides also said, “In Northern Ireland they say the Protestants make the money and the Catholics make the art.”

“King Billy” mural in Belfast, from my 2016 visit.

  • The Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN) has secured one year of operational funding while it continues to look for long-term support. Ulster University announced earlier this year it was closing the highly-respected source of information about the Troubles and politics in Northern Ireland, drawing the ire of journalists, historians, and others.
  • Ivan Cooper, a founding member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and civil rights leader in Northern Ireland, died at age 75.
  • TheJournal.ie has introduced an “Ireland 2029” podcast. The first episode explored whether Ireland (and the rest of the world) is ready for a four-day work week.
  • “A previously confidential government study detailing 142 areas of life in Northern Ireland that will be impacted by Brexit has been published, revealing risks to everything from cooperation on congenital heart disease and cross-border child protection to rules preventing the looting of national treasures,” The Guardian reported.
  • Niall Gibbons, the chief executive of Tourism Ireland, has rejected claims by the DUP’s Ian Paisley that the marketing agency favors the Republic of Ireland over Northern Ireland. Read Gibbons’ statement to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster.
  • Arranmore Island, three miles off the coast of County Donegal, is trying to attract immigrants to boost its dwindling population of fewer than 500 people. The community council is promoting the island’s high-speed internet service and laid-back lifestyle will attract knowledge workers to the remote local.

Árainn Mhór Island

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.

Catching up with modern Ireland: April

The monthly round up follows below. Thanks for supporting my ongoing series about American Reporting of Irish Independence, 1919. MH

  • U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, invited to address Dáil Éireann (Ireland’s lower house) on its 100th anniversary, said “there will be no chance of a U.S.-U.K. trade agreement if the Brexit deal undermines the Good Friday accord.”  Her trip to Ireland and Northern Ireland was overshadowed by the murder of Derry journalist Lyra McKee.
  • Over 122,000 people from 181 countries have become Irish citizens since 2011, including a group of 2,400 at the end of April, TheJournal.ie reported.
  • Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin made headlines in his interview with The Irish Times. “So many people have been damaged and the church has been damaged. It isn’t that this was an invention of anti or people to get at the church. It was a problem of the church.” Now 75, the prelate will be required to step down next year.
  • Aidan Regan, assistant professor at University College Dublin, wrote a piece in The Washington Post about how  Irish tax policies to attract foreign investment are being questioned at home.
  • “Ireland’s challenge is to continue to build relationships in a volatile political climate,” Washington-based Irish journalist Colm Quinn wrote in The Irish Times. “If family ties are what is keeping the US-Ireland bond strong the question is whether there enough Irish-Americans coming through the ranks to sustain interest in the relationship?”
  • And two more views about contemporary Ireland:

“Illustrating what could be termed the First Great Law of History, namely the Law of Unintended Consequences, the specifics of the Brexit agreement may drive two uneasy political bedfellows—the Catholic majority of the Republic of Ireland in the south and the Protestant majority of Northern Ireland—into each other’s arms. As it reaches the centenary of its first historic declaration of independence from Britain, Ireland may be headed for unification—that is, full independence for all 32 Irish counties, including the six in Northern Ireland.”From Could Brexit Unite Ireland At Last? in The American Conservative.

“Rather than promoting moderation and reconciliation, the Good Friday Agreement instead pushed Northern Ireland’s voters on both sides of the sectarian divide away from the center, and toward the extremes. … The Northern Ireland Assembly, a body created out of the Good Friday Agreement, which should be speaking out for its people’s interests, has not held a sitting for more than two years, its two biggest parties refusing to cooperate with each other. … An understandable frustration exists among Northern Ireland’s moderate unionists and nationalists at seeing their hard-won institutions taken over, and ultimately paralyzed, by hard-liners who questioned or opposed their creation.” From The Center Isn’t Holding in Northern Ireland in The Atlantic.

  • Oh, yea … the Brexit deadline was extended to Oct. 31 from April 12.

Nancy Pelosi addressing the Dáil. Photograph: Maxwell/The Irish Times.