Category Archives: Business & Environment

Best of the Blog, 2019

Welcome to my seventh annual Best of the Blog–BOB. As always, I want to thank regular readers and new visitors for their support, including social media shares. Special thanks to my wife, Angie Drobnic Holan: editor, webmaster … my dear companion.

Back to Ireland …  

Inisheer, August 2019.

This year I made my ninth and tenth trips to the island of Ireland, traveling both times to the Republic and Northern Ireland. I’m starting this year’s BOB with a sampling of highlights from these 10 trips in just under 20 years:

May 2000: Pilgrimage to the Lahardane (Ballybunion) and Killelton (Ballylongford) townlands, North Kerry, birthplaces of my maternal grandfather and grandmother, respectively; and walked the Cobh waterfront where they emigrated in the early 20th century.

September/October 2001: Climbed Croagh Patrick … Interviewed surviving family at the Bloody Sunday Trust/Museum and watched testimony in the Bloody Sunday Inquiry at the Guild Hall, Derry. (Journalism fellowship from the German Marshall Fund.)

August 2007: (With Angie) Enchanted by the monastic ruins of Clonmacnoise (Offaly) and Glendalough (Wicklow). … Attended first play at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin: The Big House, by Lennox Robinson.

February 2009: Researched historic newspapers and census records at the National Library of Ireland and The National Archives of Ireland, Dublin, before they were digitized and made available online.

May/June 2012: (With Angie) Attended the Listowel Writers’ Week and heard Paul Durcan recite his poem “On the First Day of June” … on June 1, 2012 … at the Listowel Arms Hotel, the River Feale framed by the window at his back. … Strolled the Kinsale to Charles Fort (Cork) coastal walk, stopping for a lovely outdoor lunch.

July 2016: Toured the Falls/Shankill neighborhoods of Belfast by Black Taxi … Visited Titanic Belfast EPIC: The Irish Emigration Museum … and Glasnevin Cemetary (Part 1Part 2), the last two in Dublin.

February 2018: Researched at the Michael Davitt Museum and grave (Straide, County Mayo); and read Davitt’s papers at Trinity College Dublin. (Part 1 & Part 2).

November 2018: Walked a muddy, cow-crowded road to reach Killone Abbey (Clare), following the footsteps of American journalist William Henry Hurlbert, who wrote of visiting the site in 1888.

July/August 2019: (With Angie) Cycled the Great Western Greenway from Achill Island to Westport (Mayo). … Hiked the circumference of Inisheer (Aran Islands, Galway) on my 60th birthday, and viewed the Cliff of Moher, which I had visited on my 2000 trip, from the sea.

November 2019: Presented my research about American journalist Ruth Russell’s 1919 travels to Ireland at the Institute of Irish Studies, Queens University Belfast for the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland annual conference.

Here are 2019 photo essays from both sides of the border:

From an evening walk on Inisheer, August 2019.

A few more photo essays from Irish America:

Before morning Mass at Old St. Patrick’s Church, Chicago, March 2019.

1919, Revisited … 

This year I enjoyed exploring U.S. mainstream and Irish-American newspaper coverage of 1919 events in Irish history. Find all 32 stand-alone posts, plus the five-part monograph, Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland, at my American Reporting of Irish Independence series.

Other history highlights … 

… and guest posts

I am always grateful to the contributions of guest bloggers. This year:

The Antrim coast, July 2019.

Other news of note:

RIP Lyra McKee, journalist killed in Derry on April 19. She was 29, the same age as Ruth Russell when the American reporter arrived in Ireland in 1919. … U.S. President Donald Trump, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, and U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi–first, second, and third in succession of power in the American government–each visited Ireland in 2019. I’m not sure that’s ever happened before. … Republic of Ireland golfer Shane Lowry won the British Open at Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland, the first time since 1951 the Open has been held on the island of Ireland. … American businessman Edward F. Crawford became the new U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. …Abortion and same-sex marriage were decriminalized in Northern Ireland, in part due to the dormant Northern Ireland Assembly. … See more at my monthly roundups from 2019 and previous years of Best of the Blog.

Libraries and Archives

Special thanks for the in-person help I received at these institutions in 2019:

  • Catholic University of America, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, and Mullen Library, Washington, D.C.
  • Georgetown University, Lauinger Library, Washington, D.C.
  • Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
  • Arlington Public Library, Central Library, Arlington, Va., and the numerous libraries that made books available through the Interlibrary Loan program.
  • University of Pittsburgh Archives Service Center, Pittsburgh
  • Heinz History Center, Detre Library & Archives, Pittsburgh
  • The Archives of the Sister of Charity of Seton Hill, Greensburg, Pa.
  • The Newberry, Chicago
  • Chicago Public Library, Herald Washington Library Center, Chicago
  • Queens University Belfast, McClay Library Special Collections, Belfast

And digital assistance from these institutions:

  • University College Dublin, Papers of Éamon de Valera (1882–1975), (Thanks again John Dorney of The Irish Story.)
  • National Library of Ireland, Patrick McCartan Papers (1912-1938)
  • University of Chicago Library, Special Collections Research Center
  • Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, (Newspaper Collection), Springfield, Ill.
  • Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Main, Pennsylvania Dept. Collections
  • Villanova University, Falvey Memorial Library, Joseph McGarrity Collection, Philadelphia
  • University of Kentucky, Margaret King Library, Louisville
  • University of Louisville, Ekstrom Library
  • Louisville Free Public Library
  • The Filson Historical Society, Louisville
  • Library of Congress, Chronicling America
  • Newspapers.com
  • Irish Newspaper Archives

Thanks again to all the librarians, archivists, and readers. Keep visiting this “journalist’s blog dedicated to Irish and Irish-American history and contemporary issues.”

Catching up with modern Ireland: October

Brexit was supposed to happen by Oct. 31. It hasn’t. The departure deadline is now Jan. 31, 2020, but could happen sooner, depending on the outcome of a Dec. 12 election in the U.K., including 18 constituencies in Northern Ireland of 650 seats in the Commons. In the Republic, there are divergent opinions whether to call elections this month, or wait until May 2020.

More news and views:

  • Abortion was decriminalized and same-sex marriage legalized in Northern Ireland on Oct. 21 as the London parliament passed legislation while the Northern Ireland Assembly remains dormant.
  • It is hard to overstate how remarkable it is that the end of partition on the island of Ireland is being seriously considered, yet it is difficult to understate how ill-prepared everyone is for it to actually happen, Ed O’Loughlin wrote in the Atlantic: The ‘Messy and Angry’ Prospect of Ireland Reunifying
  • As if Brexit wasn’t confusing enough, an E.U. plan to eliminate daylight savings time in 2021 could put post-departure Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in different time zones, creating a new form of partition on the island.
  • Veteran IRA man Ivor Bell was acquitted of any involvement in the 1972 abduction, murder, and disappearance of mother-of-10 Jean McConville. The event is at the core of Patrick Radden Keefe’s 2019 book, Say Nothing.
  •  John Henry Newman, the founding rector/president of Ireland’s only Catholic university, precursor of University College Dublin (UCD), was canonized as a saint. UCD was criticized for originally saying it would not send a representative to Rome, citing its modern secular nature, a move some interpreted as anti-Catholic.
  • ” … few Irish Americans know any Irish history at all. … Ireland’s War of Independence need not be celebrated, but it should at least be remembered, above all by the Irish-American community,” John Rodden and John P. Rossi wrote in Commonweal: Why the Irish War of Independence Still Matters

Old buildings on a farm at Fairhead, County Antrim, August 2019.

Reports: Brexit deal agreed as deadline nears

UPDATE 2:

A special Saturday (Oct. 19) sitting of the British Parliament was supposed to decide the fate of the Brexit deal described below. Instead, the process has been delayed again. The Irish Times explains what happened. Further twists before the Oct. 31 leave deadline will appear in a new post. MH

FIRST UPDATE 1:

  • “Boris Johnson’s prospects of taking Britain out of the European Union by the end of this month were on a knife-edge … as he scrambled for support at Westminster for a deal agreed with 27 other leaders.” The vote is scheduled for Saturday, 19 October.
  • “Many traditional Unionist supporters in the Northern Ireland business community and farming community were less worried about the uncertain long-term constitutional implications of a deal that perhaps brings Northern Ireland a little closer to the Republic of Ireland and more concerned with the short-term impact on the economy and political stability of a hard Brexit, which would probably have led to new customs posts along the border. They are likely to accept the outcome, and the politicians they support may similarly be quietly relieved, even if they would never admit it in public.”
  • “The irony of the plan for Northern Ireland to remain legally in the UK customs regime, while in practice following the EU’s, is that its most obvious precedent is in Irish nationalism. De Valera’s solution to the conundrum of getting on with governing 26 counties while claiming jurisdiction over 32 was the handy dualism of de jure/de facto: the North would be claimed de jure as part of the State while recognising that de facto it was not. There is something almost amusing in this Jesuitical device now defining Northern Ireland itself – UK by law, EU by fact.”

ORIGINAL POST:

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Union officials have reached a Brexit deal, according to media reports.

The proposal requires approval by E.U. and U.K. governing bodies by the Oct. 31 deadline. U.K voters approved Britain’s separation from the E.U. in a June 2016 referendum.

The terms of Brexit will have tremendous impact on the island of Ireland, which has the only land border between the E.U. and U.K. The Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, a key part of Johnson’s coalition, says it does not support the latest deal. The DUP scuttled a 2017 proposal by Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May.

The Irish Times reports:

  • Northern Ireland will be treated significantly differently from Great Britain, a sticking point with the DUP. There will be a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea.
  • The Republic of Ireland has conceded on consent and time-limit on border arrangements. Northern Ireland could get out of arrangement. For foreseeable future, however, there would be no hardening of the border in Ireland.

This is a fast-developing story. I will post updates. For immediate news resources, see The Irish Times and BBC.

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

Pence hit for cross-Ireland commute; Brexit comment

UPDATE:

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

The Doonbeg boondoggle: “Pence’s stay at Trump’s resort reeks of corruption.” Washington Post editorial

“As Pence read from the autocue and Irish eyes definitely stopped smiling, it was clear he was channeling His Master’s Voice. Trump is a fan of Brexit and of Boris.” — Miriam Lord in The Irish Times

ORIGINAL POST:

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is being roundly criticized for spending his two nights in Ireland at the Doonbeg, County Clare, golf resort owned by his boss, U.S. President Donald Trump.

Most of Pence’s business is in Dublin, 180 miles east on the opposite side of the island. In America, this would be like Pence staying in Allentown, Pennsylvania, while he conducted business in Washington, D.C. Cue the Billy Joel classic.

“… the opportunity to stay at the Trump National in Doonbeg, to accommodate the unique footprint that comes with our security detail and other personnel, made it logical,” Pence said, according to Politico.

The bigger story is that Pence (and Trump) appear to be throwing Ireland under the Brexit bus. The Irish Times reported the Veep’s meeting with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar “did not go entirely to plan” as the American leader “made an unexpected intervention … on Brexit that is far from helpful as Ireland enters a crucial period in the those negotiations.”

Varadkar told Pence that Ireland “must stand our ground on the withdrawal agreement, an agreement which was carefully negotiated to overcome all these risks. … And so Mr Vice-President I ask that you bring that message back to Washington with you. This is not a problem of our making.”

Pence refused to take questions from dozens of assembled reporters, The Guardian reported.

U.S. Vice-President Pence signs the guest book at Áras an Uachtaráin. Also shown, left to right, Sabina Higgins, Irish President Micheal D Higgins, and Karen Pence. MAXWELLPHOTOGRAPHY.IE

 

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.

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: