Category Archives: History

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: Remembering the dead

Belfast is pocked with memorials to 20th century conflict and disaster. For example:

The Titanic …

World War I …

The Troubles …

There are more than a dozen memorial pocket parks focused on The Troubles scattered through the sectarian neighborhoods of West Belfast. The top and middle image are in the republican/Catholic Falls Road; the bottom photo on the loyalist/Protestant Shankill Road. Both neighborhoods also contain wall murals about the conflict.

As I visited these sites, I wondered how much longer the Titanic disaster and World World I will resonate among 21st century people now that the centenary of each event has passed? Also, while it would be naive to suggest the brutalities of The Troubles be forgotten, would it be better for the long-term prospects for peace without so many graphic memorials, which seem to perpetuate hate in the city’s sectarian neighborhoods.

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.

Irishman Shane Lowry wins Open at Royal Portrush

Republic of Ireland golfer Shane Lowry has won the British Open at Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland. It is the first time since 1951 the Open has been held on the island of Ireland. The earlier tournament also was played at Portrush, on the County Antrim coast, and won by Englishman Max Faulkner.

Irishmen Fred Daly of Portrush; Padraig Harrington of Dublin; Darren Clarke of Dungannon, NI; and Rory McIlroy of Holywood, NI; have also won the Open, but at courses in England or Scotland.  The tournament was first played in 1860.

“Forget the demarcation between the North and South of this island: the Irish stand as one when it comes to golf,” Alistair Tait of Golfweek reported. “As far as Irish golf fans are concerned, Royal Portrush is an Irish golf course.”

The course at Royal Portrush opened in 1888, 33 years before the political partition. During the Troubles, the IRA bombed six buildings in Portrush town in August 1976, with no fatalities; but shot and killed two Royal Ulster Constabulary officers in April 1987 … nine days after Lowry was born in Mullingar, County Westmeath, in the Republic.

Now 32, Lowry lives in Clara, County Offaly, also in the Republic. It remains to be seen what impact, if any, his victory might add to ongoing discussions of reuniting the island of Ireland, which are mainly driven by the likelihood of a chaotic Brexit. I’ll update this post with any related commentary.

My wife and I look forward to visiting Portrush later this month.

Irishman Shane Lowry as he nears his 2019 Open victory. Image from theopen.com.

How Dev’s tour shifted U.S. press coverage of Ireland

As Ireland’s strike for independence heated up after the Great War, Irish  newspapers in America frequently complained about real or perceived pro-British bias in the mainstream U.S. press. Their readers echoed the criticism of how big city dailies and wire services reported Irish news.

At a January 1919 meeting in Chicago, for example, nationalists suggested “the American press was ‘muzzled’ when it came to printing the truth about the Irish question.” Someone in the audience shouted, “Let’s boycott the press.” Ironically, the mainstream Chicago Tribune provided this reporting.1

An estimated 50,000 supporters turned out in June 1919 to hear Éamon de Valera at Fenway Park in Boston. Stage is at the center of the image.

Coverage of the June 1919 American arrival of Éamon de Valera, and the massive crowds that turned out to hear him in cities across the country, began to change the perception of some Irish Americans. In a July 26, 1919, editorial headlined “American Newspapers Aligned on Ireland’s Side,” The Irish Standard, Minneapolis, Minn., suggested:

It is the conscience of the American people rather than any impulse originating in the editorial sanctums that is forcing a change in the attitude of many of our big newspapers toward Ireland. But whatever may be the real cause it is palpably evident that there has been noted a great change in this respect during the past few weeks, coincident with the coming of President de Valera of the Irish republic to our shores.

The editorial assessed coverage of de Valera’s late June visit to Boston by the Globe, Herald, and Post of that city. It also analyzed the above-mentioned Chicago Tribune, “the Hearst papers” (then 20 dailies in 13 cities2), and “big newspapers” in New York City, without naming titles.

The Standard noted the use of quotation marks around the words “Irish Republic” and “President” before de Valera’s name, “intended to indicate sarcasm,” was beginning to disappear from the dailies, a sign of legitimacy and respect. It concluded:

Changes in attitude of the kind noted are significant of what has already taken place in the minds and hearts of the American people. The newspapers are not directing, but following the lead of public opinion in the matter.

A month earlier, at his public debut in New York City, de Valera told the gathered reporters:

It is to the press rather than to the diplomats that the representatives of the common people must appeal if they really wish to save democracy. One of the objects of my visit was that I might present my case to the people in my own words and not as the English propagandists often represent me.3

De Valera would soon have problems with newspaper coverage of his efforts in America, including John Devoy’s Gaelic American. In the summer of 1919, however, the professor and the press enjoyed a brief honeymoon.

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.

The Twelfth, 1919: Carson tells America to butt out

UPDATE:

“It is an anxious time for Northern Ireland’s unionists. Catholics will soon outnumber Protestants … and Brexit is wobbling the UK’s constitutional edifice. Conceivably, within a decade, a majority could vote in a border poll to join a united Ireland, as permitted under the Good Friday agreement,” the Guardian reported about this year’s Twelfth celebrations.

ORIGINAL POST:

In a fiery July 12, 1919, speech near Belfast, Ulster Unionist Party leader Sir Edward Carson warned that changing Ireland’s government to a republic or home rule status would result in him calling out the Ulster Volunteers, an implicit threat of arms against the British authorities.

“Don’t let us talk. Let us be prepared for all and every emergency,” Carson bellowed before a large crowd of Orangemen.1

Carson also had a message for America: butt out.

I today seriously say to America: You attend to your own affairs and we will attend to ours. You look after your own questions at home and we  will look after ours. We will not brook interference in our own affairs by any country, however powerful.

He took aim at the American Commission on Irish Independence (ACII), the three-member, non-government, delegation that visited Ireland in May on a side trip from its advocacy at the Paris peace conference. Carson said:

What right had the American mission to come to this country? To come here in a breach of hospitality on one nation toward another–to attempt to stir up strife in matters in which they were not connected? … The encouragement that those men gave to the Sinn Féin Party has created for His Majesty’s Government far more difficulty than they ever had before. I believe that the visit of these men and the encouragement they gave to lawlessness, which was being preached throughout the land, has added greatly to the campaign of assassination of innocent policemen …

Edward Carson, in 1919.

Carson also mocked Sinn Féin leader Eamon de Valera, “who is now working against you in America with the help of the Catholic Hierarchy … and who imagines in his vanity that one day or the other he is going to march through Belfast and Ulster and you will all willingly take off your hats and bow the knee to the head of the organization, which in the darkest hour of the war for the world’s freedom shot his Majesty’s soldiers in the streets of Dublin.” De Valera was then one month into his tour of America to raise money and U.S. political support for an Irish republic.

An Associated Press report of Carson’s speech was widely published in U.S. and Canadian newspapers, which focused on the charge of American meddling and the ACII, not de Valera. The Chicago Tribune Foreign News Service cabled from London, “Sir Edward Carson’s simultaneous declaration against the British government, the  Sinn Féin, and the United States over the question of changing the present form of government in Ireland has met with general condemnation from the London press.”2

The Brooklyn Times Union was not fooled by the Carson’s hypocrisy, and noted on its editorial page:

Sir Edward Carson’s record for loyalty to his own country is not so immaculate that the citizens of the United States need feel greatly pained by his reckless and absurd animadversions … The politician who threatened to fight the British Government with arms rather than submit to the laws of the British Parliament manifestly does not speak for the majority of the people of Ireland and presumably speaks only for a small and bigoted moiety of any British constituency.3

The Kentucky Irish American published a rebuttal to Carson by ACII member Michael J. Ryan,  who noted that “Carson now asks that America should attend to its own affairs. This, however, is a change from the plea when the cry for help came across the ocean when England’s army faced certain defeat.” The piece also said the Ulster leader “represents intolerance and organized ignorance in Ireland.”4

The Irish Press, Philadelphia, dismissed Carson’s “Belfast outbreak” with an uncharacteristically restrained shrug.

We have in America–even if the breed be unknown in Britain–some politicians who ‘play politics’ and who recognize the elemental fact that there are men in this country who give or withhold their votes from an American candidate in an American contest because of his policy toward Ireland. So they act accordingly. But there was no need for Sir Edward Carson to warn the mass of the American people off the grass.  They were not on it.5

The centenary of Carson’s 1919 Twelfth speech comes as the Oct. 31 deadline for Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain to withdrawal from the European Union–Brexit–draws closer and talk of a united Ireland grows stronger.

“No flag will fly in Ulster but the Union Jack,” Carson was reported saying at the 229th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne.6  Whether that remains true in five or 10 years remains to be seen.

The Union Jack flutters at a housing estate in the unionist Shankill Road section of Belfast in July 2016.

U.S. Independence Day in Ireland: Bans to boycotts

U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Edward F. Crawford, left, and Irish President Michael D. Higgins.

Aodhán Ó Riordáin, a Labor party member of the Irish Senate, has renewed his 2018 call for Irish politicians to boycott the U.S. Embassy’s Independence Day reception in protest of the Trump administration’s immigration policies. Frankie Feighan, a Fine Gael senator, has replied, “I have issues with Donald Trump and I do not agree with him, but a boycott of our friends in the United States is not a way forward,” according to The Irish Times.

New U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Edward F. Crawford, who earlier this week presented his credentials to Irish President Michael D. Higgins, will host the 4 July event at the ambassador’s official residence in Phoenix Park.

This “white house,” known as Deerfield Residence, was completed in 1776 for Col. John Blaquiere, chief secretary of the British government in Ireland. The first U.S. envoy to Ireland moved into the residence in 1927. “It was appropriately coincidental that the United States, which declared its own Independence in 1776, should establish the president’s representative in the residence completed in the same year,” the embassy website notes.

One hundred years ago, an American independence celebration in Cork was “proclaimed” (banned) by British military authorities. Remember, this was seven months after the separatist Sinn Féin election victory and establishment of the breakaway Dáil Éireann in Dublin.

The scheduled procession from the National Monument to City Hall was to conclude with an addressed by Sinn Féin politician Liam de Roiste “on a matter of great national importance,” the Irish Examiner reported.1 The military prohibited the event just a few hours before it was set to begin.

“There was no display of military or police on the street; the only unusual sign being that the American flag flew from the Sinn Féin rooms,” the Examiner wrote. About the time of the scheduled 8 p.m. start, “rain set in and continued without cessation until a late hour.”

De Roiste and other pro-Irish independence supporters instead gathered in nearby Lough, where they passed a resolution that said, in part:

Be it resolved that this public meeting of the citizens of Cork, assembled on American Independence Day, 1919, sends fraternal greetings to the people of the United States of America, and records the appreciation of the people of this city on the action which is being taking by the American people on behalf of Ireland’s independence …

A two-sentence Associated Press brief about the “forbidden” celebration in Cork was published in dozens of U.S. newspapers. It did not mention the Lough meeting or the resolution.

Read “Declaring Independence, America 1776; Ireland 1919” , a lecture by Irish Ambassador to the United States Daniel Mulhall, delivered 2 April 2019, at the University of Virginia.

U.S. Ambassador to Ireland’s residence in Phoenix Park, Dublin.

 

Select newspaper editorials on de Valera’s U.S. arrival

This is part of my year-long series of posts about American reporting of Irish independence, 1919, including the centenary of Éamon de Valera’s arrival in America. Below are select U.S. newspaper editorials from the start of his 18-month tour. The three Irish-American newspaper are hyperlinked to the corresponding page of the digitized issue. MH

The Brooklyn (New York) Daily Eagle, June 26, 1919

Crazy as the de Valera ideas may have seemed a few months ago, Premier Lloyd George has himself to thank for making them a serious element in the international situation … Delay in enforcing home rule was not inexplicable before the armistice. Since then the pernicious influence of Sir Edward Carson and the new dependence of the Premier on Tory support established by the [December 1918] parliamentary election are conditions, not explanations or justifications, for procrastination.

The Irish Press, Philadelphia, June 28, 1919
Ireland’s President Visits America

The common people, who after all are what really count, do not feel themselves constrained to draw distinctions in the same way as Government officials. They do not believe that a Republic which has the support of the people living under it is a pretense–something to be named inside quotation marks–just because a foreign army is on its territory. … Few of the chief executives of republics represent so large a proportion of their people as does President de Valera. To emphasize these we need go no further than President Wilson (who in 1912 and 1916 received less than 50 percent of the popular vote, but put into office by the Electoral College.) … That ordinary people are indifferent to diplomatic formalities, and recognize Mr. de Valera as President of Ireland, is proved by the acclaim with which he has been greeted since his appearance in this country. … The friends of Ireland, who include all true Americans, will welcome the President, and will assist him in his efforts to make the heads of the American Government recognize the true status of Ireland.

The Irish Standard, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 28, 1919
Welcome President De Valera

Of American birth himself and imbued with the American ideals of truth, justice and humanity, [de Valera] is particularly fitted to present the cause of Ireland to the America people. Of pure life, stainless character, and noble spirit and engaging personality his appeal cannot fail to engage the consideration of all Americans who cherish the traditions and policies of this great Republic of the West, and who are free from the obsession of British propaganda. A new Parnell has come to plead the cause of Ireland, but under circumstances that are far more promising and inspiring than those existing in the decade [1880s] of the visit of the great Home Rule leader; and he is asking not merely for colonial or dominion government of Ireland, but for absolute and complete independence, and in this stand he is sustained by more than three-fourths of his fellow countrymen. He seeks recognition of a government that is unquestionably of right as subjected to the tests of democracy and Americanism.

The Decatur (Illinois, 200 miles south of Chicago) Herald, June 29, 1919

These schoolmasters! One of them [U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, a former college professor] brought his country into a successful war, defined the conditions of peace which brought the war to an end, and was the leading spirit a world court of peace enforcement. Another [de Valera] was a professor of mathematics in Dublin … [Though] there is nothing about Prof. De Valera suggesting the fiery Irish patriot of history … Ireland probably made no mistake in the gravely professorial Mr. De Valera. Schoolmasters have been known to turn out fairly successful politicians.

Kentucky Irish American, Louisville, Kentucky, July 5, 1919
Leader De Valera

…Irish skill and daring, in the hour of Ireland’s need, outmatched the might of the empire–outreached the lion’s claws! Like an eagle from the clouds, sudden [de Valera] is among us. … We are asked only to fill the war chest; to give a little work and a little money; to provide an Irish Victory Fund with which the last grim struggle on the field of world-wide public opinion may be waged and won. The Irish republic is a reality; but so is the British army of occupation in Ireland–and so is the British propaganda in America.