Category Archives: Northern Ireland

A Journey In Ireland, 1921, Revisited: Rising & Partition

Novelist and journalist Wilfrid Ewart traveled through Ireland from mid-April to early May 1921. His dispatches for London newspapers were later collected and revised in the book, ‘A Journey in Ireland, 1921.’ Previous installments of this centenary series are collected at American Reporting of Irish Independence.

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Ewart arrived in Ireland five years after the Easter Rising and less than five months after the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, began the island’s political partition. In Dublin, the author observes “the ruined Post Office in Sackville [O’Connell] Street was the only standing reminder of what had gone before.”[1]Journey, p. 8. The iconic building at the center of the 1916 rebellion would not reopen until 1929.

On May 3, 1921, the official enactment day of partition, Ewart boarded a train “for the Northeast, being entertained throughout the journey by one of those merry old Irishmen who per se proclaim ‘Ireland a nation.’ ” The passenger also warns the author of the ” ‘narrow-minded Northern bigots … the men you are going to meet.’ “[2]Journey, pp.209-210. Ewart observes campaigning for the new Northern Ireland Parliament in Belfast, but returns to England before the election.

Wilfrid Ewart

In some of his other writing, “Ewart expresses concern that the British interpretation of the Irish conflict made so little impact on world opinion as to raise questions of whether there was any  coherent justification for British actions,” Bew/Maume say. “It is clear Ewart supported a compromise settlement [in Ireland, and] … clearly feels more at home with the wistful and fearful Southern Unionists he interviews, who are leaning towards a Dominion settlement in hopes of saving something from the wreckage, than their more confident and intransigent Ulster brethren.”[3]”Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, p. xiv.

Like other journalists who visited Ireland during the war, Ewart made an honest effort to report a range of Irish opinions–from combatants, political and social leaders, and regular citizens–on both sides of the independence question and both sides of the new border. Unsurprising for the time, he did not devote much attention to the views of women.

Below are direct quotations from some of the people Ewart interviewed, or his reporting of their remarks, about the 1916 rising and 1921 partition. Most are identified by name and key background details, including the relevant pages in Journey. Read 100 years later, some were more prescient than others.

Rising:

Liam de Róiste

“The Easter Rebellion in spite of its failure drew all Irishmen together, and the executions that followed made an enduring impression. All the while we were told we were fighting for the principle of Self-Determination and the Rights of Small Nations. Then came the Peace Conference, ‘Wilsonism,’ and the League of Nations. These set people thinking and gave a constructive impetus to the movement. Since 1916, you must understand, the state of affairs has become steadily worse. The real change of feeling in this city began with the murder of Lord Mayor MacCurtain. The Government’s militant policy has had exactly the reverse effect of that intended.”Sinn Féin official Liam de Róiste in Cork, p. 41.

“Cork used to be a good enough place to live in. We prospered under the Union–till 1916.”–An “old-fashioned” Southern Unionist in Cork, p. 48.

William O’Brien

“I have said my say. My friends and myself warned them of what was coming years ago. We could have shown them the way out through a policy of conference and conciliation. They paid no heed to us. Now they’ve gone back to it again, but they’ve got to deal with men who act first and talk afterwards.”–Former home rule M.P., newspaper editor, and semi-retired Irish nationalist William O’Brien in Mallow, p. 57

“The Easter Rebellion was condemned as a useless waste of life by many Irishmen. It raised the cry of ‘England’s tyranny’ certainly; it gave the impetus to violence. But it was the executions afterwards that left a rankling bitterness.  … The rising of 1916 gave a new soul to Ireland; she found her soul that day. ”Stephen O’Mara, “a big Limerick bacon manufacturer” and the city’s first nationalist mayor, in 1885, pp. 87-88

They got on well with their neighbors, taking no interest in politics, but keeping outside them as much as possible. The first change occurred after the 1916 rebellion. A subtle hostility began to manifest itself among the neighbors; custom fell off; when the W.’s went into other shops, they were told English customers were not wanted. In 1917, when Mr. de Valera visited the district, definite signs of enmity became apparent. One day a procession passed their windows, shouting ‘Bloody Protestants!’ [and] ‘To hell with the King!’Ewart’s reporting of “W.”, age 69, and his wife, who moved from England to Limerick in about 1908, pp. 106-107

“The Easter Rebellion, and the executions after it, brought the whole country to its feet. Coming to later days, the repeated executions–in Cork and Dublin–and the rule of the Crown Forces have made for greater and more bitter resentment every day. ”–An unnamed citizen at the Birr market, County Offaly, as Ewart leaves the South and enters “the less actively rebellious but more problematic Midlands,” p. 114.

The General Post Office in Dublin immediately after the 1916 Rising. It was still closed when Ewart visited in April 1921.

Partition:

“Who wants the Government of Ireland Act? Why, of 102 Irish M.P.’s not one has voted for it!”–Irish nationalist writer and poet George Russell, p. 19.

His defense of the Government of Ireland Act–and he seemed to be its only defender was based on the belief that if the Irish people as a whole desired a Republic or a Dominion, they desired one thing more–a settlement. He regarded the Act, moreover, as a good one in itself, not indeed as an instrument capable of settling the Irish Question, but as a transition measure which by bringing the parties together and as a pledge–that pledge so often demanded of the Government by the irreconcilables–contained the germ and the promise of better things.–Ewart describing the views of “a Cork newspaperman,” p. 50

“No interest is taken in the Partition Act here because it divides the country, because that division would become accentuated instead of the reverse, and because it would express itself through the boycott of Belfast, as at present, and by means of retaliation between Protestant and Catholic.Stephen O’Mara, “a big Limerick bacon manufacturer” and the city’s first nationalist mayor, in 1885, p. 85.

“Nobody has any use for the Government of Ireland Act hereabouts. It will fail.”Unnamed citizen at the Birr market, p. 114

John P. Hayden

“[The Act is] no good in its present form. The Southern Irish see in it two things: (1) Partition; (2) Plunder. It divides the country on sectarian lines and imposes a huge tribute on us. Ireland, mind you, has to pay for all services, some of which she will not control herself … Is it fair that six counties should have the same representation as 26, as in the Council for All Ireland? Another extraordinary thing about the Act is that there should be a Senate in each Parliament nominated by the Crown in the case of the South and elected by the dominant party in the case of the North?”John P . Hayden, Irish nationalist M.P. for South Roscommon and a leading resident Mullingar, pp. 136-137.

“The present Act of Parliament is the only form of Home Rule acceptable to us. We never asked for the Government of Ireland Act, but in my opinion it’s a good Act, and we mean loyally to work it, whatever happens. In doing that we’re only carrying out the law. … Through the Council of Ireland … North and South would be brought into constant contact, and the possibilities of ultimate union are on the whole great.”Hugh Pollack, Northern Ireland finance minister-designate, pp. 156-157.

“There can be no question of a lasting settlement through the Partition Act. Under it, the British Government keeps everything that matters for the commercial and industrial prosperity of Ireland. The number of our members at Westminster is reduced. No common trade arrangements are possible while you have one form of Government in the North and another in the South. On the other hand, we have to pay eighteen millions a year to the English Exchequer, and England generously returns a small proportion of it! The root of the matter is that it is not to the interest of England to have us as a commercial rival.”–Professor Robert M. Henry of Queens University Belfast, p. 164.

King George V opens the Northern Ireland Parliament in Belfast in June 1921, a month after Ewart’s departure.

“Nobody wants the Partition Act, nobody in the South cares a brass button for it. Good or bad, it’s no use giving a man something he doesn’t want  … And the finance of the thing is rotten. … The dual legislature is enough in itself to ruin this unfortunate country.”–An “old-fashioned” Southern Unionist in Cork, p. 48.

“Ulster remains as ever, the crux of the question. But I am convinced that if a Parliament sat in Dublin, Ulster would soon want to come into it. The Partition Act is useless if only because nobody in the country wants it except Antrim, Armagh, and Down. Far from making for a united Ireland, under it North and South would steadily drift apart.”John Dooley, member of the Kings (now Offaly) County Council and representative at the 1917 Irish Convention, p. 116

“Nobody trusts the present Government. The Partition Act is a useless farce; nobody wants it. A terrible account lies at Sir Edward Carson’s door.”Archdeacon Arthur Ryan of Birr, p. 120.

NEXT: Mysterious Mr. X.

References

References
1 Journey, p. 8.
2 Journey, pp.209-210.
3 ”Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, p. xiv.

A Journey In Ireland, 1921, Revisited: Ulster attitude

Novelist and journalist Wilfrid Ewart traveled through Ireland from mid-April to early May 1921. His dispatches for London newspapers were later collected and revised in the book, ‘A Journey in Ireland, 1921.’ Previous installments of this centenary series are collected at American Reporting of Irish Independence.

***

In their “Introduction” to the 2009 UCD Press edition of Journey, Paul Bew and Patrick Maume devote considerable attention to Ewart’s time in what today is Northern Ireland. They note the author’s reference to his September 1913 visit to an Ulster Volunteer Force rally in Newry. It is unclear, they comment, whether Ewart, then 21, “was there for political sympathy, personal connection with the participants, or journalistic curiosity, though he speaks of ‘marching with the Covenanters’ which implies a certain degree of participation.”[1]“Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, pp.xii-xiii. A year earlier, unionists signed the Ulster Covenant to protest Ireland leaving the United Kingdom under home rule, as proposed at the time.

Ewart’s material from his 1921 visit to Belfast, Bew/Maume continue, “is perhaps the most fascinating in the book,” and they provide considerable analysis of the events he covers.[2]Ibid, p. xvii. The author arrives in the northeast portion of Ireland as Ulster Unionist chief James Craig meets with Sinn Féin leader Eamon de Valera, and three weeks before the first general election of the new Northern Ireland parliament.

“All Befast was talking of the Craig-de Valera meeting, girding itself with an illusive expectancy, girding sometimes at its own leader [Craig], tending to lose sight of the major question in the momentary issue,” Ewart writes.[3]Journey, p. 156.

This meeting and the outcome of the election are well documented. More striking 100 years later is the unchanged and unmistakable political and cultural attitude of the region Ewart describes in Journey. It is personified by Sir Dawson Bates, then secretary of the Irish Unionist Alliance, “a downright hardheaded zealot, with a clear-cut horizon and no sentiment to spare,” Ewart says. “He speaks and looks and thinks and is–Belfast.”

At the Orange hall rally Ewart attends in East Belfast, Bates bellows:

We don’t want a United Ireland, we want a United Kingdom. … Some people hope that Ulster is going to make a mess of things. Failure means handing our bodies and souls over to Sinn Féin and the Roman Catholic Church. We’ve had enough of Dublin in the past. If we can crush Sinn Féin at the forthcoming elections, there’s a bright future for Ulster.[4]Journey, p.152-153.

A month later, Bates became Northern Ireland’s first minister for home affairs, a post he held for nearly 22 years. “His conspicuous distrust of the nationalist minority frustrated initial attempts to secure its cooperation, helped to minimize its power in local government, and encouraged an overtly discriminatory administrative style,” the Dictionary of Irish Biography says.[5]Bates, Sir (Richard) Dawson”, by Richard Hawkins, Dictionary of Irish Biography.

Northern Ireland Cabinet, 1921. Sir Dawson Bates at left, James Craig third from left. Others, l. to r, are Marquess of Londonderry, Hugh McDowell Pollock, E. M. Archdale, and J. M. Andrews. Ewart interviewed Pollock, who was finance minister.

Ewart also interviews finance minister-designated Hugh McDowell Pollock,  whom he characterizes as uncompromising and inflexible, a man who “can hardly be described as concessionable.” Pollock proclaims, “English people are stupid” because they fail to see that Ulster is “the only bulwark between them and the complete dissolution of the British Empire.” The people of southern Ireland, he says, are “full of sentimental ideas about nationalism.”[6]Journey, pp. 235-237. Also cited by Maurice Walsh, Bitter Freedom: Ireland in the Revolutionary World. W. W. Norton & Co., New York,  2015, pp. 306-307.

Bew/Maume detail how Ewart selectively reports “his vision of Ulster Unionist intransigence” by excluding moderate portions of the Craig speech he attends. They suggest Ewart was “more at home with the wistful and fearful Southern Unionists” who were willing to accept some form of Dominion status than the “more confident and intransigent” Ulstermen.[7]“Introduction”, p. xviii, and p. xiv.

The attitude expressed by Bates and Pollock prevailed in the region from the 1912 Ulster Covenant through the sectarian Troubles of the late 20th century, when it was personified by Ian Paisley. True, Paisley moderated his views after the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, even developed an unlikely partnership with Irish republican Martin McGuinness. Echoes of Bates and Pollock reverberate in current outcries over Brexit’s impact on the region and increased talk of a united Ireland. More hard-line rhetoric is likely to be heard in the months ahead as the Democratic Unionist Party’s replaces resigned leader Arlene Foster.  

The next post in this series will catalog more of Ewart’s interview quotes from Belfast and other parts of Ireland on the two key subjects: the island’s 1921 partition, and the Easter Rising that preceded it in 1916.

Curious errors

In his chapters about Northern Ireland, Ewart’s book contains two historical errors: 

Cecil Doughty image of the 1882 Phoenix Park murders.

He suggests the first deaths of the Irish War of Independence, the Jan. 21, 1919, ambush of RIC officers James McDonnell and Patrick O’Connell at Soloheadbeg, County Tipperary, shared an anniversary date with the murders of Lord Frederick Cavendish and Thomas Henry Burke in Dublin’s Phoenix Park.[8]Journey, p. 143.

This is incorrect. The Dublin killings occurred nearly 40 years early, on May 6, 1882, during Ireland’s Land War period. 

A few pages later, Ewart quotes an unnamed “high official” in Belfast who criticizes de Valera, citing the quote: “If the Unionists do not come in on our side they will have to go under.” Ewart, in parentheses, attributes the comment to a July 5, 1919, speech at Killaloe, County Clare.

This place and date are correct, but the year was 1917, as de Valera campaigned in a special by-election for the seat opened by the death of Irish Parliamentary Party incumbent Willie Redmond. The Sinn Féin candidate won in a landslide five days later. Two years later, De Valera was in the early weeks of his 18-month tour of America to raise money and political support of the Irish republic.

As with most fact errors–and I have made my share–it is not so remarkable that mistakes were made in the first place, but that they survived the copy editing of other readers before publication.

NEXT: Rising & Partition

References

References
1 “Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, pp.xii-xiii.
2 Ibid, p. xvii.
3 Journey, p. 156.
4 Journey, p.152-153.
5 Bates, Sir (Richard) Dawson”, by Richard Hawkins, Dictionary of Irish Biography.
6 Journey, pp. 235-237. Also cited by Maurice Walsh, Bitter Freedom: Ireland in the Revolutionary World. W. W. Norton & Co., New York,  2015, pp. 306-307.
7 “Introduction”, p. xviii, and p. xiv.
8 Journey, p. 143.

Troubles & Trimble return to Northern Ireland

The 23rd anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement (April 10, 1998) arrives with a surge of violence in Northern Ireland. Though not a 10-year or quarter-century mark that would normally draw attention, events of the past week make this post as unavoidable as the media coverage from Belfast.

As The Washington Post reported, the violence has been “triggered in part by pro-British Protestant unionists who fear that their home is drifting away from Britain in the new realities of a post-Brexit world.” Then, “hundreds of Irish nationalist and unionist demonstrators began to face off, a worrying escalation that stirred old memories of the 30 years of sectarian violence known as the Troubles, which led to the deaths of 3,500 civilians, British security personnel and paramilitary members.”

David Trimble, left, and the late John Hume after winning the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize. Irish Times photo.

One early opinion piece about the latest round of troubles comes from David Trimble, the former unionist leader, who shared the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize with the late nationalist John Hume for their work leading to the Good Friday Agreement. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Trimble says the GFA:

protected the union and put the future of Northern Ireland in the hands of its people. Voters put their trust in my assurances and supported the agreement. Now this promise of self-determination is under threat due to the Northern Ireland protocol …

The protocol doesn’t safeguard the Good Friday Agreement. It demolishes the agreement’s central premise by removing the assurance that democratic consent is required to change Northern Ireland’s status. That is why I feel betrayed personally by the protocol; it is also why the unionists in Northern Ireland are so incensed at its imposition.

Unsurprisingly, Trimble’s piece is pocked by selective memory and self-promotion.

  • He spits about the terrorism of Irish republicans but ignores the murders and other violence committed by Northern Ireland’s loyalist mobs in collusion with British police and military officers.
  • He avoids mentioning that that majority of people of Northern Ireland voted against Brexit … they wanted to remain in the EU … but got drag in by the conservative xenophobes of the English Midlands.
  • He neglects to say that PM Boris Johnson and the British government that he and other unionists are so attached to (along with the monarchy) negotiated and agreed to this protocol.
  • Finally, he willfully ignores the fact that Johnson and many MPs in Parliament would be happy to jettison the six counties of the North, which are a drag on the British treasury.

Trimble should work to facilitate the smooth reunification of Ireland, which would eliminate all the trade barriers he ostensibly worries about. More importantly, it would help bring about the healing of the now 100-year-old division of the island of Ireland. This ultimately would be more in line with the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.

I’m not saying this would be easy. But it is the best solution for the future.

Catching up with modern Ireland: March

Two of the blog’s sharp-eyed email subscribers, both journalists, tipped me on two of the stories in this month’s roundup, which includes news about an old building in New York City, and a new building in Cork city. Enjoy. MH

  • For the second year, St. Patrick’s Day parades and related events were either cancelled, downsized, or made virtual due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. About 6,800 people have died in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland since the pandemic began a year ago.
  • New York Attorney General Letitia James has agreed to review the proposed sale of the American Irish Historical Society building in Manhattan. The 1901 Gilded Age mansion has been the society’s home for 80 years. The Irish government, which has given nearly $1 million to the society since 2008, has decried the proposed sale, and dozens of prominent artists and business leaders have joined nearly 30,000 others in petitioning James to step in. (Thanks Gary S.)

American Irish Historical Society at 991 Fifth Avenue. Photo: Tony Hisgett, Birmingham, UK.

  • Marty Walsh, the Irish-American mayor of Boston since 2014, was confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Labor in the Biden administration. His parents were 1950s emigrants of County Galway.
  • Vicki Kennedy, widow of the late U.S. Sen. Edward (Ted) Kennedy (D-Mass.), is said to be on President Joe Biden’s short list for U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. Others include Chicago lawyer John Cooney, New York civil rights lawyer Brian O’Dwyer, former Ireland Fund Chairman John FitzPatrick,  Massachusetts state rep Clare Cronin, and former Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Tommy O’Neill, son of former House Speaker “Tip” O’Neill, according to IrishCentral.
  • Former U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd, a Biden ally earlier believed to be in line for the ambassador’s post, instead joined the Irish executive consultancy and lobbying firm Teneo as a senior adviser.
  • Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace agreement is under threat and a “Pandora’s box” of protest and political crisis will be opened unless the European Union agrees to significant changes in the Brexit deal with the United Kingdom, Reuters reported. At issue is a dispute over the implementation of the so-called Northern Ireland protocol in the Irish Sea, which is designed to prevent a hard land border with the Irish Republic. Militant unionists in the north complain the arrangement segregates them from the rest of the U.K..
  • The Journal.ie attempted to answer, “How would a united Ireland do economically?
  • The Republic announced “Our Rural Future, 2021-2025” plan, which calls for 20 percent of government employees to work remotely  or mixed city center and rural locations by December, with further decentralization in following years.
  • Old Ireland in Colour, a collection of 170 black and white photos colorized through a combination of cutting-edge artificial intelligence technology and old fashioned historical research, has been enjoying huge sales since its 2020 release. CNN and the Daily Mail published the latest features. (Thanks Bill T.)
  • Pope Francis elevated to International Marian and Eucharistic Shrine status the church and grounds at Knock, County Mayo, site of an 1879 apparition.
  • Technology firm Intel announced it will create 1,600 permanent high-tech jobs at its Leixlip campus in County Kildare.
  • Cork city officials and business leaders have applauded the decision by An Bord Pleanála, Ireland’s national planning review board, to grant permission for a 34-story hotel and commercial tower on the site of the former Port of Cork. It would become Ireland’s tallest building. An Taisce, Ireland’s national historic trust, complained it will create “enormous change in the character of the city’s skyline.”

Artist rending of Cork city tower.

Irish Americans back united Ireland with ad buy

I don’t usually pay much attention to advertisements as I scan the headlines and top paragraphs of The Washington Post, the day’s first pot of coffee percolating near the left edge of the newspaper spread on my kitchen counter. The half-page ad on A5–my second page turn–caught my attention: A United Ireland: Let The People Have Their Say.

Friends of Sinn Féin USA and five other Irish-American groups paid for the black and white ads in the March 10 issues of the Post and The New York Times a week before St. Patrick’s Day focuses on relations between the two countries. Full-page with spot color versions of the ads appear in the Irish Voice and Irish Echo newspapers. The ad says, in part:

A new Ireland is emerging, and more and more people are looking beyond the divisions of the past. A new Ireland is seeking to undo the damage of the undemocratic partition of Ireland 100 years ago and the recent British government imposed Brexit.

“Britain’s exit”, or Brexit, was decided by a 2016 referendum. Voters in the six counties of Northern Ireland opposed leaving the European Union. The British and E.U. governments, including the Republic of Ireland, spent years hammering out the details of the departure.

Earlier this month, the Post published a Bloomberg business analysis that said while a united Ireland is “unlikely anytime soon … the fact that the possibility is being openly discussed again is testament to the forces unleashed by Brexit.”

We’ve been hearing this since 2016. Nearly two years ago to the day, Times columnist Timothy Egan, also citing Brexit, wrote: “From the depths of British bungling, hubris and incompetence is emerging a St. Patrick’s Day miracle: the real chance of a united Ireland.”

Let’s see what happens by St. Patrick’s Day, 2022.

When ‘northern’ Ireland became ‘Northern’ Ireland

On Jan. 5, 1921, The New York Times published an Associated Press dispatch from London, which began:

Ulstermen are preparing to make the opening of the Parliament for Northern Ireland as picturesque and imposing as possible, endeavoring to obtain the consent of the King to open the first session in person, or to have the Prince of Wales do so if the King is unable to be present, says the London Times.

Daily papers in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere in America and Canada printed the same report, with two small but significant differences to the sentence: a lowercase k in king and n in northern. These papers followed AP style rules, which only capitalize “king” or “queen” when used before a proper name: King George V.1

Using a capital K to refer to the monarch without his name was a New York Times’ style preference, a sign of deference to the title, one that probably reinforced the opinions of the paper’s Irish-American critics. The Times, many said, was anti-Irish, anti-Catholic, and a “proponent of dead and gone imperialism.”2

The copy editing decisions about Northern Ireland or northern Ireland were trickier. In January 1921, it became simultaneously a new political place in addition to an ancient geographic location.

Names & Places

Northern Ireland in bright orange, rest of Ireland uncolored. United Kingdom, including England, Scotland, and Wales, at right in light orange. (Alpha History map.)

King George gave “royal assent” to the Government of Ireland Act 1920 less than two weeks earlier, just days before Christmas. The legislation had slogged through Parliament since before the Great War began in 1914. What started as a “home rule” bill to provide domestic autonomy for all of Ireland now engineered the island’s post-war partition.

Under the new law, “Northern Ireland” consisted of the parliamentary counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone, and the parliamentary boroughs of Belfast and Londonderry. The rest of the island became “Southern Ireland”, including the remaining three counties in the province of Ulster: Cavan, Donegal, and Monaghan.

The law allowed northern Protestants to manage their domestic affairs without having to share home rule with southern Catholics. The new names had begun to appear in 1920 U.S. press reports. Both Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland would remain part of what was then called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

Republican Opposition

Since December 1918, however, Irish separatists had won elections and fought a guerrilla war to secure a republican government independent of London. They were not about to accept a home rule parliament still tied to the crown. In April 1921, the National Catholic Welfare Council (predecessor of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) News Service reported:

Election under the partition act are, according to arrangements made by the British government, to take place on May 3rd next in “Southern Ireland” and “Northern Ireland.” So detested is partition by the majority that the refusal of the people of four-fifths of the country to work the act is a certainty.3

The Southern Ireland parliament was never formed. The war of independence continued through December 1921, when a treaty resulted in the creation of the Irish Free State. It was not yet a republic, but it was more independent than Northern Ireland. In 1930, Irish immigrants in America for more than a decade would answer the U.S. Census “Place of Birth” question with political names they had never used before leaving.

King George V did attend the June 1921 opening of the Northern Ireland Parliament at the Belfast City Hall, a “picturesque and imposing” Baroque Revival building opened 15 years earlier. In his speech, the king hoped the arrangement would be temporary and appealed for eventual reconciliation, “a day in which the Irish people, North and South, under one parliament or two, as those parliaments may themselves decide, shall work together in common love for Ireland upon the sure foundations of mutual justice and respect.”4

King George V opens the Northern Ireland Parliament in Belfast in June 1921.

Centenary & Brexit

Ireland has remained divided for 100 years. Tensions between Northern Ireland’s Catholics and Protestants in the late 1960s erupted into the three decades of sectarian violence known as The Troubles. This year’s Northern Ireland centenary and simultaneous departure of the United Kingdom (which includes Northern Ireland, but not the southern Republic) from the European Union has put fresh attention on the Irish border.

By placing a new customs border in the Irish Sea rather than the 300 mile land line with the Republic, Brexit has turned Northern Ireland into “a place apart.” In essence, Northern Ireland has been partitioned from the rest of the U.K. Staunch unionists say they are “much better off in the United Kingdom than they are within the Republic of Ireland or within a European superstate,” Reuters reports.

Some Irish nationalist politicians and other Irish island proponents, refusing to acknowledge the century-old political state of Northern Ireland, refer to the place as “The North,” “The north of Ireland,” or the “Six Counties.” They sense an opportunity to press the case for reunification, though a referendum to undo partition appears a few years away, at the soonest. And there is no guarantee it would pass on both sides of the border, as required by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement … or imagined by King George V during his 1921 speech in the new Northern Ireland.

I’ll have more posts on these historic and contemporary topics throughout the year.

When hope and history rhymed in Ireland, 1995

There’s been plenty of talk lately about how Irish-American Joe Biden as U.S. president might influence the impact of Brexit on both sides of the Irish border. Twenty-five years ago, another U.S. president loomed large in Irish affairs and helped set the stage for the Good Friday peace agreement.

Bill Clinton became the first American leader to set foot in Northern Ireland, Nov. 30, 1995, followed by stops in the Republic of Ireland. He quoted Irish poet Seamus Heaney long before Biden:

I could not say it better than your Nobel Prize winning poet, Seamus Heaney, has said: We are living in a moment when hope and history rhyme. In Dublin, if there is peace in Northern Ireland, it is your victory, too. And I ask all of you to think about the next steps we must take.1

It took until April 1998 to reach the peace agreement, approved the following month by voter referendums on both sides of the border. The accord became effective in December 1999.

In Derry, Clinton shared the stage with John Hume, who would became co-recipient of the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize with David Trimble for their work on the Good Friday Agreement. Hume died in August. “I’ll never forget our night in Derry in 1995, with the town square and blocks around full of hopeful faces,” Clinton said in his official statement this summer.

Clinton and Hume in 1995.

At Mackie’s, a west Belfast textile factory, nine-year-old Catherine Hamill “stole the show” with her introduction of Clinton, Brian Rohan recalled in a 1996 story, recently republished in Irish America magazine.

“My first daddy died in the Troubles,” Hamill said. “It was the saddest day of my life. Now it is nice and peaceful. I like having peace and quiet for a change instead of people shooting and killing. My Christmas wish is that peace and love will last in Ireland forever.”

John D. Feerick also notes the “moving” introduction by the Catholic girl, joined by a Protestant boy, in his memoir, That Further Shore, published this year. The former Fordham Law School dean joined the U.S. delegation.

Clinton’s “speech of hope and promise for Northern Ireland challenged both communities to embrace peace and and open the door for greater economic development in the North and the employment that would follow,” Feerick writes in a five-page passage about the Ireland trip.2

Two weeks after Clinton turned on the Christmas tree lights in Belfast, Britain’s Daily Mail, Virgin Airways, and the Fitzpatrick Hotel chain flew Hamill and her family to America to be among Clinton’s invited guests at the tree-lighting ceremony at the White House. It was truly a season when hope and history rhymed.

Catching up with modern Ireland: November

Joe Biden’s election as U.S. president was the big story of November on both sides of the Atlantic. Here’s a sampling of early analysis:

Ballina, Co. Mayo artists Padraig ‘Smiler’ Mitchell and Leslie Lackey in September installed this mural of Biden in his ancestral hometown. Biden visited Ballina in 2016 as vice president. RTÉ photo.

More news:

  • The Republic of Ireland is set to begin easing second-round COVID-19 restrictions on Dec. 1, as Northern Ireland tightens measures to control the spread of the virus. “For months, public health officials have argued in vain that the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland should be coordinating pandemic restrictions, taking advantage of their island status as a natural barrier to disease. Instead, government leaders in Dublin and Belfast complain that they learn of each other’s divergent plans only through the media,” Politico.eu reported.
  • “Many whose attendance at church services before the pandemic was fragile will never return to public worship. … The post-pandemic church will look significantly different to the church we traditionally knew.” Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said in a  mid-month homily at St. Mary’s Pro Cathedral.
  • A Belfast man was arrested in connection with the 1974 bombings of two pubs in Birmingham, England, which killed 21 people and wounded nearly 200 others. The IRA has been accused of the bombings. Six men were jailed in 1975, then released in 1991 when their convictions were overturned.
  • Ireland inflicts the ninth highest level of lost tax revenue on other countries around the globe–3.7 percent of total worldwide losses, or the equivalent of $15.83 billion, according to the first “State of Tax Justice” study compiled by Tax Justice Network.
  • A new freight ferry route will open Jan. 2, 2021, linking Rosslare, Ireland, and Dunkirk, France, bypassing non-EU member England, the Independent (UK) reported.
  • Paleontologists have found the fossilized remains of two Jurassic dinosaur species in Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland. These are the first dinosaur remains reported from anywhere in Ireland and some of the most westerly in Europe, says Sci-News.com.
  • Solas Nua, Washington D.C.’s contemporary Irish arts organization, named Miranda Driscoll as its interim executive director. She formerly served for five years as director/CEO of Sirius Arts Centre in Co. Cork. Watch her video message. These are challenging times for all non-profit arts groups, to say the least.

Previous months:

Irish government launches 5-year diaspora strategy

The Republic of Ireland has issued a new strategy to support and engage the state’s dispersed communities. “It takes a broad and inclusive definition of the diaspora, reflecting the diversity of the global Irish community today,” the government said.

At just 20 pages, Global Ireland: Ireland’s Diaspora Strategy 2020-2025 “is slender, but it contains real substance,” Minister of State for the Diaspora, Colm Brophy T.D., said during the report’s Nov. 19 virtual American debut, which was hosted by Irish Ambassador to the United States Daniel Muhall.

The plan has five strategic objectives:

  • People: ensure that the welfare of the Irish abroad remains at the heart of the state’s diaspora support.
  • Values: work with diaspora to promote Irish values abroad and celebrate the diversity of the diaspora.
  • Prosperity: build mutually beneficial economic ties with the diaspora.
  • Culture: support cultural expression among the diaspora.
  • Influence: extend Ireland’s global reach by connecting with the next generation.

The strategy vows to establish pathways to legal migration by Irish citizens to the US, continuing to support the E3 Visa bill, and seeking solutions for undocumented Irish citizens in the US to regularize their status. U.S. President-Elect Joe Biden figures to be a helpful partner in this regard.

The strategy also promises to “deepen our connection to people for whom Irish heritage is more distant, including the African-American and Hispanic communities in the United States.” The Embassy of Ireland in Washington and its U.S. consulates currently are partnering with organizations on both sides of the Atlantic to mark the 175th anniversary of Frederick Douglass’s 1845-46 visit to Ireland.

The strategy contains only one reference to Northern Ireland, a vow to build ties to the Ulster-Scots diaspora.

Brophy, a Fine Gael T.D. who has represented Dublin-South-West since 2016, assumed the role of diaspora minister in July. He has been unable to travel outside Ireland due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The cover image of the Global Ireland report (at top) is the lamp at Áras an Uachtaráin, a symbolic beacon, lighting the way for Irish emigrants and their descendants, welcoming them to their homeland.

See my recent article for the Irish Diaspora Histories Network: Home at War, 1920: Diaspora Witness Statements to the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland.

Catching up with modern Ireland: October

Monument in Eyre Square, Galway city, marks JFK’s June 1963 visit. November 2018 photo.

In a few days (or weeks?) we should know whether Irish-American-Catholic Joe Biden wins the U.S. presidency, 60 years after the historic election of Irish-American-Catholic John F. Kennedy. A sentimental milestone for some (and eye roll for others), a Biden administration appears poised to pay close attention to the impact of Brexit on the Irish border and any U.S.-U.K trade deal, as well as visa and citizenship issues for Irish people in America. A Biden win would help take some of the sting from this year’s cancelled St. Patrick’s Day events on both sides of the Atlantic and the lost summer of tourism in Ireland. Let Trump rule his links at Doonbeg.

Here’s the October roundup:

  • On Oct. 22, the Republic of Ireland became the first European country to reimpose a nationwide lockdown following a surge in coronavirus cases. New quarantine rules apply until Dec. 1.
  • The five-year Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes report is to be finalized Oct. 30, though its public release date remains unclear. Expect a wave of damning coverage about how the Catholic Church and the State handled Ireland’s most vulnerable citizens.
  • “I continue to be amazed by the lack of knowledge or interest in the political and social affairs of both a part of the UK – the North – and also of our near neighbour – the Republic,” Conservative MP Simon Hoare wrote in a column for The Irish Times.
  • The Police Service of Northern Ireland began a three-month pilot program for new-look uniforms, but a proposal to drop the words “Northern Ireland” from the force’s official crest, replaced only with NI, was rejected, the Belfast Telegraph reported. PSNI was formed after the Good Friday Agreement as a more inclusive successor to the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
  • “Sublime Chaos” is the headline of a short New Yorker piece about the “mystical Irish Dadaism” of Dublin composer Jennifer Walshe. “When I was younger, I wanted to run away from Irish identity, which at times can be so narrow and confining and politically problematic,” said Walshe, born in 1974. “But it’s part of me, and it belongs to everyone here.” (Thanks ADH.)
  • The Book of Lismore, created in the late 15th century, has been donated to University College Cork (UCC) after centuries in a British estate. This major medieval manuscript, created at Kilbrittain, Co. Cork, in a golden age of Irish literature, is considered as one of the Great Books of Ireland.

Three from Kerry:

  • Europe’s rarest fern has been discovered in Killarney. Stenogrammitis myosuroides, has only ever previously been found in the mountainous cloud forests of Jamaica, Cuba, and Dominican Republic, according to The Guardian. “Kerry mousetail” has been suggested as the common name for the plant.
  • A plant appears, an animal disappears: Fungie, the resident male, bottlenose dolphin that helped transform Dingle from a small fishing and farming community into a global tourist destination, has vanished after 37 years, The New York Times (with lovely photos) and other media reported.
  • Finally, there’s some anthropologic evidence that natives of the Kingdom are less susceptible to COVID-19, says Maynooth University’s Ciarán Walsh.

Alas, the annual November conference of the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland is cancelled due to COVID. See details of previous conferences. Best wishes to members and past participants.

See past monthy and annual roundups.

The grounds of the Belfast Botanic Gardens and Palm House. November 2019 photo.