Category Archives: Northern Ireland

New book explores role of Catholic Church in The Troubles

Dr. Margaret M. Scull, (@MaggieMScull) the Irish Research Council postdoctoral fellow at the National University of Ireland, Galway, is the author of a new book, The Catholic Church and the Northern Ireland Troubles, 1968-1998.

The 256-page book evaluates the Irish and English churches role in mediating the conflict, including new perspectives on religious institutions as such mediators in the 20th century. In additional to church and state archival research, Scull interviewed bishops, priests, religious women, former paramilitaries, community organizers, and politicians.

Scull gave Nov. 18 talks in Washington, D.C., at the Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies (IERES) at George Washington University, and the Global Irish Studies program at Georgetown University. Some office obligations and late-afternoon D.C. traffic made me late for the latter, so instead of my own reporting, I’m posting a Nov. 11 interview Scull did with Barry Sheppard (@barry_shep), presenter on NVTV’s “History Now” program, and a friend from the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland.

One quick note: Scull is expanding her work to explore the role of the American Catholic Church during the Troubles, specifically the dioceses of Boston and Chicago. A follow up journal article is expected in 2020.

History Now: The Catholic Church and the Troubles – Ep 48 from Northern Visions NvTv on Vimeo.

Remembering Belfast’s war dead, before the war ended

On a wall of a side entry into the ornate St. Malachy’s Catholic Church in Belfast, a modest plaque speaks to a troubled time, and not the period most would associate with the city. The brass-on-wood message reads, in part:

“Pray for the repose of the souls of the sailors and soldiers who have fallen in this war.”

In this case, “this war” is the Great War, “the war to end all wars.” The plaque is dated August 1917 … 15 months before the November 1918 armistice.

Praying for the dead of any period or place is encouraged in Catholic belief, particularly during the month of November, and the priests of this parish have never removed this reminder of early 20th century sacrifice. They are still talking about it at Mass.

The plaque at St. Malachy’s Catholic Church in Belfast. Yes, that’s me reflected in the brass after the Nov. 9, 2019, Vigil Mass.

Ireland’s Memorial Records, a digital archive of the Flanders Field Museum in Belgium, lists 2,268 fatalities who were born in Belfast among 49,000 Irish soldiers killed in the war. The archive does not record their faith affiliation, let alone their home church.

Some 4,000 Catholic men from Belfast enlisted in the nine Irish regiments of the British Army, many joining the 6th Connaught Rangers, “the regiment of choice for Belfast Catholics,” historian Eamon Phoenix of Strainmillis University College says in a 2014 BBC podcast about the plaque. Many of these men supported pro-Home Rule nationalist John Redmond’s Irish National Volunteers and probably worshiped at St. Malachy’s, Phoenix says.

Of nearly 63,000 war recruits from the then nine-county province of Ulster, about 27 percent (17,092) were Catholics, at the time 44 percent of the region’s population. Overall, however, more Catholics than Protestants joined the war from Ireland in the years just before the island’s 1921 partition. More on faith affiliation and “the numbers involved,” from the Queen’s University Belfast Irish History Live blog.  

At this time, British officer Major Charles Blakiston Houston, a Protestant, was married to Norah Emily Persse, a Catholic woman and benefactor of St. Malachy’s Church. (Such “mixed marriages” were less than 1 percent of all unions in early 20th century Ireland, even more rare in Ulster, according to a 2015 study.) Norah convinced her parish priest, Fr. Dan McCashen, to install the plaque while the outcome of the war remained unresolved, Phoenix says.

“This must be very unique across the British Isles, a plaque that went up before the end of the war to remember soldiers; usually they went up afterward about 1920 or 1922,” he adds.

Why the early memorial? Phoenix speculates Norah sensed the shift from Redmond’s Home Rule nationalism to the post-Easter Rising surge of separatist Irish republicanism. If she anticipated the Sinn Féin election triumph of December 1918, she wanted to be sure the Redmond nationalists were remembered and respected.

“Many veterans returning to nationalist areas met grudging acceptance, hostility, or even physical violence,” the Queen’s History blog says. “For all of them the high public honor and celebration with which they had departed contrasted sharply with the changed circumstances of their return.”

A July 1919 press report of a Belfast event to honor veterans, however, included “a notable demonstration of the part played by Belfast nationalists” in the war. But it took until the approaching centenary of the Great War for it to become more widely acceptable, even expected, to recognize the sacrifices of Irish soldiers, especially nationalist Catholics.  

At St. Malachy’s, they have never stopped remembering and praying for the war dead, including at the Vigil Mass I attended Nov. 9. The priest noted the plaque during his homily. Otherwise, I would have missed it, since this feature is not described in the history section or other parts of the church’s website.

I sent an email to the church after returning to America and finding the Phoenix account. I’ll update the post if I receive new information.

***

Related: An Irish-American’s most perilous summer, 1918 Kerryman John Ware immigrated to Pittsburgh in 1910. Eight years later, he was shipped to France.

The Belfast Cenotaph commemorating World War I opened in 1929 at Belfast City Hall. July 2019 photo.

Belfast Botanic Gardens in photos

Nearing its 2028 bicentenary, the Belfast Botanic Gardens and Palm House are a popular gathering place for the city’s residents, like Central Park in New York City or the National Mall in Washington, D.C. While my early November walk was hardly peak time for blooms, it was a lovely and quiet morning as the overnight frost steamed off these historic grounds.

Back to Ireland for history conference talk

I am returning to Ireland–my tenth visit since 2000, my fifth since 2016–to make a presentation at the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland’s annual conference at Queens University Belfast. I am speaking about pioneering woman journalist Ruth Russell, who in 1919 reported on the early months of the Irish revolution for the Chicago Daily News. Watch for updates and tweets from @markaholan.

 

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

Photo essay: From Downpatrick to Croagh Patrick

With Sept. 17 being halfway to St. Patrick’s Day, this is a good opportunity to share a few more photos from my August trip to Ireland. My wife and visited the St. Patrick’s Centre in Downpatrick, County Down, in Northern Ireland; and Croagh Patrick–or Patrick’s Mountain–in County Mayo, Republic of Ireland.

Let’s start in the west, where the Mayo County Council and Croagh Patrick Stakeholders Group (the Catholic Church, plus mountaineering, archaeological, and tourism interests) are in the planning stages of sustainable access and habitat restoration on the iconic mountain, which is eroded and otherwise damaged by too many visitors.

Submissions or observations about the proposed development (linked above) must be submitted by Sept 24. Here is the electronic comment form.

I was nearly alone when I hiked to the summit on a Sunday afternoon in October 2001. Last month, my wife and I couldn’t find a spot in the car park at the foot of the mountain because it was so crowded. Different seasons, to be sure, but Ireland’s booming tourism and easy access to the site have placed too many people to the pilgrims’ path. This isn’t difficult to imagine, when you consider this year’s photo of lines of people on Mount Everest.

Croagh Patrick is the pointier peak on the right. (Damn that overhead wire.)

The St. Patrick’s Centre promotes itself as “the only permanent exhibition in the world about Ireland’s Patron Saint.” The fine niche museum provides a straightforward multimedia look at the saint’s life and legend. There’s also a nice cafe and gift shop.

We also visited the nearby St. Patrick’s Grave and St. Patrick’s Shrine, a mosaic with panels showing key moments of the saint’s life. The former is located in the neighboring cemetery of Down Cathedral of the Church of Ireland; the latter is found inside St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, a few blocks from the centre.

Entrance to the St. Patrick Centre in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland.

St. Patrick’s grave outside of Down Cathedral, a short walk from the centre.

St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Downpatrick.

Sculpture of St. Patrick and shamrocks over the front door of the church.

One of the mosaic panels shows Bishop Tassach of Raholp, one of Patrick’s disciples, administering Viaticum to the saint as he died at Saul.

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