Category Archives: Northern Ireland

Irishman leading global caronavirus response

The first case of the Covid-19 coronavirus has been confirmed in the Republic of Ireland, The Journal.ie reports. One case of caronavirus was confirmed in late February in Northern Ireland.

Irishman Michael J. Ryan is a leading figure in the global effort to fight the threat in his role as executive director of the World Health Organization’s health emergencies program. He appears frequently in media reports.

“This is a reality check for every government on the planet,” The New York Times quoted Ryan on Feb. 28. “Wake up. Get ready. This virus may be on its way.”

Michael J. Ryan

Ryan completed his medical training at the National University of Ireland, Galway; a Master’s in Public Health at University College Dublin; and specialist training in communicable disease control at the Health Protection Agency in London and the European Program for Intervention Epidemiology Training, according to his WHO biography.

Ryan is from Curry, on the Sligo/Mayo border, according to The Irish Times:

… he developed his taste for travel from devouring his grandmother’s copies of National Geographic. He trained as a trauma surgeon but switched to public health after suffering a life-altering back injury during the first Iraq war in 1990. That led to training in communicable diseases and a full-time post in the WHO, when he ended up as a troubleshooter in some of the most hostile environments in the world.

Catching up with modern Ireland: February

Sinn Féin topped the Feb. 8 Irish general election poll, but the Republic’s political parties have yet to agree to a governing coalition. The longer the debate drags, the increased likelihood of a new election, which some analysts say could benefit Sinn Féin. … Other February news:

  • One case of caronavirus was confirmed in Northern Ireland late in the month.
  • This island of Ireland was pummeled by three named storms: Dennis, Ciara, and Jorge.
  • An abandoned cargo vessel, or “ghost ship” washed up near the village of village Ballycotton, County Cork, during Storm Dennis. The Alta appears to have been adrift without crew since September 2018, The New York Times reported.

The Alta, near Cork. Michael Mac Sweeney

  • Julian Smith was sacked as Northern Ireland Secretary as part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle. The move came less the a month after he helped restore the North’s power-sharing executive after a three-year impasse.
  • Too popular? USA Today‘s “need to know” travel piece reported that Ireland is “filled with cultural and historic wonders … and lately with lots of tourists, too. And at many of its top sights, reservations are now either required or highly recommended.”
  • Not your grandparents’ Ireland: One of Dublin’s largest Catholic churches will be demolished and replaced with a new building one tenth in size. … Two women celebrated Northern Ireland’s first same-sex marriage.
  • Elizabeth Cullinan, who wrote about Irish-American identity, veering away from the male tradition of “ward bosses and henchmen, larger-than-life political fixers, tavern social life and father-son relationships,” died at 86.

Finally, this February includes Leap Year Day, which marks the 132nd anniversary of the opening of the Listowel & Ballybunion Railway in 1888 … or the 33rd anniversary by the quadrennial date.

The monorail was also known as the Lartigue, after its French inventor, Charles Lartigue. It operated between Listowel and Ballybunion in North Kerry until 1924.

From my archives:

Watch a 2.5-minute video of archival film footage, “Along the Line“.

The Lartigue monorail in Kerry opened on Leap Year Day in 1888. The line closed in 1924.

 

 

Catching up with modern Ireland: January

The new year got off to a fast start with the restoration of the power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly, successful U.K. and E.U. Brexit votes, and announced Feb. 8 elections in the Republic of Ireland.

In the North, the Assembly’s three-year dormancy has laid bare “a state of deep crisis across the territory’s neglected public and political institutions,” The New York Times reported Jan. 22. Residents “wonder whether and how the regional government will be able to overhaul public services like health and education that have declined to the point of near collapse.”

Brexit Day is Jan. 31. Britain and the E.U. approved the separation and now begin negotiating a trade deal. Prospect, a U.K. publication, speculates on How Northern Ireland could use Brexit to its advantage.

With less than 10 days before elections in the Republic, polls show that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael party has fallen 7 percentage points to 23 percent since November, while rival Fianna Fail is up 2 points to 26 percent, according to a Jan. 26 roundup by Reuters. Sinn Fein was up 8 points to 19 percent and may play a role in deciding the eventual coalition government. Visit The Irish Times‘ “Inside Politics” podcast.

I’ll have more election posts in February. Now, other January news:

  • In America, the Jesuit Review, Ciara Murphy writes Ireland is fine with fracking—as long as it happens in Pennsylvania. Her piece hits close to home for me: the project site on the River Shannon estuary in North Kerry is near where my maternal grandparents lived before they emigrated to … Western Pennsylvania, center of the U.S. fracking industry and my birthplace. “For the Irish government to continue with the L.N.G. terminal on the basis of energy security for Irish people is to disregard the harm caused to people in Pennsylvania,” Murphy writes.

North Kerry LNG site.

  • Maps comparing Ireland’s island-wide rail networks in 1920 to 2020–the former being more robust–went viral on social media. The images came from a report by Irish and U.K. business interests to highlight the value of a shared all-island economy between the Republic and Northern Ireland.
  • There were 67 victims of paramilitary-style assaults in Northern Ireland in 2019, up from 51 in 2018, Foreign Policy reported, citing Police Service of Northern Ireland data, in a story speculating about a post-Brexit return to sectarian violence.
  • Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who might have revving her 2020 reelection campaign, has been appointed chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast, a largely ceremonial role. She is expected to hold the post through early 2025.
  • Marian Finucane, a longtime RTÉ radio journalist, died Jan. 2, age 69. She was “one of a small number of people instantly recognized in Ireland by their first name only … [a] testament to the intimacy of her relationship with listeners,” The Irish Times obituary said.
  • Former Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon, one of the architects of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, died Jan. 24, age 83.

Deal Announced to Restore Northern Ireland Assembly

UPDATES (Newest at top)

  • Reports indicate all parties are now on board. The government appears ready to reopen midday Jan. 11. [I’ll have a new post as details–and opinions–become more clear.]
  • Sinn Féin has announced it will accept the deal and rejoin the power-sharing government at Stormont. The DUP has given tentative support. The Northern Assembly’s smaller parties – the SDLP, Ulster Unionists and Alliance – are still holding internal discussions, the BBC reports.
  • The Police Service of Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, trade union and industry groups are urging Northern politicians to accept the deal.
  • Northern Ireland is facing a fierce story amid the political drama.

ORIGINAL POST

The Irish and British governments late Jan. 9 announced a deal to restore the three-year-dormant Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly. Northern political parties are expected to meet Friday, Jan. 10, to approval the proposal, called “New Decade, New Approach.”

Irish Tánaiste and British Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and Northern Secretary Julian Smith said the framework will transform public services and restore public confidence in the devolved government, with gives Northern Ireland a measure of autonomy from London, and also provides cross-border initiatives with Dublin.

The two government officials said reforms to the health service, education and justice will be prioritized, along with improvements in transparency and accountability, and in how civil servants, ministers, and special advisers conduct themselves. Their statements and key elements of the draft agreement can be found in this Irish government release.

The Assembly was shuttered in January 2017 after Sinn Féin‘s Martin McGuinness resigned as Deputy First Minister to protest the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) handling of a botched renewable energy scheme. Then, citing health problems, Martin announced he would not run in the elections triggered by the closure. He died two months later. Sinn Féin and DUP have been at loggerheads ever since.

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: November

November began with more than 1,000 people from the academic, arts, business, community, education, health, labor, law, media, and sports sectors; on both sides of the Irish border, and the diaspora in America, Canada, and Australia; signing an open letter calling for a “new conversation” about the constitutional future of the island of Ireland. The “Ireland’s Future” group urged Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to establish a citizens’ assembly to pave the way for a united Ireland. By the month’s end, Varadkar and opposition party leader Micheál Martin had rebuffed the request.

“In recent decades Irish nationalism has moved beyond slogans like ‘England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity’ into an appreciation that co-operation rather than conflict is a far better route to an agreed Ireland. Attempting to take advantage of the Brexit confusion to pursue a united Ireland is little more than a reworking of that tired old cliché,” Irish Times columnist Stephen Collins wrote.

Other News 

  • A new round of talks to reopen the power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly, dormant since January 2017, is scheduled for Dec. 16, four days after U.K. elections that will impact the fate of Brexit.
  • Results of four by-elections in the Republic of Ireland were still being determined as I publish. Turnout was low. A national election is expected before May.
  • The Republic launched a Rural Broadband Plan to address the lack of digital coverage in black spots that cover 80 percent of its land mass. Varadkar hailed the project as the “most important since rural electrification.”
  • U.S. President Donald Trump’s Doonbeg golf course reported a $1.7 million loss for 2018, the fifth-straight year the County Clare club has failed to make a profit, The Washington Post reported, citing Irish government filings. In October, the Clare County Council approved the Trump Organization’s request to build 53 homes on the site; but a request to build a rock barrier to shield the seaside resort from erosion remains pending with Ireland’s national planning board. 
  • Irish and U.K. media outlets have reported more anti-immigrant, alt-right activity in the Republic, which previously prided (or fooled) itself that it avoided the racism and xenophobia that plagues Europe and America.

Book News

  • Laying it on the Line – The Border and Brexit, a collection of 26 essays by “informed voices” (Only one woman!) from the Republic, Northern Ireland, the U.K., and the USA was released late in the month.
  • Caitríona Perry, RTÉ’s former Washington correspondent, published, The Tribe: The Inside Story of Irish Power and Influence in US Politics. My friend Felix M. Larkin’s review in The Irish Catholic.
  • Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland was selected for The Washington Post‘s “10 Best Books of 2019,” and The New York Times’ “100 Notable Books of 2019.” It was not included in The Irish Times‘ “What Irish Writers are Reading” list.

NOTE: I’ll publish my seventh annual “Best of the Blog” near the end of December. The monthly roundup will resume in the new year. MH

From my morning walk through the Belfast Botanic Gardens in early November.

Some unusual maps of Ireland

The anthropomorphic maps of Ireland shown below were drawn by Lilian Lancaster (1852-1939 … also known under her married name, Tennant) in the mid-19th century. They are part of the “Purpose and Portrayal: Early Irish Maps and Mapmaking” exhibit at the Ulster Museum, Belfast, which I viewed earlier this month. The exhibit continues through 26 January 2020. Lancaster produced similar treatments of other countries, including the United States.

Below, note the discrepancy in the two maps of the former Kingdom of Great Britain & Ireland on the spine of David Cannadine’s Victorious Century, which I found next to each other on the shelf of a Barnes & Nobel store in Pittsburgh. The 2018 hardcover at left shows only Northern Ireland (under the “KI” of Kingdom), though the island’s political partition didn’t occur until 15 years after the 1800-1906 period assessed in the book. The 2019 softcover at right corrects the error. “Yes, it was an oversight, which was later put right!,” Cannadine replied to my email outreach.

Map images of the U.K. and/or the Republic of Ireland typically shade the north and south differently to make the distinction, keeping whole the island’s physical geography. Less-used maps showing only the 6-county North, or 26-county Republic, floating between the Atlantic Ocean and the Irish Sea must make cartographers crazy, and surely enrage # united Ireland supporters.

I can hardly wait to see the post-Brexit maps of Europe.

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.