Category Archives: Politics

Women journalists offer perspectives on Northern Ireland

Boston College highlighted three women journalists from three generations of the Troubles in Northern Ireland at the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. They were:

  • Susan McKay, a teenager in 1972 when her native Derry became the center of international attention on Bloody Sunday. She established her reputation for fearless reporting of the loyalist community during the Drumcree conflicts in Portadown in the late 1990s, and post-agreement coverage. She has authored Northern Protestants – On Shifting Ground, 2021, Bear In Mind These Dead, 2007, and other work.
  • Freya McClements, Northern editor of The Irish Times, 17 when the Good Friday Agreement was reached in 1998. Her post-agreement work includes Children of the Troubles, 2020, co-written with RTÉ broadcaster Joe Duffy. The book details the stories of 186 youth aged 16 and under who died in the conflict between 1969 and 2006, including some killed accidentally and not part of earlier Troubles’ death lists.
  • Lyra McKee, a 29-year-old up-and-coming journalist killed during 2019 rioting in the Creggan area of Derry. Now subject of a new documentary film, Lyra, McKee helped call attention to high post-agreement teen suicide rates in the North and LGBTQ advocacy.

The 92-minute Lyra is a tough to watch, in part because viewers are drawn so intimately into McKee’s life through an abundance of archival video dating to her childhood in Belfast’s Ardoyne neighborhood, a working-class, mostly Catholic and republican enclave. We see her grow up, blossom with professional and personal promise, then get shot as senselessly as earlier Troubles deaths.

Authorities have attributed McKee’s murder to an IRA splinter group. Several people have been arrested but nobody has been convicted of the crime.

McKee was represented at BC by her surviving partner, Sara Canning. She said the best way to honor McKee’s memory is to contribute to the Lyra McKee Journalism Training Bursary at the Centre for Investigative Journalism. And she encouraged wide viewership of the movie.

Here’s the official trailer:

McClements, the Times editor, said there has been “peace but not reconciliation” in Northern Ireland over the last quarter century. She noted that most schools remain segregated by religion and dozens of “peace walls” are still required to separate sectarian neighborhoods. Brexit has created “a new fault line” of tension in the North.

McClements predicted that the Democratic Unionist Party will rejoin the Northern Ireland Assembly, which it has boycotted for over a year, perhaps by this fall. If not, she said, the British and Irish governments will begin to devise an alternative, which could leave the DUP and other unionist hardlines even more in the cold. Direct rule from London is not an option, she said.

Adding to the tension is the British government’s determination to pass a “Troubles Legacy and Reconciliation Bill,” which seems to have support only from the Tory majority and military veterans groups. The measure, which blocks enquiries of past events and even destroys records, is opposed by Northern politicians, the European Union, the United Nations, and the United States. McClements expects Parliament will pass the measure, which will then be targeted for a long grind of court challenges.

The 1972 civil rights demonstration in Derry, Northern Ireland, that became Bloody Sunday.

McKay said she had to learn to rein in her aggressiveness to get the story when she noticed the fear in other journalists also covering the loyalist mobs at Drumcree.  She said that international press coverage of the Troubles “on the whole told the story properly,” though some visiting journalists “looking for certain images were disappointed if they didn’t get it.”

McKay declined to speculate about the immediate future of Northern Ireland politics due to her current role as ombudsman for the Press Council of Ireland.

BC’s two-day symposium began with Belfast-born author Louise Kennedy reading from her acclaimed debut novel, Trespasses, about a romance across the sectarian divide in 1970s. A previous symposium at BC reconsidered terrorism in Northern Ireland. The latest event concluded the 2022-23 academic year at the school’s Irish Studies program under the leadership of historian Guy Beiner.

The D.C. death of an Irish ‘stormy petrel’, April 1923

Laurence Ginnell, Library of Congress photo

By mid-April 1923 the Irish Free State army regularly routed anti-government forces. Liam Lynch, the IRA’s chief of staff, was killed on April 10; Austin Stack, his deputy, was captured a few days later. Talk of a ceasefire and the end of Ireland’s 10-month-old civil war was in the air, and in the press.

But the death by natural causes of Irish politician Laurence Ginnell[1]See Dictionary of Irish Biography entry. in a Washington, D.C. hotel room also contributed to the demoralization of the “irregulars.” Since August 1922, the 71-year-old served as envoy to the United States for Éamon de Valera’s unrecognized Irish republic. Ginnell had no real diplomatic status, and his stature was diminished after a failed attempt to take control of the Free State’s consulate office in New York City.

“He was in apparent good health earlier today, and when a hotel attendant called to deliver a message said he would attend to it later. On going back he was found dead,” the Evening Star reported on page 13.[2]”Irish Republican Leader Dies Here”, Evening Star, Washington, D.C., April 17, 1923. Historians have suggested Ginnell’s health suffered from the cumulative impacts of several imprisonments earlier in his life.

Ginnell died at D.C.’s Hotel Lafayette, about two miles west of the U.S. Capitol. Three Aprils earlier a dinner honoring de Valera, then on his 18-month tour of America, was staged in the hotel’s ballroom. From November 1920 through January 1921 the Lafayette became headquarters of the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, a non-U.S. government body created by pro-Irish interests to generate publicity and political support for the declared Irish republic. Ginnell’s combative and argumentative nature emerged at the outset of his Dec. 15, 1920, testimony before the commission, :

I cannot go into this thing unless I am allowed to state the conditions. The evidence I have to give you is at your disposal only on the condition that it is not to be made use of in any recommendations regarding Ireland. We in Ireland have settled our own government on the basis of your President’s own statements. We have applied the right of self-determination to our own country. Indeed, I will not go behind the present status of the Republican Government in Ireland today. Indeed, I will not give any evidence whatever unless I am assured that no effort will be made to go behind the Irish Republican Government, the only constitutional government in Ireland today. And to attempt to discuss the right of Ireland to her independence is to attempt to re-establish the English Government where she has lost all power and respect whatsoever. If I get the assurance that that is not your intention, then I will sit down and begin my evidence immediately.[3]See Ginnell’s full testimony, pages 462-505.

The Washington Herald described Ginnell as “one of Sinn Fein’s most militant spirits” upon his arrival in the city earlier in 1920.[4]”Notes By A Washington Observer”, The Washington Herald, July 29, 1920. In coverage of his 1923 death, the American, Irish, and British press noted Ginnell’s unique status of having been elected as an Irish Parliamentary Party member in the United Kingdom’s House of Commons, and as a Sinn Féin republican in Dáil Éireann. The irascible Ginnell held the distinction of being ejected from both legislative bodies.

Following his 1920 American Commission appearance, Ginnell represented the Irish republic in South America. His telegramed vote against the Anglo-Irish Treaty was not accepted, but he became, at de Valera’s request, the only opposition member to sit in the Dáil. It was because of his relationship with de Valera that John Devoy’s Gaelic American offered a critical, if respectful, assessment of Ginnell’s career.[5]See “Ginnell, De Valera’s Envoy in America, Dies Suddenly“, The Gaelic American, April 28, 1923.

Ginnell entered politics during the Plan of Campaign agitation of the Irish Land War in the late 1880s, “the stormy petrel of Parnellite politics,” according to press accounts. He was the co-founder of the Irish Literary Society (1892) and the author of several books, including The brehon laws: a legal guide (1894), The doubtful grant of Ireland by Pope Adrian IV to King Henry II (1899), and Land and liberty (1908) .[6]DIB, linked in Note 1.

Hotel Lafayette in Washington D.C., between 1910 and 1926. Library of Congress photo.

The first of three funeral Masses for Ginnell was held at D.C.’s St. Matthew’s Catholic Church, 40 years later the site of slain U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s service. Ginnell’s body was then conveyed to New York City, where another Mass occurred at the Carmelite Catholic church on East 28th Street.

During the Irish revolutionary period, the Manhattan church’s friars sheltered Irish revolutionaries on the run from British authorities, including de Valera. They also stashed part of a cache of 600 Thompson submachine guns, wrapped in burlap sacks and bound for Ireland during the war.[7]”The End of an Era at Bellevue and a Nearby Church”, The New York Times, June 27, 2007.

In a telegram to Alice Ginnell (née King), de Valera described his departed colleague as “one of the most indefatigable workers for Ireland.”[8]”Delegations From Many States At Ginnell Funeral”, Buffalo Morning Express, April 21, 1923. But only a week earlier de Valera effectively removed Ginnell from Irish activities in America, “an unfortunate and sad end to a long career.”[9]Dr. Paul Hughes, a Mullingar-based journalist and historian, in the “Laurence Ginnell–Part 2: from Ireland to America” podcast from the Westmeath County Council Decade of Centenaries, … Continue reading

Finally, the widow accompanied her husband’s body back to Ireland, contrary to an incorrect press report that Ginnell was buried in New York. Major Michael A Kelly, veteran of the Irish American 69th New York Infantry Regiment, represented De Valera at the May 1, 1923, service at the Carmelite church on Whitefriars Street, Dublin. Interment followed in Ginnell’s native Delvin, County Westmeath.

The Irish Civil War ended before the month concluded.

References

References
1 See Dictionary of Irish Biography entry.
2 ”Irish Republican Leader Dies Here”, Evening Star, Washington, D.C., April 17, 1923.
3 See Ginnell’s full testimony, pages 462-505.
4 ”Notes By A Washington Observer”, The Washington Herald, July 29, 1920.
5 See “Ginnell, De Valera’s Envoy in America, Dies Suddenly“, The Gaelic American, April 28, 1923.
6 DIB, linked in Note 1.
7 ”The End of an Era at Bellevue and a Nearby Church”, The New York Times, June 27, 2007.
8 ”Delegations From Many States At Ginnell Funeral”, Buffalo Morning Express, April 21, 1923.
9 Dr. Paul Hughes, a Mullingar-based journalist and historian, in the “Laurence Ginnell–Part 2: from Ireland to America” podcast from the Westmeath County Council Decade of Centenaries, Jan. 24, 2022.

Biden’s sentimental Irish American trip to Ireland

U.S President Joe Biden’s four-day trip to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland was an elegy or wake for sentimental Irish American views of Ireland, at least according to preliminary opinion coverage. This view was especially noticeable in The Irish Times, the once conservative but now liberal national daily.

“The 46th president is almost certainly the last great avatar of a specifically Irish-American culture that is now in terminal decline,” wrote columnist Hugh Linehan. The Irish aren’t nostalgic, he insisted, but Irish Americans are. Linehan continued:

From the mid-19th century onward, waves of migration to the big cities of the US northeast created a market for drama, stories and songs lamenting the misery of Irish exile and usually declaring a fervent desire to ‘be back in [insert evocative name of townland here]’. There was also a lot of talk about mothers. As the 19th century became the 20th, these melodramas, comedies and songs migrated from the stage to the screen and the radio Irish-Americanness became a clearly defined strand of US – and therefore global – pop culture. Along the way, it was beamed back to the mother country where it was received with a mixture of bemusement, amusement and a keen awareness that there might be a few bob to be made from it. The naïve returning Yank remains a recurring trope to this day.

Not to be outdone, Fintan O’Toole suggested, “Biden’s sense of Irishness is very real and profoundly felt. But it is rooted in soil that is now increasingly thin on the ground in Ireland itself: a complete fusion of Irish and Catholic identities. … In Irish-America, this parochial Catholic world can be recalled with a simple, uncomplicated fondness that is almost impossible now in Ireland itself. … Biden is here because he identifies passionately with a religious idea of Irishness that has lost much of its grip on the homeland.”

Comparing the June 1963 visit of President John F. Kennedy to Biden’s trip 60 years later, O’Toole continued, “This is a case of history repeating itself, the first time as a dream of the Irish future, the second as echo of an Irish past. JFK embodied, in all his impossible glamour, an idea of what Ireland then aspired to be: modern, sophisticated, confident. Biden now embodies an idea of what Ireland used to be — a place in which ‘Irish’ and ‘Catholic’ was a match made in heaven (and from which there could be no divorce).”

Finally, the Times‘ Gerard Howlin wrote, “Ireland today bears little relationship to the one imagined by Irish America. … There is something of the end of an era about the Biden visit. He is the last of the generation of Irish-American politicians who can remember the springtime Kennedy spoke of and who subsequently gave generously of their friendship.

President to president: Ireland’s Michael D. Higgins and Joe Biden.                       President of Ireland media library

 and  echoed this view in the American press: “The Ireland Biden visited is a distant cry from the place his ancestors left so long ago. It doesn’t even look much like the country John F. Kennedy – the last Irish Catholic president – toured in 1963.”

These suggestions that Irish Americans cling to outdated and overly romanticized views of Ireland is greatly exaggerated and has become a cliché. More than 900 American companies do business in Ireland, and 700 Irish firms have operations in the United States. Combined, they employ several hundred thousand Irish and American citizens in both countries. These people–and their families and friends–understand modern Ireland, as do most tourists.

Biden correctly noted that Kennedy’s trip “captur(ed) the imaginations of Irish and Irish American families alike.” But, he added, “For too long Ireland has been talked about in the past tense. … Today, Ireland’s story is no one’s to tell but its own.” He emphasized the contemporary partnership between the two nations.

Negative coverage

At the National Review, Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote that Biden seemed “not to know or care that, in Ireland, a public official admitting to some pride in Irish-Catholic identity would be an incident more infamous and unwelcome than a Loyalist bombing of a day-care center,” a grossly irresponsible statement from the conservative writer. Fox News and some Republican lawmakers jumped on Biden’s remark about “not going home” to the U.S., but “staying here” in Ireland. If only he would keep his word, they chortled, predictably.

Biden began the trip with a quick stop in Belfast, Northern Ireland, to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. Some British press opinion pages and a few hardline Brexiteers and unionists criticized the president in much the same way as their right-wing brethren in America. In the most notorious example, former Northern Ireland Assembly First Minister Arlene Foster of the Democratic Unionist Party vomited that Biden “hates the U.K.,” in part because of his announced decision not to attend the coronation of King Charles III. Oh my!

Current DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson was more moderate in his comments. He welcomed Biden’s offer to support investment in Northern Ireland, without interfering in local political matters. Donaldson and the DUP have refused to participate in the power-sharing Assembly for a year due to objections to the way Brexit treats the province.

“In the estimation of British officials, Biden’s brief visit (to the North) accomplished what they had hoped, a quiet message with carefully chosen words that did not aggravate the dynamic and might eventually help lead to another restoration of government,” wrote Washington Post chief political correspondent Dan Balz. “Biden could point but not forcefully persuade. As always in Northern Ireland, it remains in the hands of the leaders and the people there to make the way forward.”

I’m interested to see how Biden’s Ireland trip is viewed in the coming weeks and months; whether the visuals are used in his anticipated re-election campaign; and if he returns to the island during a potential second term or post presidency. It will be just as interesting to see how, or whether, his visit is leveraged by Irish tourism and other commercial interests.

Biden to visit N. Ireland, address legislators in Republic

UPDATE:

Read the full text of Bident’s April 13 address to the joint session of the Irish legislature.

ORIGINAL POST:

Joe Biden is visiting Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The April 11-14 trip is pegged to the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and Biden’s unabashed Irish heritage. He visited the Republic as vice president in 2016. I’ll report any extraordinary developments during the week; otherwise, I’ll wait until after the visit to write a follow up post. MH

On April 13 Biden is scheduled to become the fourth U.S president to address a joint sitting of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann, lower and upper chambers, respectively, of the Republic’s legislature. Below are select excerpts from the speeches of John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton, with some background about their visits and remarks.

KENNEDY, June 28, 1963: Famously the first Catholic U.S. president, though not the first with Irish heritage, Kennedy visited Ireland three times before he won the presidency in 1960: in 1939 with his father, then U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain Joseph P. Kennedy; in 1945 after his service in World War II, when he interviewed Taoiseach Éamon de Valera for the New York Journal-American; and in 1955, as a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, when he met with T.D. Liam Cosgrave. Kennedy was assassinated five months after the historic 1960 trip, five years before the start of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

I am deeply honored to be your guest in a free parliament in a free Ireland. If this nation had achieved its present political and economic stature a century or so ago, my great grandfather might never have left New Ross (County Wexford), and I might, if fortunate, be sitting down there with you. Of course if your own president had never left Brooklyn, he might be standing up here instead of me. (Éamon de Valera was born in 1882 to an Irish mother and sent to Ireland two years later after his father died.) … I am proud to be the first American president to visit Ireland during his term of office, proud to be addressing this distinguished assembly, and proud of the welcome you have given me. … John Barry, whose statue we honored yesterday and whose sword is in my office, was only one who fought for liberty in America to set an example for liberty in Ireland. Yesterday was the 117th anniversary of the birth of Charles Stewart Parnell–whose grandfather fought under Barry and whose mother was born in America–and who, at the age of 34, was invited to address the American Congress on the cause of Irish freedom. “I have seen since I have been in this country,” he said, “so many tokens of the good wishes of the American people toward Ireland . . .” And today, 83 years later, I can say to you that I have seen in this country so many tokens of good wishes of the Irish people towards America. KENNEDY’S FULL SPEECH

JFK, standing at center right, at the Dáil in Dublin, June 1963.

REAGAN, June 4, 1984: Reagan’s visit to Ireland stirred wide protests against his hawkish foreign policies, including several Dáil members who walked out of his speech. His visit came about halfway through the 30-year Troubles. Reagan won a second term five months later.

I am the great-grandson of a Tipperary man; I’m the president of a country with the closest possible ties to Ireland; and I was a friend of Barry Fitzgerald. (William Joseph Shields, 1888-1961, known professionally as Barry Fitzgerald, was an Irish stage, film and television actor, like Reagan.) One Irishman told me he thought I would fit in. “”Mr. President,” he said, “”you love a good story, you love horses, you love politics — the accent we can work on.” …  The trouble in the north affects more than just these two great isles. When he was in America in March, your Prime Minister (Garret FitzGerald) courageously denounced the support that a tiny number of misguided Americans give to these terrorist groups. I joined him in that denunciation, as did the vast majority of Irish Americans. I repeat today, there is no place for the crude, cowardly violence of terrorism — not in Britain, not in Ireland, not in Northern Ireland. All sides should have one goal before them, and let us state it simply and directly: to end the violence, to end it completely, and to end it now. … The position of the United States in all of this is clear: We must not and will not interfere in Irish matters nor prescribe to you solutions or formulas. But I want you to know that we pledge to you our good will and support, and we’re with you as you work toward peace. (Reagan made two references to Kennedy.) REAGAN’s FULL SPEECH

CLINTON, Dec. 1, 1995: Clinton was the first U.S. president to visit Northern Ireland. His visit came just over a year after the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries declared ceasefires, which were subsequently broken and then renewed before the Good Friday Agreement was reached in April 1998. Clinton returned to Northern Ireland and the Republic in September 1998.

We live in a time of immense hope and immense possibility — a time captured, I believe, in the wonderful lines of your poet, Séamus Heaney, when he talked of, “the longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up and hope and history rhyme.” (Biden often quotes this line from Heaney’s poem, ‘The Cure at Troy.’) … Today, I have travelled from the North where I have seen the difference Ireland’s leadership has made for peace there. At the lighting of Belfast’s Christmas tree before tens of thousands of people, in the faces of two communities divided by bitter history we saw the radiance of optimism born especially among the young of both communities. In the voices of the (Protestant) Shankill and the (Catholic) Falls there was a harmony of new hope and I saw that the people want peace, and they will have it. George Bernard Shaw with his wonderful Irish love of irony said: “peace is not only better than war but infinitely more arduous. … In the prosperity and freedom of our nation we are grateful for what (Irish immigrants) did and for the deep ties to Ireland they gave us in their sons and daughters. Now we seek to repay that in some small way by being a partner with you for peace. We seek somehow to communicate to every person who lives here that we want for all of your children the right to grow up in an Ireland where this entire island gives every man and woman the right to live up to the fullest of their God-given abilities and gives people the right to live in equality, freedom and dignity. That is the tide of history. We must make sure that the tide runs strong here for no people deserve the brightest future more than the Irish. (Clinton made one reference to Kennedy.) CLINTON’S FULL SPEECH

Four other U.S. presidents have visited Ireland but did not address the Dáil: Richard Nixon, October 1970; George W. Bush, June 2004 and February 2006; Barack Obama, May 2011; and Donald Trump, June 2019. See 23 presidents with Irish heritage.

Headline: Good Friday Agreement reaches 25th anniversary

Most of my posts this month will be dedicated to the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, the April 10, 1998, accord that largely ended 30 years of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. Below are the next-day front pages of five U.S. dailies in cities with large Irish American populations. (Click images to see larger versions.) The agreement was approved the following month in referendums on both sides of the island’s partition. Watch for more posts through the month, including U.S. President Joe Biden’s anticipated trip to NI/Ireland. MH

N. Ireland trade tweak passed without DUP support

UPDATE:

The U.K. and E.U. March 24 have formally adopted a new plan to ease post-Brexit trade tensions in Northern Ireland — despite ongoing objections from the region’s Democratic Unionist Party, Politico reports.

ORIGINAL POST:

Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party has further isolated itself by refusing to support a key provision of how Brexit impacts the region. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has abstained from the power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly for more than a year because of its objections to the trade deal.

Special trade arrangements are necessary because Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland share the only land boarder impacted by Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Stormont, home of the Northern Ireland Assembly, and now a new trade “brake.”

Six DUP Members of Parliament (London) March 22 voted against the “Stormont brake,” designed to give the Assembly more leverage on how E.U. laws apply to Northern Ireland. The measure passed by 515-29, with a handful of Tory MPs also in opposition, notably former prime ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.

“We want to see the restoration of devolved government (the Assembly, also know as Stormont, after the legislative building in Belfast), but we’ve got to do it right,” said DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.

An early March poll by the nationalist-leaning Irish News and the Institute of Irish Studies-University of Liverpool found 45 percent support for the framework, with about 17 percent opposed. Nearly 39 percent neither accepted or rejected the deal. Opposition within the DUP was nearly 23 percent, compared to 36 percent support and 41 percent neutral.

U.S. President Joe Biden, during St. Patrick’s Day remarks in Washington, D.C., called the framework “a vital step … that’s going to help ensure all the people in Northern Ireland have an opportunity to realize their full potential.”

The White House announced that Biden will visit Northern Ireland in the second half of April to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. It seems doubtful the Assembly will be reconstituted by then. Biden also will visit the Republic during the four-day trip.

(This post will be revised as necessary. Email subscribers should check the website for updates. MH)

Police shooting adds to Northern Ireland tensions

UPDATE 3: (Feb. 27)

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has arrived in England for talks with British Prime Minister Ursula von der Leyen and King Charles III. An agreement on resolving the Northern Ireland protocol is expected. Whether the deal is accepted by the Northern Ireland’s DUP and Tory Euroskeptics is another matter. I will report the outcome in a fresh post. MH

UPDATE 2: (Feb. 26)

Three more men (a total of six) have been arrested in connection with the shooting of DCI Caldwell, who remains in critical condition. People across County Tyrone demonstrated over the weekend to show their support for the officer and opposition to any any return “to the bad old days” of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. … A deal on the Northern Ireland protocol is said to be tantalizingly close. As is typical with provincial politics and with Brexit, however, it just as easily could be scuttled at any moment.

UPDATE 1: (Feb. 23)

Three men have been arrested in connection with the attempted murder of Police Service of Northern Ireland Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell. In an online statement, PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan said: “Our main line of enquiry is that violent dissident republicans carried out this vile attack and within that a primary focus is on the New IRA.”

Republican dissidents “have long tried – and consistently failed – to escalate a violent campaign” in the north, The Guardian reported. “It is not about Brexit, the Northern Ireland protocol or the upcoming 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement. It is not about sparking a Troubles 2.0. It is about showing they exist.”

But Brexit, the protocol, and the GFA anniversary are part of the mix. Here’s an analysis of the trade talks from The New York Times.

ORIGINAL POST: (Feb. 21)

The shooting of an off-duty police officer in Omagh, Northern Ireland, could disrupt efforts by the United Kingdom and European Union to reach a revised trade agreement for the province. Such a deal is being tied to reopening of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government, which has been shuttered for a year.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the Feb. 22 gun attack, “but politicians from all sides agreed that one of the small IRA splinter groups still active in the U.K. region must be to blame,” Politico reporter Shawn Pogatchnik wrote in a early dispatch from Dublin. Such an assignment of blame seems premature, perhaps irresponsible. (Pogatchnik, a U.S. native, has covered the island of Ireland for more than 30 years.)

The officer remained alive at the time of this post. The last murder of a Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officer was in 2011; the last shooting of one was in 2017, according to the BBC.

The Democratic Unionist Party withdrew from the Northern Ireland Assembly last February in protest of how Brexit treats the flow of goods in and out of the province. Unionist say the arrangement, or “protocol,” treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the U.K. by imposing E.U. rules on goods crossing the border with the Republic of Ireland. This is the only land interface between the U.K. and the E.U. The compromise was conceived and signed off by former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as part of his pledge to “get Brexit done” three years ago and has caused problems ever since.  Many residents and observers (including U.S. officials) worry that a “hard border” between the North and Republic will spark a return to the sectarian violence of the Troubles.

U.K. and E.U. negotiators this week said they were within sight of a new protocol, but unionist remained skeptical.

The shooting and the trade talks are both developing stories. This post will be updated over the next few days. Email subscribers should check the website for the latest details. MH

Best of the Blog, 2022

Welcome to my tenth annual Best of the Blog, a roundup of the year’s work. July marked our milestone tenth anniversary, with more than 900 total posts since 2012. I appreciate the support of regular readers, especially email subscribers. (Join at right.) Thanks also to the archivists and librarians who assisted my research during the year, whether in person or remote. I visited collections at Princeton University, Harvard University, Boston College, and Boston Public Library for the first time, and returned to archives at the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., and the Dioceses of Pittsburgh. … Special thanks to Professor Guy Beiner, director of the Irish Studies Program at BC, for his warm welcome this fall.

I added two dozen posts to my American Reporting of Irish Independence series, which totals more than 140 entries since December 2018, including several from guest contributors. This year I began circling back to earlier years of the Irish revolution. Highlights included:

FREELANCE STORIES & PRESENTATIONS:

I was pleased to publish stories with several new platforms (*) this year and delighted to give a virtual presentation to the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh:

‘Luminous In Its Presentation’:
The Pittsburgh Catholic and Revolutionary Ireland, 1912-1923
*Gathered Fragments: Annual journal of the Catholic Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania (Publishes late December 2022/early January 2023)

The Long Road to ‘Redress’ in Ireland
History News Network, (George Washington University), Oct. 30, 2022

My Pilgrimages to St. Patrick’s Churches
*Arlington Catholic Herald & syndicated by *Catholic News Service, March 11, 2022

The Irish Revolution in Pittsburgh
*Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, Feb. 17, 2022, presentation linked from headline

Watch the presentation from the linked ‘Irish Revolution in Pittsburgh’ headline above, or from here.

At 50th Anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” Peace Feels Less Certain
History News Network, (George Washington University), Jan. 30, 2022

Cheers and Jeers for Ireland: Éamon De Valera’s Alabama Experience
*Alabama Heritage Magazine, Winter 2022

GUEST POSTS:

Thanks to this year’s four guest contributors, detailed below. Journalists, historians, authors, researchers, and travelers to Ireland are welcome to offer submissions. Use the contact form on the Guest Posts landing page to make a suggestion.

Journalists recall coverage challenges during Northern Ireland TroublesDaniel Carey is a PhD student at Dublin City University. His thesis examines the working lives of former journalists and editors in Ireland.

Pro-Treaty delegation in Pittsburgh, May 1922Dr. Anne Good Forrestal, a former lecturer in Sociology at Trinity College Dublin, is the granddaughter of Seán and Delia MacCaoilte. In spring 1922, he was part of the pro-Treaty delegation that visited America, including a stop in Pittsburgh. This story is based on one of his letters from the city.

Detailing the Crosbies of North KerryMichael Christopher Keane is a retired University College Cork lecturer and author of three books about the Crosbies, leading and often controversial landlord families in County Kerry for over 300 years.

Periodicals & Journalism in Twentieth-Century IrelandFelix M. Larkin and Mark O’Brien have edited two volumes of essays that focus on periodicals as a vehicle for news and commentary, rather than literary miscellany.

BEST OF THE REST: 

These stories were the most popular outside the “American reporting” and “Guest posts” series:

YEARS PAST:

Highlights of earlier work found here:

YEAR AHEAD:

I plan to spend the first half of 2023 in Cambridge, Mass., as my wife completes her Nieman fellowship at Harvard. I will continue to participate in BC’s Irish Studies Program. I also hope to finish my book on how American reporters covered the Irish revolutionary period as the “decade of centenaries” concludes in May with the 100th anniversary of the end of the Irish Civil War. God willing, I hope to travel to Ireland for the first time since shortly before the pandemic.

Best wishes to all,
Mark

Reprise: Speechwriter behind Obama’s Irish references

UPDATE: Cody Keenan’s Grace: President Obama and Ten Days in the Battle for America, released in October by HarperCollins, is the subject of this Nov. 11 Irish Times‘ podcast.

ORIGINAL POST:

Barack Obama has given some 3,000 speeches since entering the White House in 2009, and about 1 percent of them have included strong references to Ireland. That might not seem like much at first glance, but there’s hardly another country or subject that gets as many mentions from the presidential podium.

Obama speechwriter Cody Keenan, left, interviewed by Simon Carswell, Washington correspondent for The Irish Times.

Obama speechwriter Cody Keenan, left, interviewed by Simon Carswell, Washington correspondent for The Irish Times.

“The Irish have a stranglehold on one full day,” Obama speechwriter Cody Keenan told the 15 September gathering of Irish Network-DC. “They get three speeches on St. Patrick’s Day.”

That’s 24 speeches over eight years. Other notable Obama talks involving Ireland have included his May 2011 visit to the Republic and June 2013 trip to Northern Ireland, plus his 2009 eulogy of Sen. Ted Kennedy and  2015 remarks at the funeral of Beau Biden, son of Vice President Joe Biden.

For Keenan, an Irish-American with ancestral roots to Dublin and Cork, the 2011 College Green speech was a plum assignment. “It’s rare you get to write about something you have such personal passion about,” he said.

Keenan noted that the president “is his own chief speechwriter. … We take all our cues from him.”

Hearing the Irish Civil War silence breakers

Queen’s University Belfast lecturer Síobhra Aiken has detailed the 100-year history of how officially and collectively sanctioned silence about the Irish Civil War is regularly pierced by the silence breakers who have documented the “unspeakable war.” Aiken’s new book, Spiritual Wounds: Trauma, Testimony and the Irish Civil War (Irish Academic Press), also notes the irony that recent generations of silence breakers are often unaware they belong to such a lineage because the earlier efforts have been forgotten.

The June 1922 to May 1923 war sparked by the Irish republican split over the Anglo-Irish Treaty has notoriously been absent from Irish school texts and memoirs, Aiken said. Ireland’s “Decade of Centenaries” commemorations of the revolutionary period originally was to end this year, excluding the civil war. But public outcry resulted in an extension that is allowing the country to grapple with its legacy through next year.

“The paradox of intentionally forgetting is that it ensures attention,” Aiken said during her Oct. 25 lecture for the Irish Studies program at Boston College. This has typically been accomplished over the century through autobiographical novels and other works of fiction, many of them created by women. But these sources have been overlooked or dismissed by the “strong gatekeeping” of mainstream historians and more established male writers, she said.

Síobhra Aiken at Boston College.

Some of the works Aiken citied include: Tragedies of Kerry, 1922-1923, by Dorothy Macardle, 1924; Legion of the Rearguard, by Francis Carty, 1934; The Bitter Glass, by Eilís Dillon, 1958; and The Scorching Wind, by Walter Macken, 1966. More Irish writers have tackled the civil war since the new century began, aided by access to digital resources such as the Bureau of Military History and Military Service Pension Collection. Contemporary writer Orna Ross (Aine McCarthy), who has written about the civil war, has said that “silence is always a magnet.”

Aiken noted that more of the narratives come from the defeated, anti-treaty side, rather than those who supported the new 26-county Irish Free State. Works from the prevailing side are generally more disillusioned than pro-government or triumphalist. Aiken also acknowledged that in Irish politics, intentional forgetting played a role in helping to maintain stability and allow the state to move forward.

Spiritual Wounds is based on Aiken’s doctoral research at the University of Galway, which was awarded the American Conference for Irish Studies Adele Dalsimer Prize for Distinguished Dissertation in 2021.