Monthly Archives: December 2013

Best of the Blog, 2013

This is my first annual “Best of the Blog,” a look at some of the most important news stories, historical anniversaries and personal favorite posts of the past year. I am not numbering the list to avoid the appearance of rank. Most links are to my original posts.

Enjoy, and Happy New Year:

  • The most significant personal milestone of the year was the centennial of my grandfather’s May 1913 emigration from County Kerry. I detailed Willie Diggin’s trip in a series of posts and recently published book, “His Last Trip: An Irish-American Story.”
  • The year 2013 marked the 150th anniversary of the Irish Brigades fighting in the Battle of Gettysburg and Irish-Catholic anti-conscription riots in New York City. It was the 100th anniversary of the Dublin labor lockout and the formation of the Irish Volunteers.
  • Ireland also noted the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s return to his ancestral homeland in June 1963. November marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of America’s first Irish-Catholic president.
  • Ireland liberalized its abortion laws in 2013 after a contentious debate with the Catholic Church, including a controversial appearance at the Boston College commencement by Irish PM Enda Kenny. Kenny won the abortion battle, but his effort to abolish the Seanad Éireann was defeated in a nationwide referendum.
  • The Irish community in Boston was in the news with the trial and conviction of mobster James “Whitey” Bulger, and the election of new mayor Martin J. Walsh.
  • The Irish Independent obtained recorded telephone conversations between former Anglo Irish Bank executives that revealed the depth of deception leading up to a government bailout of the failed financial institution. The Irish banking scandal and property bust reached all the way to Tampa, where I have covered problems with a retail and entertainment complex called Channelside Bay Plaza.
  • The Gathering Ireland 2013 focused on increasing visitors to their ancestral homeland. Project officials said it delivered more than a quarter million overseas tourists as of Dec. 23.
  • RIP: The passing of Seamus Heaney, 1939-2013, was probably the most significant death in Ireland during the year. Watch New York Times video tribute. The death of Margaret Thatcher also caused quite a stir on the island, though hardly as affectionate.
  • U.S. President Barack Obama and other global leaders attended the G8 Summit at County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, something that would have been unthinkable a generation ago. Nevertheless, as the year ended, U.S. envoy Dr. Richard Haass and Northern Ireland political leaders were still trying to finalize on agreement to solve ongoing problems with flags, parades and the past.
  • The past year was the 125th anniversary of the murder of Kerry farmer John Foran, a victim of the agrarian violence so widespread across Ireland in general and Kerry in particular during the last quarter of the 19th century. I look forward to doing more research and writing about this episode and the period in the new year.
This image of Kerry was used to illustrate a New York Times story headlined "Lost In Ireland. I've had it posted at my desk since it was published in October 2010. In 2014, I'll be moving to Washington, D.C. and look forward to seeing what's beyond the hill.

This image of rural road in Kerry illustrated a New York Times story headlined “Lost In Ireland. It was published in October 2010. I’ve kept the picture posted at my work desk ever sense. In 2014 I’ll be moving to Washington, D.C. and look forward to seeing what’s beyond the hill.

Northern Ireland talks near year-end deadline


RTE reports that Haass will return to Northern Ireland on Saturday.


Dr Richard Haass has left Northern Ireland without an agreement on flags, parades and the past. He is considering whether to return to try to complete a deal by the New Year’s deadline, the Irish-American Information Service reports.

Dr Haass and his American talks team including Harvard professor Meghan OSullivan flew home to the United States out of Dublin this morning after late night/early morning talks with the five main Northern parties failed to produce an agreement.

Negotiations concluded this morning at about 4.30am after almost eight hours of talks with progress made but with no final meeting of minds by the five parties of the Northern Executive – the DUP, Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Ulster Unionist Party and Alliance.

Dr Haass said he was prepared to return at the weekend if he felt an agreement could yet be achieved.

Higgins gives annual holiday message

Irish President Michael D. Higgins has given his annual Christmas and New Year message. Here is the full text, via The Irish Times. Here are a few passages:

In this year of the Gathering, we extended a warm welcome to the Irish Diaspora. Christmas, however, reminds us that true hospitality endures and reaches beyond kin and one’s own community; it extends to the stranger, the newcomer, the outsider. …

During 2014 I will be encouraging the widest possible discussion of ethics in every aspect of our lives, nationally and globally. This will, I hope, make a contribution towards moving beyond a version of our society and economy that has brought so much hardship, required so much sacrifice.

‘Ghost estates’ continue to draw attention

I’ve blogged before about Ireland’s ghost estates, the half built and mostly abandoned housing developments that began sprouting in Ireland during the Celtic Tiger years. The problem has recently drawn a fresh round of media attention on both sides of the Atlantic.

The New York Times reported:

Nothing more typified Ireland’s roaring economy a decade ago than its housing market, which saw prices and construction surge. And nothing better illustrates the costs and complexities of cleaning up after the bursting of that bubble than what to do with the thousands of homes that were never finished or, if they were occupied, have proved to be substandard.

The Times Dec. 21 story follows the latest round of Irish and UK coverage:

Kinney announces 2014 Irish culinary tour

Over the past year I’ve had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with Noreen Kinney, one of the nicest and most important representatives of Irish America in the Tampa metro.

Noreen is Culinary Ambassador for Ireland in the USA. She was a pioneer in the new Irish cuisine movement in the 1960s, and has played an important role in the island’s food scene ever since. Here is a detailed look at her career.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Noreen Kinney at St. Patrick's Day reception in Washington, D.C. in March 2013. Photo: Marty Katz

At center, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Noreen Kinney at St. Patrick’s Day reception
in Washington, D.C. in March 2013. Photo: Marty Katz

Next fall Noreen will lead a “Presidential Scenic Culinary Tour of Ireland” from Sept. 26 through Oct. 4. The trip will span both sides of the border. Twenty-nine U.S. presidents have ties to the island of Ireland, from Andrew Jackson (Bonnybefore) and Ulysses S. Grant (Dergenagh) to John F. Kennedy (New Ross), Ronald Reagan (Ballyporeen), and Barack Obama (Moneygall).

The food — and Noreen’s expert guidance — will be outstanding.

Fenian, O’Rossa archives at Catholic Univeristy

I’ve been fortunate this year to visit three Irish/Irish-American archives:

In March, I visited Quinnipiac University’s An Gorta Mor (The Great Hunger) archive and museum in Hamden, Conn.

In September, I viewed the Allegheny County Ancient Order of Hibernians archive at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh.

And now in December, I’ve spent a few hours at the Fenian Brotherhood/O’Donovan Rossa collection at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Timothy J. Meagher, curator and archivist at The American Catholic History Research Center & University Archivist, and his staff were most helpful during my brief visit. Meagher has written extensively about Irish America.

Among the items that caught my eye was a pamphlet by Rev. C. F. O’Leary reflecting his October 1884 lecture in New York titled, “The Church and Irish Revolution.” In the speech the priest worried that efforts by the hierarchy to suppress grassroots Irish nationalism would “leave the people without hope and tyrants without restraint.” Fr. O’Leary also dismissed church criticism of the agrarian and republican secret societies associated with the land war of the period.

In conclusion, he said:

The Church does not condemn the bonding together in secret societies for a true and just cause. … Secrecy is necessary to success in Irish revolution; and, even if that secrecy is oath-bound it is not thereby sinful. No Irish revolutionist swears to anything not based on truth, justice and judgement. He swears to nothing that is not already defined. He but swears to what every Irishman swears in his heart, that he would be willing to strike for Ireland.

Thus do we stand before the Church and the world claiming in sight of high Heaven our long-lost rights, and having but the one elevated and avowed aim to give our country her rightful place among the nations of the earth. Thus do we stand, as we have stood for centuries, determined to fight the battle over again for freedom and right –– resolved that on the cause must go, emanating from the nation’s will.

Irish tributes, north and south, pour in for Mandela

UPDATE: The Irish Story website has posted a detailed article, “Ireland and South African Politics: A Tangled History.” It concludes:

Irish republicans at the start of the 20th century had little to say, by and large, about the oppression of black South Africans, identifying instead with the most racist European faction, the Afrikaner republicans. By contrast at the end of that century the Irish Republicans of that era identified totally with the anti-apartheid struggle. One of the things this illustrates is the discrediting of racialist ideology in the western world since the late 20th century, an ideology which was so dominant at the start of the century that even anti-imperial nationalists were not totally free from it.


The global outpouring of tributes following the death of Nelson Mandela, who was so much more than the former South African president, includes reaction from both sides of the border on the island of Ireland.

“Why are we so bereft? Because he was the best of us, the best of our values,” said former Irish president Mary Robinson in this roundup of leaders in the Republic by The Irish Times.

The BBC offers a similar collection of comments from Northern Ireland politicians; plus a separate story about Mandela’s impact on the Ulster peace process:

The closest Nelson Mandela came to visiting Belfast was the mural depicting his image on a gable wall along the Falls Road. But his presence was felt in many ways as Northern Ireland moved from conflict to peace. His long walk to freedom, from prison in 1990, inspired others to follow in his footsteps out of conflict.

This mural on the Falls Road was unveiled in August 2013.

This mural on the Falls Road was unveiled in August 2013.

Report: Garda-IRA collusion in murder of two RUC officers

Most daily news stories in Ireland don’t make headlines in the U.S., so it’s usually a blockbuster or controversy when it does, such as the abortion debate over the summer.

News broke Dec. 3 that the Republic of Ireland government apologized to the families of two Northern Ireland policemen ambushed and gunned down by the IRA in 1989.

The story is still developing and needs more context. Here are links to U.S. and Irish coverage.

Garda collusion found in IRA murders of RUC officers, The Irish Times

Judge: Irish police colluded in IRA murder, Associated Press via The Washington Post

Smithwick inquiry finds Irish police may have colluded in two IRA murders, Irish Central

Read the full report here via the Irish Government News Service.

“O’Bama” cuz pulls the prez

Since I’ve written about JFK and Ronald Reagan over the past few weeks it seems only fair to link to this Politico Magazine story about the shrewd young Irishman who has made the most of Barack Obama’s Irish “roots.”

Henry Healy has made himself a minor celebrity in Ireland and the U.S. by exploiting his uncle’s genealogy research that traced Obama’s great-great-great grandfather to the village of Moneygall in County Offaly.

All in good fun and hospitality, of course.

Obama visited the village in May 2011, naturally tipping a pint at the local pub. I did a drive-by visit with my wife and some Irish friends in May 2012, seeing the outside of the ancestral home and sticking my head in Ollie Hayes’ place. Pictures below: