Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Catching up with modern Ireland: May

Ireland is slowly emerging from COVID-19 lockdown. Outdoor dining for pubs and restaurants resumes June 7; indoor service is set to begin in early July. Fáilte Ireland, the national tourism development agency, launched a €4 million “Keep Discovering” marketing campaign to drive domestic holidays and help to reboot the industry. Foreign visitors still face restrictions, though many are expected to begin easing in July. … Nearly 7,100 people have died in the Republic (4,941) and Northern Ireland (2,153).

The Press Council of Ireland & Office of the Press Ombudsman declared in its annual report: “The Irish media’s response to the challenge of reporting on the first pandemic for over a hundred years was overwhelmingly professional with the provision of objective information, analysis and debate. This considerable achievement was made against a backdrop of significant declining resources and the need for remote working.”

More from May:

  • Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) selected Edwin Poots as its new leader. On the one hand, he is seen in the mold of the late Ian Paisley; on the other, some observers say he could be surprisingly open minded. Potts is opposed to Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade barriers (the Irish Sea “protocol”) and conservative on social issues. Potts pledged to unite the bickering strands of unionism to fight the Brexit deal and keep the province in the United Kingdom. … Doug Beattie, a British army veteran, was elected as the new leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) in an uncontested race.
  • Britain announced plans for legislation to give greater legal protection to former soldiers who served during during The Troubles. sparking angry opposition from victims and lawmakers. The announcement came the day a judge-led inquiry in Northern Ireland found that British soldiers unjustifiably shot or used disproportionate force in the deaths of up to 10 innocent people in Belfast in 1971.
  • Irish and British government ministers are to meet for a formal summit on Northern Ireland in June in the first British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in two years.
  • Dáil Éireann passed a motion condemning the “de facto annexation” of Palestinian land by Israeli authorities. An amendment that sought to impose sanctions on Israel and expel the Israeli ambassador failed.
  • Ireland’s Health Service Executive and Department of Health experienced cyber attacks.
  • A pair of cranes are nesting on a revitalized peat bog in the Irish Midlands. It is hoped they could be the first of the species to breed on the island in some 300 years. …. Ireland has ceased industrial peat harvesting and begun rehabilitating thousands of hectares of boglands by rewetting the drained sites and recreating crane habitat.
  • Scientists at NUI Galway have found an alarming rise in Noble False Widow spiders and confirm their bites can require hospitalization.
  • Pedalmania: 32 cycle routes in Ireland, one in every county.
  • A decade has passed since U.S. President Barack Obama visited Ireland. In a May 23, 2011 address in Dublin, he offered “hearty greetings of tens of millions of Irish Americans who proudly trace their heritage to this small island.” Full remarks.
  • Image: Ross Castle, Killarney, Co. Kerry, from Tourism Ireland.

U.S.-Irish relations at St. Patrick’s Day, updated

U.S President Joe Biden this week issued the annual proclamation to declare March as Irish-American Heritage Month. “As I said when I visited Dublin in 2016, our nations have always shared a deep spark — linked in memory and imagination, joined by our histories and our futures,” he says. Due to lingering concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, however, this year’s St. Patrick’s Day meeting in Washington, D.C. between U.S. and Irish leaders will be a virtual affair, The Irish Times reports.

In 2016 I wrote a five-part series on U.S.- Irish relations at St. Patrick’s Day leading up to the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising. I explored 1916 and 25 year increments afterward: 1941, 1966, and 1991, plus a post about St. Patrick’s Day 1976, the year of the American bicentennial. Here are short descriptions of the series with links to the original posts:

Part 1: St. Patrick’s Day 1916 arrived in the second year of the Great War and a month before the Easter Rising. President Woodrow Wilson wore “a bright green necktie and a little shamrock fresh from the ‘ould sod,’ a present from  John Redmond, the Irish nationalist leader,” The Washington Post reported.

Iconic image of the General Post Office in Dublin after the 1916 Easter Rising.

Part 2: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not recognize St. Patrick’s Day 1941 with any Irish guests or events. As war raged in Europe, Irish leader Éamon de Valera said in a radio address broadcast on both side of the Atlantic: “A small country like ours that had for centuries resisted imperial absorption, and that still wished to preserve its separate national identity, was bound to choose the course of neutrality in this war.”

Part 3: In 1966, the 50th anniversary of the Rising, President Lyndon B. Johnson welcomed Ambassador of Ireland H.E. William Fay and Mrs. Fay to the Oval Office. The official record says Johnson was presented with “fresh shamrocks [redacted] flown in from Ireland.” It appears that two words are blacked out between “shamrocks” and “flown.” My guess: “and whiskey.”

Part 4: On St. Patrick’s Day 1976, President Gerald Ford expressed “the appreciation of the American people to the people of Ireland” for their participation in the founding and growth of the United States. He welcomed Taoiseach Liam M. Cosgrave. They also talked about The Troubles.

Liam Cosgrave pins a shamrock to the lapel of Gerald Ford in 1976.

Part 5: St. Patrick’s Day 1991 came some 20 years into the Troubles, and the Irish Republic was taking a cautious approach to the upcoming 75th anniversary of the Rising. “Officials say at a time when talks are soon to open over the future of Northern Ireland, they do not want to be seen celebrating an event that could be exploited by the outlawed Irish Republican Army as justification for its own violent campaign to oust British rule from the province,” The Washington Post reported.

Shortly after St. Patrick’s Day, 2016, President Barack Obama described Ireland’s 1916 Proclamation as “a vision statement 100 years ago, and it would be a visionary statement today. It’s a universal value, like the ones in America’s own founding documents, that compels us to continually look forward; that gives us the chance to change; that dares us, American and Irish alike, to keep toiling towards our better selves.”

On Irish poets and an American president

The new Holy Trinity of Irish-American relations is Biden-Heaney-Yeats. To wit:

President Biden has never hidden his enthusiasm for Irish poetry. Reciting W.B. Yeats’s poetry helped him overcome a childhood stutter. In the latter part of the campaign, he released a video of his stellar reading of Seamus Heaney’s powerful poem, The Cure at Troy, with its brilliant phrase about making ‘hope and history rhyme’.” — Irish Ambassador to the U.S. Dan Mulhall on The Inauguration of President Biden.

“In some of his most important speeches over the course of a long career, Joe Biden has repeatedly quoted the work of Seamus Heaney, an Irish, Nobel Prize-winning poet and playwright. … He’s also a fan of William Butler Yeats, dating back to the days when he used to recite Yeats’ words in the mirror, working to overcome his stutter.” — Town & Country

“In his four decades-long career from a Senator in Delaware to the man at the helm of affairs at the Democratic party, Mr Biden earned a reputation of peppering his speeches with Heaney and his contemporary, WB Yeats.” — The U.K. Independent

Biden in 2013.

There are more examples. Biden’s Jan. 20 inaugural address1 only lightly evoked the Heaney line as he described “a day of history and hope.” He did not directly quote either Irish poet. Instead, Biden quoted from the song American Anthem, written by songwriter Gene Scheer and first sung by Denyce Graves in 1998 for President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton at a Smithsonian Institution event. It was subsequently performed at other ceremonies, covered by Patti Labelle, and sung by Graves at George W. Bush’s 2005 inauguration, says Variety.

Biden became only the fourth U.S. president to invite a poet to join his inauguration platform, following John F. Kennedy (1961), Clinton (1993, 1997) and Barack Obama (2009, 2013), The Week reports. Biden’s inaugural committee selected 22-year-old Amanda Gorman to read her poem The Hill We Climb, which drew wide praise. Watch it here.

Irish Poets

Heaney

Heaney died in 2013, while Biden was Obama’s vice president. Heaney lived part-time in the United States from 1981 to 2006, including time as Harvard’s poet in residence. American poet Robert Lowell described him as “the most important Irish poet since Yeats.” Last summer, when Biden accepted the Democratic nomination, The Washington Post detailed the candidate’s citations of The Cure at Troy.

Yeats

Yeats, who died in 1939, visited America in 1903/4, 1911, 1914, 1920, and 1932/33. Cumulatively, he spent more than a year of his life in the United States, according to the Embassy of Ireland, USA. Washington, D.C. trial lawyer and literary critic Joseph M. Hassett has just published his third book about the poet, Yeats Now: Echoing into Life. By focusing on Yeats’s most memorable lines of poetry, it reveals new ways of enjoying a body of work that speaks eloquently and urgently to the 21st century, the publisher says.

On Jan. 27, Solas Nua, the D.C.-based contemporary Irish arts organization, and New York University, will present an experimental non-narrative film-poem drawing on the life of Yeats and using only his writings. Click here for more information and free registration.

Catching up with modern Ireland: August

Pope Francis’ visit dominated the news from and about Ireland in August, but there were other developments. Here’s my regular monthly roundup:

  • Northern Ireland set a new world record on 29 August for the longest peacetime period without a government, 590 days and counting, the Associated Press reported. The Catholic-Protestant power-sharing administration at Stormont collapsed in January 2017. People gathered across the North to protest that “Stormont is Dormant.”

  • The number of Irish people returning to live in the Republic of Ireland has overtaken those leaving the country for the first time since 2009. See full details from the Central Statistics Office.
  • The Drinks Industry Group of Ireland reported there are nearly 1,500 fewer pubs in the country than in 2005, a 17.1 percent decrease. Off licenses increased by 11.6 percent, and wine-only establishments increased by 3.1 percent.
  • A statue of former U.S. President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama was unveiled at Barack Obama Plaza, a fast-food and petrol station on the outskirts of Moneygall, County Offaly.
  • Kirsten Mate Maher of Waterford was crowned the 2018 Rose of Tralee. She is the first African-Irish “Rose,” and the third mixed-race woman to win the title, according to The Irish Times.
  • Wild fires revealed a giant EIRE sign carved into the ground at Bray Head, County Wicklow. The World War II relic was created to warn Allied and Axis pilots of Ireland’s neutral status. In July, a previously undiscovered henge, or circular enclosure, close to the neolithic passage tomb Newgrange, emerged as the result of exceptionally dry weather.
  • A major fire gutted the 233-year-old Primark building in Belfast city centre. It was not immediately clear whether the remaining sandstone facade of the historic five-story building could be saved.

Flames billow from the Primark store in the Bank Buildings on Castle Street, in Belfast city centre. Image from BBC.

Rooney & O’Reilly: Dead … and gone

I’ve been away from the blog for an Easter trip to Rome. During my absence, two Irish Americans made headlines for very different reasons:

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney dies

In my native Pittsburgh and across most of America, Dan Rooney was best known as chairman of the NFL Steelers, the son of the team’s late and much beloved founder. But he also was U.S. Ambassador to Ireland from July 2008 to December 2012, a co-founder of The Ireland Funds, and principal benefactor of the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature at Trinity College Dublin.

He died April 13 at age 84. His grandfather emigrated from Newry, County Down to Montreal, Canada, then moved to Ohio and Pittsburgh, where the late ambassador was born.

“Deeply committed to Ireland and the Irish people, he was always conscious of his Irish roots,” Irish President Michael D. Higgins told The Irish Times.  Said former U.S. President Barack Obama:

Dan Rooney was a great friend of mine, but more importantly, he was a great friend to the people of Pittsburgh, a model citizen, and someone who represented the United States with dignity and grace on the world stage. I knew he’d do a wonderful job when I named him as our United States Ambassador to Ireland, but naturally, he surpassed my high expectations, and I know the people of Ireland thank fondly of him today.

Obama and Rooney, right, in 2014. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette image.

Bill O’Reilly ousted from Fox News

Conservative news anchor Bill O’Reilly and the Fox News Channel parted ways after 20 years in the wake of a New York Times exposé about the media company paying $13 million to settle sexual harassment allegations against the cable television ratings king.

O’Reilly describes the claims as “completely unfounded” and himself as the victim of “the unfortunate reality many of us in the public eye must live with today.”

His great-grandfather emigrated from Clonoose, County Cavan, according to a 2016 episode of the PBS series “Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.” O’Reilly also was a 2014 inductee in Irish America magazine’s Hall of Fame.

The honor recognizes “the extraordinary achievements of Irish-American leaders, from their significant accomplishments and contributions to American society to the personal commitment to safeguarding their Irish heritage and the betterment of Ireland.” Among 45 honorees since 2011: liberal cable television anchor Chris Matthews; former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and President Donald Trump’s Ambassador to Ireland nominee Brian P. Burns.

But not Dan Rooney, though the magazine has written about him.

I’ve reached out to the New York-based publication by email and Twitter to ask if they plan to keep O’Reilly among their honorees. Maybe they could switch him with Rooney. If you agree, contact the magazine at: @irishamerica, or submit@irishamerica.com.

Obama and Biden quote Irish poets

President Barack Obama cited W. B. Yeats in his surprise 12 January presentation of the Medal of Freedom to Vice President Joe Biden.

” ‘Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends,’ ” Obama quoted from The Municipal Gallery Revisited.

In is acceptance, Biden used a line from Seamus Heaney’s From the Republic of Conscience:  “You carried your own burdens, and very soon, the creeping symptoms of privilege disappeared.”

Read the White House transcript, or watch the presentation:

Obama will return to Ireland in ‘coming year or so’

Outgoing President Barack Obama will return to the Republic of Ireland “in the coming year or so,” according to U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Kevin O’Malley. “The last sentence the president said to me … [4 January] when we were saying goodbye, was ‘please tell them I’m coming’,” O’Malley told RTÉ host Marian Finucane.

While the location or context of his return is less clear than the timing, Obama is generally popular in Ireland. His May 2011 visit included a stop in Moneygall, County Offaly, the ancestral home of his great-great-great grandfather.

Since then, a service plaza was erected in Obama’s honor on the M7 motorway just outside the village. In addition to petrol and fast food, the place is packed with Obama souvenirs, plus memorabilia of popular presidents Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy. In a contemporary sense, it might be the most Irish-American spot in all of Ireland, through certainly not the most scenic or historic.

Barack Obama in Moneygall in 2011.

Obama, who also visited Northern Ireland in June 2013 for a G8 summit, leaves office 20 January, the inaugural of President-elect Donald Trump, who owns a golf resort in Doonbeg, County Clare. O’Malley will leave his Dublin post a few days earlier due to a demanded from the incoming administration that all non-career ambassadors depart immediately.

IrishCentral, citing a tweet from New York Times writer Maggie Haberman, reports the next U.S. Ambassador to Ireland will be philanthropist and businessman Brian Burns, the grandson of an emigrant from Sneem, County Kerry.  Burns, 80, and his wife, Eileen, have been close friends of Trump through the Palm Beach and Mar-A-Lago connection.

O’Malley, a St. Louis trial lawyer whose grandparents emigrated from County Mayo in the early 20th century, was appointed by Obama in June 2014 after a record-setting 18-month gap following the departure former ambassador and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney.

The speechwriter behind Obama’s Irish references

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.”

Obama move scuttles merger of U.S. & Irish drug companies

New York drug maker Pfizer and Dublin-based Allergan have called off their proposed $160 billion merger, which would have headquartered the new company in Ireland to slash its U.S. tax bill. The deal collapsed days after the U.S. Treasury Department announced new steps to curb such tax-avoiding maneuvers, called “inversions.”

The outcome is “a major win for President Barack Obama, who has been pushing to curb deals in which companies move overseas to cut taxes,” Reuters reported.

barack-obama-immigration-irish-woman-2-390x285.jpg (390×285)

Obama in Ireland in 2011.

For Ireland, the importance “is more in the signal it sends about the hardening international approach to multinational tax than in the specific implications from the collapse of the deal,” Cliff Taylor writes in The Irish Times. “It demonstrates again that the days of using tax as the main attraction for companies to locate here are coming to an end – and that there may well be significant implications for existing big Irish employers in the changes to come.”

The corporate tax rate in Ireland is 12.5 percent. In the U.S., business taxes range from 15 percent to nearly 40 percent. Northern Ireland plans to cut its business rate to 12.5 percent in 2018 to be more competitive with the Republic. But that’s now said to be threatened by Britain’s potential exit from the European Union in a June referendum.

March is Irish-American Heritage Month

UPDATE:

Obama did mentioned “the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising” in his 15 March remarks to the Irish delegation.

ORIGINAL POST:

March is Irish-American Heritage Month, which means an annual proclamation from the White House and corresponding fact sheet from the U.S. Census Bureau.

I was a little surprised that President Barack Obama’s proclamation does not mention the centennial of the Easter Rising, which certainly relied on strong support from the Irish in America. But I suppose such a reference would not be diplomatic in our relations with Britain.