Tag Archives: Catholic

The “striking contrast” of Dev’s second ‘Lapland’ boarding

John J. and Edmond I. O’Shea, County Waterford emigrants turned American priests, reunited with a famous friend at the June 1932 Eucharistic Congress in Dublin.

The O’Shea brothers were among the Philadelphia area priests who attended the Eucharistic Congress. From pilgrim list published the Catholic  Standard & Times, May 27, 1932.

It was not the brothers first return to Ireland, but this time they arrived with 500 other pilgrims from the Archdioceses of Philadelphia, including Cardinal Dennis J. Doherty, the Pennsylvania-born son of County Mayo parents. More than a million people attended the week-long spectacle of processions and devotional ceremonies, which reinforced Irish-Catholic identity for generations.

In addition to the religious activities, the event also focused international attention on the decade-old Irish Free State and its leader, Éamon de Valera, the O’Shea’s friend. It was in this secular context that the brothers witnessed an ironic moment of Irish history, one that spanned 13 years of de Valera’s political career and their own roles in supporting him and their homeland’s independence. The episode was “so striking in its contrast,” one newspaper reported, “that it could form the theme of as fascinating a novel as any writer of romantic fiction could conceive.”1

Edmond delivered his friend to the reunion location, the deck of an aging ocean liner. John took photos and home movies.

Patriotic Priests

Edmond O’Shea emigrated in 1907 from Dungarvan, age 21, and was ordained in 1912 in Philadelphia.2 John O’Shea arrived in the City of Brotherly Love in 1915, age 31, after working as a newspaper reporter and member of the Dungarvan council. He was ordained by Cardinal Dougherty in 1919.3

Philadelphia, 1920.

The brothers supported the Irish cause from both sides of the Atlantic. They were among “the patriotic priests who encouraged the good work in Philadelphia” during the February 1919 Irish Race Convention, convened in the city soon after the Sinn Féin election victory in Ireland and establishment of a separatist Dáil Éireann parliament. They marched with de Valera later that year when he visited the city during his U.S. tour to raise money and political support for Ireland.4

“We have found a man we can trust,” Edmond declared in The Irish Press, Philadelphia’s pro-independence weekly with direct ties to de Valera and the Dáil.5 He hailed de Valera’s tour as “received with acclaim from coast to coast,”6 though it also had its share of critics.

Home in Ireland in August 1920, Edmond was attacked by two policemen, “thrown down, throttled,” their revolvers drawn, for flying an Irish tricolor flag at Blarney Castle. “Possibly influenced by the crowd which gathered, the police returned to barracks without me,” he swore in testimony to the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland.7

John spent the first three years of his priesthood at two parishes 100 miles west of Philadelphia’s core Irish community, then second in size only to New York.8 He also spoke against British rule, telling audiences of how soldiers and police dragged innocent Irish from their beds at night and deported them to English prisons without a hearing “for no other reason than that they loved their country.”9 

As events in Ireland settled in the mid-1920s after the founding of the Free State, partition of the island, and civil war, John was transferred back to a Philadelphia parish. Cardinal Dougherty tasked Edmond with founding a new parish and building a church in the city.10 Both brothers regularly returned to Ireland to visit family and friends, including de Valera, who held several political roles through the 1920s and early 1930s.11

Pilgrimage to Ireland

Given such backgrounds, it’s not surprising the O’Shea brothers joined the 500 priests, nuns, and laity from the Archdioceses of Philadelphia at the 31st Eucharistic Congress in Ireland. Cardinal Daugherty announced the trip in October 1931. He told his flock it would be “an occasion for a visit to the place of their birth … [or] a golden opportunity to make a journey to the land of their Fathers. … [It was also an] extraordinary opportunity to profess publicly their devotion to the Blessed Eucharistic, and to refresh their souls by a visit to the land whose soil has been hallowed by the blood of martyrs.”12

Over the next nine months details of the pilgrimage were published in the diocesan Catholic Standard & Times, proclaimed at Sunday masses, and promoted by the Thomas Cook & Sons travel agency. Costs started at $250, about $4,700 today,13 rather dear for the third year of the Great Depression. The tour package included using the luxury steamship chartered for the transatlantic journey as the pilgrims’ floating hotel accommodations in Dublin. That ship was the Red Star Line’s S.S. Lapland

In June 1919, de Valera stowed away aboard the Lapland in Liverpool as he avoided British authorities for his secret mission to America. As I’ve detailed in an earlier post, plenty of other Irish passengers boarded the ship as paying emigrants or tourists, according to the manifest. Built in 1908 in Belfast, the Lapland was a troop transport in the war years immediately prior to de Valera’s crossing. The ship got a makeover in early 1931, as described by the Catholic Standard & Times:

Everything necessary was done to make her physically a most modern cabin liner. Every convenience known to ocean transportation … is available to her passengers. Thus, the Lapland has a delightful newness about her, yet she has retained her former personality that made her so popular with thousands of travelers.14

Philadelphia’s diocesan newspaper promoted the pilgrimage to the 1932 Eucharistic Congress in Dublin. The April 29 issue featured a photo of the Lapland and two stories (“Excellent Accommodations,” left, and “Dublin Beauty,” left center) on the front page.

President Comes Aboard

In Ireland, Edmond O’Shea accompanied de Valera and his two sons on a captain’s launch from the Dublin dockside to the anchored Lapland.15 The Irish Press described the Philadelphia priest as “an old friend of his and a staunch supporter of the Irish cause.” Edmond was a director of The Irish Press Corporation in America, which supported the paper de Valera founded nine months earlier.16

De Valera’s shipboard visit returned the courtesy call Cardinal Dougherty had paid to his government offices a few days prior. The Press revealed:

During his conversation with [Cardinal Dougherty], Mr. de Valera related a dramatic story concerning the last time on which he had been on board the Lapland. It was in 1918 [sic, 1919] in the height of the war with England, that he had been stowed away on board and brought to New York for an important mission there. He had been sheltered in the lamp room and was very sea sick for the entire voyage.  

Details of de Valera’s 1919 crossing were closely guarded at the time and caused wild speculation: “Did he fly?” “Come on a sub?” That doesn’t mean the particulars remained unknown to Irish insiders. By 1931, Cardinal Dougherty almost seemed to wink when he wrote the Lapland was “especially engaged” for the pilgrimage.17 He and de Valera, and their senior aides, communicated during the 1919-1920 U.S. tour and remained in contact up to and after the 1932 event.18

The Press reported the pilgrims who lined the Lapland‘s deck rails gave de Valera “a remarkable ovation” … [and he] shook hands with several hundreds of the American visitors on board.” Any triumphalism for de Valera during the one-hour visit was likely moderated by the death of his County Limerick-born mother less than two week earlier in Rochester, New York. She had planned to attend the Eucharistic Congress.19

Several Irish newspapers reported de Valera’s second boarding of the Lapland, and some repeated the Independent‘s description of a “striking contrast” and “fascinating novel.” The president asked to visit the lamp room where he had hidden 13 years earlier. The captain “gladly acceded to his request.”

American secular papers ignored the story.20 The Catholic Standard & Times noted Edmond’s role in bringing de Valera aboard the Lapland, but not the Irish leader’s past association with the ship. John surly recounted the visit weeks later when he gave a presentation about the Eucharistic Congress to his home parish. The evening featured his “seven moving picture reels” of highlights and photos of the Irish leader.21

Benediction in Dublin during the 1932 Eucharistic Congress.

It’s worth remembering that de Valera was opposition leader, not president, in the fall of 1931 when the Archdiocese of Philadelphia made its Lapland arrangements. It’s unlikely the ship was chartered intentionally. It seems just as unlikely that Cardinal Dougherty and the O’Shea brothers were hearing about Dev’s 1919 crossing for the first time in 1932, as suggested in the press accounts. The reveal appears designed to generate those accounts, especially since the same papers also described the visit as “purely private.” De Valera and his supporters recognized the opportunity presented by the coincidence and leveraged it to bolster his reputation.22

If there was a conspiracy or inside joke among the priests and the politicians, they likely carried it to their graves. When Edmond O’Shea died in 1949, The Irish Press noted his close friendship with de Valera and said his “last letters home spoke of his deep longing for the re-unification of the country.”23 John O’Shea died in 1956, five years after Cardinal Dougherty. De Valera remained in government until 1973, after a political career of more than 50 years. He died two years later. 

As for the Lapland, its 1931 makeover was short-lived. The ship was sold to Japan for scrap a year after the Eucharistic Congress and the second boarding of the former stowaway.24

FURTHER READING: “History Now” presenter Barry Sheppard has written several articles about the 1932 Eucharistic Congress for The Irish Story:

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.

St. Colman’s Cathedral celebrates its centennial

UPDATE:

  • At the centenary Mass, Bishop of Cloyne William Crean said: “One hundred years on an unimaginably different Ireland, Europe and global reality prevails. In the North of Ireland, the ancient divisions have eluded resolution. In the south, a liberal secular world view seeks to suppress the Christian narrative.” Notwithstanding the church’s clergy sex abuse scandals and other challenges, he was confident “the prophets of doom were mistaken” in condemning the church to “a dire future”. Coverage from The Irish Times.
  • Engineers Journal detailed, “The building of St Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh, 1868-1915“.

ORIGINAL POST:

One of Ireland’s most iconic Catholic churches, St. Colman’s Cathedral in Cobh, has reached its 100th anniversary.

A special Mass will be celebrated Sunday, Aug. 25, by Bishop William Crean, joined by Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, Apostolic Nuncio, and clergy and parishioners from the 46 parishes of the Diocese of Cloyne in County Cork. Irish composer Bernard Sexton has created special music and hymns for the centenary.

The foundation stone for St. Colman’s was laid in 1868, a year after the Fenian Rising. The neo-Gothic church was substantially completed in 1915, when the harbor town was still known as Queenstown. The war-delayed consecration took place Aug. 12, 1919, followed two weeks later by solemn commemoration ceremonies overseen by Cardinal Michael Logue, according to this diocesan history.  

The Irish Examiner exclaimed:

A splendid symbol of the undying faith of the Irish people–a faith as firmly fixed as the granite walls of the Cathedral itself–the Mother Church of the Dioceses of Cloyne looks on the heaving waters of the eternal sea, and proclaims that Catholic Ireland discerns truth beyond material mundane affairs … Ireland and Irish Catholics can feel a justifiable pride in the imposing edifice that overlooks Cork Harbour, which is now finished and devoted to the service of God. … St. Colman’s Cathedral now stands for all time a monument to the Faith and zeal of Irish Catholics …1

St. Colman’s Cathedral in Cobh, formerly Queenstown, in County Cork.

The cathedral was not the only big building opened that summer in Cork. In July, the first tractors rolled off the Ford plant assembly line on the site of a former city park and racecourse on the south bank of the River Lee. The plant had 330,000 square feet of covered floor space. It provided employment for nearly 2,000 workers in the desperate post-war economy.

“On the edge of the sidewalks in Cork there is a human curbing of idle men,” Chicago Daily News correspondent Ruth Russell reported. “Just now most of them are sons of farmers or farm hands, for the farmer of the south is turning his acres back to grazing and extra hands are not needed.”2

These two developments, spiritual and commercial, happened as the Irish revolution continued to gather pace. By October 1920, the hunger strike death of Lord Mayor of Cork Terence James MacSwiney shocked the city and the world. His funeral was from the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Anne, about 10 miles from St. Colman’s in the heart of Cork city.

St. Colman’s was the last dominate structure hundreds of thousands of Irish emigrants viewed as they sailed to America from Queenstown/Cobh in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. My Kerry-born grandmother and grandfather were among this cohort, leaving six years before the dedication ceremonies. I am certain they would have wandered up the hill to whisper a prayer inside St. Colman’s before their departure. Because of that, I was as emotionally moved to enter St. Colman’s as to walk the Cobh waterfront the first time I visited Ireland in 2000.

May God grant that St. Colman’s of Cobh stands to welcome the faithful of Ireland and the world for another 100 years.

Catching up with modern Ireland: May

I’ve been away most of the month working on long-term projects. Thanks for supporting our archived content. Here’s the monthly roundup. MH

  • U.S. President Donald Trump is scheduled to meet Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on June 6 at Shannon Airport. Trump wanted the meeting at his Doonbeg golf resort in County Clare, where he will layover on his return from the U.K. earlier in the week. Varadkar wanted the meeting at Dromoland Castle Hotel, a neutral site that has hosted similar sessions with American leaders. Shannon was the compromise, Vox reports, citing the Washington Post. With Trump, of course, anything could happen. He scratched an announced November visit to Ireland.
  • Killarney National Park’s keystone oak woodlands are threatened by invasive rhododendron, The Irish Times warned. Earlier this year, wildfires damaged nearly 200 acres of heath and forest in or near the County Kerry park.
  • “Ireland has voted overwhelmingly to ease restrictions on divorce, taking another step toward liberalizing a Constitution that was once dominated by the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church,” The New York Times reported after the measure was overwhelmingly passed in a May 24 referendum.
  • Thousands marched in Belfast to support same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, including the partner of slain journalist Lyra McKee.
  • In European Union and local elections, the Green Party made gains at the expense of Varadkar’s Fine Gael. So far, right-wing Euroskeptics have not reached the Irish ballot box. … A recount of 750,000 votes is underway for the MEP seat representing Ireland South will begin June 4 and could take the rest of the month, TheJournal.ie says.
  • An RTÉ story has detailed high turnover rates in the Irish Defense Forces.
  • Fáilte Ireland’s new €150 million “Platforms for Growth” initiative will “transform the tourism landscape across the country” CEO Paul Kelly said in a release. The first “platform” will focus on developing Immersive Heritage and Cultural Attractions that include more hands-on experiences to bring local culture and heritage to life.

The entrance of Trump’s Doonbeg golf course in County Clare during my July 2016 visit.

Photo feature: Old St. Patrick’s, Pittsburgh

By coincidence, my travels this month have allowed me to revisit two historic St. Patrick’s churches. Here’s my earlier photo feature on St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

My August essay, “An Irish … American … Catholic … tragedy“, mentioned that the Ancient Order of Hibernians would dedicate a new outdoor statute of Ireland’s patron saint at Old St. Patrick’s Church in Pittsburgh, the oldest parish in my home city. The dedication happened 13 October 2018.

For years, AOH Division 9 of Allegheny County has collected and spent tens of thousands of dollars and many volunteer hours to repair the 1936 church and maintain the beautiful landscaping of the front Monastery Garden, a green oasis in the city’s gritty warehouse district. The new statue replaced one that was badly aged, moved inside for now.

More work remains to done at Old St. Patrick’s, and Division 9 has a new mission: prepare the church for the 2022 opening of the AOH’s national convention in Pittsburgh. If you can help, contact the group.

The new St. Patrick statue was dedicated Oct. 13, 2018.

About 50 people extended their hands in blessing.

The old statue of St. Patrick has been moved inside the church.

The new statue.

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Ulster booster

This blog serial explored aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Previous posts and other background material are available at the project landing page#IUCRevisited

***

“To dream of establishing the independence of Ireland against the will of Ulster appears to me to be little short of madness.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Hurlbert concluded his travels in Ireland with a trip to Belfast. The late June visit on “the very eve of the battle month of the Boyne” confirmed his establishment sympathies as he reported on the thorniest problem of the “Irish Question” — the pro-union Protestants of Ulster.

“In this part of Ireland,” he wrote, “the fate of the island has been more than once settled by the arbitrament of arms; and if Parliamentary England throws up the sponge in the wrestle with the [Land] League, it is probably enough that the old story will come to be told over again here. … There are good reasons in the physical geography of the British Islands for this controlling interest of Ulster over the affairs of Ireland, which it seems to me a serious mistake to overlook. … [I]t is hard to see how, even with the consent of Ulster, the independence of Ireland could be maintained against the interest and the will of Scotland, as it is easy to see why Leinster, Munster, and Connaught have been so difficult of control and assimilation by England.”

Hurlbert stated his purpose for the trip was to interview “some of the representative men of this great Protestant stronghold.” He met a “kindly, intelligent Ulsterman” who worried that if England approved Home Rule for Ireland it would rob him and other others of their property rights and leave them “trampled underfoot by the most worthless vagabonds in our own island … [and] a war against the Protestants and all the decent people there are among the Catholics.”

Hanna

As mentioned in an earlier post about the Papal decree against the agrarian agitation, Hurlbert also visited Rev. Dr. “Roaring” Hugh Hanna, a Presbyterian clergyman and staunch unionist. “Like most Ulstermen I have met, he has a firm faith, not only in the power of the Protestant North to protect itself, but in its determination to protect itself against the consequences which the northern Protestants believe must inevitably follow any attempt to establish an Irish nationality. … He … firmly believes that an Irish Parliament in Dublin would now mean civil war in Ireland.”

Kane

Rev. Dr. Richard Rutledge Kane, the “Grand Master of the Orangemen in Belfast,” predicted the upcoming 12th of July demonstrations would be “on a greater scale and more imposing than ever.” He told Hurlbert that Northern Protestants “were never so determined as they are now not to tolerate anything remotely looking to the constitution of a separate and separatist Government in Dublin.”

These views foreshadowed the opposition to Home Rule efforts in 1893, 1914, and 1920, the last of which resulted in the partition of Northern Ireland. (Six counties remain tied to Great Britain, while three counties of the province of Ulster are part of the Republic of Ireland.) The threatened “civil war” never erupted along the North versus South front anticipated or implied by these comments, but instead manifested itself in the sectarian “troubles” of the last third of the 20th century.

The final passage of Hurlbert’s travel journal (followed by an Epilogue and Appendix) ended on this note of Ulster boosterism and bias toward the Protestant unionists over Catholic nationalists:

With such resources as its wealth and industry, better educated, better equipped, and holding a practically impregnable position in the North of Ireland, with Scotland and the sea at its back, Ulster is very much stronger relative to the rest of Ireland than La Vendée was relative to the rest of the French Republic in the last century. In a struggle for independence against the rest of Ireland it would have nothing to fear from the United States … [W]hile the chief contributions, so far, of America to Southern Ireland have been alms and agitation, the chief contribution of Scotland to Northern Ireland have been skilled agriculture and successful activity. It is surely not without meaning that the only steamers of Irish build which now traverse the Atlantic come from the dockyards, not of Galway nor of Cork, the natural gateways of Ireland to the west, but of Belfast, the natural gateway to the north.

This early 20th century anti-Home Rule postcard reflects the geography and the views expressed by Hurlbert and the unionists he interviewed in Belfast in 1888. The northwest and north central (upper left and middle protrusion) sections of Ulster shown in orange did not become part of Northern Ireland. From National Museums Northern Ireland collection.

NOTES: From pages 404-416 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American

NEXT: Beautiful Belfast

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

More hand wringing about Catholic Ireland

Another St. Patrick’s Day is nearing, so it must be time for another story about the decline of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

Last March, Fordham University’s former Irish Studies Director John P. McCarthy wrote the dirge in The Catholic World Report. Later in the year new CSO data confirmed the diminishing demographics of Catholic Ireland. Now, America, the Jesuit Review, Senior Editor James T. Keane takes on the dreary duty of considering “The Future of Catholic Ireland.” (The online version of this headline adds the adjective “uncertain” before future.)

Cover of the March 5, 2018, issue of America.

The magazine cover features a lovely photo of St. Colman’s Cathedral towering behind the almost equally famous pastel houses of nearby West View in Cobh. I will never forget my first visit there nearly 20 years ago. (My photos are prints, not digital!)

It was a sunny May afternoon highlighted by walking the waterfront where my maternal grandmother and grandfather emigrated in September 1912 and May 1913, respectively. They were both deeply Catholic, at least in the superficial ways of their generation. I do not know what was in their hearts regarding the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, or the Pope, then Pius X. I do not doubt, though I can not prove, that St. Colman’s was the last church each visited on Irish soil, to light a votive, whisper a prayer, and bless themselves.

St. Colman’s spire under construction in 1914.

There is a small detail about St. Colman’s that I learned on that first visit that has remained with me ever since. The great bulk of the church was completed after more than 40 years of construction when my grandparents made their way from north Kerry to Cobh, then Queenstown. But the gracefully tapering spire was still wrapped in scaffolding. This last segment of external work was not finished until 1915.

Is there is a metaphor here? The church then under construction is now over a century old; the once teenage emigrants are now dead for decades. But lead me not into the temptation of sentimentality. As Keane writes near the end of his America piece:

[Dublin] Archbishop [Diarmuid] Martin (See his 2014 St. Patrick’s Day post in America.) also cautioned against equating the reality of Irish life with the cultural perceptions of what he called “the Auld Sod brigade,” Irish-American descendants of emigrants whose sentimental memories (real or not) of Ireland are not always or often shared by the nation’s residents. The world of potato farms improbably coaxed out of rocky soil, or of Gothic Revival chapels full of sturdy peasants on the path to the priesthood, has more life in those sentimental memories than in reality. The church may never again look as it did in [the seminary of St. Patrick’s College at] Maynooth 100 years ago, but the history of places like the Aran Islands suggest it will persist in some vital way.  … [T]he future of Irish Catholicism, whatever it may be, is tied up with the future of an Ireland that is now far different from what many Americans imagine. … The Irish are Europeans now.

I suggest the ranks of “the Auld Sod brigade” are as depleted as the pews of Archbishop Martin’s Dublin churches. Keane writes that reports of “physical abuse in Irish schools, orphanages, Magdalene laundries and other church institutions have been legion in the Irish media in recent years.” Does he think that Irish Americans have missed these stories? … or the reports of Ireland’s 2015 approval of a same-sex marriage? … or the current coverage leading up to the likely May repeal of its constitutional ban on most abortions? Nearly every one of these accounts includes an obligatory context paragraph about the changed church in “once conservative” Ireland.

Certainly the decline of the church is not news to those of us who regularly visit Ireland and still practice the faith. We have seen the empty pews and accepted the Blessed Sacrament from the hands of priests native to Asia or Africa, instead of Kerry or Kildare. For the most part, we embrace the more liberal, modern, “European” Ireland.

These reports about the decline of the Catholic Church in Ireland have become hackneyed.  I am more interested in what Keane describes as “some unanticipated future” of the faith in Ireland. The day after his America piece was published, author Angela Hanley, writing in The Irish Times, described “a small, quiet revolution taking place” within the church.

People who have been totally alienated from the Roman imperial model of church are still seeking to express their Catholic faith within community, because they truly understand this is most authentic place for faith practice. They are finding this community, which may or may not include priests, not in the formal structure of church but in homes.

That’s the Holy Spirit at work, in Ireland, in America and elsewhere. It gives me hope for the future rather than more hand wringing that “romantic [Catholic] Ireland’s dead and gone.”

Guest post: Frank Sinatra at Kate’s Bar, Derry

I’m always happy to publish a guest post from people visiting or just returned from Ireland. This piece is by Dick Davis, a retired San Francisco Bay area stockbroker and author of “Bus Journey Across Mexico” and other photo journals; and Victor A. Walsh, a retired California State Parks historian who has written about Ireland and Irish America for the San Francisco Irish Herald, Irish America, Eire-Ireland, and Journal of American Ethnic History. MH

Massive 17th-century siege walls surround the city of Derry (Londonderry to Loyalist Protestants) in Northern Ireland.  Waterloo Street, which parallels the old gray walls, rises steeply above the Bogside. In a 2002 visit, at a late hour, it’s empty; the buildings a silhouette of dark forms in the black night.

At the corner where Waterloo turns toward Diamond Square, we spot a brightly lit pub — a glow of life on the otherwise dreary street. The sign in front says, “Tonight Frank Sinatra”; below in smaller letters, “Jimmy Breslin.”

This is nuts, I think. I’m in Ireland, not New Jersey, and Frank’s dead.

We enter Kate’s Bar. It’s packed. Men are standing shoulder to shoulder drinking black pints of Guinness. Wisps of cigarette smoke and loud conversation fill the stale air. Some of the men are wearing white polo shirts with a football patch. Three ladies, near the front corner by the mike, more than fill a bench meant to seat four.

They remind me of buxom cafeteria workers from my high school days, only without aprons. All of them are blondes and their hair is curled and teased in the beehive style of the early ‘60s. It’s clear that they are here to listen to Frank.

We push through the throng of people, and find two tall stools against the back wall. A fellow next to me with tousled wavy black hair tells us that there are some empty tables in the next room. “Thanks,” says my friend Vic, “but we want to hear the music of Hoboken, Ireland.”  He nods somewhat quizzically and introduces himself as Declan.

Just as he begins to speak, someone yells, “Mop,” and Declan springs into action. A tray in front of a golden retriever sitting underneath the bar in front of us has been kicked over. As Declan quickly mops up the floor, he tells us that the dog belongs to a blind man, a regular seated at the bar. The tray is refilled, and the dog goes back to contentedly lapping up the Guinness.

At the far end of the bar stands an animated chap alternately talking and listening to his neighbor. When a point is made or something funny is said, he twirls his hand in a spiral motion and pokes his finger at the ceiling. I couldn’t tell if he was challenging God or keeping score.

Being newcomers, we begin to attract attention. “Where you from?” asks a thin fellow with a brown, droopy moustache. “California, near San Francisco,” I reply. “Oh, you’re a Yank,” he says in a friendly manner. He introduces himself as “Fergus,” with an emphasis on the “fer.”

We chat, and soon Declan returns. Like several other men at the pub, he is wearing a white polo shirt with a Celtic Football Club badge embroidered in green with a shamrock in the center. The patch is sewn on the right side of his shirt. On the left side, stitched in a circle with Irish flags are the words, “Celtic Supporters Club, McSheffrey and Deery.”

“Can I buy one of these shirts here?” I ask him. “They’re not for sale. They’re commemorative. They honor the memory of me friends, Eddie McSheffrey and Paddy Deery. We lost them to The Troubles here in ’87.”

“To your friends,” I saluted with my glass raised high and took a drink. Fifteen years, I thought, and The Troubles are still here, but friends are never forgotten.  

The stone walls that encircle Derry rose out of history. They stood in 1689 when Protestant defenders repelled a 105-day siege by the Catholic army of King James II.  They straddle the steep ground above ‘Free Derry’, the Catholic Bogside where British paratroopers in 1972 without provocation opened fire on unarmed Catholic civil rights marchers, killing 13 (a 14th person died later) and wounding 17 protesters in a massacre remembered as “Bloody Sunday.”

The murals and slogans painted on the walls and ramparts—“No Surrender”, “End The Torture”; “We Salute Those Who Gave Their Lives For Irish Freedom”—are a living testament to what divides the two cultures into segregated communities: one Protestant, British and Unionist; the other, Catholic, Irish and Republican.

As I think about this, someone whistles. The crowd claps, a cheer goes up, and a ruddy-faced version of Jimmy Breslin steps forward and screams into the mike, “It’s time for Frank!”

He’s dressed like a young Sinatra in a white-on-brown plaid sports jacket and fedora with the hat cocked and the brim turned down. He taps the mike; the crowd quiets as he fixes his gaze on the lady with the tallest beehive and sings, “I’ve got a crush on you…” She throws back her head; her face enveloped in a great smile. Her two friends nudge and jostle her.

As Sinatra croons “You do something to me…,” I look out at the blissful gathering, sparkling eyes, happy faces, people at the bar talking and laughing, small men dancing with large women, more joy and love than I’d ever seen in a church on Sunday.

Fergus comes over, taps me on the shoulder, and whispers, “To New Jersey,” referring to Sinatra’s home state.

Declan, who had disappeared when Frank began, returns with a white polo shirt. “Let me check the sizes. I couldn’t see in that cave-dark store room,” he explains. It’s extra-large, my size. As he hands it over to me, I could see a tear of joy in his eyes. “The club stocks the shirts, but we never sell our memories,” he says.

In June 2017, I returned to Derry with my granddaughter and grandson. We visited the Museum of Free Derry. The film clips on The Troubles were both personal and deeply moving, especially Prime Minister David Cameron’s apology on June 15, 2010, for what happened on Bloody Sunday. The Bogside was jubilant; the fallen finally remembered as victims, not perpetrators. In this sense Free Derry represents a future together as much as a past apart. .

Afterwards, we walk up Waterloo looking for Kate’s Bar. Uncertain, we ask around until I spot a pub called Castle Bar. For me, it’s still Kate’s.

When we enter, my commemorative polo shirt catches people’s attention. At the bar, I ask if anyone remembered Kate’s. “Yes,” an older fellow shouts while nudging his way forward. When he sees the polo shirt, he slowly bends his head, kisses the logo with the two names, and then praises me for bringing my grandkids, letting them know about The Troubles.

The mood is subdued; almost reverential. No one spoke. Words did not matter for the faces in that moment of silence simmered with the memory of tribal wrongs.

(Editor’s Note: Patrick Deery and Edward McSheffrey were among nearly 100 people killed in Northern Ireland in 1987. Nearly 3,600 violent deaths–nationalists, loyalists, British troops and innocent civilians– occurred during The Troubles, which lasted from 1968 to 1998.)

The worst of the Troubles ended nearly 20 years ago with Good Friday Agreement, but neighborhoods in Derry/Londonderry remain divided between Unionist/Loyalists, top, and Nationalists/Republicans, below. June 2017 photos by Dick Davis.

What you need to know about Knock’s vision visitors

The Virgin Mary recently appeared–believers say–in the sun and clouds above Knock, the County Mayo village where she first presented herself to the faithful in 1879. Unlike that 19th century debut, viewed by 15 witnesses on a rainy evening, the latest vision at Ireland’s national Marian shrine is documented in video and photographs, quickly and easily disseminated around the world.

According to Catholic Online:

The sun appeared as an elongated shape in the videos, not as a circle. Rays of light were also captured on camera. As clouds passed before the sun, filtering out the brightest light, people were able to look directly at the vision. They reported the vision moved, and spun, a classic miracle of the sun, often associated with apparitions of the Virgin Mary.

Among the handful of secular news outlets that covered Our Lady’s alleged appearance, the tone was more skeptical, even cheeky. “Clouded vision,” said the headline in the U.K.’s Daily Mail.

This wasn’t the first digital-age sighting of the Virgin at Knock. Scores of videos claiming to show Mary’s image are posted online, in addition to sympathetic histories and pilgrimage travelogues, including a trailer for the 2016 independent film Strange Occurrences in a Small Irish Village.

The pilgrimage business is good for the West of Ireland. Knock airport’s 9.1 percent first quarter growth–more than 134,000 total passengers–was the highest year-over-year gain among five airports in the Republic, The Irish Times reported. Monsignor James Horan, the late priest who built the airport in the 1980s on the “foggy, boggy site” near the shrine, must be smiling from about the same altitude as the latest Marian appearance.

The 1879 apparition at Knock was a crowded affair, with the Virgin Mary joined by Saint Joseph, Saint John the Evangelist, the Lamb of God (representing Jesus Christ) and adoring angels appearing on the gabled wall of the local church. This didn’t get much immediate press attention. Word of the vision and miraculous cures spread quickly among believers, however, and published accounts began to appear by a year later. The Irish Examiner reported crowds of up to 20,000 were trekking to the village.

“A deeper and more touching outpouring of sincere faith and religious fervour it would be impossible even to conceive than what I witnessed at Knock,” an unnamed “pilgrim” wrote in a 25 September 1880 letter to the newspaper.

The same year, The Nation carried advertisements for “The Illustrated Record of the Apparitions at Knock,” a free booklet that included witness depositions, a list of miraculous cures and six images. A 1 3/4-inch diameter medal also was available for sixpence, plus postage.

Pope John Paul II visited Knock in 1979. He said:

Since I first learnt of the centenary of this Shrine, which is being celebrated this year, I have felt a strong desire to come here, the desire to make yet another pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Mother of Christ, the Mother of the Church, the Queen of Peace. Do not be surprised at this desire of mine. It has been my custom to make pilgrimages to the shrines of our Lady, starting with my earliest youth and in my own country.

John Curry was the last of the 1879 witnesses to die. In 1943, at the age of 68, he was buried without a headstone in a communal cemetery plot owned by the Little Sisters of the Poor on Long Island, New York. Recently, he was re-interred at the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Manhattan.

“What you choose to believe is up to you,” Dan Barry wrote in a lovely piece for The New York Times. “This is merely the story of an Irish immigrant who died without means in Gotham obscurity, then rose to such post-life prominence that, amid considerable pageantry, the archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, will celebrate his requiem Mass and pray over his new earthly home.”

I visited Knock not long after the 2001 terror attacks in America, during a month-long journalism fellowship that took me to both sides of the Irish border. I arrived at the shrine on a rainy Monday afternoon, “the busloads of believers nowhere in sight,” I wrote in my Oct. 1 journal entry. As a believer, I said the requisite prayers, but there were no apparitions that evening. In fact, my “sincere faith and religious fervour” was exhausted from having hiked to the summit of Croagh Patrick the day before. No visions up there, either, but a fantastic view and fulfilling experience.

I slept well that night at the Belmont Hotel in Knock and awoke to a bright day. I bypassed a second visit to the shrine and pressed on to my next appointments. I am glad that I made the pilgrimage, however, and followed in the footsteps of John Curry and John Paul, and millions of other believers; past, present and future; with or without digital recording equipment; with or without seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary.

Undated photo of the original church at Knock where the apparition appeared in 1879.

Is Leo Varadkar Ireland’s first post-Catholic leader?

Leo Varadkar has secured the leadership of the Fine Gael party and is now in line to replace Enda Kenny as Ireland’s next taoiseach, or prime minister.

Much is being made of the fact that Varadkar is openly gay and just 38, making him the Republic’s youngest leader. He is also the son of an Irish mother and Indian father. (Remember that Éamon de Valera, who spent several terms as Irish leader over a long stretch of the 20th century, was the American-born son of an Irish mother and Spanish father.)

The New York Times and other media noted that Varadkar comes to power two year after Irish voters approved same-sex marriage. The Times barely conceals its glee that Ireland “has rapidly been leaving its conservative Roman Catholic social traditions behind” and that Varadkar, though raised Catholic, does not practice the faith.

The U.K. Independent used a similar “once-staunchly Catholic country” formulation in its lead story, while initial coverage from RTE, BBC, NPR, CNN, The Guardian and other outlets did not mention religion.

Leo Varadkar is the new Fine Gael leader. Image from RTE.

Writing in The Irish Times, Miriam Lord observed that Fine Gael voters:

…patted themselves on the back for not making a big deal of the fact that Leo Varadkar is a gay man or that his father is an immigrant from India. Because it isn’t a big deal. Smiling at the way news outlets all over the world were announcing Catholic Ireland’s “first gay prime minister” when, sure, nobody paid a blind bit of difference to that at home, because why would they?

But, she concluded, “it was this very indifference to ‘origins and identity’ that made them feel very, very proud.”

Varadkar’s confirmation as taoiseach is expected–but not assured–later this month. He has said that he is committed to holding a referendum next year on whether to repeal the constitutional ban on abortion, which has already bolstered the secular narrative of a post-Catholic Ireland.